Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 29th March 2011.

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Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling Labour, Edinburgh South West 5:30 pm, 29th March 2011

In the short time available, I shall not follow up on any points made by Mr Lilley, except to say that when he talks about any element of fairness in the Chancellor’s last Budget and this Budget as regards those on the top incomes, I think he will find that some of the things he talks about have more to do with measures that were announced by the previous Government than with those announced by this Government.

In many ways, the Budget is an annexe to last June’s Budget, which set the direction for this Government and the tone for this year’s Budget. I want briefly to consider how that will impact on this country as well as what is happening in other parts of the world. Although it does not quite fit the Tory story, what is happening to our economy will be very much influenced by what is happening in other parts of the world.

In some ways, it is quite remarkable that the global economy is growing at all. Three years ago, when the International Monetary Fund reported for the first time that it had stopped growing, it was possible that we were in for a serious downturn. It is now growing, but it is a two-speed recovery that is strong in Asia and far less so in the west. In Europe, we see strong growth in Germany and far less growth in southern Europe in particular. Here at home, manufacturing is doing well because the pound has depreciated, but the service and business sectors are not doing so well at all.

The recovery in this country and in Europe is fragile. We saw the economy grow more strongly than we expected in quarters two and three—the summer and autumn of last year—although again that had an awful lot more to do with measures that were implemented before rather than after the general election. We saw a sharp slow-down after that, which was largely brought about by people’s fear of what was to come. People are losing confidence—we saw the confidence survey published just after the Budget last week—and that should worry any Government. If we continue to get sluggish growth, the risk is that we will bump along the bottom and we will not get the jobs or growth on which this country depends.

Incidentally, I followed with interest what the Secretary of State said but one question that he failed to answer was that put by my hon. Friend Emma Reynolds: if our spending was so wrong, how come the Conservatives supported it right up until the end of 2008 and the Liberal Democrats supported it until a week after the general election, when they promptly changed their minds? The Secretary of State has revealed this afternoon that he is not quite the details man I remembered, but he might care to note that our structural deficit in 2006, according to his Government’s own measure, was 0.4%. It is simply not true to suggest that all our problems today are the result of spending. The main problem that we faced was an acute banking crisis that hit us and hit other countries in the world. That is why we are not the only country to have a very large deficit.