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21 Mar 2001 : Column 88WH

Families (Scotland)

11 am

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): I welcome the opportunity to consider the impact of the Government's policy on families in Scotland. I am surprised that no members of the Scottish National party are here, because the debate is important to the people of Scotland. Opposition Members have condemned measures implemented by the Government because they involve additional regulation, because they do not do enough or because the Government appear to show no ambition. However, the manifestos of the major Opposition parties in the 1997 general election said little about pledging resources to tackle the problems of the poor in Scotland.

The Government have tackled the issue of poverty not only within Scotland and the United Kingdom, but internationally. The concept of the family and the traditional stereotype image of the past have changed dramatically. Whether or not we approve, young men and women are engaging in relationships at an earlier age, and are consciously entering long-term relationships outside the previously conventional marriage model. Although society believes that marriage traditionally creates the best environment in which to raise children, we must recognise unfortunately that it is not always possible. When relationships or marriages break down, policies should be in place to provide parents with a choice of financial and structural support, such as the provision of nursery care and after-school clubs, side by side with the working families tax credit and the children's tax credit. Work should be a real option for parents. It is vital to ensure that children have the best start in life.

A modern Scotland must be designed to meet the needs of children. Scotland should be a place where men and women have opportunity and real choice--the chance to use their talents and realise their potential to the full. I believe that the Government are breaking down the old barriers that for too long have held families back. They are eliminating the stigmatisation of lone parents caused by the language and vocabulary of the previous Government. Indeed, many individuals have suffered deep despair, poverty and lack of opportunity because of the inaction and lack of compassion of successive Tory Governments.

Government policies are benefiting families in Scotland in three ways. First, they are making work pay. Secondly, they offer a renewed, replenished and reformed system of benefits. Thirdly, through increased child care provisions, they offer better opportunities for parents to balance the responsibilities of work and parenthood.

In a memorandum to the Scottish Affairs Committee, the Low Pay Unit argued that the goal of making work pay is as yet unmet by the advanced industrial economies. A key part of the Government's strategy in tackling family poverty must therefore be to make work pay. Nothing crystallises the difference between this Government and the last Tory Government more than the fact that one of the few proclaimed triumphs of the Major Government was the winning of an opt-out from the European social charter. Nothing highlighted more clearly their vindictiveness towards working people than

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the damage and waste of that Government's final years. Is it not a disgrace that it was considered a triumph that, after 18 years of Tory rule, we had the lowest paid workers working the longest hours in Europe? The Tories denied working people basic employment standards and rights. I would therefore welcome Government measures that would overcome the poverty trap, and ensure that people are rewarded fairly for their endeavours. The Scottish Low Pay Unit welcomes the minimum wage, tax credits and the future tax reforms--potentially radical and progressive steps that demonstrate the Government's intention to put employment and economic policy at the heart of a national anti-poverty strategy.

The minimum wage is one of the Government's greatest achievements. It underpins the system of working tax credits and is tackling the scandal of low pay. It is building fairness and transparency into the work force. Until now Britain has never benefited from a national minimum wage. If we examine history, we can imagine what a future Conservative Government's attitude would be. In the 1970s, wages councils existed to set minimum wages for certain industries, yet the Conservatives abolished them in 1993. The Tories predicted that the national minimum wage would be a disaster. In 1997, the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) said:

In all, 120,000 people across Scotland, or 6.1 per cent. of the work force, are benefiting from the national minimum wage. It should be noted that the national minimum wage has had the single most beneficial effect on women's incomes since the Equal Pay Act 1970. I also welcome the working families tax credit as a second part of the strategy. The Scottish Council foundation describes the credit as possessing the potential to make a significant impact on tackling in-work poverty. It allows families to keep more of what they earn. It is a crucial element of the strategy to tackle child poverty within a generation.

The old system of family credit had many faults, not the least of which was that, across the UK as a whole, more than half of family credit recipients also had to pay tax. Working families tax credit provides a fillip for moving low earners out of the poverty trap, and its payment through the wage packet makes clear the link between work and greater financial reward. Around twice as many single parent families are benefiting as did under the old family tax credit. Approximately 2,089 working families in my constituency are benefiting from the credit. From this April, they are guaranteed an income of £214 a week for full-time work. From June, the £5 increase will mean that they will effectively receive a minimum hourly rate of £6.40.

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Reforms to the national insurance scheme have also helped families. For too long, national insurance acted as a barrier to people on welfare who wanted to get into work. The Government have eased the burden by abolishing the entry fee and raising the thresholds.

Targeted cuts in direct taxation for hard-working families are also welcome. It is vital that we build a tax system that is fair for low-paid families; one that allows them to keep more of what they earn. Around 7,740 people who work in my constituency of Hamilton, South are benefiting from the 1p cut in the basic rate of income tax, which has brought the tax to its lowest for more than 70 years.

The introduction of the 10p rate is a further valuable measure towards making work pay. I welcome the £300 above-inflation extension in this month's Budget. That means that the first £1,880 is now taxed at 10p rather than at 22p in the pound. In total, by this April families will have seen a significant fall in the direct tax burden. The burden on a single-earner family on average earnings with two children will be at its lowest since 1972--down from 21.5 per cent. in 1996-97 to 18.6 per cent. this year. By October this year, Scottish households will be, on average, £580 a year better off as a result of all the measures that come into effect this year. Scottish households with children will be £970 a year better off as a result of measures introduced by Parliament as a whole. A single-earner family with two children on average earnings of £25,400 will be £520 a year better off in real terms. The same family, on half average earnings, will be £3,000 a year better off in real terms. Families with someone in full-time work will have a guaranteed minimum income of £225 a week or £11,700 a year.

I turn to child support. Child poverty is a disgrace. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said, it is a scar on the nation's soul. Every child should have the best possible start in life, and no child should be condemned to poverty. For 20 years, the living standards of families with children fell behind those of families without children, and the rest of the population. Around four years ago, the average income of households with children was about 30 per cent. lower than those without children. Such a situation was totally unacceptable.

I therefore welcome the Government's reforms to child support. A more generous, integrated network of child financial support is being created. Child support for a family on average earnings with two children fell by 5 per cent. in real terms between 1979 and 1997. It will rise by about 50 per cent. during this Parliament. Labour introduced child benefit in 1977. It failed to rise in real terms during the 1980s and for most of the 1990s, and cruelly it was frozen by the Tories from 1987 to 1990.

