HC Deb 06 November 2001 vol 374 cc96-7
3. Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East)

If she will make a statement on the joint work of the Government and the Scottish Executive to combat poverty. [10311]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes)

We work effectively together on our anti-poverty strategy, as we do on many issues. For example, the Executive played a full part in preparing the UK national action plan on social inclusion, which we recently submitted to the European Commission.

Mr. Luke

I commend my hon. Friend for his evident commitment to the joined-up campaign to banish all aspects of poverty, which afflict both young and old, to the dustbins of Scottish history. Does he agree, however, that despite the progress that has been made, areas such as mine still suffer from high levels of poverty and unemployment? Will he give a commitment to visit Dundee to meet the organisations and agencies involved in the anti-poverty strategy, including the very active pensioners groups, to review what more the Government can do to remove the blight of poverty from my city?

Mr. Foulkes

As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already visited Dundee, but I should like to take up his kind invitation. I want to go up there to say what the Government are doing for pensioners: the minimum income guarantee, the winter fuel allowance and the pension increase, which this year is higher than inflation. [HON. MEMBERS: "More."] We are going to do more. We are introducing the pension credit. I told all that to the Scottish Pensioners Forum, which is led by my old friend Phyllis Heriot, when it visited the Secretary of State and me at Dover house today, and I am willing to go to Dundee, or anywhere else in Scotland, to say what we are doing for pensioners.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

Is the Minister aware that poverty in Scotland does not end at Stepps or Abington? With farm incomes declining to new lows—the Government's own figures suggest as low as £30 a week—sub-post offices closing from Wigtownshire to Shetland and rural business closing under the weight of Government red tape, what will the Government do to reverse the decline into devastating poverty of Scotland's rural communities?

Mr. Foulkes

My right hon. Friend congratulated her friend from Strathclyde on her appointment. May I commiserate with the hon. Gentleman, because it would have been nice to have a shadow Secretary of State who represents a Scottish constituency and who can speak from personal experience that is current, rather than from the 1960s?

The Government have committed £7 million to help Dumfries and Galloway, because of foot and mouth disease. We have made a pledge that no rural post office will close unnecessarily. [Laughter.] None has closed in my constituency in the past four years. If any post office in the hon. Gentleman's constituency has closed, he can come and see me afterwards and I will take the matter on board.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Privilege and special treatment.

Mr. Foulkes

Why not?