PMQs as it happened
Review our live coverage of the last PMQs before Christmas with our live blog.
12:37 – A very festive-themed PMQs draws to an end; thanks for following our coverage. I'm exiting this live blog right away to get a news story done on Philip Hammond's Afghanistan statement, now underway.
12:36 – Last of all is Tom Clarke, a Scottish Labour MP. He raises fuel poverty, after the earlier question on this. Clarke says there are nine million households about to go into fuel poverty – a record. "Will he explain to the House and to our constituents as we approach Christmas, what is the government prepared to do about this horrible scandal?" Cameron acknowledges it is a "scandal" but questions the figures Clarke provided. He thinks it's only 3.9 million households – quite a difference. Then comes one more list about Things The Government Is Doing, and that's the end of that.
12:34 – The end-of-term mood in the Commons chamber is palpable, but there are still moments of seriousness. George Howarth raises Hillsborough. He wants the Hillsborough charity single to have its VAT waived. "The system has moved relatively rapidly," Cameron says. "As the first lord of the Treasury, I think I can confidently predict there'll be a decision that goes down well in Merseyside."
12:32 – Another PM-at-Christmas question from Labour's Kevin Brennan. He suggests Cameron watches The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, starring the chancellor; The Muppets' Christmas Carol, starring the Lib Dems, or – randomly – 'It's Not A Wonderful Life For The Poor', starring Cameron. The PM's default position in these circumstances is to attack Ed Balls. Everyone knows Balls does a great job of "playing Santa Claus" at the Christmas party, Cameron says. Balls nods enthusiastically. Cameron proposes Miliband should give the Commons "an early Christmas present – make the arrangement permenant and give him the sack".
12:31 – Tory veteran Julian Brazier, for whom the word "staunch" was invented, barks out a question about those mean old benefit claimants and how people are "FED UP" with them. This gives the PM the chance to mount a lengthy exposition of how Labour, which opposes the benefit cuts, are "profoundly out of touch".
12:30 – After a question on care homes, where the PM says communities need to "come together", we get a question from Labour's Tom Blenkinsop. He points out Cameron's local fox-hunting organisation are in a bit of trouble for fox-hunting. A clever question, which also queries whether the PM was riding his own horse at the time. "I can happily put on record that I've never broken the law in this regard," Cameron replies. Lots of excitement in the chamber at that one. Hooting and the like.
12:29 – The Great Train Robbery is raised by Bolton North East's David Crausby. In fact he's talking about bankers. Or something. Rich people, anyway. He's against "powerful villains who are just too privileged to be put behind bars." Cameron, surprisingly, says Crausby makes an "important point". In an inspired moment, he then pivots – following the Queen's remark about the gold yesterday: "What punishment we should design for people who sold our gold at half-price is another matter altogether." Tory MPs are impressed by that one. Cameron is on form today.
12:26 – Andrew George, Lib Dem MP for St Ives, complains about the closure of a helicopter ambulance service to the Isles of Scilly. He wants a meeting with the PM. "Proper transport links to the Isles of Scilly are absolutely vital," Cameron acknowledges.
12:25 – Neil Carmichael, a Tory backbencher, gives Cameron the opportunity to attack Andy Burnham, who stands by his comment that it is"irresponsible to increase NHS spending". Cameron observes: "The shadow health secretary is the gift that keeps on giving."
12:24 – Joan Walley, one of parliament's tip-top climate change campaigners, is worried about falling spending on insulation for poor families. Cameron says the government's green deal is "bigger and better" than Labour's measures. But cuts is cuts is cuts, and there's only so much the PM can do to get around that.
12:22 – Cameron is facing quite a few questions on benefits right now, that's for sure. Another one here on universal credit and the dangers for working women. The PM doesn't spend much time on it – this is an area of vulnerability for him, after the Lavery question earlier. Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith is at his usual place at the bar of the House, rocking up and down on his heels and far too far away from Cameron to offer any actual assistance. Presumably he's not comfortable being crammed up on the government frontbench. Too much bodily contact.
12:21 – Philip Hollobone – who I think is a very Dickensian sort of character – asks a typically eurosceptic question which also manages to get in law and order, immigration AND benefits. Impressive, really.
12:20 – Robert Flello begins his question with a quick "Merry Christmas, Mr Speaker" – and then gets heckled by MPs for about 30 seconds. Excellent stuff. Cameron, having listened to the question, is dripping with scorn as he observes: "I think it was a case of Merry Christmas and happy speaking opportunities in the new year."
12:19 – Harriett Baldwin, one of the most loyal of Conservative backbenchers, puts forward a question about unemployment. A good chance for the PM to get in a swipe to Miliband, who had predicted it would be going up this year. It has, in fact, gone down.
12:17 – And now Ian Lavery raises the case of a constituent who committed suicide after being put on benefits. The chamber falls completely silent. "We're supposed to be a civilised society," he says. Lots of hear-hears for these questions. Cameron says he will look carefully at the "obviously very tragic case" he raises. The PM is a master at matching his tone to the mood. But it doesn't last long as the PM then presses on with a call for reform of the benefits system.
12:16 – The temperature in the Commons is now even higher than in the main exchanges, which just goes to show how relatively tepid the Miliband-Cameron to-and-fro really was. Time for Lib Dem Martin Horwood to calm the waters, who asks a question about… planning.
