UK Politics

Clarke 'surprise' at Commons recall for Thatcher tributes

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Media captionKen Clarke describes his 'surprise' at the recall of Parliament

Former Chancellor Ken Clarke says he is "surprised" Parliament was recalled to pay tribute to Lady Thatcher as such a thing had "never been done before".

He told BBC's Question Time the six-hour debate on Wednesday "deteriorated" as old arguments were re-aired.

David Cameron has defended the recall of MPs and peers amid reports Commons Speaker John Bercow was "taken aback" by his request for a special session.

Parliament has been recalled on 26 occasions since 1948.

Typically recalls have happened only at times of national crisis or military action, such as the Falklands or the Gulf War.

Some Labour MPs took issue with the decision to reconvene Parliament on this occasion, saying tributes could have been paid when MPs and peers returned after their Easter break on Monday, two days before Lady Thatcher's funeral.

'Tasteful and sensible'

However, Labour leader Ed Miliband backed Mr Cameron's request to seek a special session - which was granted by Mr Bercow.

In the Commons, Mr Cameron described her as an "extraordinary leader" who made the country "great again" while Mr Miliband said she was a unique figure who "broke the mould".

In the Lords, a series of former colleagues of Lady Thatcher paid tribute to her achievements as the country's first female leader.

Asked about the decision to recall Parliament, Mr Clarke said he was "surprised" since it "has never been done before" on such a matter.

He added: "I sat through most of it. It was perfectly all right. Inevitably the difficulty is it starts deteriorating into people sort of re-running political arguments."

The occasion was difficult, he added, since "you want to be tasteful, unlike these demonstrations, and you want to be sensible" but the 1980s was a "deeply divided time".

He added: "On the hard right and on the hard left, people continue to create for the benefit of today's young a caricature of what it was about."

Mr Clarke served as a minister under Lady Thatcher for 11 years but, in 1990, was one of a number of a Cabinet colleagues who told her she was losing the support of the party and could not win a ballot on her leadership - prompting her to resign.