PMQs as-it-happened

Read our coverage of David Cameron and Ed Miliband clashing in PMQs – and paying tribute to HM the Queen.

By Alex Stevenson

11:00 – Hello, one and all, and welcome to our live coverage of this week's prime minister's questions. This is going to be a slightly unusual lunchtime, as we'll be extending our coverage to what immediately follows: a right royal love-in over the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. "The House of Commons will present a Humble Address to Her Majesty the Queen mark the occasion of the Sixtieth Anniversary of Her Majesty's Accession to the Throne," the parliament website says. David Cameron and Ed Miliband will lead the tributes after PMQs, at 12:30.

11:10 – Before PMQs we have some sadder business to get through. Last week was notable for the lack of the usual sombre prelude to the exchanges, as no soldiers had died in the past seven days in Afghanistan. That unusual, happy scenario will not be repeated this week, given the news of the deaths of six service personnel following what is thought to be an explosion in Afghanistan. This will be a grave, sad moment in the Commons.

It's hard to step away from the emotion on these occasions, but there are some arguing AGAINST the practice of paying tribute to the fallen at the start of PMQs. A controversial view, certainly – here's a piece arguing that politicians' tributes to fallen service personnel are "creating a dangerous cult".

11:17 – There's some debate in the office over whether the sombre atmosphere resulting from the deaths of these soldiers might force Miliband to step away from his relentless attacks against David Cameron over the health and social care bill. There's a chance of that, certainly, but the strategists shouldn't let this sad news deter the leader of the opposition from scoring political points on a key issue affecting the country. Miliband has turned around his poor PMQs record with his sustained offensive against the NHS reforms. This would be the fifth successive week on the issue; it appears to be making a difference in the polls, too, with Labour very much re-established as the most trusted party on healthcare issues.

11:23 – So, in my view at least, if Miliband has any sense he'll continue to press on with the NHS offensive. You can imagine the historians talking about this shift in years to come. "For week after week the prime minister was called up on the issue in the Commons," they write. "The opposition gave the coalition no respite in their demands for the PM to drop the bill."

11:27 – Ministers are unlikely to bow down now, though. The Lords' resistance to the health and social care bill has more or less finished now the Liberal Democrats' amendments have been accepted by the government. The health workers gathering this evening in Westminster to rally against the reforms won't like it, but that's just the way it is.

11:59 – Crikey! That half-hour rushed by. Time to get underway… just a few moments to go now. David Cameron scribbling away at his notes, the Commons is packed – we're ready to begin.

12:00 – Big Ben tolls 12 times outside, sounding especially sad today. Hugo Swire wraps up at the despatch box – "bejesus, I have the cuckoo!" he cries, apropos of almost nothing. I'm afraid I missed what that was about.

12:04 – David Cameron stands up and we begin the exchanges. He says six soldiers are "missing, believed killed". This is the largest loss of life in a single incident in Afghanistan since 2006, he says. "Every death and every injury reminds us of the human cost of our forces," he says. "I know everyone will want a message of support and backing for our troops and their families from this House today.

12:06 – In response to a question from Tory backbencher Nick Boles, Cameron says he will use his visit to Washington next week to ensure that the US and UK are "absolutely in lock step" about the need to secure a stable transition – and exit – out of Afghanistan. Next is Miliband. He begins by saying: "By putting themselves in harm's way for our benefit they demonstrate the utmost courage." His first question is about the need to restate the need to "restate" the reasons for the Afghan mission. Cameron, who sounds very serious, says the reasons offered by Miliband are "absolutely right". It's about denying terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan, in short.

12:08 – Cameron says progress is being made in Afghanistan. "We are making progress" – there you are. He insists UK forces have "high morale", and that it's important it remains that way. Miliband's second question is about the need for a political settlement in Afghanistan. The leader of the opposition in statesman mode so far. "The whole international community must up the pace of progress," he urges. George Osborne, sitting next to Cameron, looks close to tears. Nick Clegg's lips are pursed as Cameron stands up and explains, in calm and measured tones, that there "is a clear message" to the Taliban to give up violence and join the political process.

12:10 – Just two questions from Miliband on Afghanistan, then, as the Speaker moves on. Looks like we're still on track for more NHS attacks, therefore. Cameron, answering another question about Afghanistan from a backbencher, explains that in Helmand province the control on the ground is shifting to Afghan forces. "Let's be clear, the relationship between Britain and other countries with Afghanistan will go on," he insists. "We must learn the lessons of the past, which is what a mistake it was to not learn the lessons of Afghanistan."

12:13 – Virendra Sharma, a Labour MP, says in very serious tones that the coalition's economic approach is, essentially, rubbish. "Obviously I don't agree with that," Cameron replies, to laughter. The spell is broken, but it's the next question – on Labour's record on the NHS in Wales – which rouses the House. Tory backbenchers are keen to voice their support – as they do when Labour's Joan Ruddock states that the prime minister says he is proud of his welfare reforms. Big cheers, but she follows it up with a rather sad story about a disabled child. Cameron says "I know how long it takes to fill in that form".

12:15 – A good opportunity for Cameron to address legal highs, duly provided by a loyal Tory backbencher, is followed by Ed Miliband's return. He cites a married father of three from Dartford who works 20 hours a week. From next month, unless he works 24 hours a week, he'll lose all his working tax credit. What's the PM's advice to him? Cameron begins by saying he'll "set the context", first of all. The tax credit system needs reforming, he says. "What our changes do in terms of this specific case is we're dealing with the basic unfairness that we asked a single parent…" he's lost me, to be honest. Miliband isn't impressed. "That answer is no use to Mr Howells and his family," he says sadly.

