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

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:15 pm on 30th June 2015.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 3:15 pm, 30th June 2015

I should like to speak to new clause 55. The explanatory statement tells us:

“This new Clause would remove from the list of reserved matters in the 1998 Act (and so transfer to the Scottish Parliament) all social security schemes, including National Insurance and housing benefit, as well as child support, occupational and personal pensions and war pensions.”

These are complex matters, as I said yesterday, and I have tabled this probing amendment to elicit from those on the Government Front Bench their thoughts on this vital matter.

I shall start by making a controversial statement. I believe that, by dribbling out powers—that is not my own phrase, but one given to me by one of my Scottish friends; I still have one or two left—we are giving the Scottish National party a crowbar with which to blast the Union apart. This Parliament is giving the SNP just enough purchase on that crowbar by giving it just enough powers to feed a sense of grievance. If we were to give the Scottish Parliament full responsibility for social security, it would be difficult for it to feed on that grievance. It would have to be a responsible Parliament and take responsible decisions, and I am confident that it would do so.

My amendment would place all social security within Scotland, including pensions, in the hands of the Scottish Parliament. Scotland has a more ageing population than the UK as a whole, and immigration there is much lower—I never understand why, but apparently it is—so Scotland will need a needs-based formula to protect the pensions of Scottish people. That is precisely the argument I have been using in these debates. A needs-based formula that buttressed a Scottish Parliament with full fiscal autonomy would sustain the Union, and I would therefore replace the Barnett formula with such a needs-based formula to protect the pensions of Scotland’s ageing population. That is where I am coming from.

We are not very far into this Parliament, yet already I feel that I might be wearying my colleagues by making the same point over and again. However, it is an important point to make. There are not a huge number of my colleagues present in the Chamber today, but I recall from reading my history books that during the debates on what was to become the Government of India Act 1935, the House of Commons debated the Bill day after day. In those debates, people such as Brendan Bracken, Harold Macmillan and Winston Churchill made the point over and again that dribbling out powers to India would destroy the connection between India and the United Kingdom. Very few people listened to them.

I do not claim to be in the same league as them, but I believe that this debate is extremely important. It is important to understand that we could destroy the Union by not getting this right, and we must debate that contention.