The Government have shown that they are committed to the principle of universal child benefit by raising it to its highest ever level in real terms. Child benefit for the eldest child has risen to £15.50 from this April. In 1997, it was only £11.40. Child benefit helps around 8,900 families in my constituency of Hamilton, South. Child benefit for each subsequent child has risen to £10.35. That amounts to an increase in real terms of 26 per cent.

The increase in support for all children of all families has been striking. Combined with the increases in the working families tax credit, financial support for the first

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child of a family will range from £15.50 to £50 a week. In 1997 the range was between £11.05 and £27.70. Nothing else more clearly highlights the Government's commitment to the eradication of poverty.

The married couples' allowance was a badly targeted measure. It was the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea who began phasing it out, describing it as having "the least on-going justification". Under the Tories, the allowance was cut from 40 per cent. to 15 per cent. Martin Barnes, the director of Child Poverty Action Group, last month supported its abolition. He argued that it was

The Government have been right in reforming the allowance through the introduction of the children's tax credit. The specific aim of that credit is to support children. Again, that is vital in meeting the targets for the eradication of child poverty. The credit will be worth £520 a year for low and middle-income families. Significantly, it is worth more than twice the value--£197 when it was abolished--of the married couples' allowance. Up to 400,000 Scottish families will benefit. The only potential difficulty involves take-up. That is why I welcome the Government's £4.7 million national advertising campaign in anticipation of that.

The baby credit of £20 a week--£1,040 a year--for families in the first year after the birth of a child, is particularly to be welcomed. Families often need additional support at such a time. Martin Barnes argues that the new credit is

On child care, I welcome the fact that the Government have recognised that the best start in life for children cannot be achieved by financial measures alone. Practical, day-to-day support for parents and children is required. It is vital that the Government's child poverty strategy provides parents with the opportunity for parents to work. I welcome the alliance of parents, communities, professionals and voluntary organisations that is being built to achieve that aim.

Last December, J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, spoke to the National Council for One-Parent Families of her struggle in trying to raise a child in poverty. As a single parent, she has spoken of the enormous barriers that she had to overcome in attempting to find part-time work. The same is true of all mothers who wish to work.

One of the biggest obstacles in that area, of course, is child care. Last year, the Scottish Affairs Committee spoke to representatives of the Govan initiative. They stated that problems with child care caused some people not to bother applying for work. In the 18 years when the Tories were in power, fewer than 74,000 child care places were created. I therefore welcome the Government's measures to help people to combine work and parenting, especially the national child care strategy, which aims to ensure that there is good-quality, affordable child care for children throughout Scotland. To target the greatest need, family centres with £42 million extra resources have been developed to support families with children aged three and under.

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I welcome the local information services, the national website and the information line that has been set up to give parents accurate information and to help them make informed choices.

The new deal for lone parents has played a valuable part in giving lone parents the opportunity to work. The scheme offers individual help and support; lone parents are helped to overcome the barriers that prevent them from taking a job. Joining is simple; participants can telephone an adviser or visit a job centre. In total, a national network of about 800 personal advisers offers comprehensive help and advice on job search, training, child care, benefits and financial support.

I welcome, too, the enhancement of choices announced in the Budget. The reality is that all parents hold down two jobs--the one that pays the wage and the most important one, raising a healthy, contented, happy and well-adjusted child. This month's Budget has built on these measures; the flat rate of maternity pay rose by almost £15 to £75 in April 2002 and will be £100 the following year. The pay period for maternity pay has been extended from 18 weeks to 26 weeks from 2003; the right to two weeks' paid paternity leave for working fathers from 2003 is paid at the same rate as the statutory maternity rate. The £200 increase and the sure start maternity grant will be paid from April next year.

The changes provide support for all families who need it most when they need it most. They provide an increased choice for women to stay at home and look after children in the crucial first months of life. That is possible only because of the sound economic foundations that the Government have laid. The Chancellor's tough choice in introducing a new economic framework will ensure economic stability for Scottish families in the long term. Those achievements are of great benefit to Scottish families; we have the lowest inflation rate for 30 years and the lowest long-term interest rates for 35 years; mortgages average £1,200 a year less than they did under the previous Government. More people are in work than ever before; there is the lowest unemployment since 1975. National debt is down so that much more money can go into public services and to deserving, hard-working families. Living standards are up by 10p in real terms.

The Government are delivering for the people of Scotland; changes in taxation, together with the introduction of targeted credits are rewarding work. New measures to balance the responsibilities of working parenthood are offering new opportunities for employment, boosting the income of families and bringing us closer to the goal of full employment. A new, integrated and seamless system of child support has been built in pursuit of the eradication of child poverty.

The Tories' record is of 18 years of neglect, the two worst recessions since the war, record unemployment, interest rates at 15 per cent., record repossessions, one in five families with no one in work, one in three children growing up in poverty and few rights for hard-working families. If we gave the Tories a chance, that would happen again.

I ask the Minister to recognise three points, and, first, the role of parenting. The nurturing of a child by its own parents is of enormous value and, as the Scottish Poverty Information Unit pointed out to the Scottish Affairs Committee, child care is work. With that in

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mind, I hope that the Government will examine further steps to ensure that where both parents work, sufficient time is made available for them to spend with their offspring in the vital stages of their development.

Secondly, there should be more recognition of the great diversity of families in Scotland today; the European Commission's 1996 "Guide to Good Practice, Work and Childcare: Implementing the Council Recommendation on Childcare" made the case for arrangements taking account of special circumstances. For example, children with disabilities may need parents to take more time off, perhaps for hospital appointments. As the Scottish Parenting Forum argues, in rural areas of Scotland, men in particular are self-employed in the fishing and farming industries. The Government might like to examine further ways of providing enhanced provision for such groups.

Adoption is another important issue. I welcome recognition of the need for adoptive parents to spend time at home. The adoption system is vital to the future of many children and it is important that every possible provision is made. The Government might consider placing greater emphasis on the importance of attachment for adoptive parents. Adopted children are often the most disorientated and in the greatest need of support. The Government should consider giving adoptive parents equal rights to parental leave.

The Government have the vision and the policies to deliver real, tangible improvements to the lives of Scottish families. This Parliament has made a substantial start and, given another term, we would achieve further progress. It is important to recognise the value of the family to society.

