HC Deb 27 July 1999 vol 336 cc108-10
4. Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries)

What discussions he had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the impact of the Budget on the Scottish economy. [91601]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. John Reid)

I shall discuss that matter with the Chancellor as necessary to ensure that his outstanding management of the United Kingdom economy continues to benefit Scotland, as it has done over the past two years.

Mr. Brown

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. He will be fully aware that the working families tax credit will be introduced in October. How many Scottish families will benefit from that measure? Will he make representations to the Chancellor to ensure that families in Scotland are aware of this valuable means of tackling poverty?

Dr. Reid

I commend to the House and to people in Scotland the working families tax credit which the Chancellor intends to introduce. This is another major step forward in ensuring that our economic competence is matched by social justice. More than 140,000 families in Scotland will benefit, with a minimum wage of £200 per week for families with one worker. That is part of our fight for social justice in Scotland, and is in addition to the 200,000 people who benefit from the minimum wage, the £1.8 billion extra on the health service, the £1.3 billion extra going into education, the lowest rate of inflation, mortgages and interest rates that we have had for a long time, and the lowest rate of unemployment in Scotland for 20 years. That is testimony to the competence of the Chancellor and the Government, and is the necessary platform to ensure that the lives of people in Scotland will improve year by year under the Labour Government in partnership with the Labour-led Administration in Edinburgh.

Mr. David Prior (North Norfolk)

If the economy in Scotland is being managed so successfully, why are class sizes and waiting lists increasing?

Dr. Reid

The hon. Gentleman is trying to surpass his hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) in getting facts wrong. He may have misread yesterday's press. The Labour Government's first target for Scotland was to deliver the Parliament, which we have done; the second was economic stability, and he will be aware that we have achieved that; and the third was to reduce waiting lists to below 75,000 by 2002. I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity to tell the House that we met that target two and a half years ahead of schedule when, one month ago, we reduced waiting lists in Scotland to below 75,000.

Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that tackling low pay and family poverty has been a priority for the Government, unlike the previous Government, who believed that no income level was too low for a family to live on as long as it did not affect them or their supporters? Does he also agree that the minimum wage and the working families tax credit—both introduced this year—will lift thousands of Scottish families out of poverty? Those measures will start to end the national disgrace that we inherited from the previous Government which is that, at the end of the 20th century, one in four children are still living in poverty.

Dr. Reid

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is no greater blight on a civilised society than poverty in families and among children and our senior citizens. That is why I am proud that the Chancellor's custodianship of our economy has allowed people in Scotland the biggest-ever increase in child benefit. I am also proud that we were able to increase the Christmas bonus for pensioners to £100, and that, in addition to the minimum wage, which has lifted hundreds of thousands in Scotland above their previous position, the working families tax credit will benefit 140,000 more families in Scotland, including a considerable number of children. For old folks, families and young people in Scotland, the Labour Government are beginning to make life better than it ever was before.

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