Social Inclusion

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Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): The hon. Gentleman seems to have succeeded in persuading the Secretary of State that farmers are welfare dependent. I am not sure that she meant to agree with him, but she did. As fruit and vegetables are not covered by the common agricultural policy, does that not rather put a hole in his argument?

Mr. Davidson: That is an interesting point, but substantial quantities of fruit and vegetables are covered by the CAP. Surely the hon. Gentleman has seen pictures of tomatoes and a host of other agricultural products being dumped? Does he accept that the average family in my constituency, as in his, pays £20 a week more in higher food prices than it would if food was available at world rates? The present policy is almost deliberately designed to drive up food prices and make cheap, healthy food unavailable to those in greatest need.

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I accept that the Government have done a great deal for pensioners. I welcome the principle of flat-rate payments, particularly in relation to winter fuel, and TV licences for everyone over 75, irrespective of need. The minimum income guarantee has brought a substantial income to many, but a large number of pensioners in my constituency do not claim it, for a variety of reasons. They are not unaware of it; local churches and community councils and I have tried in many ways to ensure that everyone who is eligible is aware of the scheme. However, for pride and other reasons, pensioners will not claim what they see as charity. In those circumstances, we must recognise that the minimum income guarantee is not reaching all those whom it was designed to reach. We must consider a greater role for flat-rate payments to ensure that we reach the largest possible number of poor pensioners, particularly in areas such as mine.

The Government might have to be prepared to consider policies that are area-focused, rather than, as they are now, individual-focused. I remember the days of Strathclyde regional council—a number of current Labour Members were involved in it—which had a strategy of accessing services in areas of multiple deprivation to ensure that additional money and resources were provided. Those areas suffered from a concentration of poverty as well as from a poverty of ambition. Only by focusing on them were we able to improve matters.

I hope that the Government will spend more time on trying to bend the spend; that is, ensuring that mainline services focus more of their spending on the areas of greatest need. We need a larger number of role models for youngsters in my constituency and elsewhere.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): I wonder where my hon. Friend spends his time. Has he not heard of social inclusion programmes?

Mr. Davidson: Yes. Not only have I heard of them, I am on the board of the social inclusion project in my constituency.

Mr. Foulkes: My hon. Friend does not sound as though he has heard of social inclusion programmes because they do target particular areas, as do the area teams, which have been mentioned, and the step up scheme. A number of specific programmes target particular areas and, in my area, that works. My hon. Friend seems to go around with blinkers or dark glasses on.

Mr. Davidson: My right hon. Friend is perhaps too easily satisfied. The amounts of additional spend that are focused, certainly through the social inclusion programme in my area, are marginal compared with the scale of the problem and with the amount of public spending in Glasgow and the west of Scotland. It is not just a question of focusing small amounts of additional money; it is also about making sure that we bend the major spend to focus on the areas that are in greatest need.

A degree of lip service has been paid in some areas to additional spending. What we need is a spending pattern on a scale that has not previously been

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achieved. If we want to genuinely break away from areas of multiple deprivation and the large-scale poverty that continues to curse large parts of the west of Scotland and elsewhere, we need to make a quantum leap in the amount of spending that we undertake. That is a major issue. What we have done so far is unsatisfactory.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill): Does my hon. Friend agree that the recent transfer of housing stock to the Glasgow housing association and the huge amount of funds that will be spent on renovation and rebuilding are classic examples of how we are putting money into the poorest areas of our cities and creating new jobs and opportunities for training to acquire new skills?

Mr. Davidson: Potentially, that is a considerable step forward, but although we have had a Labour Government for five years, we have not yet seen evidence of that spending. In fact, we received less money in the short term than we had anticipated because of the prospect of a housing trust being set up in Glasgow. I have spoken for some time on this issue because this is the only occasion on which I have made a speech in the Scottish Grand Committee. This is the most important issue to my constituents; something on which we can really make a difference. The Government have achieved a great deal, but there is still much more to do. I hope that the next time that I speak on this subject, I will be able to say that much more has been done. But I dare say that there will still be more to do, because we will never be satisfied until we are ahead.

The Chairman: I shall repeat my appeal for short speeches because I want to ensure that everyone who wishes to speak on this important issue can be heard.

