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Scotland Analysis Programme

Volume 567: debated on Wednesday 11 September 2013

The Government are committed to ensuring a well-informed debate ahead of the Scottish referendum and have already published five analytical documents covering a range of economic and other issues. Future papers from the Scotland analysis programme will be published over the course of 2013 and 2014.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. With the Scottish Finance Minister, John Swinney, admitting in his leaked memo that the affordability of state pensions would need to be examined in the light of separation, does the Secretary of State agree that a future paper should focus on pensions in an independent Scotland?

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that pensions are an issue that people across the country are very engaged in and concerned about, and that includes what an independent Scotland might mean for them. They have heard experts, such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland—I declare an interest as a member—put out their opinion, but nothing is more certain than John Swinney’s opinion. The fact that he has said that there is a worry about this should tell us everything we need to know about the pensions issue.

Does the Secretary of State plan to have a word with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on making Government time available for the House to discuss the reports and analysis? If he cannot get the time, may I suggest that he allows the Scottish Grand Committee to have those debates?

Without being impertinent to the hon. Gentleman, the old ones are the best. I know how keen he has been on the Scottish Grand Committee, although I think that he is a fairly lone voice in that regard. I agree that it is important that we have proper debates, in whatever forum, about all the issues. The Scottish Affairs Committee is working through the papers and taking evidence from me, my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and others. The House can decide when we get a chance to debate that, which I hope we will.

Whitehall’s “Project Fear” papers are looking at welfare, so will the Secretary of State confirm whether those working on the paper have listened to any advice from the United Nations envoy, Raquel Rolnik? She says that the bedroom tax is “shocking” and should be scrapped. Does the Secretary of State believe that the bedroom tax is a benefit of the Union?

I have not read the details of the report, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that, through welfare reform, we are focused on tackling an escalating welfare bill in very tight financial circumstances. What we are trying to do is tackle the mismatch for different families in different accommodation. We need to look carefully at the implementation, which is what my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I are doing. On welfare, the hon. Gentleman’s party commissioned a report on that earlier this year in relation to an independent Scotland. It complained that it does not have some founding principles for an independent Scotland and so could not really say very much about it. I wonder whether he can update us on any progress.

The views of the UN envoy have been very well reported. She visited both Glasgow and Edinburgh and said that the bedroom tax affects

“the most vulnerable, the most fragile, the people who are on the fringes of coping with everyday life”.

The Secretary of State did not answer my question, so I will ask it a second time: does he believe that the bedroom tax is a benefit of the Union—yes or no?

We will look carefully at the report, but as I said earlier, we are making some very difficult decisions in the context of an escalating welfare bill at a time of real financial stringency. However, we have been looking carefully across Scotland at how this is being implemented. My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I have met or talked with all the councils in Scotland and the main housing associations. We have put additional resources into tackling the spare room subsidy issue and will go across the country again to listen to people, as we will do for the rest of the year.