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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 19 December 2017

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Business Motion, Superfast Broadband, Social Security (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Social Security (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Scottish Fiscal Commission (Appointment), Decision Time, Street Pastors Scotland (10th Anniversary)


Contents


Social Security (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The next item is a debate on motion S5M-09629, in the name of Jeane Freeman, on the Social Security (Scotland) Bill at stage 1.

14:54  

The Social Security (Scotland) Bill comes to the Parliament as the legislative foundation for a new public service for Scotland to deliver a rights-based social security system that is founded on the principles of dignity, fairness and respect. Although it is correct that we will not be responsible for all social security, with the bulk remaining reserved to the UK Government, we will be responsible for 11 benefits, affecting 1.4 million people in Scotland. The foundation that we lay in this bill should therefore be capable of being the foundation for all social security in Scotland, should the time come when our Parliament has that opportunity.

The bill sets out the social contract that extends to everyone in Scotland. It underpins the investment that we believe social security is—an investment that we make in ourselves and in each other. It is a recognition that people across Scotland contribute to our society in many different ways, each of which is valuable and each of which adds to the sum total of our quality of life. Every party and every member of this Parliament now has a direct stake in delivering the contract. Members in this chamber must have confidence that, by the end of the parliamentary process, we will have a social security act that the people of Scotland are confident in and content with. With that in mind, I am pleased that the committee has come to a unanimous agreement to support the general principles of the bill.

As we get on with building a new public service that is the beacon of fairness, accessibility and transparency that we intend it to be, and one that is focused on doing the right thing for those whom it serves, we must all be mindful that it is our shared responsibility and one that demands that we put the people of Scotland first. This is a complex bill that will support the biggest single expansion of devolved Scottish public services since the restoration of this Parliament.

Between the bill being announced in September 2015 and published in June this year, the Scottish Government carried out an extensive consultation and engagement exercise. We did that because, if we want to proceed on the basis of consensus, we need to know what people expect from their social security system, so we asked them. Alongside our published consultation document, we held engagement events in every one of Scotland’s 32 local authority areas. We visited communities and organisations to find out what people liked about the current Department for Work and Pensions system, what they did not like and what they wanted to change.

What came through loud and clear is that what matters to the people of Scotland is how they are treated by their social security system. There can be no doubt that people feel that the existing DWP system does not treat its users kindly. Evidence from our most recent stakeholder survey showed that, when people were asked how they view the current system, 60 per cent of respondents—more than half—rated their experience of the current benefits system as poor or very poor. Only 18 per cent rated their experience as good or very good.

If there is one thing that people are agreed on, it is that our Scottish social security system must treat people better. That is what we have set out to achieve and it is reflected in our bill, which ensures that the system that the bill provides for meets peoples’ rightful expectation that they will be treated with dignity and respect. It does this by ensuring that decisions on social security policy and delivery will be governed by a series of key principles, including the principle that,

“respect for the dignity of individuals is to be at the heart of the Scottish social security system.”

Words and intentions alone are not enough, which is why the bill also provides for a duty to prepare and publish a social security charter. Such a charter will make our principles come alive, translating them from statements of aspiration to focused aims on how we will meet those principles in every aspect of our day-to-day delivery. Our approach will enable the principles to be easily understood by all and embed them in a way that is open to monitoring, reporting and scrutiny.

I believe that, inside and outside this chamber, we all agree that basing our social security system on a set of key principles, supported by a charter to carry the principles off the page and into the day-to-day operation of our social security system, is the right thing to do.

I am pleased and grateful that that agreement is reflected in the committee’s report, which says:

“There has been a universal welcome for the inclusion in the Bill of a set of principles on how the Scottish social security system should operate”.

However, there are clearly some areas where the legislation does not set out some of the policy choices that we have made in a way that properly reflects the intent behind those choices, and we will address those areas. When I appeared before the Social Security Committee on 2 November, I gave a couple of examples of where I believe that we need to make some adjustments to ensure that our policy intent is clearly applied and I am pleased that that is reflected in the committee’s report. The committee has welcomed my assurances on the issue of cash versus payments in kind and on support for provision in relation to independent advocacy.

There are other areas where we need to reflect on what the committee has said in its thoughtful and reflective report and on what stakeholders have said to us. One example is the recovery of overpayments, which we will not pursue in instances of official error, other than in exceptional circumstances. Another is the question of redress when an individual feels that their treatment has not been compatible with the charter. We will use the time between now and the beginning of stage 2 to consider these matters and determine what further action we believe is needed.

There are some instances, too, where we need to explain ourselves better—on the process of redeterminations and appeals, for example. I am keen to have further dialogue and an opportunity to present the evidence, which I believe supports our view that the appeals process that the bill sets out will be very different—in purpose, spirit and practice—to the one that is currently operated by the DWP. After that further dialogue, we will reflect on where matters stand.

Between June—when we published the bill—and my committee appearance in November, I had 70 meetings with more than 50 separate individuals, groups, or organisations. If we are going to reach a consensus—and I believe that we can—on areas where people feel that we have not yet addressed their concerns, we need to keep the dialogue going to find solutions. My door is open and I will actively engage in those further discussions with members and with representatives of the many stakeholder communities that have an interest in the bill.

We are, together, engaged in a complex and complicated task—to ensure that we build a rights-based social security system for Scotland that not only delivers the 11 devolved benefits safely and securely but does so true to the principles that we have set out, and works effectively alongside the United Kingdom system. It is complex and it is complicated, but it is also a golden opportunity.

The prize is a social security system that is there to support the people who need it, when they need it, for decades to come; a new public service that embodies the social contract between the individual and the state, founded on the shared recognition that we all contribute in different ways and that it is right that the state should provide at those times when we are in need.

I am pleased that we have come to this stage in the process in a spirit of agreement. I look forward to the debate and to the next legislative stages. I will work with members and with all those outside this chamber who want to work with me, so that we seize this golden opportunity to deliver a new social security system for Scotland and for the future; a system based on respect and dignity and that delivers for the people of Scotland a new public service of which we can all be proud.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Social Security (Scotland) Bill.

I call Clare Adamson, to speak on behalf of the Social Security Committee.

15:04  

I am pleased to be speaking today as convener of the Social Security Committee. I joined the committee last month when Sandra White MSP became a member of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. I thank Sandra White for her work as convener, particularly in relation to steering the committee through its evidence-taking process. I also thank the clerks for their support as well as the many individuals, organisations and stakeholders who contributed to the evidence that the committee received.

The bill is undoubtedly one of the most important pieces of legislation following the Smith commission and the transfer of new powers to the Scottish Parliament. I am pleased that the committee was unanimous in its support for the general principles. The committee as a whole wants the bill to progress and we want to continue to play our part in improving it through the parliamentary process.

In reaching our decision on the general principles, the committee was mindful of two key factors. The first is the consultative approach that the Scottish Government has taken, which the minister outlined, and the widespread support for that among witnesses and stakeholders. That approach continues through the work of the experience panels and other channels, and the committee welcomes that progress. The second factor that the committee was mindful of is the balance between what is in the bill and what will be brought forward in regulations at later dates. I know that other members are interested in exploring that issue and I will come back to it.

This is a framework bill, the function of which is to create the foundation for the delivery of 11 existing UK social security benefits and to pave the way for Scotland’s new social security system, which will affect more than a million people in our country. Although the committee unanimously approved the general principles, it has identified some areas that require further consideration. I will highlight some of the evidence that the committee received suggesting ways in which the bill could be strengthened or clarified.

The first thing that the bill does is to set out principles. In our evidence, there was particular support for the statements that

“social security is itself a human right”

and that

“respect for the dignity of individuals is to be at the heart of the ... social security system”.

The principles in turn will inform the development of the Scottish social security charter.

A frequent suggestion made in evidence was that the bill should include the right to independent advocacy and advice. The committee concluded that it supports the inclusion of a right to

“independent advocacy under and with regard to the Scottish social security system.”

However, at this stage, the committee has not recommended that the right to advice be added to the bill, although we have asked the Scottish Government to reflect on the evidence received regarding advocacy and advice.

The committee also agreed with stakeholders, including the Scottish campaign on welfare reform, that the bill should state that social security has a role to play in the eradication of poverty.

In further recognition of the evidence received, the committee has also recommended that, instead of the Scottish ministers having a role in ensuring that people are given what they are eligible for under the Scottish social security system, that should be strengthened to become a duty to ensure that people are given the entitlements to which they are eligible.

The committee believes that those additions will strengthen the foundations of our Scottish social security system.

The high-level principles will feed into the development of an accessible and meaningful charter. The committee has drawn the minister’s attention to the importance of ensuring that the charter is available in a range of accessible formats and in a range of locations.

