Hague asked what lessons Blair drew from four and a half years of falling unemployment. He replied: "The lesson I learn is that the previous Conservative Government put it up in the first place." Hague asked whether measures which increased the cost of employing people reduced jobs. Blair replied fairness was not incompatable with a successful economy.
Verdict: Blair wins
Blair was again pressed by Ashdown about the impact of education spending restraint. He said Labour was putting double the amount that the Liberal Democrats had requested into education. "Next year, not this year" replied Ashdown. He added that Oxfordshire and Somerset were facing "devastating" cuts. "It has been extremely tight," Blair said, "it has had to be so."
Verdict: Ashdown wins
THE BACKBENCH ISSUES
THEMES OF THE DAY
Country dwellers' freedoms (Richard Spring, C. Suffolk W.)
Government discussions with Sinn Fein-IRA (Jeffrey Donaldson, UUP, Lagan Valley)
The Lockerbie bombing (Tam Dalyell, Lab. Linlithgow)
Cuts in BSE compensation (Paul Tyler, LD. N. Cornwall)
GOOD DAY... ...BAD DAY
(LD. Mongomeryshire) asked "If I could get the House of Commons Library to confirm that the Welsh Office will be pounds 55m worse-off in real terms over the next two years than they would have been under the Tories, would the Prime Minister believe me?" Blair paused before repeating: "The settlement has been extremely tight, it has had to be so".
(Lab. Birmingham Selly Oak) asked Blair to join with her in welcoming a ruling on trans-sexuality from the Employment Appeals Tribunal. Blair replied "I have to tell my Honourable Friend that I haven't seen the Tribunal decision to which he (sic) refers."
THE QUIP OF THE DAY
Hague went off duty after four questions, rather than the five which the Opposition leader is usually allowed. "He's on a zero-hour contract," said Dennis Skinner (Lab. Bolsover) loudly.
THE UNANSWERED QUESTION
Prentice asked Blair whether he agreed that it was "astonishing" that Jonathan Aitken had left the country after his court case collapsed. Now that he was rumoured to have returned, would Blair tell Hague to tell Aitken that he should stay and "face the music"? Blair, properly, would not comment.
THE CREEP OF THE DAY
Blair began four of his replies to Labour backbenchers yesterday with the words, "My Honourable Friend is absolutely right". Jeff Ennis (Lab. Barnsley East & Mexborough) took gold, asking Blair whether he agreed that the Government's abolition of the GP fundholding system is "a giant step forward".