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Tuesday, 8 May, 2001, 18:07 GMT
Curtain falls on Scottish Questions
House of Commons
MPs gathered before the prime minister's announcement
Scots MPs have gathered in the House of Commons for the final Scottish Questions before the general election.

And what was then the impending announcement of a 7 June poll was the issue which dominated the exchanges at Westminster on Tuesday afternoon.

Both Labour and Tory MPs agreed that it was time for an election.

Speaker Michael Martin had to intervene at one point to remind MPs: "We are on Scottish Questions. The election campaign will be fought elsewhere."

Ian Davidson
Ian Davidson: Employment question
Scottish Questions took place shortly before Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the election date at a school in Bermondsey, south London.

The tone was set by the first questioner, Glasgow Pollok MP Ian Davidson.

The Labour member asked ministers to confirm that unemployment had fallen by 40% in his constituency since the last election, while youth unemployment had dropped by over 70%.

"Are you able to stand at the despatch box and give answers to these very difficult questions?" he asked Scottish Secretary Helen Liddell.

Distinguished service'

"But while much has been done, would you agree there is still much to do?"

And he added: "It's about time we had a general election."

Mrs Liddell said: "Much has been done. There is much to do. But there is also much to lose and I would agree with you that it is time for a general election."

She paid tribute to the "distinguished service" given to the House by Scottish MPs who are stepping down at the election - accounting for almost a quarter of the 72 Scottish MPs.

Mrs Liddell warned that the prospect of full employment could be "snatched away" if the Conservatives were to win.

And she dubbed the Scottish National Party "Hague's little helpers" and said they were seeking to ensure the election of a Tory government.

Tory spokeswoman Eleanor Laing said voters knew that Scotland's strength was due to the policies pursued by the last Conservative government.

She said 67% of Scottish people thought taxes were too high, adding: "They are right and they know what to do about it."

The issue of the Barnett Formula - the funding settlement for Scotland - was also the subject of debate.

Mrs Liddell sought to damp down suggestions that it would be changed amid criticism that it has offered Scotland unfairly high levels of public spending.

Her comments came after Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott recently suggested it was time for the government to "bite the bullet" on the issue.

Mrs Liddell said: "This government has increased public expenditure in Scotland by 8.5bn extra and it is the party opposite that would cut 24m from every single constituency in Scotland if they were re-elected.

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond: Barnett Formula concerns
"We have no plans to change the Barnett Formula."

But Scottish National Party constitutional spokesman Alex Salmond accused her of "keeping quiet" on the issue until the general election was over.

He said: "The deputy prime minister is targeting reducing spending in Scotland by 1,000 a head.

"The Scottish Parliament should have control over revenue as opposed to being at the mercy of an anti-Scottish cabal in the cabinet.

"The deputy prime minister said the Barnett Formula wasn't set in stone and forecast blood on the carpet.

"Why then was Number 10 so anxious to say he wasn't talking about the formula if it wasn't for the anxiety of the Labour benches to keep this issue quiet until the election is safely over?"

Mrs Liddell sought to dismiss Mr Salmond's demands and said his party's plans for Scotland would mean a reduction of about 500m in health spending.

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