12.27pm Harman reassures a Labour backbencher that government spending on public services and benefits will not be impacted by the credit crunch. A few minutes later she states that the government’s aim of abolishing child poverty by 2020 would also be unaffected.
12.24pm Conservative MP Philip Davies argues that the Prime Minister egged on the housing bubble by claiming to have ended boom and bust. Will he now accept some of the blame for the financial problems Davies’ constituents face? Harman says the problems are global, and not to be blamed either on those who have bought homes in the last decade or on the Prime Minister.
12.20pm Conservative MP David Borrowes asks if, following the bail out of banks, the government will now compensate Equitable Life policy holders? Harman responds that the difference is the government’s measures to protect banks were taken not to help individuals but to prevent an overall economic collapse. Crispin Blunt follows up on this question two minutes later, blaming the government’s regulatory framework for the problems Equitable Life failed. Harman argues that prior to this government, there were seven separate regulatory agencies, since rightly merged into one, the Financial Services Authority.
12.16pm Vince Cable asks: how prepared is the government to deal
with rising unemployment – given it is cutting jobs for benefit
officers? Is the government now going to be as concerned for ordinary
people as it has been for investment bankers? Harman defends the
financial services industry as an important employer and says
government programmes are well designed to deal with unemployment.
Cable argues Harman "does not realise there is a very real emergency".
He attacks Labour and the Conservatives for refusing to talk about
interest rates: both parties are observing a "monastic silence" on the
subject when the country is crying out for a cut in interest rates.
Harman says the government is well prepared and has been taking
measures to deal with the problems of small businesses. Interest rates
were cut just last week, she notes.
12.13pm Hague concludes his sixth and final question: 104 other
countries have been judged better prepared than Britain for the
economic downturn, debt has risen remorselessly, unemployment is rising
at its fastest rate for seventeen years and inflation has trebled since
1997. "The claim to have abolished ‘boom and bust’ was one of the most
foolish, one of the most hubristic, one of the most irresponsible
claims ever to have been made by a British Prime Minister".
12.09pm The government has been unclear about the amount of credit
the government plans to be made available. Will it be kept at 2007
rates – the level at height of the credit bubble?, Hague asks. Harman
responds that making credit available to small businesses is essential.
12.05pm Hague notes new forecasts of unemployment exceeding 3
million by the end of 2010. He again pushes Conservative reforms on
insolvency. Harman responds that the 2003 Enterprise Act introduced
what reforms to these laws were necessary. Hague notes the complacency
of Harman writing on her blog in February that while people know that
there is financial turbulence they are not worried about their own
prospects in 2008. Harman notes how Labour’s measures on winter fuel
have helped pensioners through this crisis. "Swiftness in
decision-making is at a premium", Hague argues, and demands immediate
action to reassure pensioners.
12.04pm Hague begins: with unemployment seeing "the largest rise in
seventeen years" it is "a grim day for the British economy". He asks if
Labour will now accept Conservative proposals on reform of the
insolvency laws. Insolvency laws have been reformed already, Harman
argues, and there are still 600,00 vacancies in the economy. The key is
matching vacancies to those looking for jobs.
12.02pm Labour backbencher refers to the absent Brown as "superman".
11.30am With the Prime Minister in Brussels, Harriet Harman is
standing in for PMQs today. William Hague is facing her for the
Opposition. Rosa Prince of the Telegraph expects
Harman to "make the kind of pops about Hague’s little Lake Como jolly
that the PM would prefer to rise above" and Labour MPs to be hoping for
a repeat of last week’s rare PMQs success for Brown. Tory MPs, she
writes "always scent blood when the gaffe-prone Deputy Labour leader
takes to the ice, and are expecting the shadow foreign sec to match her
gag for gag". Labour blogger Hopi Sen predicts the Conservatives will go on the attack over the economy.