Clause 24 — Universal credit: costs of claimants who rent accommodation

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 30th June 2015.

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Photo of Eilidh Whiteford Eilidh Whiteford Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Social Justice and Welfare) 2:45 pm, 30th June 2015

My hon. Friend makes a very pertinent point.

During the intervening months between the simple request and getting the permission we needed, some of our most disadvantaged citizens continued to accrue rent arrears or had to do without essentials in order to meet their liabilities. That is just one concrete example of how restrictions of this type currently act as a stalling mechanism and a barrier to progressive change, and they demonstrate why we need to get rid of the veto.

Other examples of things we could do with these provisions include the power to maintain direct payments of housing benefit to social landlords—something that I think is in everybody’s interests—and the power to ensure that under universal credit claimants can receive individual payments, which potentially benefits women and children and protects their interests. Then there is the power to equalise the earnings disregard between the first and second earners in a household. Again, given the persistent pay gap in Scotland between women and men, that measure could predominantly benefit up to 70,000 women by up to £1,200 a year. By contrast, if we leave the Bill unamended, we curtail the powers of the Scottish Parliament to enact policies that are overwhelmingly in the interests of our citizens and are supported by them. We risk seeing such measures batted off into the long grass.

We also store up trouble down the line. It is fair to say that the Secretary of State got himself in a richt kirn earlier this month on the “Scotland 2015” programme when he was asked directly about the veto. When the presenter put it to him that

“it could be used to block if there was a political will to do that because who would decide if the Secretary of State was unreasonably withholding consent?”,

the Secretary of State said:

“Well, I would hope that it would never come to that, but because it’s on the face of the legislation ultimately it might be the courts that would decide.”

I fear that the Secretary of State has let the cat out of the bag; I suspect he was a lot more candid than he intended to be. I think we can infer from that very revealing remark that he knows that, in practice, this Bill’s measures will act as a veto on the Scottish Parliament—pure and simple. I put it to the Committee that if the Scottish Parliament has to go to court to enforce the powers devolved in the Bill, it is not worth the paper it is written on.