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Wednesday, 22 May, 2002, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Prime Minister's Questions
BBC News Online's Nick Assinder gives his instant view on the winners and losers as Tony Blair faces his weekly grilling in the House of Commons.

"After all that nonsense it's no wonder he's being sponsored by the owner of the Fantasy Channel."

Iain Duncan Smith to Tony Blair as he sought to make the most of the row over donations to Labour from adult magazine publisher Richard Desmond.

"The prime minister is a vision sort of guy - what is his vision for Welsh manufacturing industry?"

Hywel Williams, Plaid Cymru MP.

  • For his offensive Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith tackled the prime minister over how many people had had their benefits cut for failing to complete their community sentences. He also challenged Mr Blair over the proportion of managers and beds in NHS hospitals.

  • Lib Dem chief Charles Kennedy asked why the government had not done more to sort out the mess the Tories made of privatising the railways and pointed out the deterioration in services since Labour came to power.

  • Other MPs asked questions about whether the prime minister would suspend negotiations with the Spanish government over the future of Gibraltar; compensation for miners suffering from the lung disease emphysema; the establishment of a new ferry service between Scotland and Belgium; the effect of joining the single currency on future Budgets; the impact of council tax rises on pensioners; the contribution of Britain to restoring democracy in Sierra Leone; reforming the House of Commons; naming a position on the proportion of elected members in a reformed House of Lords; NHS waiting lists and allegations f continued IRA activity; Christian Aid week prompted a question on cutting a fairer trade deal for developing countries; the possibility of action against Iraq also caused one MP to ask for a dossier of evidence about weapons of mass destruction to be put in the public arena.

    Labour MPs Rachel Squire and Helen Southworth who used their big moments to each highlight one topic (Surestart and a new ferry from Rosyth) and then ask the prime minister whether he agreed with them that the government was doing a good job.

    Bob Marshall Andrews, Labour MP for Medway, succeeded in prompting the prime minister to say he supported Robin Cook's proposals to modernise the way House of Commons selection committee members are appointed.

    This was significant because Mr Cook's proposals were defeated in a free vote of MPs on Tuesday night, amid allegations that Labour Whips were urging the party's MPs to vote against it.

    Iain Duncan Smith got him.

    He asked the prime minister a direct question about how many criminals had had their benefit stopped as a result of the government's attempts to hammer community service order dodgers. And he got him.

    These sorts of questions are always aimed at trying to catch the prime minister out - but it's still a surprise when it works.

    Tony Blair didn't know, or didn't want to say because it makes his new plan to dock benefit from the mums of truanting kids look daft.

    So Mr Duncan Smith gleefully told him - 39 out of 40,000 miscreants.

    It was a direct hit but he probably shouldn't have bothered, it was his joke (see above) that will be remembered if for no other reason than it proved he can't tell jokes - even good ones.

    Here are some of your comments:

    I'm not sure Nick. I think Iain Duncan Smith got the PM with his little joke.
    Charles Winston, UK

    I'm amazed that you bother with this rubbish.

    It's a pantomime that adds nothing to the democratic process, indeed it detracts from it by contributing to the 'dumbing down' of politics - which suits dictator Blair fine, of course.

    It's about time we had more coverage of serious debate.
    Chris Bamber, UK

    Well, at last Ian Duncan Smith cracked a joke about the donation to labour from the Fantasy Channel, he looked as though he had been up all night thinking about this one and nearly swallowed his tongue when he said it.

    Pity he forget to mention the fact that the conservatives got 5000 from the same source. Don't choke Ian.
    David Lengden, England

    Do you agree with Nick?

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    See also:

    15 May 02 | UK Politics
    15 May 02 | UK
    14 May 02 | UK Politics

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