By Matthew Barrett
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Today's PMQs was understandably reserved, as it began with the Prime Minister announcing the news that six soldiers are missing, believed dead, after an explosion hit an armoured vehicle – the biggest single loss of life in the war.
Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) , who asked the first question, urged the Prime Minister to begin a "prudent drawdown" of British forces in Afghanistan and a build-up of Afghan Army strength. The Prime Minister agreed about the "importance of training up the Afghan Army".
Ed Miliband led his questions with Afghanistan too, asking whether the Prime Minister agreed "that we must re-state our reasons for being in Afghanistan". The Prime Minister replied that being in "remains vital to our national security. We’re there to prevent that country being a safe haven for al-Qaeda from where they might plan attacks on the UK or our allies."
Miliband asked what diplomatic progress is being made to ensure "a political future for Afghanistan", and further asked "does he agree the international community must step up the progress to ensure we do all we can before withdrawal in 2014?" The Prime Minister replied that there are "proper discussions now between the Afghan and Pakistani governments. There is a clear message coming out of Afghanistan and Pakistan to all those engaged in violence to give up on violence and engage in the political process."
The second section of Miliband's questions concerned working tax credits. The Prime Minister responded that the "massive budget deficit" meant tax credits couldn't be left untouched. Mr Miliband responded by raising the issue of child benefit cuts. Mr Cameron said that people earning an average wage should not be paying for higher earners' child benefit. Mr Cameron pointed out that, even if it is a difficult choice, the wealthiest 15% of families in the country should not receive child benefit in difficult economic times.
Some notes on backbench questions.
Firstly, Dame Joan Ruddock (Lab, Lewisham Deptford) asked whether "The Prime Minister is proud of his welfare reforms." (which caused a roar from the Tory backbenches) "Can he look me in the eye", she asked, as she demanded to know if the Prime Minister was proud of disability benefits being removed from a 10-year-old with cerebral palsy. The Prime Minister responded angrily, saying “As someone who’s actually filled out the form for Disability Living Allowance and had a child with cerebral palsy, I know how long it takes to fill in that form,. We’re going to have a proper medical test".
Mark Pritchard (The Wreckin) was called, and had the opportunity to ask a question on Europe – which would have seemed to be the obvious topic, after he cited Europe as a reason for his resignation from a Party position. Instead, Pritchard asked whether a ban on circus animals would come into force during this Parliament. The Prime Minister replied that he does "want to see a ban introduced", as "it's the overwhelming opinion of members in this House."
Douglas Carswell (Clacton) asked whether the Government's "blunted radicalism" was due to the Whitehall machine or the constraints of Coalition. The Prime Minister said the buck stopped with elected politicians, and so refused to blame Whitehall mandarins.
Sharon Hodgson (Lab, Washington and Sunderland West) asked whether the Coalition could be in touch with ordinary families when it is run by two former public schoolboys – an attack made by Nadine Dorries. The Prime Minister responded that, being from the North East, Hodgson should celebrate Nissan's plan to open a new plant there. The Prime Minister then dismissed "whatever the nonsense it was she read out".