PMQs as-it-happened

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By Alex Stevenson

11:00 - Well, good morning everyone, and welcome to what promises to be another thriller. Recent clashes across the despatch box between Gordon Brown and David Cameron have been becoming more and more intense, as the prime minister's confidence grows. Will he over-reach himself? And will Cameron be able to reverse the unlikely trend of PMQs drifting away from him since November?

11:15 - What topics will Cameron pluck out to wind Brown up on? Again, here he appears to be on the defensive. Today's news agenda, on families, is fraught with difficulty because of his flip-flopping over marriage tax breaks. Then there's the economy, but this is almost too tried and tested. Perhaps Cameron will aim his sights at the Iraq inquiry? Unfortunately Nick Clegg has monopolised that topic. He's got 45 minutes to come up with something decent.

11:35 - Brown will give a statement on counter-terrorism immediately after PMQs wraps up, giving Cameron another opportunity afterwards to have a go at him. Last week Cameron's first two questions, on the snow, prompted a lengthy 'statement' from the prime minister which caused the opposition backbenches to stir nervously. Let's see whether the PM attempts to repeat the feat before, as well as after, 12:30.

11:37 - The Commons' daily session has got underway. Before PMQs this week Douglas Alexander is answering questions on international development. The chamber is already quite busy - clearly many MPs are interested in his answers on the situation in Haiti.

11:59 - Right - the chamber is packed, we're ready for the off. Alexander is wrapping up and both Brown and Cameron are in their seats.

12:01 - Danny Alexander kicks us off. Brown begins with the usual preliminaries about the latest Afghanistan fatalities. The House is suitably quiet.

12:03 - After some more suitably quiet comments about Haiti, the Lib Dem leader's chief of staff wants to know about broadband. Ten per cent of Highlanders are going to be left out! He is appalled. This is unacceptable, he says. After a decent 'hear hear' of approval, Brown says "fast broadband" is a good thing. Even if not quite everyone can get it.

12:05 - Tony Wright asks a question about Cadbury, yesterday's big news story. It gives Brown the opportunity to pressure Kraft over ensuring Cadbury's workers retain their jobs.

12:07 - And here's David Cameron, who wants to know whether Brown thinks a stabilisation and reconstruction force might be a good idea (something he proposed last Friday). Brown says it is, adding in passing it was a good idea he suggested two years ago. He seems to be forgetting he's in government.

12:08 - "It's not just that three million people have been left destitute... Haiti will need significant external help for everything," Cameron observes. He asks whether any new joint structures between Haiti and the UN can be considered. He's obviously trying to position himself as 'statesman-in-waiting'. Brown, again in passing, drops in that he talked about this with Barack Obama yesterday evening. Some rather subtle one-upmanship going on here.

12:09 - Brown continues waffling, leaving Cameron to look on rather miffed.

12:11 - And now Cameron moves on to a different subject: a crime case, in which two young boys tortured two others. Cameron is worried about a crime wave in Doncaster, and why it took "so long" for the government to step in. Brown hides behind the issues being in the courts, but admits this is a "serious case". This choice of question has come off the bat, it must be said. "I do not want Britain to be defined by this," he says, before rattling off a fairly comprehensive description of the current state of affairs. A serious case review is taking place.

12:13 - "If the prime minister wants to learn the lessons, one is: Why did so much go wrong for so long before we intervened?" Cameron isn't letting go here. He wants to know why five serious case reviews took place, without much changing. Only the summary was published, he says. Is Doncaster the new Haringey? "Serious case reviews are not leading to the correct action being taken!" Brown, clearly reverting to Haringey mode, cites Lord Laming's review. He says he wants the identity of the children to be protected. Some brief heckling from the opposition benches greets this.

12:14 - "I think the Conservatives should listen to some of the volunteer organisations on this matter," Brown finishes gruffly." Brown is thumping the despatch box rather excessively here, a giveaway that he's rattled.

