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This is the first opportunity that I have had to debate with the shadow Chancellor from this side of the Dispatch Box. May I start by paying tribute to him? I have always said publicly, and am happy to continue to do so, that in many respects he was one of the people who emerged from the wreckage of the previous Government with an enhanced reputation. He did so for two reasons. First, he inherited an enormous banking crisis that was in part the result of the naivety and negligence of the treatment of banking before he became Chancellor. He dealt with it decisively in the autumn of 2008, through liquidity and part nationalisation, and I reassert that he deserves credit for that. Secondly, he has at his core a strong element of honesty and integrity, which occasionally involves him blurting out the truth. There was the famous occasion when he came back from a holiday in the Hebrides and uttered the blasphemous four-letter word "cuts" for the first time, much to the annoyance of his next-door neighbour in Downing street.
The question to which the Government have wanted an answer is this: why were we left £50 billion of cut commitments without any explanation of what they were going to be? On
"I wanted to show more examples of what we could cut, and more examples of what we could switch. But there was a more limited appetite for that than you might think."
It was not just the appetite of his then next-door neighbour, who is now being blamed for everything, that was limited. I think that there was a limited appetite here and there, and as a result we have been left with the responsibility of spelling out what those painful cuts are.
There is another comment which is not a direct quote of the shadow Chancellor, and he might not even have said it, but let me give it to the House, as I think it reflects quite well on him. He is said to have made an insightful observation on the nature of sovereign debt crises. Apparently, he told the Cabinet, "The ice seems solid the moment before it cracks." That captures beautifully the dilemma that the Government now face with a sovereign debt crisis in the background. I wish to return to that issue, but first I will briefly answer the technical points that he threw in at the end of his speech.
As I understand it, the French-German proposal is a balance sheet levy similar to what is happening here. The proposals relating to regional rebalancing, which are an important part of the Government's proposals, have two elements: £5,000 relief from employer national insurance contributions for new companies with up to 10 employees outside the east, the south-east and London, and a fund that will be distributed on the basis of bids received for good projects, especially those with a high-technology and environmental component. The details on that will emerge in due course.
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