PMQs as-it-happened

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By Ian Dunt

11:00 - Just one hour to go until this week's PMQs. It's always somewhat stilted when the session precedes a major announcement, with leaders and MPs unable to properly speak on the main matter of the day. We'll be bringing you all the events as they happen. Just visit our Pre-Budget Report as-it-happens page page once it's over to see our continued coverage of Alistair Darling's announcement. As for the topics, it seems likely David Cameron will concentrate on the foreign policy events of yesterday, with Britain coming to terms with the latest soldier death - bringing the total to 100 - in Afghanistan this year, and attacks in Baghdad and Pakistan.


11:44 - Details just in from the morning lobby. During today's Cabinet meeting Gordon Brown stressed his commitment to "growth, jobs and fairness". He also stressed those departments which would be ring-fenced against cuts: police, health and education.

11:55 - Sky News' Glen Oglaza has just claimed that the chancellor will announce a further rise in National Insurance. Things are hotting up now, and rumours are swirling away with hard assurances.

11:59 - Brown is sat next to Darling as Cabinet Office questions winds down in the Commons. Darling appears ever so slightly nervous, but his grey manner smothers any rumours. It's a tactic he's used extensively as he took on the Treasury role during an unprecedented time of crisis for Britain's finances.

12:01 - And we're off. Before Brown lists his engagements he reminds the House of those who died in Afghanistan this week. "Every life lost during this year and during previous years is a tragedy." He then gives a cursory justification for the war.

12:02 - Robert Neill brings up Brown's slip-up on Spain's membership of the G20 from last week. "Do we conclude from that that the pain in Spain is mainly in his brain?" Big laughs. Brown says he's happy to talk about the economy. John Bercow tells off MPs for speaking too loudly. Brown insists the PM of Spain was invited to the G20 by the American president. Brown invited him too; "In other words, Spain was part of the G20. I know they're going to talk down Britain, but it's a bit much for them to talk down Spain." Brown appears on confident form today, just like last week.

12:05 - Cameron stands. Next to him, Osborne is sat forward in his seat, with his war mask on. Cameron says troops in Afghanistan need support, not pity. They are equal to those who stormed the beaches of Normandy. Does the PM agree we can't waste any time in getting all the elements of the surge strategy in place, including the pressure on Karzai to cut corruption? Brown says he's pleased Cameron visited Afghanistan. Cameron's right, we need to move quickly, the PM admits. There's a January 28th conference for the 43 nation coalition. Karzai will be there and he'll "have to" report on reform. The necessary equipment is all being made available.

12:07 - Cameron: US forces are now pouring into Helmand, but British forces are spread too thinly. Is there a danger there'll be a contrast with US forces, who aren't so thinly spread? Brown says the presence of our forces will be thickened in key areas. Also, we need to train the Afghan forces so they can take over.

12:08 - Everyone agrees a dense population of troops is the key to defeating insurgency. How quickly can we get this vital issue sorted? These are not great questions from Cameron. Brown says we're part of a coalition, and the decisions are made on that basis. Decisions about the location of troops are a matter for commanders on the ground. Cameron says he's "grateful" for that answer. Labour laughs. "No, honestly," Cameron says. He's so conciliatory he even appears weak. Tomorrow second home allowance details come out for the year. As of yesterday the plans were for details, not total expenses by each MP. That would not be transparent and it will infuriate the public. Will he see them published in full? "This is a matter for the Members' Estimate Committee," Brown replies.

12:12 - "With respect," Cameron begins, and Labour groans. Cameron says the question is not a detail, it is profound. Bercow again calls for order, this time from the Labour benches. Can Brown confirm the necessary legislation for the Kelly review will be published before Christmas? Brown says he understands that on the very issue he raises, a meeting is taking place this afternoon. "Perhaps he knows this," Brown adds, a little darkly.

12:13 - This is a pointless exchange. They are clearly on the same page, but Brown evades questions and Cameron makes mountains out of molehills. Will Brown accept Tory plans for a five per cent cut in ministerial pay and a ten per cent cut in the size of the House of Commons, Cameron asks. Brown says there are already plans like this on the way. He then abuses Cameron for getting the recession wrong, and Labour starts to cheer a little, like heroin addicts at a rally. "He has lost the art of communication, but not perhaps, that of speech," Brown says.

12:15 - Kevin Barron launches a tough attack on Zac Goldsmith. Brown says "sometime the Conservatives will have to face up to the fact they are the first party in British history to devise a tax cut just for themselves." Clegg stands up.

12:16 - Why are four million children still living in poverty, and why do pensioners have to struggle to keep warm? How does this correspond to Brown's fairness agenda? Brown mocks him by saying he doesn't even know the level of state pension. He says there's more stuff coming today, and that he should listen to the chancellor. "Once again, I don 't get an answer I get a list," Clegg says. "You can shout as much as you like, it doesn't change the facts," he tells Labour MPs. Bercow stands and backs him. Clegg says inequality and child poverty are going up, as are elderly deaths in winter. Labour hates it because he's stepping on their agenda. "He has failed on fairness," Clegg says. Brown insists Labour has taken action. "I know he doesn't like me reading lists of what we have done, but the trouble is he can't read any lists of what he has done." Alan Johnson clearly liked that one, he beams with glee.

12:19 - Graham Allen, Labour MP for Nottingham North, defends early intervention. Brown loves it. He says he visited Nottingham and saw how good early intervention was. Andrew Selous, Conservative, backs early intervention as well. Brown is surprised. "A-Absolutely," he stutters.

12:22 - John Hayes reminds the government it has failed its target for level 3 apprenticeships. "We are actually doing far more to increase the number of apprenticeships," Brown says. If he wants to help, why do the Tories oppose the summer school leavers guarantee, Brown asks. Derek Twigg asks a question on nuclear energy and wind-farms. MPs are just waiting for the big event now. Brown meanders onto Copenhagen, without saying very much. He espouses a balanced energy policy. "We need nuclear and I'm sorry the opposition say it's only a last resort for them." He also blasts Tory authorities for turning down wind-farm applications. Ten Tories are "all wind and no turbine" on the environment. " Before members get too excited I want to get a lot more backbenchers in," Bercow says, as MPs laugh.

12:26 - Keith Vaz talks about diabetes. Apparently he's been diagnosed. He wants everyone to have a free test for Type 2. Brown says it's in the upcoming NHS healthcheck.

12:29 - It's all gearing down now. Head over to Pre-Budget Report as-it-happens page for continued coverage of events in the Commons.

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