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The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): More than 120,000 people in every constituency in Scotland, including Aberdeen, North, have benefited from the national minimum wage since it was introduced by the Labour Government in April 1999. I remind my hon. Friend and the House that on 1 October the national minimum wage will be increased by almost 11 per cent.--that is greater than the increase in average earnings--except in the admittedly unlikely event of the election of a Tory Government who are committed to scrapping it. It is absolutely vital that that does not happen.
Mr. Foulkes: My hon. Friend is right in every respect. Some 70 per cent. of the beneficiaries of the minimum wage have been women. It has had the greatest effect on women's pay since the Equal Pay Act 1970. I am pleased to see that some Tories are rising, to ask questions as they said that jobs would be lost because of the national minimum wage. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Unemployment has gone down and employment has gone up in every part of the United Kingdom. I notice that SNP Members are not even standing to ask questions on this. As my hon. Friend rightly said, they were not here to go through the Lobby to vote for a national minimum wage. How can they stand up for Scotland when they do not even turn up for Scotland?
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): Does the Minister recognise that, while the Liberal Democrats welcome the fact that the minimum wage has stopped the worst employment practices in terms of low pay, many people do not work in paid employment but run a small business or a farm? Because of the current foot and mouth epidemic, many of those people's incomes are below the minimum wage. Will he therefore ensure that the Prime Minister recognises that, although the number of foot and mouth cases may be tailing off, the economic consequences will be felt in the rural economy for many years after the last case has been reported?
Mr. Foulkes: The hon. Gentleman makes a very sensible point, although it grieves me somewhat to say so. The Government understand the difficulties created by foot and mouth. That is why we have put in place a great deal of help for farmers and people involved in agriculture, and for those affected indirectly. The hon. Gentleman will know that the increase in the minimum wage was announced in March, which has given people a significant amount of time to prepare. I am sure that he would not want people currently struggling on low pay to suffer as a result of the foot and mouth epidemic. Obviously, we must take account of the effects of foot and mouth disease, which are felt by employees as well as employers.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): I meet regularly with the First Minister and discuss a range of topics, including how to tackle the menace of drug abuse in Scotland. I know that my hon. Friend is anxious to hear about that
The issue of drugs is very important in Scotland. It is a classic example of a matter for which there is a need for partnership between the Government at Westminster and the Scottish Executive. I congratulate the Scottish Executive on this afternoon's launch of the Scottish communities against drugs fund. I also congratulate the Daily Record on its campaign to raise money to be spent on community projects to tackle the horror of drug abuse. I urge all hon. Members concerned about drugs in our community to make a personal contribution to the campaign, as every pound raised by the Daily Record will be matched by the Scottish Executive.
The legislation covering the proceeds of crime is another example of partnership, and it will ensure that drug dealers' assets are confiscated. That is also vital. Indeed, the Scottish Executive, in partnership with the Government at Westminster, established the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency, which has £15 million and 200 dedicated officers to fight drug abuse.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Deputy Prime Minister, on a variety of matters.
Mr. Salmond: Does not the Secretary of State find it ironic that, at a time when she is accusing the Tory party of wanting to cut £8 billion of public spending, the Deputy Prime Minister is aiming to reduce spending in Scotland by £1,000 a head? Even London brokers say that Scotland's surplus of revenue over expenditure comes to £100 million a month. Should not the Scottish Parliament therefore have control over revenue, rather than being at the mercy of an anti-Scottish cabal in the Cabinet?
Did not the Deputy Prime Minister say that the Barnett formula was not set in stone, and forecast blood on the carpet? Why was No. 10 so anxious to say that right hon. Gentleman was not talking about the Barnett formula, if not because of the anxiety of Labour Members to keep the issue quiet until the election is safely over?
Mrs. Liddell: One thing that one can say with certainty is that the hon. Gentleman is never happier than when he is whingeing for Scotland. This Government have no plans to change the Barnett formula, and we have delivered £8.5 billion more in public expenditure for
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): If the right hon. Lady is right in her view of the firmness of the Government in respect of the Barnett formula, will she explain why, when I asked her Department in writing on 11 January about its intentions towards the formula, it took two and a half months to deliver the completely anodyne reply that the Government supported the retention of the formula? Why was there that delay if the Government were not considering scrapping it?
Mr. Grieve: As usual, the right hon. Lady is less than frank about the position. Why did it take so long to answer the question? Is not the reality that the Government knew very well on 11 January that they were considering scrapping the formula and were trying to put that forward in a way that might be presentable? Would the Government not be reneging on a key commitment that they made in the past by scrapping the formula, which would be part of the complete dissolution of this country that is being brought about, through the agency of the Deputy Prime Minister, as part of the regional policy?
Mrs. Liddell: I find it interesting that the hon. Gentleman's colleague Sir Malcolm Rifkind made it clear that he could not guarantee maintaining spending in Scotland; this was the man who said that the poll tax was a very good experiment for Scotland.
The Government have no plans to change the Barnett formula and have increased public expenditure in Scotland by £8.5 billion. The Conservative party would cut £24 million from every constituency in Scotland if they were elected.