May I begin by putting on record the Opposition's thanks to Sir Alan Budd for his excellent work in the short months that he has served the Government? May I also congratulate the Chief Secretary, who is rapidly becoming one of the Chancellor's longest-serving advisers? After his performance this afternoon, I think we can see why that is. He is pursuing what is now a noble Liberal Democrat tradition of fronting up some of the Government's nastiest and most regressive policies in the House. His speech was a Liberal Democrat defence of an emergency Budget-an emergency so great that the Chancellor could not be bothered to join us this afternoon to listen to the House's deliberations.
It is fair to say that since we met last week to debate the Budget, the economic horizon has darkened. British families and businesses fought so hard in the past year and a half for this country's recovery, but the Bill puts all that at risk. We can see from the Bill that the Chancellor would like us to believe that size is not everything-although it is very thin, it is none the less very dangerous.
We all enjoyed the Chief Secretary's summary of business opinion, but Opposition Members thought it odd that he missed some of the news that has appeared since the Chancellor gave his Budget speech. The truth is that, as we warned last week, the dangers in the global economy have become not less visible-they have not ebbed away-but, if anything, become more visible and more dangerous. This week, for example, the news from our trading partners and from the United States, which is our single biggest export market, has not been good. Factory orders in May dropped after eight consecutive months of improvement, and confidence surveys last week showed the biggest falls for some time-far bigger than expected.
Last week, we heard that the number of Americans in work has fallen by almost the largest number since 1995, and new figures for the eurozone show unemployment stuck at more than 10%. The news from new markets is likewise not great. China's stock exchange hit a 15-month low yesterday, and confidence surveys have reported the worst outlook for a year and a half. Therefore, we cannot blame British businesses, investors and exporters for being somewhat depressed. They know that the odds of success in the gamble on which the Chancellor has embarked are slim, and they know very clearly who will pay the price for his failure.
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