Social Justice

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:36 pm on 15th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 2:36 pm, 15th November 2000

We now come to the debate on motion S1M-1345, in the name of Jackie Baillie, on social justice.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour 3:09 pm, 15th November 2000

Today is significant. We are debating Scotland's first annual social justice report. On 22 November 1999, Donald Dewar launched our social justice strategy. In it, he set out our vision of a new Scotland: a more socially just Scotland in which everybody is valued and has the opportunity to fulfil their potential. He committed us to the task of breaking the cycle of deprivation, disadvantage and sheer poverty that affects too many of Scotland's people and places.

That legacy of poverty and disadvantage, which had been inherited from the Tories, demanded that we set ambitious targets such as defeating child poverty within a generation; providing full employment through opportunities for all; and providing dignity and security in old age. It also demanded that we measure what matters by reporting every year to ensure that we are making progress towards delivering the things that make a real difference to people's lives.

One year on from setting up our strategic framework and challenging all of Scotland to join us in defeating child poverty, we have published our first annual social justice report. The report reflects the early outcomes of our actions and our commitment to creating a fairer Scotland. Under Henry McLeish's leadership, we will turn that vision and strategy into action and reality.

For the first time, Scotland has a means of ensuring that deprivation will no longer exist as a way of life for any child, family or older person. We have already started to turn the strategy into action by putting social justice at the heart of our spending plans. There are no quick fixes in this fight and we are passionate for change—the right change that lasts and brings a difference, not the soundbites and empty promises that seem to emanate from other parties in the chamber.

The real significance of Monday's publication is that it shows where we are making progress; where we need to make faster progress; and where we still need to focus our attention to tackle deep-seated, persistent poverty.

No one should doubt the size of the challenge, nor our enthusiasm for taking it on. In a short space of time, 70,000 children have been lifted out of poverty; unemployment is down to its lowest level for a generation; youth unemployment has been reduced by a staggering 70 per cent; and 75,000 new jobs have been created in Scotland. As Sam Galbraith's announcement has just demonstrated, through our £24 million proposals for relief of water and sewerage charges for many on low incomes, we are working to join up our policies and help those who are most in need.

That will help further to reduce poverty among pensioners and will build on the £350 million package that we have announced to tackle fuel poverty and on the Chancellor of the Exchequer's very welcome additional commitment to pensioners. The basic pension increase alone will be worth £3.6 million a week to Scotland's 900,000 pensioners, which means an extra £187 million in total in the first year. In addition, 185,000 Scottish pensioners will benefit from the increased minimum income guarantee.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Obviously, an increase in pensions is to be welcomed, but does the minister recognise that pensioners across Scotland are demanding that the Government should restore the link with earnings, which would give them the rights and dignity that they want?

Secondly, on the £350 million for the central heating initiative, I spoke at a fuel poverty conference on Friday and people had grave concerns about where that money was coming from and where it was going. The £350 million figure has been trumpeted throughout the Executive's documents, but its budget can account for only £120 million. Will the minister take this opportunity to explain where the missing millions are for Scotland's pensioners?

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Frankly, I would have thought that after the numerous parliamentary questions that Fiona Hyslop has lodged, she would have been able to piece together that information.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Well, I have certainly signed off those answers.

We are serious about our commitment to pensioners. The issue is not about missing millions, but about providing pensioners with warm, decent, affordable housing and central heating and a good quality of life. I had hoped that the SNP would welcome those measures.

The report plays a groundbreaking and powerful role, in that we now know that, despite our progress, there are nearly one in three children in poverty; one in five households where no one has employment; and neighbourhoods where inequalities in health and services continue to blight people's lives. That is a scandal; it is a shocking waste of potential that the Executive cannot, and will not, tolerate.

Through our strategy, which brings focus, and through our measurements, which provide the facts that no one knew before, we can turn Scotland's poverty legacy round. We must turn it round for future generations of Scottish children. No longer will a child be born into, or live or die in, poverty. That is our mission.

We now have a detailed picture of the things that matter. We have detailed information on the background of students so that we can track whether our schools, colleges and universities are working to increase opportunities for all and not just for the few.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

The minister says that she has the details. Will she outline what she considers to be the poverty threshold—the annual monetary sum—above which she wants to raise people?

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

We measure poverty using three statistics, all of which were recommended by the European Statistical Programme Committee, which enable comparisons to be made across the board. The first measure is 50 per cent of median income, which works out at £116 a week. The main measure on which we base our findings is 60 per cent of median income, or £139 a week for a couple without children and £205 a week for a couple with two children aged between five and 11—if the detail is wrong, I will be happy to come back to the member. The third measure is 70 per cent of median income. We examine a basket of measures; we believe that that is important to ensure that we do not miss anything. I hope that the member welcomes that.

We also have details on other important issues such as how the worst areas of unemployment compare with the average, so that we can track whether our policies on work are reaching into the most disadvantaged communities, and on whether the combination of police services and safety design makes our older people feel more secure in their homes and communities. There has been progress, but not yet enough. We need to drive social justice forward.

We recognise that it takes time for programmes to have an effect and that data lags mean that much of our work has yet to be reflected in the data in the report. For example, the UK Government's national minimum wage and the working families tax credit were both introduced after the income data in the report were collected. The data on exclusions and truancy from schools date from before our welcome initiatives on alternatives to exclusion and home-school links.

In addition, the data in the report do not reflect the outcome of the recent spending review, which was significant because we put social justice at the heart of our spending plans for the next three years. We have committed an extra £6 billion better to target inequalities. Spending on health will increase by 15 per cent, on education by 17 per cent and on social justice and housing by 20 per cent. Our spending on enterprise, transport, justice and rural development will contribute directly to our social justice targets and milestones.

Those substantial increases in investment in social justice include investment in some of our most challenging milestones, such as action on drugs, on excluded young people and on tackling rough sleeping and homelessness. Parliament will be aware that I announced an extra £12.5 million last week to sort out Glasgow's hostel problems and that we have already allocated £5 million this year to tackle the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Other programmes will start to have an effect. We are building on the early success of the sure start Scotland programme to provide early care and family support for vulnerable children under the age of three. We are extending free part-time nursery places to all three-year-olds. We are promoting health improvement for children by funding the provision of fruit for infants and children at school. In addition, we are investing record sums in education, reducing class sizes and appointing 5,000 extra classroom assistants.

We faced massive data gaps when we embarked on the exercise. Unsurprisingly, we inherited hardly any information about poverty, income or inequality in Scotland. Those subjects clearly did not matter to previous Administrations. We are filling those gaps, one of which is the need to improve the understanding of rural poverty in Scotland. Ross Finnie has set up a working group to consider that matter. In the meantime, we are keen to encourage qualitative as well as quantitative debate and have included in the report a number of independent articles from distinguished academics to develop our thinking. The opinions expressed in those articles are those of the authors and not of the Executive, but I hope that members agree that the themes of rural poverty, participative methods for measuring poverty and the role of services in disadvantaged areas are topical and substantive. I hope that all members will welcome those additions to our debate.

The union with the rest of the UK gives us the economic strength and stability to make record resource commitments to progress social justice in the next three years. However, we have to use the resources of the union in partnership with communities. Tackling social justice requires a joined-up approach.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

One of our problems with the joined-up approach that is the union between the Scottish Parliament and Westminster is that those Parliaments do not always act in sync. Housing benefit is a classic example: the policy is controlled in Westminster, but operated in Scotland. Furthermore, if the Tories had their way, Scottish MPs at Westminster would be unable to vote on the housing green paper for England and Wales that will include housing benefit proposals that will operate in this country. That is a classic example of joined-up government failing to work properly. If the Scottish Parliament controlled both housing policy and housing benefit, we would have a much more co-ordinated and joined-up approach.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I do not know how much more joined up it is possible to get. We are investing £6 billion extra on issues that matter, such as working together to tackle child poverty, achieving full employment, and providing dignity and security in old age. Those are the joins that matter and that will make a difference to the lives of people in Scotland.

I am conscious of time, so I will finish by confirming that our commitment to tackling poverty in Scotland is backed by resources. On Monday, the First Minister, Henry McLeish, announced the £70 million children's change fund as a key part of our strategy for tackling child poverty and deprivation. The fund will be established to support integrated services and new approaches for the most vulnerable children and young people, thereby improving their life chances and preventing them from falling prey to exclusion. It will bring much-needed extra focus to our support for children who are in need. By pooling resources from the education department, the health department and the justice department, we will be making available more than £70 million to resource the fund. Jack McConnell will take the lead and will consult the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, health boards and the voluntary sector about how the fund is administered and linked in with other initiatives.

It is right that we focus on the care and well-being of children. We are building a future for our children and a future for us—a future where our children will not live in poverty, and where we have confident and successful children in every part of Scotland.

We are starting to make progress in turning round the deeply damaging legacy of poverty that we inherited. The first annual report, containing our targets and our milestones, is our means of tracking progress year by year. It is a measure of the failure of our predecessors that, although we have achieved a lot, there is still so much to do. We are targeting our resources on disadvantage and we are working with partners in local government, voluntary organisations, the business community and communities across Scotland. We are putting in place the programmes and policies that will end child poverty in Scotland.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the Executive's publication of the Social Justice Annual Report 2000; notes the progress which is being made in tackling poverty and social exclusion, and reaffirms its commitment to creating a fairer society in Scotland, where everyone matters.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 3:25 pm, 15th November 2000

I welcome the principle of publishing a social justice annual report in Scotland, but I am seriously concerned about the process, the practice and the politics. The debate that we are having today and the report that is in front of us are about data and statistics, but we must remind ourselves that we are actually talking about people's lives—people who live in poverty and who cannot afford to heat their homes or to eat.