11.20 am

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) on introducing this excellent debate. It is important and timely to examine the impact of UK national policies on Scotland. Some people north of the border--particularly the Scottish National party--are the real enemy of the Scottish people when they pretend that everything that matters now takes place at the Scottish Parliament and that nothing important to Scotland ever happens here in Westminster. They pretend that, until there is an independent Parliament in Scotland, this Parliament can make no difference to the lives of the Scottish people. The reality is that our Parliament has made a significant difference, particularly to families in Scotland.

My hon. Friend referred to statistics, and I have been reading a briefing by the Economic and Social Research Council on the impact of Government policy. The statistical basis runs from 1991 to 1997, which helps us to understand where we came in. Increased deprivation in the family unit was clear during that period. The research showed that single-parent females, as opposed to females in general, were less likely to be in work. In 1997, 3.6 million children were living in poverty. Job-poor people were shown to be income-poor people. The final interesting statistic was that poverty was not continuous, but a fulcrum. People went from absolute poverty into low-income status and teetered on the edge. If they were lucky, they stayed at low-income level, but most of the time they fell back into absolute poverty, usually because of a break-up of the family unit or one or both parents losing their jobs.

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I have not been able to obtain statistics, but public housing was significantly correlated with poverty. People living in public housing saw poverty as the consequence of being unable to struggle into private housing, particularly after a marriage break-up or the main breadwinner's unemployment. In those circumstances, people had to seek public housing. I hope that that problem will be addressed in the future. As a socialist, I regard it as a great indictment that people view public housing as something that they fall into rather than a life style choice.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South said, the Government have addressed these problems, and he referred specifically to child benefit. I shall not provide statistics about my constituency. We could all provide a litany of figures if we wanted to. I have been hammering away through the press, and I hope that my constituents know the facts. General policies are important, and the most significant is the working families tax credit. If job-poor means income-poor and that means deprivation, it is the transition from unemployment to work that matters--and it is now worth while to leave the poverty trap on benefits. The Government have made a significant difference through the working families tax credit, which has been a great success in my constituency.

I am in constant touch with the employment office, which tells me about the numbers of people who, when they work out the figures, realise that taking employment will make them significantly better off. The minimum wage has been a significant factor. They are no longer being offered £1.50 per hour as cleaners, but a minimum of £3.80 per hour and £4.10 per hour after the latest rise. The Scottish nationalists said that we were continuing with Conservative policies and we could not possibly introduce the minimum wage--but we brought it in. They then complained that it was too low and that it should be £4, not £3.80, and we made that increase too. The last item on my tick list for the minimum wage is the introduction of the adult wage from the age of 18. If people wish to be treated as adult workers, they should be paid an adult wage. I am sure that many hon. Members here today went into work before the age of 18 and expected to earn a man's wage by the time they reached 18. I hope that we will bring that in.

We are talking about getting people into work. Job-poor means income-poor and the Government have tackled that with the new deal. The figure in 1997 was burned into my mind: 513 young people under the age of 26 in my constituency had been unemployed for six months or more. In October 2000, the figure was 47. When 500 young people who are hanging around street corners go into work, it changes the atmosphere of a town. When I go around Grangemouth and Bo'ness people tell me about the difference that has made. Under the Tories, parents would tell me that they could not get their sons out of bed because they had no purpose. There were no jobs and they had given up. Those parents now tell me that their sons have an apprenticeship with BP, are working for Zeneca or Syngenta or have a job in some other part of the economy.

There is a change in the way that mothers and young people react. There is no more walking out of the house in anger because of feelings of frustration. Young people have returned to live in the family home because they

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have a job and can make a contribution. They have a bit of pride. The Government have found that generation who were lost by the Tories. They should be recognised as having done a great deal for them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South mentioned child benefit. The significant change in child benefit is important to many families in my constituency. It affects thousands of people. People receiving child benefit for a first child who also receive the working families tax credit can now have an income of over £50 per week more than when the Government came to office. That is very significant. I also commend the Government for introducing the baby tax credit. In those first years when incomes and family arrangements are usually dislocated, that extra money will not be just £10 a week, through the family tax credit, but £20 a week. However, not even spending £4 million on advertising will do enough to make everyone take up that benefit. People will still ask why they are not getting their £10 when they have forgotten to apply. Employers should ensure that all their employees put in their forms so that they receive the £10 from 1 April.

The final group that I want to mention is pensioners. In a sense I will do some recanting here, which I fully admit the Government deserve. I gave them stick over the rise last year. I and many others, including the Pensioners' Forum, demanded a link between the increase in earnings and the increase in the pension. With the £200, which is worth £4 a week, and the forthcoming increase of £5 and £8 for pensioners, the Government will have increased the level of the pensioner income by more than the increase in earnings between 1997 and 2001. I called the £200 a gimmick and I demanded on the Floor of the House that pensioners be given a real-terms increase. The Government have now responded to our demands. The fact that pensioners can receive the £200 as part of the new settlement has been welcomed by the pensioners that I meet in the Pensioners' Forum and others. They realise that the Government have delivered an increase in pensions higher than the increase in average earnings from 1997 to 2001.

The last element in the family is the grandparent, who may be a pensioner. When a young parent seeks assistance when the family group is composed of one earner and two children, or a young person seeks first employment, the older members of the family give so much. Our elderly parents helped to give us all a good start. They helped us to achieve a level of earnings and standard of living that was much better than they could had. At last, the Government are delivering for them and have listened to family groups.

Although we will debate the general economy next week, I want to point out that the stability created by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and the Government is the most important factor in giving the economy a chance to cope. The Tories predicted a crisis if the minimum wage was introduced, and that would have happened had we run the economy in the way that they did. Getting 1 million people back into work, as we have done, would have been a problem had we run the economy as the Conservatives did. The Government have listened to representatives of family groups and

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given us a stable base on which to deliver policies that have made a significant difference to the lives of families in my constituency and others throughout Scotland.

11.31 am

Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun): I congratulate my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) on securing the debate.

The substantial turnout of my Labour colleagues and the representation of both the Liberal Democrats and Conservative parties demonstrate the importance of this issue to the people of Scotland and its representatives. It is a pity that we do not have time for them all to make a contribution to this debate. Hon. Members will have noticed the absence of the Scottish National party. That shows clearly that they have other priorities. I suspect that if we were discussing the timing of a ministerial announcement they would be here in numbers, making substantial points.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South has comprehensively dealt with many of the direct policies that have been put in place as a result of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's five successful Budgets to support families. Today, I want to concentrate on what might be termed indirect help for families and how that has impacted on my constituents.

