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Budget Deficit

Volume 511: debated on Tuesday 8 June 2010

In the past month, we have created an independent Office for Budget Responsibility to bring credibility to the Government’s forecasts, undertaken and completed in-year budget reductions of £6.2 billion and, today, laid before the House the process for the spending review that will take place this summer. In two weeks’ time, the Budget will set out a credible plan to accelerate the reduction of the budget deficit so that investors are reassured, interest rates can be kept lower for longer, and the recovery can be put on a stable footing.

I note those excellent plans. Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer tell the House how many conversations he has had with colleague Ministers of Finance, and how much support and encouragement he has had from them to deal with our deficit?

I attended the G20 in South Korea this weekend. The G20 communiqué calls on countries with significant fiscal challenges—we have the highest budget deficit in the G20, so that includes us—to accelerate the reduction in the structural deficit. It has also been part of the European Union discussions that I have taken part in, that countries with significant budget deficits need to get on and reduce them. I am afraid that the Labour party, as it continues to oppose what we are doing, finds itself outside the international mainstream.

Has my right hon. Friend the Chancellor read yesterday’s International Monetary Fund report, which warns that the current crisis management was no alternative to fundamental economic restructuring? Does he agree that the previous Government either naively or deliberately chose to mislead the nation?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have, of course, seen the IMF report, and the lesson we learned is that you have to fix the roof when the sun is shining. That is what the previous Government completely failed to do. They had 13 years to fix the national finances, and now it is up to us to clear up the mess that they left behind.

Has the Chancellor received any apologies from the previous Government for the mismanagement of the economy over the past 13 years?

No, but we did receive a letter from the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), apologising for the fact that there was no money left. We will discuss this issue in the debate on the Queen’s Speech. I note that the Labour party has tabled a motion, which it is asking us all to vote for, noting

“the need for a clear plan to bring down the deficit”.

I look forward to hearing that clear plan in the shadow Chancellor’s speech.

No, sadly I have not, but I discovered that he had a large bust of Oliver Cromwell sitting behind his desk, and that when the Irish peace negotiations were being conducted they had to be held in another room.

In my constituency, the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance has increased by 147% in the past five years. Does the Chancellor agree that unemployed people in Kingswood would be best served by decisive action to tackle Labour’s legacy of debt now?

I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. Of course, we inherited rising unemployment from the previous Labour Government and it is a fact that all Labour Governments have left office with unemployment rising—[Hon. Members: “It’s falling.”] Opposition Members say that, but they are not looking at the unemployment figures, which show that unemployment is rising, that we have the highest youth unemployment in Europe, and that a record number of children are growing up in workless households. That is what we have inherited from the Government who had 13 years to sort out these problems. We will sort this out, and give people real life chances.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new position. Has he calculated what his announcement of a £125 million reduction in the police grant means, in terms of fewer police officers and fewer special constables in Derbyshire?

All public services have to find efficiencies, and that is true of the police service, as it is of every other service. I have to say to the hon. Lady, and all Opposition Members, that if they are going to play a serious part in the discussion about how to reduce Britain’s record budget deficit, they need to come up with their own proposals instead of attacking every proposal put forward by the Government.

When the most recent Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), made his debut two weeks ago—which became, of course, his swansong—my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd) asked him whether he could give any idea how many jobs would be lost as a result of the deficit reduction package. His answer was that it is not right to pluck figures out of the air. Can we have some more concrete evidence from the Chancellor?

Our plan is to increase employment in this country by putting the public finances on a sound footing. It is about time the Labour party understood that it left behind the largest budget deficit in the EU and the G20. All over the world, people are looking at sovereign credit risks. This Government are determined to do something about the problem before people start looking at Britain.

The Chancellor could take the opportunity today to spell out to us how he and his coalition colleagues hope to popularise their cuts agenda. We seem to be being told that the public will be consulted on which spending should continue and which cuts might be made. How will that “axe factor” approach to government play out?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the pun—but this is a very serious national challenge, which whoever won the election was going to have to face. The 11% budget deficit will not disappear. A very large part of it is structural, and so will not automatically reduce as growth returns to the economy. We want to make sure that all political parties, including his, and the brightest and best brains across Whitehall and the public sector, as well as voluntary groups, think-tanks, trade unions and members of the public, are all engaged in the debate and discussion about how, collectively, we deal with the problem. After all, it is our collective national debt.

First, may I welcome the Chancellor and his team to the Front Bench? I hope that he will join me in sending our good wishes to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Mr Timms), who remains a member of the Opposition Treasury team and who I am glad to say was in very good heart when I saw him a couple of weeks ago. He is looking forward to returning to the House at an early opportunity.

Unemployment is high today, but it is half what it was in the 1980s. Repossessions in the past couple of years are half what they were in the 1990s. Our economy is growing and our borrowing is coming down. Does the Chancellor accept that all of that is because we, in common with other countries—yes, as part of an international consensus—were prepared to take action to save our economy as we went into recession? Every one of those measures was opposed by him when he was shadow Chancellor.

It sounds as if we are rerunning the general election campaign. First, may I pay tribute to the work that the right hon. Gentleman did over three years, I think it was, as Chancellor of the Exchequer? He did the job in very difficult times, with the best of motives. Although we did not always agree with each other, as he has just made clear, he was always very courteous to me. I also thank him for the fact that I inherit from him a far more functional and less chaotic Treasury than the one that he inherited from his predecessor.

I make the point to the shadow Chancellor that the situation that we inherited from his Government—I do not say that he is solely to blame for this—is an extremely critical one. We have a very large budget deficit at a time when, as I have said, countries around the world are having to look at sovereign credit risks. We are having to deal with that, and with rising unemployment and growing inequality in our country. Regional disparities are growing as well, and we have to deal with those problems.

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the international consensus. He surely must have noted how, in the month since the general election, the EU, G20, the IMF, the OECD, and of course our own Governor of the Bank of England, have all warned us about the consequences of not dealing early with our budget deficit, and not accelerating the reduction in the budget deficit that he proposed in his March Budget.

I agree that there are many issues that need to be resolved, in this country and others. No doubt we will return to them when the debate on the Gracious Speech resumes.

I want to ask a specific question about the Office for Budget Responsibility that the Chancellor is about to set up. When that body makes its recommendations, will he undertake that it will publish all the underlying assumptions that lead to them? Will he ensure that its deliberations, rather like those of the Monetary Policy Committee, are open and available for all to see?

I should have joined the right hon. Gentleman in wishing the right hon. Member for East Ham (Mr Timms) a speedy recovery. I understand that he has now sworn in, which is fantastic for everyone here concerned. The fact that he was assaulted in his constituency surgery doing his job as a constituency MP makes the incident all the more chilling, and we all wish him very well.

Let me deal specifically with the right hon. Gentleman’s question. We have set up the Office for Budget Responsibility on a non-statutory basis because we need to pass legislation to make it statutory. The model that we have followed is the approach taken by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) when he set up the Monetary Policy Committee. Sir Alan Budd will be available to answer questions from the Treasury Committee on exactly the kind of points that the right hon. Gentleman raises—such as the underlying assumptions. It is ultimately up to him how he publishes his information, and I do not want to prejudge that, but the purpose of the exercise is for people to have confidence in official figures and growth forecasts, and confidence means transparency. I am sure that the spirit of what the right hon. Gentleman says will be taken on board by Sir Alan.