David Cameron MP

14 Mar 2011 15:58:22

Cameron: "Do we want a situation where a failed pariah state festers on Europe's southern borders?"

Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2011-03-14 at 15.33.40

Highlights, not verbatim.

After offering sympathy and support to the people of Japan David Cameron moved on to the situation in Libya. Most interestingly he focused on the case for a No Fly Zone. He said that NATO had made feasibility preparations for a Zone, should one be advanced, since he last addressed the Commons on the subject.

The Prime Minister reiterated the three conditions for an NFZ: (1) Demonstrable need; (2) Regional demand and support and (3) Legality. On (2) he stressed the "very significant" call from the Arab League for a Zone.

Mr Cameron said that allowing Gaddafi to prevail would send a "dreadful signal" to all people striving for liberty in the Middle East and wider world.

He said to those who said Britain has no interest in Libya that if we do not act Europe could end up with a failed state on its southern border - exporting a variety of challenges.

Responding to Ed Miliband on Sir Malcolm Rifkind's call (in today's Times (£))* for the Libyan rebels to be armed, Mr Cameron said that he ruled nothing out but would do nothing that was illegal.

Noone, he said, was talking about western "boots on the ground".

Mr Cameron concluded his statement by saying that Britain would continue to be at the forefront of international efforts to stand with the Libyan people and against Gaddafi's attempts to crush them.

____

* Mark Pritchard MP's earlier article on the subject: The Libyan people should not be left defenceless in pursuit of freedom

2 Mar 2011 20:44:35

Scottish Tories add to the pressure on George Osborne to cancel the fuel duty increase

By Jonathan Isaby

Petrol pump The Scottish Conservatives have today added to the pressure on George Osborne not to implement the planned increase in fuel duty in the Budget later this month.

It comes on the day that the FairFuel campaign handed a 120,000-striong petition to Downing Street calling for the 1p rise not to be imposed.

Tory MSPs joined their SNP and Lib Dem colleagues at Holyrood in backing the following motion:

That the Parliament notes that petrol and diesel prices in Scotland are among the highest in Europe and have reached record levels and that the planned rise in fuel duty by the UK Government in April 2011 could increase prices by a further 4p per litre; recognises that such increases impose an additional burden on households and businesses at a time of rising living costs and could undermine the economic recovery; notes the UK Government’s proposal to introduce a 5p-per-litre fuel discount scheme for island communities, and calls on the UK Government to cancel the rise in fuel duty planned for April and implement a fuel duty regulator that would ensure that some of the additional revenue that the UK Government will receive from increased revenues due to recent increases in oil prices is used to reduce fuel duty to help support Scottish households and businesses.

The Green MSPs opposed the motion, whilst Labour's representatives in the Scottish Parliament all sat on their hands.

Jackson Carlaw MSP, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Transport, said:

“Last month Annabel Goldie raised concerns about the cost of fuel directly with the Prime Minister... Labour left the UK finances in a desperate state but, in view of the prevailing record fuel prices, we join the calls for the UK Government to cancel the fuel duty increase Labour planned for April - in so doing families and businesses alike will benefit.”

And on Labour MSPs' failure even to express a view on the issue, he added:

“The incompetence of Labour plumbed new depths this evening. A party which is asking to be taken seriously as a potential government in Scotland has proved itself to be leaderless, clueless and spineless.

“Given the opportunity to support a call for the UK Government to postpone the planned rise in fuel duty – a rise inherited from the last Labour Government – Scottish Labour astonished the parliament by abstaining.

“Motorists across Scotland can now see that Labour is not on their side. Whilst all the other main parties supported the call, Labour MSPs sat on their hands. How can anyone take them seriously when they collapse in the face of the big decisions?”

At PMQs earlier today, David Cameron replied to the demand from North Swindon's Tory MP, Robert Buckland for "the Government do all that they can to ease the pressure on hard-pressed motorists"  by saying:

"I know how difficult it is for motorists, and particularly for small businesses and families, when they are filling up at the pumps and paying more than £1.30 a litre. As we have said, we will look at the fact that extra revenue comes to the Treasury when there is a higher oil price, and see if we can share some of the benefit of that with the motorist. That is something that Labour never did in all its time in government, and it ought to be reminded of the fact that it announced four increases in fuel duty last year, three of which were due to come in after the election."

