PMQs as it happened

Alex Stevenson By

12:38 - This was an above average performance from Clegg, who at his best was refreshingly spontaneous in his assaults on Labour's record. He proved nearly as good a rabble-rouser from the Tory backbenches as David Cameron, and rebuffed the surprisingly limited Tory attacks on his own position on the EU referendum with apomb. Cameron's absence because of his US trip is becoming a little frustrating, though. Parliament isn't sitting next week, or the week after that, or the week after that; it's going to be June at the earliest before we see the prime minister facing questions from MPs once again.

12:36 - Chris Heaton-Harris, a Tory, asks a question about the Olympic legacy. Clegg reads off a list of legacy boards, institutions, panels and the like. And with that it's lunchtime. A phrase which here means 'statement from the secretary of state for energy and climate change'.

12:34 - Siobhain McDonagh, Labour, just doesn't understand why the UK government is going to the Commonwealth heads of government meeting. "Of course there will be consequences if there is not a change in the conduct of the Sri Lankan authorities," Clegg says.

12:32 - Stephen Lloyd, the Eastbourne MP for the Lib Dems, reads out an extraordinarily dull question. "Probably scope for an adjournment debate on the back of it," Bercow says sarcastically. Withering. 

12:30 - Lots of finger-jabbing from Stephen Hepburn, who is outraged at the background to the government's mesothelioma bill. Clegg says compensation is available from July 2012 - there has to be a cut-off date, he says. And now comes James Gray, who salutes Clegg for being a "democrat" as well as a "liberal". He then repeats the Leigh gambit by quoting an old Lib Dem leaflet at Clegg. "We've done better since the time we delivered that leaflet - we've legislated to guarantee that," Clegg says, getting rather high-pitched. "If he wants to reinvent it all over again, what will he give up from a fairly crowded Queen's Speech?" It wasn't that crowded, Nick...

12:28 - Nigel Adams, the Tory Yorkshireman, boasts about how marvellously the Yorkshire economy is doing. The Conservative MPs around him look utterly bored. But as a Yorkshire MP Clegg is delighted to join in the triumphalism.

12:26 - Simon Hughes, Lib Dem deputy leader, gets the customary cheers as he stands up. He says he can't support Cameron for going to the Commonwealth heads of govenrment meeting in Sri Lanka because of the Sri Lankan government's human rights record. Clegg acknowledges the decision to attend is "controversial" but says: "Of course the government condemns those violations..." he's reading from a briefing note from the FCO here. "If the Sri Lankan government continues to ignore its international commitments... of course there will be consequences."

12:24 - Cheers for red-faced Edward Leigh, who is waving a Lib Dem leaflet at the time of the Lisbon treaty. It shows Clegg calling for a referendum on Europe. Is Clegg "an imposter or a hypocrite". Clegg is being laughed at here. The Lib Dem position, he explains, is: "We should have a referendum on Europe when the rules change." The Tory frontbenchers are grinning.

12:22 - Tory ex-soldier Rory Stewart wants a "true smart grid" solving energy problems. Clegg is keen on this. Brian Donohoe raises price-fixing again. Clegg: "Of course allegations are incredibly serious," Clegg says. "I think it is important on all of our behalfs... that those companies now engage seriously in looking at the allegations put to them."

12:21 - Another question on Remploy, now, from Dundee West's Jim McGovern. His problem is the Remploy factory is earmarked for closure. The Commons listens carefully as the details of a worrying severance package are raised. Clegg promises to look into it. 

12:19 - After a question about Northern Ireland from crooning MP William McCrea, Lib Dem Alan Reid squawks out a question about oil companies and the price-fixing scandal just beginning to emerge. He gets laughed at by MPS here and then. Hague is smiling here as Clegg gets in another jab against Labour's fuel spending plans. "The large oil companies are now under investigation should of course fully cooperate with the European Commission."

12:17 - Stripy-tied Tory Andrew Turner gives Clegg a hard time over the Lib Dem promise of a referendum. He wants the Lib Dems to support the amendment tonight. Clegg is acidic as he tells Turner to go away and read the Lib Dem manifesto. Bercow intervenes. Ye Gods! Look at Bercow's tie! It's far, far worse than Clegg's!

12:17 - Toby Perkins, a gentle giant of a Labour backbencher, is complaining about the Remploy fiasco. There's something about the way he says "utterly incompetent" that makes you believe he means it, and how. Vince Cable strokes his eyebrow thoughtfully as Clegg delivered the government's response.

12:15 - A serious note now, as Margot James raises the Oxford sex abuse cases. Clegg says he feels "a sense of revulsion at these truly evil acts" before praising the courage of those who came forward to give evidence. He calls for "the severest possible sentences".

12:14 - Clegg is on a roll. He is thriving off the atmosphere in the Commons chamber here, criticising Labour's Rob Flello for an "astonishing" episode of "amnesia" on fuel prices.

12:12 - Harman is unimpressed, but her attacks only meet with a more intensified attack on the New Labour legacy from Clegg. He is proving very good at trumpeting the achievements of "this government" - and is proving a more unifying Tory leader than David Cameron itself. Harman shakes her head as she points out Clegg voted for a millionaires' tax cut. "We have a prime minister who's not just indecisive, not just weak, but fast becoming a laughing stock," she says. Clegg then puts in a fine answer to finish, performing better at the despatch box as he makes the simple point that Labour's top rate of tax was 40p than either Cameron or Ed Miliband. That was exceptionally good stuff from the DPM.