To go back in history, last year we had the green social justice booklet, then—in November last year—we had the blue booklet, and now we have the red booklet, which is the annual report. In the week of the troubled presidential election, I am not sure whether I should mention "Primary Colors", but all we need to do is add the yellow booklet, which of course would show the benefits of independence; however, we will not get that under devolution. A vote for the SNP would deliver that booklet.

On Monday, the First Minister, surrounded by a phalanx of ministers, was stage-managed to promote the annual report as a major step forward in the fight for social justice. The fact that the First Minister chose Glasgow—a city with some of the worst health, housing and poverty issues—in which to publish that flawed document is of concern, not because he was wrong to put social justice on the agenda, but because he brought a flawed document. I will develop that point as I progress.

I welcome the money in the form of the children's change fund, but the announcement rings hollow when we realise that local authorities are having to find £23 million in education cuts this year. Bearing it in mind that new Labour will spend £2.4 billion less on local authorities than was spent in the last three years of the previous Tory Government, the £70 million for the children's change fund does not even start to make up the shortfall. Many families, particularly poor ones with children, rely heavily on local authority services or on the voluntary services that used to be provided before the funding was cut.

While the Labour party seeks to raid the SNP policy bank further to make up for the bad policy that it is having to ditch, I remind the minister that I will be charging commission on the theft of the SNP children's challenge policy that was launched in spring 1999.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Fiona Hyslop's talk of the theft of policies is an interesting development. Where is the SNP's commitment to ending child poverty? What are its targets and time scales? We would be delighted to hear them, because, so far, we have heard soundbites and scare stories but no substance.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

If the minister thinks that the target of ending child poverty over 20 years is ambitious, I feel sorry for the people of Scotland.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Let me move on.

This Parliament has some history, and we are moving on. I remind the Executive that in November last year, when we debated social justice milestones and targets, the SNP moved amendment S1M-314.2, which stated that the Parliament

"recognises the appalling poverty we have in Scotland and the need for immediate action to tackle this poverty; welcomes the publication by the Scottish Executive of Social Justice - a Scotland where everyone matters; believes however that the report lacks definition, range, focus and clear achievable targets, and agrees that the Executive should re-evaluate the report brought forward by the Evaluation Framework action team and bring forward revised targets and indicators to the Parliament."

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I want to develop my point.

The SNP amendment today recognises that we need an annual report, but it would benefit the Parliament and future generations in Scotland if that report were independent and included indicators that had been agreed by all parties in the chamber. If the social justice report is to be meaningful, it must stand the test of time and not vary from year to year.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

Given the record of the previous Tory Government, how optimistic is Fiona Hyslop that we could possibly reach agreement across the Parliament on poverty indicators? Surely it is much better for us to consider what the programme has done in identifying where the real problems lie and not to rely on reaching consensus with a group that has done so much to damage our young people.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I would not rely on the Tories to do anything about poverty, but if we are ambitious for the Parliament we must recognise that we are laying foundations for the future with criteria such as the basis on which we judge the social action plan.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am conscious of time, and I want to develop my point.

The document is flawed. I will use some indicators from the document to show how the Executive has changed its position, even from last year, to make the percentage figures benefit the Executive and its policy initiatives.

The second indicator on children is:

"Reducing the proportion of our children living in low income households".

The baseline figures that are used are for 1996-97. One of last year's documents—either the green one or the blue one—said that 1997-98 figures would be used. Funnily enough, when the baseline is changed in that way, the proportion of children who live in low-income households is shown to have reduced from 34 per cent to 30 per cent, instead of producing a comparison of 30 per cent to 30 per cent, or no change.

I agree that change will not necessarily show up over one year, but the Minister for Social Justice should not fiddle the figures to prove her points.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

We used 1996-97 figures as a baseline because that allowed us to measure over a longer period of time. Income measures include reserved powers and we wanted to be able to draw a contrast with what is happening across Britain. If the member cares to read the technical document, which is also red, she will find that there are 20 different measures on income poverty, 19 of which are moving in the right direction. Child poverty is down by 40,000 in one year—

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Let us take the first indicator on children, which is:

"Reducing the proportion of our children living in workless households".

According to the report, we have managed to achieve an improvement of 3 per cent, but the Executive has changed the definition on which the statistics last year were based. If performance was measured in the way that was suggested last year, the improvement would be only 1 per cent.

I make this serious point because of what was done to unemployment figures under the recent Tory Government and then under the Labour Government at Westminster. The figures were fiddled to make the situation look better. I implore the Executive not to do that with poverty statistics, which are too important for Scotland. It is important that people are treated with respect and that we have decent statistics, based on firm foundations, that will serve this country well.

I am also concerned about measures that should be included in the report but are not.

Internet access is measured, but not children's free school meals. On child poverty, a report by Glasgow City Council looked at the impact of the working families tax credit. The Minister for Social Justice talked about joined-up government, but the Glasgow report found that because of the tapering on housing benefit and council tax rebates, many families on the tax credit were no better off than they were before they took up work.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I am sorry, but I have taken a number of interventions and I want to move on.

Much of the report's information on young families relies on figures from the new deal. The problem is that the new deal is a revolving door, and that young people and others do not obtain permanent employment through it. The document talks about lone parents, but only a third of them end up in employment through the new deal. Gordon Brown says that he is introducing choices, but how effective are such programmes and do they offer real choices for young mothers and others in Scotland? I referred to pensioners and my concern about the source of the £350 million. Pensioners still want pensions to be linked to earnings.

On housing and the trumpeted improved budget, it is not only the SNP that questions the figures. The respected Chartered Institute of Housing challenges the Government's figures; it does not think that there has been an 18 per cent increase in the housing budget and claims that the increase is more like 6 per cent. We must address the concerns of people who judge the Government on such statistics. We must consider what the annual report actually means and where the data come from. People from a social inclusion partnership in the east of Scotland told me that, as part of the form-filling that they are required to do, they had to tramp round the doors to find information on internet access; such bureaucracy prevents them from developing front-line services and tries the patience of overworked volunteers. That is of serious concern to the people who are involved.

On learning disability, the Association of Directors of Social Work is concerned that the budget will be less than it is in England and Wales.

We need more powers; we need fiscal, economic and social security powers. I have said before that housing benefit should be one of the first targets as an extended power of this Parliament.

People who live in poverty are looking to this Parliament to treat them with understanding, respect and dignity. That means being fair and straight in the statistics that we use. I plead with the Parliament to consider having an independent report. We live in a country of poverty amid plenty. We live in a divided world and a divided nation—divided between those who have and those who have not. It is important that we make progress with the social justice agenda, but that we do so in an informed way and with a bit of respect. I ask the minister not to use fiddled figures when she produces future social justice annual reports.

I move amendment S1M-1345.3, to leave out from "welcomes" to end and insert:

"affirms its commitment to creating a fairer society and to combating poverty; notes the publication by the Scottish Executive of the Social Justice Annual Report 2000; requests that in future the report is produced on an independent basis, with targets and measurements revised to be sustainable over future administrations and subject to all-party Parliamentary agreement, and calls upon the Scottish Executive to abandon those policies which are currently undermining progress in combating poverty and where necessary to make representations on behalf of the Scottish people to Her Majesty's Government to change those policies which prevent progress in achieving social justice."

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 3:35 pm, 15th November 2000

I would like to think that none of us would be here today unless we genuinely wished to alleviate poverty. We may take different approaches, but surely we share that goal.

I am not certain that the information in the Executive's brochure—which is not glossy, but has a rather fine matt finish—will be of all that much assistance in achieving what we seek to achieve. Fiona Hyslop is quite correct: the brochure is yet another piece of new Labour hype. It is an expensive brochure that contains meaningless and nebulous milestones that disguise the paucity of Executive ideas to deal with Labour's big idea of 1997.

The Minister for Social Justice and Henry McLeish himself wallow in self-congratulation. At the same time, they hide behind a 96-page document, backed up by a further 84 pages of meaningless statistics, which simply shows that the Executive is presiding over the trends of improvement in health and the economy that have been going on for many years. Those improving trends are simply ignored—just as they were when the minister's predecessor, Wendy Alexander, introduced the social justice document last year.

The people of Scotland's disadvantaged areas will not be conned easily by the Executive's year-zero approach to statistics. The success of Labour's social justice strategy can be seen in the soaring numbers of homeless people. The miserable and pathetic figures huddled in the doorways of Glasgow and Edinburgh bear eloquent testimony to the failure of Labour in government to respond to one of the burning issues of our time.

The 96-page document says nothing at length. The figures in the two documents are an appalling indictment of the failure of Labour, before and after devolution, to deal with the pressing issues of homelessness, crime, education and welfare reform. Homelessness has soared to record levels under Labour; rough sleeping is at an all-time high. We have seen dramatic increases in the figures for bed-and-breakfast accommodation being used by homeless families and children.