One of the key elements in ensuring that families can enjoy a secure and happy life style is that their family income is stable and assured, and at a level that allows them to make informed and confident decisions about the future. In an area such as Kilmarnock and Loudoun with its persistently high unemployment and the very painful transition from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, too many families were denied that ability for far too long because they could not find work or, indeed, work that paid more than benefits.

When we came to power in 1997, some 1,135 of my constituents were among those termed as long-term unemployed, and more than 3,000 had no jobs. That is why it was so important that the issue was addressed urgently. It was also important because under the previous Government it had been a matter of policy. In my constituency the response has been successful beyond everyone's wildest dreams. First, we introduced the new deal. I know that our opponents have consistently criticised the new deal, and the official Opposition have made it absolutely clear that they would remove it completely, but since its launch the new deal for 18 to 24-year-olds has helped 1,393 of my constituents, and 639 have been found jobs. I would like the official Opposition and the Scottish nationalists to tell those young people who have been able to find independence through the help given by the new deal that it has all been a waste of time, as they have consistently said. I suspect that the response from those young people would be termed in what we may call unparliamentary language.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): We are all anxious for young unemployed people to find jobs. If the hon. Gentleman analyses the numbers in his constituency and throughout Scotland, he will discover that the reason why young people are now finding jobs and were not before is not the introduction of the new

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deal and all its glossy brochures and media spin, but the strength of the economy, which is based on the Conservative policies of the past 10 years.

Mr. Browne : I thank the hon. Lady for that observation as it gives me an opportunity to give the lie to that argument, as I have done previously. I shall find the statistics, and she can join me in examining them. The statistics for my constituency should be examined not only over the Government's term in office, to consider the effect of their choices in benefiting people, but over the longer term, by which I mean since 1979.

As the hon. Lady will know, there have been several periods of growth during that time, although, unfortunately, because of how her party managed the economy, they were followed by periods of deep recession. The significant factor in respect of long-term and youth unemployment in my constituency is that no one ever benefited from any of the previous periods of growth. In previous periods of growth, either unemployment remained the same or youth unemployment, in particular, increased. It is only because of the intervention of the new deal, in the context of continued growth, that we have been able to tackle that problem. Previously, economic growth managed by the Tories bypassed my constituency and many other constituencies in the west of Scotland--some of my hon. Friends are nodding in agreement. That was because the Government did not care about them. This Government care about the entire country, and deliver for areas such as mine.

It was recognised that the new deal was not enough. Pockets of persistently high unemployment exist in my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Minister, and they had to be tackled through special means. That was why we lobbied and were happy that East Ayrshire was one of the pilots for the enormously successful action teams for jobs. In the short time of its existence, Jim Burns and his team at the Employment Service have built an excellent partnership with the local authority, local training providers and local businesses. They have already helped 397 local people in my constituency, and they have found work for 140.

The importance of such a targeted initiative is that it was backed up by real money, given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for people in such areas to be helped out of long-term unemployment and into work. The figures might not seem significant, but in both constituencies in the pilot areas, such targeted help has helped 20 per cent. of those who were long-term unemployed and registered for jobseeker's allowance--in six months, they are out of unemployment and into work. That is a sign of how successful such initiatives can be. That is why I was pleased that the Budget included a commitment to extend the action teams over the spending review period and to create more action teams. Whenever I speak to my hon. Friends about the matter, they ask how they can get action teams for their constituencies. I am sure that they will be able to get them soon, because the pilot has been so successful that the scheme is about to be rolled out over the country. I look forward to the benefits of the action team in East Ayrshire being extended to even more of my constituents and those of other hon. Members.

The importance of partnership has also been recognised in the proposal to create local strategic partnerships to create local employment plans. Such an

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approach has been widely welcomed by Kilmarnock and Loudoun. The East Ayrshire Employment Initiative, of which I am an unpaid director, brought together not only the local authority and representatives of the Westminster and Holyrood Parliaments, but representatives of local business and the wider community to provide advice, guidance and support to people who are looking for work. Only last week, I directed a constituent in his late 50s who had been unemployed for more than six years to George Fraser and his team. They will be able to identify for him the barriers to employment, give him the skills to overcome those barriers and, I hope, find him a job in the not-too-distant future.

It is vital that that service remains available to my constituents. The funding and new initiatives provided by my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Education and Employment have done much to ensure that families can look forward to the future with confidence.

Educating our children is as important as supporting them financially, as we have heard from my hon. Friends. Although the delivery of education is a devolved issue, education has benefited directly from the Chancellor's successful management of the economy. The targeted assistance announced in last year's Budget was passed directly to schools by the former Minister for Education, Europe and External Affairs in the Scottish Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith). I am sure that hon. Members will forgive me if I digress to express my regret, and that of many other hon. Members, at his decision to retire. We all understand why he plans to retire. He has shown great courage and has made a significant contribution to Scottish public life, which was motivated by a desire to bring people out of poverty. We should congratulate him on that, and we wish him well in the future.

I asked a number of local head teachers what it means to them to receive the direct funds. Stewarton Academy, which is justly renowned for its successful music provision, has embraced new technology. That has included wide area networks with feeder primaries and even contact with National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the United States. The head teacher, Derek Mathieson, told me that some of the funding was used to set up links for a local area network within the school, which will do much to enhance his pupils' education. He was able to make local decisions on spending and to enhance his school's development plan because the local authority and its director, Mr. Mulgrew, embraced the philosophy of the Chancellor to devolve as many decisions as possible to schools. That allows teachers at the chalk face to address the particular educational needs of their pupils.

Similarly, Mrs. Starrs, a teacher at St. Sophia's primary school in Galston, was able to use the funding to improve her school's environment by converting a redundant cloakroom into a workspace that will enhance her pupils' education. Mrs. Maclean, the head teacher at Gargieston primary school, was able to use the funding to secure additional staff.

Such uses of funding are examples of decisions that are taken locally in response to local needs and to the needs of local families. Head teachers and staff work out local development plans and consult the families that

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they serve. None of that could have occurred without Government guidance from the Chancellor. He has repeated the spending exercise this year, and I hope that the new Minister for Education, Europe and External Affairs in the Scottish Executive, Jack McConnell, will repeat the practice of his distinguished predecessor. I know that such an approach will be warmly welcomed in Ayrshire and by head teachers in my constituency.

