Oil and Gas Industry

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Mr. Foulkes: I hope that I am not giving away a state secret when I say that I, and many other hon. Members representing constituencies with whisky interests, had such discussions with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor before the Budget. That is why we were absolutely delighted when, for the fourth year running, he froze the duty on whisky—as well as on other spirits. Scotland is now one of the biggest producers of gin, vodka and white rum. The hon. Gentleman referred to the comparison between whisky and other alcoholic drinks. Scotland is one of the biggest producers of beer—127,000 people are employed in the brewing and licensed trade, and I do not know why the hon. Gentleman should want to disadvantage them. They need help as well, which is why beer duty was also frozen.

Mr. Russell Brown: My colleagues on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and I have been considering an investigation into the Scottish drinks industry. It is ironic that beer duty, as well as whisky duty, was frozen in the Budget, given that some of the main brewers in the UK then increased the price of beer by 10p a pint. When the Treasury is relatively lenient in its treatment of those companies, some of them then take advantage of their customers. Does not that send out the wrong signals?

Mr. Foulkes: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is wrong when brewers do that with beer, and it is wrong when oil companies do it with petrol. The Government are deliberately trying to bring prices down, and we should encourage producers, whether of beer or petrol, not to take advantage of that by raising their prices.

Budget 2001 is part of our continuing commitment to target support where it is most needed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth said, much more eloquently and powerfully than I could. It is for families, children, pensioners, the socially disadvantaged, communities, public services, enterprise and innovation. That is the new Scotland; that is the new Britain heralded by the Labour Government and by the Budget.

Our targeted tax cuts promote work and enterprise and will enable us to reach our goal. Every Labour Member here will be especially proud that this is the first Labour Government that I recall to have committed themselves to achieving the target of full employment. That is exactly what we should be doing. My hon. Friend paid tribute to the work of the Employment Service. Having visited people there recently, I think that they are the Cinderellas of the civil service. The special advisers, in particular, do extremely good work in helping lone parents and the disabled into work. We have a particular responsibility to those people in terms of finding them employment.

You, Mr. Maxton, like my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston, entered Parliament at the same time as me. We inherited an economy in an abysmal state: high inflation, high interest rates, high employment levels and public services that had been depleted by successive Tory Government cuts. We have had to work hard to change that and to achieve the necessary economic stability to improve our public services. We have the lowest inflation for 30 years. Mortgage repayments, which affect the majority of our constituents, have been substantially reduced, for which they are rightly thanking us. We have the lowest long-term interest rate for 35 years and unemployment is at its lowest since 1975. Before we entered the Chamber, I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston that that was under—

Mr. David Marshall: The last Labour Government.

Mr. Foulkes: Indeed. Employment in Scotland is at its highest level since 1960, which is so long ago that I had just left school.

Mrs. Anne McGuire (Stirling): Big school.

Mr. Foulkes: Quite so.

Hon. Members will remember the gasp of astonishment at the Budget statement when the Chancellor announced the debt repayments that we have made in the current year. That is not only something to do for Prudence—whoever she may be. The important point is that that cuts debt interest payments, which frees up money for public services.

As a result of this year's Budget, the Scottish Executive will have an increase of £200 million in its budget over the next three years. That is on top of the increases announced by my right hon. Friend in last year's spending review. That will enable the Executive to invest in its key spending priorities to improve public services for the people of Scotland.

We have also dealt with duty on alcohol. Furthermore, I remind hon. Members that betting tax has also been abolished. Small bookmakers from Mauchline, Catrine, Muirkirk and other parts of my constituency said to me, ``Can you press the Chancellor to abolish betting tax?'' I am not taking all the credit, but it is good that small betting shops have obtained an advantage. We shall, of course, consider what else we can do for them, but that was a significant step forward. It also dealt with the problem of offshore betting, which was causing difficulties.

We have also listened to motorists and hauliers, who were faced with tough competition from the continent. A new vehicle excise duty for cars will mean savings of between £5 and £70 for 180,000 Scots. More than 30,000 HGV operators in Scotland will benefit from a range of targeted measures to improve competitiveness, fuel economy and emissions. Additionally, we have made a 2p cut in duty on ultra-low sulphur petrol, which will benefit almost 2.5 million Scottish motorists. I must declare an interest—that figure includes me. I went to the petrol station in Ayr, where I hope that I set an example by buying ultra-low sulphur petrol, which also saved me a great deal of money. We have also made a 3p cut in duty on ultra-low sulphur diesel, which will benefit a further 500,000 motorists in Scotland. Those are substantial improvements.

We have helped people who are suffering in poverty. We had a debate last Thursday, which was initiated by the Chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee, on the excellent report that that Committee has produced in relation to poverty. We have set demanding targets for tackling poverty among children, and we are the first Government to have set such targets. Our aim is to halve child poverty in 10 years and to abolish it within 20 years, which is something else of which my hon. Friends can rightly be proud.

My hon. Friends can also be proud of the national minimum wage, which is the greatest help that any Government have ever extended to the low-paid and to women. We have introduced the working families tax credit, the new deal for lone parents and the new deal 50-plus scheme. I am running out of time; there is never enough time to say how much—

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): Let us have another Adjournment debate.

Mr. Foulkes: Good idea.

This is a Budget for people; this is a Budget for business. It is a further step by the Government towards dealing with the problems that we inherited, such as the fact that disadvantaged people were excluded from society, and the high levels of unemployment. We have built a fairer society. We are tackling unemployment and social injustice through prudent management of the economy and the maintenance of stability. We are building a society in which everyone can share in rising prosperity. Those who face retirement in the near future can look forward to a peaceful, long and happy retirement, as long as a Labour Government is returned not only for a second term, but for a third and a fourth.

Question put and agreed to.

        Adjourned accordingly at half-past One o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Maxton, Mr. John (Chairman)
Begg, Miss
Brown, Mr. Russell
Bruce, Mr. Malcolm
Campbell, Mr. Menzies
Clark, Dr. Lynda
Clarke, Mr. Eric
Connarty, Mr.
Dalyell, Mr.
Davidson, Mr.
Donohoe, Mr.
Doran, Mr.
Foulkes, Mr.
Fyfe, Maria
Griffiths, Mr. Nigel
Hood, Mr.
Joyce, Mr.
Kirkwood, Mr.
Liddell, Mrs.
McAvoy, Mr.
McFall, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
McKenna, Rosemary
Marshall, Mr.
Michie, Mrs. Ray
Moore, Mr.
Morgan, Mr. Alasdair
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Robertson, Mr. John
Ross, Mr. Ernie
Roy, Mr.
Salmond, Mr.
Sarwar, Mr.
Savidge, Mr.
Smith, Sir Robert
Squire, Rachel
Stewart, Mr. David
Tynan, Mr.
Welsh, Mr.
Worthington, Mr.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 93(3):

McCartney, Mr. Ian (Minister of State, Cabinet Office)

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Prepared 28 March 2001