PMQs as-it-happened

Prime minister's questions as it happened
Prime minister's questions as it happened

Review our live coverage of prime minister's questions, after Ed Miliband took on David Cameron amid a renewed risk of a double-dip recession.

By Alex Stevenson

11:30 - Good morning, one and all, and welcome to this week's coverage of the political event of the week. Prime minister's questions is always a big test for the party leaders, and this week's exchanges are unlikely to prove an exception: both David Cameron and Ed Miliband are under pressure to perform in a suitably gloomy, downcast Westminster. The prime minister will be giving his take on Britain's economic prospects just two-and-a-half hours after figures confirmed the UK has slipped back into negative growth. The leader of the opposition, who is enduring a torrid January, must make as much of this misery as he can to keep the grumblers in the media and his party off his back. We're getting underway shortly after noon - it's going to be a good one.

11:38 - It's hard to see Miliband going with anything other than the economy today. But if he was to decide to chuck in a curve ball, he could do worse than pick out the solar panels defeat for the government in the high court which has just broken in the last couple of hours. Friends of the Earth were challenging ministers' insistence on pushing through a sudden drop in the level of feed-in tariffs, which was subsequently ruled unlawful. Government lawyers attempted to appeal, but their attempt in the high court met with failure today. They are now saying they want to take it to the supreme court - a move surely worthy of mockery by Miliband?


11:41 - Perhaps a more likely secondary topic might be the prime minister's jaunt to Strasbourg later this afternoon, when he will attempt to persuade European parliamentarians to rejig the European court of human rights. Miliband might want to suggest that EU politicians might be more minded to listen to Cameron's arguments if he hadn't marginalised Britain from economic integration measures in last month's veto. No, wait, that wouldn't work - for Cameron could simply point to Miliband's support for that veto.

11:45 - So one final option - and I'm going to stick my neck out and say that he will pivot from the general economic situation to this - is the controversial benefit cap which was defeated in the Lords on Monday evening. It's the perfect way for the opposition to demonstrate that the coalition isn't putting the needs of ordinary people first in these times of economic difficulty. But Miliband must be careful, here: the government didn't hang around in attacking Labour's position after the defeat, which - given that they support the principle of the cap - is far from straightforward...

11:57 - About five minutes to go now; in the Commons chamber Northern Ireland secretary Owen Paterson is answering questions. The opposition benches are fairly full but the government's MPs are showing bare patches in places; and not just on their heads, it should be noted. They'll have to hot-foot it in there before we get underway...

11:59 - "There are far too many noisy conversations taking place in the chamber," says Speaker John Bercow, in his traditional pre-PMQs rebuke. Think of it as his warm-up for the monster rebukes to come. On the government frontbench Nick Clegg, wearing a rather natty red tie, takes his place.

12:00 - And here's the prime minister, now in his place too and ready to go. As usual he's spending these couple of minutes leafing through his notes before the main event begins. I can hear Big Ben bonging outside my perch in the press gallery, which means it's nearly time to go...

12:04 - There we go, we're off. Nia Griffith, Labour's MP for Llanelli, wants to know why the youth contract scheme still hasn't started. Cameron gets jeered when he says it's doing well, but the opposition aren't buying it. Eleanor Laing raises the fact it's Burns Night tonight. She quotes his "impassionate plea for the unity of our nation". After a rather lengthy quote, Cameron is given the chance to respond. "Burns Night will be celebrated not just across Scotland but across the whole of the United Kingdom. When I hear the Scottish nationalists... perhaps they should remember Burns' words" - something to do with a "timorous beasty". Bizarre.

12:06 - After the fast-becoming traditional sarcastic cheers for Miliband from government MPs, the Labour leader raises - as expected - the miserable economic contraction seen in the fourth quarter of 2011. Cameron blames the crisis in the eurozone, although it's third in his list of excuses rather than first. He says other countries are having it quite tough, too. "The most important thing is have a credible plan to get us on top of the deficit." Miliband: "People are fed up with his excuses about what is happening in the economy." He attacks the eurozone excuse - very much a pre-prepared remark there - before saying the government's attitude has been one of "total arrogance".

12:08 - Laugher from Labour MPs as Miliband quotes a rather chirpy assessment from George Osborne. "How bad do things have to get to shake him out of our complacency?" Cameron repeats his first two excuses - squeezed household incomes and debt - before attacking Labour's old policy of "no more boom and bust". "There is not one ounce of complacency!" he protests. Another list of government measures is interrupted by Bercow... and then Cameron says the party opposite's approach is to borrow more and add to debt. "That would wreck our interest rates, wreck our economy and make things much worse." Miliband presses on with the 'complacency' line, saying Cameron and Osborne are the "byword" in complacency. He then makes a decent point about government borrowing growing under the Tories. "When will this prime minister face up to the fact it is his policies which are failing our country?"

12:09 - Five pm yesterday, Ed Balls said the government should listen to the IMF, Cameron says. At seven pm the IMF backed "fiscal consolidation". He finishes with a decent ending, that gets a big cheer: "There are two parties in this country taking responsibility for clearing up the mess; there is one party refusing to take responsibility for causing the mess."

12:10 - A question from Tory backbencher David Ruffley about Sir Fred Goodwin's knighthood gets a non-answer. Then comes Angus MacNeil, the SNP rabble-rouser, who asks a question about the referendum. "I think we should bring forward the date when we put the question to the Scottish people," Cameron says. "I think the point everyone needs to understand is options for further devolution are matters for all of the United Kingdom." That's an interesting point.

