Motion to Consider
My Lords, I beg to move that the draft order laid before the House on 7 July now be considered. It might be helpful if I provide the Committee with a brief summary of what the order seeks to achieve. The order is made under Section 63 of the Scotland Act 1998, which allows for an order to provide for any functions, so far as they are exercisable by a Minister of the Crown in or as regards Scotland, to be exercisable by the Scottish Ministers instead of by the Minister of the Crown.
Section 70(3)(a) of the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000 makes provision for the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to set the cap on the amount that local authorities may spend on discretionary housing payments in a financial year. Pursuant to this, the actual cap is set out in the Discretionary Housing Payments (Grants) Order 2001.
This Section 63 order will transfer that function of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to the Scottish Ministers instead. This will enable the Scottish Ministers, by order, to determine the limit on the total amount of expenditure that may be incurred by a Scottish local authority in making discretionary housing payments in the financial year 2014-15—that is, the current financial year—and onwards.
The order allows the Scottish Ministers to decide at which level the cap on discretionary housing payments, to be made by local authorities, is to be set. This will give local authorities and Scottish Ministers increased flexibility to support claimants with their housing costs in this way, as they deem appropriate. The order demonstrates the United Kingdom Government’s continued willingness and commitment to working with the Scottish Government to make the devolution settlement work.
As noble Lords will be aware, the commission under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, has been established to look at additional powers for the Scottish Parliament, and welfare issues may well be a significant part of its deliberations. However, these measures relate to the current financial year and I am sure that noble Lords will agree that it is right that we take them forward at this time.
The order was considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee and was then passed without a Division in the Scottish Parliament on 20 August. It was considered, too, by the Delegated Legislation Committee in the other place on the 14th of this month and passed the following day. If your Lordships’ House approves this order, it will then proceed to the Privy Council. I therefore commend the order to the Committee and beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the order to the Committee. I want also to express my usual thanks to the Minister’s staff for making sure that I was briefed. I would be at quite a loss without those briefings and I want to put on record that appreciation.
The Labour Party supports this order, made under the Scotland Act 1998. As the Minister said, it transfers certain functions of the Work and Pensions Secretary to Scottish Ministers. The transfer concerns the ability to cap the entire amount of expenditure that may be required by a local authority in awarding discretionary housing payments. This amendment to the Scotland Act is supported, as it demonstrates the delivery of further devolution pledges and grants control to Scottish Ministers over a payment that they requested. There is total agreement between the two Front Benches on that.
However, one aspect of the order is worth mentioning for a couple of minutes, which is the two words, “bedroom tax”. I know that Ministers are trained to call it—what is it again?—discretionary housing payment or something like that, which is some cover-up for what is basically a bad tax on a lot of poor people. It is interesting that a Liberal party Minister is putting forward this measure because, quite frankly, it would not have survived without the Liberal Peers and MPs marching into the Lobbies to support the Conservative Government on the bedroom tax. I am very pleased that the Labour Party in Scotland played a very prominent role in putting pressure on the Scottish Government to come forward with something like this so that we can take the pressure off ordinary people in Scotland at least. As a unionist I express regret that the same situation cannot apply in England and Wales. However, having made that very slightly acrimonious comment—having a Liberal Minister in front of me, I just cannot seem to resist it—once again, I thank the Minister for his demonstration and commitment to devolution, which I suppose is in the long run a bigger subject.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, for his support for this order, and the support of his party. I did not think that he would resist the temptation to refer to the removal of the spare room subsidy—of course, it is the removal of a subsidy; it is not a tax. However, as I know that he is a keen follower of Liberal Democrat policy, he will know the position that my party has expressed in recent weeks with regard to that proposal. I will not abuse the Committee by elaborating on that here, but he will be well aware of it. However, he is right; this is an illustration of how the devolution settlement works and its flexibility I think I am right to say that this is the first Section 63 order in this Parliament—I think some of the earlier orders were debated under Section 104—and it shows that the Scotland Act has a number of different measures with which we can make the devolution settlement work, not only for the people of Scotland but also for that of the United Kingdom as a whole.