Prime Minister's Questions


Amid all the hullabaloo surrounding the Turner report into pensions – a ministerial statement from the work and pensions secretary, John Hutton, follows this session of PMQs – it’s easy to overlook the fact that today is Michael Howard’s swansong as Conservative leader.

 

He formally bows out next Tuesday with the announcement of his successor – likely, on current predictions, to be his protegé David Cameron – but this is his final joust with the prime minister: a battle which began more than 10 years ago across the dispatch box, when Mr Howard was home secretary in John Major’s government, and Mr Blair was his Labour shadow. The Commons being a surprisingly sentimental place at times, expect a double-edged send-off from Mr Blair (a man who Mr Howard categorically called a “liar” during the general election), and a rousing reception from his own backbenchers.

Pensions being the theme of the day, a betting man might stake money on jokes about Mr Howard being pensioned off.

Other topics which may get a look-in today include nuclear power, the EU rebate, and the continuing climate change talks in Montreal.

12 noon

Labour’s Wayne David holds up Monday’s copy of the Western Mail, praising a “boomtime for the Welsh economy” – has the PM seen it, and how does it contrast with the record of the party opposite? Not the toughest first question Mr Blair has ever faced.

That should please everyone in Welsh constituencies – or of Welsh origin, responds Mr Blair – a clever crack at Mr Howard’s south Wales boyhood.

“Retirement is on both our minds today,” begins the Tory leader, to laughter, before asking about the chancellor’s “sabotage” of the Turner pension report.

Mr Blair begins by telling him what to expect in retirement thanks to a Labour government, such as winter fuel allowances and free TV licences for the over-75s.

“It’s such an enticing prospect maybe Mr Blair will join me!” jokes Mr Howard, before adding that the only retirement the chancellor is planning for is Mr Blair’s. Mr Brown has a pained smile on his face.

The Tory leader says the government must drop the chancellor’s “obsession” with tax credits. “We will take no lessons from the party opposite,” hits back Mr Blair.

Liverpool MP Gerald Howarth wants the PM to “have a sharp word” with the transport secretary Alistair Darling, who yesterday dropped plans for a tram in the city.

“As he knows, the costs of it have risen considerably,” replies Mr Blair.

12.05pm

Can the prime minister give the house his assurance that he will legislate and see the Turner reforms through rather than allow the chancellor a veto, asks Mr Kennedy – effectively asking if Mr Blair will still be prime minister in two or three years’ time.

Mr Blair does not take the bait – preferring to praise the tax credits help to the poorest pensioners so far.

The reform must end the scandalous injustice against women, comes back Mr Kennedy. The report addresses that, says Mr Blair. “But all proposals must be costed and affordable,” says Mr Blair, before criticising the Liberal Democrat manifesto as merely saying it would pay for change by “shifting public spending priorities”. “I don’t understand what that means – and that’s one thing we have in common!” jokes Mr Blair.

12.10pm

Tory Julie Kirkbride says three hospitals in her constituency are under threat – and don’t just tell me how much extra money is going into the NHS, she adds.

Mr Blair praises her powers of prophecy – that’s exactly what he is going to do, he says.

Labour’s Andrew Dismore praises Ken Livingstone, London mayor, for providing extra police neighbourhood teams in the capital. Mr Blair agrees it’s “enormously popular” – without quite managing to praise the mayor for it.

Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson asks if, as “he says goodbye to his fourth Tory leader, is it not time to say goodbye to Punch and Judy PMQs?”

“I agree with her – we’ll see what happens next week,” replies Mr Blair in a very non-Punch and Judy manner.

Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman asks about the Liverpool football fan Michael Sheilds in jail in a Bulgarian jail for a crime someone else had confessed to.

12.15pm

Mr Howard’s back – and he’s still talking about retirement: “Everyone knows this is my last day at the despatch box – what everyone wants to know is when the prime minister will taking his leave of the dispatch box.” He asks Mr Blair to repeat his pledge to fulfil a full third term.

Mr Blair merely refers back to his statements before the last election – I’ve answered that before, he says.

The PM hits back that the four Tory leaders he has faced have all served consecutively shorter terms – not a good precedent for the next one.

Mr Howard quotes back something allegedly said by Mr Blair about how he’s stripped his party of everything they believe in, and now all that keeps them together is power. Did he realise that he’d ending up needing their votes, asks Mr Howard cheekily.

“He lost the only election he ever fought,” hits back Mr Blair, after reciting his version of Mr Howard’s record in government and opposition.

The Tory leader brandishes a dossier called “Mr Blair’s legacy” – a record of what the Tories say have gone up and down. And he ends by quoting Mr Blair again as saying his mission will be complete when the Labour party has “learned to love Peter Mandelson”.

“Will he give us a progress report on that one?” concludes the outgoing Tory leader.

“I may have to say on that one: ‘A lot done, a lot left to do,’” jokes Mr Blair.

12.20pm

New Tory MP Justine Greening asks if the “socialism is the language of priorities” quote means pensioners who have saved for retirement should be discriminated against.

That phrase was coined by Nye Bevan, admits Mr Blair, not his work and pensions secretary.

Labour’s Gordon Marsden wants a progress report from the weekend’s Euromed conference. Mr Blair points to the achievement of a communiqué stating “terrorism can never be justified” – although he does not mention that no definition of terrorism was agreed.

Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg complains that private-sector bus monoplies in South Yorkshire chop and change routes and fares “on erratic whim”, unlike the regulated buses of London. “It’s something we keep under review – I’m afraid I can’t saying anything more at this stage”, the PM says.

Tory John Randall brings up the waste of “millions of pounds of taxpayers money” on the Paddington health basin scheme – and asks why no health minister will give evidence to the inquiry on the matter. Mr Blair is heckled as he quotes back increased NHS expenditure in Mr Randall’s constituency.

A Labour Welsh MP complains there is much concern about a national Welsh police force.


Share this post on social media: