HC Deb 26 October 1994 vol 248 cc880-2
7. Mrs. Adams

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet representatives of voluntary organisations to discuss deprivation and poverty.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Issues of poverty and deprivation could be raised by a range of voluntary organisations that my right hon. Friend and I meet in the course of our ministerial duties.

Mrs. Adams

Does the Minister not find it disgusting that while his party has reigned over ever-increasing poverty and deprivation, one of his colleagues appeared on "Kilroy" this week to tell us that he could not live on his parliamentary salary? Will the Minister deplore that statement, and give us a guarantee that the charity commissioners' plan to silence the campaigning voice of charities will not apply in Scotland?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I shall certainly look into the specialised point that the hon. Lady raised about the charity commissioners, but I must tell her that our record on voluntary organisations in Scotland is good. They receive about £48 million through the urban programme. Indeed, the hon. Lady's local district council, Renfrew, receives about £6.8 million, and during the last few days, on 13 October, it received a supplementary allocation for the housing revenue account and non-housing revenue account—several hundred thousand pounds altogether. That shows that her constituency has not been forgotten. With regard to the House of Commons matter that the hon. Lady mentioned, my view is that Members of Parliament are perfectly well rewarded; however, that is a matter for the House to debate in due course.

Mr. Wray

Is the Minister aware that the average adult wage in Scotland is £300 per week? Why are 36 per cent. of the Scottish work force earning less than £220 per week? Is it not a shocking state of affairs that 543,000 people, with 342,000 dependants, are on income support? That means that 885,000 people–17 per cent. of the working population—depend on income support. Are the Government considering restoring benefits for 16 and 17-year-olds?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Earnings in Scotland are higher than those in most of the rest of Britain, with the exception of the south-east. Overall disposable incomes have risen by an average of 36 per cent. since 1979. Increases have not been confined to the wealthiest; there have been increases in average income for all economic status groups and all family types. It is significant that this year housing benefit in Scotland will probably amount to more than £800 million. That is evidence of substantial funding for those who need it.

Mr. Bill Walker

When my hon. Friend meets representatives of the voluntary bodies, will he remind them that the safety net today is much better than it was in the period of real poverty and deprivation of the 1920s, 1930s and earlier, and that every pound spent with voluntary bodies is better spent, because society gets a far greater reward for that money than for money spent on, for instance, social work departments?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I confirm that there has been substantial extra help for low-income families. Extra help worth more than £1 billion more a year in real terms than that available in 1988 is available for low-income families with children, and the vulnerable have been protected. For example, after housing costs, the family of an unemployed person with two children is 24 per cent. better off on income support than would have been the case in 1979. The safety net is extremely important, and we regard it as such.

Mrs. Fyfe

If the Government care about children, particularly those living in poverty and deprivation, and about the need for changes in the law to safeguard them and to enshrine rights on which they should be able to rely so that they do not have their childhood taken away from them, why have the Government still not responded to our offer to assist the passage of a Children Bill, for which we have been waiting for the past 14 months, since the White Paper was published? What is the Minister waiting for?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I was a member of the Committee that considered the most recent significant Children Bill. It is a very important subject and we shall obviously consider it fully in the context of the next Session.