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Page last updated at 13:52 GMT, Tuesday, 20 May 2008 14:52 UK

This week's panel

Question Time, the BBC's premier political debate programme chaired by David Dimbleby, will be in Chester on Thursday 22 May.

The panel will include the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Hazel Blears, the Conservative shadow minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude, the president of the Liberal Democrats Simon Hughes and the chief executive of the Royal Opera House Tony Hall and the journalist and writer Cristina Odone.

HAZEL BLEARS MP

Hazel Blears

Career: Hazel Blears is the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

She has been the Labour MP for Salford since 1997 and was promoted to the cabinet last May, becoming Labour Party Chairman.

She worked as a solicitor before her election to parliament, going on to take up a post in the Home Office with responsibility for crime and security under Charles Clarke.

Last June she faced five of her colleagues in the race for deputy leadership of the Labour Party, which was won by Harriet Harman.

This month she pledged to campaign personally to save Labour from defeat in Thursday's by-election in Crewe and Nantwich, where the local Labour Party's decision to brand the Conservative candidate as a "toff" has led to accusations of class warfare from some within their own party.

Hazel Blears has previously come under fire for her description of Boris Johnson as a "fogeyish, bigoted and upper-class twit" and said of the Tory shadow cabinet in 2006: "I don't want to start a class war but do we really want our country to be run by 20 people who went to Eton?".


FRANCIS MAUDE MP

Francis Maude

Career: Francis Maude is the Conservative shadow minister for the Cabinet Office and was the Conservative Party chairman from 2005 to 2007.

He has previously been shadow chancellor of the exchequer and shadow foreign secretary, and was a foreign office minister in the last Conservative government.

He is the shadow cabinet member charged with preparing the Conservative opposition's agenda for government and earlier this month David Cameron asked him to prepare detailed plans for Conservative administration, "looking at government efficiency right across the board."

This week he voted in favour of the unsuccessful move to ban research on hybrid human-animal embryos, as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill's passage through parliament.


SIMON HUGHES MP

Simon Hughes MP

Career: Simon Hughes is the president of the Liberal Democrats.

After his election to parliament in 1983, he spent five years as environment spokesman for the SDP-Liberal Alliance, which became the newly formed Lib Dems in 1988. He ran for the party leadership in 2006, coming third in the final vote.

This week, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg announced plans to cut taxes for low and middle-income families, signalling a shift in the party's policy.

Speaking during campaigning for this week's crucial by-election in Crewe and Nantwich, Simon Hughes said: "When it comes to taxation - closing loopholes exploited by the wealthy... and helping the poorest and the most vulnerable in our society with fairer taxes - it is only the Liberal Democrats that have consistently argued the case."

He accused David Cameron, who this week announced his commitment to "long-term tax reduction," of "nothing more than another by-election con."


TONY HALL

Tony Hall

Career: Tony Hall has been chief executive of the Royal Opera House since May 2001.

After growing up in Birkenhead, he joined the BBC from university, going on to edit the Nine O'clock news at the age of 34. He was BBC director of news from 1993 to 2001, during which he launched Radio Five Live, the BBC News channel, the BBC News website and BBC Parliament

His tenure at the Royal Opera House, an institution with a history dating back to 1728, has been characterised by initiatives to bring in new audiences and widen access, with low-price ticket schemes and big-screen relays of performances at locations across the country.

He holds a number of influential posts in the arts world, including chair of the sector skills council for the creative and cultural industries and non-executive director of Channel 4, and is an advisor to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. He was awarded a CBE in 2005.


CRISTINA ODONE

Cristina Odone

Career: Cristina Odone is a journalist and writer.

She was formerly editor of the Catholic Herald and deputy editor of the New Statesman.

She has written two novels, The Shrine and A Perfect Wife, and currently writes for The Observer and The Daily Telegraph.

She is a committed Christian and supported the failed attempt this week to reduce the legal time limit on abortions from the current 24 weeks.

In 2006 she wrote an article claiming that "the new pro-lifers are different. They aren't freaks or fanatics; they are probably your neighbours. They don't evangelise and they certainly don't intimidate. They don't even regard abortion as a 'sin'.

"This new wave of pro-lifers hate abortion because they hate the waste of an egg. They are among Britain's growing number of infertile couples who, after years trying for a baby, and many cycles of IVF treatment, know just how precious that egg can be."


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