PMQs as-it-happened

Alex Stevenson By

Review our live coverage as Ed Miliband took on David Cameron at this week's prime minister's questions.

11:05 - Hello, one and all, and welcome to another busy lunchtime in parliament. The Treasury is wincing over its fuel duty U-turn yesterday and the coalition is barely holding together over Lords reform: it's a hot, sticky, oppressive, muggy day in Westminster, where I'm going to be bringing you live blow-by-blow coverage of PMQs from 12:00.

11:11 - This is one of those weeks when Miliband has a tough dilemma on what topic to choose. The big story of today is Lords reform, of course, but this is an issue where the Labour leader has adopted a rather unfortunate position. He's backing the bill, but insisting that parliament spends ages debating it. So if he dares bring it up, trying to get a raise out of Cameron, his own position could come under unwanted scrutiny.
A much more attractive alternative is probably George Osborne's fuel duty U-turn, announced in Treasury questions yesterday. This is the 1,789th policy disaster stemming from this year's Budget, now widely viewed as one of the most politically inept in years. Given Chloe Smith's agonising performance on the issue, this presents something of an open goal for the leader of the opposition.

11:26 - The parliamentary day is just about to begin. Before PMQs at 12:00 we've got Welsh questions; and then (assuming there are no last-minute statements or urgent questions) comes the publication of the Lords reform bill. All that happens today is its formal first reading - there isn't any debate or division. The bill, according to the Commons order paper, is "to make provision about the membership of the House of Lords; to make provision about the disclaimer of life peerages; to abolish the jurisdiction of the House of Lords in relation to peerage claims; to make other provision relating to peerage; and for connected purposes".

11:48 - Not too long to go now until we get underway. I've spent the build-up writing a story about Sir Gus O'Donnell, the former civil service chief, who had some interesting predictions to make about the coalition. The final 12 months in the run-up to the May 2015 election is going to be a "year of hell", he predicts. I'll publish the story in mid-afternoon, I guess. Going to be busy though - Lords reform is the number one priority!

11:58 - The Commons chamber is now very full. David Cameron and Nick Clegg have just entered: the deputy PM is wearing a bright red tie. Presumably he's in red rag to a Tory bull mode. Meanwhile it looks like there's one or two spaces on the Lib Dem benches. Which is odd...

12:02 - Peter Hain, now Ed Miliband's PPS and the former Welsh secretary, is looking especially orange. Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan is full of compliments for him.

12:04 - Tory MP Helen Grant tees up Cameron to attack Labour on Lords reform. "There is a majority in this House for a mainly elected House of Lords... if those who support Lords reform don't get out there and back it, it won't happen. It's hopeless in life and in politics to do what the Rt Hon gentleman is doing, to say he's in favour of it but he's also against it. It's hopeless!"

12:05 - And with that, Ed Miliband is called. He completely ignores the Lords reform jibes and opens up with a question on fuel duty. Lots of Labour cackling. But Cameron gets an early cheer, saying "it cannot be a U-turn to get rid of a Labour tax increase!" His voice yelps up, out of control, like a deranged dog. Always a sign of trouble.

12:06 - "Another case of panic at the pumps," Miliband mocks. He's enjoying himself here. When the Labour leader is in perky mode there's no stopping him. "Why doesn't he admit it - plan A has failed," he finishes. Cameron is all affronted. He says Miliband should be congratulating the government for "doing the right thing". Cameron explains that the coalition has been busy "defusing Labour's tax bombshell" ever since they entered government. Miliband responds: "I'm afraid it's back to the bunker after that answer."

12:08 - They're whistling through the questions here. A quick one-two - not a bad tactic from Cameron, really - and now Miliband is pressing on, giving shadow chancellor Ed Balls credit. He says the PM has made six U-turns, but not on "the tax cut for millionaires paid for by the tax rise on pensioners". How about some feedback on those two proposals? Well, Cameron replies, Balls was to blame for it all in the first place. When Labour was in power the top rate of tax was 40p, until right at the very end. Under the coalition it's up to 45p.

12:09 - Groans from the Tory backbenches as Miliband mentions the Chloe Smith interview - and Nadine Dorries calling Osborne a "coward" for sending her on. Miliband attacks the "double standards" of the government. Cameron denies the chancellor "hiding away" - he was announcing the tax reduction from the despatch box, Osborne says. "He was actually here, making the announcement, and I have to say completely wrong footing the shadow chancellor." Cameron expands his argument, saying Labour is all wrong on process. They're "absolutely hopeless".

12:11 - It's about the unfairness of this government, Miliband says. Jimmy Carr's tax affairs are contrasted with those of the tax cuts for millionaires. "It's one rule for the comedians in the stage and another rule for the comedians in the Cabinet!" Big cheer for that one from Labour. "More!" they yell, after Miliband wraps up. Cameron says he's "not at all surprised" that Miliband is "touchy" about tax avoidance - because they've just elected Ken Livingstone to a senior party position.

