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Welfare Powers

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th January 2017.

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Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney 12:00 am, 18th January 2017

What progress has been made on transferring further welfare powers to the Scottish Government.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell The Secretary of State for Scotland

As this is the Scottish questions immediately preceding Burns night on Wednesday 25 January, may I wish all those organising Burns suppers or other events in Scotland, across the UK, including here in this House of Commons, and around the world the very best? Robert Burns’ legacy is as relevant today as ever.

The UK Government are committed to a safe and secure transfer of the remaining welfare powers. The majority of welfare powers commenced in 2016, and the transfer of the remaining powers will be overseen by the joint ministerial working group on welfare, which will meet again next month.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney

The Scotland Act 2016 gives the Scottish Government powers over benefits in Scotland. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Scottish Government must now set out the detail of how they plan to use those powers to shape Scotland’s welfare system?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell The Secretary of State for Scotland

My hon. Friend is right about that; the power for the Scottish Parliament to create new benefits in devolved areas came into force in the autumn, and it now has the power to shape that welfare system as it chooses. Some modest measures have already been announced, but it is time that we hear more about the proposals for a new welfare system. A consultation has been held and I look forward to hearing the Scottish Government’s response to it.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland Office)

The fact that the UK Government plan to close half of Glasgow’s jobcentres without even knowing the number of affected people is a dereliction of duty. Will the Secretary of State commit to having a word with his Cabinet colleagues and getting those plans dropped?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell The Secretary of State for Scotland

I do understand the concerns that have been raised about jobcentre closures in Glasgow. I have spoken directly with my colleague the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. It is the Government’s determination to ensure that there will be no change to the level of service offered to the people of Glasgow. As the hon. Lady and other Glasgow Members will know, there is a public consultation for people who have to travel more than 3 miles or for more than 20 minutes, and it is open until 31 January. I encourage all those affected, and all hon. Members with constituencies affected, to take part in it.

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent

What progress has been made on transferring further welfare powers to the Scottish Government.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell The Secretary of State for Scotland

That group has played an important part in establishing the links between the DWP and the Scottish Government. I have been in regular recent contact with Angela Constance, the relevant Minister in the Scottish Government, about their latest proposals on universal credit. Inevitably, the complexity of this area means that as the transfer takes place new issues arise that need to be dealt with. The joint ministerial working group is the ideal place to do that.

Photo of David Anderson David Anderson Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to the family of Canon Kenyon Wright, who, sadly, passed away last week. He was a principled man whose legacy should serve as a reminder to all of us that when we work together it is possible to deliver the impossible.

This Tory Government are currently moving disabled people from the disability living allowance to personal independence payments, and it is estimated that the people of Scotland will lose out on £190 million a year as a result. If that was not bad enough, the Government did this a year ago but they withdrew the timetable and have not issued a new one. So can the Secretary of State please inform the House, and indeed the people of Scotland, when they can expect to lose out on this £190 million a year?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell The Secretary of State for Scotland

First, may I welcome the hon. Gentleman back? He was missed at our last Scottish questions, although Stephen Pound entertained the House—I think I can say that. I knew Canon Kenyon Wright and he was indeed a very principled man, with strong personal conviction. He played a very important part in the constitutional convention that led to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. As we have seen in the media, he is widely mourned.

Mr Anderson will know that disability benefits are to be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and the funding of those benefits was dealt with in the negotiations for the fiscal framework. It is now for the Scottish Government to come forward with their proposals for disability benefits in Scotland.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Conservative, Finchley and Golders Green

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to hear less from the Scottish Government about the powers they want and more about how they are going to use the powers we have given them?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell The Secretary of State for Scotland

My hon. Friend makes a very relevant point. Mr Anderson referred to personal independence payments, to which, I know, the Scottish Government are opposed, but I have no idea what they intend to replace them with, or on what timetable.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Deputy Leader, Scottish National Party, Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader

May I begin by joining colleagues in paying tribute to Canon Kenyon Wright? He not only played a significant role in helping to deliver devolution to Scotland but, of course, in 2014 supported a yes vote for Scottish independence.

The UK Government are planning to close half the jobcentres in Glasgow without even knowing the number of people who will be affected by such a radical change. Was the Secretary of State consulted in advance of the closures, and when did he show enough interest to find out which specific locations would face closure?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell The Secretary of State for Scotland

I have taken a very close interest in this issue and worked closely on it with my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Scottish Government. The Government and I have never suggested that the procedures followed during the process have been perfect, but we have put forward a public consultation for people who are affected and will have to travel more than 3 miles or for more than 20 minutes. I encourage everyone involved to take part in the consultation.

Photo of Angus Robertson Angus Robertson Deputy Leader, Scottish National Party, Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader

The devolution of powers hangs very much together with the hard Brexit plans of the current Government. The Secretary of State has said that his role is

“to ensure Scotland gets the best possible deal and that deal involves clearly being part of the single market.”

Does he still believe that, or has he changed his mind after being told what he should say by his Tory bosses in London?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell The Secretary of State for Scotland

I do not recognise the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday as a hard Brexit plan. I do not think that the 500,000 Scottish National party voters who voted for Brexit will take kindly to being referred to as right-wing Tory Brexiteers. They were independently minded people in Scotland who voted for what they thought was the right thing for Scotland. It is absolutely clear, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, that we want to have access to the single market, and that is what the quote from me that the right hon. Gentleman just read out made clear. On the other hand, membership of the single market is a quite different thing, as Mike Russell and, privately, the Scottish Government accept.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. I say gently to colleagues that progress is far too slow; we need to hasten the pace. Some reduction in the decibel level—not least from the Chair of the International Trade Committee—would be heartily welcomed across the House.