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Straw tackles Clegg about the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters at a laboured PMQs

By Jonathan Isaby

This is the final PMQs session before the recess, with Nick Clegg deputising for David Cameron, who is still in the US, and Jack Straw accordingly taking the place of Harriet Harman.

Verdict: It was a very laboured session of PMQs with Jack Straw taking an agonising time to get through his questions. Nick Clegg took every opportunity to lambast the recently-defeated Labour Government, which ensured cheers from Tory MPs as well as the Lib Dems.   

Picture 7 12.03 Nick Clegg explains that he is deputising for David Cameron and pays tribute to the latest casualties in Afghanistan.

12.04 Gateshead Labour MP Ian Mearns teases Clegg about Lib Dem councillors fearing losing their seats over local cuts.

12.06 David Burrowes asks about the Gary McKinnon case (he is a constituent). Clegg pays tribute to Burrowes's work on the matter and explains that Obama and Cameron have discussed the issue and hope to find a way forward.

12.07 Jack Straw echoes the tributes to the fallen in Afghanistan. He says Labour welcomes the Kabul conference and asks about Cameronls desire to withdraw combat troops by 2014 - but is that unconditional? Clegg says the Government has been clear it does not wish to see troops in a combat role by 2015 not 2014, but no timetable can be "chiselled in stone".

Picture 1012.10 Straw interprets the reply as being "conditional". He goes on to the issue of Sheffield Forgemasters not getting its loan from the Government and suggests that a factual error was made in the House over the issue.

12.11 We are determined to see troops withdraw from a combat role by 2015, Clegg emphasises. On Sheffield Forgemasters, Clegg says Mandelson was writing out cheques he knew would bounce, citing his memoirs' reference to how deeply in debt the Government was.

12.12 Straw is angry that Clegg won't correct the record over the alleged misleading of the House. The decision to refuse the loan was wrong, Straw eventually says.

12.13 Clegg says that was not so much a question as a dissertation and again attacks Mandelson. He tries to cite what a worker told the Sheffield Star but Speaker Bercow intervenes to say that he is being discursive.

12.15 Straw asks why Clegg is happy to see £550 million spent on tax breaks for marriage but not loan to Sheffield Forgemasters. Straw is liviing in complete denial, says Clegg, over the scale of the debt.

12.16 Straw again mentions tax breaks, before going on to cite Lord Ashcroft saying how few Lib Dem supporters in Lib Dem seats think the Lib Dems are being influential in government. He rambles on trying to come to a peroration and Bercow intervenes to suggests he is taking too long. Why won't Clegg revisit the decision on Forgemasters  is the crux iof it.

12.18 Thank heavens this will be Straw's only time at the Despatch Box - he needs to go and practise, replies Clegg. He says there's been more progress in ten years weeks under this government than under thirteen years of Labour.

12.19 Bercow calls Claire Perry, but Straw reckons he has another bite of the cherry and Bercow calls him again. Straw says the Lib Dems and giving power to the Conservatives without any influence. Cleg insists he is happy to take account for eveything being done by the Government to sort out the mess being left behind by Labour. He also suggests Straw should have to account for the illegal invasion of Iraq.

12.21 Perry asks what the Government is doing to restore civil liberties; Clegg attacks the dismal record of Labour on civil liberties and the surveillance state. This government is scrapping ID cards, reviewing surveillance powers to restore the balance between the citizen and the state.

12.25 Plaid Cymru's Elfyn Llwyd teases Clegg about him calling himself both a revolutionary and a pragmatist in an interview and what he was doing when he backed the VAT rise. We did not take the decision lightly to raise VAT, he insists.

12.29 Andrew Rosindell wants more of a voice for the British Overseas Territories and Crown dependencies. "They're extremely well represented by my honourable friend," Clegg says. He also mentions that Gibraltar is a difficult issue in the Clegg household...


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