PMQs as it happened
Gordon Brown faced questions from MPs on violent crime, Afghanistan and goalkeeper Gordon Banks in the first PMQs since last week’s Henley by-election.
This event is now over, but you can see how it happened below.
Mr Brown is asked a question on Afghanistan by veteran Labour left-winger Jeremy Corbyn, who is wearing a truly exceptional tie, even by his considerable standards. Daringly, for a House unanimous in its support for the Afghan campaign, Mr Corbyn challenges Mr Brown on the reasons for the British presence there and the regulated cultivation of heroin poppies for medicinal reasons.
David Cameron steps up to the dispatch box for the first time today. He backs the prime minister on Zimbabwe and pays the usual tributes to Britain’s fallen soldiers. His first question is on the 42-day vote, asking whether any help was obtained. Mr Brown responds with a one-word answer – “yes” – to the amusement of several fidgeting backbenchers. The leader of the opposition then confronts the PM with a letter published in the Telegraph, angrily dismissed by the prime minister. Mr Cameron is in full flow against Mr Brown, maintaining his usual trust angle, leaving his opponent fuming. “If he has any allegation to make.,” Mr Brown bristles, before being interrupted by the speaker. That’s that, apparently.
After a question on renewable energy Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is next up. He focuses on mental health problems but the statistics he reels off meet with widespread chatter of dissent from many MPs. The prime minister has stats of his own – the usual bullet points on improvements for mental health. How were these possible? Investment in the public services, of course. Mr Brown takes the opportunity to get some NHS-related cheers, but Mr Clegg seems unhappy. He says the prime minister is “confusing a list with action”. Mr Brown responds with a list, this time of spending improvements. “We can only do more if we invest more in the National Health Service,” he says, before lamenting the lack of a properly funded spending commitment from the other parties.
A friendly question on proposals originally made in 1948 about GPs is next. The prime minister says MPs should be pleased about recent matron announcements.
Back to law and order from the Conservative leader – specifically the early release scheme which has resulted in more violent crime. Naturally, the Tories are outraged. Mr Brown, in a penitent tone, says “it is bad when any instance happens”. The government has instructed prisons to get their act together, he says. Very much damage limitation from the PM here.
For Mr Cameron, however, it’s not good enough. “I brought this up a year ago,” he says in a somewhat hurt tone. Hurt – and angry. “How could this possibly be allowed to happen?”
The PM says prison places are rising and rejects the idea that the government is not taking the necessary action. Time for another list – crime is down, apparently – and the usual berating against the opposition for not backing measures addressing the issue.
“No one will ever forget that he was the chancellor of the exchequer who didn’t build the prisons which has landed us in this mess,” the Tory leader replies, pumping his fist on the dispatch box. He suggests Mr Brown has “failed in his basic duty of keeping people safe”.
The PM says the positive state of the economy helped fund ongoing increases to prison capacity. “They talk tough. and act soft.” No long-term decisions from the Tories apparently – and a repetition of his claim from last week that Conservatives “duck” the big issues.
Alan Simpson asks a question about fuel poverty, which leads to another list from the prime minister. Fortunately, it seems, the government is stepping up its efforts. Mr Brown seems relieved to have seen off Mr Cameron. He warns revenues are “down” in the “economic downturn”, however.
A Tory backbencher asks whether Mr Brown will be travelling up to Glasgow East for the by-election. The prime minister is scornful, saying the Conservatives have “resorted to trivia”.
Violence in the Middle East today gets a mention as the prime minister is asked about the peace process there. Mr Brown says he is “sorry” to hear about the Jerusalem bulldozer attack and says the government is stepping up its punitive actions against Hizbullah’s military wing.
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith asks about Zimbabwe, warning that Robert Mugabe is planning to bully the opposition into cooperating. He wants unity from the international community and demands sanctions against South Africa if they do not pressure Zimbabwe. MPs seem a little shocked and Mr Brown steadies the waters by reeling off his usual condemnations. He places hope on the proceeds of the African Union summit and says it “did make a step forward yesterday”.
Labour backbencher Margaret Moran raises the issue of indecent images on the internet. She wants a meeting with the PM which Mr Brown readily agrees to. He cites the Byron review on the issue and says the internet security council, due to be set up in the next few weeks, will make a difference.
SNP MP Angus Robertson is next, wanting to know why Labour is strategising on its by-election date. Mr Brown says “it is right that the constituents of Glasgow East have a new MP as soon as possible”.
Mohammad Sarwar, a Glasgow MP himself, wants to know what Mr Brown will do about science expenditure in Glasgow. Mr Brown says a 40 per cent cut in science funding as a result of the SNP-controlled Scottish Executive is to blame.
Prolonged cries of “hear, hear” greet Peter Tapsell. He wants to know whether future PMs will be paying “mournful tribute” to fallen British soldiers “when it is widely understood that the Taliban are not international terrorists”. MPs are baffled. The Taliban, not terrorists? Mr Brown says he should “see for himself” in a visit to Afghanistan. Not a bad tactic, it seems. The chamber fills with sarcastic laughter.
Goalkeeper Gordon Banks is the topic of the final question. The prime minister apparently already knew he was capped 73 times for England. Impressive knowledge there, Mr Brown. And that’s a wrap for this week’s session.