In response to the former Deputy Minister for Local Government, who does not seem to agree with me, I point out that, under the previous Conservative Government, those figures fell over the years. Despite that, all that the Executive can do is produce, at enormous expense, documents that tell us that everyone is getting better. Who is kidding whom? Scotland's pensioners are not getting better. They will not be kidded by the 75p increase. For many of them, next year's increase will come too late.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

Will the member's speech be entirely negative? Is there anything positive in it at all? I am sitting here in suspense.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I will come to even better bits later on. I will tell the member how things can be made better. If he will just sit and listen, he will learn.

Let us consider other things that the Executive has done. I am sure that members of certain other parties will tell me that the minimum income guarantee for pensioners is lifting them out of poverty. But is it not just income support under another name?

I know that there is a very real problem that is not the Executive's fault—unclaimed benefit. However, instead of producing documents such as this one on social justice, should not the Executive be funding other documents, for widespread distribution, to ensure that those who are entitled to benefit are in receipt of the information necessary for them to claim it? The unclaimed benefits situation is quite scandalous. I am not levelling blame, but we must acknowledge that the situation is serious.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Does Bill Aitken agree that, had the Conservative Government not broken the link between earnings and pensions, today pensioners would be £32 per week better off?

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

As I have said before, Tommy Sheridan never asks a question to which he does not know the answer. That link was broken during different economic times when there were real and pressing reasons for doing so. I must get on because I have a lot to get through.

Members may wonder why I have included so many Westminster issues in my speech. I am emulating the document that we are debating today. The majority of the issues that are being discussed are reserved matters. However, we must get involved.

The Executive is so short of good news on devolved matters that its pronouncements on the social justice programme concentrate on child poverty. I will acknowledge that there have been improvements in that area. However, I must disabuse members of the notion that those improvements stem from the actions of the Executive. Part of that benefit comes from a massive redistribution of wealth by a Chancellor of the Exchequer who has certainly not chosen to tax the rich, but has increased the tax burden on a much easier target: hard-working families. He has channelled those funds into increased welfare spending, such as the working families tax credit. Surely, in any international comparison, that would be called a welfare benefit rather than a tax credit or tax break.

There has been a reduction in the number of children living in workless households. But that is not due to the efforts of the Executive; it is down to the hard work of entrepreneurs, wealth creators and, most important of all, the unemployed people who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families. I remind members that the British economy has been growing since 1992 and that unemployment has decreased year on year. Just as in the discredited new deal, Labour is trying to claim credit for the hard work and initiative of individuals who have gone out and found a job for themselves.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

No. I must press on.

What does social justice mean? It means people living up to their responsibilities and being given and taking opportunities that are genuinely open. The state cannot and should not do everything. Social justice means believing in the truly independent work of charities. We must allow communities and individuals to take responsibility for their own problems; we must encourage and enable them to find their own solutions.

The most basic concept underpinning individual responsibility is the rule of law. If we cannot reduce crime and remove the fear of crime, we will be unable to give people the freedom that they need to take charge of the problems that afflict some of Scotland's most deprived communities.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

No. I have lost a lot of time already.

Fear of crime is insidious and is often linked to our failure to tackle the menace of drugs that blights not only our housing estates, but the leafy suburbs and rural areas of Scotland.

With freedom comes responsibility. It is clear that the Executive's programme and the Government's welfare policies take away responsibility from individuals and families. If real benefits are to be experienced, we must reverse that trend. The Executive continues to press its targets and priorities on councils, schools, community groups and charities through its controls on spending. Only when it allows local action and responsibility can the Executive engender innovation. That is what is needed to resolve local problems.

We need real devolution such as under the Conservative proposals for schools. Councils should have more control over their spending, rather than having money ring-fenced by the Executive's priorities. We need an NHS that concentrates on waiting times based on clinical priority. The resources of the NHS should be enhanced by those people who can afford it making a greater contribution to their health care costs, through mutual schemes run by employers and trade unions. We need a welfare system that encourages personal responsibility, work and family.

The Executive has a long way to go to meet its social justice targets. Perhaps the most important step on that route is one that would take ministers past the ideological barrier that dictates that only the state can provide. If that step is taken soon, social justice will be much closer for all Scots.

I move amendment S1M-1345.1, to leave out from "welcomes" to end and insert:

"notes the information published to date which shows that the Scottish Executive still has a long way to go to meet its objectives on social justice; affirms its commitment to building a civic society based on opportunities and responsibilities for all, and calls upon the Scottish Executive to address the problems of crime in Scotland's communities and devolve power to individuals, families and communities as essential steps on the road to achieving social justice."

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 3:45 pm, 15th November 2000

I understand that the correct description of Executive attitudes and policies is progressive and pragmatic. Therefore, I hope that we can welcome the social justice annual report, as it is both progressive and pragmatic. As someone who often criticises Governments of all colours for producing waffling reports and disguising the truth, I think that the serious effort that has been made in the report to include statistics to show how we are progressing towards our goals is a good step forward. We can argue about the accuracy and honesty of particular statistics, but the main thrust of the report should be welcomed unreservedly.

The nice Quaker lady who led our time for reflection had various good passages by William Penn on being charitable to one's opponents, so I will not mention the SNP or the Tories. I will address certain Westminster issues, which are separate from what we deal with here. The Liberal Democrats feel strongly that the Labour Government at Westminster has got some things wrong.

For example, we think that benefits should be restored to 16 and 17-year-olds and that the lower rates of benefit for under-25s should be increased. The single-room rent rule has an adverse impact on those at the bottom of the income heap who seek accommodation. Although the recent increase in pensions is welcome, there is still a need for greater increases, particularly for older pensioners. The benefits rules should be greatly simplified. I am sure that all members are shown examples of the huge books that people have to complete before they are awarded a disability benefit or whatever it might be. The whole system is hideously complex.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I welcome much of what Donald Gorrie has said, as many of his comments are reflected in the SNP's policy on benefit reforms. He will notice that our amendment calls on the Executive

"to make representations on behalf of the Scottish people to Her Majesty's Government to change those policies which prevent progress in achieving social justice."

As Donald Gorrie has just listed several of those policies, does he think that it is the responsibility of the Parliament to ask the Executive to make representations on the reform of benefits?

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

It is quite legitimate for the Parliament to raise these issues and, through the Executive or the Presiding Officer, to convey its views to Westminster. Members can also convey their views to their party colleagues at Westminster.

We think that the higher rate of income tax should be increased so that more people can drop out the bottom end and pay no income tax at all and so that improvements can be made in public services. A 50 per cent rate for income above £100,000 will not cripple richer people.

Although the new deal is a good concept and has many positive aspects, it is very bureaucratic and wasteful and needs scrutiny. I know that no Government that has invested so much financial and intellectual capital in an idea will abandon it or admit that it is no good, but it is important that there should be an honest reappraisal of the new deal to build on the good parts and improve the bad.

The Scottish Parliament is starting to do quite well some of the things that it can do. For example, the attack on fuel poverty and the proposals on concessionary travel are welcome. The two parts of the social justice annual report illustrate a number of areas in which we have made definite advances. However, there is room for improvement in other areas. Rural poverty and the rural transport issue are still not adequately recognised. People may have a nice view, but if they cannot get to the shops or the hospital, in many ways they suffer from social injustice.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

As Donald Gorrie has raised the topic of rural poverty, on which we agree with him, does he now condemn the Liberal policy of increasing in rural areas the level of excise duty on fuel by the rate of inflation for each of the next five years? How will that help those in rural areas who rely on the use of a motor car?

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

As I understand it, we have proposals to help to reduce the tax on fuel in rural areas, which I think will accomplish the goal that Fergus Ewing has in mind.

The other aspect that needs attention is credit unions, which we could encourage more. The credit unions are a good example of the bottom-up approach, which is important. Helping people collectively to help themselves should be at the heart of our efforts to produce social justice.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

On the basis of Donald Gorrie's comments, I take it that he will welcome the Executive's national development strategy on credit unions, which we intend to introduce in the next few months.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

I greatly welcome that assurance.

We must also consider bureaucratic overload. That comes partly through United Kingdom initiatives, but the disease affects our Executive too. Many well-intentioned programmes involve a huge amount of form-filling by councils, and much money is never spent, or if spent, it is not spent wisely. The programmes are all higgledy-piggledy. As one of my colleagues at Westminster said in a press release, we are turning councils into

"pen pushers bidding for piecemeal pots of money."

That is the wrong approach. We should help communities to help themselves. If we had funds to which communities could apply in a much less bureaucratic fashion, they could get on with their plans and do not what I want or the minister wants but what the people in that community want. Some money would be wasted, and there might be some marginal dishonesty, but much less would be wasted than in a bureaucratic system. People could do their own thing, make their own mistakes and develop their own community.

We think that such ideas should be the basis of the Executive's approach. Some advance has been made in those directions, but not nearly enough. We must have more money to allow councils to help voluntary organisations, for example, which are still suffering cuts. We must devise some method of helping those organisations while retaining local autonomy, because they are basic to the further development of those communities.

