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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 13:38 GMT
Prime Minister's Questions
BBC News Online's Nick Assinder gives his instant view on the winners and losers during Tony Blair's weekly grilling in the House of Commons.

"Alastair Campbell gave the prime minister his new policy as he walked into the television studio on Sunday" - Iain Duncan Smith on Tony Blair's comments on asylum on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme
"Is he satisfied with the detail and is he ready to take the blame for it?"

Tory MP Roger Gale puts the prime minister on the spot over congestion charging, which begins in London next month

Tony Blair's frustration and irritation with MPs - from Charles Kennedy to Tam Dalyell - asking about Iraq and raising doubts about military action was clear.

But surely such questions are exactly with Prime Minister's Questions is all about.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith accused the prime minister of waffle and contradicting his home secretary over asylum.

He also called for further information to be presented to the country regarding the potential threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy asked the prime minister if British troops in the Gulf will be integrated with the US "command and control structure" and if so, will that ultimately mean British troops would be under President Bush's control?

Other subjects included: The current British economic climate; Cricket players in Zimbabwe; London Congestion Charge; Gun Crimes and arrests in Manchester and Birmingham; Links between asylum seekers and terrorism; Hans Blix's report; Grammar school closure.

Iain Duncan Smith spoke for the very many people - of all political persuasions - unsure about the merits of a possible attack on Iraq.

The UK public, he said, wants to know more detail about the potential threat from Iraq.

Many people are not convinced that an attack is justified - but want to know more: so Mr Duncan Smith's question was spot on.

He also had the prime minister on the ropes on asylum.

So now we know. Tony Blair is against letting voters choose who sits in the reformed House of Lords.

He is all in favour of ending prime ministerial patronage, he declared, but he wants to see the upper house appointed.

And that, of course, raises the question: "appointed by who?"

The great fear amongst the prime minister's critics is that he will not directly appoint the chamber - that would be too blatant even for him.

What he will do, they believe, is simply appoint the people who do the appointing. So we will end up with a second chamber appointed by Tony cronies.

Not quite what the Labour election manifesto promised, but that is a long abandoned document.

None of this may matter, of course - and the faces of Leader of the House Robin Cook and chancellor Gordon Brown made that plain.

The prime minister has given MPs a free vote and - so long as the whips don't get up to their usual trick of re-interpreting the word free to mean "free to do what Tony wants" - he will be defeated in the Commons vote next week.

And we should expect to see the likes of Mr Cook joining with Labour rebels and Tories to vote down the prime minister - or finding a good excuse not to be there in the first place. We will be watching.

Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith was on his new, pretty good form and had the prime minister on the back foot over asylum and, to a lesser extent Iraq.

But it took a pincer movement of Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy and father of the house Tam Dalyell to really get under his skin over British troops being sent to war, under US command, without a vote of the House of Commons.

The pro-democracy PM was back again. Of course the Commons will get a vote -unless...


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