28 Feb 2011 16:04:11

David Cameron updates the Commons on the progress of the evacuation of British nationals from Libya and moves against Gaddafi's regime

By Jonathan Isaby

David Cameron Despatch Box 2011 With the Commons returning today from its half-term recess, David Cameron has been updating the Commons on events in Libya:

"As of now we have successfully removed around 600 British nationals from Libya. The evacuation has centred on three locations – Tripoli airport, the port at Benghazi and the desert oil fields. At Tripoli airport, a series of six aircraft organised by the Foreign Office and an RAF C130 Hercules flight have brought out more than 380 British nationals and a similar number of foreign citizens. At Benghazi, HMS Cumberland has carried out two evacuations from the port, taking out 119 British nationals and 303 foreign citizens. The first of these evacuations took place in very difficult sea conditions. The second arrived in Malta earlier today.

"These evacuations were assisted on the ground by 5 rapid deployment teams, in total nearly 30 extra staff from the Foreign Office, who helped marshall British citizens in the midst of chaotic scenes in and around the airports and ports. The most challenging part of the evacuation has of course involved those British nationals scattered across over 20 different locations in the oil fields deep in the desert.

"On Friday evening I authorized a military operation to bring as many as possible out of the desert.  On Saturday, two RAF C130 aircraft flew into the Eastern desert and picked up 74 British nationals and 102 foreign nationals at three different locations. A second mission took place yesterday, bringing out a further 21 British nationals and 168 foreign nationals.

"On this second mission, one of the aircraft involved suffered minor damage from small arms fire. This underlines the challenging environment in which the aircraft were operating. Indeed Britain has taken on a leading role in coordinating the international evacuation effort. Our AWACS aircraft are directing international aircraft involved.  And Brigadier Bashall, who is commanding the operation, has established a temporary joint headquarters in Malta.  I have thanked the Maltese Prime Minister personally on behalf of the country. Not for the first time in our history, Mr Speaker, we must pay tribute to Malta and her people."

He added that fewer than 150 Britons now remained in Libya and that HMS Cumberland and HMS York will remain in the area, ready off Tripoli to to assist if necessary, with military aircraft including C130s and a 146 in Malta ready to fly in at very short notice.

Continue reading "David Cameron updates the Commons on the progress of the evacuation of British nationals from Libya and moves against Gaddafi's regime" »

7 Feb 2011 16:03:57

Cameron tells Commons that Brown and David Miliband did not provide full picture about their desire to see Lockerbie bomber released

Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2011-02-07 at 15.36.58

At 1pm today the Cabinet Secretary completed his review of government papers that covered the release of the Lockerbie bomber. The BBC's report of the review:

"The previous UK government did "all it could" to facilitate the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, a report on the case has said. Sir Gus O'Donnell, the country's most senior civil servant, said there was an "underlying desire" to see Megrahi released before he died. But his report concluded that it was made clear to Libya that the final decision was up to Scottish ministers."

The Prime Minister has just told the Commons that the report shows the decision to release Megrahi was taken by Scottish government and without pressure from Westminster. There was, he says, no conspiracy between BP, the Labour government and the Scottish government to have the convicted murderer of 270 people released. It also shows, however, that the previous Labour government did not tell the full story and, in the words of Gus O'Donnell, had an "underlying desire to see Mr Megrahi released before he died".

Mr Cameron repeated his view - stated at the time - that Megrahi "should have died in jail" and that it was a "bad decision" to release him. Megrahi, dying at home, was not a luxury he afforded people on the PanAm flight.  109 Labour ministers gave, he continued, "insufficient consideration" to the impact on opinion - in America and amongst the victims' relatives - of the release of the worst mass murderer in British history.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, from the backbenches and Scottish Secretary at the time of the Lockerbie bomb, was more direct, saying the report showed Labour government was "up to it's neck" in the release of Al Megrahi.

1 Dec 2010 07:31:49

David Cameron's initial attendance rate at Commons divisions is only a little better than his Labour predecessors

By Jonathan Isaby

David Cameron Prime Minister Commons The disdain which the previous Labour Governments exhibited for Parliament was well known and last week Sir George Young wrote on ConHome about how the new Coalition Government is renewing the health of Parliament.

