TIM Farron clashed with Labour MP Caroline Flint on his first Question Time appearance last night.

He debated the European debt crisis, social housing and business behaviour on the BBC topical debate programme, which also included Tory MP Grant Shapps and broadcaster Janet Street-Porter.

Attracting applause to some comments, the Westmorland and Lonsdale MP hit out at Labour’s past financial record.

Answering a question suggesting Labour leader Ed Miliband was taking his party to the left over comments made about some business practices, Mr Farron said: “I spent last night in Kendal talking to small businesses - paying themselves less than the minimum wage and keeping people in work - good businesses that have been put in an awful position because of bad Government decisions in the late 1990s to deregulate the banks which leaves us in the mess that we’re in now.”

Ms Flint said Mr Farron’s comment that Labour had spent ‘13 years in power behaving like Tories and months in opposition behaving like Trots’ was ‘absolutely ridiculous’.

She also repeated the word ‘rubbish’ as the Liberal Democrat president continued: “Labour entered power in 1997 and committed the appalling sin of out-Thatchering Mrs Thatcher and deregualting the banks.

“This is why we’re in the mess we’re in now - it’s not because Labour overspent, it’s because they decided to do something that even Margaret Thatcher didn’t dare do.”

Ms Flint hit back, and said that Labour had introduced holidays and a minimum wage.

Programme chair David Dimbleby gave Mr Farron an uncomfortable moment during a discussion on Europe and whether Britain should take back some powers from Brussels, as suggested by Foreign Secretary William Hague this week.

Mr Farron acknowledged the unpopularity of the EU in Britain but said he disagreed with Mr Hague.

The presenter quipped: “I know you don’t like being in coalition with the Tories and you want a divorce within three years or whatever and maybe you’re thinking of having an affair with Labour.”

A puzzled Mr Farron joked: “That’s all got too complicated, I think I might need an injunction,” to the amusement of the Liverpool audience.

He described plans to give priority social housing to people in work as ‘authoritarian’ and ‘populist’ and received applause when he said the decision to sell council homes was one of the most ‘ludicrous’ ever.

David Dimbleby closed the programme by asking Mr Farron whether he wanted the Coalition to ‘divorce’ before 2015, but the MP said the Government would last until then as Britain needed ‘stability.’

Mr Shapps added: “It will be a perfectly amicable divorce and it’ll happen on the first Thursday in May, 2015.”