Page last updated at 13:09 GMT, Wednesday, 17 March 2010

The Full Story: Prime minister's questions


The full session of PM's questions: From Democracy Live

By Victoria King

1332 That's it then for a hectic PM's questions - which contained a genuine surprise on the issue of defence spending. Apologies again for the technical difficulties earlier and thank you for all your comments. We hope you can join us next week when we'll be offering live coverage and analysis of Alistair Darling's final Budget before the election.

1322 The Guardian thinks that "after recent polls showing their lead was faltering, the Tories have a spring in their step again" .

1320 Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne says there is a real problem for Labour over the Unite issue - when the general secretaries "snap their fingers, Cabinet ministers come to attention". He asks, whether ministers can be "honest brokers" in the BA dispute when they're so close to the union?

1315 Dipping into BBC Radio 4's World at One now, Conservative party chairman Eric Pickles says it is "disturbing" that Unite are having a direct influence on government policy.

1300 Cathy Newman, at Channel 4, also picks up on the issue of the Ministry of Defence budget. "Gordon Brown has been forced to admit he misled the House of Commons over defence spending", she writes in her blog.

1256 James McIntyre, of the New Statesman, says Nick Clegg managed to exploit funding issues in both the main parties during PM's questions. Mr McIntyre says that "in a sign of flirtations to come" - by which he means the possibility of the PM needing Mr Clegg's backing in a hung parliament - "Brown claimed that Labour and the Liberals actually 'agree' about the issue.

e-mail sent in by reader

The problem with PMQs, and indeed politics as a whole in this country, is that its all too scripted. The leaders all have an idea what their opponents are going to attack them with, and so have their answers ready. Just once I'd love someone to do something that wasn't suggested by this week's Sun.
Ben, Hertfordshire

1249 Elsewhere, the Daily Telegraph has already picked up on Gordon Brown's remarks about defence spending during PM's questions. It says he made "a rare admission of error" by telling MPs that, in fact, the defence budget fell in five separate years, rather than going up in real terms every single year as he previously claimed.

e-mail sent in by reader

Robbie P. Agree with your comment, however GB will claim credit as he gave responsibility for int rates to BOE.
Scott, Scunthorpe

e-mail sent in by reader

re Ken Hall Barrow in Furness you are quite wrong it was the Tories that sold this great nation down the swanney you want to get your facts right mate. John, London

Nick Robinson
1246 Nick Robinson thinks that a punch-up with the unions is inevitable, regardless of who wins the election, because of issues like the planned public sector pay freezes. All major parties want one - naturally the unions don't.

Theresa May MP
1244 Theresa May denies there will be a wider "punch-up" with the unions if the Tories win the next election. She says it's for the prime minister to show some leadership on the issue - Jim Knight claims Mr Cameron is guilty of "shameless opportunism".

1242 Thanks for all your emails and apologies if you have suffered delays in text updates appearing on this page. Hopefully it will all work a bit more smoothly over the next 45 minutes or so.

Jim Knight MP
1239 On Daily Politics minister Jim Knight also refuses to encourage BA workers to break the strike - as Mr Cameron demanded the prime minister do a few minutes earlier in the Commons. The education minister says that to call for that would "inflame the strike" - he says "it's not right for politicians of any colour to push that question".

e-mail sent in by reader

Gordon Brown using the interest rate argument against the conservatives. Although surely these are set by the Bank of England, an independent authority, so how can Gordon Brown claim that the low interest rates are a success for his current government?
RobbieP, London, UK

e-mail sent in by reader

BA staff voted in a democratic system that was made law by the Tories under Thatcher. Cameron clearly has no respect for the laws made by his own party and has no respect for ordinary peoples' democratic rights. Oh, but we all knew that anyway didn't we? Democracy is only ok when its on their terms!
Martyn, Milton Keynes

1237 By way of background, Mr Whelan was forced to resign as Mr Brown's press secretary in 1999 after being linked to leaks surrounding the resignation of Peter Mandelson over a home loan.


The Daily Politics' analysis of PMQs with Nick Robinson, Jim Knight and Theresa May

e-mail sent in by reader

Brown destroyed. The link between Labour and Unite could cost Labour very dear. This country does not like strong unions. Cameron is correct to highlight the links.
Kev, Chester

Peter Hunt
1236 From BBC political correspondent Peter Hunt: Gordon Brown made two announcements. One of them, he'd have liked to have avoided. We now know he's written to the Iraq Inquiry admitting he got something wrong in his evidence. Contrary to what he's always insisted, defence spending in one or two years, didn't rise in real terms. This is unlikely to be the last we've heard about this admission. Mr. Brown's second "revelation", was that he has become actively involved in the BA dispute, talking to both sides. David Cameron's best line, as he sought to attack Labour's links with the unions, was the accusation that the party was a "wholly owned subsidiary of the Unite union". Mr Brown accused the Tories of turning an industrial dispute into a political football. Nick Clegg chose to attack both of his opponents over party funding. They'll all have a different challenge for their vocal chords next week. They'll be attacking or defending the pre-election budget.

