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Peter Lilley explains to the Commons how to reduce the deficit

Picture 14 In the first day of the Budget debate yesterday, former Cabinet Minister Peter Lilley made a contribution which set out a summary of the different approaches that could be taken to reducing the deficit. Here are edited highlights of his speech:

"There are only three ways to reduce the deficit. The first, and worst, is to raise taxes. The second, better, way is to cut spending. The best way is to encourage growth. Raising taxes might be unavoidable, but if we are elected to government, we will do all we can to avoid raising taxes.

"By contrast, raising taxes is the first choice of the present Government. They have already put up taxes today, stealthily and with little mention, by an extra £19 billion, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out. That is a burden that we have already had to pay. When the Prime Minister was asked what action he had taken to reduce the deficit, the three measures that he mentioned were all tax increases."

"Better than raising taxes is cutting expenditure. Indeed, even the Labour Chancellor recognises that large reductions in spending are required, even with the higher taxes that they are proposing and those that they have already introduced. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has pointed out that, on the Government's own projections, they are set to undo almost all the increases in expenditure that they introduced over the first 10 to 12 years of the Labour Government."

"If we are to cut spending, we must try to do so without cutting services. That goes without saying. There is huge scope for doing that. If the public sector had matched the productivity increases of the private sector, rather than undergoing a productivity decline, much of what is required to get the deficit down would simply not be necessary. In short, the failure to achieve efficiency in the public sector is the cause of the problem, and the reason why there is now scope for making savings without making cuts in services. The Labour Government are prepared to tolerate waste and inefficiency, and they place no requirement on the public sector to match or emulate the constant improvements in productivity that are required in the private sector."

"The best solution to our problems is the restoration of growth. Growing economic activity, with growing tax revenues and reduced unemployment, must be the best way to eliminate a large part of the deficit, but restoring economic growth depends on three things. It depends on confidence, it depends on cash, and it depends on a competitive exchange rate.

"I believe that the process of getting on with tackling the deficit will itself have a positive effect on confidence, as it did in previous recessions when we finally began to tackle the problem. A new Government will help restore confidence in the economy, too, as people see that those who got us into the problem are no longer being relied on to get us out of it.

"As for more cash, people talk about the Government reducing their spending and taking cash out of the economy. What puts cash into the economy is banks lending more than they receive back in repayment. That is what creates cash in a modern economy. If we are to have a growing economy, we must have a growing money supply-not outstripping the growth of the economy, but growing in line with it and with its potential. We are not seeing that at present. We have seen the banks taking back more money than they are lending out, and we have seen a reduction and a tendency for the money supply and the economy to decline."

"The final element is a competitive exchange rate. That, thank heavens, we have. We have it solely because we were wise enough not to enter the euro area, so we have a more competitive exchange rate than we otherwise would have had."

Click here to read the speech in its entirety or watch it via BBC Democracy Live (23 minutes in).

Jonathan Isaby


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