12:13 - And with that, almost before it had properly got going, the main exchanges finish. Those six questions and answers seemed to whistle by: they were very short, compared to most to-and-fros - and I think that Cameron is the one who's benefited most. Miliband could have done with dragging that out a bit more. He's probably only won 1-0, when it could have been a much more significant victory.

12:14 - One advantage of the quick pace of the exchanges is that we get more time for backbenchers. So let's settle in for a good 20 minutes or so of MPs pushing the PM on the issues that matter most to them...

12:16 - Michael Meacher, Labour, asks about a House business committee within the next 12 months. He won't offer an agreement just yet - but Cameron says the coalition's already done a lot. Reformers will be a bit worried by that reply.

12:17 - Sarah Wollaston, the Tory MP (and GP), asks a question about gift aid. There's a problem with the sound on her microphone... not helped by an ambulance or police siren working its way past Parliament Square outside! Cameron simply restates his points about how marvellous the government's tweaks to gift aid are.

12:18 - John Woodcock, a Labour MP, raises the tax affairs of Tory donor Lord Ashcroft. Cameron has a stock answer for this: all peers have to be UK taxpayers. He then attacks Labour's chief fundraiser, Andrew Rosenfeld, who between 2006 and 2011 lived "in which key marginal seat? Zurich!"

12:19 - A hostile question from public administration select committee chair Bernard Jenkin, who asks Cameron whether the EU summit coming up at the end of the week is more or less important than Lords reform. Cameron laughs as he answers. His answer focuses solely on the EU - not a word on Lords reform.

12:20 - Chris Bryant', the Rhondda MP, tells Cameron "it's bullets that kill" - he's not happy with the arms trade treaty. Cameron doesn't offer any real kind of answer.

12:23 - After a question from Jake Berry about flooding trouble, which Cameron uses to talk about insurance problems and the "recovery phase", Labour's Ian Mackenzie asks about this week's borrowing figures, which were bad news for the coaltiion. Another generic response from the PM, who isn't being very imaginative this lunchtime. Nick De Bois, the very right-wing Tory MP for Enfield North, is worried about knife crime. Efforts are underway to "change the culture", Cameron says. The PM pays tribute to the families of knife crime victims, like the Kinsellas, who campaign on the issue.

12:24 - Debbie Abrahams, Oldham East and Saddleworth, asks about the gas explosion in her constituency yesterday. Cameron says the whole House will want to send their sympathy to the family of the two-year-old who died. "Everything will require answers to what's been an absolute tragedy."

12:26 - Another question about flooding, now, this time from Craig Whittaker, the MP for Calder Valley. Cameron says the government will "work very hard" with the insurance industry to get it all sorted out. "As my constituency suffered in 2007, while the recovery from the floods is extremely difficult, the resilience of our communities... is remarkable."

12:27 - Frank Roy, Labour, asks about manufacturing. On this the PM is quite upbeat. The steel industry's doing well on Teesside, he says. That ought to be applauded.

12:28 - The campaign for a posthumous Victoria Cross for an SAS soldier who fought in a battle in Oman 40 years ago is raised by Jesse Norman. Cameron says these sorts of decisions "aren't for politicians to make".

12:29 - A quick question from Liz Kendall about GCSEs. "We want to have an absolute gold standard of exams in our country that are about rigour," the PM says. He says GCSE questions included things like "how do you see the moon - is it through a telescope or a microscope?"

12:30 - A very long question from Andrew George now, who is keen for an "exciting" new project in his constituency. I'm afraid I automatically switched off after he said the word "exciting". It's always bad news when that emerges from a politician's mouth.

12:31 - Clive Efford, Labour, raises the south London PFI nightmare we heard about earlier in the week. Cameron says the government is putting more money into the NHS. He attacks the PFI systems put in place by New Labour. "Yet again, time for an apology!" he barks.

12:32 - Mark Reckless calls for "flatter, fairer taxes" as the best solution to avoid aggressive tax avoidance. Cameron is very happy to agree with that. "Tax evasion is illegal and wrong and should be chased down... but some of the tax avoidance schemes that have been put in place in recent years are in my view very questionable."

12:32 - Green party leader Caroline Lucas raises the extradition headache once more. This is quite tricky, Cameron explains. "We continue to look at this," he says. Is this ever going to be resolved?

12:33 - Peter Bone, who managed to get our headline for his PMQs question last week on the coalition "yellow peril", can't deliver again this week. He asks a random eurosceptic question about some sort of flag. A bit strange, really. And with that, the session ends.

12:34 - MPs stream out of the chamber, keen on their lunches. And we're just about to get the first reading of the Lords reform bill when MPs intervene for points of order...

12:36 - "House of Lords reform bill," the Commons clerk reads out in his usual ponderous tone. And so it begins...

Get involved Get Involved