1233 Back to Charlie Whelan now, with a final question from the Conservative side wanting to know why Mr Whelan - political director of the Unite union and former spokesman for Mr Brown - is "back in Number 10", informing policy. Not impressed with this, the prime minister replies by saying the MP had a chance to ask about his constituents, "to speak up for the people of Britain", but instead chose to make the BA strike issue "a political football".

e-mail sent in by reader

"Tory support scabs nothing has changed. They need to support the workers nothing has changed since the 70s for the Tories Mark McQuade, Hamilton". No Mark they haven't. They were RIGHT back then and they are right now. The rest of the world has moved on since then, shame that labour and the unions haven't.
Ken Hall, Barrow in Furness

1231 Jo Swinson, Lib Dem, asks the PM whether he thinks big supermarkets like Tesco have too much power. If he does, he doesn't say it, instead saying local planning issues around the arrival of supermarkets in communities are not a matter for central government.

1230 A question now from Chris Ruane, Labour. He is keen to praise the government for keeping interest rates very low during this recession, unlike the Tories during the last one. Mr Brown agrees - the Tories say they're the part of change, but they would take Britain back to the 1980s.

1229 Labour MP Lindsay Hoyle says he lost "a great friend" in MP Ashok Kumar who died on Monday. He then asks about mail scams that he says are robbing elderly people of their life savings. The prime minister says an awareness campaign is running at the moment and the government is concerned that those who perpetrate such scams should be met with the strongest punishments.

e-mail sent in by reader

Did anyone else hear the MPs muttering 'Sean Connery' to try and put off Angus Robertson? I can't stand the SNP but the other MPs' behaviour was appalling and juvenile. Well done to Robertson for rising above it.

1227 Conservative Anthony Steen asks about human trafficking, saying modern-day slavery is here in London. Mr Brown thanks the MP for his work on the issue of trafficking and that a meeting is scheduled soon with the immigration minister to try to make progress on it.

e-mail sent in by reader

Seems to me that Brown is scared to attack the Liberal Democrats. Desperate for a coalition perhaps?
George, Swindon

e-mail sent in by reader

Interesting to hear those 'bringing down the reputation of the house should step down' - hope to see a mass exodus of expenses MPs then
Darren, Bristol

Peter Hunt
1224 From BBC political correspondent Peter Hunt: Before David Cameron had even risen to ask one of his weekly six questions, Gordon Brown was already on the back foot. In answer to a Tory backbencher, he had to admit to making a mistake about defence spending at the Iraq Inquiry. Mr Cameron briefly relished the prime ministerial admission, and then went on the attack, as expected, over the BA strikes. He wanted to paint a picture of history repeating itself from the Seventies with Labour in bed with the unions. Mr Brown was keen to portray himself as above such partisan matters, striving instead to find a resolution to the dispute. He revealed for the first time that he has talked to both sides.

1222 Tory MP Nicholas Winterton asks about his own constituency Macclesfield and manufacturing there. He says it "needs like a hole in the head" more regulation and red tape. Mr Brown says Britain is expanding its manufacturing industry and the government is doing far more for the sector than the Tories would.

1220 Conservative MP John Redwood asks about publicly-owned bank the Royal Bank of Scotland - his implication being it is not lending to small businesses. Mr Brown denies this and says there is more investment in small businesses now than a year ago.

1218 Mr Clegg keeps trying. He says neither Labour nor the Tories have any desire to clean up party funding - or politics as a whole. Mr Brown disputes this and lists a series of changes he has made to the rules.

e-mail sent in by reader

I notice Brown won't commit to supporting people who just want to work.
MikeyH, Wilts, UK

Tory support scabs nothing has changed. They need to support the workers nothing has changed since the 70s for the Torys
Mark McQuade, Hamilton

Nick Clegg
1217 Now it is Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's turn. He begins by echoing earlier tributes to soldiers and Mr Kumar. He then moves on and claims "Charlie Whelan and Lord Ashcroft are exactly the same". Charlie Whelan is, of course, Mr Brown's former spokesman and now political director of Unite. Mr Clegg can barely be heard as he tries to carry on with a point about party funding, due to all the shouting and yelling in the House.

e-mail sent in by reader

Much better final question from Cameron. His habit of repeating the same question has very little effect.
Nick, Edinburgh, Scotland

1216 An easier one for the PM as Labour's Chris McCafferty asks the government to do more for women in the developing world. Mr Brown agrees and says he will support improvements in any way he can.

1214 The Speaker tries to reduce the rising noise levels. Mr Brown says Mr Cameron has not once called for an end to the dispute - in fact his words are designed to "provoke the dispute". "No wonder he talks without notes, he has nothing to say," the PM adds. While Mr Brown was speaking "Mr Cameron was waving bye bye", the Daily Politics' man in the chamber reports.

1214 "Wriggle, wriggle", says Mr Cameron, claiming the PM is evading the question. He asks it again - accusing Mr Brown of having "absolutely no backbone" and says Labour is "a wholly owned subsidiary of the Unite union".

