PMQs as-it-happened

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Review our live coverage after David Cameron and Ed Miliband clashed in prime minister's questions this lunchtime.

11:35 - Hello, one and all, and welcome to another Wednesday lunchtime, another PMQs. This week is all about the Leveson inquiry, so - as my head is full of all things Leveson - I couldn't possibly contemplate any other topic being discussed at the despatch box after 12:00. There is the eurozone crisis, of course, but British politics has its head stuck in the sand of press-politics relations. Whether the British public actually care about this is another matter...

11:37 - The main event today is the Commons vote on whether Jeremy Hunt should be referred to the independent adviser on ministerial interests. The Lib Dem position is that they're going to abstain, putting a lot of strain on the coalition. I think the Lib Dems ought to vote with Labour, as I've written about in this comment piece, but Clegg has already made the call that he wants his party's MPs to stay away from the voting lobbies rather than reject the Tory position outright. Surely there is enough there for Ed Miliband to be going on with? The session gets underway at 12:00, so not long to wait now.

11:46 - One man who won't be sitting alongside David Cameron on the government frontbenches is Nick Clegg. This is splendid timing for the leader of the Lib Dems, who won't have to squirm uncomfortably - as is usually the case on these occasions - when Miliband lays into his positioning on sensitive coalition issues. Clegg has the watertight alibi of giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry, which he's doing right now.

11:49 - It's difficult to glean anything significant from the deputy prime minister's evidence, which is somewhat turgid. Perhaps the most important development has been him wearing glasses in public. This is apparently only the second time ever he's actually done this! It does look quite odd. Glasses, of course, can convey gravitas when balanced on the tip of one's nose. Worth trying every strategy, I suppose...

11:54 - This is really rather awkward timing, for Clegg's evidence has all of a sudden got very, very interesting. He's talking about the process by which responsibility for exercising that quasi-judicial decision-making power over the BSkyB bid was transferred from Vince Cable to Jeremy Hunt. I think this quote is quite important: "I remember asking questions of Gus O'Donnell about whether I could be sure that the bid would be dealt with objectively and appropriately by Mr Hunt by the DCMS and he assured me it would be."

11:56 - On how Hunt handled himself during the bid process itself, Clegg is unexpectedly supportive of Hunt. "I think he's given a full, good and convincing account to this inquiry," he says.

11:59 - Time to focus our attention on the Commons chamber now, for the main event: PMQs (what a relief).

12:02 - Big Ben is bonging 12, and we're off. The session begins with the prime minister paying tribute to two fallen soldiers. Zac Goldsmith, the Tory backbencher, asks about the third runway at Heathrow. He's not especially keen on it. How about the prime minister? Cameron says the coalition's position hasn't changed, "but..." The 'but' is all about how Heathrow operates better. He's focusing on queues, which is a bit of a side issue.

12:04 - Fairly moderate cheers for Ed Miliband. After offering his own tribute to the fallen soldiers, he asks Cameron why Warsi was referred to the independent adviser on interests and not Hunt. "There's a very significant difference between the two cases," Cameron says, dead-pan. Labour MPs fall about with laughter. The difference is that Hunt has faced a judge-led inquiry, Cameron insists.

12:06 - Miliband points out Hunt wasn't asked a single question at Leveson about whether he broke the ministerial code. Cameron quotes a letter from Sir Alex Allan, the independent adviser. "I do not believe I could usefully add to the facts in this case," he quotes Allan as saying. Ah! Conservative MPs shout. But Miliband says the key issue is whether there's been a breach of the ministerial code. He has a quote of his own, from Leveson saying that judging on that is "simply not my job".

12:07 - Tories are heckling like crazy here. "I know they've been well whipped- they've obviously got the memo from the prime minister's aide. The last one began 'comrades'! I like the sound of that, Mr Speaker! 'We need a protective wall of sound. Last week we nearly dried up. Please show sufficient stamina for the full half-hour!'" That is actually quite funny, isn't it? The Tories certainly seem well-lubricated.

12:09 - "On our side of the House, comrades is a term of endearment. It's not an official title!" There's Cameron's riposte to the memo leak. On the ministerial code, he says it's up to the prime minister - himself - to make the judgement call here. Being PM is very handy in a case like this. "I'm sorry that the whole political strategy behind his opposition motion has collapsed, but that is the fact of the case!" The Tories are well dug-in here behind this line, but it doesn't seem to wash. They could easily U-turn.

12:11 - Miliband is complaining that a memo to the prime minister isn't irrelevant. The culture secretary's note to Cameron is now quoted by Cameron, who quickly moves on to a brief foray into the enemy's lines. "By the way, the whole reason we are discussing this takeover is because the last government changed the law to allow a foreign company to own a British broadcasting licence!" Groans from Labour. He continues the offensive, before commenting on the Lib Dems. " To be fair to the Liberal Democrats they didn't have that relationship, and their abstention tonight is to make that point. I understand that- it's politics!" Ridicule from Labour, cheers from the Tories.