Many other issues are involved, but I will raise just one more: alcohol problems, which I discussed in a members' business debate the other day. That issue affects social justice and injustice, and we must tackle it and many other matters. The minister has the difficult business of producing joined-up government, instead of talking about it, as we all do. I wish the minister good luck, and I hope that she will work with communities, instead of imposing her will on them.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour 3:53 pm, 15th November 2000

Whatever the Scottish National Party may say, social justice is at the heart of the Government's agenda, and rightly so. The Executive should be congratulated not only on such a wide-ranging report, but on such a detailed one. The report moves the issues on—especially the new perspectives on rural deprivation, which I will come to later.

It should be acknowledged—but does not appear to be by the SNP—that a strong economy allows more money to be used to address social exclusion. Indeed, social justice was at the heart of the spending review and, as the minister said, an extra £6 billion is to be injected into Scottish services over the next three years. Although there are many positive comments I would like to make about the report, I want to address two issues in particular.

My first point is that poverty occurs in many different contexts: big cities, smaller urban areas and rural areas. Dr Lorna Philip and Professor Shucksmith, in their account of rural poverty, come to some important conclusions. They say:

"It can be very difficult to isolate data about poverty and related socio-economic disadvantage for rural areas. There is a pressing need for a comprehensive data bank about rural poverty and other issues directly associated with socio-economic disadvantage across rural Scotland. An urban-rural breakdown of the Scottish Executive's social justice milestones would be useful and would complement the information on rural Scotland now available in the Scottish Household Survey."

Dr Philip and Professor Shucksmith continue:

"Finally, rural development policies must become more attuned to social inclusion objectives. Area-based partnership working, often resourced through challenge funding, has become established as a principal means for the implementation of rural development policies in Scotland, as elsewhere in Europe. This leads to a very uneven geography or rural regeneration."

In particular, they call for

"New and innovative methods of implementing rural development" which, they say,

"will be required if social exclusion is to be addressed".

Will the minister give us details—if not today, then later—of the work undertaken so far by the rural poverty and inclusion working group and how it will progress the rural development aspect of its work?

On a related point, we should ensure that the pockets of disadvantage that exist in smaller urban settings—I am talking about Stirling, of course—are not lost in the process of tackling social exclusion. Too often, statistics give misleading data, particularly on areas such as Stirling, which has the most polarised distribution of rich and poor living side by side.

For example, using the standard mortality ratios for men and women, the Stirling Council area comes out well and looks reasonably healthy. However, by digging deeper and using postcode districts, one finds very disturbing figures. Areas of high relative deprivation in Stirling, such as the Raploch area, have exceptionally high ratio values and, for women, those values are almost 66 per cent higher than the Stirling average. If the relationship between social class and mental health disorders is added, the figures become even more disturbing. Will the minister consider developing an indicator or target to link social inclusion and mental health issues? There is a growing awareness of the problems related to those issues.

Much has to be done in Castleview, which includes the Raploch area, and much is planned, with the establishment of a community school, where I hope that a holistic approach, which Jackie Baillie spoke about, will develop. Much also needs to be done—and measures replicated—in other similarly disadvantaged areas in smaller urban areas.

With that health warning, I welcome the report, which is a good start in the right direction.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent 3:57 pm, 15th November 2000

I am tempted to say that so weighty is the Executive's report, which is printed on such heavy, fine-quality paper, that we could do something socially inclusive with it, such as mend a roof in Easterhouse.

We talk about social justice, but at lunchtime today, people from the most deprived schemes in the city of Glasgow made their way to the Parliament to demand social justice. They came at their own expense to show a video about community centres and other facilities being closed. I am afraid that I have to say that representatives of the Labour party and of the Scottish Executive ignored them. Only the SNP turned up to face the truth direct from the people.

One of the truths raised was that not only are swimming pools and community centres closing in some areas, but, in Drumchapel, even the unemployed workers centre, which was almost the only place that people could go to during the day, has closed. So much for the section in "Social Justice Annual Report Scotland 2000" that is headed "every community matters". Tragically, it seems that some communities still do not matter enough.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent

No, Frankie. I do not have much time and will plough on. You can get me in the coffee room.

I turn to the proposed Glasgow housing stock transfer, which is the worst example of social injustice and involves social clearances. We should not beat about the bush much longer—the stock transfer plan was begun in Westminster, before the Scottish Parliament was created. Since January 1999— [Interruption.]

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent

I am afraid that Labour members have been so timid that they rolled over and obeyed Mr Blair, rather than going down another, publicly funded, path. Mr Blair wants to end the principle of social housing. He wants to impose an Islington solution on the people of Scotland and that is why the date for the ballot is likely to be moved back to late 2001.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent

As a back bencher, I get only four minutes to speak, so I shall not accept any interventions from Frankie.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent

The date is being moved back to late 2001 because the people of Glasgow are saying that they are not going to be conned. Fifteen of the 29 tenants forums have already intimated to David Comely that their answer will be no.

If anyone wants to see the proof of planned social engineering, they need only look at Drumchapel, where a proposed scheme will see 1,100 council houses knocked down, with 1,000 private houses replacing them.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent

I have told Frank already not to be so persistent with me.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. When a speaker quite clearly says that she is not giving way, why do people repeatedly stand up demanding interventions? That is out of order and you should deal with it.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

That is not a point of order. However, I must tell you, Mr McAveety, that Dorothy-Grace Elder has indicated that she does not want to take interventions. I would be grateful if you could respect her wishes. Please carry on, Ms Elder.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent

I know that Mr McAveety is concerned. He and I were at a tenants' meeting in the Gorbals last week at which the women were so angry that I almost had to give him political asylum.

Anyway, I return to Drumchapel, where 1,000 private houses are planned to replace the 1,100 council houses that will be demolished. Those private houses will cost up to £100,000 each. Who in central Drumchapel can afford that?

That is the Blairism that the Executive should reject. It should go back down the public path, it should ensure that Glasgow does not lose £200 million in VAT and it should turn its back, before it is too late, on the scam and the sham, and seek a proper Scottish solution, not a Blairist one.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 4:02 pm, 15th November 2000

The first question that I asked myself when I considered today's motion was "What is social justice? We talk about it, but I don't know what it is." For me, social justice is socialism. It was my concern for social justice that took me into the Labour movement and the trade union movement at an early age. Above all, socialism is, and social justice must be, about eradicating poverty and inequality. However, it is not about eradicating financial poverty only; it is about tackling the poverty of opportunity and the hopelessness that exists in some of our deprived communities. Social justice is not just the stuff of aspirational political speeches; it is much more than that.

There are obvious definitions of social justice or socialism. It is concerned with protecting vulnerable children. It must be concerned with supporting families, ensuring full employment and providing opportunities for people with different forms of disability. It is about ensuring that older people are properly cared for and that we all have the right to a free education, a free health service, a humane welfare system and a warm, comfortable home in a safe environment. That is the language of social justice, but it is also the language of socialism.

Poverty among our children is one of the greatest scars on Scottish communities today. They are often powerless to change the environment in which they live and learn. We have a duty to ensure that every child in Scotland has access to the same opportunities and that they can live in a safe home, free from abuse. I believe that the Executive is making genuine progress in tackling child poverty, with reductions in the number of children living in a family where no one works or where there is income poverty. However, much more needs to be done. Thirty-two per cent of our children still live in poverty, with no political or economic power. We are their representatives, we are their movers and shakers and we are the ones who must give them hope.

The nationalists may scoff and moan, which they do regularly, but scoffing and moaning is not a substitute for real policies or real money to tackle child poverty. Today they have said that they want to agree a definition of poverty with the Tories. After hearing Bill Aitken's speech, I wonder whether they intend to continue with that.

If we want to eradicate poverty, we have a mountain to climb. That is why the long-term commitment that the First Minister has announced of an extra £70 million from 2002, to be spent on services for the most vulnerable children, is most welcome.

In last week's debate on the equality strategy and in this debate, the Tory spokesperson used a kind of single transferable speech. Bill Aitken is nodding his head, which suggests that he agrees with me. Today the Tories have said, as they did last week, that they are concerned that social justice is political correctness. They can call it what they like, as long as they sign up to it. In my surgeries in Port Glasgow and elsewhere there is no great clamour for an extension of private health care or private education. Quite rightly, my constituents demand fairness and equality in all things. If the Conservatives want to call that political correctness, that is fine.

All too often, people with disabilities find themselves powerless and unable to improve their lives because of barriers that they encounter when they try to find work. We must revisit the needs of the long-term disabled, especially the young. Our social justice agenda must deliver real opportunities and high-quality services for people with disabilities, and it must not take long to realise such reform.

There must be vigorous and stringent audits of the progress of this Executive in delivering social justice—or, as I would have it, socialism—and in tackling child poverty. This Parliament and its committees have an important role to play in that regard. Whenever members come across a child or an adult in their constituency who is living in poverty or is having difficulty finding work, they must ask why that is and what they can do in the Parliament and its committees to change that person's life.

The issues that I have mentioned as fundamental to social justice have been the subject of debates in this Parliament over the past few months. Given the Executive's commitment to advancing the social justice agenda, I look forward to a continued, but reasoned, debate that will allow us to effect radical change in the lives of the most vulnerable people in our communities. In the committees and in the chamber, we can check what progress is being made and call the Executive to account.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative 4:07 pm, 15th November 2000

Donald Dewar's vision of social justice has become Henry McLeish's mirage—tantalisingly on the horizon, but disappearing whenever reality creeps in. This document—which, I am pleased to see, is not glossy—is another example of squandered opportunities. It is full of politically correct language, but contains no evidence of determinate policies or of a will to address the real problems of the disadvantaged of Scotland.

