Ed Miliband hits back at energy firms over prices plan

 

Ed Miliband: ''We've got to tackle the cost-of-living crisis''

Ed Miliband would "take action" against energy companies if they defied a Labour government by raising prices ahead of his promised freeze.

The Labour leader has pledged gas and electricity bills would not go up for 20 months if he wins the 2015 election.

It has been welcomed by consumer groups angry at price hikes over recent years, but the "big six" suppliers warned it could have serious consequences.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey, a Lib Dem, said it risked "the lights going out".

Mr Miliband told the BBC the UK had "a market that isn't working" and, as the row between Labour and the energy firms escalated, he dismissed them as "unreliable witnesses" after they claimed possible blackouts.

He has written to the big six suppliers warning that without changes, taxpayer-funded guarantees to energy firms might not be sustainable.

The plan for a freeze on household and business energy bills between June 2015 and the start of 2017 was the stand-out announcement of Mr Miliband's party conference speech on Tuesday.

'Overcharging'

The Labour leader argued firms had been "overcharging" customers for many years and millions of households would benefit from the temporary cap on prices at a time when finances were under acute pressure and many were struggling to heat their homes.

Labour says the move will save average households £120 a year and businesses £1,800.

When the lights went out - the BBC reports on California's energy blackouts in 2001

Mr Miliband insisted he wanted energy suppliers to be successful and to continue to invest in new capacity to supply the UK's long-term energy needs.

But he said "public consent" for these arrangements depended on consumers getting a fair deal and that could happen only if the energy market was totally restructured to separate firms' generating and retail operations.

'Patently absurd'

Speaking to BBC News he said: "I've written a letter to [the energy companies] this morning saying there's a crisis of confidence in the system.

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"It's time we fixed it and they can either choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. I hope they choose to be part of the solution."

Rebutting claims that to protect their profits, suppliers would merely put their prices up ahead of Labour's freeze, Mr Miliband said he would "make sure this is a genuine freeze that works for consumers".

"If we have to take action to make sure that happens, we absolutely will."

The party has rejected suggestions the cap, which could cost energy firms £4.5bn, will endanger much-needed investment in new plants, saying suppliers should be able to absorb the cost of the freeze out of recent profits.

Responding to suggestions the policy could lead to energy blackouts, Mr Miliband accused the industry of spreading "scare stories".

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna added the claims were "patently absurd" and "nonsense" put about by the large energy companies.

Since 2007, gas bills have risen by an average of 41% in real terms, while electricity has gone up by 20%, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Energy profits

The "big six" - British Gas, EDF, E.On, npower, Scottish Power, SSE - made total net profits of:

2009: £2.15bn

2010: £2.22bn

2011: £3.87bn

2012: £3.74bn

This has contributed to overall industry profits of £2.15bn in 2009, £2.22bn in 2010, £3.87bn in 2011 and £3.74bn in 2012.

But suppliers say prices have gone up to cover their rising environmental and social obligations and in response to commodity price rises - sums paid on wholesale markets.

Speaking at a fringe meeting on Tuesday evening, a senior British Gas executive suggested such a direct price intervention could "threaten energy security in the UK".

"If we have no ability to control what we did with the retail prices, and that (wholesale price volatility) was to happen again, it would mean we are selling products at significant amounts of a loss and that would threaten energy security in the UK," said Ian Peters.

Asked whether it could mean "the lights could go off" he replied: "I think that is a risk."

'Economic ruin'

Energy UK, the trade body representing the six largest energy firms, has described the price freeze as "superficially attractive" but suggested it could bring a halt to future infrastructure projects.

Chief executive Angela Knight said: "It will also freeze the money to build and renew power stations, freeze the jobs and livelihoods of the 600,000-plus people dependent on the energy industry and make the prospect of energy shortages a reality, pushing up the prices for everyone."

Centrica's boss warns that the plan could lead to firms' "economic ruin"

And the chairman of Centrica - British Gas's holding company - said a firm unable to control either its costs or its prices was potentially in danger of "economic ruin".

