William Hague, just back from a factfinding trip to Baghdad and Basra with David Cameron, used his first three questions to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to probe Government policy on Iraq.  Mr Hague asked about whether the Government planned to persuade America to involve neighbouring nations in improving the security of Iraq and whether security considerations could yet override announced plans to reduce UK deployments in Iraq "by thousands".  Mr Prescott’s replies were vague but he suggested that the possibility of some neighbouring nations becoming involved in a solution to Iraq was complicated by their role in fomenting the situation in Iraq.  We learnt nothing but Mr Prescott made no big gaffe.

Mr Hague’s second set of questions focused on Gordon Brown’s pensions raid.  He asked Mr Prescott to tell the House the cumulative sum taken from pensions funds.  £100bn has been lost, Mr Hague, said after John Prescott had twice failed to answer the Shadow Foreign Secretary’s questions and his diversionary efforts had infuriated the opposition benches.

During their previous encounter
Mr Prescott exceeded terribly low expectations by combating Mr Hague’s
humour with scripted ripostes.  William Hague won this
encounter by focusing on serious issues and exposing the Deputy Prime Minister’s ignorance of detail.  Mr Prescott was given little opportunity to deploy rehearsed lines on this occasion although after William Hague’s sixth and final question he tried a long-winded attack based on the Tory ‘tosser ad’.   It was completely off-subject and The Speaker’s failure to intervene is one reason why these exchanges are not respected by the public.

Vincent Cable asked about persistent regional inequalities.  The LibDems’ Treasury spokesman and deputy leader said that the inequalities that really mattered were differences within regions rather than between regions and these differences were worse than after 18 years of Conservative Government.  John Prescott paid tribute to the Regional Development Agencies. 

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