Bruising PMQs sees Miliband press his advantage

By Ian Dunt

A tough PMQs session saw Ed Miliband emerge with a rare win today, after he kept David Cameron on the ropes over executive salaries and NHS reform.

The session capped off a strong week for the Labour leader, who claimed victory for preventing RBS boss Stephen Hester's bonus on Monday and was widely credited with a strong response to Mr Cameron's EU summit statement in the Commons yesterday.

Mr Miliband began the session by demanding that Mr Cameron activate a law passed by Labour which would force banks to disclose how many millionaires they had on the payroll – a plan Mr Cameron refused to support unless other EU countries also enacted it.

"No leadership on top pay from this prime minister," Mr Miliband commented.

"The legislation is on the books. It's ready to go. Why doesn't he make it happen?

"He says the class war against the bankers is going to be led by him and his Cabinet of millionaires. I don't think it's going to wash."

Mr Cameron appeared visibly angry through the session and was forced to retract a statement in which he accused the Labour leader of being a "hypocrite".

After he did so, he said: "We're expected to listen to the people who presided over the biggest banking disaster in our history. Who was it who failed to regulate the banks?"

Mr Miliband demanded that Mr Cameron back plans, proposed by the High Pay Commission, to put a worker on remuneration boards. The prime minister said the plan would break the principle of not having anyone on the board whose pay was being decided.

In a second round of questions, the opposition leader accused Mr Cameron of "comprehensibly losing the medical profession's trust", after three respected journals wrote a joint editorial attacking Andrew Lansley's NHS reform.

The prime minister, who won little vocal support from the benches behind him, insisted that the NHS was already improving its performance as a result of the reforms, although his defence of the health and social care bill appeared hesitant and non-committal.

A final extended quote from Mr Cameron on Tony Blair's difficulties reforming public services was badly received by his backbenchers.

Throughout the rest of the session, a thorough Conservative whipping operation saw a total of six questions on the welfare cap, which is being debated in the Commons this evening after being rejected by the Lords on seven counts.

Labour is supporting amendments laid down by peers to exclude childcare provision from the cap and protect cancer sufferers – but it supports the principle of a cap.

The government believes the bill contains its most popular policies and Mr Cameron was keen to highlight Labour's position.

The prime minister repeatedly pointed his finger at the Labour front bench and shouted: "Are you with us or against us?"

"One more go?" he asked later, but the Labour benches maintained a stony silence.

The debate on executive pay comes a day after Fred Goodwin was stripped of his knighthood following the intervention of the prime minister. Labour supported the move.