Prime Minister's Questions: David Cameron v Ed Miliband

Key points

  • David Cameron vs Ed Miliband at the first PM's questions since the Easter recess
  • Figures show UK unemployment fell by 35,000 to 2.65m from Dec to Feb
  • Commons grilling followed weeks of rows over Budget decisions on tax

    Hello, and welcome back to our live coverage of prime minister's questions, the first since the pre-Budget session, as MPs have been off for the Easter recess. Since then there's been a spate of rows about various tax decisions taken by the chancellor - from the 50p rate cut, to the "pasty tax", a row over relief on charity donations and the "granny tax" - the freezing of age-related allowances. So Ed Miliband's got his pick of controversies to raise with the PM.


    But there's some good news for the government this morning, official figures show unemployment fell for the first time since last spring by 35,000 - although it's still running at 2.65 million for the December-February period.


    In other economic news, the deputy governor of the Bank of England Paul Tucker has said that inflation may stay above 3% for the rest of the year - the Bank had predicted it would fall back to the official 2% target by the end of 2012.


    Ahead of the main action in the Commons, BBC2's Daily Politics is discussing the Treasury select committee's call today for help for pensioners suffering in the face of very low interest rates on their savings. Lib Dem Pensions Minister Steve Webb says the government is raising the basic state pension to help.


    But for Labour, Shadow Leader of the House Angela Eagle says the government must do more to stimulate the economy than just rely on large-scale monetary policy measures, like keeping interest rates low.


    This morning, World Wide Web founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee said government plans to increase internet monitoring should be blocked, because they are too intrusive. Steve Webb tells the Daily Politics he wont vote for any policy that "tramples on civil liberties". He said ministers were listening to critics like Mr Berners-Lee.

    David Cameron

    Here's the prime minister leaving Downing Street this morning ahead of PM's questions, starting at noon.


    tweets: Q: How long into #PMQs will it take Cam to point out that Unite/PCS have strikes due the day after Queens Speech?


    In the Commons at the moment it's Scotland Questions. The topic right now? The ever vexatious Barnett formula - the mechanism by which the money allocated to the devolved nations is calculated.


    tweets: First #PMQs since Budget gets underway shortly - mere 28 days after Chancellor's speech. Cam must have expected it to have blown over by now

    MPs in the Commons

    The benches are still half full in the Commons - MPs are arriving ahead of the main event. No sign of the PM yet.


    Local elections are coming up on 3 May, and in BBC's Daily Politics studio, Andrew Neil asks Labour's Angela Eagle whether the government's recent woes mean she's very confident about the poll? She certainly isn't counting her chickens yet, it seems, saying, it will be "a tight race", but adds: "I think there's going to be some happy days after 3 May."


    Downing Street has described today's fall in unemployment as "encouraging" and "a step in the right direction". The PM's spokeswoman said there was still a long way to go, but jobs were being created in the private sector that were offsetting the fall in posts in the public sector.


    Ahead of a vote in the Commons later on the Budget, David Cameron's spokeswoman also said the government would be sticking by its "difficult decisions" and dismissed the prospect of any climbdown over measures such as the 50p tax cut or the so-called "pasty tax".


    tweets: Will the Speaker call George Galloway at his first PMQs for two years?


    In the Commons, David Cameron, Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Chancellor George Osborne are in their seats.

    1159: James Landale Deputy Political Editor, BBC News

    Ed Miliband has an embarassment of riches to choose from at today's PM's questions. But this can be a curse as well as a blessing, because it can be a problem taking too scattergun an approach. Better to focus on one issue and really drive it home.


    Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have taken their seats on the Labour benches - not long now.


    The session begins. The prime minister pays tribute to British soldiers serving in Helmand, Afghanistan who have died over the past few weeks: Capt Rupert Bowers, of 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, killed in an explosion, L/Cpl Michael Foley of Adjutant General's Corps, Staff and Personnel Support and Sgt Luke Taylor, of the Royal Marines, shot and killed by an Afghan National Army soldier and Cpl Jack Stanley, of The Queen's Royal Hussars, C Company, who died in hospital after being injured by explosion in February.


    Naomi Long, Alliance MP, opens with a question about donations to political parties in Northern Ireland and increasing transparency on money given. David Cameron says he wants parties in Northern Ireland to follow the same approach as the rest of the UK.


    Conservative MP Stephen Barclay says GPs working in the UK need to be able to speak good English. The prime minister says he's "entirely right" and any doctors who can't communicate "can't practice".


    Ed Miliband is on his feet. He also pays tribute to British casualties in Afghanistan.


    Mr Miliband goes straight for the jugular with a question on the 50p tax rate and how much it'll benefit millionaires. The PM says the rich will pay more in the long term and turns the attack on his opposite number - asking why Mr Miliband hasn't mentioned today's drop in unemployment.


    The Labour leader hits back, saying only "this prime minister" could celebrate figures which show a million young people are still out of work. He returns to the 50p rate and then moves on to the so-called "granny tax" and asks about the amount that older people will lose.

    1206: Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    Ed Miliband starting an argument now they'll be having all afternoon in the Commons: the fallout from the Budget.


