I know that the parliamentary soul from Dover hoped that the Back-Bench speeches would end at half past six, and I am sorry to disappoint him. It is a great pleasure to be able to speak in such an important debate, which draws a line under the time when the Conservatives were playing their cracked record which consisted of two false messages: that the deficit had been caused by Labour, and that the only way to sort it out was to clear it all in four years and in one way, by destroying jobs and services and punishing the benefits that go to the weakest in society.
Both those messages are false. The reality is that the last Labour Government were very successful economically. We created 2 million more jobs, and the tax from those jobs has funded much bigger health and education services and more opportunity throughout Britain. The deficit was the price paid to avoid a depression sparked by the bankers. Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies clearly show that two thirds of the deficit was the banking crisis, while the remaining third, yes, was excess investment over income, which was investment in the future. A fiscal stimulus, generated by the previous Prime Minister and supported by Obama and the world community, was required to keep the banks going and to keep growth moving. In the latter months of the previous Administration we saw growth rising, but now we have seen it stagnating.
The choice now is whether to halve the deficit in four years, as Labour intended—the European Community agreed with that, and, as we heard, the Chancellor signed up to it, although he was embarrassed when that was pointed out earlier in the debate—or whether to go at it and get rid of it all in just four years, even though it is three times the level it was planned to be. Is that sensible for growth? No. The second choice is how we do it. Should we focus solely on cuts in benefits, jobs and services, or should we adopt a balanced approach that focuses primarily on economic growth but also ensures that the bankers pay their fair share and involves savings, yes, but shallower savings over time. For example, the 8% difference between 20% and 12% represents the difference between getting rid of front-line police and not getting rid of them.
Those are the choices that face us. What does the evidence show? It shows that a year ago the deficit was £21 billion less than had been forecast in the pre-Budget report. Why? Because economic growth was faster. Now it is £6 billion higher than forecast. Why? Because the growth is lower than forecast.