Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The Leader of the Opposition has to make the most difficult speech of anyone’s in Parliament: he has to respond to a Budget that he has not even seen. I congratulate him on his effort, and I can assure him that those bits of the Budget that he argued should be scrutinised carefully we will scrutinise on the Treasury Committee. It is a tall order to make that speech when the economy is weak, but when it is strong, it really is an impossible task—and the economy is strong, with the best growth in the G7 last year.
Chancellors should be judged on the performance of the economy during their tenure. We should all now accept that this current Chancellor deserves a good deal of credit for the improved performance of the British economy. Five years ago, Britain’s prospects were pretty bleak. The UK was saddled with a deficit of over 11% of GDP, and the developing euro crisis was shrinking the UK’s export markets and creating a massive risk of financial contagion. Above all, the UK was afflicted with a crisis of confidence. Five years later, as the Chancellor has announced, the deficit will be 4% of GDP next year—only a little over a third of what was inherited. The banking system, which he did not discuss at great length, is much better equipped to handle a euro crisis if it comes, particularly the risk of a disorderly exit by Greece. Confidence is returning. The evidence for the returning confidence is overwhelming from survey data.
A great deal of that success—