I beg to move.
That the draft Housing Benefit (Welfare Supplementary Payment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017 be approved.
These draft regulations are needed to provide my Department with the powers to make payments to ensure that 34,000 households do not suffer financially when the social sector size criteria, otherwise known as the bedroom tax, is applied in Northern Ireland on 20 February. While it has not been possible to bring the draft regulations to either the Executive or the Committee for Communities in advance of bringing them to the Assembly today, it has been suggested by some MLAs that my Department already has the powers, under the Budget Act or section 59 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, and there is no need for me to come to the Assembly to seek approval of the draft regulations.
Members of the House are well aware of the complexity of social security legislation. Indeed, in the past number of months, the House has voted on four separate sets of regulations to give my Department the necessary powers to protect those people who have been impacted by the changes to the welfare system. This reflects the long-established approach to social welfare, which is based on a solid foundation whereby legislation and regulations specify the terms and conditions on which social welfare payments are made and administered.
It strikes me as extraordinary that some MLAs are suggesting that we should try to operate a social security system and make mitigation payments on the basis of the general powers provided for under the Budget Act or section 59 of the Northern Ireland Act, rather than the legislative powers set down in the Welfare Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 2015, which was agreed by the Executive. Indeed, in recent days, my permanent secretary has provided me with detailed legal advice from the Attorney General, which clearly states that neither the Budget Act nor section 59 provide any legal basis for the type of scheme set out in the draft regulations. This advice clearly states that these only provide the Department with the power to spend money; they do not provide the legal framework for the application of that money. Members can see from the draft set of regulations that the general provisions in the Budget Act would not give my Department the powers necessary to make decisions in the different scenarios set out in the regulations.
That nails everything that the Finance Minister has been doing. Whilst he is engaged in a Twitter battle, the public can see who the twit is as he has gone along, making it up on social media, in respect of how this is being issued.