The current Tory deputy leader, standing in for an absent Major, tried to catch Blair out on a Labour election pledge that children on assisted private school places until they were thirteen would be able to keep them while the scheme was phased out. Was the Education Secretary now reserving the right to "vet" individual cases, and was that not a breach of a promise? Blair said discretion was essential to prevent possible fraud.
Ashdown asked Blair to confirm that Labour would stick to the expenditure levels planned by the Conservatives for the next two years. When Blair did so, Ashdown asked whether it was not "dotty" that the Government had committed itself not to transfer savings made in one department to be spent in another. If they were to do that, education could benefit. Blair dismissed the point as "not very substantial".
Verdict: Ashdown wins
THEMES OF THE DAY
Mildenhall and Lakenheath Airbases (Richard Spring, C. West Suffolk)
The Conservative leadership contest (Martin Linton, Lab. Battersea)
The Private Finance Initiative (Ian Pearson, Lab. Dudley S.)
Scottish devolution and the Claim of Right (Ray Michie, LD. Argyle and Bute)
Land ownership rules in Scotland (Margaret Ewing, SNP. Moray)
GOOD DAY... ...BAD DAY
Managed to ask most of his question, simply poking fun at the Tories' method of choosing a leader; a question that was out of order because it has nothing to do with the PM. The Speaker made allowance for the fact that he was a new MP.
Spring accused Labour of anti-American and anti-NATO sentiments; of wanting to close US air bases in his constituency. That allowed Blair to make a stirring vow of devotion to the bases, the US, and NATO.
THE QUIP OF THE DAY
Sylvia Heal (Lab. Halesowen and Rowley Regis) prefaced a question on school standards by asking Blair what 203 minus five was, saying half of nine year-olds in England could not answer the question. Blair said: "I feel as if the shades of Dan Quayle were standing over me" - a reference to the former US Vice-President's insistence that potato was spelled with an "e".
THE UNANSWERED QUESTION
Blair was too astute to risk disaster by attempting Heal's mental arithmetic under the pressure of the half-hour long question session. He said in mitigation: "She and I both know the answer to it, so there's no need . . ."
THE CREEP OF THE DAY
Ewing tried to gain the Eigg vote for the SNP. She asked Blair to send congratulations to the population, who are celebrating their recent acquisition of the island. Blair tried to win back the floaters of Eigg for Labour, creeping: "I hope they enjoy their celebrations very much. . . unfortunately I cannot be there with them."