Page last updated at 14:39 GMT, Wednesday, 11 June 2008 15:39 UK

The full story: PM's Questions


Prime minister's questions - 11 June


Some time ago, David Cameron promised to end "Punch and Judy" politics at prime minister's question time but with Gordon Brown's "clunking fist" failing to hit the target recently, the Tory leader has been content to play the smiling but hard hitting half of the puppet duo.

But today he initially adopted a more serious demeanour during an extended period of shadow boxing before the main event. Mr Cameron wanted to undermine the prime minister's job security - but he clearly felt a full frontal attack on a question of national security such as 42 day detention could prove counter productive.

So he preceded his more cutting questions about the controversial anti-terror plans by raising an issue where there is a greater level of agreement that there's a battle worth having - Afghanistan.

Gordon Brown responded to the opposition leader's request for an update in a rather more traditional manner -with a ream of statistics.

There must have been some dewy-eyed backbenchers who remembered fondly his glory days as Chancellor: Six million children in education in Afghanistan, up from two million; 43 countries contributing to an anti Taliban coalition, 13 poppy free provinces - though with an increasing death toll those flowers might be used not simply for the production of heroin but for the purposes of remembrance.

'Rare hit'

After a consensus of sorts, hostilities resumed over 42 days detention, and soon the gloves were off with the prime minister and David Cameron both trying to prove who was tougher on terrorism. The Conservative leader said the first political speech he wrote was for the Conservative MP Ian Gow, killed by the IRA.

The prime minister pointed out that the unofficial Tory members' website Conservative Home backed the government on 42 days - and scored a rare hit.

If he was quaking in his boots over the prospect of defeat on 42 days he hid it well
Iain Watson
BBC Political Correspondent

The Conservative leader looked like he had been punched below the belt but rallied to accuse the government of "trashing our liberties."

The Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg did not so much defend traditional nature of British liberties but appealed to a more contemporary body -the European Court of Human Rights. He said the prime minister was waging a fruitless fight as the court would declare 42 day detention illegal; so the wig and the pen could prove mightier than the sword.

The former Conservative leader Michael Howard was brought in for reinforcements but was easily felled by a more assured prime minister with the jab: "He knows a lot about not answering questions" - a reference to the now almost mythical multiple questioning by Jeremy Paxman when Mr Howard was home secretary.

Gordon Brown was also helped by some ammunition from the opposition benches - asked why he had gone form being a popular schoolboy to the least popular prime minister ever, he quickly lobbed the grenade back and briefly re-lived his "father of the nation" image during his prime ministerial honeymoon period by saying he'd leave the schoolboy politics to the Conservatives. If he was quaking in his boots over the prospect of defeat on 42 days he hid it well.

The polls suggest that the political war is far from being won by the prime minister but victory in the counter terror battle will undoubtedly lift his morale.


1309 Surely the only question the Public want an answer to is - when is the General Election? We are not interested in some sycophantic Labour MP wasting time some with a pre-arranged innocuous "question". Listen to your Employers - the Electorate, and do the honest thing.
Geoffrey Home, North Yorkshire, United Kingdom via e-mail

1301: In Mr Brown's 57 years he has only actually worked outside of politics for three of them. So I'd ask him how he can ever hope to identify with the lives and aspirations of the rest of us... I know the answer of course: he can't.
Woundedpride via e-mail

1239: Mr Brown, Factual answers only please. Where "Yes" or "No" is sufficient, please use them. Where is our referendum on Europe ? Why does the NHS operate a postcode system of treatment ? Why do we stay in the EU when it's possibly the most corrupt organisation in the world ? When we you admit that Tony Blair lied about Iraq and do something about it ? But none of the questions you ask can be answered with a yes or no!
Karen Giles, Melksham, United Kingdom via e-mail

1238 Kitty Ussher declines the opportunity to become the first Labour MP to say the vote is "in the bag". She says details of the proposed compensation for people wrongly held was still being worked out.

1237: There is "no way" rebels will get enough to support to defeat the government, says Nick Robinson, although the picture could change.

