Page last updated at 15:20 GMT, Wednesday, 23 September 2009 16:20 UK

This week's panel

Harriet Harman MPLord HeseltineDavid Laws MPLord JonesFraser Nelson

Question Time, the BBC's premier political debate programme chaired by David Dimbleby, will be in Bournemouth on Thursday 24 September.

The panel will include Deputy Labour Leader Harriet Harman, Conservative peer Lord Helestine, Lib Dem spokesman on children, schools and families David Laws, former Minister of State for Trade Digby Jones, and the editor of the Spectator, Fraser Nelson.


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.

She beat five of her colleagues in a close-run deputy leadership race in June 2007. She has recently been the subject of press speculation about a possible leadership bid, but this week her spokeswoman told journalists: "To suggest this activity is in some way mobilising for a leadership bid is absolute rubbish. She is a loyal deputy."

Earlier this year, she proposed a series of reforms to the system of parliamentary allowances following the scandal over MPs' expenses. Last week she urged MPs to "deal with the past in a way that commands public confidence. It is not enough for past over-claims to be identified and exposed to public scrutiny. They need to be paid back."


Lord Heseltine

Career: Michael Heseltine is one of the Conservative Party's most senior politicians. His political career has spanned four decades, and in 1979 he was the first cabinet minister ever to appear on Question Time.

He became the Conservative MP for Tavistock in 1966 and served as a junior minister in Edward Heath's government, before being promoted to secretary of state for the environment and later defence secretary, by Margaret Thatcher.

His challenge for the leadership of the party in 1990 triggered the resignation of Lady Thatcher, but he was beaten by John Major. Heseltine was appointed president of the Board of Trade in 1992, promising to intervene "before breakfast, dinner and tea" to help British businesses hit by the economic downturn. He was made deputy prime minister in 1995.

Upon retiring from the Commons in 2001, he was made a life peer in the House of Lords.

After backing David Cameron's election for party leader in 2006, he was appointed to lead the Conservatives' cities task force, aimed at increasing Tory support in urban areas.


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. This week he responded that "George is a charming person, who is very witty and politically astute. But I am not a Conservative… I could not support a party which can find money to cut inheritance tax for the 0.005% of the richest people in Britain, but who will not allocate extra money to pay for a pupil premium which would benefit the poorest one million children."

Last week his office obtained figures under the Freedom of Information Act which showed that about 2,000 schools in England are facing funding deficits that could lead to redundancies and increased class sizes. He said the news was "the tip of an iceberg which is likely to emerge rapidly as the squeeze on education budgets really bites over the next few years".


Lord Digby Jones

Career: Digby Jones is the former Minister of State for Trade, and was the director of the Confederation of British Industry from 2000 to 2006. He is chairman of Triumph Motorcycles and a corporate ambassador for Jaguar Cars.

After six years as head of the CBI, in 2007 he joined the House of Lords as a minister of state in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, as part of Gordon Brown's drive to create a government "of all talents". But he declined to join the Labour Party, saying: "How I vote is my own affair."

He stepped down from the government in October 2008, becoming a business ambassador at UK Trade and Investment. When he resigned, he was highly critical of the civil service, saying that, "it could be more productive, more efficient; it could deliver a lot more value for money for the taxpayer… You cannot effect change on that basis."

He went on to say that his time in government was "one of the most dehumanising and depersonalising experiences… The whole system is designed to take the personality, the drive and the initiative out of a junior minister."

In May 2008, he visited Libya as a UK minister for trade, part of a series of meetings between the two governments that have been under scrutiny since the release of the convicted Libyan bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi last month.

At the time, Lord Jones said: "Trade and investment are vital for the future growth and prosperity of both our peoples. I will do my utmost, with my Libyan counterparts, to ensure that the business relationship continues to go from strength to strength in the years to come."


Fraser Nelson

Career: Fraser Nelson is the new editor of the Spectator, having taken over the post from Matthew D'Ancona last month. He was previously the magazine's political editor, and has also been political editor of the Scotsman and a political columnist for the News of the World.

He is regarded as one of the UK's foremost political commentators, and has been an outspoken critic of the government's economic policies both in print and on his blog.

In September 2008 he said: "Brown boasted about abolishing the cycle, 'ending boom and bust' [using] this to justify dangerously low interest rates, which opened the tap of debt… The next stage is recession, rising unemployment, repossessions… This is just the end of the beginning."

This week he wrote of the current controversy over Conservative and Labour spending plans:

"The government has been making up the figures in Budget 2009, and is trying to cover its tracks… It is now unravelling spectacularly. [However] as all these projections are for after the election, it matters not a jot what Labour "would" do - by then, they'll be engaged in an internecine civil war on the opposition benches… If Osborne has identified a £15 bn unexplained gap, it's one he will have to fill with spending cuts or tax rises."

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