"We are all concerned about rising prices and the impact on consumers, but we also have a very real responsibility that we find supplies to make sure the lights stay on," Sir Roger Carr said.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey said: "Fixing prices in this way risks blackouts, jeopardises jobs and puts investment in clean, green technology in doubt.

"Ed Miliband made a significant contribution to tackling climate change with the 2008 Climate Change Act. But he is putting this all at risk with his ill thought through plan which will put off investors in low carbon power generation."

Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme whether a Labour government would step in if a firm went bust, Mr Miliband said: "That's not going to happen."

But he added: "Of course if there was a major shock, companies could make their case."

Energy regulator Ofgem, which Labour plans to replace after 2015, has suggested legislation would need to be passed to change pricing arrangements.

In his speech, Mr Miliband also promised Labour would build 200,000 new homes a year by 2020 and enfranchise 16 and 17 year olds.

 

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  • Comment number 1086.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1085.

    Business works on a margin. The reason profits have gone up is because the cost of supply has escalated through green levies and inflation. This has been passed onto the consumer at the same margin; there is more profit. Ed is asking business to reduce its margin by an unknown amount, potentially turning profit into loss. I don't like paying for electricity, but would prefer to have it!!!

  • rate this
    +50

    Comment number 1084.

    I think it's important to point out that the UK has relatively low energy prices in comparison to the rest of Europe (reference Europe's Energy Portal, May 2013). We are lucky in that we have these low costs and a relatively mild weather, our neighbours are spending far more on fuel that we do. In Sweden it's common to spend over £500/month in heating bills over the winter.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1083.

    I have no idea why people are constantly debating the Conservative and Labour parties? These 2 parties between them have brought decades of misery to the people of the UK. Which ever one of these parties wins the elections energy prices won't change....they'll keep going up to fund the shareowners dividends - we'll keep getting ripped off. I'll be voting for UKIP - I've had enough of Red and Blue.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1082.

    Looking at average energy prices for all the EU states on energy.EU there is no real evidence that we are getting ripped off any more than other EU states.

    If Milliband want to fix the market maybe he should ask the EU to look into the matter.

    Otherwise it would seem that short of nationalisation their is little more than he can do. Maybe this is what he is planning?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1081.

    We know that businesses need to increase their prices in order they may grow and invest in new technologies an processes but with the main energy companies increasing the cost of fuel by up to 9% with the Government approval. I question why if they can make such a huge rise in costs why are we prgged at 2.5% wage increase?

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1080.

    Miliband could not answer the simple question on radio 4's Today as to what he would do if there were a sudden hike in the cost of fuel in international markets. Under questioning, he hinted that they might look again, but then quickly backtracked. In other words, he doesn't know.

    This is a populist policy to win votes - but clearly he hasn't thought it through.

    Labour simply can't be trusted.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 1079.

    Bad timing Ed. The Tories will now come up with a freeze of the fuel duty escalator in the Autumn budget to take the wind out of your sails. Mind you, you had no choice, the Tories and their paymasters hold all the strings. They can manipulate the market and truth to neutralist your threat to their gravy train. Many here have already fallen for it.

    Steady nerves until election 2015. We have hope.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 1078.

    Again well done Ed Miliband for standing up for us normal people of this country. 100% trust on him and people's Party..

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1077.

    It is all just political soundbites, tell them what they want to hear, Labour ie Blair signed up to the Green agenda which is responsible for pushing up energy bills, we have a Lib dem energy minister that wants a windmill in every garden. I wouldn't believe a word any of them say !!

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1076.

    While he's wielding his magic wand perhaps he could freeze the price of diesel and petrol for a year or so.I wonder what would happen at the end of his 20 month period for gas & electricity.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1075.

    No problem Millibland, the companies will just cut what they can, wages and staff, push back investment further in time. Future power shortages will let them really rake it in! Good way to annoy the unions you now hate.