1236: Nick Robinson admits he was wrong about PMQs - 42 days did dominate the exchanges. The party leaders will not speak in the Anti-Terror Bill debate so they wanted to put down their markers.

1236: In one of the key government concessions, MPs would debate the order permitting 42 days rather than individual cases, says Ms Ussher. But Alan Duncan says in reality it would be impossible to avoid it being about the individual - the point made by Michael Howard at PMQs.

1235: Picking up a point from PMQs, Kitty Ussher tells The Daily Politics the 42 day laws could not be used against protesters and lists other judicial and Parliamentary safeguards.

1232: "Will Gordon Brown ever clarify what an exceptional and grave threat is, or will it just be whatever suits the government of the time?"
Paul, Nottingham via e-mail

1230: Pete Wishart, the SNP MP, called for a Scottish Oil Fund so Scotland could benefit from the boom in oil profits. Mr Brown said Scotland had more jobs now and had "never been better off".

1229: Richard Burden, Labour Birmingham Northfield, asks about reports the government's National Challenge would lead to the closure of schools. Mr Brown said the National Challenge was meant to increase standards and not close schools. He said more money was being put into schools.

1228: Mr Brown said Mr Howard knew all about not answering questions and denied it would prejudice trials.

1226: Former Tory leader Michael Howard - struggling to be heard above baying Labour MPs - asks how a 42 day case can be brought before Parliament without prejudicing a future court case.

1224: Mr Brown says only one country - Ireland - has the promise of a referendum and the "right place" to debate the treaty was in the Commons.

1224: Tory MP James Clappison says if Ireland can have a referendum on the EU treaty why can't Britain.

1221: Answering a question from Labour MP Jim Sheridan, Mr Brown stresses 42 days will only be used in the event of an "exceptional and grave" terrorist threat.

1219: "It is not only popular but necessary and right," says Mr Brown and there were many people who disagreed with Mr Clegg, including many chief constables.

1218: Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg focuses on 42 days. He says it will be blocked in the House of Lords and it will be declared illegal by the European Court of Human Rights. He accuses the prime minister of "playing politics" adding that no one thinks 42 days is necessary.

1217: "At 62 and living on pension credit I am available for detention if compensation of 3000 per day."
Kevin Greenan London via text 61124

1216: Mr Brown lists all of the civil liberty safeguards in the bill. His judgement is that it was not popular but "right for the country".

1215: Mr Cameron says that is below the "level of debate". Politicians should not just do what is popular but what is right, says Mr Cameron. He accuses Mr Brown of "ineffective authoritianism".

1214: Mr Brown all of the senior police officers and other figures who back 42 days. Mr Brown quotes comments from the unofficial Conservative Home website backing 42 days.

1212: Mr Cameron warns Mr Brown not lecture the Conservatives on terrorism, referring to IRA attacks on Tory politicians.

1212: "I say in sorrow rather than anger, it is no use opposition for oppositions sake," says Mr Brown.

1212 Mr Cameron says that is precisely what he is doing - and there many police officers who were against it. He said 42 days was counterproductive and "would amount to us doing the terrorists' work for them".

1211: Mr Brown says 42 days is backed by the head of ACPO and other senior police officers. He says he does not want to come to the Commons in a "moment of panic" to bring forward such legislation.

1210: Mr Cameron moves on to 42 days, asking how Mr Brown can support such a move when the Director of Public Prosecutions does not want it.

1209: Mr Brown says the government already gives regular updates. He said progress was being made and questioned whether Mr Cameron was committed to remaining there.

1208: Mr Cameron calls for regular updates on what is happening in Afghanistan amid reports of increasing corruption and violence.

1207 Mr Brown says progress is being made in Afghanistan - elections have been held and more children are in education. He said the coalition's goal was to prevent the Taliban from regaining power but it was going to be a "long haul".

1205 David Cameron adds his tributes to the three parachute regiment members killed in Afghanistan. But he asks for a "frank and candid" assessment of the situation there.

1204 Mr Brown talks about the sophistication and complexity of terror plots.

1203 On to 42 days. Mr Brown says it is a matter of principle. Speaker Martin steps in to rebuke an MP for interrupting proceedings.

