PMQs: Cable tackles Harman on unemployment and interest rates

by Stephen Tall on October 15, 2008

With our Superman Prime Minister currently bestriding the globe like a Colossus of financial acuity, it was left to Harriet Harman at today’s Question Time to bat for the Government and laud the financial bail-out as Gordon Brown’s Dunkirk. It was not her finest hour. Ms Harman struggled to sound on top of her brief throughout the half-hour exchange, with both Vince Cable and William Hague asking tough questions that left her visibly floundering.

You can watch Vince’s encounter for yourself via YouTube here, or read the Hansard transcript, below:


Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): How really prepared are the Government to deal with the hundreds of thousands of people who are now losing their jobs, given that they have just completed a massive cut in the staff of benefit offices and jobcentres? While the two measures that the right hon. and learned Lady has announced today are very welcome, can she give us an absolute assurance that people approaching those services in search of financial help and emergency loans—which does not mean waiting for 13 weeks—will be dealt with promptly, efficiently and sympathetically, as the bankers were this week in their hour of need?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The action taken in respect of the banks was taken not just for the sake of the bankers, although the financial services industry is a large and important employer, but so that we could get credit flowing back into small businesses and the housing market.
The hon. Gentleman asked an important question about the services and support that will be given to people—not just talked about—when they face the awful prospect of being without jobs. I would say that there are improved and increased services for each individual from the Department for Work and Pensions, not just as a result of the important work of Jobcentre Plus, but in the private and voluntary organisations that work alongside people who have lost their jobs to ensure that those people have the skills and the confidence to obtain their next jobs.
We are not complacent about today’s job figures, which are definitely very concerning, but there are still 600,000 vacancies in the economy.

Dr. Cable: I welcome those latter comments, but I sense that the Minister does not realise that there is a very real emergency. Given that there is that very real emergency, why do the Government—and also the Conservatives—insist on this absurd monastic vow of silence that means never even talking about interest rates? There are millions of people out there worrying about their homes and their businesses, and clamouring for a deep cut in interest rates to prevent this recession from turning into a deep slump.

Ms Harman: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s assertion about the Government’s unpreparedness. The Government worked for a number of weeks to ensure that we could take action to stabilise the banking system, and that is what was announced to the House on Monday. The purpose was to ensure that money was lent to small businesses so that they could continue to flourish and play the part that they play in the economy, and continue to employ people.
I do not really know what the hon. Gentleman is talking about in relation to interest rates. There was an interest rate cut last week, and it was co-ordinated with other central banks across Europe and in America.