I turn to assistance for the disabled. Families with disabled members face additional costs over and above those faced by other families. That is why I welcome the disability income guarantee, which comes into force from 1 April, substantial increases in the disabled child premium, and changes to the disability living allowance higher rate mobility component and incapacity benefit, which deliberately target help for the younger disabled. I also welcome proposals on assistance for carers.

I address a specific issue that puts a great strain on the finances of families with disabled members. On Monday, I had the honour of presenting a petition to Parliament bearing more than 2,000 names on behalf of the Kilmarnock forum for the disabled. The forum has been campaigning for more than a year for the winter fuel allowance that is paid to pensioners to be paid to disabled people on medium or high rates of disability living allowance. The campaign co-ordinator of the group, Mrs. Margaret Lees, told me that such disabled people are particularly susceptible to secondary infections brought on by the cold because of their mobility problems, and that some of their conditions are adversely affected by the cold. They have great difficulty getting out of the house during the winter and can run up very large bills in attempting to manage their disability. They require urgent help, and I ask the Minister to give a message to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security that giving the allowance to such people would be widely welcomed in Kilmarnock and Loudoun by able-bodied people and disabled people alike. Such a change would enhance the Government's reputation for caring for disabled people.

The Government have done much for families in Scotland, both directly and indirectly. However, there is much yet to do, and only the return of this Government will ensure that families in Kilmarnock and Loudoun can continue to benefit from the increasing prosperity of our country.

11.44 am

Mr. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) on securing the debate and on his excellent speech.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about the Government, we have done much, but there is much still to do. That is a fair point. In Anniesland, we have more problems than most when it comes to poverty. The number of jobs has increased by almost 14 per cent. during the Government's time in office, but we remain one of the four worst areas in Scotland for unemployment problems. I ask the Minister to examine the situation, because there are not many employers in the constituency. We need work, particularly in regenerating the Drumchapel area and shopping centre. Young people hang out there, but it has no facilities.

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Undoubtedly, there is a link between poverty and crime. Again, my constituency suffers more than most, but what better way is there to reduce resentment than to help those who are worse off to achieve a higher standard of living? We must do that, and I am glad that the Government have identified that need. The Budget recognised that families, and especially children, are important. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South said that he particularly liked the increases in the working families tax credit, child benefit and children's tax credit, and that they would go a long way to help families. I thoroughly agree. The jobseeker's allowance, which will increase in October, will also help.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has proved again that he is the family's champion by increasing maternity leave from 18 to 24 weeks. He also announced that we would pay fathers for paternity leave from 2003, which will also go a long way. As a father of three children, my family did not have a lot, particularly when my youngest was born. Any help that could have been given would have been gratefully received. As a parent who has tried to shoulder my share of the responsibility over the years, I know that the increase will go a long way, not only in helping the family in general, but perhaps in showing male members of the family that they have a job to do and must share the commitments.--[Interruption.] I am glad that hon. Members agree.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): Not all of them do.

Mr. Robertson : As my hon. Friend says, not all of them do.

The Chancellor also helped small businesses, some of which were complaining that they could not afford the paternity leave. I am glad that small business relief has allowed businesses under the £20,000 threshold to claim back the full amount while, in effect, larger employers reclaim 92 per cent. In 2002, the threshold will double to allow 11,000 businesses per year to qualify, which will mean that 60 per cent. of businesses will pay a lot less than before. That dispels the myth that Labour does not help small businesses; Labour helps businesses and families.

The real challenge is to eradicate child poverty, which will not be done easily or quickly. The Government have at least pledged to try; I wish that the Conservatives had tried so hard when they were in government, instead of appeasing the paymasters. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said, abolishing child poverty is a complex problem that needs a multi-dimensional approach. We need to provide a decent income, extra help for those who cannot work, excellent public services, a good education that ensures equal opportunities for all, and voluntary and community sectors working in partnership to deliver best practice. That will not happen overnight, but it epitomises what needs to be done. We must work together in the private and public sectors to help each other. If we could pull people out of poverty, society would be better, and, if society were better, more money would be available. If more money is available, businesses do better, and the whole country does better. I think that the Government are doing their best, and that they can make that happen.

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Billions of pounds have been invested in schools, which emphasises our continued policy of putting children first. Added investment in health makes clear our commitment there. The jobless total for Britain has fallen to below 1 million and has greatly improved in Scotland--although Anniesland is, unfortunately, a black spot, and I have asked the Minister to examine that.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) for mentioning disability, although he pre-empted the next part of my speech. His points are valid and apply not only to Kilmarnock and Loudoun, but to the whole of Scotland--and even to the whole of Great Britain. I am pleased that under the new deal for disabled people families with severely disabled children will benefit, from next month, by an extra £11.05 for each disabled child. I wish that it were more, and that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor would do more, but it is a start. I am sure that he will make improvements in years to come.

My colleagues' remarks have shown that the Government are a Government for families. They can go into the next election with pride in their record, and with the expectation of a second term. The alternative does not bear thinking about.

11.51 am

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): Following on from the speeches of my hon. Friends, I take up the theme that there is much still to do. I thought that the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) took the biscuit--as he does, on occasion--by covering every area in which the Government have made improvements to date. Although we have done enough to be proud, and to justify re-election with larger majorities, we must recognise the need to tell people where we intend to go next. We cannot stand still. I want to focus on areas where there is still work to be done.

Unemployment in my constituency has dropped by more than 30 per cent. since the last election, but that drop is smaller than in many constituencies where absolute unemployment was lower to start with. Everybody is rising up, but the constituencies that were at the bottom remain there. If anything, the gap is widening. Glasgow has such concentrated difficulties and deprivation that it contains six of the 10 Scottish constituencies with the highest unemployment. There must be a greater area focus on Glasgow, perhaps with tax breaks, or additional funding, direct from No. 11. Additional cash must be spent on Glasgow if it is to share in the increasing prosperity that the Labour Government have brought to Scotland as a whole.

A major difficulty in my constituency--and, I am sure, in similar constituencies--is the scale of poverty of ambition. In a considerable number of families in my constituency, a tradition of unemployment and low wages has persisted for three, four, five or six generations. Such families believe that they are never likely to rise above the lowest income level. They do not look for improvement because they think that to strive is to be rejected. They must be given the opportunity to break out of the cycle that some of my colleagues mentioned: poverty, unemployment, low-paid jobs and

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then back to poverty. I can see no reason why the children of the poor in my constituency should not have the same access to the best jobs as those from wealthier backgrounds. I recognise that the hardest target--the poorest--will cost the most to lift to the standard of the rest. That is a price worth paying. As a Labour Government, we should make it clear that in our next term, and the term after that, we intend to make a concerted effort to deal with the problems of the most deprived in our society.