Labour does not have a monopoly on caring. I say to Trish Godman that we are only too prepared to contribute to the debate, but we must have concrete policies to discuss, not a nebulous concoction of dreams and wishes.

Bill Aitken has highlighted the Executive's failures. I want to concentrate on why it is failing the philosophy that it must embrace to succeed and—vitally—what that means in practice. The philosophy is readily available and ministers may already subscribe to it. It is summed up as follows:

"We are building a new civic society based on opportunities and responsibilities . . . It recognises that government cannot solve every problem, cure every ill. It understands that the state does not have a monopoly on compassion; that social needs can be met by institutions, organisations, and associations, autonomous of—and other than—central government."

Those are wise words, but they are not the words of a Tory. They are the words of the Rt Hon John Reid MP, Labour Secretary of State for Scotland, speaking in May this year.

If the philosophy exists, and it is the right philosophy, what has gone wrong? The obvious answer is that, in practice, the Scottish Executive is failing to live up to the ideal espoused by Dr Reid. In education, it has introduced the excellence fund, which councils can access only if they agree to match the Executive's priorities and spending, at the cost of devolved school management budgets that could reflect local priorities. In health, it has sought increasingly to control the NHS from the centre, by ministerial diktat. Through the discredited waiting list initiative, it has replaced clinical priorities with political priorities.

In council funding, control has been centralised. There is more ring-fencing and more funding is conditional on following through the Executive's priorities. Charity funding is increasingly difficult to obtain in the voluntary sector owing to recent local government settlements.

At UK level, more and more people are being drawn into the welfare net through the working families tax credit, the minimum income guarantee for pensioners and other measures that remove individual responsibility. Probably worst of all given the breakdown in the family, the last recognition of marriage in our tax system has gone.

Labour is failing the UK and the Executive is failing to bring about a new civic society in Scotland—a natural precursor and partner to social justice—because it has ignored the philosophy and tried increasingly to monopolise compassion for the state. Doing so ignores the vital role of Scotland's charities, our faith communities, local and national voluntary organisations, individual action that assists neighbours and communities and—most important—the role of the family and extended family as a self-contained caring community.

What is the prescription? It is time to draw back the involvement of the state and restore the role of personal responsibility and opportunity in our society. By doing so we can instil the values that we require for the 21st century.

We must devolve power to the most local level possible. We should allow Scots the opportunity to be involved in their child's education through autonomous school boards and let them live up to the responsibility that comes with that.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

Sorry, I have no time.

We should put in place a welfare system that rewards those who, through saving, aim to look after their own future needs and those of their families. We should encourage people to be more responsible for their future health by allowing more choice in health services and allowing clinical need to have priority through a new partnership between the NHS professionals and patients.

On housing, we need stock transfer away from politicians to community organisations with tenant involvement. We should encourage charities and faith-based groups to innovate to resolve the problems of our sink housing estates, the rising suicides among young men and the lack of values in our society.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

I am closing.

The Executive should not be hidebound in a one-size-fits-all approach.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour

On a point of order. Is it in order for the member to have spoken for four minutes and 30 seconds without referring once to the report that is central to this debate?

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I am conscious of that.

I ask Mr Harding to bring his remarks to a close.

Photo of Keith Harding Keith Harding Conservative

I referred to the document at the outset.

Giving people choice and allowing diversity brings involvement and interaction with others and will build the civic society that we require.

I will conclude with a quotation of Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi. When writing of the virtues that most of us still accept: honesty; keeping out of crime; parental responsibility; fidelity, he warned that he believes that

"too much public policy undermines these virtuous instincts".

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I should add that when members give way, I will always allow a little extra time.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party 4:13 pm, 15th November 2000

I am exhausted after listening to that.

I loved reading the social justice annual report. It has lots of lovely graphs, statistics, warm words and hope. Who could fail to be impressed by the Executive's commitment to change lives for the better? That commitment is undoubtedly genuine and heartfelt.

The minister talked about the closing of data gaps, but in the mass of figures it is clear that the areas with the highest deprivation in 1984 still have the highest deprivation now. Compared with the Scottish average, the ratio of unemployed in the most deprived areas has—according to the Executive itself—increased since new Labour came to power.

The minister is shaking her head, but if she examines milestone 24 on page 65 of the social justice annual report, she will know where I am getting that information from.

However, does the information tell the whole story? Government figures do not recognise the geography of unemployment in, for example, Glasgow. The claimant count in Pollok is three times the Scottish average. That is horrific in itself, but Government measurements do not break figures down sufficiently at a local level to show how labour markets function by community.

As a result, Glasgow City Council, for example, ignores the Government's figures because they fail to gauge accurately the extent and distribution of real poverty in the city. Further, the claimant count is an artificially depressed rate that the council considers meaningless. Glasgow City Council has gone so far as to tell the Office for National Statistics not to publish figures for Glasgow using the Government's measures—but it has been ignored.

The council's measurement focuses down to ward level and is a truer indicator of unemployment and deprivation. Calculations are based on the number of people who are economically active and the claimant count. That system is recognised and used by the House of Commons library, academics and authors. Such measures have shown substantial disparity in real levels of unemployment on a ward-by-ward basis.

In Hutchesontown ward, for example, the unemployment rate is seven times higher than it is in Maxwell Park, although a comparison of the respective parliamentary constituencies of Shettleston and Govan shows a variance of only one third in Govan's favour.

Why are such statistical measures important? If we are really to address poverty and deprivation at the micro level and deliver social justice for all, the nature and extent of poverty and deprivation must be identified accurately. The extent to which a community thrives is obviously dependent on employment. Scarce resources must be targeted effectively if we are to improve the lives of the maximum number of people.

Parts of the indicators of progress document outline the difficulties with assessing the geographic spread of social exclusion. For example, page 5 of the report makes it clear that it is not possible to provide

"sub-Scottish figures on either a regional basis or disaggregated by age, gender, disability or ethnicity" of the number of children who are living in workless households, thus making it difficult for agencies to tackle this issue in a more focused way. Milestones 2, 5, 7, 8, 9 and so on similarly fail to analyse the figures at a local level.

Once we know who to focus on, what should we do? I shall finish by focusing on the new deal. Investing in Scotland's infrastructure at a local community level is vital. We must ensure that those who are on the new deal receive real chances to gain the skills and qualifications that are necessary in today's labour market. Each new deal delivery unit must be decentralised and allowed to react to the labour market it deals with—something the voluntary sector, local authorities and other agencies stress continually.

The new deal options should be overhauled or reappraised, as Donald Gorrie said, to give local partnerships the power to develop and implement options that suit a specific area, its people and employers. The gateway must be extended for more than four months, to allow the investment in time and effort that is needed to motivate and train the unemployed.

Through the new deal, Westminster has re-established its central control of the employment services by linking training, which is supposed to be a devolved matter, to welfare, which is a reserved matter. The obvious solution is to hand over responsibility for the new deal to this Parliament along with the remainder of its budget. We could then re-engineer the scheme into a responsive and flexible programme.

Although new Labour suggests that it will listen to ideas about reform, its centralised nature means that it could take a long time for vital changes to be made. We cannot wait that long; it is essential for this Parliament to be given responsibility for such changes as soon as possible.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 4:17 pm, 15th November 2000

It is absolutely right that this Parliament is committed to eliminating child poverty, facilitating employment opportunities for all those who can work, securing dignity for elderly folk and building strong and inclusive communities. Until now, successive Governments have associated social justice simplistically with our inner cities and urban areas. Although it is, unfortunately, all too true that many of the worst examples of social exclusion occur in such areas, that is far from the complete picture.

I am pleased that the Scottish Executive coalition of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats is committed to addressing social justice wherever it is found. I say to Trish Godman that social justice and social reform are fundamental principles of liberalism. Together, the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats are determined to make the slogan on the cover of this document—

"a Scotland where everyone matters"— a reality. I am delighted that an entire section of the social justice annual report is devoted to addressing rural poverty in Scotland. That aspect of social justice has for far too long been neglected by previous Governments, and I commend the Executive for highlighting it in its report and for establishing the rural poverty and inclusion working group.

Until now, part of the problem has been that successive Governments have been reluctant to address rural poverty because it is too easily hidden. Many people hold on to an idyllic picture of the countryside that excludes poverty and deprivation. Concentrations of poverty are hard to identify and are therefore easily disguised. The Scottish Executive reported earlier this year that 20 per cent of households in rural Scotland received incomes of below £108 a week. Low wages are common among workers who are employed in agriculture and tourism—both industries that are important to the rural economy.

The problems of low pay are exacerbated by the high cost of living in rural communities. Let us take transport as an example. Until now, there seems to have been little realisation of the fact that the use of a car is necessary in much of rural Scotland: that is why the recent and continuing protest over the level of fuel taxation hits a raw nerve in the countryside.

For many people, public transport is not an option—it is simply not available—and it is a mockery for Governments to pretend that continually rising petrol taxation will force people off our roads and on to public transport. Such an argument is wrong for many people who live in rural Scotland and I welcome the UK Government's decision to freeze fuel taxation.

