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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:27 pm on 24th March 2011.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 2:27 pm, 24th March 2011

I have been dealing with a great many interventions from members of the hon. Gentleman’s party. I am always happy to do that.

I must begin by acknowledging that the task is a massive one, although there are some encouraging signs. Manufacturing is growing at its fastest pace for 16 years, the car industry is growing by 12% a year, and we are seeing a real-terms growth of 5.5% in exports. However, when it comes to rebalancing the economy, I do not pretend that we are anywhere other than at the beginning of a very long march. It is a long march because we inherited a structure that was horribly unbalanced and unsustainable.

Let me remind Opposition Members of some of the things that we inherited, quite apart from the deficit. There was a hollowed-out manufacturing sector that, under the last decade of Labour government, declined by more than the manufacturing sector in any other western country, from 21% to 12% of GDP. Exports were growing at half the rate of growth of world trade. As we were reminded by the shadow Chancellor himself, household debt was running at 170% of GDP, a higher rate than in any country in the world as far as our statistics can establish. We had a property bubble that was more extreme than that in the United States, and banks were encouraged to grow until their balance sheets amounted to more than 400% of the British economy. We had grotesquely distorted pay structures and lending behaviour, and a financial vulnerability of Irish and Icelandic proportions.