Understandably, much of the evidence to the committee was about the individual forms of assistance. However, the detail of each form of assistance will be brought forward in regulations and the Scottish Government is developing its policy on those. For that reason, the committee did not feel able to make recommendations on the detail of those at this point. However, the Scottish Government has provided illustrative regulations for the best start grant and funeral expense assistance.

The committee welcomed the clarification from the minister that individuals will always have the choice of whether to receive assistance in a form other than cash and that cash will be the default. It was felt that, in that area, the bill was not as clear as the policy memorandum, so we welcome the minister’s undertaking to address that at stage 2.

Because much of the detail about the specific forms of assistance will be in regulations, the committee also considered whether the balance between what is in the framework bill and what will follow in regulations had been appropriately struck. It concluded that the bill does not allow for adequate scrutiny of the detail of the different forms of assistance and noted that it does not make any provision for a super-affirmative procedure or independent scrutiny of the regulations. That was of concern.

One specific way in which scrutiny can be strengthened is the creation of a Scottish body similar to the Social Security Advisory Committee. There is strong support for that among stakeholders. The committee believes that there is a role for a statutory body that is independent of Government and that has an initial focus on assessing draft Scottish social security regulations. The committee also believes that the Scottish ministers should be obliged to consult that body, that the body should report and make its recommendations publicly available and that, if the Scottish Government disagrees with the independent body’s recommendations, it should give its reasons.

Since the publication of the committee’s report, the disability and carers benefits expert advisory group has published its findings and recommendations on how scrutiny could be strengthened. Those include the creation of a statutory advisory non-departmental public body.

The Social Security Committee welcomes the framework bill and supports its general principles. There are a number of issues that will be returned to at stage 2, but the committee looks forward to considering them in detail in the new year.

Well done on your first go at a convener’s speech. It is quite hard.

15:11  

I welcome Clare Adamson to her new position as convener of the Social Security Committee and underscore her thanks to the clerks, who are sitting at the back of the chamber, for their work in helping us to produce the stage 1 report. I also thank the Government for its comprehensive response to that report, which arrived on Friday afternoon, if I am not mistaken.

The Conservatives are supportive of social security devolution. Ensuring that it works well is one of our paramount duties to the people of Scotland in this session of the Parliament. We support the general principles of the bill and will vote for them at decision time, but we have some reservations about the specifics.

To start with, it is important to note that the bill does not explain who will be entitled to what under any of the devolved streams of social security assistance. Ultimately, that is the question that matters most in social security law and the bill does not address it at all. It has been referred to as a framework bill—Clare Adamson just used that phrase—but it is not even that. What we have is a frame, but all the work will be done by regulations. All rules about eligibility and about the value of each form of assistance are to be set in statutory instruments that are to be made under the bill. That gets the balance between primary and secondary legislation wrong. It reserves to the Scottish ministers much more power than UK ministers have under reserved social security law and it cuts Parliament out of the picture to an unacceptable degree. If I were a different sort of politician—

Will the member take an intervention?

If I were a different sort of politician I might even call it a power grab, but I will leave that kind of language to others.

Not least because of those concerns, the bill absolutely must be amended to create in statute a Scottish social security advisory committee along the lines that Clare Adamson outlined. It would be that committee’s job to provide expert and independent advice to ministers and, indeed, Parliament on draft regulations. My understanding is that the Government accepts the committee’s verdict that such an amendment is necessary and will seek to amend the bill at stage 2. I welcome that.

I turn to the social security principles in section 1. We support the principled approach to social security that is set out in the bill, but we want to know much more about what the legal status of the principles will be. The same is true with the charter that is provided for in section 2. Will the charter be legally enforceable? Is it a set of political aspirations or legal entitlements?

A broad range of witnesses voiced concerns to the Social Security Committee about that—including those from Leonard Cheshire Disability, SAMH, Engender and the Royal National Institute of Blind People Scotland—and they are right to have done so. Without clarification, as my University of Glasgow school of law colleague Tom Mullen put it in written evidence,

“citizens and their advisers may be unsure what their rights and the Scottish Government’s obligations … are and there”

is likely to be

“wasteful litigation to determine their meaning and effect.”

We need to get those things right at stage 2 to avoid that unnecessary and wasteful litigation.

The principles are in plain language so that they can be understood. Obviously, there is a tension in making them legally enforceable, because they would have to be in legally precise terms, which would make them more difficult to understand. How would Adam Tomkins address that?

It is a perfectly reasonable point. There is a trade-off between accessibility of language and legal enforceability. We all say that we want a human rights-based approach to social security. One core element of European human rights is that when one’s rights are breached one has a right to effective judicial protection—not a mere complaint to an ombudsman and not a charter on a wall, but effective judicial protection. If we are serious about saying that we want social security to be founded in human rights, we need to take that on board.

Social security devolution comprises three elements: the streams of assistance devolved in full, the power to top up reserved benefits and the power to create new benefits. The Scottish National Party likes to say that only 15 per cent of social security is devolved, but that is a bit misleading. The truth is that we have devolved 30 per cent of working-age benefits in full, and we have created the power to top up reserved benefits and the power to enact new benefits. The element of that package that is missing from the bill is the power to create new benefits. The bill deals with top-ups, but there is no equivalent provision for new benefits. I have challenged the minister about that before and she has told me that she does not need a provision on new benefits because she has the power to create them already. I am not yet persuaded of that, so I intend to probe the matter further at stage 2. In my view, the bill should include provision on new benefits.

Will the member take an intervention?

If I have time.

I can give you the time back.

I refer Mr Tomkins to section 28 of the Scotland Act 2016, which provides this Parliament with the competence to create new benefits. It is from there that my stance is taken. We already have the power to create new benefits. There is no need to duplicate that in the bill.

I know that that is the minister’s position and I am sure that it is based on legal advice but, as I said, I intend to probe it further at stage 2.

It is worth making two final points. First, the Scottish ministers are proceeding exceptionally slowly with welfare devolution. For example, we still have no idea at all what kinds or what value of assistance they propose for people with disabilities. We do not know anything at all about how such claims are to be made, assessed or processed. What we do know is that UK ministers think that the SNP is going more slowly than it needs to. As the bill proceeds, that is a matter to which we shall return.

Will the member take an intervention?

The member is in his last minute.

My last point is on costs. I do not think that the minister referred to the financial memorandum, but the paragraphs on that at the end of the Social Security Committee’s report are important and need to be highlighted. Our concern is that Scottish ministers are devising a very expensive social security system. Of course we want dignity, fairness and respect to be at the heart of that system, but we should treat the taxpayers who pay for all of that with dignity, fairness and respect.

Just last week, in its first report on forecast social security spending, the Scottish Fiscal Commission noted that devolved welfare spending will rise by nearly 50 per cent between 2017 and 2023, moving from £330 million to £470 million. That rise is without knowing anything about what Scottish ministers’ plans are for attendance allowance, disability living allowance, personal independence payments, severe disablement allowance and so on.

The Scottish Conservatives support the general principles of the bill, but we have a number of concerns that we will want to address at stage 2 and as social security devolution proceeds.

15:19  

The past week has been a momentous one for the Parliament, as we begin to exercise powers devolved under the Scotland Act 2016. Labour has concerns about the bill; nonetheless, I am pleased to confirm that we will support its general principles.

As members have said, we owe particular thanks to the 119 individuals and organisations whose detailed advice and guidance led our considerations. I am also grateful to the committee clerks, who aided our stage 1 proceedings on what will be a landmark piece of legislation.

I am humbled by the opportunity that members of this Parliament have today as we set out to build a new social security system that is founded on dignity and respect. Our decisions and the improvements that we make will be critical to improving the lives of disabled, sick and elderly Scots up and down the country for years to come. We have only one first go at this, so it is vital that we get it right—not for the Government or for members, but for the 1.4 million people who will come to rely on the system. For all the statistics, legislative innovation and debate in this chamber, the public—those who rely on the system—will measure our progress against the cruel and inhumane system that currently exists and look to how we use our new powers to work to eradicate poverty.

At the end of the summer, Labour published its response to the bill. We highlighted concern about the risk of placing so much in secondary legislation, and we said that the bill had failed to live up to some people’s expectations. Those were fair comments then, and we look forward to improving and strengthening the bill in the new year, but there has been welcome movement, which means that we can proceed together.

The committee’s report reflects the evidence that we heard about the imbalance between primary and secondary legislation and reiterates that concerns must be addressed in “key areas”: the fundamentals of accountability and scrutiny; the offences that the bill creates, about which there are very serious questions; and the redetermination system, which echoes the discredited UK system and could be a barrier to justice.

It Is welcome that the minister has set out her intention to lodge amendments on a form of superaffirmative procedure and statutory independent scrutiny, thereby accepting the arguments that have been made since the summer and the committee’s recommendations.

