Prescott to face Commons for first time since reshuffle

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The Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott will answer Commons questions next week for the first time since his departmental office was abolished in the reshuffle.

Mr Prescott, nicknamed "Prezza", is expected to use the 30-minute session of questions to reply to his Tory predecessor, Lord Heseltine, known as "Hezza", over criticism of keeping his role and title with the trappings of power but without the office.

The Deputy Prime Minister has been allocated a regular half-hour slot with the Cabinet Office minister, Hilary Armstrong, immediately before the Prime Minister on Wednesday.

Mr Prescott accused Lord Heseltine of "snobbishness" in his interview with The Independent on Tuesday for criticising him for keeping the grace-and-favour house in the country, Dorneywood, with his title after his department was axed.

Mr Prescott has been asked by Tony Blair to focus on "cutting deals" on cabinet committees over divisive issues such as nuclear power and pensions. He said Lord Heseltine never needed Dorneywood because he had his own large house in the country, and probably others "around the world".

He also said he had more work on his plate than Lord Heseltine had when he was Deputy Prime Minister in John Major's government.

Lord Heseltine hit back by accusing Mr Prescott of acting like a "lager lout" and said that he should be sacked. "If any major British company chairman or deputy chairman had behaved like this, he would have been out of the door immediately," he said.

However, Mr Prescott's friends said he had plenty of ammunition to fire back at the former Tory Deputy PM, including awkward questions by a former Commons public services committee over his use of civil servants for political ends.

Lord Tebbit, another former Tory cabinet minister, kept up the attack on Mr Prescott in the Lords yesterday, saying he should be fired. And Clare Short told the BBC's Daily Politics programme: "If he's not running a department, I think the salary and the perks are profoundly wrong".

But the pressure on Mr Prescott eased last night after Scotland Yard said it would not be pursuing legal action over his affair with his diary secretary. Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Yates said that it would not be an appropriate use of police resources to follow up complaints about Mr Prescott's conduct in public office.

In a statement, he said: "It is considered that the potential consequences in respect of the alleged behaviour, even if proved, would not be so serious as to call for a prosecution. A distinction has to be drawn between action that could potentially discredit an office holder and those actions that constitute criminality."

Alistair Watson, a former detective sergeant with Strathclyde Police who lodged the complaint, said the decision was "an absolute scandal... a slap in the face" to the British people.