11.36 am

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Miss Begg.

I do not like to intrude on private grief, but having heard the swingeing attacks by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) on many Government policies, I have certainly been convinced not to vote new Labour.

I remind the Committee of the stark reality of life in Scotland at the beginning of the 21st century. It is a country where one in three children is brought up in poverty, where one in four pensioners live in poverty and, as was alluded to by the hon. Gentleman—

Mrs. Liddell: Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?

Annabelle Ewing: I should like to make a little progress before I give way.

Scotland is a country where the life expectancy of men and women is the lowest in the whole of the European Union. What a damning indictment that is of this new Labour Government, both in Westminster and in Edinburgh, and what a damning indictment of successive Tory and Labour Governments in London.

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Mrs. Liddell: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, particularly as she has just attacked the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan), the representative of the Tory party. Will she explain to the Committee why, on Monday 8 July, in the Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation considering the draft State Pension Credit Regulations 2002, she voted with the Tories to deny £2.3 billion to British pensioners and to deny £400 to the average pensioner in Scotland, affecting improvements to half Scotland's pensioner households and imperilling 500 new jobs in Dundee? We cannot take her contribution seriously until we have received an explanation for her actions.

Annabelle Ewing: I have a simple explanation for the Secretary of State. If she had followed the passage of the State Pension Credit Bill through the House, she would know that I made many speeches and interventions in support of the Bill.

Mrs. Liddell rose—

Annabelle Ewing: If I could just finish. I do not believe that the Bill goes far enough, but if it helps at least one pensioner—

John Robertson: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Annabelle Ewing: No. The Secretary of State asked a question, which I am trying to answer, if anyone is interested.

I was informed on Monday that the Committee was sitting, so I had no time to review 50 detailed pages of regulations.

John Robertson: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Annabelle Ewing: No.

The Chairman: Order. It is clear that the hon. Lady is not giving way.

Annabelle Ewing: For decade after decade, the people of Scotland have placed their trust in Labour in the expectation of securing social justice. Time after time, they have been let down and neglected. I believe, and recent polls show, that that traditional trust in Labour is eroding gradually but inexorably, and that there is an ever-increasing awareness that the only way to secure social justice in Scotland is to reclaim the powers of a normal and independent parliament.

The new Labour Government have chosen to hold a debate today about the impact of their policies on the promotion of social inclusion in Scotland, so I want to look at the facts. Let us start with rural poverty, a problem that, generally, is simply ignored by Labour. The outlook for rural Scotland has never been so bleak, with every sector of the rural economy struggling to survive. In evidence to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, the Scottish Executive's then Communities Minister—she went on to be the Minister responsible for many other matters—admitted that one in four people in poverty lived in rural areas.

In my constituency, and elsewhere across Scotland, small businesses have struggled to survive. There have been job losses after job losses, low pay scales and lower take-up of benefits, notwithstanding the sterling services of the citizens advice bureaux, as was referred

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to by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso).

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): The hon. Lady has painted a brief picture of Perth, but would she like to tell us its unemployment rate?

Annabelle Ewing: The unemployment rate for Perth is, fortunately, among the lowest in Scotland. However, the Under-Secretary may not know that the level of pay there is also among the lowest in Scotland.

In rural Scotland under new Labour, our farmers face the prospect of financial ruin. Average farm incomes are as little as £6,000 a year, as even the Under-Secretary may be aware. Our fishing communities are in decline, and there has been an exodus of our young people, who must leave to find jobs elsewhere.

What has new Labour done to alleviate the problems? It has given us the highest fuel tax in the industrialised world, which is a disaster for rural Scotland, where transports costs are a key component of the rural economy. New Labour has strangled small businesses in red tape and significantly increased their operating costs. Of course, in Scotland we again have higher business rates than in England, because our estimable First Minister, Jack McConnell, decoupled the rates poundage when he was Finance Minister.

The Labour Government have treated our farmers with disdain. As we have heard, only yesterday the Secretary of State showed once again her acute understanding of what is happening in rural Scotland when she agreed with the description given by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok of farmers as welfare dependants. I am disappointed that she has not taken the opportunity to apologise for that disgraceful slur on our farmers and rural communities.

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Prepared 10 July 2002