11:10 – With David Cameron at the G20 summit in Mexico, it normally falls to deputy PM Nick Clegg to take over running the shop – well, stand in at prime minister's questions, at least. Unfortunately the Liberal Democrat leader is at the Rio+20 summit in Brazil, so it falls to foreign secretary William Hague to answer for the government this lunchtime. He is the first secretary of state, after all.
11:15 – As usual we'll be bringing you our customary live as-it-happens coverage from the Palace of Westminster. Hague is a veteran at this sort of thing, of course, and is always good value for money. We can expect some excellent digs at the Labour party, but deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman has been around the block a few times, too, and is more than capable of standing up for herself.
11:20 – There's a whole range of issues which Harman could choose to run with this lunchtime. Perhaps she might care to pick up on the state of the global economy, or the miserable state of climate change talks in Rio. Closer to home, this is one of those Wednesdays when unemployment figures are out. If she wanted to attack the Conservative party, there's always Lord Fink's cash-for-access scandal (sort of) to think about. Many, many more options are available, too.
11:58 – Hi, this is Ian Dunt taking over as Alex goes into the chamber. Kick off should be in a couple of minutes.
12:00 – Hague is sat down next to Theresa May. Hague, of course, was considered a fine Commons performer even as Tory leader, when he used to regularly defeat Tony Blair. No-one cared, of course, because no-one outside of the Palace of Westminster is foolish enough to think it is of any consequence at all, but he won nevertheless. He should defeat Harman easily.
12:02 – And we're off. Hague gets a rousing bit of support from the benches behind him. He is dressed sharp, albeit still suffering under that "walking embryo" description. Beside him, Danny Alexander is trying to look tough, which is not easy for a man with the face of terrified squirrel. He was, however, branded Parliament's Jason Statham by one of my lobby colleagues a little earlier. I can only presume there was some tongue firmly in cheek there.
12:04 – Stephen Metcalfe (Con, looks like an MEP from Germany) asks about a refinery in his constituency which is to be closed. Hague makes warm words of the sort which suggest he is doomed. Harman gets up. She looks actually pretty good in black with a slightly hippy necklace. She’s flanked by Douglas Alexander and Alex Burnham. Oh dear, it might be a consensual event. Harman praises the Burma democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is in Westminster today. Hague supports her too – not exactly surprising.
12:07 – Harman asks if the position of their British government will remain that sanctions return unless there is sustained progress towards democracy and the rule of law. Hague says yes. "We will continue to review progress," he says. He says the president is sincere, but "elements within the government" will not be "so enthusiastic".
12:08 – God that was dull. Harman moves onto the NHS. Tories groan. She asks how he can justify an elderly person with cataracts in both eyes being told they can only have surgery on one of them? Hague says it would unacceptable to ration on financial, not clinical, grounds.
12:09 – Harman says there is evidence. She seems unsure. Next to her Burnham seems more on top of the brief. "What does he say to an elderly patient who needs a hip replacement – wait in pain or pay and go private?" Hague says this shouldn't happen, it did happen under Labour and "their GP should be going to work tomorrow, not going on strike". Standard Tory attack – trying to get Labour on the wrong side of a strike. She submits, saying "we don't want GPs going on strike but we are proud of what we did with the NHS. Labour builds up the NHS and the Tories drag it down."
12:11 – Harman says last week Hague marched against NHS cuts in his constituency. Hague smiles widely and shakes his head. She reads a quote about increasing the number of midwives. Has the government failed to keep its promise? Hague congratulates her on not brining Ed Balls with her, allowing everyone to hear the debate. "I am glad she says GPs should be at work tomorrow – she should tell that to [Diane Abbott] who said she had a lot of sympathy with the BMA." He says what is happening in his constituency is "nothing to do with health reforms". Next he says the Tories are proud of "average waiting times". Standard fare here. Nothing to see. On your way.