1202 Mr Brown slaps down Tory MP Greg Hands, who asks if he is the most unpopular prime minister ever. "I will leave the schoolboy politics to him," says the PM.

1200: They're off. Mr Brown begins by paying tribute to soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

1158: David Cameron will probably go on the economy, Alan Duncan says.

1156: Labour rebels have been demanding all sorts of things, according to Nick Robinson, including concessions for Cuba and more compensation for miners. One MP had a phone call from Mr Brown for the first time in 20 years. Nick thinks the government will not just want to squeak through but win convincingly to show Mr Brown is staging a comeback.

1152: I think Prime Minister's questions is an excellent event. Although I do think it needs a little alteration. 1) Questions should be at 09.00 until 09.30 2) They should be completely unannounced questions and answers should be provided on the spot 3) Any questions that cannot be answered MUST be answered by 16.00 to 16.30 in a Prime Minister's Answers session later that day. 4) Questions from the public could be an event once a month perhaps from questions where the answer is nowhere else
IamtheHumanRace via e-mail

1151: "Prime Ministers Question time has always been a time for the parties to sneer at each other like a bunch of school kids, and to self congratulate themselves"
Steve Mansey, Dorking, United Kingdom via e-mail

1150: Alan Duncan says Mr Brown has tried to "ramp up" 42 days into a "macho issue".

1147: Labour MP Chris Mullen, who is standing down at the next election, tells Anne this kind of arm-twisting is not unusual but he says he hopes it does not come down to "pork barrel" politics - with the DUP being bought off by more cash for Northern Ireland.

1145: Gordon Brown has been offering Labour rebels the chance of a safer seat at the next election if they back the government, says Daily Politics reporter Anne Alexander.

1144: Labour MP Kitty Ussher says the rationale for compensating innocent people held for 42 days is, in part, "political". But she accuses

1141: Eddie Mair - standing in for fellow Scot Andrew Neil - has moved the subject on to 42 days and whether Mr Brown will be defeated. Rebellions expert Phillip Cowley, of Nottingham University, says it depends what the DUP do. I wonder if David Cameron will go in on this at PMQs, or leave it to David Davis in the debate that follows.

1138: They are talking about Tory MEP's expenses on The Daily Politics. Alan Duncan says "it's a mess and it needs to be cleaned-up".

1132: You can follow all the action here. I will be adding in expert comments from BBC TV and radio coverage before, during and after what is sure to be a highly-charged session. I will also be adding a sample of your views into the mix. Political correspondent Iain Watson will give his instant verdict and later you will be able to watch the whole session and Nick Robinson's verdict on this page. You can follow all the updates on your mobile phone via the BBC's mobile website or focus on the key developments via our Twitter site.

1130: Welcome. It's a big day at Westminster, with Gordon Brown facing a crucial vote later on his plans to detain terror suspects for up to 42 days. That debate starts in the Commons at 1240BST - but first Mr Brown must run the gauntlet of prime minister's questions at mid-day.



The Daily Politics' analysis of Prime Minister's Questions. Eddie Mair and Geeta Guru-Murthy talk to Nick Robinson, Kitty Ussher and Alan Duncan.


I think that if any member of my staff refused to answer questions in the way that Gordon Brown just did (and as he does every week), then I'd begin to formally manage his performance through mechanisms which would led to dismissal from my employ. He could barely carry his briefing papers, there were so many; he stutters nervously like a 6th former and he looks like someone 'acting-up' to cover someone else's position. And; I think we can all see clearly, his is not a fantastic intellect.
[streetcop], Birmingham, United Kingdom

Many people here do not appreciate the importance of Prime Minister's Questions. It is the one opportunity MP's have to challenge the PM, who has to reply 'on the hoof' wonder careful, dilatory Gordon does not like them. Many questions are derived from concerns expressed by the public, so this is the closest we get to the Greek idea of direct democracy. Gordon Brown does not provide direct answers-but that is noticed and reported: it has contributed to the fall in his reputation.
Ralph Cook, Barking, United Kingdom

PMQs is a good representation of the state of British politics - A lot of hot air, sound bites and no real substance.
Paul, Manchester

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