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

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 30th June 2015.

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Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 4:00 pm, 30th June 2015

I absolutely understand that. If we get a chance in the years ahead, while welfare remains the responsibility of the UK Parliament, to join the Labour party in voting to apply the measures that we will introduce in Scotland to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, I will be happy to take the opportunity to do so.

I turn to the Secretary of State’s veto, which has been mentioned. I know he will deny that it is a veto, but everyone else who has looked at the provisions thinks it is a veto, including most third sector organisations in Scotland. It will allow the Secretary of State to object to regulations that the Scottish Parliament might introduce to improve the welfare system in Scotland. How can it be right that a power is devolved yet not devolved, and that the Secretary of State will retain authority to govern such decisions? In an earlier stage of the debates on the Bill, one Conservative Member said that we should all trust each other and that life would be an awful lot better. Could the Secretary of State not find it in his heart to trust the Scottish Government to make regulations? After all, there are fairly closely defined parameters for those regulations, so why on earth burden everyone with the requirement that the Scottish Government have to seek the Secretary of State’s consent? It is absolutely ridiculous.

If there is one way in which Secretary of State could indicate that he is listening to Scotland, it is by saying, “Fair enough—if the Scottish Government take a decision, we will let them get on with it, because we have transferred authority. We do not have to keep looking over their shoulder and checking their homework.” I hope that he will take that on board.

The crux of the whole argument is political authority. We are now halfway through the fourth day of debates on the Bill, and the Government and the Secretary of State have yet to suggest that they will make any substantive change to it. The Minister for Employment suggested earlier that the clauses we were discussing were in line with the spirit and substance of the Smith agreement, but it is strange that everyone else disagrees, including the Scottish Parliament’s devolution committee, on which the Conservative party is represented. That all-party group said that the clauses as drafted did not represent the spirit or substance of the Smith agreement. Something has got to give, unless we are going to rename the Secretary of State the governor-general and accept that we will not have government with the consent of the people in Scotland. I hope that he will listen to the people and accept some amendments.

When I quizzed the Secretary of State yesterday, he leapt to his feet and said that he was listening, and that he was in fact in conversation with the Scottish Government. He cited conversations with my colleague the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney. That caused John Swinney to write to the Secretary of State to say that he considers that his name has almost been taken in vain. He states:

“you cited our ‘productive discussion’…There will have to be clear movement by the UK Government, otherwise it is becoming harder to justify that description.”

Today the Secretary of State has the opportunity to make some minor concessions to show that he is willing to listen to the people who were elected in Scotland—I am not talking just about the 56 SNP MPs; I think we can safely say that 58 out 59 MPs from Scotland do not want the Secretary of State to have a veto over powers that this Parliament might devolve to the Scottish Government. I hope that he will reflect on that and give some ground in his concluding remarks to show that he is listening.