1213 Mr Cameron says it's one thing to talk to the unions and another to bow to them. He tries again to get Mr Brown to call for workers to cross the picket line - the PM clearly doesn't want to. As Labour backbenchers shout, the Tory leader says they are "paid to shout" - a dig at Unite's funding.

1211 Mr Cameron tries again and accuses Mr Brown of harking back to the 1970s. The PM says the Tories are for the unions one day and against them the next - their only consistency is in their "total opportunism".

1210 Mr Cameron says one word sums up the PM's answer - "weak". Will Mr Brown call on workers to cross the picket line and keep BA functioning? Mr Brown accuses him of trying to encourage partisanship over a non-political issue.

David Cameron
1208 Mr Cameron moves on to asking about the BA strike. Mr Brown says everyone wants to see a resolution - cue some backbench shouts of "not everyone". The PM says both sides should keep calm, keep talking, and he doesn't think an industrial dispute "should be brought into the Commons in this way".

1206 Now David Cameron is asking his first question - after adding his tributes to British soldiers and Mr Kumar, who he calls "a great representative". The Tory leader says thank you to the PM for his answer to the question about defence spending - at last he has admitted there have effectively been "cuts" to spending.

1204 The first question for the PM is about his claims about defence spending at the Iraq inquiry - military chiefs have claimed he was being "disingenuous". Gordon Brown says that he does accept that in "one or two years defence spending did not rise in real terms".

Gordon Brown
1201 The prime minister pays tribute to the latest British soldiers to die in Afghanistan and to the Labour MP Ashok Kumar who died of natural causes earlier this week.

1201 Gordon Brown is on his feet.

1159 Jim Knight says he doesn't think the Speaker is "being partial one way or the other".

1156 A Conservative frontbencher has told the Daily Politics that the speaker is bringing down the reputation of the House and should step down. The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson says the anger might be mostly among Tories, but wider criticism of his performance in recent weeks is felt across the party divide. He says there is a feeling he is increasingly relying on personal insult to bolster his authority.

1153 A bit of breaking news from our political correspondent Norman Smith. He's learned that the TUC's general secretary Brendan Barber has been involved in separate talks with both Unite and BA in an effort to avert the strike. So far though, it's failed to bring any breakthrough...

1151 There's a lot of fear around at the moment that petrol prices are set to soar, so should the government defer its planned 3p rise in fuel duty? Jim Knight says no, the country needs more money through this sort of tax to cut its deficit. Theresa May says the Tories "oppose Labour's tax rises" but does not promise to reverse them.

Peter Hunt
1150 From BBC political correspondent Peter Hunt: The men in suits, tussling for another week in the parliamentary bear pit, will be looking to land a knock out blow on their opponents. As they know, it isn't easy. If David Cameron chooses to go on the economy - and the European Commission calling for extra measures to tackle the deficit - he's likely to be reminded forcefully that the Commission isn't calling for cuts now, as the Tories are. And with BA strikes looming, Mr Cameron may well find it hard to resist attacking Gordon Brown over Labour's links with the Unite union. But, of course, the prime minister has a riposte ready - Lord Ashcroft's funding of the Tories.

1143 Theresa May says on Daily Politics that Gordon Brown should cut off the funding stream from Unite until the BA strike is called off. Jim Knight says no, that would "distort things" and again tries to turn the question round by saying it's Lord Ashcroft who should really be cut off.

Jim Knight MP
1145 Onto the issue of Labour and Unite… Jim Knight says the party is "perfectly open and transparent" about the relationship and he "does not recognise" any truth in claims that Unite has undue influence over Labour policy. Unsurprisingly, he turns the question around and attacks the Tories over Lord Ashcroft - their biggest donor, who has admitted being non-domiciled for UK tax purposes.

Theresa May MP
1144 The unemployment figures come up straight away on the Daily Politics. Theresa May says it's welcome news, but she says they don't tell the full story - that the number on JobSeekers Allowance might have gone down because some people have simply given up looking for work. Jim Knight thinks the figures are "categorically really good news", and accuses the Tories of not supporting government efforts to create jobs.

1142 The latest, somewhat improved unemployment figures could also come up and so too could a possible spat involving Speaker John Bercow. Yesterday, he clashed with a Tory MP Mark Pritchard after the backbencher claimed he was unfairly "rebuked" for raising the issue of Labour's funding links with Unite. If, as he almost certainly will, David Cameron attempts to do the same today, will he also get a telling off?

1140 A few thoughts on what might come up at PM's questions? The British Airways strike - and the government's relationship with Unite, the union behind it - is a very safe bet. So too is something on Britain's deficit, following news yesterday that the EU Commission thinks plans currently in place to cut it don't go far enough.

1138 The action gets under way in the House of Commons at 1200 GMT. But Daily Politics is already in fine form with Employment Minister Jim Knight and shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May among the guests.

1135 Hello and welcome to this week's coverage of prime minister's questions. The BBC's political correspondent Peter Hunt will be giving us his thoughts on the proceedings, as well as comments from guests and experts on BBC Two's Daily Politics, the BBC News Channel and Radio 4's World at One.

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