WILLIAM HAGUE: Mister Speaker I join the Leader of the House in paying tribute
to Lt. John Thornton and Marine David Marsh,
who were killed in Southern Afghanistan on Sunday
and to the soldier who was killed in Iraq last Wednesday,
a further reminder of the sacrifices and service of our armed forces.
And on a lighter note, I'd like to congratulate the Leader of the House
on being the first female Labour member ever to answer Prime Minister's Questions.
(yeas and some chuckling)
She must be proud three decades on,
to be following in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher,
(clamour of agreement from the Opposition)
who we on this side of the house, and the Prime Minister, so much admire.
Just one question on Zimbabwe before the Foreign Secretary's statement at 12:30.
Will she make it clear on behalf of the Prime Minister,
that Britain wants to send the clearest possible signal that the World
will be there to help the people of Zimbabwe,
on top of what she's just rightly said,
and that there will be a comprehensive plan to assist them
whenever they are able to move away from corruption and dictatorship,
to the rule of law and democracy.
HARRIET HARMAN: Well I thank him for his er, congratulations, but I would ask him,
why is he answer- asking the questions today?
(yeas of agreement)
Because he is not the Shadow Leader of the House.
The Shadow of the Leader of the House is sitting next to him!
(more yeas and laughter)
I say, is this the situation--
Is this the situation in the modern Conservative Party,
that women should be seen but not heard?
(roars of agreement)
And if I may--
And if I may, perhaps I could offer the Shadow Leader of the House
a bit of sisterly advice: she should not let him get away with it!
(great clamour while Harman tries to speak)
And, on the question--
on the question--
on the question of Zimbabwe,
I absolutely endorse the comments that the honourable gentleman has made,
and I endorse them on behalf of the Government.
This Government is the biggest, second biggest donor to Zimbabwe.
We stand ready to step up that support.
And we will be working with the international community.
But there is a particular focus on South Africa and Africa,
to help find a solution to this problem. And my right honourable friend
the Prime Minister has spoken to Thabo Mbeki. He's spoken to Kofi Annan,
and will work to make sure that the pressure is on Robert Mugabe
to respect the democratic choice of his people.
SPEAKER MICHAEL MARTIN: William Hague.
HAGUE: Well turning to domestic issues, I was going to be nice to the right honourable friend.
She's had a--
She has had a difficult week. And she had to explain yesterday that she dresses
in accordance with wherever she goes. She wears a helmet to a building site,
wears Indian clothes to Indian parts of her constituency.
Presumably when she goes to a cabinet meeting she dresses as a clown.
(laughter all around)
I was going to be nice to her before that.
But turning to serious domestic issues, the Prime Minister is reported
to have said on Monday night, that noone would be worse off
as a result of the doubling of the 10p tax band this weekend.
Does she think that statement was true?
HARMAN: Well I would just start by saying, that, um,
that if I'm looking for advice on what to wear, or what not to wear,
I think the very last person I would look to advice is the man in the baseball cap.
(more laughter and jeering)
Turning to the important question of the economy,
it's been our Government's determination to ensure that we have a strong,
stable and growing economy, so that people can be in work,
be in their jobs, and be better off.
What's important is that people should have jobs
and that they should be able to afford their mortgages.
And I would say before the honourable gentleman, the right honourable gentleman
cries any crocodile tears about low-income families,
perhaps I can remind the House that when he was Leader of the Opposition,
it was he that led the opposition to our national minimum wage,
and it was he that led the opposition on tax credits
which are helping six million low-income families.
HAGUE: I didn't detect an answer to the question in all of that,
and she might still need advice on what to wear,
if she thinks her constituents might kill her she should look behind her.
But is it not the case--
Is it not the case, that contrary--,
contrary to what the Prime Minister said on Monday night,
5.3 million mainly lower-paid families will be worse off this weekend,
as demonstrated by the internat- by the institute official said it,
and as confirmed by a Treasury official to the Treasury Select Committee,
an issue where that after the meeting of Labour MPs on Monday night where
this point was made, one minister said,
"Gordon didn't seem to understand what they were talking about
and kept insisting that nobody would lose out.
He didn't seem to understand why voters were unhappy with it
and gave the impression he was living on another planet."
Wasn't that minister speaking the truth, or was it by any chance her?
HARMAN: I think one thing we do recognise, the tax burden--
(jeers from the opposition)
the tax burden under this government is not as high--
the tax burden under this government is not as high, as it was
under the government of which he was a part.
And I would also say, when it comes to standards of living,
when we came into government, this country was the worst
amongst the G7 for average income per head, in this country,
and after ten years of Labour government we are second from the top,
and we stand by that record.
HAGUE: If she thinks the tax burden is declining in this country
then the Government is even more out of touch than anybody thought it might have been.
The cost of living is rising. Real earnings have fallen for two years.
The Government have chosen this moment to hit five million
mainly lower-paid families, to kick them when they are down.
And let me read to her what another minister said,
on the record this time, the Health Minister who said that,
"People feel the Government is losing touch, with what fairness means
to the majority who work hard, play by the rules, and are feeling squeezed
by rising utility bills, the cost of petrol and rising council tax."
Doesn't she have even a little bit of sympathy with the view of that minister
that people _feel_ the Government is out of touch?
HARMAN: I do think that it's right to recognise, that with the international
financial turbulence and uncertainty,
that people are apprehensive and they need to be able to look to the Government
to have the determination that we will make sure that our economy
is as resilient as possible as this country faces difficult
and challenging economic circumstances.
And it's because we are in touch
and concerned about the issues that most affect the British people,
that we have improved hospitals and schools,
that we have insur-- ensured there are more jobs in the economy,
and that is what we will continue to do.
HAGUE: She is allowed while the Prime Minister's not here to say the Government is out of touch.
He's gone to a meeting in a palace, so he's probably lost by now.
She is allowed to agree with the minister who said the Government was out of touch.
But she has acknowledged, and I thank her for that,
that people are apprehensive about the situation.
But two months ago she wrote in her blog:
"There was no sense at all of concern or insecurity over the economy.
People are not worried about their own prospects in 2008."
So does she now want to update that statement in the light of what she just said
and say that people _are_ now apprehensive, and that they _are_ feeling insecure,
and that the Government _is_ out of touch?
HARMAN: Well when I wrote that blog, as part of my, um "Harriet in High Street" listening--
(roars of laughter all around)
When I said that--
When I wrote that blog--
When I wrote that blog, having talked to people in Princess Street, in Edinburgh,
that's what people were saying to me, and I acknowledge, I acknowledge,
and we readily acknowledge that since then the situation internationally
has become more turbulent and people's concerns are raised.
So we have to be ever viliant- vigilant and make sure that we keep the economy strong
through difficult international times in a way that their previous government wasn't.
And as far as his jokes are concerned, normally people used to say about him,
"Great jokes, poor judgement". But I have to say on today's performance,
he should be worrying about his income as an after dinner speaker!