    Having backstabbed your brother, then the unions, doing the same to the business grouping is leaving you very lonely. Just your immigrants left? Have you got so many in?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1074.

    Incredible that nobody is suggesting that energy companies NOT be forced to buy 'green' energy at ludicrously artificially high prices.

    That would slash energy prices.

    But no. All those smug middle classes with their PV array or wealthy landowners with their windfarm would lose out.

    Far better to get the poor to pay for the subsidised electricity of the rich and middle classes eh.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1073.

    So , Ed has written a letter to the energy companies. They are no doubt scared. He has confirmed how unelectable he is.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1072.

    The energy companies win whatever the world market is doing.

    We were told by the Tories when they sold our Water, Gas & Electricity to the private sector that bills would come DOWN. The OPPOSITE has happened - the same will happen with the Royal Mail.

    We need to re-nationalise them - some things are too important & need to be owned by & for the nation.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1071.

    Cannot The BBC offer us some comparisons between other European countries as to what we all pay for energy then it would leave us with a clearer picture.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1070.

    Most of the energy companies including British gas ,southern electric Npower are owned by foreign French, German, Dutch companies Ed Miliband is standing up for the British people The foreign owners of these companies are dictating the cost of our Gas, if you buy from a British company it would be cheeper to start www. utility warehouse .org .uk /k99409no contract Which guarenteed try them out

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1069.

    @992. Go bust with there profits. Then they must be paying themselves too much. If it cost say £2.00 years ago to make 5 gallon of petrol (=40p per gallon)and it now costs £3.00 how much a gallon (=60p per gallon) how much should the rise be for the company not to loose money. Easy 4p per gallon NOT per litre, as that equals 20p per gallon. Thats inflation for you.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1068.

    The idea that the energy companies can make huge exploiting profits and nothing can be done to stop them is actually very unconservative! Can you imagine Thatcher saying that we dare not do anything about energy companies ripping us off, and that we should allow ourselves to be held to ransom!!!! If it isn't possible to do anyhting else then the state can start a company and build power stations.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1067.

    Manipulation of energy prices will just mean that the prices will need to go up by much more when the freeze ends. Ending the enormous green taxes will hold prices down for a time, but as demand increases worldwide, energy prices will only go in one direction - up. Forget useless windmills & panels - start fracking quickly!

 

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  41.  
    16:45: Welfare cuts

    The Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank has delivered its verdict on the coalition's welfare reforms. Despite all the fuss over universal credit, Andrew Hood and David Phillips argue, delayed implementation means the changes have been "an evolution of the system rather than a revolution". Real terms benefit spending in 2015 is exactly the same as in 2010, at £220 billion, and is only seven per cent lower than it otherwise would have been. What's to blame for this? "An ageing population, but also weak wage growth and rising private rents," they say.

     
  42.  
    16:33: TV debates BBC News Channel

    An update from Norman Smith on the TV debates saga - BBC director general Lord Hall has written to the Democratic Unionist Party rejecting their request to be included. DUP sources have reacted with anger to the decision. They say they believe it is "very difficult to justify" the BBC's decision and are considering taking legal action over the debates. A judicial review could snarl up any deal being reached, Norman Smith warns.

     
  43.  
    16:27: Election winners
    Pound coins

    May2015.com has a guide to betting on the general election, with some advice, cautionary tales, and a few striking statistics: "The two biggest bookmakers, William Hill and Ladbrokes, both had a turnover of more than £3m in the Scottish referendum."

     
  44.  
    16:27: PMQs reaction Guido Fawkes

    Simon Carr at the Guido Fawkes blog gives his verdict on today's Prime Minister's Questions - with harsh words for David Cameron, but harsher ones for Ed Miliband.

     
  45.  
    16:26: NHS funding House of Commons Parliament

    MPs have voted against Labour's opposition amendment criticising the government's funding of the NHS. The government wins with 298 votes - a majority of 70 over the opposition's 228 MPs. The Commons swiftly moves on to its next debate - on sustainable development goals.

