It was business as usual at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday; the shift from 3pm to noon made no difference to the performance of the principals. Mr Duncan Smith made some headway by contrasting the statements made by Jack Straw and Geoff Hoon on the likelihood of war against Iraq but then lost ground when he moved to crime and punishment. Tony Blair served notice that “from now until the general election” he would remind the Leader of the Opposition of his aim to cut public service funding by 20 per cent. Iain Duncan Smith will live to regret his incautious remarks about tax cuts.

At the end of Question Time Tam Dalyell, the Father of the House, used an arcane Standing Order procedure to make a three–minute statement about his “passionate conviction” that the Commons should have a debate on the Iraq situation so that British men and women going to fight would know whether or not there is a “settled, overwhelming conviction” in the country that their cause is just and in accordance with a “moral basis of international law”. The TV cameras did not reveal whether the Prime Minister had stayed behind to hear what Mr Dalyell had to say but it probably did not matter greatly because the Speaker ponderously read out his decision that such a debate would not be appropriate. He did not say why and it was hard to avoid the conclusion that Mr Dalyell's concern and passion deserved rather more than the brusque dismissal the Speaker gave it.



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