UK Politics

Prime Minister's Questions: The key bits and the verdict

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Theresa May went head-to-head with Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons. Here's what happened.

After three weeks of sometimes fiery Brexit clashes, we were back on to more familiar territory as Jeremy Corbyn fired questions at Theresa May about the outsourcing of NHS services to the private sector.

The Labour leader had come armed with a bevy of quotes and statistics to back up his overarching point that the health service in England was being bled dry by profiteers.

Mrs May parried his first attack by saying spending on private health services had doubled under the last Labour government.

Mr Corbyn said it was "jackpot time for the privateers" under her government and raised the case of Surrey NHS paying Virgin Healthcare £1.5m because they weren't chosen for a contract.

A National Audit Office report this week had said NHS England's handling of private contracts was "putting patients at risk of serious harm", he added.

The NAO report had not identified any actual harm to patients, said Mrs May. Mrs May normally attempts to embarrass Mr Corbyn by bringing up the record of the NHS in Wales, which is run by Labour, and today was no exception.

Mr Corbyn ignored the Wales jibe, as he generally does, and launched an attack on the record of NHS outsourcing giant Capita, accusing Mrs May of "tearing up the founding principles of the NHS and putting private profit before public service".

The PM accused Labour of always "scaremongering" about Tory plans for the NHS at general elections.

"From the party that opposed the NHS in the first place, that is a bit rich," Mr Corbyn replied, sparking a noisy eruption from MPs and an intervention from Speaker Bercow.

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Media captionPMQs: Corbyn and May on health service privatisation numbers

Mr Corbyn moved on to the growing shortage of GPs, needling Mrs May about Jeremy Hunt's promise, back in 2015, to recruit 5,000 more of them by 2020.

Mrs May sidestepped the question, trumpeting an increase in doctors across the NHS and saying the government was committed to delivering 5,000 more GPs.

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Media captionJeremy Corbyn and Theresa May trade statistics over the number of medical staff in the NHS.

She then took a shot at embarrassing Mr Corbyn with a quote from Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth, who had said Labour would still buy services from the private sector when needed.

Mr Corbyn said Mr Ashworth was dedicated to the NHS, "not to handing it over to private contractors". He then quoted a letter from "Anne", who had been so concerned about the standard of care at a private nursing home that "I can't leave my mum knowing that her needs aren't catered for".

Mrs May sympathised with Anne and said the government was looking into the "quality of care".

The NHS was celebrating its 70th birthday, said Mr Corbyn, with the longest A&E waiting times on record, the worst cancer referral rates. falling GP numbers and a record funding squeeze - wasn't it time to end the "siphoning off" of billions to private companies and "give the NHS the funding that it needs?"

Mrs May spiced up her closing swipe at Mr Corbyn's economic policies by quoting Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who told the BBC his job was to "overthrow capitalism".

This would bankrupt the economy and cost jobs, said the PM. The Conservatives had been able to increase spending on the NHS - treating more patients and ensuring better outcomes - because of the way they had run the economy, she added.

What else came up?

The SNP's leader at Westminster Ian Blackford called on citizenship fees to be scrapped for young people.

The SNP's Pete Wishart raised House of Lords reform - and the PM's decision to appoint more peers.

Meanwhile, the Speaker enjoyed a reasonably serene question time and then weathered a hostile point of order from his long term critic, Andrew Bridgen. This was followed by Ken Clarke's version of a Spartacus moment in defence of the Speaker (who was accused of muttering an insult about the Commons leader Andrea Leadsom last week):

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Media captionWe've all done it: Clarke on muttering insults

The Verdicts

Here's what the BBC's Andrew Neil and Laura Kuenssberg made of it:

Here's the BBC's Mark D'Arcy's take on it:

Ho-hum. That was the least interesting PMQs for some weeks. Perhaps the major nugget of information to emerge was the PM's promise of action on flammable cladding on tower blocks - a Conservative MP, Nigel Huddlestone, managed to get that information out before Labour could launch another Grenfell Tower attack…. A choreographed exchange which is a measure of how concerned the government is about the issue.

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Media captionMay: We'll take "strongest possible action" to stop another Grenfell Tower tragedy

Jeremy Corbyn's NHS attack was the familiar blend of statistics about services and a letter from a worried NHS user, and the PM's answers relied on equally familiar attacks on the Labour-led Welsh government's stewardship of the NHS and the record of the Blair-Brown Governments.

This was an almost wholly sterile exchange, bordering on ritualistic. But with the government divided over NHS funding and talking of unwinding the Lansley reforms from the coalition years, a better targeted attack could well have caused Theresa May more discomfort.

So, a missed opportunity for Jeremy Corbyn, because he would not stray from his comfort zone.

As for the other big players, the SNP's Ian Blackford continued to explore immigration issues to some effect, although as a long-serving former Home Secretary, the PM was able to respond in some detail.

The Lib Dems' Sir Vince Cable tried to deploy his trademark acerbity by inviting the PM to thank Labour for their support on Brexit - but his delivery was rather spoiled by the heckling around him, not to mention the gestures and grimaces of the DUP Leader Nigel Dodds, who is well aware of his position in TV shot behind the Lib Dem leader, and is happy to exploit it. Sir Vince faltered and the PM was dismissive.

Presentational white space
Presentational white space

Outside the questions from party leaders, the PM was clearly briefed on the Conservative backbench questions on cancer, hospital safety, stem cells and other issues - and had some announcements to make in answer.

A classic of the genre was her answer to Tom Pursglove, where she had chapter and verse on his marathon-running and the constituency charities it benefited. For an MP in a traditionally marginal seat, this provided a positive story for his local press - a valuable bonus.

The Podcast

An audio download of some of the key exchanges, and what Andrew Neil and his Daily Politics guests made of the exchanges.