By Matthew Barrett
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A stronger than usual performance by Labour's Ed Miliband today. He used his questions to criticise the Government's approach to unemployment.
Mr Miliband started his line of questioning by asking why unemployment rose for the sixth time in a row. David Cameron stated his sympathy for people who become unemployed, and said this was why the Government was taking action to get people back to work. Mr Cameron said it was important to note a small decrease in long-term unemployment.
Mr Miliband asked the Prime Minister to confirm an unemployment forecast which indicated unemployment would rise in the coming months. Mr Cameron noted the forecast was made by the Office for Budget Responsibility, whose independence means Ministers cannot "fiddle" forecasts. Mr Miliband said the OBR figures showed unemployment was getting worse under the Government's policies and then asked the Prime Minister to confirm that there were 147,000 young people out of work.
Mr Cameron said it was important that the Coalition measured youth unemployment as people not in a permanent job, in contrast to the previous government, which counted short-term work schemes as taking youngsters out of unemployment. Mr Miliband had no real reply to this point, instead saying "this really is a return to the 1980s".
Mr Miliband said youth unemployment had a "scarring affect" and asked the Prime Minister to confirm a 102% rise in youth unemployment, to which he answered that low interest rates are vital to lower unemployment. Mr Cameron noted Mr Miliband's apparent reversal in position: "last year he wanted to march against the cuts, now he tells us he accepts them", but "today he's telling us he wants to spend more and borrow more. He's so incompetent he can't even do a u-turn properly". This prompted such excited shouts of "more!" from Conservative Members that Mr Speaker felt the need to intervene.
Mr Miliband demanded once again to know what had happened to youth unemployment under the Coalition. Mr Cameron said "Let me give him the figures", and proceeded to list statistics. This reality-based approach seemed to annoy Labour Members. Mr Miliband advised the Prime Minister to "change course", saying unemployment was rising because of cuts coming "too far, too fast". Mr Cameron ended the exchange by reading out a quote from a pro-business Labour figure, Luke Bozier, who has condemned Labour's economic policies.
Some notes on backbench questions:
- Andrew Rosindell (Con, Romford) asked whether the Prime Minister considered the current sabre-rattling of the Argentine government over the Falkland Islands "utterly deplorable", especially during the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War. Mr Cameron stated that Falkland Islanders will remain British for as long as they wish. Mr Cameron accused the Argentine government of taking a colonialist approach towards the Falklands, and said a meeting of the National Security Council yesterday had discussed the situation in the Falklands.
- Charlotte Leslie (Con, Bristol North West) asked what effect the European Working Time Directive has had on the NHS. Ms Leslie said the Directive was undermining the NHS. Mr Cameron said the Health and Business Secretaries are working to revise the Directive.
- Denis MacShane (Lab, Rotherham) asked a follow-up question on the same topic, saying all health issues at his local hospital during his time as an MP have been due to exhausted doctors, and said the Directive is a "solution", not a problem. Mr Cameron started his response by saying "I don't doubt what… well in fact I do doubt what the Honourable Gentleman says – I can't believe that every problem in his local hospital is down to that one."
- Paul Goggins (Lab, Wythenshawe and Sale East) asked for cross-party talks on how terrorists like Abu Qatada could be deported. Mr Cameron expressed his disappointment at the European Court of Human Rights' findings, and said "I do think a country like Britain that has got such a long tradition of human rights should be able to deport people who mean us harm".
- Aidan Burley (Con, Cannock Chase) asked a question about human trafficking. According to Dan Byles MP, Labour members heckled Mr Burley with shouts of "Heil, heil!" – but stopped heckling when they became aware of the serious nature of the question being asked.
- Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover) asked when the Prime Minister expects to be cross-examined by the Leveson Inquiry. Mr Cameron declared himself "delighted" to appear before the Inquiry, and noted "it's good to see the Honourable Gentleman on such good form. I often say to my children: no need to go to Natural History Museum to see a dinosaur, come to the House of Commons at about 12.30".