My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow on from my noble friend Lord Lyell. I add to the congratulations already offered to my noble friend Lord Lawson on securing this debate and on being a truly reforming Chancellor. I also congratulate warmly my two noble friends Lord Hussain and Lady Stedman-Scott on their excellent maiden speeches. I know that they will greatly enrich the proceedings of your Lordships' House in the years to come.
We appear today to be in something of a circular situation, with consumers feeling bruised and nervous, their confidence weak and, in consequence, banks being reluctant to lend, especially to smaller and start-up businesses. Yet, ironically, the overall cash position of corporate Britain is very high by historic standards. Unleashing this would undoubtedly spur on economic growth and confidence, and this was at the heart of what the Budget was all about.
A fundamental necessity for any new Government after the general election was to convince the markets that the deficit would be tackled, and this has worked. While the interest-level cost of our massive borrowing has decreased, it has risen in other countries, as we have heard, such as Spain and Portugal. What has happened in the past 24 hours to Portugal absolutely says it all. Given that we have the highest deficit in the industrialised world, we had to respond to the sovereign debt crisis, which was and is pervasive in southern Europe. We avoided that, and had we not done so, the consequences would have been simply cataclysmic. Interest rates would have risen. Even now, with restraint, our total debt will be £1.36 billion.