Page last updated at 16:06 GMT, Tuesday, 30 June 2009 17:06 UK

This week's panel

Question Time, the BBC's premier political debate programme chaired by David Dimbleby, will be in Cambridge on Thursday 2 July.

The panel will include Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the House of Commons Harriet Harman MP, the former leader of the Conservative party Iain Duncan Smith MP, the Liberal Democrat MP David Laws, the musician and songwriter Jarvis Cocker, and the journalist and columnist Peter Hitchens.


Harriet Harman MP

Career: Harriet Harman is the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the House of Commons.

She entered politics with her election to parliament in 1982 and was first appointed to the Labour front bench by Neil Kinnock in 1984.

A close ally of the Prime Minister, working under Gordon Brown at the Treasury in the years before Labour came to power, she beat five of her colleagues in a close-run deputy leadership race in June 2007.

Last week she announced reforms to the system of MPs' expenses and allowances that are aimed at restoring public trust in politics. The Parliamentary Standards Bill, which is going through the Commons this week, would create new criminal offences as well as establishing an independent body to oversee a reformed system of MPs' pay and allowances.

She told her parliamentary colleagues: "The abuse by some members of our allowances system has caused a high level of public concern and has required this comprehensive range of actions to ensure that we can say to the public... we get it and we are sorting it."


Iain Duncan Smith

Career: Iain Duncan Smith was Conservative leader from 2001 to 2003, after serving on William Hague's front bench as shadow defence secretary.

He is now head of the Centre for Social Justice and heads David Cameron's Social Justice Policy Group.

Formerly an ardent Thatcherite, his recent commitment to the cause of social deprivation has been portrayed as a dramatic conversion by the press. He says: "I guess a Conservative in that [Thatcherite] period would have said that, for the most part, these things will rectify themselves. The mantra was: it's not the state's job to interfere. But here's where they were wrong. Because the state's already interfering… you're now picking up huge bills from what's going on."

Last week he was one of nine Conservative MPs who voluntarily agreed to forgo all or part of future second home allowance claims as part of efforts to respond to public anger over the expenses scandal.


David Laws MP

Career: David Laws is the Liberal Democrat spokesman on children, schools and families.

Before his election to Parliament in 1997, he had a career in economics and business, during which he was vice president of JP Morgan, and head of US Dollar and Sterling Treasuries at Barclays de Zoete Wedd.

He left in 1994 to take up the role of economic adviser to the Liberal Democrats, and from 1997 to 1999 was the party's director of policy and research.

In March 2007, it was reported that the Conservative shadow chancellor, George Osborne, had offered him a job on the Tory front bench but had been rebuffed.

Responding to this week's launch of the government's last major education reforms before the next general election, he accused Schools Secretary Ed Balls of "making promises on education which he knows he can't keep".

He went on: "The pledges have been so vague that it is unclear whether the new education and health 'entitlements' will actually be legally enforceable, let alone affordable."


Jarvis Cocker

Career: Jarvis Cocker is a musician and songwriter, best known as the frontman of the band, Pulp.

He founded the band at the age of 15, and went on to achieve fame and critical acclaim ten years later as part of the Britpop movement of the 1990s.

He famously invaded the stage during Michael Jackson's set at the 1996 Brit awards, saying afterwards that his actions "were a form of protest at the way Michael Jackson sees himself as some kind of Christ-like figure with the power of healing".

In recent years, he has enjoyed success as a solo performer and a cultural commentator.

He was invited to curate the 2007 Meltdown Festival at London's South Bank Centre, and hosted an arts series on Channel 4 entitled Journeys into the Outside.

In December 2008, he guest-edited Radio 4's Today Programme.

In April, he was reported as saying: "Labour has been in power for a certain amount of time and (apart from the Conservatives) there is no credible alternative, so if you're not going to have Labour you're going to have the Conservatives. You can sense an era passing."

However, amid reports that he was backing the Tories, he released a statement, saying: "In no way am I supporting or suggesting that a Conservative government is a good thing, far from it… in the absence of any real alternative, a Conservative government at this point unfortunately seems inevitable."


Peter Hitchens

Career: Peter Hitchens is a controversial columnist for the Mail on Sunday.

He is a former Moscow and Washington correspondent and has reported from many parts of the world.

A Marxist in his student days, he has been a member of both the Labour and Conservative parties, and challenged Michael Portillo for the Conservative Party nomination in the Kensington and Chelsea seat in 1999.

He left the Conservative Party in 2003, and has since become a strident critic of David Cameron, presenting a documentary last year about the current party leadership entitled Toff at the Top.

Last week he wrote in his column: "The fawning support which the Leftist BBC and Leftist Guardian now give Mr Cameron, should tell us all we need to know about the Tories.

"If Mr Cameron becomes prime minister, we will be told that he has done so precisely because he is a liberal, and the remaining real conservatives in his party will be marginalised and crushed for a generation."

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