PMQs: Vince tackles Gordon on Treasury disasters

by Stephen Tall on November 21, 2007

Acting Lib Dem leader Vince Cable today took Gordon Brown to task – and after this week’s Government shambles he had plenty of choice of subject matter.

Cunningly Vince rolled up both Northern Rock and the HRMC’s lost data into his first question; though trying to stir up the Blair/Brown row allowed Gordon easily to deflect Vince’s point. For his second question, Vince moved on to QinetiQ, raising a valid concern about another instance of Labour’s financial incompetence; but this wasn’t the issue uppermost in people’s mind today.

(And, yes, yet again Gordon referred in his reply to ‘the Liberal party’ rather than the Liberal Democrats. I guess he must think we’ll be insulted or wound up by it; personally, I just find it bemusing. Does he really think it will make him sound more Prime Ministerial if he can’t get right the name of this country’s third largest political party?)

Full PMQs transcript of the Vince-Gordon exchanges below (via Hansard):

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): After the twin disasters of £25 billion of taxpayers’ money disappearing down the black hole of Northern Rock and 25 million personal records disappearing in the post, does the Prime Minister accept the wisdom of Tony Blair who said that the Treasury had become far too powerful under its previous incumbent, was no longer fit for purpose and should have been broken up?

The Prime Minister: This is a new policy from the Liberal party today. I do not know whether the new leader of the Liberal party will want to stick with the policy to break up the Treasury. If the hon. Gentleman seriously believes, as he implies, that we should not be helping Northern Rock depositors and savers, if he seriously believes that we should let Northern Rock mortgage holders go under, then I do not believe he has support in any part of the country. We have taken the right decision—initially supported, of course, by the Leader of the Opposition, who has since backed away from it—to give liquidity to Northern Rock. I hope that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) will continue to support that position.

Dr. Cable: May I point the Prime Minister to the next Treasury disaster, with the imminent publication of the report on the privatisation of QinetiQ, which I warned about in the debate 18 months ago? Was the Prime Minister not financially very naive when he agreed to the undervaluation of public assets, enabling an American private equity company to make a windfall profit of £300 million and the chief civil servant involved to make a personal fortune of £22 million?

The Prime Minister: It is very interesting that the hon. Gentleman has not moved to talk about Northern Rock again. I suppose that he is now supporting us in rescuing Northern Rock. I hope that that is a consensus. As far as QinetiQ is concerned, we raised £800 million from the sale. QinetiQ is serving its country under its new ownership and QinetiQ is very important to the Ministry of Defence’s future procurement plans.