Tony Blair's disregard for the institution of Parliament in particular was no better exhibited than by his derisory record in attending votes in the House of Commons - he was regularly written up as having the worst voting record of any Prime Minister in modern history.

So how is David Cameron comparing with his most recent Labour predecessors?

I have used Hansard and the Public Whip to look at the voting records of Blair, Brown and now Cameron during their first six or seven months in office and came up with the following statistics:

Between his election as Prime Minister in May 1997 and Christmas 1997, Tony Blair - enjoying that record Commons majority of 179 - participated in just 7 out of 124 divisions. Four of those were on one day on the thorny issue of social security benefits. His record for that period was therefore 5.6%.

Gordon Brown became Prime MInister at the end of June 2007 and between then and Christmas 2007, he participated in 5 out of 92 divisions, a percentage score of 5.4%.

Meanwhile, as of today, there have been 134 Commons divisions since the Coalition Government took office after the general election and David Cameron has taken part in 13 of them. This accords for a percentage hit rate of 9.7%.

Rather like Blair's turning out for the early controversial benefits votes, no fewer than 9 of the 13 votes Cameron has registered relate to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, which introduces the AV referendum and reduces the size of the Commons.

I have not yet been able to track down precise statistics on the voting records of Thatcher and Major, but they were almost certainly better than Cameron's to date. The Times article I linked to above suggests Thatcher and Major attended over 20% of votes during their premierships, whereas this Guardian article reckons the number was "around a third".

Clearly Prime Ministers have much in their in-trays, there are unavoidable trips abroad which necessitate absence, and the pace of work is more intense in this 24/7 media age. However, I would like to hear that David Cameron is darkening the doors of the division lobbies on a more regular basis.

Those minutes in the division lobbies have always been useful opportunities to connect with backbenchers - something Cameron has been criticised for not doing as well as predecessors. Moreover, trooping with colleagues through the lobbies is surely the best way of showing that "we're all in this together".

Update: By means of a comparison, here are the voting records for several other senior all Cabinet Ministers since the general election:

  1. Andrew Lansley, Health Secretary - 119 out of 134 (88.8%)
  2. Eric Pickles, Local Government Secretary - 117 out of 134 (87.3%)
  3. Cheryl Gillan, Wales Secretary - 115 out of 134 (85.8%)
  4. Iain Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary - 114 out of 134 (85.1%)
  5. Michael Moore, Scotland Secretary - 107 out of 134 (79.9%) 
  6. Philip Hammond, Transport Secretary - 103 out of 134 (76.9%)
  7. Theresa May, Home Secretary - 101 out of 134 (75.4%)
  8. Caroline Spelman, Environment Secretary - 100 out of 134 (74.6%)
  9. Michael Gove, Education Secretary - 99 out of 134 (73.9%)
  10. Chris Huhne, Energy Secretary - 93 out of 134 (69.4%)
  11. Kenneth Clarke, Justice Secretary - 88 out of 134 (65.7%)
  12. Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to Treasury - 86 out of 134 (64.2%)
  13. Vince Cable, Business Secretary - 85 out of 134 (63.4%)
  14. Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary - 78 out of 134 (58.2%)
  15. Owen Paterson, Northern Ireland Secretary - 76 out of 134 (56.7%)
  16. Liam Fox, Defence Secretary - 69 out of 134 (51.5%)
  17. Andrew Mitchell, International Development Secretary - 57 out of 134 (42.5%)
  18. Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister - 42 out of 134 (31.3%)
  19. William Hague, Foreign Secretary - 41 out of 134 (30.6%)
  20. George Osborne, Chancellor - 41 out of 134 (30.6%)
  21. David Cameron, Prime Minister - 13 out of 134 (9.7%)

16 Nov 2010 07:05:17

Damian Hinds urges David Cameron to make the case that spending money on international aid is in Britain's self-interest

By Jonathan Isaby

Damian Hinds Commons During questioning of David Cameron after his statement in the Commons yesterday on the G20 summit, Damina Hinds, te new MP for Hampshire East, urged the Prime MInister to make the case in favour of aid spending being in Britain's self-interest.

He said:

"On aid, does my right hon. Friend agree that, as well as the altruistic aim, there is also self-interest, both in reducing the number of lawless places in the world and increasing gross world product, which benefits everybody? Does he agree that in these difficult times the case must be made repeatedly to the public that such investments are perfectly rational, when well-targeted and, crucially, when the G20 is acting in concert?"

