Liberal Democrat questions first this week:
Jo Swinson asked:
Ten years on from the military intervention, more than 3 million girls in Afghanistan are now in school. With the Bonn conference on Monday, will the Prime Minister send a clear message that the rights of those girls should not be traded away in a false choice between women’s rights and security? The evidence shows that women’s involvement in post-conflict resolution is essential for stability.
The Prime Minister agreed:
All those of us who have been to Afghanistan and met women MPs and other leaders in that country who want to stand up for women’s rights know what an incredible job those people are doing, and we are on their side.
Roger Williams asked about the 90% of small firms in his constituency who are unincorporated and will therefore not benefit from the reduction in corporation tax. Will they have similar tax incentives announced in the spring Budget? – he asked.
The Prime Minister replied that the government will not wait until the Budget to help those businesses but has “already extended the rate relief freeze for small businesses, and the national loan guarantee scheme, which will help small businesses to access credit, will be up and running soon.”
Bob Russell had an impromptu intervention printed in Hansard when he interrupted Frank Roy (Lab) to say: “you are not on strike”, after Mr Roy said ” In every city and village in the country, home helps, carers, nurses and teachers are on strike for the very first time in their lives. These hard-working people—”.
There was one of the most “red-blooded” and noisy confrontations between Ed Miliband and David Cameron. Unusually, Cameron was book-ended by two LibDems, in the shape of Nick Clegg, his constant right-hand man at PMQs, and, on this occasion, Danny Alexander on his left.
They fed snippets of information to DC while Ed Balls was at his most participatory as Ed Miliband’s right-hand nodding dog.
I thought the best line came from Ed Miliband, who said in the midst of the exchanges on the public service strike:
The difference is that, unlike the Prime Minister, I am not going to demonise the dinner lady, the cleaner or the nurse, people who earn in a week what the Chancellor pays for his annual skiing holiday.
It would have been brilliant, had he not said “week” rather than “year”, as he meant to. Unless the Chancellor and his family are hitch-hiking to Klosters these days…
At one point Ed Miliband said that the PM “doesn’t understand his own policy” on pension reform. This accusation had David Cameron frenetically looking for an answer in his folder. If you look at the House of Commons video of this at 12:12:02, you don’t have to be a lip-reader to see our Prime Minister replying, from his seat, with what looks like a word beginning with “F”, spoken into his folder. Is it possible, par chance, that a word passed the Prime Ministerial lips which has an Anglo-Saxon etymological heritage? Perish the thought….
Ed Miliband showed real passion, particularly on the impact of tax credits.
David Cameron was being somewhat disingenuous with numbers. He said:
In terms of the reforms we are making, a nurse retiring on a salary of just over £34,000 today would get a pension of £17,000, but in future she would get over £22,000. A teacher retiring on a salary of £37,000 would have got £19,000, but will now get £25,000.
…thereby ignoring the fact that the nurse in question will have to work for longer and pay in higher pension contributions.
As Channel 4 News’ excellent FactCheck blog concludes, public service workers will be worse off than they are now, as a result of the changes, but they will still have better pensions than most of the private sector workers who pay for much of their (public sector) pensions.
Paul Walter blogs at Liberal Burblings