12:17 – Defence secretary Philip Hammond shouts "what about his wife?" Miliband says she's got to look after the kids. He presses on, in the same muted tones of aggrieved upsetness. Cameron is more animated now. "I don't think it's unreasonable to ask a couple to work an average of 12 hours each, that's what we're asking." In any case, he adds, "we have a massive budget deficit". Given that Miliband won't support cuts to pretty much anything, he says, "how on earth will we deal with the deficit?"

12:20 – The problem is there are too few jobs around, Miliband says – people who want to work those hours can't get themselves a job. He then quotes Cameron saying he wouldn't change child benefit. Cackles of mocking laughter from behind him. He wants to know why that "promise to middle-income families" was broken. The PM says "of course it's a difficult decisions – life is about difficult decisions – government is about difficult decisions. Isn't it a pity he's incapable of making one!" Very strong stuff from Cameron, but now Miliband is becoming more animated. "In my book there's a very simple word for that: broken promises!" Tory MPs point out, in not very polite tones, that that's two words. "They're right! Two broken promises!" Miliband says, trying to cover for himself… a bit of floundering there. Getting the simple rhetorical things wrong, really….

12:21 – Cameron says it's no surprise that people say Miliband is "not up to the job" to wrap up, although that was a fairly flat finish to a fairly flat set of exchanges. He should have stuck to the NHS…

12:22 – A bit of kerfuffle over Mark Pritchard, who resigned from a junior Tory party post to be a more pesky backbencher earlier this week. That's brushed through fairly quickly, and we're moving on once again.

12:23 – Douglas Carswell, another Tory troublemaker, says "progress" in political reform has been a bit slow. The "radicalism has been slightly blunted" in some cases – is it because of the coalition, or because of the Whitehall machine? Cameron sarcastically says it's good to get help from Carswell. "I don't blame the Whitehall machine," he says cheerfully, "in the end the politicians must always take responsibility".

12:25 – Sharon Hodgson quotes the Tories' Nadine Dorries saying "the problem is policy is being run by two public schoolboys who don't know what it's like to go to the supermarket and put things back on the shelves because they can't afford it". Cameron says she should be celebrating the Nissan deal in her region, "instead of whatever the nonsense was she read out". Dorries and Cameron, it's clear, are not the best of pals.

12:30 – "We want the wind of transparency to go right through local government," Cameron declares in response to a question from Louise Mensch. Oh my, that sounds unpleasant. It's followed by a question from Jon Cryer on Europe – dealt with very swiftly – and then Nigel Adams, a Tory, who wants support for the justice select committee's reports into missing people's rights and the presumption of death. Cameron says the government acknowledges the present law is "complicated" and that the recommendations are going to be considered "very carefully".
12:32 – The PM is pressed again on universal credit, before Lib Dem party president Tim Farron raises a petition calling for radiotherapy services in his local hospital to be saved. Cameron says the issue of the hospital is "important". Then comes Lindsay Roy, who raises the RBS' job cuts. They've been outsourced to India, he says. "When will the prime minister stand up to RBS and prevent these needless job losses in the UK?" A good question. Cameron says the government put in £45 billion into that bank. Yes, we know… "The most important thing is we get that money back! We need RBS to return to health!" It's seriously doubted, privately, whether that can actually be achieved…

12:34 – A return to the deaths of the six British soldiers. Cameron says "it's important we have the date for our troops coming home from Afghanistan" – the end of 2014, of course. He insists they should have the best equipment possible, listing all the extra cash the government has provided.

12:35 – Gisela Stuart, Labour, raises private police provision. Cameron says he doesn't think there's anything wrong with it. Next is Tory backbencher Bernard Jenkin, who wonders whether Cameron will do "all he possibly can" to support Boris Johnson as London mayor. He suggests Cameron should block the European fiscal treaty to apply to the European court of justice, "because it is illegal". How will Cameron respond to this? He says that he recognises the importance of the issue, but doesn't really give a meaningful answer.

12:38 – That's the end of PMQs, but don't go anywhere just yet. Cameron begins the debate on the humble address which the Commons is to submit to the Queen. From rationing to the space age to the digital age, Cameron underlines just how long she's been around. "Throughout this extraordinary change… she has remained studious in her duties," he says. "She never, never falters" – even when she's attending activities that she might not enjoy, like the 2000 Millennium Dome celebration. Lots of laughter at that. "She has never shut the door on the future," he adds. This is excellent stuff – if you're a monarchist.

12:40 – Another funny story about her "human connection" – we'll get the text of this up as soon as we can, by the way – and an interesting stat: she's invited two million people to tea over the course of her many, many garden parties. "Like her previous 11 prime ministers, I've been struck by Her Majesty's perspective on world events," Cameron continues. "Last year's visit to Ireland was a lesson in statecraft." Appreciative hear-hears, there. The visit to South Africa after Apartheid is also referenced.

12:43 – "She is a Queen for everyone, for each of us and for all of us." It continues. The Queen has been a "point of light", like a diamond. She has the "affection of all her people". Next is Miliband, who seconds the motion proposed by the prime minister. He begins by telling MPs that Her Majesty "sets an example to us all". I wonder whether, to avoid repetition, No 10 gave Miliband's office the copy of Cameron's statement…