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Deficit Reduction

Volume 630: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2017

The Government have reduced the deficit by well over two thirds—from a post-war high of 9.9% of GDP in 2009-10 to a low of 2.3% of GDP in 2016-17. We have done that not out of some ideological obsession, but because the key challenge is to get debt falling to increase the resilience of our country so that if the need were ever to arise, we would have the capacity to support the economy against a future shock.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. May I make one simple request about the Budget: whatever measures he announces, he resists the temptation to pay for them by billing our grandchildren? Instead, will he continue the excellent work that has seen us slash by nearly three quarters, as a percentage of GDP, the record post-war deficit that we inherited from the Labour Government?

Yes. It is not responsible to make so-called hard choices by loading the price on to the next generation and the generation after that. We have to make difficult decisions and we have to bear the consequences of those decisions. At £65,000 per household, our public debt is still far too high, so I can confirm to my hon. Friend that we will continue the plans that we have announced to reduce the deficit in a measured and balanced way to ensure that debt falls as a share of GDP.

Despite this Government’s significant efforts to tackle the deficit by reducing tax avoidance, companies such as Microsoft and Apple are still saving hundreds of millions of pounds in corporation tax by booking sales in Ireland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to continue to develop measures to make sure that companies that sell to UK customers pay tax in the UK?

My hon. Friend puts his finger on an important problem. Corporation tax in the UK—in fact, in all countries—is levied on profits generated by the activities of companies within the territory. The big global digital companies present us with a new challenge of attributing profits effectively to individual jurisdictions. We are continuing to work with the OECD’s taskforce on the digital economy, and we are also looking carefully at ideas emerging within the EU for interim solutions pending a full international solution.

Given that the previous Chancellor has now said that in 2008 the Labour Government

“did what was necessary in a very difficult situation”,

does the current Chancellor accept that the fact we have thousands of people going to food banks and desperately underpaid public sector workers is entirely the fault of Tory policy?

No. Of course a Government need to be able to respond to an external shock, but a prudent Government have got the economy in good shape to respond before such a shock arises. The problem in 2008-09 was that the then Labour Government were borrowing tens of billions of pounds at the top of the economic cycle—grossly irresponsibly.

The major cause of the deficit was of course the collapse in tax revenue following the global financial crisis in 2008, yet that is exactly what we will face again unless there is a transitional deal with the EU to allow our world-leading financial services sector—it contributes £66 billion a year in tax revenue—to operate legally within the single market. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) has already said, we have been asking the Government all year to confirm that there will be a transitional deal. As today is the penultimate Treasury questions before the end of the year, the last Treasury questions before the Budget, and—if hon. Members have read the papers—perhaps the Chancellor’s last Treasury questions ever, will the Government promise UK-based firms a transitional deal guaranteeing market access before the end of this year?

As I have already said, the Government have made it clear—the Prime Minister set this out in the Florence speech—that we want to agree an implementation period as part of a deal with the European Union. We are greatly encouraged by the fact that, at last week’s European Council, the 27 agreed to start internal preparatory discussions on guidelines in relation to an implementation period. We are confident that that will give British businesses confidence that we are going to provide them with the certainty they require.