Nick Clegg: Nothing I look forward to more on my birthday than DPMQs

DPMQBob Russell wished Nick Clegg “Happy Birthday” at his monthly Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions today, hence the quote in the headline.

Nick dealt robustly with a wide range of questions, from regional airports, food banks, the triple lock on pensions to Syrian asylum seekers. He managed to get in a reference to his disagreement with George Osbourne over the fiscal methods that should be used to reduce the deficit after 2015, claiming a sincerely held difference of view. He advocated a mix of public spending constraints, welfare savings and fair taxes on those with the broadest shoulders.

And he deflected challenges from veteran Labour MPs Dennis Skinner and David Winnick to leave the coalition and force a general election.

Greg Dyke, Cabinet Office Minister dealt solidly with the routine questions on voter registration and participation, Lords Reform and devolution to local authorities.

The first question Nick Clegg responded to directly was on social mobility, and he agreed with Conservative Damian Hinds that social mobility is nothing to do inherent ability. This gave him the opportunity to list some of the Lib Dem achievements in Government: child care, pupil premiums, apprenticeships, and a tax and welfare system that enables people to get into work and keep money they earn.

He dealt with the removal of Educational Maintenance Allowances by explaining that they were not targeted, so were replaced by a discretionary fund. He also mentioned that free school meals were now available in colleges for those who qualify.

Much of Question Time was spent discussing health and social care, and specifically the problem of bed blocking over Christmas, which Labour MPs claimed was due to cuts to social care. Nick Clegg said that people should stop talking down the NHS. Under the Coalition there were 300 more doctors in A&E, 2000 more people per day were being seen within 4 hours, and 1.2 million more people have used A&E.  There was also a new fund of £3.8 billion to support the local integration of health and social care – unaddressed by the last Labour Government –  which will deal with the bed blocking problem.

Then there were some inevitable questions about immigration. Right-wing Conservative Philip Hollobone kicked off by asking whether unrestricted immigration from European Union is in the national interest. Nick Clegg responded that he would never support turning our backs on the single market because three million jobs depend on it, and the CBI claims it is worth £3000 per household.

To another question from David Ward he said he supported a firm but fair immigration system in general, that welcomes those who want to contribute but stamps out abuse. He also said he was committed to a reduction in net migration, although the Government needed to be open with people about those elements that are not under its control, such as emigration.

To the evident surprise of some MPs he said that the UK had already accepted 1500 asylum seekers from Syria.

You can watch the broadcast on i-Player here.

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  • I really wish the Lib Dems would stop trotting out this Tory line that “use of food banks increased tenfold under labour”. It is true but seriously and deliberately misleading and makes the party just look like the Tories PR department. Around 40 thousand people were using food banks in 2010. Now it is well over half a million. Talking about the rate of increase is misdirection. What matters are the numbers.

    Of course it is not all the fault of the government. But faced with rising food and energy prices, stagnating wages, and an unfurling social catastrophe what did the Coalition do? Cut all working age benefits in real terms and massively increased benefit sanctions. God knows we’ve had bad governments over the last 30 years but none that has so shameful a record as the Coalition. Some of you are going to wake up in 2015. And you will ask yourselves how you supported a government
    that, like some tinpot dictatorship forced, as a matter of deliberate policy, hundreds of thousands of its own citizens to beg for food.

  • The 1500 Syrians granted asylum needs some context. This is all grants to Syrians since the start of 2012 and are people who have applied for asylum in the UK, i.e. they have already been able to get to the UK under their own steam. In the same time period, 352 Syrians have had their asylum applications refused. At the end of the 3rd quarter of 2013, there were also 446 Syrians awaiting a decision on their application.

    The current ask for the UK is not to accept asylum applications from Syrians (which is already happening), but to take part in the UNHCR’s resettlement programme. This is a programme that proposes that Western countries admit up to 30,000 Syrian refugees on resettlement, humanitarian admission, or other admission programs by the end of 2014. This 30,000 would mostly consist of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees who are currently in the host countries that border Syria, such as Jordan, Iran and Lebanon. These are individuals who would not be able to make it to the UK to claim asylum without such assistance.

    So far a number of countries have signed up, including Germany (who have pledged 5,000 places), Sweden and France, but not, I’m ashamed to say, the UK.

  • AndrewR.
    I completely agree with your comment. Clegg’s comments today – and with such indifference to the plight of disadvantaged and hungry people is shocking.
    Still, come the GE he’ll be reminded of his words publically and relentlessly.
    LD’s think the public’s anger in respect of uni fees is bad enough and will haunt them in 16 months time, just wait until today’s words are thrown at him and his party in the run up to the GE.

  • Roger Roberts 7th Jan '14 - 7:14pm

    Greg Dyke ?

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