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Miliband challenges Cameron about arming Libyan rebels, tuition fees and police cuts at PMQs

By Jonathan Isaby

David Cameron opened today's exchanges at PMQs by giving his congratulations to Ed Miliband on the announcement of the date for his wedding in May. "I would have done anything to have a honeymoon when I was Leader of the Opposition - and he probably feels the same," joked Cameron.

In his first question, Miliband asked for an update in the situation in Libya, specifically asking about policy on arming the rebels. Cameron said that it was a very fluid situation on the ground, with the ceasefire still being breached. He said that Britain must do everything to comply with both UN resolutions and that the legal position on the arms embargo is clear - it applies to the whole territory of Libya; however, Resolutjon 1973 allows all measures to protect civilians, which does not necessarily rule our provision of assistance [in the form of arms] in certain circumstances. he said the Government doesn't rule it out, but currently has no plans to do so.

(In a later exchange, former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell warned Cameron that the legal position was "not clear" about arming rebels. Cameron said that Campbell was right to be "cautious and sceptical")

Miliband then moved on to the subject of tuition fees, saying that the Government had said that universities will only charge £9,000 in exceptional circumstances. Of the 23 who've made an announcement, how many are charing £9,000, he asked. Cameron said he didn't have the figures available, but , Miliband already had them: it was 18 out of 23 - "it's not the exception, it's the rule", he said. The policy is not being implemented in a competent way and will cost the Treasury more money to fund the loans.

Cameron took the opportunity to remind the House and the country that tuition fees were introduced in the first place by Labour and explained that  each university will have to spend £900 per place in access requirements, with the Office of Access deciding if they can go up to the highest threshold. He said Miliband was right to indicate that the Government will indeed be spending more on universities, but that necessary reductions in budget elsewhere mean that increasing fees is the only way to guarantee well funded universities.

There then followed an exchange on frontline police numbers. Miliband said that policing minister Nick Herbert had refused to say this morning if frontline police numbers will fall. Will they or won't they, asked the Labour leader. Cameron said that Home Office statistics show that if all forces match the best forces in terms of visibility and availability, there would be 8,000 more.

Miliband cited several police officers before repeated his question again. Cameron said that both parties agreed that the police budget had to be cut, but that this Government believed there was no need for frontline cuts, because it is instead proposing a freeze in police pay, reform of their allowances and a cut in paperwork.

Miliband accepted that Labour proposed 12% cuts, but Cameron is going ahead with 20%, and that cutting police was the wrong choice for the police, communities and the country, especially from the man who used to claim his party was the party of law and order.

Cameron insisted that Miliband was "completely wrong" and not for the first time. The difference between the 12% figure and the 20% figure is that freeze in police pay and reform of allowances which Labour is refusing to support. he also took a final sideswipe against Miliband for having marched against the cuts his government had caused: "I know Martin Luther King said he had a dream... It's time he [Miliband] woke up."

Only a couple of other points to highlight:

  • Answering a question from Truro and Falmouth MP Sarah Newton about the coastguard service, the Prime Minister sent his condolences to Cornish MP Sheryll Murray, whose fisherman husband was killed last week:  it reminds us of the risks people in our coastal communities take, he said.
  • Thurrock's Conservative MP Jackie Doyle-Price asked if Cameron agreed that the Opposition MPs who signed an Early Day Motion congratulating UK Uncut should withdraw their names. He said the scenes in London were "completely unacceptable" and that the police should have our full support, adding that it was important to note that UK Uncut have refused to condemn the violence and that the MPs referred to should indeed remove their names from the motion.

Afternoon postscript:

I temporarily lost my internet connection while watching PMQs, and missed Cameron's baiting of Ed Balls - I have just posted the clip here.


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