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Economic Growth

Volume 547: debated on Tuesday 26 June 2012

The Office for Budget Responsibility is responsible for producing independent economic and fiscal forecasts. In its March economic and fiscal outlook, the OBR forecasted economic growth of 0.8% in 2012, but more recent independent forecasts have been lower, reflecting the fact that the euro-area crisis remains the biggest risk to the UK recovery.

A worryingly large jump in Government borrowing has been reported today. Why is it that of all the G20 countries, only Britain and Italy are in recession?

The right hon. Gentleman refers to borrowing, but his Front-Bench team wants us to borrow tens of billions of pounds more, which is not the right response. If he studies the figures carefully, he will see that departmental spending is rising much less than was forecast, but, of course, the automatic stabilisers in the economy are operating. That is precisely the flexibility in our plan, which is tough on the structural deficit but supportive of the economy.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the latest Office for National Statistics figures, which show that unemployment is down 50,000 in the last quarter and over 800,000 new jobs have been created since we took office? Does he agree that this suggests that the Government’s programme of deficit credibility, public sector restraint and support for business is laying the foundations for a sustainable recovery?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. He is, of course, right to say that the recent figures show that unemployment has been falling, and that is good news, of course. Inflation is also coming down, which is good news for hard-pressed consumers.

Does the Chief Secretary think the fact that the economy is in recession explains why today’s figures show that borrowing is going up, not down as the Government intended?

As I said to the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), the figures reflect a combination of things, including the fact that departmental spending has been held down by more than was forecast, but the automatic stabilisers in the economy are operating. That is the flexibility in our plan. It is because of the fiscal credibility the Government have brought to this country that we can do that.

I do not think the Chief Secretary answered the question. Figures out this morning show that, with the economy in recession, tax receipts are falling, and the benefits bill is going up, so borrowing is already £4 billion higher this year than last. Is it not time that the Government admitted their plan has failed, and without action on jobs and growth, borrowing does not go down, it just goes up?

That is an astonishing question from the party that made the mess in the British economy that we are trying to clear up, and the party whose plans wanted this Government to borrow even more. That just goes to show what would have happened to the UK economy if we had been unfortunate enough to have the Labour party stay in power.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that protectionism is the enemy of economic growth? What steps will he take to re-energise the Doha round?

I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. Friend. It is a very important point that, in times of economic stress worldwide, some countries may seek a protectionist approach. That is why at the forthcoming European summit the Prime Minister will again be arguing for measures within Europe to strengthen the single market and to increase free trade within the EU, and for measures for the EU to take to build on the free trade agreements that, collectively, we are signing with a number of other important economies in the world. We need to keep up the momentum of that process in order to help support the world economy.