Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Miss Begg.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate because, as other hon. Members have said, it is important. We must remember 1997. When the Labour Government were first elected, one of their first decisions was to establish a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. It is important to remember that the Parliament was endorsed by a referendum and that all parties were involved in securing the vote.
The people of Scotland had a wonderful expectation that they would see a different type of Parliament. It was going to be different from Westminster. It would be transparent and accountable; it is, especially with the Committee system. The Parliament was also going to be consensual, and Labour and the Liberal Democrats have lived up to that ambition. However, the Scottish National party and the Conservative party have been nitpicking and looking for division when there should have been support for the people in Scotland who need it most. It is unfortunate that we see the same performance from the Scottish National party in the Scottish Parliament as in Westminster. The partnership in Scotland has delivered policies. It is taking people out of poverty, and I am sure that the beneficiaries of those policies—the people who are being lifted out of poverty—would be horrified by the contribution made by the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing) this morning.
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson), I am proud of the Labour Government's record and the policies that we have
Column Number: 037adopted. I remember covering a factory as a union official during the long, dark years of the Tories, where temporary contracts had become the norm. Those contracts lasted two years, which meant that people were divorced from the opportunity of participating in trades unions and had lower wages and standards because they were temporary workers. That was a disgrace. The fact that workers had to be in the job for two years before they could apply for an industrial tribunal created those conditions. Unemployment was created; not intentionally, but because successive Tory Governments were totally incompetent. Unemployment is an important issue.
I want to highlight two issues. First, Scotland now has 200,000 pre-school education places, but single parents—male and female—have problems accessing work. A close friend who is a nurse at Hairmyres hospital would find it impossible to work if she could not place her children in a pre-school environment. After-school clubs also provide the opportunity for youngsters to develop and for parents to work.
Secondly, progress to work is one of the most important issues. In the 2001 Budget statement, the Chancellor announced a £40 million initiative over three years to help people with a history of drug abuse to return to work. It is important, along with other employment policy issues, to help people who are rehabilitated from drugs back into work. If we can deliver progress and help, we can tackle the problems of communities throughout Scotland and provide them with real benefits.
John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): Thank you, Miss Begg. You have obviously saved the best until last, as I am arriving on the graveyard shift. Time is short and I want to hear my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary's closing remarks, so I shall be the knockabout act.
The hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing) said that some of my colleagues should go out more and talk to people; if she came back to planet Earth, she might be able to get on with people better than she does on planet Zog. As for the Tories, the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) made an excellent contribution, but never answered my question about the Thatcher years. The Tories would abolish the new deal if they had the chance. As usual, the SNP has offered nothing in the way of policies or clear-cut initiatives. I had hoped that the hon. Member for Perth would develop some arguments in her speech, but she was obviously too concerned about people going out more.
The progress to work initiative is important and will prove to be a great success. People with a history of drug abuse have problems and the initiative is about getting them back to work. I commend all the people involved in it. I hope that it will assist and support, rather than preach to and sentence, addicts and that all hon. Members will support this initiative.
I have many pensioners in my constituency and I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Perth saying on 3 July that one in four of our pensioners lives in poverty. She asked an excellent question and
Column Number: 038received an excellent reply, but I would have been more impressed if the hon. Lady had turned up the day before at the Opposition debate on pensions. Not a single member of the SNP was present. When a Whip has only five people to look after—
Mr. Weir: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
John Robertson: No, I will not. It should not be too difficult to get at least one out of five Scottish National party Members to contribute to a debate on pensioners in Scotland. They did not turn up for a debate on the minimum wage; they did not get out of their beds. They did not turn up for the pensioners of Scotland, and then they have the cheek to ask questions. As everybody knows, researchers ask the questions, not Opposition Members. [Interruption.] They may barrack me; I love it.
Annabelle Ewing: How many questions does the hon. Gentleman ask?
John Robertson: More than the hon. Lady thinks. The Scottish National party would get on much better if it supported the people of Scotland, and did not try to lead them down the nationalist road. It has only one agenda, which has nothing to do with the poor in society, nor with the people of Scotland. After the hon. Lady's remarks about Glasgow today, I look forward to another 10 Members of the Scottish Parliament getting voted out next year.
The Chairman: I thank hon. Members for listening to my advice. I am glad that I could call all who wished to speak.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): It gives me great pleasure to attend the Committee today under what is technically your chairpersonship, Miss Begg. You and I go back a long time, and we will not forget those years, nor the 18 months in the lead-up to the 1997 general election. I wish you every success in your new role on the Chairmen's Panel.
I thank the Committee for a wide-ranging and, on the whole, constructive debate. I shall talk about the part of the debate that was not constructive in a few minutes. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) can rest easy; I am not talking about him. I also thank the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) for the welcome that he gave to the Government's proposals in general. We should remember his phrase that Scotland is immeasurably better than it was in 1997. I thank him for that comment, as it is sometimes easy to criticise in politics, but not to praise. I also thank the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) for a thoughtful contribution that highlighted some of the issues that affect his constituency, and those will be taken on board. I reassure him that I checked the figures on the numbers of people who receive DLA, which last year increased by 5 per cent. to 2.2 million people.
I also praise my colleagues on this side of the House for their constructive approach to the debate. I include my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok,
Column Number: 039despite his somewhat pessimistic approach. I have known him for a long time, so perhaps I can tell him that. He looks at a glass and says that it is half empty, not half full. Having said that, I know his conviction in trying to challenge unemployment. Through the long years of Tory Government, he was there at the forefront, challenging the Tories' view of unemployment as a solution to all sorts of economic problems, and their failure to take a constructive approach. He said that unemployment in his constituency had decreased by 38.5 per cent. He said also that pensioners in his constituency were benefiting from the minimum income guarantee, and young people from the minimum wage. We should not deny his enthusiasm for making things better—a goal that unites us all—nor disguise the fact that he also identified obvious advances made by the Government over the past five years.
Mr. Davidson: I will certainly vote Labour again. [Laughter.]
Mrs. McGuire: That is a convert. [Hon. Members: ''Oh!''] My apologies. He knows that I do not mean it. I was, of course, referring to the Co-operative party's campaign on labels.
The subject of my hon. Friend's optimism brings me to the pessimism and destructive comments made by the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing). When I listened to her descriptions of Perth and of Glasgow, I wondered how she managed to travel around Scotland and how the SNP had managed to lose 16 general elections since 1945 if the position was that bad.
Let me place Perth in perspective. When I asked the hon. Lady to give the unemployment rate for Perth, she did not know; it is 2.5 per cent., well below the Scottish average. Since 1998, unemployment in Perth has dropped by 36.4 per cent. In her fair city, which she represents with the most jaundiced view of politics that we have heard for a long time, the employment rate is 81.6 per cent., which is above the Scottish average of 73.1 per cent.
Annabelle Ewing: Will the Minister give way?
Mrs. McGuire: Not now, because I want to talk about the hon. Lady's attitude to the State Pension Credit Bill. She has an incredibly old-fashioned attitude to means-testing. We all agree that, in the past, means-testing was about trying to exclude people from income; now, through the pension credit system, we are encouraging people to claim more income. By constantly reiterating the word ''means-testing'', the hon. Lady does a grave disservice to a number of people whose income we are trying to increase. She might want to address that issue.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2002||Prepared 10 July 2002|