12:13 - I can't help but groaning as Miliband repeats Cameron's "you were the future once" jibe back at the PM. Not the first time he's done that. Now he's wrapping up. He suggests Cameron is "scared the culture secretary won't be cleared". Cameron observes that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". He then moves on to point out that the whole issue is very much about the past. Referring to Gordon Brown's evidence, he quotes the ex-PM as saying "no one in my position would have instructed briefing against a senior minister". That is viewed as the height of comedy by the government benches. "More!" they yell. "Perhaps the victims can put their hands up!... I don't need Alex Allan to adjudicate on this one!"

12:14 - "It's not about the culture secretary's judgement - it's about the prime minister's judgement which is so badly flawed even his deputy won't support him," Miliband says, in a final flourish. Cameron finishes by attack Labour's "double standards and rank hypocrisy".

12:15 - Speaker John Bercow picks out Michael Gove for a special rebuke out of the chaos that follows. "In the average classroom he would have been excluded by now. He must calm himself!"

12:18 - This, then, is one of those days when Labour uses attention on PMQs to highlight its main opposition day debate coming later. As expected, really. I think the most interesting thing to come from it was Cameron addressing the Lib Dem abstention directly. "It's politics," he said dismissively. Quite neatly done, I thought. But that didn't allow him to escape from Miliband's questions about why he hasn't referred Hunt to Sir Alex Allan, the adviser. Cameron was able to quote Allan, but Miliband riposted well with a quote from Leveson. The result is probably an impasse - 1-1, perhaps?

12:21 - Plaid Cymru's Elfyn Llwyd asks a question about Leveson. He wants to know why government ministers have to be briefed and coached by lawyers before attending Leveson to give evidence. "What ministers are doing is refamiliarise yourself with a huge amount of evidence," Cameron says. Being fairly straight there - sort of. "There's a huge amount of information and preparation, and I think that's entirely appropriate."

12:23 - Downing Street has just released the full texts of the letters - both dated June 13th, today - between Cameron and Alex Allan. Here they are:

13 June 2012

Dear Sir Alex Allan

You will be aware that I will this week be giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry. As you know, I have decided not to refer Jeremy Hunt to you as I am satisfied that the relevant information about this issue has been established and I am content that he did not break the ministerial code.

Separately, I will be outlining to Leveson some of the initiatives this Government has taken to strengthen accountability and transparency as well as some areas where I am proposing future changes to the current guidance. These include the conduct of special advisers and the handling of quasi-judicial decisions and I would welcome your comments.

Yours sincerely
David Cameron MP


13 June 2012

Prime Minister

Thank you for your letter of 13 June. I note your decision in relation to Jeremy Hunt’s adherence to the Ministerial Code which is of course a matter for you. The fact that there is an on-going judicial Inquiry probing and taking evidence under oath means that I do not believe that I could usefully add to the facts in this case though I remain available should circumstances change or new evidence emerge.

On the broader issues I would welcome the opportunity to comment in more detail before the new guidance is finalised.

Yours sincerely

Sir Alex Allan

12:25 - "What a lot of brassneck!" Cameron roars at the end of a lengthy tirade about Labour's record on dealing with the Murdochs. His line about the Olympic team for hypocrisy is serving him very well, and the Conservatives are loving it. He hits out at the Unite union's £5 million donation to Labour as an example of "crony politics".

12:27 - A couple of questions about ordinary issues - primary school places and the like. What - are there issues facing Britain other than the Leveson inquiry? Surely not!

12:30 - The atmosphere in the Commons chamber seems to be much more fractious than usual, even for a prime minister's questions. Next is Robin Walker, the Tory MP. He asks a question about Europe - a very loyal one, giving the PM the opportunity the chance to wax lyrical about his achievements on the continent. Britain could have been paying as much as £10 billion on the euro bailout of Spain, he claims.

12:31 - Liverpool's Steve Rotheram, Labour, asks a rather general question: "Have you run out of speed, or is this just too good for you?" Cameron responds with an insult, referencing the poetry sessions in school that Rotheram has proposed. Labour MPs yell out angrily that Cameron is being rude.

12:32 - Finally the Commons hushes as a question is asked about Gary McKinnon by David Burrowes MP. The PM says two independent medical experts are reviewing the situation. "This is not an easy case," Cameron says. An announcement will come sooner or later, in short.

12:33 - Another question about Leveson. A Tory backbencher wants the Downing Street phone records to be published during Gordon Brown's period in power. Cameron says that's just not the done thing, but invites Brown to consider it.

12:36 - Mark Durkan, the SDLP MP for Hoyle, gets in the first "chillax" joke of the week. Cameron says "I'll wait till after tomorrow" before trying the "delicious-sounding beverage" which Durkan was referring to. Next it's time for the last question, from Lib Dem MP Mark Williams. He's asking a question about flooding, and whether insurance companies are going to move quickly. Cameron replies by praising the emergency services, but says the most difficult bit is when people get back into "soaked homes".

12:38 - And that's the end of the session. The Commons chamber moves on to a statement about the referendum taking place in the Falkland Islands. A fairly entertaining session, all things considered; I'm going to wrap up this live blog now to update our story on the Jeremy Hunt row. Come back in half an hour or so to see the result!
 

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