12:15 - Cameron's voice takes on a whining quality, to indicate frustration with the PM's intransigence. Reviews into murders and mental health patients are published in full, he says - why are these treated more seriously? This is all just emotion. "I'm sorry he's moving ahead on this point," Brown says cryptically. He says all those in the know say a summary of the serious case review is the best way forward. "The purpose is to learn lessons from what's happened," he says. "I hope the opposition party will not stand isolated from all the professional advice in this field."

12:17 - "We're not going to learn the lessons properly unless we get the information out in the public," Cameron replies, making an excellent point. He rams it home by claiming support - not quite as successfully as Brown. He finishes by retreating to the violence of the case, playing it up emotively. "Aren't we in danger of having a cover-up?"

12:18 - Brown reiterates the government's position. Ed Balls nods sagely as Brown looks on. The PM says he's taking advice where it matters. He says the anonymity of the children is important. "These are important issues I hope the opposition will consider," Brown says, struggling to find a political punch line to finish on. "I'm sorry that on an issue when we do not have a final verdict in the court, he asks me a series of detailed questions when he hasn't read the report either!" What a weird end to a weird, weird series of questions. What was Cameron thinking?

12:21 - Maybe Nick Clegg can do slightly better. He asks a question about Cadbury. Why is government-owned RBS funding the Kraft takeover? Brown is baffled. He can't believe Clegg is asking the question. "His liberal principles seem to have gone to the wall!" A wall of jeering meets Clegg, who smarts at Brown's "little economics lecture". He says tens of thousands of British companies want money to protect jobs. Instead RBS wants to lend money to Kraft to lose jobs. "Isn't that just plain wrong?" "To put the words 'liberal' and 'principle' together now seems very difficult," Brown says. He launches off into another lecture on what Labour is doing on employment. "He has got nothing to offer the debate on the economy at all!" Brown says.

12:23 - Michael Meacher asks a question about reform of the Commons, after John Bercow grumbles about being behind schedule. Brown quickly states some lines about reform, batting this one away.

12:24 - Bexhill and Battle's Gregory Barker is shouted down as he asks a question about ministers losing their grip. "He's going to have to do better than that," Brown says, to massive taunts from both sides. Finally, at last, some political point-scoring. "We are getting on with the business of government and that is why unemployment is falling today. That is why we took action to help small businesses..." etc, etc. "The unfortunate thing is the Conservatives oppose every single thing we put forward!" Labour feel relieved, as Brown must surely do, he's been able to trot out some straightforward partisan comments.

12:25 - "It is interesting the leader of the opposition is not asking me about the economy today," Brown says in answer to David Chaytor's question.

12:26 - Next, the Iraq inquiry. Brown says he's happy to give evidence at any time - a fine thing to say given he knows he won't be called until after the election.

12:27 - Emily Thornberry asks a planted question about marriage tax breaks, mentioning some friends thinking about tying the knot. "It's the Conservative party that's tied in knots," Brown says, in pre-planned hilarity. Brown reads out Cameron's views on this. All the Tory frontbench can do is grin uncomfortably. Yells of "more!" from Labour backbenchers.

12:28 - Mark Francois asks a local constituency question about jobs. Brown, buoyed by today's employment figures, is quite happy talking out the final minutes of this one-sided session.

12:32 - Another jibe about 'posters' - last week's joke - before Uxbridge Tory John Randall asks a question about social cohesion. We're into extra time as Brown knocks it away for a quick single. Graham Allen helpfully says question number seven is on the "alternative vote". He keeps coming up every week in PMQs. Allen is brazenly pro-AV. Might this be considered by the PM? "This must be decided by members of the public in a referendum," Brown says. He likes AV because it retains the constituency link. Could it be he's supporting it? "I believe there is a case for a referendum on this issue."

12:33 - After Randall's beard comes Michael Fabricant's wig. His rather long question is rather tedious, as is Brown's brief reply. Next, Reading West MP Martin Salter takes British politics back to Tripoli and 1915 and the "gallantry" of a local military hero. Brown takes the opportunity to praise all those who have followed him to their deaths on the battlefield.