There has also been movement on independent advocacy, with the acceptance that individuals should have a right to support to help them to get the most from the system. The work of the Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance and others has been crucial to that shift, and they should be encouraged by their success.

One of the most reassuring messages that the committee heard was that the innovative approach of including guiding principles in the bill is the right one. During an evidence session, Judith Robertson, from the Scottish Human Rights Commission, reminded us of the

“threat of a good example”.—[Official Report, Social Security Committee, 21 September 2017; c 33.]

She challenged us to enshrine the right to social security in the principles. In acting on that challenge, we would make the bill a world-leading piece of legislation. Clarity of intention would flow from it, creating a backstop in relation to unintended consequences.

I do not have time to run through every aspect of the bill or every improvement that we will propose. Ahead of the Christmas break, Labour will work to ensure that opportunities are not missed in the bill.

I was one of the minority of committee members who refused to accept that the bill should not provide for a ban on private sector assessment. I have instructed the legislation team to devise an amendment that could give legal effect to such a policy. The minister has made it clear that her door remains open; I trust that she will reopen discussions on the measure.

I am also one of the minority of committee members who do not accept the recommendation on redetermination or the Government’s view in that regard. Pauline McNeill, Alison Johnstone and I regard the two-stage process as a barrier to justice. Such an approach is one of the worst vagaries of the current system. We will work to change the bill in that regard.

Take-up, uprating and adequacy of payments will be fundamental to a better system. We welcome the Government’s agreement that the new social security agency should have a duty to ensure take-up, but we should go further. Last week, an inflationary uplift in the higher rate threshold was announced. If such an approach is good enough for half a million top earners, social security recipients, too, should expect uprating to be guaranteed in law. Taking a far more holistic, no-wrong-door approach to how we help people get what they are due would go so much further, so we intend to push for the duty to be strengthened and matched with a mechanism to guarantee annual uprating.

Presiding Officer, you will hear this afternoon that we have a fair amount of work ahead of us. Underlining that work should be our ambition to create a better system than that which exists today. I hope that we come back to that challenge—to go further than others—throughout this afternoon’s debate. Over the coming months, we must embrace that first chance to get things right and make the bill the landmark legislation that the people of Scotland expect.

We come to the open debate—speeches of six minutes, please.

15:25  

I, like others, very much welcome the debate on the bill at stage 1. Others, from the convener of the Social Security Committee to the members who have spoken so far and the Minister for Social Security, have mentioned that the process the committee has gone through—of hearing the evidence and deliberating on the bill—has been very constructive. That process demonstrates the Parliament at its best—listening to stakeholders and to those who engage with the current social security system and thinking of their aspirations for how we can exercise the powers of this Parliament to build a new social security system for the future.

I thank the clerks and all those who gave evidence, particularly those who gave evidence of their experience of the system. I notice that some of those who gave us their insight are in the public gallery today. From the evidence that we heard from them, and from written evidence, it was clear that there are problems in the current system. Through the bill, we have a huge opportunity—with the 15 per cent of social security spending, with the 11 benefits and with the framework that the bill will create—not only to build a new system based on the social contract, but to reimagine and reinforce the idea of social security and what it means.

That is a collective process and a collective investment in ourselves and each other. For me, a big part of that relates to the principles in part 1 of the bill, on which the committee took a lot of evidence. I welcome the Government’s response to the committee’s stage 1 report, which states that the principles are about defining

“the nature and ethos of the new”

social security system. That approach has been welcomed warmly and enthusiastically by stakeholders. It is an important part of the bill.

The principles as they are currently drafted have been welcomed, but there has also been a recognition that new principles would be of benefit. I am glad that organisations such as Advocard in my constituency and others have successfully persuaded the committee and—I think, based on its response—the Government to bring forward a new principle around the right to advocacy. I think that that is the right thing to do.

I pay tribute to the Poverty Alliance, which proposed the addition of a principle that

“Social security has a role to play in the eradication of poverty in Scotland.”

I suggest, instead, that the bill should perhaps state that the Scottish social security system should have a role to play in the eradication of poverty in Scotland. That would clearly attach it to the point that this is the Scottish social security system, as defined in section 7; given that that system will account for just 15 per cent of the social security spend in Scotland, it can have only a limited impact on addressing poverty, which of course we all want to do.

I could say a lot more about the principles, and there have been interesting deliberations so far about the legal status. I completely agree with the position that the simple language of the principles is important, because it makes them accessible; Ruth Maguire rightly pointed that out. The Government, in its response to our report, makes an important point about how the charter will translate the principles into “specific, tangible commitments”. At stage 2, I think that the committee needs to come together with the Government to consider how we can ensure that the relationship between the principles and the charter, and what they mean for people, is very clear.

In the time that I have left, I want to address a point that was raised in written evidence but was not heavily elaborated on in our oral evidence sessions. It relates to part 4 of the bill, which is on discretionary housing payments.

Given that housing and the fear of homelessness come up in the context of social security at the surgeries that I hold and are mentioned regularly in deliberations in the chamber and elsewhere in the Parliament, DHPs play an important role. The Scottish Government has committed to them, and they are used by local authorities to make a meaningful difference on the ground in mitigating the bedroom tax or dealing with issues around the benefit cap or universal credit and the challenging circumstances that those aspects of UK Government welfare reform have put individuals and families in. In my view, as we move to stage 2, we might want to consider the possibility of putting discretionary housing payments on a statutory footing. They could continue to be provided by councils, as they are at present, but we could also consider including in the bill their being provided by the Scottish Government. I will look to probe that as we move towards stage 2.

The whole notion of social security is based on the premise that it is better to give people a hand and to help our fellow citizens than it is to have to pick people up off the floor. The new social security system that we are building together will do that in a more effective and humane way than the current system does. The building of a new system for the 15 per cent of social security spending that we control is an important move, and I absolutely support the general principles of the bill.

15:32  

I remind members that I am in receipt of a PIP.

As others have done, I welcome the bill, and I thank the clerks and all those people who gave evidence to the Social Security Committee. However, I think that there is a long way to go at stages 2 and 3, because the bill leaves a lot of uncertainty for people out there who are on benefits or who might go on to benefits in the future.

I understand that the Government’s purpose is to deal with many matters in the regulations that will be produced in due course, but the uncertainty to which that gives rise means that somebody like me who is in receipt of a PIP does not know whether they will be in receipt of a PIP in two, three or four years’ time. The people I talk to tell me that that creates uncertainty with regard to planning and what is going to happen next. That is why, when it comes to stage 2, we need to consider putting more into the bill instead of leaving things to regulations. That way, we will be able to give people clearer guidance on what they can expect in the future. I invite the minister to give an indication in her summing up of when the regulations for the various benefits—particularly those that relate to the DLA, the PIP and the attendance allowance—will be laid out.

The second area that I want to discuss is one that I have previously mentioned in the chamber—the role of the new agency and how it will work. We could have lots of interesting discussions about principles, charters and objectives, all of which are important. Ultimately, however, what is important is how the individual who claims a benefit is treated. There is still a danger that people think that the new agency will be cuddly and soft and will never say no to anyone, but it is clear that it cannot play such a role—its role will be to decide whether someone should get a particular benefit. I will elaborate on that later in my speech.

I am concerned that we might be throwing the baby out with the bath water. For some people, the face-to-face assessment is very beneficial because they have time to talk to somebody face to face and explain what their disability is and how it works. I accept that the present system has its failings, but to say suddenly “We’re never again going to use any private contractor for face-to-face assessments” leaves us, first, with the practical issue of who will do such assessments and who will pay for them; and, secondly, with the issue of whether we will simply rely on medical and professional evidence.

There is no contradiction between saying, as I have done repeatedly, that we will not use private contractors to deliver one-to-one health assessments because that would be incompatible with the system that we are setting up, and having one-to-one health assessments. Mr Balfour assumes that there will be no such assessments, but I am sure that he will remember my saying in committee that if an individual wishes to have a one-to-one health assessment, it will of course be provided. However, as I have said repeatedly, we will have far fewer such assessments and we will not work on the current presumption of the UK Government that every individual requires a one-to-one assessment, because the information that we will need in order to make the right decisions the first time will already exist in public records that the individual can choose to provide us with.

I will give you your time back, Mr Balfour, as that was a long intervention.

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

There are two issues in what the minister said. First, I question whether all the medical evidence that people will require will be there. I ask the minister to go back and look, because about four or five years ago the tribunal service asked for all medical evidence to be provided when a tribunal sat. However, even with that medical evidence before a tribunal, it was found that face-to-face questioning still had to take place. I therefore challenge that presumption by the minister. Secondly, what she said still does not answer the question of who will do the face-to-face assessments. Where are the people out there who have the skills to do that? We need more information on that.

