7. What assessment he has made of the effect of Budget 2013 on Scotland. (150804)
The Budget will support businesses, create jobs and help households in Scotland. Against a challenging international economic backdrop, the Budget has set out a range of measures to build a stronger economy and a fairer society.
Ministers will be aware of a report published today by the Fawcett Society showing that three times as many women as men have suffered long-term unemployment in the past two and a half years. That is hardly surprising given the Budget decisions from which women have suffered the most. Does the right hon. Gentleman think it is tolerable for women to continue to bear the brunt of his Government’s failed economic policies?
I obviously do not accept the hon. Lady’s analysis, but I commend her for campaigning long and hard on that issue, at which we need to continue to look very hard. In the Budget we have introduced proposals on child care which take us much further than we have gone before. We are focusing on helping low-income families in Scotland by taking more than 200,000 Scots out of tax altogether and reducing the income tax bill for 2 million people in Scotland. We will continue to take a range of measures to make sure that we recover from the awful inheritance of her Government.
The unemployment figures in Scotland have not been helped by the devastating news of the closure of a number of open-cast coal sites in the area covered by my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne). As 348 people have lost their jobs in our area, I am sure the Minister will want to do everything possible to ensure that a potential buyer is able to come in. In that context and in the context of discussions following the Budget, will he make representations about the track access charges and the increase due to come into effect in 2016, which might put Scottish companies in the coal sector at a disadvantage?
First, I join the hon. Lady in her concern about the future for the families affected by that hugely significant administration of Scottish Resources Group. She and others has been working tirelessly on the issue, and we will work with her and the Scottish Government to see what we can do to support the families and communities affected. She raises the issue of track access, which I will be happy to discuss with her further.
I congratulate the Government on cancelling Labour’s planned fuel duty increase and introducing an island fuel duty discount in the Budget, which means that fuel duty on the mainland will be 13p a litre cheaper than it would be under Labour and 18p a litre cheaper on the islands. A Labour Government would have destroyed the Argyll and Bute economy. I congratulate the Government on supporting the rural economy, unlike the Labour party, which did not care and wanted to increase fuel duty by 18p a litre. [Interruption.]
Just in case Labour Members did not hear that, I repeat that the measures taken by our Government have saved remote island communities, such as those in my hon. Friend’s constituency, 18p a litre, and they have saved those on the mainland 13p a litre. That is a huge help to hard-pressed families the length and breadth of the country.
Many jobs in Scotland, especially in north-east Scotland, depend on investment in the oil and gas industry. Does the Secretary of State recognise the important role that the Budget has played in delivering tax certainty on decommissioning to unlock that vital investment?
My hon. Friend always makes a powerful case for the oil and gas industry, as does my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce). It is important to recognise their input in the decisions about decommissioning, which give certainty and good news for investment, not only now but for decades to come.
The International Monetary Fund has cut the UK growth forecast and questioned the Government’s austerity programme, and the UK’s credit rating has been downgraded yet again. Why should anyone believe a word that the Chancellor or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury say on the Budget, the currency, or for that matter anything else?
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that nobody will be listening to him or his party when it comes to currency. I think that everybody recognises that the best deal for Scotland is to stay part of the United Kingdom and to continue to share the currency, unlike his party, which keeps changing its mind about what might be the best option for Scotland. We know already what is best for Scotland: staying part of the UK.
Everybody watching will have noted that the Secretary of State did not answer the question. The UK is the fourth most unequal country in the developed world, and today we learnt that the number of people using food banks has doubled. Citizens Advice Scotland has said that that increase illustrates “the devastating impact” of his Government’s policy. Why should people in Scotland put up with a Government they did not elect making those damaging decisions?
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s analysis, which of course assumes that everything would be rosy in an independent Scotland, despite the hard realities we keep confronting him with. We are absolutely determined to get the economy on a strong footing, invest in our future and support hard-pressed families. That is what the Budget was all about.
I am interested to hear that the hon. Lady did not welcome the reduction in unemployment announced last week. The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance in Scotland is below 200,000 and the unemployment rate is 7.3%, which is below the rate for the UK as a whole. We have some very long-term, deep-seated problems that we inherited from her Government that we continue to tackle. We have credible plans; where are hers?
Shockingly, the number of people in Scotland who have been out of work for two years has increased by 517% during the Secretary of State’s time in office, which is far worse than across the UK as a whole. Is there anything specific he can offer those people out of work long term in Scotland, or is he just content to be a Tory puppet repeating their lines on the Budget?
The hon. Lady knows, because she and I visited the Shettleston jobcentre in her constituency, that we are working hard to ensure that we provide support for people in very difficult circumstances in Scotland. She picks just one statistic, which is important, and ignores all the rest. Some 70,000 more people are in employment in Scotland over the past three years. We are determined to ensure that we get the economy back from the brink, where her party left it three years ago. We continue to work hard to do that.