     
  46.  
    16:24: PMQs reaction
    PMQs

    Ed Miliband's attempt to "weaponise" the NHS, as David Cameron puts it, prompts a tongue-in-cheek analysis from Politics.co.uk's Adam Bienkov of the Labour leader's performance in wielding the weapon. "Miliband was visibly angry, aggressive and yet somehow totally unintimidating as he waved his new-found weapon around," he writes. "Perhaps he'd left the safety on, perhaps it was just a replica, but either way Cameron never seemed in the slightest danger of actually being hit."

     
  47.  
    @ChrisMasonBBC Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: Bus workers in London are to stage three fresh 24-hour strikes next month in a dispute over pay, said the Unite union.

     
  48.  
    16:23: NHS funding House of Commons Parliament
    Health minister Jane Ellison

    The debate over the NHS didn't finish when Ed Miliband sat down in PMQs - in fact in the Commons it was only just starting, as MPs have spent the afternoon debating the government's health spending. Shadow minister Liz Kendall, summing up, says the coalition has been busy "wasting three years and £3bn of taxpayers' money". Jane Ellison, the Conservative health minister, says NHS funding has risen every year since 2010. She tells the Commons: "Tough decisions were taken at the beginning of this parliament to protect the NHS budget, against the advice of the Labour Party."

     
  49.  
    16:22: Shapps on the homeless LBC

    Conservative chairman Grant Shapps was also criticised by a caller, the chairman of a homeless charity, over plans to remove jobseeker's allowance from 18 to 21-year-olds. Mr Shapps, a former housing minister, says the reason people end up on the streets is "never as black and white" as people assume. He also says he would not give cash to a homeless person because he would not know how it would be spent, saying it is better to "bring them help".

     
  50.  
    16:21: Labour health policy ITN

    ITV political editor Tom Bradby tweets, alongside a video of Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham on BBC Newsnight last night: "I usually think of Andy Burnham as a smart guy, but after listening to this I have no idea what Labour policy is."

     
  51.  
    16:19: New Tory poster
    Conservative election poster showing Miliband, Salmond and Adams

    The Conservatives have released their latest campaign poster, which will be appearing on billboards shortly. It's a variation on a theme: having warned of the possibility of a Labour-SNP coalition, the Tories have now picked up on a Sinn Fein MP's claim that his party is being pursued by Labour. The Conservative poster adds Gerry Adams' face and the Sun's headline - but Labour insists their story is untrue. "We are working towards a Labour majority government and only towards a Labour majority government," a spokesman said.

     
  52.  
    16:10: Bomb threat BBC News UK
    Daithí McKay

    The BBC has learned that police in Northern Ireland are investigating reports that a bomb has been left at the home of Sinn Féin's North Antrim MLA Daithí McKay.

    An anonymous caller contacted the MLA's Dunloy office claiming a device had been left at the family home.

     
  53.  
    16:00: Defending PMQs LBC
    Grant Shapps

    Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps has been defending Prime Minister's Questions during a phone-in on LBC radio. Host Shelagh Fogarty said the exchanges on the NHS were the worst she could remember. "I'm not going to pretend it's the pinnacle of political debate," Mr Shapps replied. But he pointed to the viewing figures it attracts and added that he had a five-year waiting list of constituents wanting to come and watch. "It keeps the prime minister on his or her toes," he added.

     
  54.  
    15:52: What is a major incident?
    ambulance

    David Cameron and Ed Miliband have clashed in the Commons over the NHS, amid a row about guidance to hospitals over when they can call a "major incident". So what exactly is a major incident?

    • An internal major incident is activated when a trust is under significant pressure that is internal to the organisation - and is not the result of an external event.
    • It is a business continuity arrangement, where a decision is taken to reduce some services to support higher priority ones.
    • A major incident is a significant incident or emergency that cannot be managed within routine service arrangements.
    • It requires the implementation of special procedures and involves one or more of the emergency services, the NHS or a local authority.