David Cameron agreed with him:

"My hon. Friend is right. We have to make this argument, because there is no doubt that a lot of people in our country look at a growing aid budget and think that that is money not well spent; they think that that money should be spent elsewhere. We have to make the argument that this is not just a moral argument about relieving poverty in the poorest parts of the world; it is also about avoiding conflict and about investing money upstream so that we do not end up with the Afghanistans and other broken countries. When we look at places such as Yemen and Somalia, it is quite clear that we need to have active aid programmes to try to help stitch those countries back together before we reach more serious problems."

1 Nov 2010 16:30:46

David Cameron mocked by Ed Miliband for abandoning campaign to freeze EU budget

By Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2010-11-01 at 15.32.26 Highlights, not verbatim.

David Cameron used his statement to say (1) that the UK had successfully led negotiations which were likely to limit the EU's budget increase to 2.9% and (2) future budget settlements for the EU will be related to the pressures facing individual nation states.

He notes that if the Council of Ministers and European Parliament cannot agree on 2.9% there will be "deadlock" and this year's budget will continue into the next year - an effective freeze.

The Prime Minister also said that his talks with Chancellor Merkel over the weekend have produced ideas for greater transparency in the EU budget so that taxpayers can see how their money is used by European institutions.

On Herman Van Rompuy's economic governance report, Mr Cameron said that the UK was fully exempt from new enforcement measures. Britain would not have to submit more economic information to the EU than it already supplies to, for example, the IMF.

On the EU Treaty amendment sought by Germany, Mr Cameron said that it would exempt Britain from having to bailout the €urozone in future and would improve €urozone governance. Britain would not lose any sovereignty from the amendment and there would be no need, therefore, for a referendum.

***

Screen shot 2010-11-01 at 15.42.39 In responding to the statement Ed Miliband asked if Mr Cameron had raised the issue of the proposed Treaty change to attempt to repatriate powers or had he been silent?

Mr Miliband then quoted a number of times in which David Cameron had said he wanted a freeze in the budget. He also said that Conservatives had previously voted against a 2.9% increase. When did he change his mind?, the Labour leader demanded. He wanted to say "no, no, no" to an increase in the EU budget but he ended up with "no, maybe, oh go on then".

***

Screen shot 2010-11-01 at 15.53.30 Sir Peter Tapsell asks, mischievously, if a German Chancellor can deliver a change to the EU Treaty, it is possible that a British Prime Minister can also deliver a Treaty change? The PM replies that he decided that the priority for Britain should be budget restraint from the EU and he had delivered that.

***

Charles Kennedy, Ming Campbell and Dennis MacShane praise Cameron for his pragmatic approach to engagement with the EU. Richard Ottaway, Oliver Heald and Alan Haselhurst congratulate the PM on his achievements.

***

Edward Leigh suggest that MEPs be subject to the IPSA regime so that, even if they receive the same money, life will be a lot more miserable for them.

***

Answering a question from Peter Bone, the Prime Minister blasts Tony Blair for agreeing to surrender part of Margaret Thatcher's rebate in return for a review of the Common Agricultural Policy that came to nothing.

***

David Cameron rejects an in/out referendum in response to a question from Kate Hoey.

***

Screen shot 2010-11-01 at 16.20.45 Chris Heaton-Harris asks the Prime Minister to confirm that he has the ability to veto the Merkel Treaty amendment. The Prime Minister confirms that he has this veto but says that because it is only a limited amendment and Britain has an interest in it passing because Britain benefits if the €urozone is a success.

19 Oct 2010 15:54:31

Highlights from David Cameron's Commons statement on the defence review

By Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2010-10-19 at 16.24.16 David Cameron addresses personnel earlier today at the UK Permanent HQ, Northwood.

Not verbatim.

