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Structural Deficit

Volume 523: debated on Tuesday 8 February 2011

The structural deficit was 8.8% of GDP in 2009-10. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast is for it to be 7.6% in 2010-11, falling to 0.3% by 2015-16. More information is in the OBR’s forecast.

OECD figures in November show that Britain entered the financial crisis with the largest structural budget deficit in the G7. Does the Chief Secretary believe that this country entered the crisis led by the biggest deficit deniers in the G7?

That is a very good question. The previous Government were running a structural deficit from 2001-02, with a structural deficit of 2.6% in 2007-08, the largest, as the hon. Gentleman says, in the G7 in 2007. They were deficit deniers then, they are deficit deniers now, and that is why they have no answers to the problems of our country today.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Tony Blair has said that

“from 2005 onwards Labour was insufficiently vigorous in limiting or eliminating the potential structural deficit”.

How would my right hon. Friend assess the effect of that failure on the current trend in the structural deficit?

Clearly, we as a Government are having to clear up the enormous mess that the previous Government left. That is why we have had to embark on some very difficult decisions on public spending and, indeed, taxation, but it is just worth listening to the OECD, which states that

“the UK was unique in its need for fiscal consolidation, because the deficit had gone completely out of control.

On the basis of what the Chief Secretary has just said, why did the current Chancellor promise in 2008 to match Labour’s spending plans?

Our country’s key problem—the hon. Gentleman should accept it, not deny it like his Front Benchers—is that we have an enormous budget deficit, which was caused by the previous Government’s failures. We have to clean up that mess if our country is going to get back to prosperity, and, until the Opposition accept that very simple fact, they will have no answers at all.

Order. Two things: first, I want to hear both questions and answers; secondly, can I—[Interruption.] Order. Can I just ask Members on both sides of the House to give some thought to how our proceedings are regarded by the people whose support we were busily seeking less than a year ago?

Will the Chief Secretary first confirm that public sector debt was 42.5% in 1997 and 36.5% in 2008, the second-lowest debt of any G7 country? Will he secondly accept that investment during the last two years of the Labour Government was designed to keep people in their jobs and homes, expenditure that he supported at the time? Given the disastrous economic figures and the CBI’s comments before Christmas, will he just admit that what he is missing is a growth strategy, not the cuts that he opposed during the election?

What was missing from that was any reference to the subject of the question, which was the deficit. Labour Members seem keen to talk about everything except the deficit, which they left for this Government to clean up. I do not apologise at all for the tough decisions we have had to take to sort out that deficit, to introduce tax rises and to deal with public spending to ensure that this country gets back on track. They maxed out the credit card; we have to pay it off.