As this point, it is important to point out what the report emphasises on this aspect of transport. It says:

"The car ownership rate for elderly households in rural Scotland is lower than the rural average. As a result many elderly households experience limited personal mobility which can lead to exclusion from services, facilities and social spheres of life."

The report acknowledges that car ownership is essential in rural areas and that many low-income households forgo other purchases to ensure that they continue to run a car.

The previous census recorded the fact that almost a third of households in rural Scotland did not have access to a car. Life for the poorest in rural areas has become far more difficult with the closure of many small shops, petrol stations and post offices and the centralisation of public services in response to public expenditure constraints.

Jackie Baillie, in particular, should be congratulated on highlighting this issue: this is a very welcome step in addressing social issues in rural communities. I shall end with a simple plea for more information. As Sylvia Jackson said, there is an indisputable need for a comprehensive data bank about rural poverty. I applaud the Executive's actions in getting the necessary data so we can take effective action for both rural and urban Scotland.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 4:21 pm, 15th November 2000

No one in the chamber can doubt that social injustice exists in modern Scotland. No one who has recently walked the streets of Drumchapel and Kelvindale—as I am sure many of us have—can be under any illusions about the divide that still remains between the haves and the have-nots. Too many Scots grow up in poverty and are denied educational opportunities; too many are forced to live in houses and environments that contribute to exclusion rather than combat it; too many live in communities that are ravaged and eroded by drug misuse.

The publication of "Social Justice ...a Scotland where everyone matters" marks the beginning of a process that aims to end child poverty, to achieve full employment and to ensure that our elderly can live with comfort and dignity. This afternoon, I want to focus on two elements of the social justice programme: tackling unemployment and rebuilding communities.

One of the most effective ways to combat social exclusion is to expand employment and training opportunities. Employment can restore not only income and material wealth, but confidence and feelings of self-worth. The Conservative-led programme for partnership sought to remedy the piecemeal approach of the urban programme. The partnership approach that it heralded has been retained in our social inclusion partnerships. Ironically, though, the Tories never really understood—or perhaps never wanted to understand—the need for partnership in government.

A partnership approach—between Westminster and Holyrood and within departments of the Scottish Executive—has led to real moves towards achieving social justice in Scotland. The new deal has had a significant impact on unemployment levels; unemployment is now at its lowest level for a generation.

The Scottish Executive is playing its part in the partnership effort by ensuring that people from our poorest communities have improved access to further and higher education. The launch of a network of learndirect Scotland learning centres will bring adult education into the heart of Scotland's communities. Furthermore, the introduction of non-repayable access bursaries for priority groups and the exemption of mature, disabled, lone parent and higher national diploma and higher national certificate students from the graduate endowment will act as an incentive to many previously excluded students.

It is vital that communities are genuinely involved in the decision-making process at a local level. For that to happen, we require training and support and a genuine commitment to partnership working by the other partners. I am pleased that the Scottish Executive has recognised that need by investing more than £1 million in the community participation skills programme "Working Together, Learning Together".

Social inclusion partnerships are one of the primary vehicles for community and neighbourhood regeneration. However, let me sound a note of caution. Many smaller communities, such as Craigneuk and Petersburn in my constituency, fall outwith SIP areas, despite the fact that they face many of the same problems as the larger areas designated for priority treatment. High crime rates and high levels of drug abuse are devastating the lives of many families in smaller communities. We must ensure that voluntary organisations in those communities are supported through sufficient staff and additional resources.

The report "Social Justice ...a Scotland where everyone matters", which was published last year, set out a range of targets and milestones designed to create a fairer, more just Scotland. The early signs are encouraging.

I began today by contrasting the streets of Kelvindale and Drumchapel. A walk along those streets is a testament to how far we still have to go in our struggle against poverty and exclusion.

However, our social justice programme represents a genuine attempt to regenerate our most deprived communities. It is an opportunity to focus on the eradication of poverty and exclusion in Scotland. I call on all colleagues in the chamber to support the Scottish Executive in its bid to create a more fair and just Scotland

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 4:26 pm, 15th November 2000

Karen Whitefield began and ended her speech with a reference to Kelvindale and Drumchapel, both of which are in the Anniesland constituency. Like Karen Whitefield, I have recently been involved in by-election activities there. Those areas provide a microcosm in which to observe the problems of the class-ridden society that still exists in Scotland—a society in which it is still possible to walk through the leafy area of Kelvindale and witness the benefits of incomes that are 50 or more times those of people in Drummore Road or other parts of Drumchapel.

The problem with the social justice annual report is that the powers to tackle many of the problems that it highlights are outwith the powers of this Parliament. The limited powers that we have mean that the scope of the social justice report will always be limited. However, there are things that we can do in Scotland. The next time we walk through Kelvindale and compare it with Drumchapel, it might be worth reflecting on whether, instead of paying three times more council tax than the residents of Drumchapel, the residents of Kelvindale should pay a higher proportion of their income than that.

We should reflect on whether we should have a socialist local income tax system—based on the ability to pay—rather than the knee-jerk, unfair tax system that was introduced by the Tories when they were scrabbling around to save their necks in 1992. In Glasgow, we have within our grasp the ability to change local taxation so that we can genuinely redistribute wealth to put more money into the pockets of households that desperately require it.

I hope the minister will accept that one of the problems with the targets and statistics is that they relate to gross income; far too few of them relate to disposable income. The difficulty is that we have a marginal tax rate of 85 per cent on those in poverty, because an extra pound to someone in poverty results in a reduction in housing benefit, working families tax credit and council tax benefit of 85p in the pound. That throws into perspective the squeals of horror at the idea that there should be higher tax rates for the wealthy—which, unfortunately, Labour has not implemented.

Under Labour, we have low tax rates for the wealthy but high tax rates for the poor. It is interesting to recall that when Mrs Thatcher was elected in 1979, the highest tax rate was 83 per cent. She immediately slashed to 63 per cent—the level at which it stayed for nine years. Tax was higher for nine years under Thatcher than it has been for three and a half years under Labour. I hope that Trish Godman and other socialists are ashamed of that statistic. Not enough central polices are being implemented to tackle the problems in relation to the redistribution of wealth.

Jackie Baillie used a number of statistics. She talked about the 70,000 children who have been removed from poverty in the past two years. I am sure that Jackie Baillie has read the poverty audit that was produced in September by the Department of Social Security. It says that there are 250,000 fewer children living in workless households but 100,000 more children living in poverty. The poverty audit makes the point that there has been a drop in unemployment but an increase in poverty. I argue that that is in relation to the low level of wages in this country. While we have a minimum wage that perpetuates poverty rather than tackles it, simply getting people into work will not reduce grinding poverty. We need a better minimum wage.

Unfortunately, yet again, my amendment has not been selected and I have not had enough time to address pensions and the fact that we need to have a proper and universal state pension rather than means testing of our pensioners. Means testing used to be the ground of the Tories but it is now the ground of new Labour.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 4:31 pm, 15th November 2000

I welcome this debate. A desire to tackle poverty in Scotland, which the Westminster Parliament had failed to do in decades and centuries, was one of the reasons why people supported the establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

When we think of Scotland's social problems, we tend to think of rundown housing estates in urban areas or the appalling health statistics in our cities. For that reason, I was delighted that a section of the report dealt with the situation in rural Scotland, which has been referred to by many other members.

Poverty is as bad in many rural areas as it is in urban areas, albeit on a smaller scale. Poverty relates to economic status, not the size of the community in which someone lives. As Mike Rumbles said, poverty in rural areas is often hidden. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a report earlier this year called "Exclusive countryside? Social inclusion and regeneration in rural areas". The title gives the gist of the report, which says that

"Those experiencing social exclusion in rural areas are dispersed amongst apparent affluence . . . factors which are more important in rural than urban areas include low pay, inadequate pensions, poverty in self-employment, lower levels of benefit uptake, and fear of stigma in small communities."

It is all very well for an oil worker earning £100,000 a year who moves up from London to Aberdeenshire and for whom local services are not a problem, but people from Aberdeenshire or the Highlands generally face two choices. One is to leave their community and go elsewhere to make their living and have a decent standard of life. The other is to stay in their local community and experience poverty.

Social justice in rural communities means access to public services of a standard similar to that which exists elsewhere in the country. Good health services are necessary. In some parts of Grampian, it is difficult to see a dentist. It is hard to get a proper health service in many rural communities. Similarly, many are experiencing cuts in education provision due to local government cuts caused by decisions taken by the Scottish Executive.

Housing in rural areas is of a relatively low standard and there is a shortage of low-cost housing in many communities, yet it took a lot of campaigning against Wendy Alexander's right-to- buy proposals on rural housing association properties to get her to change her mind. If social justice is important, why do we have to go to such lengths to try to persuade ministers to give people in rural communities decent public services and social housing? We should not have to go to that trouble.

Young people in our rural communities deserve social justice as well. In the vast majority of rural communities, it is impossible to get access to decent youth facilities—they do not exist. Rural communities deserve decent social services, yet community agencies that tackle drugs, such as Grampian Addiction Problem Services, are losing all their cash because of cuts in local government funding. We are losing social services—the situation is going backwards, not forwards, in rural Scotland.

We need to bring many more modern industries into our rural communities as well as sustain our traditional industries. The cost of living is a problem: fuel has already been mentioned, as have water charges, which were the subject of a statement this afternoon.