  • Defence budget will fall by 8% over four years.
  • Britain's defence budget will remain the fourth largest in the world.
  • We will remain a world power with a large aid budget and one of the largest embassy networks in the world.
  • There is no cut whatsoever in our support for the frontline in Afghanistan. That will continue to be funded directly from the Treasury's Special Reserve. In fact more helicopters, surveillance capacity and anti-IED equipment will be supplied.
  • There will be a shift to conflict prevention and to tackling unconventional threats. £500m of new money will be invested in resisting cyber-attacks.
  • 25,000 MoD jobs will go as part of a leaner defence department. The Nimrod project will be cancelled and the MoD will become much more commercially-minded in future.
  • One-third of DFID's budget will be switched to conflict prevention.
  • 7,000 soldiers will be cut. The total strength of the army will fall to just over 95,000.
  • Britain will retain the ability to retain a force of 30,000 to a war theatre.
  • Tanks and heavy artillery will be cut by 40%.
  • The Army will return from Germany - half by 2015 and all by 2020.
  • The Royal Navy and RAF manpower will both be cut by 5,000.
  • The number of frigates and destroyers will be reduced to 19 from 23. The future Fleet will be more suited to piracy and drug trafficking.
  • The Harrier will be retired after forty years of great service in order to ensure the Tornado can be fully funded.
  • Labour had signed contracts that meant the second aircraft carrier would be more expensive to cancel than to build. Britain will have carrier strike capacity in the future that will accommodate the Joint Strike Fighter and aircraft from key allies.
  • Trident will be renewed but not until 2028 by extending the life of the current Vanguard submarines. The number of warheads in the replacement will be reduced. More than £3bn will be saved by these measures.

6 Jul 2010 15:56:45

David Cameron announces independent inquiry into security services' treatment of detainees, and appointment of Sir Malcolm Rifkind to chair the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee

Highlights from the Prime Minister's remarks to the Commons about the treatment of terror suspects. Not verbatim.

Screen shot 2010-07-06 at 16.02.53 The reputation of the security services has been overshadowed by allegations of mistreatment of detainees in other nations. Terrorists and extremists are exploiting these allegations and undermining the UK's global reputation. The matter needs to be cleared up, once and for all.

We have the finest security services in the world. They cracked the Enigma code in WWII. They recruited Russian spies during the Cold War that kept us safe. They disrupted IRA in 1980s and 1990s. Every day intelligence officers help prevent the most dangerous weapons falling into the hands of dangerous states. They provide important intelligence for the campaign in Afghanistan. They do so without public credit. Many die in service and their relatives mourn without public acknowledgment.

Although there is no evidence of direct involvement of UK personnel in abuse since 9/11 there are a dozen allegations of UK agents being complicit in other nations' abuses.

Rt Hon Sir Peter Gibson, a judge, will chair a investigative committee, with Peter Riddell, formerly of The Times, and one other to investigate the allegations. The Committee will start its work by the end of the year and conclude within one year. Part of the Inquiry Committee will inevitably be secret. The Head of the Civil Service and of the Intelligence Service will give the Committee their full co-operation.

Also being published today are the detailed guidelines for how the Intelligence Services behave.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, MP for Kensington, will chair the Security Committee for the duration of the Parliament.

***

Answering questions from Harriet Harman Mr Cameron said that torture was always wrong and information obtained under torture was likely to be "useless".

Tim Montgomerie

22 Jun 2010 00:05:00

Iceland must repay UK depositors if it wants to join EU, warns Cameron

Pasted below are highlights of David Cameron's statement to the Commons yesterday, reporting back from last week's EU leaders summit.

Screen shot 2010-06-21 at 16.03.25Early action to tackle state borrowing: "On deficits, the Conclusions could not be clearer. Delaying action would entail “major risks”. And the Council called on Member States to meet budgetary targets “without delay”. Since the last European Council the problems in Greece and the scale of the Sovereign debt crisis have become apparent to almost everyone. That’s why there’s such unanimity across the EU on early action."

Britain will not agree to the EU needing to see the Chancellor's Budget before the Commons: "Britain is not in the Euro; and let me be clear – we’re not going to join the Euro. But a strong and successful Eurozone is vital for the British national interest. Already about half of our exports go to the EU, fourth-fifths of this to the Eurozone. But as this House is aware, with the situation in Greece and the need for a support package from the other Eurozone members, there is no doubt that the Eurozone as a whole faces real challenges. So I was generally supportive of the Council’s efforts to strengthen the Eurozone governance arrangements. But I was equally determined to ensure our national interests are protected. So on budget surveillance let me be clear – the UK Budget will be shown to this House first – and not to the Commission. Of course we will share projections and forecasts just as we do with the IMF and other international bodies. Co-ordination and consultation – yes. Clearance – no. Never."

Sanctions against Iran: "On Iran we’ve argued that it’s time for actions not just words. So following the UN Security Council’s recent adoption of Resolution 1929, the Council agreed to step up the pressure, issuing an unequivocal leaders’ declaration. This refers to measures including restrictions on trade, banking, transport and the oil and gas industry."

Iceland must refund UK depositors as part of its application to join the EU: "This country should be a good friend to Iceland and a strong supporter of EU enlargement. But Iceland owes the UK £2.3bn in respect of compensation paid by the Government to UK investors following the collapse of its banking sector. We will use the application process to make sure that Iceland meets its obligations – because we want that money back."

The Prime Minister's full statement is on the Downing Street website.

Tim Montgomerie

15 Jun 2010 15:45:48

David Cameron tells the Commons he is deeply sorry for what happened on Bloody Sunday

Highlights, not verbatim:

David Cameron Commons crop We have acted in good faith by publishing the findings of the Saville Inquiry as soon as possible after the election.

The conclusions are clear, there are no ambiguities - what happened on Bloody Sunday was unjustified, and wrong.

The soldiers who went into the Bogside did so as a result of an order that should not have been given; the first shot was fired by the British army; there was no warning given by the British soldiers before opening fire; many soldiers put forward false accounts to justify their firing.

Some who were shot were fleeing, another was mortally wounded on the ground; no casualty was posing a threat or casuing injuries that could justify the shooting.

It's not for poiltiicans to talk in terms of murder or unlawful killing.

You don't defend the army by defending the indefensible or hiding from the truth.

It is clear that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified.

Bloody Sunday is something I have learnt about rather than lived through. What happened should never have happened. The Government is ultimately respoinisble for the actions of the army and for what happened, on behalf of the Government, I am deeply sorry.

There was no cover up by the British Government.

Martin McGuinness was present and armed with a sub machine gun but did not engage in activity that justified the soldiers opening fire.

Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the service given by British soldiers in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The armed forces displayed professionalism in upholding the forces of law and democracy which laid the grounds for the peace process.

No more inquiries of this kind will happen but today is not the time for discussing the process.

Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and wounded and a catastrophe for Northern Ireland. We must not dismiss the past but must move on.

Jonathan Isaby

2 Jun 2010 12:16:14

Why David Cameron should answer PMQs twice a week

Questions to the Prime Minister take place today at three o'clock rather than mid-day, because the Commons is sitting to a Tuesday timetable (even though it's Wednesday).

This provokes the question: should PMQs be changed?  Should the session once again take place twice a week, perhaps on Tuesdays and Thursdays - as pre-1997 - rather than once a week?

Whether so or not, how should it adapt to the novelty of a Coalition Government? More radically, what's the point of PMQs at all?  Isn't a fusty, cranky anachronism in this thrilling age of "new politics"?

Perhaps the best way of answering these questions is to look at how our two most electorally successful recent Prime Ministers, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, dealt with PMQs.

According to Charles Moore - Thatcher's biographer, and the Greatest Living Englishman - the three-times victorious Prime Minister didn't like the Commons. Even at her most successful, she never quite got out of her mind the conviction that the place was, in many ways, an Old Boys Club.  This helps to explain why she was always on top of her brief in the Chamber: she always feared that she'd be caught out, and was nervous (though it usually didn't show), watchful, attentive.

The twice-weekly ordeal of PMQs thus became for her a means of swotting up on what her Ministers were up to, finding out what her backbenchers cared about and, more broadly, keeping in touch with whatever was going on at the time.

Charles told me earlier this morning that, for her, this arrangement had another advantage - no formal lunches on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  "The Foreign Office was always insisting that it was vital to the national interest for her to entertain the Emir of Al-Muhajiroun, or whatever,' he said.  "PMQs gave her an excuse to refuse."

I haven't spoken to any of Tony Blair's biographers.  But why do so when his view's on the record?  "I've never pretended to be a great House of Commons man," he said during his last PMQs, "but I can pay the House the greatest compliment I can by saying that from first to last I never stopped fearing it."

This presumably explains why PMQs was cut from two sessions a week to one after 1997 - though that single session was extended by half an hour, guaranteeing no overall time loss.  I remember talk at the time of how this "modernising" reform, part of a "new politics", would allow more probing, serious, less partisan questioning of the Prime Minister.  Needless to say, this didn't happen. 