Some of my hon. Friends mentioned education, which offers a way out of poverty. Some of the schools in my constituency and in the city of Glasgow reflect the legacy of capital underspending over generations. When I was chair of education in Strathclyde, we received enough capital allocation from the Government to replace primary schools every 400 years. When schools and educational establishments are allowed to fall into decay, whereas pubs, bookies, bingo halls and other kinds of centres in the community are built to the highest standards, that inevitably sends to our youngsters a message that education is not valued by society.

More cash for staffing must be given to schools in the poorest areas. It has always been absurd that the head teachers and promoted posts who got the most money tended to be those in the most prosperous areas, because their schools were generally larger and salaries were paid on a per capita basis. That created a financial incentive for people to move out of poor areas into better-off areas, effectively moving away from the hardest tasks to easier tasks. The Government must try to find ways of reversing that process.

Although I recognise that many of these problems are now the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament, we at Westminster have the same responsibility to Scots in poverty as to all those in poverty across the United Kingdom. There are ways in which we can take helpful action from the centre.

I turn to the plight of families living in poor housing in my constituency. Again, I recognise that much of that is now the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament, and I regret that it is one of the areas in which it has not moved forwards as quickly as I should have hoped. However, we do have responsibility for housing benefit. For many people in my constituency, the operation of the housing benefit system acts as an enormous disincentive to taking work. They are caught in the trap of council tax benefit, housing benefit, low wages and part-time work, and are often unable to calculate what the benefits of work will be--notwithstanding the advantages of the working families tax credit and similar measures, which I applaud. We need to do more to ensure that the operation of the housing system no longer serves as a disincentive to self-advancement.

The thrust of the Government's policy, as dictated by Treasury rules, is to privatise council housing. That ideological obsession about removing housing from local authorities is a diversion from the main task of providing first-class housing to all. I am sure that, like me, the tenants in my constituency have no objection to genuine competition between alternative providers. However, they find it unfair when the scales are rigged and the balance is weighed so overwhelmingly in favour of privatisation, because that takes the choice out of their hands. A choice between a change of ownership and a continuation of dilapidation is no choice at all.

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Pensioners are an important part of families, and under the previous Government pensioner poverty was a blight on our society. I applaud the Government for introducing the minimum income guarantee. I also applaud the five churches in my constituency that last week distributed to their entire congregations a leaflet that was drawn up by myself and the Benefits Agency to publicise the minimum income guarantee and to urge pensioners to take it up. Another seven churches distributed the leaflet to all their parishioners during the previous week, and three more will do so this weekend. Such partnership between church and state, acting in the interests of the poorest in our society, is greatly to be applauded. However, the issue of free television licences enables us to draw attention to the enormous difference in life expectations. It is anticipated that 50 per cent. of people in my constituency will live to the age of 75, and that in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) more than 66 per cent. will reach that age. In some constituencies in England and Wales, the estimate exceeds 75 per cent. I see no reason why constituents of mine should not aspire to the life expectations of those in the most prosperous areas.

I believe that the measures that I have outlined are affordable. Millions--indeed, billions--of pounds will be flung at the current agricultural crisis, just as billions were flung at BSE. The crisis of poverty among many of my constituents and those of my colleagues is equally deserving of money, and we should pledge to spend money on them in the next term of this Labour Government.

12.1 pm

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): Perhaps it is appropriate to have a change of party at this juncture, although I have no complaint about the fact that five Labour Members have spoken so far. Nor do I blame them for taking this opportunity to claim credit--in some cases, deservedly so--for a number of Government initiatives. However, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) was right to say that we need to look ahead and ask where the money is going. Moreover, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (Mr. Robertson) said, although much has been done, there is still more to do. I do not agree that all the Government's initiatives have been effective or conducted in the best possible way, but I none the less welcome the fact that there have been a number of them.

Although the problems associated with poverty are extremely important and have to be dealt with, we should remember that this debate is concerned with the impact of Government policies on families in Scotland. We must consider the entire perspective, because in dealing with poverty we must level up, rather than down. Some who are regarded as part of the better-off strata of Scottish society nevertheless feel vulnerable in the light of current events. They fear that their standard of living and quality of life will decline rather than improve.

Given that I have an 18-month-old child, I should declare an interest in knowing whether the Government recognise a commitment to families. The principle behind such a commitment is right, and it should be

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given priority. It is clear that supporting people who bring up children is an important investment in the future quality of our society--not just in economic terms, but in terms of citizenship, social justice and the entire fabric of society. Of course, such support boils down to practical measures. It is a fact of life that in the flexible labour force for which this Government and the previous Government have argued, parents will be working, even in households where there is only one parent. We must ensure that the income available to those who work is sufficient to provide a good home for their children. Child care is also vital, and the right type and quality must be made available.

The Secretary of State has been a working mother, and she will not mind my saying that during last week's Question Time we had an informal discussion in the wings on the impact on children of such work. It has been suggested that working mothers might not be helping their children and should stay at home instead, but my view is that that is a fruitless and unfair debate. The truth is that many children who were brought up by working mothers proved well-adjusted and happy individuals. Working mothers need to know not just that the child care that they need is available, but that it is of the right quality. As was said, we do not want a left-luggage office for children, and more needs to be done to ensure that the right care is available. A nursery is not a place to park children; it is a place that provides children with a stimulating environment before they go to school.

I am proud of my association with the expansion of nursery education in my area. The north-east of Scotland was one of the first parts of Scotland to achieve almost total nursery provision for four-year-olds, and we are well on the way to achieving the same goal for three-year-olds. The Conservative party opposed campaigners for the expansion of nursery provision because its members regarded nursery education as an inappropriate leftist issue. Indeed, when the regional council was founded it came into power with a Conservative majority. Several nursery units, which the previous independent council had built, were not opened for 10 years because the Conservative group did not believe that that kind of provision was desirable. The policy changed only after the Conservative group was heavily defeated in local elections.

I am glad that Liberal Democrats co-operated with the Labour party to implement the strategy that created universal nursery education. [Interruption.] I can hear the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) muttering from a sedentary position, but I shall go further. That strategy demonstrated that for whom one votes makes a difference, even in local council elections. People realised that a fundamental shift in policy can bring about a beneficial change.