Until Scotland gets its independence in two or three years' time, this Parliament is going to have to punch above its weight to deliver social justice in our rural communities and elsewhere. When the next progress report is published next year, I ask the Executive to publish a section that details milestones of progress in our rural communities.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

My regrets to John Young, Johann Lamont and Colin Campbell, for whom time ran out. Winding-up speeches will be four minutes, five minutes, seven minutes and 10 minutes.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 4:35 pm, 15th November 2000

This has been a good debate, although it has been punctuated by a number of regrettable tendencies, such as party politicising much more than is necessary the serious issues with which we are dealing. In summing up for the Liberal Democrats, I will try to draw out one or two themes that have come up in the debate.

The first is that all speakers in debates such as this should recognise the sincerity and good faith of their political opponents. All of us in this chamber are concerned about poverty, deprivation and all the rest of it. All of us, from our different perspectives, want something to be done, particularly when we focus on old people, children and people sleeping in the streets. Let us have a little good faith towards those of different political views.

The second theme is that we should not dismiss people on the basis of class. I was disturbed to hear, in the by-electioneering earlier in the debate, dismissive references to people in Kelvindale. The fact is that the people in Kelvindale are as mixed as people are in any other area. There are pockets of poverty in Kelvindale. It is one of the oldest communities in the country, in terms of the age profile of the population, and therefore includes many elderly people—as well as people in other age groups—who are living in poverty. They may live in a community that is nicer than some others, but their problems are as serious as those experienced by people in any other area, so let us deal in terms of people, and not in terms of classes or areas.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

No. Let me continue, because I have only a short time.

As we have all recognised, the report that we are dealing with today is a halfway house, partly because of the limitations of the statistics that are available in Scotland. It was unfortunate that Fiona Hyslop went on a bit too long about issues to do with this statistic or that statistic, but she had a good point when she referred to the need for an independent approach to the statistical base in this matter, because it is difficult to agree on start, finish and progress points.

In looking at the figures for young people and children, I was struck by the reference to the static nature of the number of 16 to 19-year-olds who are not in education, training or employment—the figure is something like 14 or 15 per cent—notwithstanding improvements in the general economic condition of the country. That is difficult to compare with, for example, the number of people in the new deal, which is listed not for 16 to 19-year-olds, but for 18 to 24-year-olds. To relate the effect of the new deal on 16 to 19-year-olds is therefore difficult, given the different age groups that are listed. The new deal was said to provide jobs for 28,000 18 to 24-year-olds, and we talked about 33,000 in the 16 to 19-year-old category. How do the figures relate to each other?

A theme of partnership has come out of today's debate—partnership with the UK Government and the European Union, drawing together resources at those levels, and, at another level, partnership with the voluntary sector and local communities.

Employment and education are crucial in giving people the economic ability to provide civilised lives for themselves and their families. An odd feature that arose from discussions in the Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee—which I hope will examine these figures in great detail—was the disparity between the growing opportunities in the building industry as a result of the stock transfer measures, among others, and the lack of desire on the part of many young people to go into that industry.

The policies of the Executive and the Parliament are about creating circumstances in which people can live in reasonable comfort and reasonably civilised conditions with reasonable educational and economic opportunities for themselves and their families. Let us go for it and bring about those aims in greater measure.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 4:39 pm, 15th November 2000

Labour claims that it is committed to changing people's lives. Indeed, it has changed the lives of many people, but unfortunately not always for the better. Labour has intervened in the lives of Scots and, although I agree with the stated commitment to creating a fairer society where everyone matters, that has not been achieved in the region that I represent. Since Labour has been in power, the difficulties experienced by farmers, crofters, fishermen and the tourist industry in the Highlands and Islands have meant that families are trying to survive on greatly reduced incomes. The unfair fuel prices coupled with the huge increases in water charges exacerbate the climate of despair that many people experience. Where is social justice for those people? Why does rural Scotland suffer social exclusion under a Liberal Democrat-Labour alliance? It is because the Executive refuses to concentrate on the basics of the economy. It refuses to cut red tape and tax and to create job opportunities.

In the annual report, Labour claims to be committed to reducing crime rates in disadvantaged areas. Crime rates should be reduced all over Scotland.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

The member is painting an awful picture of the period since the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party came together and since the Labour party came to power. Was agriculture in crisis before 1997 or did the crisis occur after 1997?

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

It seemed to happen immediately after the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party came to power.

The Executive is happy to tell people that crime fell by 9 per cent in Glasgow in 1999. However, it may not be happy to tell people that crime in Scotland overall has risen and that in some regions the crime rate has doubled. In Argyll and Bute, the number of crimes against the person and the number of crimes against property both rose. In the Highlands, drug-related crime increased by more than 200 incidents—an astonishing 23 per cent increase—and crime overall rose by 10 per cent.

If the Executive is uninterested in matters north of the Highland line, it may be more interested in Edinburgh statistics. In Edinburgh, the number of reported crimes rose by almost 10,000, or 21 per cent, and the number of drugs crimes increased by more than 50 per cent. Unfortunately, those trends persist across Scotland. In the Scottish Borders, drugs crimes have risen by an astronomical 110 per cent. Crime has risen in 15 out of the 32 local authorities in Scotland. The Executive can speak about crime reduction all it likes, but its strategy has not worked.

Not only has Executive strategy failed to combat crime, it has failed the young people of Scotland. In 1998-99, the proportion of 16 to 19-year-olds who were not in education, training or employment actually rose, rather than being halved as the Executive had promised. That is hardly a good start. The education strategy has also failed. Where is the social justice for the children whose exam results were messed up?

Here is another fact: far from there being a reduction in the number of unauthorised absences, the number of primary school absences has increased by 130,000. The Executive's target of reducing exclusions—more commonly known as expulsion—from school is misplaced. We should reduce exclusions by changing the culture of behaviour in schools; we should give head teachers and parents the freedom and power to decide what is in the best interests of each pupil in the school on a case-by-case basis. If there is no threat of expulsion, setting blanket targets encourages disruptive children to interrupt the education process.

The Executive seems to think that social justice is to be achieved by pumping more money into programmes that are not working. Instead, it should be focusing on real devolution of power: devolution to individuals and local communities rather than power to politicians; devolution to head teachers and school boards; devolution to local, smaller housing associations to rid Scotland of bad housing—the legacy of Labour councils; devolution to health care professionals rather than bureaucrats; free personal care for those who need it; and increased pensions and devolution to pensioners to allow them to spend their money on what matters to them. Those measures would increase social justice by empowering people to control their own destinies and by empowering communities to be inclusive, instead of being coerced by a Government that thinks that it has all the answers but clearly does not.

The annual report makes it clear that the Executive has not achieved much so far. Some of its goals are admirable, but many are misplaced. The Executive's motion is self-congratulatory and ignores the real facts—that many of the areas that the Executive focuses on are now worse off than before. The main positive trends shown in the report, such as the move to community care, were started by the Conservatives. There is a long way to go to achieve social justice and equality of opportunity across Scotland.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 4:45 pm, 15th November 2000

I start by giving a general welcome to the idea of social justice. The ambitious goals set by the Executive are to be admired—they are very aspirational. However, they are based on indicators, targets and measurements. The targets are so vague as to be merely broad statements. The social justice document says that the Executive will assess itself on whether it has increased the

"quality and variety of homes in our most disadvantaged areas."

How vague is that? How about the Executive being assessed on real targets, such as ending overcrowding, eradicating dampness and ending fuel poverty? I suggest that the target that I quoted is a reflection of the chaos in the Executive's housing policies. The targets are no more than flannel. The real issues are dealt with and the resultant policies are set by the Westminster Government. Employment, fiscal and economic policies are excluded from the powers of this Parliament. That is a great excuse, which the Executive uses over and over to allow it to set easy-to-achieve objectives and then wallow in self-congratulatory trumpet blowing.

It is not only the SNP that recognises that. I enjoyed Donald Gorrie's contribution. He said clearly that benefit reforms were much needed. Would not it be wonderful if we could take that idea by the throat and shake it here in Scotland, rather than having to run down to Westminster all the time? Tommy Sheridan mentioned unemployment and poverty traps, which are a direct result of our benefits system and unfair taxation system.

My colleague Fiona Hyslop hinted earlier at concerns that the Executive was manipulating targets to suit itself and to make them easier to achieve. That is best illustrated by the watering down of the 50 indicators with specific measurements that were devised by an evaluation framework team, led by Scottish Executive officials. They were watered down into 28 weaker and vaguer social justice targets; the other 22 indicators were ignored altogether. I suggest that those indicators were ignored because they made for uncomfortable reading. I would go so far as to refute as absolute nonsense Wendy Alexander's statement in the debate a year ago.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

Our approach is based entirely on what the evaluation action team came forward with. I refer Linda Fabiani to the technical document that accompanies the main social justice document; it contains hundreds of measures and indicators of progress.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

We are considering the headline stuff now. The document also talks about reducing crime rates in disadvantaged areas and about ensuring that communities can live together in safety without being overshadowed by fear of crime. I will go away and look at all this stuff and see whether I can work out just how the Executive will achieve that.

As I was saying, I refute as nonsense Wendy Alexander's statement in the debate a year ago. She said:

"This is the most tightly drawn contract ever between the governed and the Government in Scotland, with its commitments on unemployment, income, education, early years, health and housing."—[Official Report, 24 November 1999; Vol 3, c 819-20.]