I turn quickly to the issues of advocacy and advice and assistance, because I believe that those are two separate things. Some people will require advocacy, some people will require advice and assistance, and some people will require both. We need to make it clear at stage 2 that there is a distinction between advocacy and advice and assistance, because they are different and will need to occur at different times. In addition, to return to my view of the new agency, we must ensure that both advocacy and advice and assistance are independent of the agency and the Government, that they are properly funded and that people are signposted towards them. Some people will need advocacy through the process, some people will need advice and assistance through the process, and other people’s needs will vary between them. The bill is unclear when it comes to making that distinction between advocacy and advice and assistance.

I welcome the bill, but I think that it can be improved by amendments at stage 2.

15:38  

As other members have done, I thank the Social Security Committee’s members and its clerks for the work that they carried out on the bill. I also thank the many groups and individuals—as has been mentioned, some are in the gallery—who took part in the many committee evidence sessions, round-table discussions and other meetings. Without their willingness to get involved, we would not be at stage 1 of this historic bill.

The bill puts people at its heart, with the principles that social security is a human right and that people should be treated with dignity, fairness and respect. It is important to emphasise that. The Scottish Government must also be thanked for the way in which it has approached the bill. It has been proactive and has consulted organisations and individuals from day 1. I thank it for that, as, I am sure, other members do.

The ethos of the bill is based on dignity, fairness and respect, but the bill must also deliver a safe and secure transfer of benefits to the 1.4 million people who rely on them. I say to Adam Tomkins, with regard to his contribution to the debate, that we must remember that the bill is for the 1.4 million people who rely on benefits. As we go through the stages of the bill, we must keep that in mind. We cannot rush things through, which would result in people being missed out. We must make sure that we deliver with the bill. That has been said from the very beginning, and we have to keep it in mind as we go through the bill’s stages.

The minister replied to Jeremy Balfour, but I want to say to Jeremy Balfour that we must ensure that the people from whom the committee heard are listened to. One of the gentlemen from whom it heard is in the gallery today: Brian Hurton suffers from the degenerative eye disease keratoconus—I hope that I have pronounced it correctly—which is a condition that will not improve. He and the many others who gave evidence and who have conditions that will not improve or that will deteriorate should not be subjected to a never-ending round of giving evidence to medical assessors. When we look at the evidence, we see that some assessors are not even medical people. We must make sure that people do not have to go through that after the Social Security (Scotland) Bill is passed. The never-ending medicals and appeals are very debilitating—not just for people’s physical health, but for their mental health. I have faith that the committee, Parliament and the Government will make sure that the new social security agency will ensure that people are not put through that process, which came up in evidence time and again. I thank Brian and others who came forward to give us their evidence.

I want to raise a number of recommendations from the stage 1 report; they have been touched on in previous speeches. The issue of primary and secondary legislation has been raised by many groups, and is mentioned in correspondence that was received by the committee and in its report. I remember that it exercised the minds of committee members. My view at the time was, as I mentioned, that a balance needs to be struck. My concern is that too much detail in the primary legislation, before design or testing have been undertaken, could lead to mistakes, thereby making the provisions in the bill undeliverable. It struck me when reading papers on the bill that changes to rectify such mistakes would need to be made through primary legislation, which is a very long process that could delay implementation of the new social security system. That is something that committee members and Parliament need to consider.

I am pleased to note that the Scottish Government has said that it will lodge amendments to the bill, including on use of the superaffirmative procedure for subordinate legislation and on the establishment of an independent scrutiny body, which will be important.

I want to touch on two other areas. The first is the principles of the bill and the fact that the Scottish Government clarified their legal status. I am concerned about the ethos of the bill, which is about dignity and respect. If I go out and speak to people and ask them about dignity and respect, most know what the words mean. I am concerned that if we start bringing in lawyers and so on to clarify what “respect” means, we will lose from the bill the transparency and the plain speaking that people expect and to which they are entitled. The committee’s members, and I, will consider the matter before stage 2.

The second point is about the charter. It must be available in all languages and in places such as libraries, so that people know exactly what they are entitled to. People’s entitlement and knowing that they are entitled to it is the main purpose of the bill. The charter must be plain, simple and transparent and be available for people to reach out and pick up.

15:44  

As members may notice, I have a seasonal lurgy to look forward to as Christmas appears. I warn you that my voice may not last until the end of my speech. Some people might regard that as a blessing. [Laughter.] Exactly.

I welcome the opportunity to participate in this important debate. I am not a member of the Social Security Committee, but I am very grateful for its stage 1 report and for its highlighting of issues in it. I have enjoyed reading about them: its focus is on the key issues rather than on the generalised discussion about social security and powers coming to the Parliament, although such discussions have sometimes been lost in their own right, and have become significant for other issues.

I am also grateful for all the briefings that have been provided, including briefings from groups that give voice to people who will be most directly affected by the bill’s proposals. We should not understate our responsibility for getting things right in the eventual legislation.

It is important to recognise how significant the bill is in the real world. Decisions that are made in Parliament will have a direct impact on individuals and families across our communities. An understanding of the purpose of social security is at the heart of the matter. It is a mark of our decency as a society that we have a social security system that works and which recognises that any one of us might at any time need support.

Adam Tomkins created a false division when he talked about taxpayers being treated with dignity and benefit recipients being treated with dignity. They are often the same people: we should understand that the benefits system is not for people “over there”, but is potentially for all of us at some time in our lives.

I regret that the UK Conservative Government chose to divide people into workers and shirkers, that it created changes in the social security system that are predicated on demonising people who are on benefits, and that it created a complexity that often puts up insurmountable barriers to people who seek the support to which they are entitled. That is unforgivable, but it is also short-sighted and irrational.

The debate and the briefings that we have received reflect that complexity, and take us beyond our comfort zone of the general principles, to test the bill’s workability and effectiveness for people who depend on benefits. That is why it is so important to have greater parliamentary scrutiny than that which is currently proposed; not to give MSPs more time to talk about the issues but to ensure that the proposals are shaped by the people who have lived experience of the process, people who can perhaps see the unintended consequences, and people who understand how aspiration has to be translated into budget choices. We need to see the visibility of the process in order to ensure that we get it right, and it is not good enough, even using the superaffirmative procedure, to have what still remains a “take it or leave it” approach in the parliamentary process. I would prefer an open and transparent role for all the organisations and groups in developing proposals, which can then be decided on.

There are significant issues to do with discrimination that should be explored further. We note what has been said about the difficulties of people with learning disabilities in ensuring that they secure their rights, and we know that many people with learning disabilities are living longer. That is a blessing for all of us, but it means that many parent carers continue to care into very old age. That should be respected, so we should look at age discrimination, too.

We also know that many disabled people are denied the opportunity to achieve their full potential—to work, to study and to play their part in society—because of discrimination that they experience in the social care system. We know that, as a direct consequence of cuts to local government, there is a double whammy for people who need care and people who provide unpaid care. The more services are reduced, the more unpaid care expands. I believe that we all acknowledge what unpaid carers do, but the social security system should, through the bill, result in real changes in their lives.

Equally, the capacity for groups to help and support people through the system—whether through advocacy or whatever—is being limited by the same cuts. We need to see the Government’s proposals in that context.

I understand that the Scottish Government does not have responsibility for all of the social security system, and I welcome the ways in which it has highlighted the issue of dignity in the system, but we need to see social security not just in its social context but in its economic context. The Scottish Government can act in that broader context.

We know that many people who live in poverty are in work. They are often caught in precarious work with limited guaranteed hours and lack of certainty about when they will work. That can lead to chaos in managing family budgets, childcare or care for other people. It is essential that we recognise that for the many people who may, in some circumstances, give up work altogether. The Scottish Government can play a role in creating more secure work and in stopping such jobs being defined as “positive destinations”, when they are nothing of the sort.

I am interested in what dialogue the Government has with businesses that might sign the business pledge about recognising their role in supporting people to work. I am also interested in the dialogue that it has with businesses that get the small business bonus about what is expected of them in relation to rights at work and providing security, because lack of job security often leads to people falling into a situation in which they are unable to manage their budgets effectively.

We know that social security does not stand separate from the economy, and we know that it is not simply about other people. It is about fairness, greater equality and opportunity. If we are to get it right, we will need to recognise not only the needs of the people who seek support at any given time, but the benefits to us all in ensuring that we have an economy and a society that create greater equality and opportunity for everyone.

15:50  

The bill offers an opportunity to reject decisively more than two decades of welfare reform, and to show that a different way of providing financial support to people who need it is possible.

We must seize this opportunity, because the UK approach is leaving tens of thousands of Scots not knowing whether they can put food on the table for their families. In many cases, they cannot. Figures from the Trussell Trust show us that in 2016-17 it issued 146,000 three-day emergency food parcels in Scotland—48,000 of them to children. Before so-called welfare reform, food banks were not part of everyday life in Scotland.

