By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday's statement from the Prime Minister on his European Council summit allowed a number of backbench Conservative MPs and the Labour frontbench to question the Government's European policy. This meant today's PMQs was unlikely to be dominated by Europe.
It was a lively affair. Labour hit hard on NHS questions, but Tory backbenchers were marshalled to hit back even harder on the benefits cap, a popular policy Labour do not support. Ed Miliband started his questions by asking whether the Prime Minister would bring forward legislation to make banks more transparent. Mr Cameron insisted the British banking system was already the most transparent. Mr Miliband condemned Mr Cameron's lack of "leadership" on the issue.
Mr Cameron responded that Mr Miliband was responsible for the last Labour government's reports on banking. He further pointed out that Mr Miliband's government approved millions of pounds of bankers' bonuses and accused Mr Miliband of "hypocrisy". Mr Miliband implied that the Government, some members of which are millionaires, was unable to enforce tough rules on bankers. Mr Miliband then said boardrooms should have to include ordinary workers. Mr Speaker insisted the Prime Minister withdraw his accusation of hypocrisy, explaining it was not Parliamentary language. Mr Cameron said he was happy to withdraw the remark, but followed up by listing ways in which Miliband was being, in effect, hypocritical on bank bonuses. Mr Cameron said the specific proposal Mr Miliband was urging for – disclosing the names of bankers earning in excess of £1m – was impractical. Mr Miliband said that on executive pay, Mr Cameron was "part of the problem".
Ed Miliband, as with last week, split his questions and used the second set to ask why the Prime Minister had "so comprehensively lost the medical profession's trust". Mr Cameron diverted and noted Mr Miliband didn't want to talk about the Government's proposed £26,000 benefits cap. Mr Cameron then got back on-topic, extolled the virtues of the proposed health reforms. He pointed out that waiting times are down, mixed-sex wards scrapped, etc. "Every time he talks about the NHS, he just shows how out of touch he is", replied Mr Miliband. He then claimed 98% of GPs oppose the reforms, and added a long list of medical assocations who oppose the Health Bill. Labour MPs chanted "against the bill" after each organisation's name was read out.
A couple of notes on backbench questions:
- David Davis asked why the Indian military had awarded the contract for fighter jets to a French company. Davis urged the Prime Minister to intervene and attempt to convince the Indian government to award the contract to a British company, BAE. The Prime Minister said he was disappointed by the decision, and would do all he could to change the Indian government's decision.
- Several Tory backbenchers (including Marcus Jones, David Nuttall, Alok Sharma, Priti Patel, Nadhim Zahawi) gave the Prime Minister the opportunity to bash Labour for not supporting the £26,000 benefits cap. On one occasion, Mr Cameron decided to quote Labour's absent Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Liam Byrne, saying "Where is Baldemort? Oh, he's not at home today!".