Legislative Programme

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:29 am on 16th June 1999.

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Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party 11:29 am, 16th June 1999

I will not give way at the moment.

The First Minister came back with a bland answer. I have in my hand a document produced by the Parliament's information centre two days ago. It states categorically that, based on the International Labour Organisation measurement, there are 187,000 unemployed people in Scotland. According to the document, the forecast is that unemployment will go up. Nothing in the First Minister's statement will do anything to arrest the projected increase in unemployment or to reduce the figure of 187,000.

Similarly, the creation of social exclusion ministries and units is not the answer to the problem of deep-seated poverty in our society. Let us consider the facts. On the accepted measure that a poor household receives less than half the average national wage or income, some 1.2 million people in Scotland live in poor households-25 per cent of the population. Furthermore, 34 per cent of all children in Scotland and 41 per cent of children under five live in poverty, as do 29 per cent of our pensioners.

Nothing in the legislative programme will fundamentally alter those figures. I bet my bottom dollar or euro-whatever the case will be-that in a year's time, after we have passed, or not passed, all eight bills in the programme, those figures will remain the same. After the bills are passed, 1.2 million people will still be living in poverty in Scotland, one third of our children will still be living in poverty and 187,000 people will still be on the dole in Scotland.

On the first page of the First Minister's statement, he rightly says:

"People ask when the Parliament will begin to make a difference."

There is no doubt that a number of the proposed bills are welcome, as Mr Salmond and others have said. However, the bills tinker at the edges; they do not address the fundamental problems of unemployment and poverty in our society.

In particular, we should not underestimate the impact of unemployment, which is a root cause of poverty in our society. When a person is unemployed, their personality is destroyed. When a large number of people are unemployed for a long time, communities are destroyed. Unemployment leads to poor achievement in education and to a higher incidence of ill health. Unemployment is a cancer in our society and many of the other problems that we face will not be cut out until we tackle unemployment at its roots. There is nothing in the First Minister's statement about that-the word poverty does not even appear in the 2,000 or so words in the statement.

I say three things to Labour members. First, they should look again at the legislative programme and give us a programme that will tackle the roots of unemployment and poverty. Secondly, they should recognise the limitations of devolution and demand the powers and resources from Westminster to tackle those problems. Thirdly, they should raise their ambitions for the Scottish people. We do not want this Parliament to sit for four years only for there still to be grinding unemployment and grinding poverty of the kind that we have at present. Success and the difference that we will make will be measured in terms of whether we create new jobs for the unemployed and whether we lift our people out of poverty. If we fail to do that, we will have failed the Scottish people.