Families contain not only children, but older people and pensioners. The commitments that have been made to pensioners go some way to assuaging their anger about the 75p increase to state pensions and have made them feel that they are beginning to be treated differently. I shall be bullish and say that the Liberal Democrat party has made a positive contribution by campaigning and petitioning on the back of the 75p increase. I welcome the fact that the Government are under pressure from not only Liberal Democrats, but their own people and pensioners' organisations.

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Never mind the argument about the earnings link. Pensioners have a right to expect that pensions and associated benefits will keep pace with general improvements in the economy. It is no longer acceptable to relate pension increases only to the cost of living, and no Government should accept doing so. As everyone else's earnings rise in line with the economy, pensioner poverty is accentuated. Although this is neither the time nor the place to develop that argument, it is one reason why the Liberal Democrat party will make a commitment to improve the income of pensioners, and especially older pensioners, the centrepiece of our general election campaign--whenever that may be. Whether or not we have an opportunity to deliver that policy, we shall pressurise any future Government to adopt it.

We have secured a commitment to provide personal care for the elderly in Scotland. I hope that that issue will be taken up by the United Kingdom Government for two reasons. First, if it is right for Scotland, it is right for the remainder of the UK. Secondly, if the UK Government made such a commitment, it would take the pressure to find the money off the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive, which would ease the pressure on other resources.

Much has been made of the new deal. It is important to put it on record that those of us who criticised the new deal did not criticise and do not criticise the practical assistance and support that it has given to individuals. We appreciate that that kind of resource often delivers benefits to individuals. However, we are concerned by the high cost of the programme. A few people may have benefited substantially, but many did not benefit or the benefit was not connected to the new deal. Additionally, two questions arise. First, as a windfall tax for the duration of this Parliament has been the prime basis of funding for the new deal, how will the programme be funded in the next Parliament? Secondly, the Government have benefited from a growing economy, for which they claim the credit, but would that mechanism stand the test of being the best way of funding the programme if the economy went into a downturn?

I agree with the hon. Member for Pollok that to give people access to education, training and ambition and to raise standards we should encourage the private sector to play a more active part in poorer communities. More money must be spent, but it does not have to be state money; it could be private money from firms that employ people or open facilities that people can use, work in and gain benefit from.

Mr. Connarty : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that about 80 per cent. of those who have entered work through the new deal are now in unsubsidised employment? It is a mechanism for access, not to sustain them with public subsidy.

Mr. Bruce : I accept that entirely, but the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Government did not create the jobs. They provided the training and the economy created the jobs. There has been a happy match, but that may not continue in all economic circumstances.

The Government may have a commitment, but they are in danger of making life too complicated with too many different initiatives. If they really want to address

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the issues facing families, simplifying the tax system and easing the burden on the lower paid would be a far better way of doing so than too many, too complicated initiatives that not everyone understands.

12.11 pm

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): I congratulate the hon. Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) on raising this important issue for discussion today. He and other Labour Members have made many valid points, and I agree that it is deplorable that, in such a debate, there is no representation from the Scottish National party. However, we are having a perfectly good debate without Scottish National party Members. I think that that shows that we do not need them as much as they need us, the Westminster Parliament.

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes ): I thought that the hon. Lady was referring to the Tories.

Mrs. Laing : They need the Tories as well.

Having criticised the Scottish National party for its total lack of presence this morning, I am aware that I stand here alone--but that is not unusual, and I am not daunted by the massed ranks of the Labour and Liberal Democrat alliance in Scotland. I am used to facing them alone, ever mindful of the fact that safety is not always in numbers and that Robert the Bruce was massively outnumbered by enemy forces when he won the battle of Bannockburn. All hon. Members in this Chamber will agree with me on that.

We all want to create the best environment in which young people can make a good start in life. In most cases, but not all, such an environment requires a stable and well-supported family. Conservative policies always take account of the fact that many people, for a huge variety of reasons, do not start their lives in a stable family environment. However, that does not mean that we should ignore the family's undoubted role as the basic building block of society.

Many hon. Members have quoted statistics today, and the hon. Member for Hamilton, South rightly detailed the effects of the Chancellor's recent and previous Budgets. However, what is spun from the Dispatch Box and in the media is not always what happens in practice, and we have had a chance to examine what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done in the past few weeks. We found that his claim that he is attempting to support families and relieve poverty is a matter of interpretation of the figures. The figures used by the hon. Member for Hamilton, South have been achieved by excluding indirect taxes and non-standard tax relief, and they work only if one agrees that a typical family has no mortgage, no pension savings, no car and does not pay anything to a local council. I do not think that that is a typical family.

I have examined the figures on an average family in Scotland and discovered that recent Government policy has increased tax for such families by approximately £670 per year, which is significant. The following figures are from the House of Commons Library and Chantrey Vellacott--I have not made them up.

The changes in income tax rates give a gain of £431 to that average family. However, abolition of the married couples allowance loses them about £300; abolition of

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mortgage interest relief at source loses them £326; and abolition of dividend credits on the pension tax--I agree with the many hon. Members who have said that pensioners are an integral part of family life--loses them £400. The changes to national insurance contributions gain them £233, and the cut in VAT on fuel gains them £22. However, the increase above inflation of petrol tax and the freeze on vehicle excise duty lose them £185. Tobacco tax increases above inflation lose them £193. Although I might agree with that tax, that statistic should still be taken into consideration. Council tax increases above inflation lose them well in excess of £100. Although child benefit gains them about £170, if one adds up all the figures, the total loss is £670. That cannot be simply ignored.

Let us consider other ways in which the Government have implemented their policies. I ask the Minister--although this is really a matter for the Chancellor--why there was one year's delay between abolition of the married couples allowance and introduction of the children's tax credit. The Chancellor announced that he would replace the married couples allowance with the children's tax credit and said that, in his view, that was a reasonable change to fiscal policy. Why, however, was there a year's delay? Was it to allow the Chancellor to rake in more money to the Treasury's coffers, so that, a couple of weeks ago, he could give away what was taxpayers' money in the first place? He can say that he is giving money to families, children, pensioners, unemployed people and those who are in serious poverty only because he has been taking so much more in tax. It is not his money; it is money that he has taken from hard-working families in Scotland over the past four years. There is therefore a certain disingenuousness about the way in which his policies are presented and spun.

