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May I start by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess?
We have had a wide-ranging debate today and I will do my best to answer a number of the issues that Opposition Members have raised. However, it would perhaps be best for me first to set out the background to this debate, as the shadow Minister did. This issue was first looked at by the previous Government, and we have returned to it as a new Government. The coalition Government inherited from their predecessor the largest budget deficit of any economy in Europe, with the single exception of Ireland. One pound in every four that we spend is borrowed. The gap stands at £149 billion for this financial year alone.
The previous Government had planned to raise extra revenue through the restriction of pensions relief for higher-rate earners. As we have heard, that approach was due to raise £4 billion to £5 billion a year by 2014-15. Given the appalling state of the public finances that we have been left as a new Government, it is something that we cannot ignore.
On Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary set out our commitment to fairness. This is a progressive Budget that ensures that every part of society makes a contribution to deficit reduction, while protecting the most vulnerable, especially children in poverty and pensioners. The Budget has a number of measures to support pensioners, not least the triple lock guaranteeing an annual increase in the state pension in line with earnings, prices or a 2.5% increase, whichever is the higher.
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