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I welcome the opportunity to open the second day's debate on the Budget. There are two tests to be applied to this Budget. The first is what it does to ensure that we can secure the recovery and get long-term sustainable growth, and therefore support jobs. The second is what it does in respect of fairness and, in that context, what it says about the promises made by the parties that now comprise the Government.
I expect that over the next few days many points of detail will be explored, but I want to look at some of the bigger issues, especially the context against which this Budget needs to be judged. Before I do that, I welcome the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to his place. I have not had an opportunity to cross swords with him in this Parliament, and I look forward to doing that and to hearing what his views are now as opposed to what they were a mere seven or eight weeks ago.
I want to start with the context in which the new Government made their decisions on this week's Budget. Yes, that context has to be the need for us to reduce our borrowing-no one disputes that, although there are very live and real arguments about how fast and the extent to which the deficit ought to be reduced. However, I believe that it must also be seen in the context of growth. For some, like the Business Secretary, what I have to say will not be news because, after all, he largely agreed with the approach that I took during a lot of the last Parliament. However, he seems to have become rather more forgetful in the past few weeks, so a reminder may be useful.
"The deficit problem is easier to solve if there is growth. That is why the next government has to recognise the fragility of the economy and not take action which would precipitate a double dip recession leading to more unemployment and even bigger budget deficits."
I agree with the sentiments behind his statement. He was right on
The past three years have been tough for businesses and families throughout our country and, indeed, many are still experiencing the problems that arose because of the recession. However, as I said, we have seen a return to growth, but it is only 0.3% in quarter one; unemployment has stabilised and begun to fall; and tax receipts are higher than expected, which is why our borrowing is £11 billion less than I forecast in March. All those improvements are a direct result of the action that the previous Labour Government took.
Throughout this debate and for some time to come, doubtless we will hear the now familiar mantra that everything that is wrong and all our problems are confined to one country alone-ours-and that they are due solely to the actions of the previous Government. Like any Government, we got some things right and some things wrong, but I am absolutely certain that the action we took to stop this country tipping from recession into depression was right, as was the action we had to take to stabilise the banking system. I will not yield to anyone who says we should have done differently. We needed to stabilise the economy and to keep people in their jobs and homes. We took that action because we do not believe that in such a situation people should be left to sink or swim. Those actions were taken largely with the support of the Liberal Democrats when they were in opposition, but everything has changed in the past seven weeks.
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