    Source: NHS England - London region

     
  55.  
    15:42: 'Weaponising' policy
    George Osborne

    Amid continuing Conservative criticism of Ed Miliband for his suggestion he would "weaponise" the NHS, Paul Waugh at PoliticsHome reports that Chancellor George Osborne apparently previously used the word "weaponise" in a political context.

     
  56.  
    15:36: The SNP halts fracking

    Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing announces a moratorium on planning consent for all fracking north of the border. He's targeting the Tories rather than Labour, calling the Conservatives' plan to remove landowners' right to object to shale gas extraction "a disgrace". By contrast, he says, the Scottish government is taking a "responsible, cautious and evidence-based approach".

    Fracking in Balcombe, southern England
     
  57.  
    @ChrisMasonBBC Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: Scotland's First Minister says she'd find it "strange" if Labour refused to deal with the SNP following the election, rpts @TimReidBBC

    and

    tweets: It follows the shadow Chancellor Ed Balls remarks yesterday in which he appeared to rule out a coalition with the Scottish nationalists.

     
  58.  
    @robindbrant Robin Brant, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: .@UKIP give a taster of what's to come in #ge2015 manifesto with list of 100 things they'd do - link

     
  59.  
    15:09: Afghanistan service Peter Hunt Royal correspondent, BBC News
    The Queen at the Cenotaph memorial service

    The BBC's Peter Hunt tweets that Prince Charles - and not the Queen - will attend a service in March commemorating the end of combat operations in Afghanistan. The Queen, in 2009, attended a service marking the end of combat operations in Iraq.

    Earlier today in the House of Commons, David Cameron announced the service would take place on 13 March.

     
  60.  
    15:01: Consensus collapsing? The Guardian

    George Monbiot writes in The Guardian that the rise of more left-wing parties across Europe - such as Syriza and the Scottish National Party - heralds the "sudden death of the neoliberal consensus". He claims: "If people voted for what they wanted, the Greens would be the party of government."

    Natalie Bennett and Green Party supporters
     
  61.  
    14:51: Tim Reid Political correspondent, BBC News

    Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, speaking before the apology, described Lord Wigley's remarks - comparing the Trident base on the Clyde to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz - as "offensive". Mr Carmichael said the Welsh nationalist peer's comments were offensive to those who died and to those who worked at the Faslane naval base.

     
  62.  
    14:43: PMQs reaction The Spectator

    The Spectator's political editor James Forsyth says that, with little of substance said between the party leaders, "at the end of PMQs, politics was in the same place as it was at the start" - and this suits David Cameron and the Conservatives, who are "now convinced that events are moving their way".

     
  63.  
    14:35: If I were PM... The Independent
    10 Downing Street

    The Independent is counting down the days to the general election by inviting one contributor every day to describe what he or she would do as prime minister. Political commentator John Rentoul was first up yesterday, saying he'd be like "a free-market version of Natalie Bennett".

    Today it's the turn of Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.

     
  64.  
    14:31: House of Commons Parliament

    Over in the House of Commons, the debate on government spending on the NHS is - quite predictably - proving to be a tetchy session. Health minister Dr Daniel Poulter is batting for the government, but there are lots of shouts being directed at him from sedentary positions on the Labour benches.

    House of Commons wide shot
     
  65.  
    14:25: Election battlegrounds The Daily Telegraph
    David Cameron and Ed Miliband

    Over at The Telegraph, James Kirkup provides a brief summary of the issues set to dominate the election - from the NHS and the economy to housing and "Dave vs Ed".

     
  66.  
    14:22: Auschwitz comments

    Comments made by Ex-Plaid Cymru leader Lord Wigley (pictured) comparing the Trident base in Scotland to Auschwitz concentration camp are branded "crass" and "offensive" by Conservative former Wales Secretary, David Jones. Mr Jones, Clwyd West MP, says it is right the peer apologised, albeit in a "mealy-mouthed" way. He says it was "not appropriate at any time" to use Auschwitz to make political points, "but to say it at Holocaust memorial time is even worse".

