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 Dunlop Lord Dunlop The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland 9:30 pm, 29th February 2016

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord McAvoy and Lord Kirkwood, for their amendments. I turn to Amendments 56F and 57B, moved and spoken to, respectively, by the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy. We had a good debate in Committee on similar amendments and I hope I was able to provide much detail on the joint working and scrutiny that will govern the transition and implementation of the new welfare powers. The Government are clearly sympathetic to the intent behind the amendments and the importance of a seamless transition that makes sure that the ultimate clients for welfare services are not in any way disadvantaged.

At the heart of the UK and Scottish Government scrutiny and implementation of these welfare powers is the Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare which, as I said in Committee, has met four times since February 2015 and will meet again soon after the Scottish parliamentary elections. I have also given the assurance that I will explore how we can make the work of the Joint Ministerial Working Group on Welfare more visible in this place. I am already acting on that promise. Scottish and UK government officials will discuss the issue tomorrow at the next meeting of the joint senior officials group before it is then raised at the next joint ministerial group, which will take place after the Scottish parliamentary elections.

Beyond the range of work I have already outlined, there are other committees, both in the UK and Scottish Parliament, which will have a role in the scrutiny of the new powers being devolved. For example, the Minister for Employment will be appearing in front of the UK Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee on 9 March to give evidence on the welfare and employment powers that are being devolved through the Bill. Ministers also often appear before committees in the Scottish Parliament to aid the scrutiny of Scottish government proposals. Most recently, the Secretary of State for Scotland appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee just seven days ago to discuss issues such as the fiscal framework and the role of the Joint Ministerial Committee on welfare.

Noble Lords might also like to know that the Department for Work and Pensions established an implementation programme team in April 2015 which is specifically responsible for working with the Scottish Government on the transition and implementation of these powers. The team employs around 20 people and will expand substantially as the plans of the Scottish Government become clear. This will create clear lines of accountability and further reporting within the UK Government.

One issue that the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, raised in Committee was the engagement with local groups and organisations in Scotland and whether this was, as he said, “perhaps a bit perfunctory”. I will respond directly to this point. Through the development and passage of the Bill, colleagues from the Department for Work and Pensions have worked closely with a range of different organisations in Scotland which represent a wide range of people with different needs, to listen to their concerns and discuss the intent of the welfare and employment provisions. This work has certainly informed some of the amendments to the Bill that were tabled in the other place; for example, the changes to the carer’s benefit powers.