A week at Westminster with Gordon MP Sir Malcolm Bruce

Tax threshold fulfils personal commitment

GIVEN the circumstances, the announcement in the Budget that the income tax threshold would be increased to £10,000 next year a year ahead of the promised schedule is a significant achievement which will benefit well over 200,000 people in the North East.

It is also a source of personal satisfaction because, as the Liberal Democrats’ Treasury spokesman in the 1997 election I first proposed raising the threshold to £10,000. At the time we were rather ridiculed. Now it has been delivered during our first term in Government.

This measure will take 18,750 people across Aberdeen City and Shire out of income tax altogether and deliver a £700 a year tax cut compared with 2010 to a further 202,800.

A £2000 a year allowance for all businesses and charities will be offset against their employers’ National Insurance. This will benefit 70,000 Scottish businesses by £100 million per year as a group. This comes on top of last autumn’s announcement of a raising of the capital allowances from £25,000 to £250,000 for a two year period and a reduction in corporation tax to 20 per cent in 2015.

This week, no fewer than three Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers are set to launch the Government’s strategy for oil and gas, demonstrating their commitment to securing jobs and investment from this key growth sector.

Restoring the public finances remains a crucial challenge but the Government is still pursuing measures within that constraint to deliver growth and the creation of more than a million jobs is no mean achievement in the circumstances. Tackling skills shortages in the North East against a background of 1 per cent unemployment is our main priority.

IF we can end hunger...

The ‘IF’ campaign to end world hunger is gathering momentum in the run up to the G8 summit in Northern Ireland in June.

The campaign is similar to the Make Poverty History campaign in the run up to the Gleneagles summit.

The Chancellor announced in the budget that the UK would reach the commitment of delivering 0.7 per cent of our gross national income in official development assistance this year.

Yet, although there is enough food in the world for everyone millions remain hungry. The challenge is to ensure that food reaches everyone. That means improving small farmers’ production, ensuring that poor people in towns have enough to live on and eliminating waste.

Conflict, climate change and poor governance are key factors in prolonging hunger. Nevertheless much can be done as Ethiopia, once a by-word for famine has demonstrated.

Coupled with the Prime Minister’s commitment as co-chair of the High Level Panel to end absolute poverty, there is no shortage of ambition among the development community.

Sign language deserves status of Gaelic and Welsh

I hosted a well attended event in the House of Commons to mark the 10th anniversary of the recognition of British Sign Language by the Department of Work and Pensions.

Sign language is a vibrant language used by tens of thousands of deaf people yet British Sign Language does not enjoy the degree of support that is provided for Gaelic and Welsh or even the foreign languages of our immigrant communities.

With the service of interpreters profoundly deaf people can engage much more fully in work and society.

If we can give support to deaf parents and their children to learn and use BSL and provide access to video relay services (providing video links to interpreters anytime anywhere) and teach BSL as a foreign language we will not only keep this part of our culture alive but really enhance the quality of life for deaf people.

I am working with a number of ministers to make progress.

Cyprus puts flawed banking in spotlight again

The economic agony of Cyprus is surely a continuing warning of the dangers threatening all European economies in and out of the Eurozone.

I am sympathetic to the ordinary citizens of Cyprus. Greece’s problems had already put Cyprus in the danger zone. The European Central Bank’s first reaction was brutal and unhelpful.

Nevertheless, Cyprus banks’ policy of attracting Russian money of dubious provenance with unsustainably generous interest rates left the economy on the edge of a precipice.

It is a warning that unless banks are reined in and Governments reduce deficits we could all face severe cuts in our savings and pensions. That is what the UK Government is working to avoid.

Referendum date - but more still unites us

So – after two years of delay the Scottish Government has finally announced the date of the independence referendum – actually in late summer rather than autumn next year.

This has been followed by the wildest of promises by the SNP. Independence will deliver a Neverland of rose tinted prosperity free from any hint of austerity (if you ignore the hidden papers warning of cuts to benefits and pensions).

The most telling poll recently was that which showed that most people recognised that if an independent Scotland kept the pound there is no point in voting for independence.

However, my own view is that however much the SNP dwell on the anniversary of Bannockburn and the celebration of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, the emotional attachment to the United Kingdom reinforces the practical recognition that we give and get so much more staying together than we ever will by erecting barriers and divisions.