12:09 - This is a slightly bizarre persistent line of questioning from Harman, who probably quite sensibly switches to unemployment. "What's today's excuse?" she asks. The Commons chamber briefly quietens as Clegg addresses the unemployment figures but that quickly ends when he starts upping the partisanship. He reads out a list of pre-prepared stats which show there's lots to "celebrate rather than denigrate".

12:08 - Harman asks, deliberately ridicously, wondering if Cameron were here whether Harman would "show true leadership" by abstaining. Clegg responds with mockering, saying Harman has wasted three questions pointing out that the PM isn't in Britain. He then uses the phrase "copper-bottomed" to describe a referendum guarantee, which is never acceptable.

12:08 - Harman is doing quite well this morning. She points out Cameron has been busy on a London bus - not something he does here - and explaining the benefits of the European Union to Obama. "To be fair to the prime minister, I think he's always made it clear he believes in the continued membership of the European Union, if in a reformed European Union," Clegg says, stirring a little bit. Hague has a rather amused expression on his face sitting next to him,

12:06 - Harman is up next. She's fed up that the prime minister hasn't bothered showing up. Question number one is: "Out of the last eight Wednesdays, why is it the prime minister has only answered questions in this House once?" Clegg gets ridiculed by the Labour backbenchers for suggesting Cameron is "assiduous" in his attendance at the Commons.

12:05 - Next is Peter Bone, one of the movers of tonight's amendment. All he wants to know is it's just the Tories who are offering an in-out referendum. Clegg won't play ball, reminding Bone there was 100 days spent in this parliament legislating for the referendum lock. "He and his colleagues are perfectly free to change the goalposts, but they have this legislation," he says simply.

12:04 - Here's Hunt's question. "If Conservative members of parliament don't have to support the governmenton Europe, why do Liberal Democrats have to support the government on... [insert long list of Tory policies here]." Clegg gets big cheers from the Tory backbenches as he defends the policies of the government.

12:03 - William Hague is in place to back up Clegg - not a Lib Dem in close proximity. We're now getting underway, with Labour historian Tristram Hunt kicking off. Bercow gets in a record for the earliest possible intervention, calling for quiet before Clegg has managed to say a few words.

12:00 - TIE UPDATE - Clegg is wearing a shocker of a tie for his special day. It is so garish I can barely work out what colour it is. Fuschia? Ugh!

11:57 - Of course, there's half a chance Clegg will have to actually deal with some of the government's policies. This would be rather awkward, but he's getting rather practised at making the most of his cross-Whitehall approach (the constitutional portfolio didn't work out, after all). Top of the pile this lunchtime is unemployment, which is on the way up again. The warning signs emerging from accident and emergency could also be a likely topic for Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, to go for.

11:48 - I've just put up the full 25-minute interview with Lidington, which contains a particularly good section around 14:30 when he utterly fails to say whether he would vote to leave the EU if a referendum took place tomorrow. It was rather illuminating and thoroughly frustrating, at one and the same time. 

11:41 - Meanwhile, in a conference centre on the south coast of England, home secretary Theresa May is giving her speech to the Police Federation's annual conference. This had been something of an ordeal for her in recent years, thanks to the florid overdone lambasting criticisms of the late Paul McKeever. May has paid her respects to his memory and is now rolling out an alternative approach: that anyone who kills a police officer should face a life sentence without parole. That gets a lot of applause in Bournemouth, but it's not something our editor Ian Dunt is particularly happy with.

11:35 - The main focus of the day will, of course, be on this evening's vote, which will take place at 7.15. Come back later on to find out what the result actually is; what's likely is a large number of Tory eurosceptics putting their foot down and grizzling at the utter lack of an EU referendum bill in the Queen's Speech. This has been a nightmare for Downing Street, which cobbled together the desperate idea of Conservative-only governmental support for a private member's bill at the last possible moment. The official line, as explained to me by Europe minister David Lidington in our interview yesterday, barely holds firm. Here's what he said:

Nothing's changed in terms of policy since the prime minister's Bloomberg speech in January of this year. In that speech he set out very clearly a set of challenges that face the whole of Europe and ways in which he believes that Europe should respond to that - to become more flexible, more democratically accountable than it is now. And made it clear too that his strong opinion was it is in the UK's interest to remain within a reformed European Union. What he also said in that speech was that at some stage in this parliament the Conservative party rather than the coalition government would publish a bill to provide for a referendum by halfway through the next parliament, so 2017. That's what's happened now. The timing of that is down to the fact we're just about to have the annual ballot of MPs to see who has the right to bring in a private member's bill. This is available to Conservative backbenchers to table with official party leadership support if they want to.

11:30 - Good morning, everyone. With David Cameron still in the States - he's not flying back until tomorrow morning, you see - it falls to the leader of the Liberal Democrats, one Nick Clegg, to cover for him at PMQs this week. This is remarkably good timing for Cameron, who escapes having to deal with Tory eurosceptics challenging his authority in this evening's Queen's Speech vote on an EU amendment bill. It leaves us wondering exactly how blatant Clegg's gloating over the discomfort of his coalition  colleagues will be. This is his opportunity to make clear the Lib Dem view on the whole matter - and get across the message that his party's attitude to Europe is very different from the Tories, to boot.

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