We must seize this opportunity because, under the current system, households—almost all of them with children—are, because of the benefit cap, told that they have been assessed as needing a certain amount of money to support them, but the amount is arbitrarily capped, in the full knowledge that it is not enough to meet their needs.

We have the opportunity to restore dignity and respect to our social security system. We have the opportunity to reclaim the idea that when we provide a good reliable income for the most vulnerable people in society, everyone benefits. The bill makes a reasonable start towards those goals, but there is much more to be done.

Recognising that social security is a human right is absolutely the correct thing to do, but I am not convinced that that laudable ambition is followed through throughout the bill. I, too, draw the minister’s attention to the charter. One might expect it to be a charter of rights, but it seems to be intended to be more of, as Citizens Advice Scotland has put it, a “performance framework” for the new system. The charter appears not to confer any rights on benefit applicants and recipients. Without a clear statement of rights and a system of redress, should those rights not be respected—

Does Alison Johnstone think that the charter should be legally enforceable in Scottish courts?

One thing on which we can agree is that the status of the charter is entirely unclear. I hope that the Government will confirm—perhaps in the minister’s closing speech, or during the bill’s passage—exactly what the status of the charter is. At the moment, it seems to be fairly meaningless, and the Government cannot claim that the system is built on social security as a human right.

Another aspect of the bill that undermines the rights-based principle of the new system is the proposed redetermination procedure that claimants can use to have a benefit decision reconsidered. The Scottish Government has made some improvements, but in one important respect it duplicates the UK mandatory reconsideration process by creating the same two-stage appeals process that the UK Social Security Advisory Committee in a report last year said

“has deterred some claimants from pursuing disputes when they would have done so under the previous system and would have been successful on appeal.”

The introduction of mandatory reconsideration was intended to achieve—and has achieved—a huge reduction in the number of benefit appeals making it to tribunal, compared with benefits for which MR does not apply. Data from the advisory committee shows a massive 95 per cent decline in jobseekers allowance tribunal appeals since MR was introduced. At the very least, the Scottish Government must explain what strategy it has to stop that from happening again under its proposed plans for redetermination. I implore the minister to listen again to the huge number of organisations that have made submissions to the Social Security Committee arguing that reconsideration will prevent people from accessing justice in the new system.

A few weeks ago, Parliament passed into law legislation that sets challenging new targets for reduction of child poverty. At the urging of Opposition parties, the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 makes an explicit link to the use of social security, particularly the new devolved social security powers. Now that we have done that, the Government must use those powers to meet the targets.

That being the case, it is surprising that the reduction of poverty is not one of the key principles of the new system. If social security is not about reducing poverty, what is it for? I am glad that the stage 1 report urged the Government to amend section 1 of the bill accordingly. I will lodge an amendment to that effect at stage 2.

Driving up access to benefits will also be key. The Greens will lodge or support amendments on a statutory right to benefits advocacy and to advice services. Those are different services: some people may require one or the other, or both. We also need to consider introducing a ministerial duty to set targets for benefit take-up.

Before closing, I want to discuss uprating of benefits in line with rising costs. Sheffield Hallam University estimates that between 2015-16 and 2020-21 freezing of benefits and uprating of benefits below the rate of inflation will cost 700,000 Scots households more than £450 annually, which is a £300 million cut to benefits each year. That is far and away the biggest benefit cut that is being imposed by the UK Government. Therefore it is disappointing that the bill will currently do nothing to ensure that a future benefits freeze could not easily be imposed by a future Scottish Government. I acknowledge that the current Scottish Government has pledged to uprate disability benefits with inflation. Given the number of people who are claiming them, that is a serious and welcome commitment, but it is only a pledge and there is nothing in the bill to prevent its not being honoured by a future Government. The bill is based on dignity and respect. However, we cannot have those if the benefits are of inadequate value. To have benefits that could diminish in value year on year is not respectful and does not afford dignity.

In conclusion, I believe that the Scottish Government has the very best of intentions, and I acknowledge that it is setting up a genuinely new system rather than simply administering existing UK benefits. However, in doing so, some mistakes have been made. The bill must contain stronger rights for claimants, a better system of appeals, a commitment to reduce poverty and a mechanism to uprate benefits. As William Beveridge said in the 1942 report that set up much of the social security system that we have:

“Now ... is a time for revolutions, not for patching”.

Given all that the social security system and its users have had thrown at them in recent years, we now need a radical, rights-based and forward-looking system. I look forward to lodging amendments at stage 2 and to working with others to help to make that a reality.

I was hoping that it would be quite a short quote from Beveridge.

15:57  

I start by referring members to my entry in the register of interests: I am the joint owner of a rental flat in Edinburgh for which I receive direct payments of housing benefit from socially renting tenants.

I begin by thanking the Social Security Committee for its work. It is not a committee on which Liberal Democrats have a representative, but we have been paying close attention to its work and the unanimity of acclaim that the stage 1 proceedings will receive tonight is testimony to it. Today represents something of a coming of age for the Parliament, so I am proud to lead the debate on behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats this afternoon.

I also thank the Scottish Government for the inclusive approach that it has taken to developing the legislation and for the access that the minister has afforded Opposition members from the start to discuss areas of both common ground and disagreement, such that we will have no hesitation in supporting the bill through stage 1 tonight.

Constructing a social safety net is one of the most important tasks entrusted to any Administration that is empowered so to do, so we do our constituents a disservice if we make it into a political football. We must come to the task soberly, in full cognisance of the social impact to which the right decision can lead or the social cost that might result from error.

When considering the role of the state in providing social security, as Alison Johnstone has just done, I always draw upon the words of William Beveridge, that great Liberal, in particular these ones, which I have reminded members of before:

“The State in organizing security should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility; in establishing a national minimum, it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family.”

For me, that precept should form the touchstone of all our efforts in this regard. All our efforts to establish a new Scottish social security system should have the principles of social mobility at their heart.

As parliamentarians, it is not often that we can start from square one, but we have a clean slate here, which is well worth remembering, because it means that we have an opportunity to improve how welfare is managed and to improve the lives of people in this country. It is essential that we take smart decisions to tailor our social security policy and its agency to the needs of our constituents and our country and, above all, that we do so in a manner that is grounded in international human rights law, which we have heard much discussion of today.

I expect that we have all heard shocking and heartbreaking stories about how delayed payments and changes to or errors in the roll-out of universal credit have caused enormous unnecessary stress for people. In many cases, fundamental human rights have been denied. We must set our aim far higher.

I am interested in the member’s view in relation to rights. Does he think that it is possible for someone to exercise a right that has not been legally defined?

The fundamental protection of human rights lies in people’s access to justice, which we do not have in many walks of life in this country; so no, I do not think that that is possible right now.

We are dealing with a form of Government intervention that has been designed to confuse and deter. Unnecessary bureaucracy has been adopted precisely to dissuade applicants from going any further and the eligibility assessments have stripped deserving citizens of their benefits due to misapplication of the rules.

The 1.4 million Scots who will rely on the benefits that we construct are looking to us to do things differently. They will ask whether the culture around the new benefits will change for the better and for things not to be left up to the interpretation of officials. Today and at subsequent stages of the bill’s passage, we owe it to them not to leave those questions unanswered.

The process has been confusing and, sometimes, degrading, so I whole-heartedly support the calls from a vast number of stakeholders for claimants’ right to access the services of a trained independent advocate to guide them and speak for them throughout the process. I also support the call of the Scottish campaign on welfare reform to set out as much as possible of our new social security system in primary legislation, so that future changes that successor Governments might seek to make through regulations have to undergo full parliamentary scrutiny through the superaffirmative procedure.

In that same vein, I recognise the importance of making the mechanism for uprating the benefits a creature of statute, as Alison Johnstone said. We must always plan for less enlightened times and, by locking into law the right to a meaningful uplift of the benefits, we will offer a level of protection to some of our most vulnerable citizens.

I am grateful to the Scottish Government for its sensible and progressive approach to the application of the new powers, but I also wish to sound a note of caution. On a number of occasions, I have heard the minister and her colleagues state that it should not fall to this Government to clear up the messes made by Westminster. I have some sympathy with that point of view, but it cannot be our only response. In some cases, we have the power to help people through the new powers that this Parliament has been afforded, and if there are clear areas of injustice that are within our reach to rectify, we should consider so doing—whether the state pension inequality suffered by women born in the 1950s or the loss of up to 18 years of benefits by those who are widowed at an early age. If the system is failing those people and we have the power to fix it, we must consider doing so.

I will finish on a note of consensus. This coming of age for our Parliament is welcome and will allow us to turn the rhetoric that we often hear in the chamber into meaningful action to deliver assistance to the millions of our fellow Scots who look to us for help.

We are a wee bit pushed for time, so I ask members to stick to their six minutes.