I want to leave enough time for the Minister to answer the few questions that have been asked. Hon. Members have, however, made some points that are worthy of comment. It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (Mr. Robertson) accuse the previous Conservative Government of appeasing the paymasters. It is nice to hear good old-fashioned socialist rhetoric again; at least it gives Conservative Members something to get our teeth into. In fact, the Government whom I supported did not appease the paymasters; they encouraged the growth of the economy, which creates jobs.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Laing : With apologies to the Minister, I shall briefly give way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Nicholas Winterton): Order. The hon. Gentleman must be brief.

Mr. Marshall : It hurts me to be less than nice to the hon. Lady, but the Minister who is about to reply to the debate and I sat in the House through 18 years of Tory Governments and saw the misery that they inflicted on

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hundreds of thousands if not millions of families. There is nothing that the hon. Lady can say to defend the actions of 18 years of Tory government.

Mrs. Laing : Of course I will try. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but, as I have already said to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne), jobs are created by a strong economy and not through spin and rhetoric. I was also interested to hear the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) speak. He was absolutely right about the effect of working mothers on their children. At least, I trust that he was right. However, as he says that the Secretary of State agrees with him, he must be right. Families are helped not by rhetoric and spin, but by real policies and proper management of the economy, which is what Conservative Governments have given this country.

12.21 pm

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes) : I join other hon. Members in justly congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan) not only on securing the debate, but on a speech that was so good and comprehensive that I feel almost redundant. We have had a good debate, and most contributions have been excellent. I can tell those who have not participated that there is a debate on poverty tomorrow afternoon and one on the economy next week in Westminster Hall. There will also be a Scottish Grand Committee. All that shows the importance of this Parliament to the people of Scotland. The fact that the Scottish National party is not present, even on an away-day basis, is a disgrace and an insult not only to the House, but to the people of Scotland.

There are two strands to our support for families: financial security and help to balance work and family. Everyone knows that worries about money and making ends meet can create insecurity and tensions in families, so financial security is vital. When we took office in 1997, the economy was in total disrepair. Unemployment was at record levels, and youth unemployment was a disgrace. Inflation averaged more than 6 per cent. between 1979 and 1997. Interest rates peaked at 15 per cent. and remained in double figures for four years. Mortgage rates averaged 11 per cent. between 1979 and 1997.

Hon. Members should consider the difference since 1 May 1997. Economic growth has averaged 2.7 per cent. Employment has increased by more than 1 million in the United Kingdom generally and by over 100,000 in Scotland. That makes a difference to families. Youth unemployment has decreased by 78 per cent., which means that 31,500 more people are in work, thanks to the new deal. Long-term interest rates are at their lowest for 35 years. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) mentioned mortgage rates; they are down to 6.75 per cent. or lower. The average mortgage paid is £1,200 less since 1997. All that has a profound impact on families. Jobs, low inflation and low mortgage repayments make families more secure and more likely to stay together. We shall have a full debate on poverty tomorrow.

On top of those measures, we have introduced the national minimum wage--which has helped many people, particularly women--and the working

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families tax credit. Of course, there is more to do, but my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) knows that there is only one Government, of one party, who will do more in that direction. I hope that he remembers that and votes Labour. He and all my other colleagues will be pleased that the Government have made a pledge on full employment. We did not achieve it under previous Labour Governments, but this Government are totally committed to it.

The Green Paper recently launched by the Prime Minister, "Full Employment in a Modern Society", discusses the next steps towards full employment: dealing with drug addicts; advisory and outreach services for lone parents; further help for lone parents to move into self-employment; and greater training flexibility. Those are substantial steps forward in dealing with disadvantaged or hard to place people who are out of work.

Work-life balance is crucial, and we are helping people to cope with the competing demands of work and family life. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is here today to underline the importance of the debate. She copes with the demands of home and work, as do most parents.

The nature of work is changing. The new economy, based on skills and knowledge, brings new challenges. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South and the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) raised the issue of child care, which is vital to help women, in particular, to continue work. That is a devolved matter. However, in 1979-80, under the previous Government, fewer than 32,000 children were in local authority nurseries. By June 2000, more than 98,000 children were in publicly funded child care. That is a step-change that makes a difference for working families and that the Labour party can be proud of. The working families tax credit, another significant move towards helping working families, is worth an extra £20 million a year in Scotland.

In order to recognise the importance of work-life balance, the Government introduced the work-life balance challenge fund. I am delighted to announce that another Scottish company will benefit from that fund, which encourages businesses to help their staff achieve a sensible balance between work and home life. Cigna Healthcare, based in Greenock, has secured a share of the £10.5 million challenge fund, which will allow it to access expert help and advice about the development and introduction of diverse and flexible working patterns. Cigna joins previous Scottish winners of the

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challenge fund that are at the forefront in modernising working life in Scotland, such as Standard Life, Scottish Coal, Perth and Kinross council and Renfrewshire and Inverclyde Primary Care NHS trust. We have made a further £5 million available. I urge my colleagues to spread the word and to urge other Scottish organisations to bid for a share and explore ways of introducing flexible working patterns for the benefit of all.

On behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I wish to take this opportunity, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne), to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), who has announced that he will leave Westminster at the next election. He is planning to leave Holyrood as well. On a day that we discuss social justice in Scotland, it is fitting that we recognise his commitment to social justice, which is well documented. He left a distinguished career in medicine and entered politics in 1987 because he wanted to ensure that others have the same opportunities that he enjoyed. He has made a lasting contribution through ministerial office in Westminster and in Holyrood. I am sure that hon. Members will join me in wishing him a long, happy and fulfilling retirement.

I wish to discuss the partnership between the Government and the Scottish Executive; if I had time, I could go into great detail about it. That partnership is essential to our work on social justice. As a result of our economic strength, more money has been provided to the Scottish Executive for health, education and social justice. However, I cannot go into greater detail because of contributions other hon. Members wish to make. Thankfully, there will be many other debates this week and next week in which I will have that opportunity.

In conclusion, the Government have made clear their total commitment to the family. We have restructured the tax and benefit system to provide more generous help to families. The new children's tax credit provides extra income for 400,000 families in Scotland, and the working families tax credit ensures that 108,000 families in Scotland are better off. There is support for new mothers and fathers. There is also help to make work pay for 120,000 Scots, and for families, through the introduction of the minimum wage. The new deal for lone parents in Scotland helps more than 7,000 people. The Labour Government are building a fairer, more inclusive society.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : After that gallop by the Minister, we will move on to the next debate.

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