Scotland Bill - Report (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 29th February 2016.

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Photo of Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Liberal Democrat 9:30 pm, 29th February 2016

My Lords, I have three amendments in my name in this group. I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy. Social security is a very important subject and Part 3 is a very important part of the Bill.

I can dispose of my amendments briefly. At one point during Committee, I considered running a series of amendments that would have sought to take on employability. That is an important part within social protection but separate from social security. I welcome the fact that Clause 29 devolves a certain amount of power in terms of the Work Programme and related contractor-driven service provisions north of the border to Scotland. That is entirely sensible.

My original idea, which I think there is still a case for, is that employability as a subject could have been taken much further than the Smith commission suggested. I have for some time come to the conclusion that the whole of Jobcentre Plus services could be more efficiently and better served from a Scottish base run by the Scottish Government through the Scottish skills department, in a way that could improve on what we have at the moment. I decided against doing that because it was not in the Smith commission. There is a stateable case for doing it but I do not think that this Bill is the right way.

Instead, I decided to try and encourage Ministers to look more flexibly at the powers within Clause 29. Amendment 58 looks at some of the restrictions in claiming reserve benefits. Amendment 59 would try to give more flexibility and power to the Scottish devolved powers in Clause 29 to make them easier to tailor to individual Scottish circumstances.

I should declare an interest. Colleagues probably know that I am a non-executive, non-remunerated director of the Wise Group in Glasgow. I have been in that position for a while. As a result of that experience, I am pretty persuaded that the Scottish conditions, the shorter lines of communications and the set-up north of the border are of a different order to what happens throughout the rest of the United Kingdom and could be better developed in a way that would provide a better service if a maximum amount of flexibility was given. The providers who run the programmes already have a lot of discretion about the services that they deploy. It is all done on the basis of payment by results and the outcomes are all very carefully monitored, so I do not think that we would be giving very much away by encouraging the Clause 29 powers to be developed in as flexible a way as possible.

I suspect that the Minister will be advised that Amendments 58 and 59 would run counter to some of the legislative provisions that set up the Work Programme. I am prepared to accept that, if that is the case, but I think there is at least a series of questions to be asked about what are very important programmes delivering services to low-income households and jobseekers in Scotland in a way that I think could be improved. In parenthesis, I think that worklessness will be less of a problem in Scotland in the future and that low-income working households will have difficulties with poverty which will need to be addressed in a different way, because work incentives are not just about getting people into work but about getting them to progress through work. That is important, too. If the Minister does not mind, it is worth spending just a moment trying to give me a rationale on why we should not increase the flexibility available to work providers north of the border once Clause 29 powers are delivered to Scotland.

I do not think there are as many lawyers present in the House now as there were earlier this evening; otherwise, I might be tempted to press Amendment 60 to a Division because any self-respecting lawyer who looked at the complexity that now exists within this Bill compared with the parent Act of 1998—we are dealing with exceptions, reservations and exempted, as well as accepted, powers—would consider that a consolidation measure was easily justified. I hope that the Minister will note that I have made it easy for him in the amendment by saying that I would settle even for a draft, because trying to do what that amendment seeks to do in six months would be quite a tall order. However, it is a serious point. It would be of considerable assistance to all of us to have such a measure, as this body of law develops. I hope rather than fear that it will develop; that is, I am fearful of that from a complexity point of view but hope for it from a political point of view.

On the previous group of amendments, the Minister rightly said that it was important to try to keep the template of the various sister Acts in some kind of cohesive shape. But in order to do that and to assist that process, a draft consolidation measure would be much appreciated by everybody in future. As I say, if there were enough lawyers in the House, I might even think about pressing this to a Division. I make the point facetiously but I hope that the Minister takes it seriously and gives us some comfort that he will go back to the department and explain how difficult it is for us—never mind members of the public—to understand the complexities of the interrelationships of the Acts that flow as a sequence from the parent 1998 Scotland Act.