Question Time


Page last updated at 16:20 GMT, Monday, 1 December 2008

Last week's panel

Alan Johnson MPAndrew Lansley MPArlene Foster MLAConor Murphy MP MLAMark Durkan MP MLALord Maginnis

Question Time, the BBC's premier political debate programme chaired by David Dimbleby, was in Newry on Thursday 4 December.

The panel included the Health Secretary Alan Johnson, Conservative shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley, Northern Ireland Assembly Minister for Enterprise Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland Executive Minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy, SDLP leader Mark Durkan, and Ulster Unionist peer Lord Maginnis.


Alan Johnson MP

Career: Alan Johnson was made Secretary of State for Health in Gordon Brown's first cabinet, having previously been education secretary.

Having left school with no qualifications, he worked as a postman before entering union politics, becoming general secretary of the Communication Workers Union in 1993.

After becoming an MP in 1997, he served in the Department of Trade and Industry and the department for education, before entering cabinet as the work and pensions secretary in 2004.

Last week he outlined plans for sick notes to be replaced with "fit notes", in an effort to shift focus on to what workers are able to do, rather than doctors signing them off work. He said: "Helping people stay in work does not just have an economic imperative, it has a moral and social one too."


Andrew Lansley MP

Career: Andrew Lansley has been the Conservative shadow health secretary since November 2003. Previously, he was director of the Conservative Research Department during the successful 1992 election campaign.

In June 2008, David Cameron publicly guaranteed Andrew Lansley the job of health secretary in any future Conservative government.

Last month he apologised after writing on his blog: "Interestingly, on many counts, recession can be good for us. People tend to smoke less, drink less alcohol, eat less rich food and spend more time at home with their families." He later withdrew his comments after Labour ministers accused the Tories of wanting to let the recession "run its course".


Arlene Foster MLA

Career: Arlene Foster is the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Democratic Unionist Party assembly member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Before her election in November 2003, she was a lawyer. She was a councillor on Fermanagh District Council representing Enniskillen ward, and resigned in June 2007 when she was appointed minister for the environment in the Assembly.

She was awarded the Devolved Parliament or Assembly Member of the Year, at the Women in Public Life Awards, in February 2008.


Conor Murphy MP MLA

Career: Conor Murphy is the Minister for Regional Development in the Northern Ireland Executive. He has been the Sinn Fein MP for Newry and Armagh since 2005 but refuses to take his seat at Westminster in line with the abstentionist policy of his party.

His involvement in Republican politics began with the Hunger Strike elections in 1981 when he campaigned on behalf of the anti-H-Block candidates. He served as a Councillor for the Fews for eight years before his election to Parliament.


Mark Durkan MP MLA

Career: Mark Durkan is the leader of the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDLP) and the MP for Foyle.

He first became involved in politics as a student, and was deputy president of the Union of Students in Ireland. In 1990 he became chairman of the SDLP, a post he held until 1995. He was a key member of the party's negotiating team in the run up to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Following the Agreement, he was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and became minister for finance and personnel. He went on to serve as deputy first minister from 2001-2002.


Lord Maginnis

Career: Ken Maginnis is a senior Ulster Unionist politician and was the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone from 1983 to 2001. He became a life peer in the House of Lords in 2001.

He became Ulster Unionist spokesman on internal security and defence in 1981, and was that same year elected to Dungannon District Council, on which he sat for 12 years.

He was elected as a Westminster MP in 1983, briefly resigning in 1985 - along with his Unionist colleagues - in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

He was a strong supporter of the Good Friday Agreement and stood down as an MP at the 2001 General Election to take up his place in the House of Lords.

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