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In a subdued PMQs Miliband and Cameron have a "serious conversation" about Egypt and Afghanistan

By Jonathan Isaby

Today saw a strangely subdued chamber for PMQs since Ed Miliband opted to use his full quota of questions on discussing international issues in a highly consensual manner - no knockabout, no cheap shots.

Towards the end of the encouter, the Labour leader said that he sensed people weren't used to this kind of PMQs, to which Cameron replied that whilst some people would prefer a "bunfight", it's sometimes sensible to have a "serious conversation" about big issues facing the country and the world.

Picture 15 Miliband's first three questions centred on Egypt, seeking an update on what was happening and whether he agreed with President Obama's view of what should happen now.

Cameron said that his first concern was for the British nationals in Egypt - the 30,000 in the Red Sea area, which is "calm and stable", and the 3,000 in Cairo and 300 in Alexandria. He said that the Foreign Office had acted quickly to aid Britons on the ground and paid tribute to the work of the British ambassador in Cairo.

On the wider situation, Cameron said that the transition to a more democratic Egypt needed to be rapid, credible and starting now - and that a timetable would be helpful. He said that he had emphasised to the Egyptian President and Prime Minister in phone conversations that political reform, not repression, was required. A stable Middle East is in Britain's best interests, he said, and that stability won't come without greater democracy - and that doesn't just mean elections, but a more open society, an independent judiciary and similar building blocks.

In a second trio of questions, Ed Miliband asked about Afghanistan, which he visited last weekend. He reiterated the Opposition's support for the mission and the timetable for the end of combat operations and emphasised the urgency of supporting the Afghan Government.

Picture 14 Cameron reported on the progress in Helmand and across Afghanistan, saying the key was the better balance now of forces between the US and the UK, more thickly concentrated in fewer areas. It was vital to separate the Taleban from al-Qaeda, he said, whilst setting a timetable for the end of combat operations encourages the Afghan people that that they need to take steps to take control of their own country. It was also extremely important to engage with the Government of Pakistan as well, he concluded.

Later on, there was a little confrontation during questions from backbenchers:

  • Veteran North East Labour MP Ronnie Campbell listed a series of cuts being made by the Government  - which Cameron replied were "all the consequence of the Government he spent 13 years supporting".
  • In answer to a question from Tory MP Tony Baldry, the Prime Minister highlighted Ed Balls' recent claims that Labour left no structural deficit: "if you start from such a positon of deficit denial, you'll never be taken seriously".
  • And in reply to Barry Sheerman's inquiry about the forest sell-off, Cameron reminded the House that Labour sold off forests with no guarantees about access, habitats and remaining free. But in terms of what is happening now, he said he was listening to all the arguments, but that there were organisations who could do a better job of running forests that the Forestry Commission such as the Woodlands Trust and the National Trust - and that it wasn't right that the Commission was both the owner and regulator of forests.

In other questions:

  • The PM agreed with Zac Goldsmith that the current regime of discarding healthy fish under the CFP is "not acceptable and needs to change" and that in government there was now an opportunity to work to that end.
  • Cameron told Kris Hopkins that this Government would go further than Labour did in making people learn English who come to settle in this country, and that tougher rules will be put in place on this which will help them integrate.


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