I am in close contact with the Scottish business community and Treasury colleagues in the run-up to Budget 2013, and I have discussed with them a range of measures to support economic growth and fairness.
The Secretary of State is well respected across this House, but surely he, as a Liberal Democrat, can see the unfairness in giving millionaires a massive tax cut in April while introducing the bedroom tax. Could he make urgent representations to the Chancellor to reverse both of those policies before the draconian bedroom tax does untold damage not only to the vulnerable and disabled, but to our councils and housing associations?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind opening comments. I point out to him that, as a result of measures that we have already taken and which, as a Liberal Democrat, I am very happy to champion, 183,000 Scots will be taken out of tax altogether from this April; 2 million people in low and middle-income families will pay less tax; and people on the minimum wage are paying half the tax that they were under the previous Government. Our 45p tax rate in April will be higher than that which prevailed under Labour for 12 years and 11 months. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is proud of that record.
Twenty-seven one-bedroom houses were available for let in the social sector in Edinburgh last week. Bids for them ranged from 30-odd to 300. New-build affordable starts in Scotland have fallen in the past two years from 7,900 to 3,400 because of cuts by the Scottish Government. Will the Secretary of State go to his Government in advance of the Budget and argue for a U-turn? His Government saved the trees; why not save the people?
I say politely to the hon. Lady that, like many of her colleagues, she routinely forgets the terrible financial backdrop against which we have had to make some very difficult decisions. We want a sustainable welfare system and will continue to emphasise and develop the fairness agenda, which is what we have achieved through cuts in tax and by introducing change, through universal credit, to get a much stronger and better welfare system.
I absolutely agree that it is essential that we have a competitive business environment, and our corporation tax proposals go right to the heart of that. We want to continue to rebalance and strengthen the economy and take it away from the terrible cliff that we came to under the previous Government.
I thank the Under-Secretary for organising the fuel summit in Glasgow, at which it was revealed that the island fuel duty discount could go up to 7p or 8p a litre while remaining in the Treasury budget of £5 million. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State lobby the Chancellor to increase the discount to 7p or 8p in the Budget, so that the fuel budget is spent to the benefit of island motorists?
It was important to have that summit to discuss all the key issues and to emphasise how that fuel discount has provided for people in island and remote communities. My hon. Friend has made a strong case for the Budget and I am sure that the Chancellor will have heard it.
Has the Secretary of State raised the unfairness of the bedroom tax with the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Will he not tell him that it is one of the most rancid pieces of legislation to have been rammed through since the poll tax? Will he remind us how many Scottish Members of this House voted for it?
For as long as the hon. Gentleman’s party make lots of promises but with no way of paying for them, folk will not listen terribly carefully to what he has to say.
Anybody watching this debate will have noticed that the Secretary of State was not prepared to confirm that 82% of Scottish Members of this House voted against the bedroom tax. Just as with the poll tax, an unpopular, regressive measure is being imposed on the people in Scotland when the overwhelming majority of their public representatives are totally opposed to it. Could the Secretary of State explain how, in a modern, 21st-centruy democracy, it is possible to impose something just like the poll tax—the bedroom tax—on Scotland?
I want a sustainable welfare system that protects the most vulnerable and supports people into work and makes it pay. The reforms under universal credit will help to ensure that—backed up by our fair tax delivery, which has meant that more than 180,000 Scots have been taken out of tax altogether and that 2 million Scottish families on low and middle incomes are paying less tax.
Will the Secretary of State make a representation on behalf of my constituent, Mrs Frances Connor? Treatment for her cancer has left her with no feeling in her feet or hands. Her only help comes from her son, who stays with her three nights a week. The bedroom tax means that she cannot afford the room where her son stays. Why is the Secretary of State making it impossible for a son to care for his mother?
Like the hon. Lady, I express my deepest sympathy to her constituent and her family and recognise the challenging personal circumstances in which they live. We are looking to support some of the most vulnerable in these circumstances with transitional arrangements, and I would be happy to discuss that further with the hon. Lady.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Perhaps in that discussion we could talk about the thousands of others who are hit by this bedroom tax, because the transitional protections do not help those people. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman ever imagined that he would be signing off such policies with the Tories. Last year he said:
“judge us by our record.”
Is making a son’s care for his mother unaffordable what he had in mind?
May I, as I did in response to Sheila Gilmore, remind the hon. Lady of the scale of the financial challenge that faced this Government when they came into office and the need to tackle those serious problems? She should also remember that we have introduced huge extra measures to help families across Scotland. I have to say to her, as I said to Angus Robertson, that we are not hearing credible solutions coming forward from her and her colleagues. Until such time as we do, we will not take any lessons on fairness from her.