12:15 – Tory MP Rob Wilson doesn't get beyond "trust in the police"… before MPs get excited – he's obviously asking about Andrew Mitchell. Wilson wants "no stone left unturned" on these allegations. Cameron: "Let me say, again at Christmas time, it is right to pay tribute to brave police officers… A police officer posing as a member of the public and sending an email potentially to blacken the name of a Cabinet minister is a serious issues and needs to be seriously investigated… the Independent Police Complaints Commission will be supervising the investigation and I think we should allow them to get to the truth." That last point is significant – but will it be enough to satisfy the opposition?
12:13 – "Partying with Rebekah Brooks," Miliband continues, shaking his head as gets in a jibe about the PM's social calendar. "It wouldn't be Christmas without the repeats, and that's all we get," Cameron replies. That smelt very pre-prepared. The PM gets some audience participation going as he wonders what policies Miliband has offered this year. "Nothing!" Tory MPs chant.
12:11 – Hungry children at Christmas – a classic festive PMQs topic, this. Miliband continues to get worked up, complaining about the millionaires' tax cut. Cameron's response is the usual condemnation of Labour's own management of the economy. It is so astonishingly cliched and predictable now – the same thing every week! "Nobody believes him any more," Miliband says slowly, getting lots of cheers from Labour.
12:10 – "I never thought the big society was about helping people in food banks," Miliband says. He cites a report by the Children's Society showing how bad the situation is. Cameron agrees "we need to do more to help the poorest in this country". It sounds like a concession, until he adds that the government is already taking steps on this. Cameron is responding with lots of detail, now. But Miliband says his answer "will seem very out of touch to people up and down this country".
12:09 – Time to move on, now, as Miliband raises food banks. There's been a sixfold increase in the last three years on the number of people relying on them, he says. Ah, it's the Christmas theme coming through. Cameron is trying to keep the businesslike mood going, but Labour are now making the session partisan. The PM says the "most importnat thing" is getting on top of inflation. His answer dissolves into a lengthy list of Things The Government Is Doing.
12:06 – The House remains silent as Miliband's second question focuses on the broader diplomatic efforts to secure a stable situation in Afghanistan. Cameron, frowning to signal businesslike engagement, says there will be some troops involved in logistics and the like staying in Afghanistan after 2014. He says there'll be £70 million a year going to help the Afghan forces and £170 million in aid, too. "What we're most focused on is bringing Afghanistan and Pakistan together."
12:05 – OK, time for the main exchanges. Ed Miliband trips over his tongue at virtually the first opportunity. He presses the PM on the Afghanistan troop withdrawals, and says what we can expect is a move from a battalion level to a brigade level. This will leave a withdrawal in "two relatively even steps" in 2013 and 2014.
12:03 – And we're off. Cameron sends the House's best wishes to service personnel in Afghanistan. Then Oliver Colville gets the first question. He wants to know about medals for service personnel who served on the Arctic convoys during the Second World War. This issue has gone on "for a very long time", Cameron says. Yes. About 70 years, in fact. The PM announces there will be an Arctic convoy star medal. Bomber command also deserve a 'class' of their own. I'm afraid I haven't got the foggiest what that means.
11:59 – The Commons is very full now, and Speaker John Bercow delivers his customary rebuke to MPs talking far too much. On the frontbench, David Cameron (black tie, or maybe just dark navy blue, and crispy white shirt) is in his place. Nick Clegg (red tie, crispy white shirt) is chit-chatting with Andrew Lansley. Again, George Osborne doesn't appear to be present. He's missed PMQs for several weeks in a row now, I do believe.
11:54 – Chloe Smith is wearing some sort of brown leather jacket in the Commons chamber. She looks like a model for an artsy photoshoot in early 60s Hamburg.
11:51 – An interesting question from Labour's Gavin Shuker, who is sporting an especially impressive quiff this morning. He's worried about charities paying the price for local government cuts. Nick Hurd, the minister, says that three-quarters of charities aren't actually publicly funded. But one in six charities say they face closure next year, Gareth Thomas says. Hurd replies that "just as Labour talked down the economy for three years, now they're talking down the voluntary sector".
11:45 – As Chloe Smith and Francis Maude continue to bat away MPs' questions in the Commons, I've been doing an update to our Conspiracy theory story on the Mitchell plebgate affair. Labour politicians are beginning to say the internal probe undertaken this morning by the Metropolitan police isn't enough; they want an independent investigation to take place. Could this be the line Ed Miliband will go down in PMQs, now just a quarter of an hour away?
11:38 – Shadow Cabinet Office minister attacks his counterpart Francis Maude's "inner scrooge" on the issue of regional pay. Maude responds rather bizarrely: "My inner scrooge is the taxpayers' outer friend."
11:30 – But right now, the Commons day is just getting underway. This week it's the turn of Cabinet Office questions to be the warm-up act for the main event. I'll be keeping a closer ear than usual to this, so stay tuned…
11:25 – Ed Miliband, who has been oddly out of the news in the run-up to Christmas, will have one final bash at the prime minister from shortly after noon. Then at half 12 we've got a statement on Afghanistan troop cuts to look forward to. It will be the righteous anger of Tory backbenchers about Mitchell which could prove most interesting, though. We'll be covering the developments from midday.
11:20 – Good morning. Actually, this is a very strange morning: we have the utterly unusual prospect of a scandal in reverse gear unfolding around us. Andrew Mitchell, who was forced out of the Cabinet in the autumn over the 'plebgate' scandal, could now find himself back in office. The Metropolitan police have mounted an investigation into allegations that one of their offices actually fabricated evidence against the former chief whip. It's totally weird, and it's going to be fascinating to see how the prime minister deals with it in this lunchtime's session.