    Ex-Plaid Cymru leader Lord Wigley
     
  67.  
    @TimReidBBC Tim Reid, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: Nicola Sturgeon says Europe at heart of SNP election campaign - party will seek future vote that EU exit only poss if all 4 nations agree

     
  68.  
    14:14: PMQs reaction The Mirror

    At the Mirror online, Sunday People political editor Nigel Nelson sketches a frustrating bout between David Cameron and Ed Miliband: "The PM has adopted a curious habit for these sessions of late. Whatever the Labour leader asks, Mr Cameron answers an entirely different question."

     
  69.  
    14:08: NHS major incidents BBC News Channel

    Commenting on the new guidelines given in the West Midlands, former NHS Trust chairman Roy Lilley says they are "sensible but... very tough". He says it is clear the timing is to do with the forthcoming general election "because the more hospitals that go in to declaring a major emergency the more embarrassing it gets for the government". But he says it puts hospitals in a "very difficult place" as the harder it becomes to declare a major incident, the greater the "risk" in delivering services.

     
  70.  
    13:58: PMQs reaction

    Something about today's PMQs seems to have got a lot of commentators rather frustrated. Mark Ferguson of the LabourList blog tweets: "I hate having to watch PMQs. Worst part of the job. Writing about this turgid nonsense is like drowning in nonsense." Mehdi Hasan, the Huffington Post UK's political director, is just as desperate in his tweet: "Completely pointless and childish #pmqs today. Seems to get worse each week. British politics at its most dire and unappealing."

     
  71.  
    13:56: Lord Wigley's statement Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    Lord Wigley has apologised for his remarks about Auschwitz. He said he was sorry if his remarks were open to misinterpretation. In a statement he said: "I am certainly sorry if my remarks were open to any misinterpretation and I apologise for any offence that has been caused. The point I was trying to make was that you can't have jobs at any cost and I reiterate that."

     
  72.  
    13:55: Apology for Auschwitz comments

    Plaid Cymru peer Lord Wigley has apologised for "any offence caused" after he compared the effects of a Trident submarine base to a Nazi death camp. Here's our story about his original comments which came on BBC Radio 4's World at One.

     
  73.  
    13:53: NHS strike in N Ireland

    A strike by NHS workers in Northern Ireland, including ambulance staff, is to go ahead tomorrow after the "failure" to match a pay offer in England, the GMB union has said.

     
  74.  
    13:48: TV debates The World at One BBC Radio 4

    Turning to the TV election debates, Lib Dem minister Simon Hughes predicts that they probably won't go ahead - but tells the World at One that the Lib Dems want them to. He says the situation has shifted from the initial proposition - which didn't allow the Lib Dems to put their case "equally" as a party of government - to a position where there are so many prospective players "it becomes a very difficult place". He adds that the Tories and Labour are now saying they're not happy unless the Northern Ireland parties are involved - but questions whether including a further three or four parties is realistic. "Honest judgement, money on it, I think probably they won't but we would like them to as long as there is fair treatment for us and others."

     
  75.  
    13:40: PMQs verdict New Statesman

    Over at the New Statesman, George Eaton judges David Cameron's "chutzpah" to have carried him over the line in this week's PMQs. "The session descended into one of the ugliest encounters yet between the two men," he writes, before notching up yet another defeat for Ed Miliband: "Most voters will notice Miliband's equivocation and the rhetorical exaggerations that Cameron provokes... the PM's ruthless form was testimony to his increasing confidence."

     
  76.  
    13:39: MoD... golf courses?

    Defence secretary Michael Fallon has raised eyebrows during his speech at the Institute of Government by revealing the Ministry of Defence owns 15 golf courses. After confirming his department needs to make more efficiency savings in the coming years, he suggested further cuts were essential. "How many cars and vehicles do we really need?" the Daily Mail quoted him as saying. "And does MoD really need to own 15 golf courses?"