    Mr Cameron declines to answer the question directly about the amount of money pensioners can lose. He accuses Labour of tabling an amendment to the Budget bill that would cut the top rate of tax even further to 40p.


    Cue puzzled looks from Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls - the former says the PM is "talking absolute rubbish". He goes on to say Mr Cameron didn't deny that pensioners would lose out and widens the attack on the Budget to criticise cuts to family tax credits as well. Chancellor George Osborne speaks to the PM on the front bench as the Labour leader talks.

    1208: Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    Pretty straightforward Ed Miliband's technique here, drawing attention to millionaire winners and pensioner losers in the Budget.


    Mr Cameron says no wonder Mr Miliband doesn't want to talk about tax when he can't persuade his candidate for London mayor "who won't pay his taxes". He's referring to Ken Livingstone, who's been under fire for several weeks over his tax affairs. Mr Livingstone's hoping to unseat Conservative incumbent Boris Johnson in May.

    1210: Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    Tory backbenchers enjoying David Cameron's suggestion Labour have made a mess of their Budget amendment. We'll know who is right soon enough - will Labour withdraw the amendment as he says or not?


    The Labour leader ignores Mr Cameron's request to "condemn" Mr Livingstone, saying it's the prime minister who has to answer questions. After a dig at "part-time chancellor" George Osborne, Mr Miliband moves onto the plans to change tax relief for charity donations - he cites figures showing how much charities will lose as a result.


    Mr Cameron says those figures are wrong and is keen to return to the subject of Mr Livingstone, accusing Mr Miliband of defending a man who "pays less tax than the person who cleans his office".


    Speaker John Bercow has to intervene to calm things in the House - he tells Health Minister Simon Burns to quiet down... for the good of his health.

    1212: Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    Tories rather enjoyed Speaker's pop at their noisy health minister Simon Burns. There was a belly laugh from some of them.


    Mr Miliband lists the government's problems in recent weeks, saying even Downing Street insiders are calling it "an omnishambles". In reply, Mr Cameron concedes it's been a "tough" month.


    The PM attacks Labour's failure to win the Bradford West by-election - the camera cuts to the victor in that contest, Respect's George Galloway, and if looks could kill...


    Mr Miliband says he "won't take any lectures on industrial relations" from the PM after Mr Cameron attacks his relations with the unions. The Labour leader was referring to the government's handling of the fuel strike threat.


    Conservative Karl McCartney asks a question about the ratings agency Standard and Poor keeping confidence in the UK's AAA rating. Mr Cameron says the continuing uncertainty in the rest of Europe shows how important this is.


    The DUP's Rev William McCrea asks whether the prime minster will meet victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland. The PM says he will arrange a meeting.


    Now the "pasty tax", and a question from Lib Dem Stephen Gilbert. Mr Cameron says he knows "feelings run high" about this in Cornwall but says the planned VAT changes are fair.

    Caroline Crampton, Total Politics Magazine

    tweets: Gosh Galloway made a very scary face then when Cameron name checked him just then #PMQs


    Labour's Kerry McCarthy asks about poor families struggling with the cost of living, and has a dig at the PM for meeting wealthy party donors at Number 10. Mr Cameron says the government has raised tax credits - and attacks the Opposition for supporting a rise in interest rates. That line, by the way, comes from comments earlier by Angela Eagle on the Daily Politics.

    1219: Ross Hawkins, political correspondent, BBC News

    Ed Balls and George Osborne mouthing something to each other; I doubt it's endearments.

    George Galloway

    Bradford West's new MP George Galloway looks less than impressed with his name-check by David Cameron.


    Labour's Teresa Pearce accuses the chancellor of "incompetence" on the basis that the number of staff at HM Revenue and Customs are being cut, just when a crackdown is promised on tax avoidance. Mr Cameron says the government has actually presided over an incerase in staff levels.


    In two answers in a row Mr Cameron has brought up Ken Livingstone and his tax affairs. He calls the prospective mayor's actions "disgraceful" - Mr Livingstone says he has done nothing wrong.


    A question on a children's centre in Oxfordshire - Mr Cameron says he knows the centre in question and will do all he can to help if it's struggling.

    Michael White, Guardian assistant editor

    tweets: #PMQs St Austell's LD MP, Steve Gilbert, defends Cornish pasty from pasty tax. Not fair to tax hot Fish and Chips but not pasty, says Dave


    Labour's David Blunkett asks about contempt proceedings being brought against the former Northern Ireland secretary Peter Hain for comments made in his memoir. Mr Cameron says criticism is part of life and "as far as possible we should keep these things out of the courtroom".


    Conservative Stephen Mosley asks about Burma - where the PM was last week. Mr Cameron says there is progress in the country, although caution is essential, and he hopes he can get other European nations to agree to the suspension of sanctions later this month.


    Labour's Ian Murray asks how much better off the cabinet will be collectively, as a result of the 50p tax rate cut - due to come into force next year. Mr Cameron says Labour had 13 years to introduce a 50p rate and only did so in its last month of office.