12:34 - We're still going as the Speaker's penchant for extra time continues. Brown is asked about immigration. The PM, waiting for the session to end, says the points system is "working". Bercow calls order, and we move on to the PM's statement on counter-terrorism.

12:36 - Brown says earlier statements introducing new security were just the beginning. Further measures are announced, he says. We'll be finding out what they are in a moment.

12:37 - The Home Office watch list will be extended. Two new lists - a no-fly list and a 'special measures' list of people who need 'enhanced screening' will be introduced. Sharing of intelligence will be extended. This sounds deeply controversial.

12:39 - The eBorders system will have a significant role to play, Brown says. He says the Detroit bomber has highlighted the need to improve security. New body scanners and the use of dogs have already been announced. But Brown wants to demand greater security from other airports. Flights from Yemen will be suspended with immediate effect, pending the improvement of security measures. This is big news. "The security of our citizens must be our priority."

12:41 - "It's because we fully recognise the global nature of the terrorist threat we face today that our response must be truly global," Brown continues. He says Britain's security services must work better together on coordination of information.

12:43 - Yemen, Brown says, is an "incubator" for terrorism. He says the "crucible" of terrorism remains Afghanistan and Pakistan, but recognises terrorists are seeking to exploit other areas with weak governments - in places like Yemen and Somalia. Brown says Britain's commitments to Yemen means it is one of the country's leading donors. "We will now work more closely with allies in the region to pool efforts, resources and expertise." Next week's Yemen meeting on the fringes of the Afghanistan conference is rather well-timed.

12:44 - Brown looks up, having not mentioned much. Cameron has an opportunity to make amends for his poor PMQs here. He says he welcomes much of the statement, especially its national security elements. "The Detroit bomber was radicalised first in the United Kingdom and then went to Yemen as a result," he points out. He wants Brown to ban Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

12:47 - Cameron opposes ethnic profiling, saying it doesn't work much. He's not impressed by the Yemen meeting. He wants the prime minister to stick to the policy of not commenting on intelligence matters, after lobby journalists were told by No 10 the UK had told the US about the bomber.

12:48 - "We will always support measures that support the hard-nosed defence of liberty," Cameron says, turning to counter-terror legislation. He finishes by asking whether the 42-day detention policy was a "mistake".

12:49 - Brown is in full-on patronising mode. He tells Cameron he had hoped for more consensus. "We take action where it is right to do so," on excluding individuals from Britain. Proscribing terrorist organisations takes place only when the government has the evidence to back it up, he explains.

12:50 - On body scanners, and what happened in Amsterdam, Brown says a "huge amount of money" is being invested to develop techniques for detecting terrorist materials. "If we invest in scanners in the UK, it is going to be necessary that other countries also have these sophisticated techniques," he repeats.

12:53 - Brown backs the Yemen meeting in the Afghan conference, insisting it is necessary to "signal the importance" leading countries attach to the Middle Eastern country. He brushes off the intelligence-secrecy practice, "but I do think we should look at the wider picture". "The counter-terrorism strategy starts with what we do in the United Kingdom supporting our borders." It doesn't mean we also need to work with other countries, he adds. "I thought and I continue to hope there will be complete consensus in all parts of the House on these issues."

12:53 - Nick Clegg pledges the support of the Lib Dems to "proportionate and well-thought-through" measures which deal with the threat while protecting the "security and liberties of the British people".

12:56 - And with that we're going to leave the Commons and wrap up our extended coverage. Brown's counter-terrorism statement has completely dwarfed PMQs itself, which was one of the strangest such sessions we've seen in recent months. Cameron attempted to shake out of his rocky patch by deliberately dodging Punch and Judy politics. It worked, to an extent, but he was left pushing a side-issue which made him looked preoccupied. Meanwhile Brown was able to get in the partisan body-blows in response to backbenchers' questions. It was left to Nick Clegg to get the opposition benches worked up.


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