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Volume 268: debated on Wednesday 20 December 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what has been the change in average weekly earnings for (a) males and (b) females in Scotland over the last 15 years. [5198]

In 1995, full-time male earnings were almost three times more and female earnings were almost three and a half times more than the 1980 level.

May I follow that happy answer by wishing you, Madam Speaker, a very happy Christmas? Is it not a fact that the enterprise culture promoted by the Government's policies, which has driven up wages by such a great degree, would be damaged, if not destroyed entirely, by a tartan tax as proposed by the Opposition, which would destroy jobs and put a 3p premium on the suggested 10p minimum tax level? That would be a 30 per cent. subsidy for working in Scotland at the lowest level of the economy. How could that be just or fair?

I am sure that all hon. Members wish you a happy Christmas, Madam Speaker and since it is Scottish Question Time, would want you to have good Christmas spirit. My hon. Friend's point is absolutely right. Clearly, the Opposition have not worked out the damage that they are intending to do to Scotland and to Scotland's business by the imposition of a tartan tax that is bound to force earnings up. I have not heard any detail from the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) in explaining what extra the tax will provide. It will simply force earnings up and provide absolutely nothing for the people concerned except fewer jobs in Scotland.

Some people in Scotland object to paying taxes, tartan or otherwise, for the purpose of moving jobs from Keith to the south of England. But that is another story.

Does the Minister recognise the effect that the firm, Burger King, is having on minimum earnings in Scotland? Does he have it in him to condemn unequivocally Grand Metropolitan, a Tory party funder, for paying its employees as little as 20p an hour? Is not that a Tory national minimum wage policy in action?

The hon. Gentleman's question is no better than usual. He does not realise the damage that his party's minimum wage policy would do to Scotland and the whole United Kingdom. Labour Front-Bench Members will not even say at what level they propose to set a minimum wage; they simply say that they want one. If they want the same level as the unions want, £4.15, it is estimated that, if only half the differentials were restored, some 950,000 jobs would go.

The question of average weekly earnings is of no interest to people who are out of work. Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to contrast the fact that unemployment in Scotland is falling steadily under this Government whereas it would undoubtedly rise as a result of the Labour party's minimum wage policy?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That would be the effect not only of a minium wage but of a tartan tax, which Labour wants to apply through a Scottish tax-raising Parliament and the imposition of the social chapter. Its policies would badly damage Scotland and the Scottish people.

Have not the Government imposed 22 tax rises in Scotland over the past three years? For the population at large, Christmas comes but once a year, but for the Government since 1992, Christmas has come on average every seven weeks. What Christmas cheer will there be for the women who constitute 80 per cent. of the low-paid in Scotland and are paid less than the European decency threshold, or for the 107,000 people in Scotland who work for the miserably low rate of less than £2.50 an hour?

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will say what minimum wage he proposes. Will he confirm that Labour's tax-raising Parliament would not put a 3p tax on the Scottish people? Under this Government, taxation is UK-wide; unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman represents policies that would tax Scottish people higher than people in the rest of the United Kingdom and put people out of work.