    Michael Fallon
     
  77.  
    13:30: 'Weaponise the NHS'? The World at One BBC Radio 4

    Pressed over whether Ed Miliband said he wanted to "weaponise" the NHS, shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker says Labour will prioritise the health service because that, he says, is what the public wants.

     
  78.  
    13:28: Major incidents rules The World at One BBC Radio 4

    Asked about the guidance given to hospitals over when they call "major incidents", Lib Dem Justice Minister Simon Hughes tells Radio 4's World at One programme it seems "entirely sensible". Conservative minister Mark Harper says the document was issued by the NHS in West Midlands and ministers had nothing to do with it. He acknowledges there are "unprecedented pressures" on the NHS and says only a strong economy can deliver a sustainable NHS.

     
  79.  
    13:17: 'What is NHS England's involvement?' House of Commons Parliament

    Finally, Labour MP Clive Efford asks "what is NHS England's involvement?" in the guidance on major incidents. Jeremy Hunt says he is "quoting selectively" from the guidance. When a local health body makes a decision on a major incident, "it must make sure there isn't going to be a negative impact on the wider economy because patients must come first".

     
  80.  
    13:16: Conservatives reject 'war on Wales' charge Robin Brant Political Correspondent, BBC News

    In the post-PMQs briefing, the Conservatives say Ed Miliband's claim the PM was mounting a "war on Wales" was an "extraordinary comment to make". PM was "absolutely right" to highlight problems in Welsh NHS, they add.

     
  81.  
    13:13: 'Rely on professionals' House of Commons Parliament

    Conservative MP Stephen Mosley says ministers should "rely on local health professionals to make the best choices". Jeremy Hunt agrees. "We don't want an NHS where every single operational decision is taken from behind the health secretary's desk," he tells the House, claiming that this approach will keep politics out.

     
  82.  
    13:07: 'My duty to weaponise NHS' House of Commons Parliament

    Labour MP Barry Sheerman says "it is my duty as a member of the opposition to weaponise" the NHS.

    He argues that Labour needs to win the election and stop the government's "disgraceful policies".

    Jeremy Hunt replies that "there are too many on the Labour side who think exactly like that".

     
  83.  
    13:04: TV debates Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Pollster Ben Page of Ipsos Mori, interviewed on the Daily Politics, says the televised election debates are "almost certain" to happen. He says voters aren't particularly bothered, "to be honest", about the to-and-fro over their exact format which is getting Westminster types so worked up. But he accepts David Cameron is doing well in negotiating to ensure the debates that suit him best.

     
  84.  
    13:03: 'One of the first' House of Commons Parliament

    Labour's David Winnick says Walsall Manor Hospital was "one of the first to declare a major incident" over demand in its A&E department. The Walsall North MP calls on the health secretary not to "minimise" the problems.

     
  85.  
    13:02: Ammunition for Labour Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    Norman Smith says the fact the NHS document at the centre of today's exchanges refers to local politics and the media will give Labour ammunition with which to maintain their claims that hospitals are being put under political pressure to avoid calling major incidents.

     
  86.  
    13:00: Breaking News Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    The former leader of Plaid Cymru has compared the Trident base on the Clyde to Auschwitz in an interview with the BBC. Lord Wigley's comments come the day after events across Europe to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi camps.

    Asked about a report that the Trident base could be moved to Wales, Lord Wigley said: "No doubt there were many jobs provided in Auschwitz and places like that but that didn't justify their existence and neither does nuclear weapons justify having them in Pembrokeshire."He is currently Plaid Cymru's general election coordinator.

    (You can listen to the interview on BBC Radio 4's World at One, via the Live Coverage tab on this page.)

