To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they are making in the transfer of full welfare responsibilities to the Scottish Government as provided for by the Scotland Act 2016.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord McAvoy, and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.
My Lords, we have made significant progress to transfer the welfare powers in the Scotland Act 2016. Eleven provisions are already in force, including new powers for the Scottish Parliament to create new benefits in devolved areas and top up any reserved benefits. The UK Government remain committed to a safe and secure transfer of powers, and the joint ministerial working group on welfare continues to oversee plans for commencement of the remaining welfare provisions.
My Lords, does the Minister recall that time after time the SNP has asked for powers to mitigate the effects of Tory austerity in Scotland? It now has the tax powers and the welfare powers, but it does absolutely nothing. Does that not confirm that it prefers to moan and whine rather than to accept responsibility?
I certainly recall what the noble Lord says, and I have a degree of sympathy with what he is saying. It is clear that the Scottish Government are having to face up to the reality that demanding the devolution of more powers is not the same as being able to use those powers effectively. If you want to replace existing programmes, you need first to know what you are replacing them with. The Government’s priority must be and is to work with the Scottish Government to ensure the safe and secure transfer of devolved welfare powers.
My Lords, is it not worth noting that the SNP claimed that it could deliver independence in two years after winning a referendum? It has been in government for over nine years. Should the people of Scotland not welcome the fact that it now recognises that it is not competent to take over the welfare responsibilities, not least because it is failing to meet outcomes and targets on education, health, transport, justice, policing, and local government—indeed, on everything? It is really time that it recognised that it is not up to the job.
I certainly think that the realities of devolving welfare powers put into context the assertion of the then First Minister of Scotland, who said that an independent Scottish state could be established within 18 months. We have seen some of the domestic policy record; two weeks ago, we learned that Scotland’s schools had recorded their worst ever performance in PISA tests since those were set up in the year 2000. This underlines why the Scottish Government should perhaps spend less time searching for new reasons to hold another independence referendum and more time on the day job.
My Lords, have they not proved that you cannot fill a void with a vacuum?
I am inclined to agree with my noble friend.