HC Deb 20 July 2000 vol 354 cc531-2
8. Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)

If he will make a statement on the impact of his Department's policies on the levels of employment and unemployment in Scotland. [130135]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown)

Since the election, employment has risen by 62,000 in Scotland and unemployment has fallen by 22,000. Unemployment is now the lowest for 20 years. By 2003–04, public spending will be £3.4 billion higher than in 2000–01, showing that the Scottish economy and Scottish public services will do well.

Mr. Clarke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that under this Government the number of unemployment claimants in Scotland has fallen by a quarter, and in my constituency by almost 30 per cent? Does he agree that, in the interests of even more progress, he is absolutely right to stand unflinchingly in support of the new deal and the Government's other employment initiatives, particularly in the light of some of the Mad Hatter ideas being spread around the House, including the implementation of public services cuts guarantees?

Mr. Brown

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. The new deal is a vital part of employment creation in this country. It is a tragedy that the Opposition will not support it, and that they would abolish it if they were elected. It would be one of their public spending cuts, which would total £16 billion. The Conservative party helpfully provided a regional breakdown for us. As my right hon. Friend knows, the cuts would be £1.4 billion in Scotland. Such cuts under a Conservative Administration would be a disaster. That is why there are no Conservative Members of Parliament from Scotland.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Does the Chancellor agree that the new deal has been an expensive failure in Scotland? The Conservative way forward of "Britain works" will be a much more successful system. Will the Chancellor tell us whether he has assessed the impact of the Barnett formula on employment in Scotland? It should be subject to review, and, post-devolution, greatly reduced.

Mr. Brown

The policy word the hon. Lady was seeking was "abolition" of the new deal. That is Conservative party policy. A former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer said that, for him, unemployment was a price worth paying. I fear that the Conservative party is now following that route. It is a bit much for the shadow Chancellor to say that he supports full employment while proposing to abolish the new deal. However, he has got to do that because he would have to make public spending cuts of £16 billion.

On Scotland, I am sure that the hon. Lady would agree that it is unfair that all the regions of this country and all the nations of Britain would have to suffer major public spending cuts as a result of a Tory programme. That is why the people will not vote for it.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

The past three sets of unemployment figures for Scotland, according to the International Labour Organisation—the Government's preferred measure when they were in opposition—have shown successive increases. The figure is now the same as it was two years ago. How does the Chancellor explain that?

Mr. Brown

Since the 1997 election, the ILO figures show that unemployment has fallen by 22,000.

Mr. Morgan

For the past three years?

Mr. Brown

For the past three years, the figures have been minus 22,000. Youth unemployment has fallen by 71 per cent.—I believed that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that—and long-term unemployment has fallen by 54 per cent. If we had followed the policies of the Scottish National party, we would not be able to afford a new deal. The SNP has no cause for complaint; it should applaud our measures to create new jobs in Scotland.