BBC News

Question Time



Last Updated: Thursday, 21 February 2008, 08:55 GMT
This week's panel
Question Time, the BBC's premier political debate programme chaired by David Dimbleby, was in Newcastle on Thursday 21 February.

The panel included the Secretary of State for Transport Ruth Kelly, Conservative shadow secretary of state for business, enterprise and regulatory reform Alan Duncan, the Liberal Democrat chief economic spokesman Vince Cable, the secretary general of Unite Derek Simpson and the political editor of The Spectator Fraser Nelson.


Ruth Kelly MP
Ruth Kelly is the Secretary of State for Transport, having previously been Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Minister for Women and Equality, and Secretary of State for Education.

She was the youngest woman ever to sit in cabinet when she was promoted to Education Secretary in December 2004, aged 36.

She studied economics at university and was an economics writer for the Guardian, before being made deputy head of the Inflation Report Division of the Bank of England in 1994.

Her first ministerial job was Economic Secretary to the Treasury under Gordon Brown, and she is seen as a close ally of the Prime Minister.


Alan Duncan MP

Career: Alan Duncan is Conservative shadow secretary of state for business, enterprise and regulatory reform.

He has been an MP since 1992, and has held a number of positions in government and opposition, including shadow health secretary and vice chairman of the party.

This week he criticised the government's handling of the economy, saying: "this government has wasted one of the most prosperous decades we've ever had. Everything has been spent; nothing has been saved; and we are ill-equipped to cope with the pressures of global competition and the difficulties of an economic downturn."

He was a personal friend of the late Pakistani opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, whose Pakistan People's Party were successful in this week's elections.

Speaking about her assassination, he said: "I was shocked and deeply saddened. I had known her for 31 years, and she was the best, perhaps the only hope for seeing a transition to democracy. Her assassination was a stab in the heart of democracy and a disastrous moment for a country which sits at the fulcrum of world security."


Vince Cable MP

Career: Vince Cable has been the Liberal Democrat chief economic spokesman since 2003.

He was elected as deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons in March 2006, and served as acting leader of the party following the resignation of Sir Menzies Campbell, until the election of Nick Clegg as leader in December.

Vince Cable was elected to parliament in 1997 following a successful career in business, including working as chief economist for the oil company Shell from 1995 to 1997.

Last November, he was one of the first politicians to call for the nationalisation of Northern Rock. He wrote to the Prime Minister in December urging him to temporarily nationalise the bank via a parliamentary bill as the "least worst option" for providing "a period of stability."

In this week's parliamentary debate on the bank's nationalisation, however, he expressed concerns that the strongest of Northern Rock's assets will not be covered by government ownership, but tied up in a separate firm, Granite.

He said: "What is going on here appears to be not public ownership of Northern Rock but an asset-stripping operation designed to benefit whoever, we don't know. This is a very serious development."


Derek Simpson

Career: Derek Simpson is the secretary general of Unite, the UK's largest private-sector union.

After leaving school to become an apprentice in the tool room of an engineering factory, he studied for an Open University degree in computing and mathematics and rose through union ranks to become general secretary of Amicus in 2002.

At one time a member of the Communist Party of Britain, he joined the Labour Party in 1994. He was involved in the negotiation that let to the Warwick Agreement, in which the Labour Party agreed to implement some of the trade unions' policies during their third term.

Unite is the union that represents staff of Northern Rock, and this week they called for "government intervention to give the staff of Northern Rock guarantees for their future, the legislation for public ownership to be strengthened to ensure that there are no compulsory redundancies in the business and for the government to compensate for any voluntary redundancies."


Fraser Nelson

Career: Fraser Nelson is the political editor of The Spectator, and a columnist for the News of the World. He was previously political editor of The Scotsman and The Business magazine.

Last week he wrote in the News of The World: "Our PM wants 'British values and British laws'. But exactly what are his values? Once, he'd have said sound economic management. His bungling over Northern Rock ended all that. Last week this basket-case bank was put on the nation's books... That's more [debt] than the Iraq, Falklands and Afghan wars together. More than a month of Black Wednesdays.

"In this ferocious globalised economy, Britain needs low debt and low tax. Not an accident-prone PM."

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

banner watch listen bbc sport Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific