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Ed Miliband challenges David Cameron on housing benefit at PMQs

By Jonathan Isaby

Picture 10 In the first PMQs since the Spending review last week, Ed Miliband opted to challenge David Cameron on his plans to reform housing benefit. Just as last week, David Cameron emphasised that the Government was making difficult but necessary decisions while Labour had nothing constructive to offer in terms of solutions.

Ed Miliband asked whether the Prime Minister was reconsidering the proposed cap on housing benefit. Cameron said that he was not, and that since the budget was out of control and he want to protect school and NHS budgets, difficult decisions had to be made. The Labour leader repeated his question in wanting a guarantee that all aspects of the plans were fixed and not going to change. Cameron repeated that the proposals would indeed be brought forward and asked what suggestions he had instead.

Miliband said the PM was the one who had to answer questions and asked whether it would be fair to reduce by 10% the housing benefit received by someone who was out of work for more than a year. Cameorn accepted that these were difficult changes, but insisted that there was a "serious disincentive to work" if people are claiming maximum job seekers' allowance and benefits. He said that it wasn't fair for people to work hard to pay for homes for others that they couldn't afford themselves. (This was a point he emphasised again in answer to a question from Lib Dem malcontent, Bob Russell)

Picture 17 Pressed further by Miliband about what families would do to make ends meet, he said that the Work Programme will help get people back to work and that in London alone there are currently 400,000 vacancies a year. And asked by the Opposition leader how many people will lose home as a result of the policy, he said that there was no reason why anyone should be without a home if the Government is paying £20,000 in housing benefit. Citing a leaked Labour memo about how the cuts would have happened under Labour too, he added that if you've got nothing to say, it's better not to say anything.

Miliband's weak pre-planned joke was that in relation to this issue, Simon Hughes was glum and , Nick Clegg was glummer. "It's no wonder he's back on the fags". This gave Cameron the opportunity to retort by citing the article in this morning's papers about the leaked Miliband PMQ preparation memo: "He's got a plan for PMQs, but no plan for the economy, the debt and the mess they've made."

Tory MP Andrew Turner and Labour MP Kate Hoey both asked about the European Union, with Turner seeking Cameron's views about talk of a new EU Treaty, and Hoey saying that if the EU demands more money from the UK we should say "sorry, we're not paying".

Cameron said that any treaty change being discussed wouldn't apply to the UK as we are outside the eurozone. This, he said, would be discussed at this week's European Council, where his greatest priority was to get the EU budget under control: the rises were "unacceptable" and "wrong". He said to Hoey that she "talks a good deal of sense" and that £88 billion was saved by the Thatcher rebate over the years - and that it would help if Labour MEPs didn't keep on voting for higher EU budgets.

Kent MP Rehman Chishti won a guarantee that the Government had not plans for a new airport in the Thames Estuary or Kent.

Meanwhile, Cameron had a good line in answer to a question from the SNP's Angus Robertson about the RAF in Scotland: "If you had an independent Scotland, you wouldn't be flying planes, you'd be flying by the seat of your pants."


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