Commons clashes over G20 concordat

THE Prime Minister has insisted that the G20 summit had been "unequivocal" in backing Britain's strategy of cutting the budget deficit.

Reporting back to MPs yesterday on the outcome of both the G8 and G20 gatherings of world leaders in Canada, David Cameron said they had agreed that the "speed and timing" of deficit-reduction programmes would vary with national circumstances.

But he told the Commons: "The verdict of the G20 was unequivocal. For countries with large deficits, the time to act is now. Britain has one of the largest deficits in the G20 and the summit specifically welcomed plans set out in our Budget last week."

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Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman poured scorn on the Prime Minister's claim, saying nothing in the G20's statement provided "any justification" for his decision to cut the deficit "further and faster" than Labour planned.

She said it called for "growth-friendly consolidation" and asked: "How is it 'growth friendly' to cut investment allowances for manufacturing firms, to scrap the regional development agencies, to cut back on investment in hi-tech, export-orientated British firms like Sheffield Forgemasters?"

Ms Harman said the summits' conclusions amounted to "no more than an agreement to disagree".

Her comments came after the final communique released at the end of the two-day summit in Toronto papered over cracks between the G20 states, accepting that different countries will pursue policies of continued fiscal stimulus or consolidation depending on their individual circumstances.

Ms Harman also said there was "deep frustration" among developing countries at what they saw as a "major retreat" by the G8 on commitments to help the poorest - particularly the Gleneagles aid promises.

"Instead of strengthening the resolve of G8 leaders to deliver the promised action, you have allowed them to renege."