16:03  

As a member of the Social Security Committee, I was going to start by saying that I was a bit surprised at how downbeat the debate has been so far but, apart from the bit in the middle of Mr Cole-Hamilton’s speech that I disagreed with, I thought his idea of the Parliament coming of age was the way that we should look at this—we stand at the dawn of a new day for our Parliament.

I am very pleased to speak in this debate, which for me is about not just social security but an opportunity for MSPs to make new decisions, implement new procedures and put people at the centre. The devolution of 11 social security benefits through the Scotland Act 2016 is the first time that we, as parliamentarians, have the power to make real changes to the welfare system, demonstrate our strong desire to do things differently, put respect and dignity at the top of the agenda and ensure that the system does not make life harder for our constituents.

The new social security system that the Scottish Government proposes is a big leap forward and paves the way for using the devolved powers over non-income-related disability benefits, including disability living allowance and personal independence payments. We know that the current Westminster model is seriously flawed and about the difficulties involved. The bill heralds a material change in the social responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament. It is a significant moment for Scotland and in the history of devolution, and an important step towards our future growth as a country. The Scottish Government really has a chance to change things for the better and I am confident that the bill will live up to that aim.

Putting dignity and respect at the heart of the bill is of the utmost importance, and those principles are embedded throughout, whether in how entitlement to benefits is determined, in a more just review and appeals system, or in the decision to remove the private sector from disability benefit assessments. The often appalling assessment process is the subject of the most frequent complaints that I hear in my constituency office and I am repeatedly shocked when I hear of the impersonal, cold and calculating way in which my constituents are treated by the DWP. Many come to my office after they have been left confused, frustrated and distressed following their assessment—above all they are left feeling as if they have not been believed or taken seriously. That will not be the case in Scotland.

The bill clearly outlines the seven principles for the social security system and underlying them all, each step of the way, is the Scottish Government’s belief that social security is a fundamental human right. The message of the bill is, “We believe you, we value you and we will take you seriously.” The bill also proposes the creation of a social security charter, which will put that belief into practice. For me, one of the most important aspects of the charter is that it is co-produced with people with disabilities. It is easy for parliamentarians to talk the talk, but the Scottish Government has gone a step further and has actually asked our constituents to join us in creating the legislation that will affect them.

The establishment of the experience panels has given people from all walks of life a voice, and the Government has listened, learned and then implemented. While our counterparts down in Westminster routinely ignore the stream of advice and evidence from stakeholders and claimants alike and are determined to push through the abysmal universal credit system and abhorrent rape clause, no matter the cost to people’s physical and mental health, the Scottish Government is actively seeking suggestions and advice from those who are in receipt of social security right now and from those who are experiencing difficulty in navigating the minefield that is the DWP.

The Government’s recent survey of how experience panel members view the current UK system showed, shockingly, that 60 per cent of respondents rated their experience of the current benefits system as “poor” or “very poor”. That is clearly the side effect of a Westminster Tory Government that is quite happy on its path of austerity and welfare cuts. All I can say is that Westminster might be happy to ignore people, but this Government wants to meet them, hear their story and do all that it can to make the process easier. That is what it really means to put people at the heart of policy.

Once ministers create the charter, the bill will also place an important duty on Government to review policy and to update the Parliament regularly on what has been done to meet expectations and how the system has performed. The bill makes it clear that the consultation activities that have been undertaken to date by no means mark the end of the Government’s engagement with stakeholders and claimants. Unlike the one at Westminster, the Scottish Government fully intends to continue listening, with a view to understanding people’s issues and taking action when it is required.

The latter sections of the bill deal with the framework of the system, the type of benefits to be delivered and how they will be rolled out. One of the top priorities is the safe and secure transfer of the 1.4 million people who rely on the benefits system. Every single one of us has no doubt heard horror stories about the chaotic roll-out of universal credit. One of the main complaints was about the hardship that people were suddenly plunged into by having to wait months for their first payment. The Scottish Government has made it clear that we will have a Scottish agency delivering devolved benefits by the end of this session of Parliament. The timetable and process that have been set out will ensure that we get delivery right, so that those who depend on this vital support do not miss a payment.

The bill is first and foremost about people, and I hope that I have outlined how our Scottish Government has planned to do things differently. However, we are talking about only 11 benefits, and my preference would be for much, much more than that. The most important thing is that the Scottish Government is working to produce a system that is people centred. In this bill and at this time, we have the opportunity to make real changes in people’s lives. Let us ensure that we all remain focused on that as we progress the bill further.

16:09  

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today on a bill that is rooted in the devolution of social security in Scotland. I am not a member of the committee but I pay tribute to all who took part by giving evidence and supporting the committee in its endeavours.

As Adam Tomkins indicated, we are supportive of the general principles of the bill, which grants legislative competence to the Scottish Parliament in respect of a number of benefits. While supporting those general principles and wanting the bill to work in the interests of everyone in Scotland, we do have some reservations on the specifics.

The bill is based on principles on which we all agree—dignity, fairness and respect. We all expect dignity, fairness and respect for all individuals who require our support and assistance. However, in determining the strength of those principles as part of the bill, it is important to understand how they will work in practice.

Scottish ministers will have a duty to prepare a social security charter and to report to Parliament annually on how the system is performing. However, the bill does not place ministers under a duty to abide by the charter, and that needs to be addressed if the provision is to be included.

Furthermore, it is absolutely right that we take a human rights based approach, but we do not know exactly who will be entitled to what under any of the devolved streams of social security assistance. That carries the risk of the bill not living up to expectations as we set a new path. That is particularly important for a bill under which Scottish ministers will be given wide-ranging powers to define rules about eligibility and to set out in secondary instruments the figures for how much claimants are likely to receive. Further to the idea of managing expectations, Citizens Advice Scotland has also pointed out the importance of clarifying rules around residency so that who is eligible for the devolved streams of social security and what happens when people move over the border is understood.

As has been touched on, it is absolutely vital that the bill provides an acceptable level of scrutiny, particularly when stakeholders have consistently raised concerns about the balance between primary and secondary legislation. While that will allow the Scottish Government the flexibility to adapt the rules depending on how the system develops, the balance should be examined in greater detail during the bill’s passage so that any secondary legislation is adequately scrutinised.

The Social Security Committee has been clear that it has some issues in relation to scrutiny as there is no provision in the bill for a superaffirmative procedure for, or independent scrutiny of, regulations produced under it. That point was echoed by Citizens Advice Scotland, which has called for the new system to have an equivalent body to the UK Social Security Advisory Committee. I look forward to seeing that develop at stage 2.

There is a need for absolute clarity in all future political debate about social security, particularly when we are talking about a bill that gives us the opportunity to transpose powers to Scotland. Although there was scope to do so, it is worth noting that there is no provision in the bill to create new benefits beyond what is covered by the current forms of assistance. As Inclusion Scotland and Poverty Alliance pointed out during the evidence sessions, the bill lacks clarity on how the power to top up reserved benefits will be used. That is an important point. Those organisations understand, because they work with affected individuals. The Parliament needs to take on board their opinions.

If we are to have a meaningful debate, we need to be honest about what powers the Scottish Parliament now has. The bill will be the official marker of the power Scotland now has over social security, as will the system that we endorse.

I reiterate my support for the Social Security (Scotland) Bill at stage 1. However, although we all agree on the general principles of the bill, I hope that the Scottish Government will reflect on the points that have been raised by my colleagues today. We are required to support the social security system and we have an opportunity to set standards; we cannot get that wrong for the individuals who require our support. They want us to make sure that we get it right for them and we need to do so. Let us make bold choices and deliver for everyone as the bill progresses to stage 2. I look forward to that.

16:15  

This historic bill establishes the first UK social security system based on the principle that social security is a human right. It is heartening to note the unequivocal support from across the Parliament and from external stakeholders alike for the broad principles and aims that underpin the bill. They are principles and aims that we should all be proud of and which are worth reiterating. The bill seeks to create a society in which those in need of help are supported and not demonised; a society in which our social security system is run for the people and not for profit; and a society in which every person, with no exception, is treated with dignity and respect.

The bill will enshrine those principles in legislation and further establish Scotland’s reputation as a nation that values compassion and empathy and that rejects selfishness and demonisation when it comes to how we treat those in need of a little extra support. When the bill passes stage 1 today, it will mark a hugely positive step forward. There is much to celebrate and to feel optimistic about.

However, at the same time—I regret having to point this out, but it is important to do so—we cannot lose sight of the challenges that remain and the limitations that exist upon the powers of this Parliament. When we discuss social security-related issues from child poverty to disability rights, the regrettable reality is that Scotland is, more often than not, acting with one hand tied behind its back, with UK Government policies taking things backwards as we legislate to move forwards. We must also remember that 85 per cent of welfare powers will remain under Westminster control and that even the powers that are being devolved are being impacted by cuts at the UK level.

