George Burley, the new manager of the Scottish football team, was in Parliament yesterday to meet with Scottish MPs and the Prime Minister. We all know that football is a real source of pride in Scotland, and has been especially over the past year with the national team’s European finals qualifying campaign. In fact, more people per head of population watch the Scottish Premier League in Scotland, than is the case for any other European league and country.
John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): I am delighted to have secured this debate on a matter of great importance to Scotland’s economy, the jobs of Scottish people and our relations with the rest of the United Kingdom.
I will start by saying how Scotland is presently doing within the UK, and then move on to the important area of Scotland’s economic relations with England, Northern Ireland and Wales, taking more than a passing interest in Europe and the rest of the world.
John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): Thank you, Miss Begg. You have obviously saved the best until last, as I am arriving on the graveyard shift. Time is short and I want to hear my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary’s closing remarks, so I shall be the knockabout act.
The hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing) said that some of my colleagues should go out more and talk to people; if she came back to planet Earth, she might be able to get on with people better than she does on planet Zog. As for the Tories, the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) made an excellent contribution, but never answered my question about the Thatcher years. The Tories would abolish the new deal if they had the chance. As usual, the SNP has offered nothing in the way of policies or clear-cut initiatives. I had hoped that the hon. Member for Perth would develop some arguments in her speech, but she was obviously too concerned about people going out more.
Mr. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): As my predecessor said in his maiden speech, It is with some trepidation that I find myself on my feet at this early stage.
I find the experience just as daunting as he did back in 1966, but, as he did, I will take my courage in both hands and rely on . . . traditional tolerance.–[Official Report, 4 May 1966; Vol. 727, c. 1686-7.]
Donald Dewar was a great man. He has secured his place in history as the architect of the first elected Parliament in Scotland for 300 years. I know that Opposition Members held him in just as high esteem as his hon. Friends. We shall all miss him, and the House will be a poorer place for his passing. The people of Anniesland will also miss him. When I was campaigning in the by-election, I was repeatedly told, “He will be a hard act to follow.” He certainly will.
John Robertson, MP for Glasgow North West, welcomed the increases in Winter Fuel Allowance in the Chancellor’s first Budget today to mitigate the effects of fuel price rises on pensioners.
John wrote to Alastair Darling calling for an increase in the basic rate in February and repeated this call in Treasury questions in the House of Commons last week.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the winter fuel allowance, especially at such an appropriate time, given that the Government set out their policy on it in last week’s Budget. As we have extra time, I am happy for my hon. Friend David Taylor to take part in the debate. The winter fuel allowance administration centre is in his constituency.
Context is all-important when discussing the payment. Account must be taken of factors such as energy prices, inflation and the history of the allowance, and some of the criticisms of last week’s Budget show a lack of appreciation of that. As I am sure my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will emphasise, there would be no winter fuel allowance if it had not been introduced by the Labour Government in 1997. When it was introduced it was ?20, but from next winter the basic rate will be ?250 and the higher rate will be up to ?400. In the light of that, some criticisms that I have read are reminiscent of the People’s Front of Judea—or should I say the Judean People’s Front?—wondering what the Romans, or in this case the Government, have ever done for us.
Yesterday evening I gave a speech in Parliament on the Winter Fuel Allowance in a debate I had been granted on this, with the Minister for Pensions, Mike O’Brien, answering. It took place at just after half past 9, so slightly earlier than was scheduled and I had mentioned on this website. I hope anyone tuning in was able to see some of the debate. I’ve published the transcript of the debate below:
John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the winter fuel allowance, especially at such an appropriate time, given that the Government set out their policy on it in last week’s Budget. As we have extra time, I am happy for my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) to take part in the debate. The winter fuel allowance administration centre is in his constituency.
I congratulate Mr. Crabb on his private Member’s Bill. I am here not to criticise but to support him, although with reservations and questions that I hope the Minister will answer; I hope that the Minister will give me the clarification that I need. The hon. Gentleman was extremely generous in giving way. It is helpful to be able to get answers from the promoter of the Bill, and I listened intently to the hon. Gentleman’s remarks.
The Budget is a key event in the Parliamentary calendar – it is one of the occasions when almost all MPs will be in the Chamber and not in other parts of the House of Commons on committees or in other debates. It dominates proceedings and work in Westminster for the week.