12:14 – Harman: "And he never answered the question about midwives. Before the election the leader of the opposition was all 'yes we Cam', now as prime minister it's 'no we can't'. The PM once said he could sum up his priorities in three letters – NHS. Isn't it more like LOL." Absolutely dreadful. Hague: "It obviously took a long time to think up that one." Unfortunately, his answer has none of customary wit. It's just a list of NHS achievements.
12:16 – Peter Bone saves the day by saying the Lib Dems in parliament are a "yellow peril". They were "disgraceful" in not supporting Jeremy Hunt and the Tories should rule as a minority government, Bone says. Hague says he will "not be advocating a divorce in the government" – and makes a quick joke about the infamous Mrs Bone.
12:18 – Hague offers an insanely optimistic appraisal of the British economy to a Commons which simply does not believe him. Esther McVey (Con, glamorous) offers a Thatcher-pitch speech on the Tories encouraging commerce. Hague cites British exports to Brazil and China etc. David Hamilton (Lab, looks like he just had a fight in the pub) raises pay reviews for local pay. Hague says a chancellor once said it needed a more considered approach – that chancellor? Gordon Brown.
12:20 – Bercow demands order from a rowdy Commons. Tessa Munt (LD, unfortunate name) reads from a script – a depressing new Commons tradition. She jabbers on. Bercow interrupts and demands a "one sentence question – and a short sentence". She wittles on even further (about radiotherapy) and then sits down meekly. Hague offers a vague response.
12:21 – Phillip Hammond is so still he looks like the most tedious assassin on earth. He is so boring you would never see him coming. Mel Stride (Con, marvellous name) asks about bovine TB. I have jet lag and have been waking up early enough to hear Farming Today recently, so I can tell you they are very upset about it. Hague says tens of thousands of cows are slaughtered from the disease. This, of course, is leading to the badger cull, with Defra about to make a statement.
12:24 – Hague is asked about Tibet. He says he brings up human rights with the Chinese all the time. Simon Hughes and his weird creepy mouth stand up and ask about tax avoidance. Unfortunately he calls Hague the "deputy prime minister" – a position which actually belongs to his boss Nick Clegg. Hague says he won't tell him about the slip up.
12:26 – Jim Fitzpatrick (Lab, Dads Army) raises concerns about the housing benefit system reform in London (social cleansing etc) Hague says the reforms are fair and only the most expensive areas will be affected. On the benches behind him, Alexander and May giggle together. It is a truly horrible image.
12:28 – Angus Robertson (SNP, face like a Cornish pasty) wants Hague to congratulate the Scottish government on securing investment and falling unemployment. Hague says long-term unemployment is still rising. "Scotland as part of the UK is an attractive place to invest in" he says cheekily. There's much talk online about the improved mood of PMQs with Hague vs Harman – no explosions of rage from the government bench. Is it because Cameron is not here or because Harman and Hague are both liked across the House? Dennis McShane (Lab, principled) wants a particular Chinese prisoner mentioned by Hague, in the Commons, as a message. Hague won't do it, he will look at the individual case privately. Then Bercow does something interesting. He says "he got his question on [the man's name]" – thereby making sure that at least the Speaker has said it.
12:33 – By the way I'm not censoring the name, I just won't be able to spell it.
12:34 – And on it goes, four minutes past the deadline. Heather Sheeler (Con, dreadful everything) wants to celebrate investment in Derby. Hague does. And on it goes even further. David Amess (Con, sterile) says their Olympic Games is a chance to bring the country together and celebrate "this government putting the Great back in Britain". God help us all.
12:36 – Luciana Berger (Lab, apparently attractive) says Cameron likes to chillax down the pub but should approach Anglo-French relations with a more sober attitude. Damn the questions just get worse by the second. Hague speaks nonsense in response. Bercow makes a strange comment about Richmond I don't understand.
2:38 – And the session draws to a close. Final score Hague: 1 Harman: 0. Harman was so bad that an off-form Hague was easily able to deal with the threat. Cable gets up to make a statement on directors pay. Just as the session ended it was announced Greece has a government. What a charming note to end on. See you next week.