I emphasised that point back in November 2016, when we first debated the future of social security in Scotland. If it was an important point then, it is even more important today because, although the bill will make a hugely positive difference to the lives of people in Scotland, it will not—because it cannot—solve all the issues around social security. That is not to detract from the significant difference that the bill can and will make, but we need to remind ourselves to keep a broader perspective on the context in which we are working towards our aims.

Although the bill’s fundamental aims and principles are not in question, in taking evidence, the committee heard concerns from stakeholders about some of the details at this stage, which we have highlighted in our report and which the Government has responded to. The complex issue of the balance of primary and secondary legislation was raised by stakeholders who were concerned about the Parliament’s ability to scrutinise changes. One Parent Families Scotland, for example, argued that more detail in the bill would

“ensure that the legislation is future-proofed so that forthcoming governments can be held to account over any planned changes”.

I appreciate that the Government is considering the issue of that balance carefully, and I acknowledge the risk that, if too much detail goes into primary legislation before design, development and testing have been undertaken, that could lead to costly mistakes or undeliverability. Nevertheless, in everything that we do, our top priority must be the safe and secure transfer of benefits to the 1.4 million folk who rely on them, and we must be mindful of anything that could delay or otherwise adversely affect implementation.

I am glad that the Scottish Government agrees with the committee that regulations should set a time limit within which the agency is required to complete redeterminations. With regard to the two-stage appeal process, the committee accepted that the agency should have the opportunity to correct errors before a case goes to appeal. Although it is right that the focus is on getting the initial decision correct, people’s previous experience of the DWP system means that it will be even more important to actively seek out any part of our process that might discourage people or be a barrier to their appealing and getting what they are entitled to. I therefore welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to gather further evidence on that and make adjustments if needed.

The issue of social security offences is particularly sensitive, and I support calls for the bill to be clarified in relation to offences and investigations. I do not think that the bill reflects the Scottish Government’s policy statement, and I believe that further consideration is required, particularly of the provisions on “failure to notify”. I ask the Scottish Government to reflect carefully on the evidence and to consider amendments at stage 2 to make the bill clearer.

The bill is a landmark piece of legislation for the Parliament and for our nation. It will affect more than 1 million people across Scotland. We must get it right, and committee scrutiny is crucial to ensuring that we do so. It is a privilege to be involved in scrutinising such a significant piece of legislation, and I welcome the Scottish Government’s initial response to the committee’s report, which clearly takes on board the recommendations. I look forward to further work with committee colleagues at stage 2 as we make different choices on social security in Scotland and show that we can create a fairer and more just society when we take matters into our own hands.

16:20  

The bill to create a new social security system for Scotland is, in my opinion, the most important piece of legislation of this parliamentary session. I agree with other members that it marks a new era for the Scottish Parliament and that we could have life-changing provisions at the end of the process. We have an excellent starting point, which is an intention to depart from the worst aspects of the UK system. We are creating a distinctly Scottish system for the 11 benefits that we will administer, so it is important that we are radical and that the legislation is strong, clear and workable.

I will focus on a few areas where I believe a lot more work needs to be done, beginning with the question of advocacy. I am pleased that the Government has recognised the need for a statutory duty to provide access to independent advocacy, but I want to debate the scope of who will be included in any statutory provision. I am in favour of drawing that provision widely and not narrowly, as might be the Government’s intention, although we have still to hear what that is. I have heard from many advocacy groups that advocacy can be an important aspect of a claimant’s rights and that many advocates have been refused the right to be heard in the assessment process because they do not always have a clear role.

Many people lose out because they cannot navigate the system on their own. From March 2015 to August 2016, the Scottish Government funded four advocacy organisations as part of the welfare advocacy pilot project. Over that period, they worked with more than 1,000 people, helping to provide £2.7 million-worth of benefit entitlements to those people, so the importance of advocacy speaks for itself. According to Inclusion Scotland, independent advocacy is necessary for a substantial proportion of those who will claim Scottish disability assistance.

The second issue that I will address—Ruth Maguire, Alison Johnstone and other members have mentioned it—is the question of mandatory reconsideration and the appeal process. That area of the bill requires considerable reflection to ensure that the process will not prove to be a barrier for claimants. We believe that it should be a one-stage process, which can be achieved by allowing claimants whose application has been unsuccessful to indicate at the outset that they wish to proceed to an appeal.

Until now, mandatory reconsideration has served to block claimants advancing to an appeal. Interestingly, Jessica Burns, a regional tribunal judge, told the committee that the mandatory aspect should be removed. She said that people should

“have the option of asking the agency to think again about the decision, but it should not prevent them from making a direct appeal.”—[Official Report, Social Security Committee, 21 September 2017; c 25.]

That appeal would be to the first-tier tribunal. I welcome the fact that the minister has said that, in the event of the first decision being unsatisfactory, another member of the agency staff will have a fresh look at the decision and that that procedure will be contained in the operational manual. Nevertheless, I want to ensure that it is in the statute, because it is an important feature of the system.

The member has talked about that in committee as well. Has she done or commissioned any research on what the impact would be on our already congested tribunal service if people had an automatic or direct right of appeal without any mandatory reconsideration?

I am more concerned about the number of people who might not be able to come to the end of the process if we do not ensure that it is a smooth one. However, I assure the member that I will address the question at stage 2. I have had discussions behind the scenes with other people who have an interest in the matter.

Sections 27 to 29 deal with appeals, and the claimant has 31 days to appeal. There needs to be more information about whether new tribunal judges will be appointed or whether we will simply be tacking appeals on to the old system. It seems obvious that there should at least be training for new judges; after all, we are creating a new system with a new approach.

There should also be more transparency in the tribunal judgments, which should be published. Each judge should have their decisions in the public domain. If we are going to have a new approach throughout the system, a more radical approach to transparency in decisions would be welcome.

Quite a few witnesses, including Morna Simpkins from the Multiple Sclerosis Society, mentioned that there are no timescales in the bill. I hope that we can address that at stage 2. We might want to consider various timescales for the first decision. Six weeks has been suggested when more evidence is required or it might be four weeks. Whatever our views on that, more work needs to be done on the matter.

In my last 30 seconds or so, I will address overpayments, because that is an important matter. If the social security agency makes an error, there should be no requirement to pay it back. That was said by a Scottish Government official on 16 August at an event that was run by Inclusion Scotland, and I want to ensure that we can rely on that as a key principle. Since then, the Government has stated its intention as being that the overpayment will not be pursued except in exceptional circumstances. However, section 36 clearly says:

“An individual is liable to pay the Scottish Ministers the value of any assistance”.

I simply want to get some clarification at stage 2 and ensure that, if it is the Government’s stated intention for such payments not to be returned, that is reflected in the bill.

I agree with Alison Johnstone that we have the chance to create a radical, rights-based system. I support the general principles of the bill and look forward to the rest of the debate.

16:27  

Some people have suggested that the social security system stems from Beveridge. We might reasonably argue that it stems from the Old Age Pensions Act 1908, which was introduced by the Liberal Government that paid the first pensions in 1909. The first political book that I read was a biography of Lloyd George, which I read when I was seven years old.

He mentions it every year.

Absolutely.

The important thing about the reference that I am making is that, 100-plus years ago, The Times, which was then known as “The Thunderer”, definitely thundered against the iniquity of paying people without their having put something into a fund—the national insurance provision did not come along until 1911. However, we now have a consensus that we will support the bill, which is, of course, much more wide ranging than the 1908 act. That is a good and proper measure of how far we have travelled in the regard that we have for people in our society. The bill will apply to all of us, because, at different stages of our lives, we have different needs and will, in one way or another, depend on a social security payment.

Johann Lamont mentioned the need for rights to be in legislation, but I am not sure that they need to be. We can exercise rights that are not in legislation. In particular, the modern concept of human rights stems from the work of Eleanor Roosevelt in the aftermath of the founding of the United Nations. In 1948, she wrote:

“while words, ideas and ideals may mean little by themselves, they hold great power when properly disseminated and embraced”.

I hope that the debate spreads the word about what we want to do.

I will pick up one or two particular points. I was not on the committee but I read with interest the excellent report that it produced. In particular, where the bill says “role”, in section 1(d), the report suggests that it should instead say “duty”. We need to be slightly careful when we change a single word, and we must weigh that word. If we say that the Scottish ministers have a duty, we might lock the Scottish social security system out from topping up somebody else’s social security provision financially without our creating a new social security provision. I say “might” because I have not examined the matter in detail, but I hope that others will look closely at that.