How will the Executive honour its side of the contract when it has absolutely no power at all to affect the things that could really make a difference?

Regardless of the targets, indicators and measurements, much of what has been said has made worthwhile listening. Sylvia Jackson referred to Mark Shucksmith's report and Richard Lochhead referred to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Mike Rumbles mentioned the real problem of rural poverty and how it can be assessed. I agree that we should have a data bank: great studies have already been done that we could use to build it up. Kenny Gibson talked about urban poverty in Glasgow. We must all recognise that Glasgow is a specific and special case. Everything possible must be done to raise the aspirations of those in disadvantaged areas in Glasgow.

I will not waste much time on the Tories. I was rather annoyed by all that talk of personal responsibility from a party that set out to disfranchise many Scots in disadvantaged areas and communities. Indeed, I wonder whether the Tories still believe that there is no such thing as communities.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

I remind Mr Monteith that society is made up of communities. The problem with the Tories is that they have never realised that.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

I was correcting Linda Fabiani's quotation. If she would care to investigate what Mrs Thatcher actually said, she would find that it was that there are individuals, families and communities. Mrs Thatcher said that there were communities, but that society could not take the blame. If one is going to quote Mrs Thatcher, one should quote her accurately.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

I will not waste any more time on Mrs Thatcher or Brian Monteith.

Mike Rumbles made a great play of social justice and reform being fundamental to liberalism. If so, what is more important to Mike Rumbles, the principles of liberalism or the Labour-Liberal coalition?

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

Oh dear. I have so much to say.

I will move on to Fiona Hyslop's amendment. Everyone in the chamber would affirm their commitment to creating a fairer society and to combating poverty. If that commitment is genuine, it follows that the most sensible way to proceed is to set targets and measurements that can be sustained over future Administrations. That can be done only with all-party parliamentary agreement and I remind members that there are six parties in the Scottish Parliament, not just two or three. I take issue with Trish Godman and Johann Lamont, who seem to think that such agreement is a ridiculous concept. They are wrong to scoff. In Ireland, the national anti-poverty strategy was set with cross-party agreement. We should emulate that.

There must be general recognition that some policies are undermining progress on combating poverty in our country. If the Labour back benchers cannot bring themselves to admit that, surely some of the Liberal Democrats can. If they will not lobby Westminster to allow Scotland more powers to benefit its people, they should at least lobby the Government to change the policies at UK level. I urge members to support the SNP amendment.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour 4:52 pm, 15th November 2000

We have had an interesting debate: socialism, liberalism and a wee dose of Thatcherism—just to remind us what it was like.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I will return to that theme with great pleasure and much criticism.

However, let me start by repeating the points that Jackie Baillie made in her opening speech and those that the First Minister made on Monday at the launch of the social justice annual report.

Poverty and exclusion blight too many lives and affect everyone in Scotland. The problems are not just experienced by some families, in some communities, in some parts of the country. Inequality of income, life chances and opportunity is everyone's problem. That is why we put establishing a comprehensive framework for tackling poverty and injustice at the heart of our programme. We must work together, with all those who share our values. Turning around social problems of the scale that we face will not happen overnight. It is something that we cannot do on our own and we have never implied that we could do it on our own.

The strategy that was set out a year ago contains 29 detailed milestones, supported by an even bigger raft of specific indicators. We are committed to reporting, year on year, on all of those. Our first annual report is now published for all to see, backed by a detailed technical volume giving the background data. That is something that Linda Fabiani should read.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Will Margaret Curran confirm that the baselines to be used in next year's annual report will be the same as those used this year? Does she recognise the serious concern that, if the baselines are shifted, such measurements will be difficult to track year on year?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I was going to turn to Fiona Hyslop's speech first, because it was the most disappointing speech that I have heard in the Parliament. Fiona Hyslop's speeches are sometimes ropy, but that was quite the poorest.

It is irresponsible to talk about fiddled statistics. The data that are collected follow a set of rules for collecting and publishing statistics that is subject to quality assurance to ensure that there is no political interference. The national code of practice on the collection of statistics is very clear about what we are doing. Fiona Hyslop had a problem with only one of the measurements that we are using—she should look at the other 19.

We have been told that the strategy is too easy and too vague. Is ending child poverty easy?

Fiona Hyslop said that we are too unambitious in stating that we will end child poverty in 20 years. She has no grasp of how deep-seated and embedded the problem of poverty is in our communities.

SNP members have told us that they do not like this statistic here or this detail there. None of them told us what they would do to tackle poverty. We heard criticism—I accept that it is appropriate for them to criticise—but, given that we have produced a document that the whole of Scotland can debate and consider, it is incumbent on a political Opposition to say what it would do as an alternative.

I will move on to address the Tories. I have Mrs Thatcher's quotation correct in my speech notes, which say,

"no such thing as society".

It is one thing to say that we must work in partnership. We have made it clear that we work in partnership with the voluntary sector and local authorities, and we are pleased to work in partnership with the British Government as that is what the Scottish people decided that we should do—that is an uncomfortable fact for the SNP to deal with.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

No. I want to deal with the Tories.

It is right to say that we have to work in partnership and that Government cannot do everything, but abandonment is a completely different policy. The Tories made it quite clear that they are still the Thatcherites that they always were. They talked about rolling back the frontiers of the state and about abandonment, and they will be remembered for that.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

If the minister wants to achieve equality for all, why was education spending down by £219 million and local authority spending down by £118 million in Labour's first year in power?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

Nonsense.

I will deal with one point that came out consistently in Opposition speeches. I remind the Opposition that COSLA told the Executive that it needed £1.2 billion; the Executive gave local authorities £1.2 billion; and, in addition, there was a 57 per cent uplift in capital programme allocations.

I will now discuss something to which I am deeply committed. We cannot solve poverty unless we build into our strategy community empowerment. Building strong, thriving communities is central to our social justice approach. The Executive will support communities to take ownership of their own futures. We want people to speak for themselves and to devolve decision making on services down to the people who need them.

We are giving power to communities to make decisions and to influence others; building skills, confidence and capacity; getting high-quality and affordable services to communities; closing the digital divide; and developing community control of assets, organisations and enterprises.

Many people in the community and voluntary sectors will have followed this debate. They should know that Jackie Baillie and I remain committed to promoting social justice at grass-roots level. Our efforts are guided by an overarching strategy, but they do not stop there. Our policies will continue to be informed by the reality of life for excluded groups.

I will refer to some other speeches that we heard, as many were telling and worth while. I am pleased that Trish Godman reminded us of our socialist commitments, as I hope that I will maintain my commitment. Much as I have great respect and admiration for Robert Brown and value his contribution, I think that we should recognise that there is a big difference between Drumchapel and Kelvinside. Sylvia Jackson raised important points about mental health, which we will examine.

I have spent some time considering the history of anti-poverty initiatives and have become aware of how many have been derailed because there has not been a proper diagnosis of progress, of what worked, for how long it worked, in what way it worked and what the barriers were. In the past, there have been swatches of analysis about the process of change. That is quite proper, but the emphasis now must be on outcomes. That is what the Executive will expect from those that it funds. We will tackle poverty, exclusion and injustice not by wishing them away, but by systematic resourced action that will be measured, evaluated and improved.

A theme of today, very properly, was rural poverty. I listened carefully to Mike Rumbles and Sylvia Jackson. The paper on rural poverty that is attached to the annual report reminds us that disadvantage is not just an urban problem. We are working to obtain a better picture of the nature and extent of rural poverty. Ross Finnie has established a working group, with which the Executive will continue to work. We will report to Parliament on that. I genuinely wish to move forward on that issue.

We are committed to reporting regularly and transparently on key milestone statistics to ensure that we and our partners have the hard evidence that is needed to review our policies and programmes against measures of success. If the process of monitoring and reporting against the milestones reveals some areas in which progress is slow, we will be prepared to confront those difficulties. If necessary, we will review our next steps to secure success for our long-term strategy.

That is a key departure. I will quote a distinguished academic, who said:

"These are impressive documents not least because nothing like this has ever been attempted nor have policy makers been so explicit about such a varied range of objectives against which they can be judged. It takes courage to do this. The reports show great determination over a wide range of areas of government activity and also show other agencies what they need to be concentrating on."

We are determined to break the cycle of deprivation and disadvantage. The factors contributing to poverty, deprivation and social exclusion are wide ranging, and our strategy covers economic, educational, health, justice and community issues.

The legacy of injustice has built up over a long time. Our first annual report shows that we are starting to make progress on some of the accumulated problems facing individuals, families and communities. It provides details of the key initiatives that we have put in place to offer help and support to individuals and families that are experiencing poverty and social exclusion, and it aims to prevent problems in the future.

We will be ambitious about our aspirations and honest about their effectiveness. We will work in partnership with the UK Government, local authorities, the voluntary sector and local communities. This has rightly been called a landmark approach, which is appropriate for the first session of the Parliament. It is also appropriate for an Executive in which social justice for all is our abiding commitment.

I speak in all sincerity to the chamber. The loss of Donald Dewar was felt greatly by many in this country, and we still feel it sorely. His influence on our ideas and practice must remain. We will ensure that best by delivering a Parliament with a commitment to social justice at its centre.