    Conservative Paul Uppal asks about problems with postal voting and the risk of "stolen" votes. The PM says it's an important issue and he will look at it, but the priority is to push through individual voter registration - to replace the current system of registration by household.


    Labour's Kelvin Hopkins attacks the freezing of age-related allowances for pensioners, announced in the Budget. He suggests it shows a lack of respect for older people. Mr Cameron says he's raised the state pension and is preserving other benefits like the winter fuel allowance.


    Caroline Dinenage, Conservative, asks about the case of a British girl missing for a number of years in Germany. Mr Cameron says such cases are "tragic" and he will investigate.


    Labour's Gordon Marsden asks about another Budget tax change - the plan to levy VAT on maintenance carried out on alterations to listed buildings. Mr Cameron says he wants to explain the "unfairness" in the current system - which charges VAT on repairs but not alterations - the addition of a swimming pool to a Tudor mansion, for example, he adds.

    James Chapman, Daily Mail Political Editor

    tweets: Ed Balls having a furious exchange with George Osborne across floor over Cameron's claim the 50p tax rate 'has not earned any money' #pmqs


    Tory backbencher Douglas Carswell asks whether Mr Cameron believes politics is like Yes, Minister - he says he appears to have changed his mind on the matter. The PM replies that this is one occasion on which he thinks his colleague needs a sense of humour. Cue a chorus of "oooooohhs" from MPs.


    The prime minister is asked by one Labour MP to name charities he believes are using tax relief rules in an abusive manner - one of the arguments raised by the government last month during the row over the changes. He chooses not to, but says 300 people earning more than \u00a31m had got their tax rates down to 10% and the principle of the changes should get support from all sides of the House.


    A couple of quickfire questions on university applications and youth unemployment. Mr Cameron defends his deputy prime minister - branded "a broken arrow" by the Labour questioner - and celebrates his work experience scheme.


    Conservative Claire Perry asks about protection for children using the internet. Mr Cameron says it's a very important subject and he wants to work with internet providers to introduce better safeguards.

    Matt Chorley, Political correspondent, Independent on Sunday

    tweets: A Mexican wave of "so arrogant" is sweeping across the Labour benches #PMQs


    PM's questions is still going. Labour's Kate Green talks about child benefit changes - the benefit is going to be phased out for anyone earning more than \u00a350,000. Mr Cameron says he stands by his policy and it isn't right for people earning \u00a320,000 or \u00a330,000 to be paying for Members of Parliament to be receiving the benefit.


    Conservative Andrew Percy talks about yet another VAT change in the Budget - which saw it added to mobile caravans. Mr Cameron says it's about "a fair drawing of the boundaries".


    Here he is, the newest MP in the House, George Galloway asks his first question - on Afghanistan. Will the PM reconsider his current planning on UK involvement in this "bloody" conflict?


    Mr Cameron congratulates Mr Galloway on his "stunning by-election victory" and says he always speaks with "great power and force". But he urges Mr Galloway "not to play to the gallery on this one" and support British forces. He says they are in Afghanistan at the invitation of an Islamic government.

    1239: Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    There was a large cheer for George Galloway as he rose and began with "As I was saying..." Ken Livingstone was first with that gag.


    That's it from the chamber itself. Outside, Shadow Treasury Secretary Chris Leslie tells the BBC it's time for the government to "think again" on the 50p tax cut and the "granny tax", branding them "massively unfair".

    1240: Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    Ed Balls tries to extend PMQs with a question on that "50p tax raised no money" claim. PM walks away - as he's entitled to do.


    Conservative deputy chair Michael Fallon is on the offensive, attacking Labour for not condemning the threat of a strike by tanker drivers.


    Tweets: Rattled Cameron sounds like a man not confident Tories will win in London - Labour's pledges worrying them on the doorstep


    Back on the Daily Politics, Labour's Angela Eagle is asked about David Cameron's claim that she called for higher interest rates just a short time ago on that very programme. She replies: "It's a complete travesty of the discussion we were having." Ms Eagle says she was discussing the fact that interest rates would inevitably rise at some point.


    BBC deputy political editor James Landale says there's a possibility that Parliament may "prorogue" early - our Parliamentary correspondent Mark D'Arcy has more on this - he says there's chatter the parliamentary year could end as early as next Thursday.


    On a completely different note, Pensions Minister Steve Webb tells the Daily Politics he's open to the idea of using the tax system to deter people from buying unhealthy food. He says prices shouldn't be increased as a tax-raising measure, but there could be a role for using tax incentives to encourage manufacturers to bring down the salt, fat and sugar content in their products.


    Another rather random topic. Labour's Angela Eagle tells the programme she's expecting there will be "good news" for the taxpayer soon - on the contentious issue of Parliament's rather expensive fig trees. They've cost nearly \u00a3400,000 to maintain since they were installed in Portcullis House 12 years ago. Ms Eagle says the House authorities are negotiating and reveals that she's heard that when they were first installed, no-one could be sure they would survive. They've since thrived.


    We're going to wrap things up now. Hope you enjoyed this week's prime minister's questions - thanks very much for joining us. We'll be back next week to do it all again.


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