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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:41 pm on 24th March 2011.

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Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 1:41 pm, 24th March 2011

I have studied the Chancellor’s new fiscal mandate. He says that he wants to get the national debt on a downward trend by the end of the Parliament. We had national debt on a downward trend in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. Before the financial crisis hit, our national debt was lower than the debt we inherited from the Conservatives. [Interruption.] Hon. Members are barracking—but let me answer the hon. Gentleman, because at least he asked a serious question, unlike some of the nonsense we have heard from other hon. Members on the Government side of the House. The second part of the fiscal mandate is to get the budget, excluding investment—the current balance—back into balance by 2015. Yet that is the golden rule.

The golden rule is getting, over the cycle, the current budget, excluding investment, into balance. That never happened in the 1980s and the 1990s, but it happened for a sustained period under Labour. However, it is true that, throughout that period, we borrowed to invest. Of course we did. Our infrastructure—our schools and hospitals—had not been invested in for 20 or 30 years.

Throughout the period before the financial crisis, national debt was below the level that we inherited from the previous Conservative Government.