It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan, in what we would all agree is an important debate in relation to the difficult challenges that we face. I congratulate Mr Robinson on securing the debate, and I understand why he has raised the issues. In the time available, I shall do my best to respond. If I feel that I have not done so, and if there are specific points on which he would like further clarification, I may well also drop him a line.
We all understand that the backdrop to the debate is the need to get the economy and public finances back on to a sustainable footing over time. As a country, we were always going to have to do that. The hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a lot of respect, talked about the deficit being caused by the private sector. We would all accept that there has been a banking crisis, but many people also recognise that something more fundamental was going wrong with the working of our economy and public finances, and that was due to the fact that we had a structural deficit. Even in the boom times—the good times—when tax revenues were rolling into the Treasury as fast as they were ever going to, that money was still not enough to cover the country’s outgoings.
The Treasury Ministers dealing with public finances in the present Government are therefore in a position in which I assure the hon. Gentleman that we never wanted to be. We had to take the decision that it was in everyone’s interest to get the problem sorted out during the course of this Parliament. When we look at the problems in countries in the rest of Europe—we need only look at Greece—we see that there is still an economic crisis, and our country needs to stay out of it. Our deficit reduction plan is critical in enabling us to do that.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of what is the fairest way to approach the situation. How can we achieve a balance between getting our public books back into order and making sure that the process is fair—that is one of the key points of the spending review and the Budget—while stimulating growth at the same time? The hon. Gentleman will be aware that one thing that we chose to do in the emergency Budget was to reduce corporation tax, and we built on that with a further cut in the most recent Budget. We tried to strike a balance between cash-flow issues—the money side—and putting ourselves in a position to ensure growth in the economy, particularly in parts of the country such as Coventry and the midlands that suffered in the recession.
Some research now shows that the west midlands in particular suffered disproportionately, and that gives us a double challenge. When I was an Opposition MP, I would have argued that, during the boom years preceding the recession, parts of the country outside the south-east did not do well enough. According to statistics, between 2002 and 2006, for every 10 jobs created in the south-east and London, just one in the private sector was created outside.