12:11 - Sir Peter Tapsell, the father of the House, gets another PMQs spot in the limelight. His rather ponderous delivery nevertheless achieves its affect, in a question about the IMF. Then comes Ed Miliband for a second round. And he's raising the health bill - well I never!. How's it going? he effectively asks. Cameron, laughing this one off, says "when it comes to the NHS you should expect a second opinion". A rather lame joke, that... The PM insists that "thousands" of GPs are supporting and implementing the government's reforms.

12:15 - Another rebuke from Bercow,after which Cameron quotes a Doncaster GP who's perfectly happy with the reforms. Miliband is scornful in response. "How out of touch is he with what's happening in the NHS?" he asks. He quotes the BMA and the Royal College of Nursing, who say the health and social care bill should be withdrawn completely. "If he wants to hear the voice of doctors and nurses across our NHS, why doesn't he listen?" The PM, in response, is obsessed with what's happening in Doncaster. This is a terrible performance from the prime minister, one of his worst in ages. He then trumpets the achievements of NHS improvements, and finishes, very hoarse-voiced, by insisting it's all getting better. "Waiting lists up, morale down!" Miliband shouts back.

12:17 - The classic 'no more top-down reorganisations' quote is deployed by Miliband, who tells Cameron to "put aside his pride and arrogance and drop this unnecessary and unwanted bill". Cameron hits out - "I know he backs down at the first sign of trade union trouble, but this government doesn't!" That's got him back in the game. He acknowledges he faces a "challenge", but insists that sometimes "doing the right thing" means frustrating a few people. I didn't think he quite followed that up with his finish, though; that's the end of the main exchanges.

12:18 - A very embarrassing brain-freeze from Sir Robert Smith, the Lib Dem MP, who totally chokes up and can't finish his question. Unusually, he doesn't get mocked or heckled by Labour MPs, clearly a sign that he is well-respected. Instead his colleagues help him with prompts, and - after an agonisingly long pause - he wraps up the question. How very awkward.

12:21 - Former business minister Pat McFadden asks a question about terror suspects and the relocation power. This has been removed by the coalition, he says, in very critical tones. Cameron says the control order regime "needed reform". It has now been changed and given more resources; the opposition look thoroughly unimpressed with that.

12:23 - A quick thought on the main exchanges: my verdict is that Cameron lost out comprehensively on NHS reforms. It was one of his worst performances in months. Miliband didn't do much to win this one, per se; he dealt with the economy stuff as well as he could, but it was in tackling the NHS that he laid the ground for Cameron to blunder into. This performance should relieve the pressure on him, nonetheless.

12:24 - Eric Ollerenshaw, Labour's northern stalwart, raises the benefits cap issue. Cameron insists the proposal "is fair". "I have to say how disappointing it was after the Labour party said they would support a cap, in the other place they voted against it. What a complete act of hypocrisy". Lisa Nandy, another Labour MP, is moaning about government advisers attending events with lobbyists. The PM says there's a "proper system for declaring the interests of special advisers and ministers".

12:26 - Another benefit cap question, which allows Cameron to point out that a number of transitional arrangements are being pushed through to help mitigate the impact. Meanwhile, here's a tweet from Labour backbencher Alun Michael: "Ed Miliband excellent at PM's Qns. Cameron, like Lansley, not listening to Health Select (Tory Chair & majority) or to those who work in NHS"

12:27 - Tory backbencher Bob Stewart sounds thoroughly fed up about the plight of pensioners who are subsisting on £6,000 a year, not £26,000 a year. Cameron underlines the point happily... the argument continues. Cameron says he's proud of the fact the basic state pension is being increased by £5 a week, starting in April.

12:28 - Next is Labour's Chris Ruane - "this isn't so much a work programme as a doesn't work programme". Cameron tells him to read the National Audit Office' report, not just the press release. That's a rather facile answer. Cameron says the work programme is about payment by results, so there.

12:30 - After another supportive benefit cap question, obviously planted, from the government benches, Cameron turns his comments against Miliband. He suggests the Labour leader couldn't persuade his party's peers to vote with the government. "What is he," Cameron asks. "Weak, incompetent, or both?"

12:31- After that jibe it's no surprise that Miliband is in shouty mode. A question on the NHS prompts more heckling from the Labour leader. "The leader of the opposition should quieten down for a second," Cameron says scornfully. Very acrimonious stuff - excellent.

12:34 - And so we continue - next is Chris Skidmore, a Tory who once again raises the benefit cap. He says Labour's opposition is a "damn disgrace". The Speaker calls for "moderation in the use of parliamentary language", as Labour MP squeal their disapproval of an MP actually looking like he's caring what he's talking about. Cameron tells Miliband: "It's no good shaking his head, his own peers voted against the cap in the Lords. People in this country won't understand why they're taking that position."

12:38 - And that's the end of a pretty decent PMQs. It's always good when the weekly narrative gets shaken up a little bit; after several weeks of truly appalling performances from Ed Miliband, this week it was David Cameron's turn to put in a bit of a shocker. He won't have done his efforts to win over nurses, doctors and other NHS staff any good with that rhetoric. It's turned a bad day, with terrible economic news, into a really bad one for him. Of course, that's a verdict you may not agree with! Do leave a comment below to give us your views on this week's exchanges. That's it for now - thanks for following!

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