As in so many instances, the Thatcher practice is preferable to Blair's.  PMQs should be broken up into two sessions, and moved to Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.  Some adjustment be made in the procedure, no doubt, to take into account the transformation of the Liberal Democrats from an Opposition to a Government Party.

By the way, the Thursday timetabling's important: such a move would stop MPs sloping off to their constituencies after the Wednesday PMQs, as some of them were prone to do post-1997.  Ideally, the new Business Committee of the Commons - not the Executive - would take or confirm the decision, but this, as matters stand, looks to be the Prime Minister's.

So if David Cameron wants to keep an eye on his Departments, an ear open to his backbenchers, his nose to the grindstone, and his sixth sense attuned to whatever's in the news, he knows what to do - especially if he wants to skip lunch with the Emir of Al-Muhajiroun.

Paul Goodman

17 Dec 2009 06:12:12

Five great moments at PMQs

As selected by BBC1's Daily Politics, including the first appearances of Michael Howard and David Cameron as Leaders of the Opposition.

30 Nov 2009 17:44:53

David Cameron apologises to the Commons for error over Islamic school funding

Beginning his response to the Prime Minister's statement on Afghanistan David Cameron has just said this in the Commons:

"Before turning to Afghanistan can I start by putting right something I got wrong last week?  While the two Islamic schools I mentioned got government money while being run by people linked to the extremist group Hizb ut Tahrir, and while they did receive that money under a pathfinder scheme, it was not the pathfinder scheme concerned with combating extremism.  I am sorry for the error. I believe when you get a fact wrong, you should put it right. But I continue to believe that it is wrong that taxpayers' money goes to schools run by extremists."

Let's hope such errors can be avoided in future but good on Mr Cameron for saying sorry.  Smaller men never apologise.

Tim Montgomerie

25 Nov 2009 17:40:12

David Mundell broadly welcomes proposals for devolution of further powers to Scotland - but insists an incoming Conservative Government would publish its own White Paper on the matter

David Mundell Today saw the publication of a White Paper from the Government responding to the proposals of the Calman Commission on the future of Scottish devolution. It proposes new tax-raising powers for the Scottish Parliament, for which income tax in Scotland would effectively be cut in Scotland by 10p and the Treasury block grant reduced, leaving it up to Holyrood to make up the difference. The White Paper also proposes the devolution of a few further powers such as the regulation of air weapons, setting the alcohol limit for drink driving and setting speed limits.

In the Commons, Shadow Scotland Secretary David Mundell generally welcomed the proposals, but insisted that any incoming Conservative Government elected next year would not feel bound by them an would instead publish its own White Paper:

"Conservatives accept that the Scottish Parliament needs to be more financially accountable, that the devolution settlement needs to be tidied up and that Westminster and Holyrood need to start working constructively together for the good of Scotland and Britain, but we will ensure those things through our own White Paper, not this Government’s proposals launched in the dying days of this Parliament. Will the Secretary of State welcome that commitment and undertake to continue in the spirit of Calman, on the basis of consensus and momentum, regardless of who is in government, and resist the temptation to play party politics with such an important issue as Scotland’s constitution?

"Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the guiding principle in deliberations on the Calman process has been, and must continue to be, securing Scotland’s position within the United Kingdom? Is he as heartened as I am by recent polling in Scotland that demonstrates that there is very little support for separatism and an independence referendum? Does he accept Sir Kenneth Calman’s view that the establishment of better working relationships between the British Government and the Scottish Government and between the Parliaments here and at Holyrood must be in place to underpin every other recommendation in his report? Given that most of the measures to improve relationships do not require any legislation, can he tell us what he will do to re-establish the good will between Westminster and Holyrood, which appears to have ebbed away?

"Whatever differences we may have with the Labour Government about how to take forward the Calman recommendations, may I invite the Secretary of State to agree with me that they are as nothing compared with the divide between us and the Scottish National party? We are Unionists; they are separatists. We are in the mainstream of the constitutional debate; they are on the extreme."

David Cameron later issued the following statement:

Continue reading "David Mundell broadly welcomes proposals for devolution of further powers to Scotland - but insists an incoming Conservative Government would publish its own White Paper on the matter" »