Oil and Gas Industry

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Mr. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): Does my hon. Friend agree that the introduction of paternity benefit will help to address some of the problems of family life, because the male will now be identified as having a role to play in the family?

Mrs. McKenna: I thank my hon. Friend for making that important point. Paternity benefit will not just fund men to be at home when their children are born; it will enable them to create a bond with the child, which is so important as the relationship develops over the years. In Scotland, we must try to change the culture of the father not being wholly part of the family.

We are also tackling pensioner poverty through a variety of measures. Scottish pensioners will welcome a higher than inflation increase in the basic state pension next month, of £5 to £72.50 a week for a single person, and of £8 to £115.90 for couples. In Scotland 900,000 pensioners will benefit with further increases of £3 and £4.50 next year. From April, an additional 15,000 Scottish pensioners will benefit from the targeted increase in the guaranteed minimum income for the poorest pensioners. Half of all Scottish pensioner households will benefit from the pensioners credit which rewards pensioners with modest savings. That will be introduced in 2003.

There is also good news for the low-paid. An extension of the 10p income tax band to £1,880 will benefit those with taxable incomes below that amount, and 2.1 million Scottish taxpayers will see a difference in their pay packets. This week's announcement of a 40 per cent. increase in the national minimum wage to £4.10 an hour will benefit 120,000 Scots.

The Budget also provides support for small businesses, and every hon. Member in the Room will welcome the freeze, for the fourth year running, in the duty on spirits. It will be welcomed by the 111,000 people who work in the industry and by consumers.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): On the national minimum wage, my hon. Friend and I have had many discussions about low pay, especially in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Morgan). We represent an area that has been badly hit for many years. The steady increase in the national minimum wage does not stand alone, and is coupled with the introduction of other policies, including enhancement of low taxation, which has been further improved in the Budget. This is not a question of one policy in isolation.

Mrs. McKenna: Absolutely, and we must remember that those policies are having an effect week on week, year on year, and people are benefiting tremendously.

I was delighted that the First Minister welcomed the Budget as a tremendous boost to the Scottish Parliament and a great demonstration of how Westminster and Holyrood work together to ensure that the interests of the people of Scotland are looked after.Every Budget since the election of the Scottish Parliament has delivered additional resources for the public sector in Scotland. This year, for the first time, local authorities were given a three-year settlement. I know from my background in local government that it has been asking for that for many years. A three-year settlement will allow local authorities to plan vital public services such as education, social services, policing and crime prevention, and to deal with issues that worry our constituents.

The impact in my constituency has been substantial. The new deal for young long-term unemployed people has been a great success--440 young people have found real jobs through the programme and 230 have gone into further education or an environmental task. That is a positive outcome, and attitudes to work and getting people into work have changed, which has also been a great success. Local jobcentres should be congratulated because they have embraced the culture of working with clients, which is a tremendous improvement.

Next Monday I shall present a certificate to the 200th person since July to obtain a job through a small resource centre set up by the staff in Cumbernauld drugs centre. That initiative came not from the Government, but from the staff. Since July last year, 200 people have gone into full-time employment, which is a tremendous achievement. I congratulate Scott Taylor, manager of the jobcentre, and his staff, and particularly Nicky Carrick, who set up and runs the resource centre. The 200 people who have obtained jobs and their families know the impact of that.

Another aspect that has made a tremendous difference is the way in which we have treated pensioners. One thousand of the least well-off in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth will receive the minimum income guarantee, and 7,337 already benefit from the winter fuel allowance and will continue to benefit. Those same people will benefit from the boost in the basic state pension. We have also reduced the tax burden, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) said.

Those may seem to be cold statistics, but when a young single parent with a young son at school tells me that she is more than £100 a week better off because of the working families tax credit and the change in child credit, that means something. It makes such a difference to those families, who can see a future, and see that they are valued by society. That changes their attitudes, which is something not to undervalue.

The message for Scotland is about investing in the long-term prosperity and stability created by a Labour Government, and not the boom and bust created by a Conservative Government.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston): Does my hon. Friend agree that the message for the people of Scotland is that we must not return to 1979 when the SNP—the tartan Tories—voted to bring down the Labour Government and allowed Mrs. Thatcher to come to power? I am one of the Members whom my hon. Friend referred to, who entered Parliament then, and suffered from 18 years of Tory destruction, especially of jobs, in Scotland. My constituency had the highest unemployment in Scotland during that period—20 per cent.—and was among the 10 areas with the highest unemployment in the UK. The main benefit emanating from the Chancellor's Budgets is the reduction in unemployment. Unemployment in my constituency is now 7 per cent., which, although far too high, is still a tremendous improvement. Does my hon. Friend agree that the message must be that Mr. Hague's little helper is a menace to the people of Scotland, and the Conservatives must never be allowed to return to power?

The Chairman: That was a good speech.

Mrs. McKenna: It bears repeating that if the Tories returned to power, we would lose every advantage that we have gained, and all those people who have returned to work and got themselves on to the first rung of the ladder would be disadvantaged. Communities such as Shettleston, which my hon. Friend represents, would be the first to be disadvantaged, as they were in 1979. We must not allow that to happen. We need stability, and we need to continue the impact of the Chancellor's policies. We do not want the Conservatives' boom and bust, but we do not want the folly of SNP tax hikes, either. The SNP may be suggesting only one tax hike now, but there will be more to come.

The Budget is another step along the way to building a society in which there is opportunity for all: a strong, inclusive and caring modern society.

1.17 pm

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mrs. McKenna) on securing a debate on such an important subject. I say that in the knowledge that this is the fourth Adjournment debate to which I have replied in eight days. I said to some of my hon. Friends that I was in danger of running out of things to say, but they did not believe me—I do not know why. As has been rightly said, most of the things that the Government have done in the past four years are well worth repeating again and again.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Go on. Say them again.

Mr. Foulkes: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's endorsement. I always said that he was one of the more reasonable members of the Scottish National party.

I welcome the opportunity to highlight the benefits of the Budget that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced, particularly those for Scotland, I also welcome the opportunity to reaffirm the Government's commitment to delivering an economic strategy that is good for the United Kingdom and for Scotland. Our main priorities are delivering economic stability and prudent management of the economy. That will enable us to deliver the investment necessary to improve our public services. My hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston, who entered Parliament with me in 1979, is one person who is determined to see public services improve in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland. He will have welcomed the Budget.

We will have more investment, not less, in key public services such as schools and hospitals. Those services would be jeopardised by Tory tax cuts of £16 billion, if the Tories ever regained the levers of power. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth is right to warn of the dangers of voting SNP, which would make that more likely. She is also right to remind us of the fact that 22 years ago to this day, the SNP voted with the Tories and gave us 18 years of Tory Government that ravaged the United Kingdom, and Scotland in particular, giving us 3 million unemployed, the poll tax and all the rest of it.

Mr. Morgan: I am sorry to interrupt the electioneering in which the Minister is indulging and return him to the topic of the debate. One of the disappointments in the Budget was the continuing bias of the tax system against the whisky industry, which is an important sector of the Scottish economy. The industry is grateful that tax on whisky did not go up, but it still suffers from the fact that other alcoholic drinks are taxed less on alcoholic content. Has the Minister discussed with the Chancellor whether that can be rectified in the immediate future?

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Prepared 28 March 2001