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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:41 pm on 24th March 2011.

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Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 1:41 pm, 24th March 2011

For a fleeting moment, I thought that I was in the wrong debate. It is always interesting to hear proposals put before the House by Mr Bone.

Twelve months ago, at the time of last year’s Budget, unemployment was falling, growth was rising, inflation was low and stable, and we were on track to halve the deficit in four years. Indeed, because more people were in work, paying taxes and not receiving benefits, borrowing ended up £12 billion lower last year than was forecast the autumn before. However, there was still a long way to go. Following the biggest global financial crisis of the past century, we were getting back on the right track to get the deficit down and to restore our economy to sustainable growth.

One year on, the economic context for this Budget is radically different. Inflation is up to 4.4%, increasing prices for everyone and threatening a rise in mortgage rates. Unemployment, which was falling, is now rising to its highest level for 17 years. Consumer confidence has seen its biggest fall for nearly 20 years. Our economy, which was growing, has ground to a halt according to the latest figures. Just a few months ago in the autumn, we were told by the Prime Minister, among others, that the economy was out of the danger zone. However, on growth, inflation and unemployment, it appears that we are now re-entering the danger zone.

The question that families and businesses up and down the country will be asking is what changed over the past 12 months. Let me set out for the House what did change over the past 12 months. Yes, commodity prices have gone up. Yes, world oil prices are higher. Yes, we had a bad winter. However, other countries such as America, Germany and France have been similarly affected by higher oil and commodity prices and by bad weather, and their economies are still growing, unlike the British economy. Germany had worse snow than Britain, there was a big freeze in France and the US had the worst blizzards for decades, but their economies grew in the fourth quarter of last year. While our growth forecasts have worsened, theirs have improved. The German economy is forecast to grow more strongly than it was last year, as is the American economy. Growth in the world economy has been revised up. Which is the major economy that is now downgrading its growth forecasts? It is the United Kingdom.