PMQs as-it-happened

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By Ian Dunt

11:00 - Well, here we are. John Bercow's first prime minister's questions as Speaker. Will he try to limit leaders' statements so backbenchers get more time? Or will he duck the problem, as he did yesterday when Gordon Brown announced the parliamentary standards statement on radio hours before it came to the Commons. First day on the job, of course, and he was evidently a little nervous when he first stood. We'll be up and running at 12:00 BST.


11:31 - Have no doubt about it, the new Speaker has set the bar rather high for himself when it comes to refereeing PMQs. At the Hansard Society hustings on June 15th he made clear he wants to clamp down on the weekly exchange. "The Punch and Judy show is boring, extremely abrasive and is now a contributory factor to the contempt bordering on opprobrium in which we are now held," he said.

12:00 - And we're off. Brown begins by mentioning the names of those killed in Afghanistan and the Iraq hostages, which he describes as "cruel and barbaric".

12:02 - And there we go. Bercow just shut someone up with: "I think the prime minister has got the gist of it". Very impressive response to a typical Labour set-up question. Cameron: "He had a bit more than the gist of it, he had a prepared answer as well." Big laughs for the Old Etonian, which he barely deserves.

12:03 - Will Brown correct his capital expenditure statements on the Olympics, which were wrong? Brown starts spewing figures, but admits it will fall. Over-enthusiastic groans from the opposition benches. "We are investing 34 billion, he was investing only 16," Brown says. Cameron describes this as "just not good enough". Cameron has found something that doesn't add up - this statement on capital expenditure growing until the Olympics. In fact, it will be cut in half. Will Brown apologise and correct his statement?

12:05 - Brown is getting tongue-tied here. This could be dangerous for him. "The problem for the right honourable gentleman is he wants to cut capital investment now." He finishes with a fairly typical 'Tory cuts' attack. Cameron says the PM has been caught "absolutely red-handed". If he believes in transparency he would admit to getting it wrong. "Now do it", he snipes, in an unpleasant voice. Brown stammers through an explanation about telling the House expenditure has been brought forward. Brown is telling the truth, but the general thrust of Cameron's attack is valid.

12:07 - Spending is £44 billion in 2009/10 - the highest ever in the UK, which compares to £12 billion under the Tories apparently, Brown says. Cameron says even his own colleagues don't believe him. He says Yvette Cooper has tried to undermine Brown, and that a meeting between them had to be closed down because of her objections. She shakes her head. The Tories are red-faced with glee. "Find that moral compass, stand up there and tell us you got it wrong," Cameron finishes. Labour is sinking into brain death. The first order from Bercow: "There is simply far too much shouting. The public doesn't like it and neither do I."

12:10 - Cameron says the public have learnt the PM can't give a straight answer and isn't a big enough man to admit he got it wrong. Brown ends with another traditional statement on Tory cuts. Bercow: "Mr Fabricant, you must calm yourself. It's not good for your health."

12:11 - A backbench question allows Brown to endlessly justify how wonderful his Iraq inquiry will be, despite this shambolic backward walk he's had over the last week. Nick Clegg gets up. On Gurkhas Brown was wrong and backed down, again on expenses and now on the Iraq inquiry. When will he admit being wrong on public spending. Curious way to end that attack. Brown says the Liberals want to cut public expenditure not the Labour party. The House erupts. Bercow intervenes again. Clegg says we have the largest underlying deficit of anywhere in Europe. No-one is fooled by setting up cuts as investment, Clegg continues.

12:14 - Brown lists Labour programmes - housing etc - and repeats that the Liberals don't know what they're doing.

12:16 - Ashok Kumar asks a question on maintaining the manufacturing base for steelmaking. Brown says he's doing everything he can, including working with the unions. Daniel Kawczynski attacks Brown for criticising the Polish Law and Justice party the Tories just got into bed with in Europe (they're pretty far off the political radar - banning gay marches, that sort of thing). Brown says the Tories should have a closer look at who they're doing business with.

12:19 - Nick Brown, chief whip, looks moments away from inflicting a great violence on someone. Martin Salter - caught napping in the Commons the other day - stars his question by praising the Speaker, in a mischievous party-political way.

12:21 - Bob Russell tells the Speaker Essex University is proud of him. Why is Essex county council closing two secondary schools, against constituents' wishes? Brown wants the question addressed to Ed Balls, schools secretary. The one place I'd give backbenchers less power is PMQs, where they manage to consistently ask questions either on a personal mission or something they can tell constituents they asked about. Or they suck up to the PM by asking a prepared question which opens the door to whatever speech it is he wants to make. They're proving it now. Let's hope Bercow doesn't do too much to help them in this respect.

12:26 - Linda Gilroy asks a back-breakingly dull question on water charges. Sir Paul Beresford asks a question on Equitable Life, the government response to which does them an indignity. Will it look again? We're looking at that and "will report in due course". A cynical man would suggest they are waiting for more of them to die. One more order from Bercow who objects to a Labour MP lambasting the Tories with a statement that the prime minister "doesn't have to concern himself with opposition policy". Julian Brazier: Will Brown confirm he has heard requests for an increase of forces in Afghanistan. If he'd been in yesterday he would know that was the case, brown says, vindictively.

12:29 - Phil Wilson asks how the Tories can associate with the Latvian party which praises the Waffen SS? Brown backs up that point, describing it as "remarkable". We're winding down from a not particularly remarkable session. Labour looks bored as ever. The Tories want out as soon as Cameron's done. Bercow wants to make a statement. "When ministers have key policy statements to make, the House should be the first to hear them and they should not be made beforehand." He also wants frontbenchers sticking to allotted time, and that backbenchers restrict themselves to one supplementary question. "I always expect that those speaking in this chamber shall be heard." Very interesting stuff from Bercow who just gave Brown a very polite spanking, and told some of the most powerful men in the country to shut up.

12:33 - So there we have it. Cameron beat Brown with a big stick today, although the concentration on capital investment means most voters will have turned off. Cameron is relying on the fact that they will get the gist of it (Brown=dishonest). The real winner is Bercow though, who was confident, and made a point of giving the PM a telling off for policy announcements to the media. He's still doing it now. "The thrust of what I've said is pretty clear." That had to happen for him to maintain authority - or build it anyway. Brown: Nil points. Cameron: one point. Bercow: two points. See you next week.

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