By Matthew Barrett
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PMQs returned this afternoon after the PPC and by-elections and a week of Nick Clegg filling in.
The first third or so of the session this week was taken up by Ed Miliband and David Cameron agreeing with each other on Israel/Palestine's current conflict. The only moment of possible disagreement was when Ed Miliband asked if the Prime Minister supported an enhanced status for Palestine at the United Nations. Mr Cameron said he did not, and further said any peace negotiations must be carried out between Israel and Palestine themselves, rather than at the UN level.
After a few backbench questions, Ed Miliband asked a further set of questions, which were a little livelier. Mr Miliband pointed out that the Government promised no rationing of NHS services – had the Prime Minister kept that promise? Mr Cameron noted the year-on-year increase in the NHS under this government. Ed Miliband then read a quote from the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, which said the number of cataract operations is down. Mr Cameron responded with a familiar set of facts: under this Government, the number of doctors is up, operations up, waiting lists down, and waiting times down.
Mr Miliband haughtily responded: "once again he has no clue about the detail! He just has no idea what is happening out there on the ground!". Mr Miliband cracked a joke about "omnishambles" now being included in the dictionary. Until this point there had been a strangely subdued atmosphere, the House clearly maintaining the silence warranted by the earlier Middle Eastern exchange. But Mr Miliband did his best to raise the temperature. He continued: the Prime Minister "doesn't listen, he's out of touch and last Thursday the people of Corby spoke for the country".
Mr Cameron responded: "last Thursday, the people of Humberside spoke for the whole nation!". Big cheers and cries of "more!" erupted from the Tory benches. "Happily there is more", Mr Cameron said. Mr Miliband, he said, had tried to be Disraeli at Labour conference, Mrs Thatcher on Radio 4, more eurosceptic than Bill Cash a few days ago, and then on Monday at the CBI, more Europhile than Tony Blair. Mr Miliband had "impersonated more politicians than Rory Bremner". "More!", the Tory benches shouted again.
Some notes on backbench questions.
- Gordon Henderson (Con) asked Mr Cameron to agree on the importance of a free press. Mr Cameron gave an ambiguous answer, he said he supported a free press, but also said it was important to read and study the Leveson Inquiry's report before responding to it.
- Tom Harris (Lab) asked whether Mr Cameron was on the side of allegedly tax-dodging companies like Amazon. Cameron said a key priority of his chairmanship of the G8 would be an agreement on pursuing tax-dodging companies.
- Brian Donohoe (Lab), who was rudely interrupted by Mr Speaker, asked what could be done about payday loans. "We do need to take action here", came the response, along with an assurance the Office of Fair Trading would be able to suspend the licenses of loan sharks.
- Sir Tony Baldry (Con) asked if the Prime Minister shared his disappointment on the failure of the Church of England to agree to introduce women bishops. The Prime Minister said he was "a very strong supporter of women bishops", and expressed his sadness for the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury to suffer such a defeat at end of his "excellent" tenure.
- Ben Bradshaw (Lab) followed up on the question, asking what Parliament could do to ensure women bishops could be introduced. The Prime Minister said the Church has its own "processes" which are sometimes hard to understand but must not be interfered with. He reiterated his support for women bishops, saying the time had been right for them for some time, but stressing the independence of institutions like the Church.
- David Nuttall (Con) asked the Prime Minister to assure the House that he will not agree to any reduction in the United Kingdom's European budget rebate. Mr Cameron attacked Tony Blair's decision to give away half of Britain's rebate for nothing in return during the last government.