Peter Hoskin

PMQs live blog | 4 March 2009

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With Brown in America, David Cameron on compassionate leave, and Nick Clegg looking after his newborn son, it's a Harman-Hague-Cable match in PMQs today.  Expect a subdued affair, although there could be some sparks over Harman's comments about Fred Goodwin's pension. 

Stay tuned for live Coffee House coverage from 1200.  You can watch proceedings here.

1205: First question for Harman from Keith Vaz, on the "increasing level on violence in video games".  Harman: "There must be tough classification..." etc.

1208: Hague stands to cheers from the Tory benches.  Offers his condolences to the victims of the Lahore terror attack yesterday - Harman didn't.  Follows it up by asking whether British troops in Afghanistan will have the equipment they need.

1209: Naturally, Harman responds in the affirmative.  Then catches up by mentioning the terror attack.

1210: Effective line of questioning from Hague, asking why the Government's business loan scheme hasn't been implemented yet, when the Government called it "Real Help Now."

1211: Harman looks flustered, knocking her notes everywhere.  She says the scheme is still being "finalised". Jeers from the Tory benches.  Harman responds with a list of measures the goverment has implemented.  Straight out of the Brown copybook.

1213: Hague pushes the same linhe of attack.  "Real help now?!" he exclaims.  Harman responds with the "Do nothing" line - unconvincing given that this is about non-implementation of Government policy.

1215: Hague's on top form.  Points out a series of schemes that the Government hasn't implemented yet, and pushes Harman on why she hasn't stepped in: "With the Prime Minister in America, this could be your moment!"

1217: Harman's tactic is to deflect Hague's attacks with long, dull lists.  Chides him for focussing on "political gossip".

1218: Hague: "[Harman] shouldn't refer to her leadership campaign as political gossip."  Pushes her on regulation.

1220: Harman hits back with past quotes from Hague calling for less regulation.  Will this work given how closely the Government's tied into the regulatory system, and figues such as Fred Goodwin?

1222: The Harman-Hague clash ends with Harman parroting the "Do nothing" and "Real help now lines".  She seems a bit more confident now, though.

1223: Vince Cable now.  Leads on Goodwin's pension, asking whether there should be a law to clawback pensions (effectively paid by the taxpayer) in the case of negligence.

1224: Harman reveals that there's going to be an investigation by a financial body into Goodwin's pension. "We are absolutely clear that it is not acceptable".

1225: Cable says that Harman is "missing the point", and asks whether there should be some provision to claw back the pensions of negligent politicians, civil servants etc.

1226: Harman gets a jibe in at Hague for getting £30,000 from RBS for "just two after-dinner speeches".

1228: Backbench questions on business and knife crime.  Harman sounds like she's reading Government press releases.

1230: Fiery question from Ann Winterton on Royal Mail: "why is it being handed over ... to European competitors?".  Although Harman's said to have raised reservations about the government plans in Cabinet meetings, she gives a Mandelsonian response.  To my mind, the Business Secretary is on the right side of this debate.

1232: Harman: "I understand that Sir Fred Goodwin was given a knighthood for his work with the Prince's Trust.  It was not for services to banking."  She looks embarrassed when the Goodwin row is raised, and understandably so.

1234: Questions on hospices and, erm, sheep.

1236: And that's it.  Harman finishes without the same "Do nothing" bombast that Brown usually deploys, and sits down hurriedly.  Expect my verdict shortly.

VERDICT: Although Harman got better as the session went on, she still cut a fairly uncertain and shaky figure throughout.  Hague came out well on top, with a line of questioning that keys right into the "headless chickens" charge against the Govenment.  And Vince Cable's questions about Fred Goodwin and pensions caused all the embarrassment they were intended to. 

UPDATE: Good work by CoffeeHousers 'Nick' and 'David' below, who counter Harman's claim about Goodwin's knighthood.  Who said that only the PM comes out with Brownies?