     
  87.  
    12:59: Women in politics Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    With a pic of New Labour's 'Blair babes' in the background, the Daily Politics is now looking at the issue of getting more women into Parliament. As Caroline Flint points out, Labour has more women MPs and ethnic minority MPs than all the other parties put together. But she adds: "There was positive discrimination going in favour of men in my party and in other parties for many, many years." David Willetts accepts the Conservatives "need to make more progress" - but says he hopes there will be many more Tory women in Parliament after the election.

    Daily Politics on women in politics
     
  88.  
    12:58: 'Not seen that way' House of Commons Parliament

    Gisela Stuart, the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, says that Jeremy Hunt's argument that the decision to declare a major incident is purely operational "is not seen that way on the ground". Mr Hunt insists that the decision "must be taken locally".

     
  89.  
    @bbcnickrobinson Nick Robinson, BBC Political Editor

    tweets: Real NHS story is not who said what about it but who will do what to strengthen an NHS under real pressure in future #pmqs

     
  90.  
    12:53: In Pictures: Prime Minister's Questions
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
     
  91.  
    12:54: Listening to the doctors Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    On the Daily Politics, Conservative ex-minister David Willetts is debating how to improve the NHS with shadow energy and climate change secretary, Caroline Flint. He says that medical advice often suggests raising standards of care means there should be fewer A&E departments - with the inevitable result that A&E gets politicised. She replies by saying that "on one level they may say that, but too often that is said out of the context" - and that doctors have to focus on prevention as well as cure.

     
  92.  
    12:53: Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    Norman Smith says: "If anyone was in any doubt that the NHS was the top issue in the campaign currently, they just need to look at today's PMQs and following Emergency Question." Earlier this week a BBC/Populus poll suggested that people think the NHS is the most important issue to be covered by the news ahead of the election. The NHS came ahead of the economy, immigration, welfare and jobs.

     
  93.  
    12:50: 'Leaning from on high' House of Commons Parliament

    Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the Health Select Committee, asks for reassurance that "the secretary of state will never lean on operation decision-making". Mr Hunt says "that kind of leaning from on high" happened under Labour rather than under the present government.

     
  94.  
    12:47: 'A new low' House of Commons Parliament

    Jeremy Hunt says that Labour's "desperate desire to weaponise the NHS" means the opposition has reached "a new low". He accuses Labour of "focusing not on patients but on politics".

     
  95.  
    12:45: 'Called into question' House of Commons Parliament

    Andy Burnham says the NHS guidance he has seen means "the claims that this is purely local is called into question right now".

     
  96.  
    12:45: Keeping the backbenchers happy James Landale Deputy Political Editor, BBC News

    James Landale says Conservative MPs will be "relatively happy" with the PM's performance because he has "muddied the waters" on the NHS. "It was interesting the prime minister didn't directly refer to Alan Milburn, the former Labour health secretary's criticisms - he chose not to get into that debate. Instead he focused on the phrase 'weaponise' and on Wales again and again. As long as the Tories feel they have something to say about the issue, they'll probably be content."

     
  97.  
    13:17: Pienaar's verdict BBC Radio 5 live

    John Pienaar tells 5Live there were no great revelations in today's PMQs. He said in the run up to the elections, the sessions will become more about political campaigning and bashing the other side rather than presenting options and alternatives. He expects more information about parties' policies will emerge through the media.

     
  98.  
    12:44: Andy Burnham urgent question House of Commons Parliament

    Andy Burnham says Mr Hunt's claim "does not appear to be entirely accurate". The shadow health secretary claims that "major incidents should be agreed with the director on call with NHS England".

     
  99.  
    12:41: 'Local issue' House of Commons Parliament

    MPs can use urgent questions to require a minister to make a statement to the House at short notice. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says: "We have been brought here to discuss a local operational issue" which, he claims, Labour is trying to "spin". He adds: "The decision to declare a major incident is taken locally."

     
  100.  
    12:39: Commemoration service House of Commons Parliament

    David Cameron says the special commemorative event will be held at St Paul's Cathedral on 13 March to mark the end of British combat operations in Afghanistan.

     

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