Adam Tomkins is, without question, the most experienced constitutional lawyer in the Parliament. I do not think that there would be much debate about that. But—and it is quite a big “but”—he may have inadvertently failed to understand the practical application of our constitutional position. If, as he suggests, we should incorporate into primary legislation more than is currently intended, that would end discussion of the matters introduced in the primary legislation at the end of stage 3. However, debating and discussing those matters in the context of secondary legislation will extend the consideration that the Parliament is able to give them into the committee stages that follow as secondary legislation is introduced. It is particularly apposite that I make that point in relation to Adam Tomkins’s remarks, because—

Will the member take an intervention?

I will not. It is tit for tat. I may come back to the member if time permits.

Adam Tomkins suggests that the Government is behind the curve in its preparations for what has to follow while insisting that that incomplete and imperfect preparation should be incorporated into the primary legislation. Those two positions are pretty inconsistent.

Legislators—which includes every one of us here—are perfectly capable of making mistakes. In secondary legislation, we have an opportunity to more readily correct those mistakes. I—mea culpa—provide an example from my experience. On 23 April 2012, I signed the Snares (Training) (Scotland) Order 2012. It turned out not to be quite as good as I thought it was when I signed it. Therefore, on 22 May, less than a month later, I lodged the Snares (Training) (Scotland) (No 2) Order 2012, which was a better presentation of the legislation that was required.

Finally—I leave this as a little mystery for colleagues to pursue—I turn to the very first order that I signed as a minister. It was the Port of Cairnryan Harbour Empowerment Order 2007, which I signed on 25 May 2007. I will let members discover why the order is entirely invalid. The good news is that it was never used or required.

This excellent bill is a big and important step forward for the Parliament. Having flexibility in how we deal with the legislation in the future is not about giving the Government flexibility but about giving Parliament flexibility. I welcome the indications that a superaffirmative procedure will be introduced at stage 2, because that will give us an opportunity to have extended consideration of the secondary legislation. It is a proven technique that works very well.

16:33  

I, too, thank the Social Security Committee and acknowledge the work and evidence that has informed the bill so far.

As my colleague Adam Tomkins said, the Scottish Conservative Party is the party of devolution in this place. Since 2014 and the Smith commission, we have reinforced and expanded the powers of this Parliament, helping to build one of the most powerful devolved legislatures in the world. Three years on, 30 per cent of working-age benefits have been devolved, along with the power to top up reserved benefits and create new ones, paving the way for this new legislation.

The bill will redefine welfare north of the border. Parliament has the opportunity to create a fair, simple system that is accessible and understandable to all. This is an opportunity to take responsibility for how we support people at the most difficult times in their lives. In doing so, we must ensure that the bill is fit for purpose and does not raise expectations only to snatch them away again.

The principles of a new system are certainly present in the bill. The recognition of social security as an investment in people rather than a support, the enshrining of social security as a human right in Scots law, and the embedding of respect for and the dignity of the individual are all welcome, but if we are serious about achieving such outcomes we will need more than just words. I would like to see more detail in the bill, so that the Parliament and the people can be clear about what the devolved powers will deliver.

The Parliament must be part of the decision-making process, and the balance between primary and secondary legislation needs to be addressed as the bill goes through stage 2. On that basis, I welcome the proposal to create a Scottish social security advisory body in statute.

I will focus briefly on an area that is close to my heart: the need for advocacy. Around a quarter of the written submissions to the Social Security Committee called for a legal right to independent advocacy. For a person who is at their lowest, having someone at their side who understands the system and can articulate their position can make all the difference. I accept what my colleague Jeremy Balfour said about the difference between advocacy and advice, but I think that both can take place at the same time.

Advocard, an organisation that supports people in the Edinburgh area who have mental health issues, said:

“to leave the legislation, as it stands, is an erosion of human rights work that has been done previously”.

Citizens Advice Scotland and Inclusion Scotland voiced similar concerns about the issue. I understand that the minister is aware of that evidence and I urge her to ensure that there is adequate provision in the bill for advocacy.

My other concern is slightly more technical in nature, and I have heard no mention of it in today’s debate. The Scottish Government intends to spend £190 million on information technology implementation, while committing to the principle that

“the Scottish social security system is to be efficient and deliver value for money.”

We have seen problems with the development of IT systems, and the Government’s record in that regard does not fill me with confidence. One need only look at the way in which common agricultural policy payments were delivered to become a little worried about the implementation of an IT system that will affect many, many more Scots.

I note that the Scottish Government responded to the Social Security Committee’s request for a further breakdown of IT costs, and I urge the minister to ensure that robust procedures are in place to ensure that the costs do not spiral. The IT system must be delivered within budget, on time and in a condition such that it is fit for use, to avoid scenes similar to those that we witnessed last winter, when farmers were forced to take out loans while waiting for payments. If a similar crisis were to affect social security, the consequences could be disastrous.

The bill has the potential to revolutionise social security in this country. It presents an unprecedented opportunity to create a tailored system, which provides the support that people need, when they need it. If we want the principles of respect, dignity and fairness to be delivered through the bill, we must ensure that we take all the people of Scotland with us. As Alex Cole-Hamilton rightly reminded us, the principle of social security is to help individuals and families to be socially mobile. That is why we must ensure that the new system is delivered promptly and properly, with an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny to ensure transparency and fairness. If the Scottish Government does not get the bill right, it will be the people of Scotland who pay for that mistake.

16:38  

In my opening speech, I reminded members that our decisions, and the improvements that we make to the bill, will be critical to improving the lives of disabled, sick and elderly people up and down the country, for years to come. I think that the Parliament has sent out a clear message that we all want to get the bill right, for that reason.

If the people who will rely on the system—those who have lived under the existing so-called welfare system—have heard our debate this afternoon, they will have heard that the Parliament is brimming with ideas about how we can build a new social security system of which people can be proud.

Earlier I spoke about some of the areas where we on the Labour side of the chamber hope to work with the Government and perhaps even push it to go a little further. We have focused on those areas for a number of months. I want to welcome Alison Johnstone’s speech and confirm that we will work with the Green Party at stage 2 to improve the bill in some of the areas that she addressed.

The committee was clear and unanimous on one thing that she spoke about: the bill should include the additional principle that

“Social security has a role to play in the eradication of poverty in Scotland”.

In our response, we said that the bill is a route map to cutting poverty in Scotland, and we want that new principle to be included.

The Government’s response, that the socioeconomic duty would be sufficient and that we have only 15 per cent of the powers, requires some reflection. That 15 per cent figure includes pensions and relies on a somewhat strange calculation of welfare spend. The bill does, after all, include powers to make the Scottish social security system more adequate. A top-up of child benefit, which is advocated by the give me five campaign, would not only cut poverty in Scotland but mean that that 15 per cent could become 31 per cent, once pensions were stripped out. I do not remember anyone in the Smith commission arguing for the devolution of pensions, with the looming costs that would come with that. The proposal that I have set out would go further than the UK Government is going and would underline our ambition to use the powers to cut poverty.

We also want to go further than the UK Government by ensuring that equality of outcome for groups that share one or more protected characteristic is embedded in the Scottish social security system. We look forward to having discussions with the minister on that.

I want to touch on how we adjust the definition of what we regard as a terminal illness. I think that it is fair to say that accepting the definition in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 would not set a good example or underline our ambition to create a better system than that which exists today. Marie Curie and MND Scotland are clear that the right to have an application fast-tracked should be included in the bill and that the definition should not be a life expectancy of a short six months. I am told that, although six months is sufficient for 95 per cent of cancer patients, it is just not reasonable for someone with a varying condition such as motor neurone disease.

This chamber has made huge progress on helping those with palliative care needs. To include a better definition on the face of the bill would go further and would ensure that someone who is terminally ill can access the support that they need quickly and in a fair and dignified way.

The tribunal arrangements—which were mentioned by Pauline McNeill—the issue of the offences regime and the provisions in the bill that deal with what happens when things go wrong need forensic and detailed attention. We still take the view that overpayments that are caused by the errors of officials should not be recoverable from an individual, and believe that it would be unacceptable to pass a bill that criminalises those who fail to notify in such cases. We will take advice on how to rectify those provisions, but I hope that the minister will be able to come forward with adjustments ahead of the Christmas break. Those amendments will, of course, require further scrutiny and time to digest.

We will support the general principles of the bill today. In my opening speech, I made the point that we have a fair amount of work ahead of us to get this right for the people who will rely on the new system. I hope that those individuals—the young mum worried about her child being born into poverty, the disabled person with hundreds of pounds of additional costs every month and the pensioner who is worried about their heating bill this winter—will have been reassured by this debate.

16:44  

There was all-party agreement in the Smith commission that we should devolve the aspects of social security that have been devolved. There was no dissent. This debate on social security has been maybe the most consensual debate that we have had in the chamber since the last election, and I think that it is entirely appropriate that all parties in the chamber are agreed that the general principles of the bill should be supported.

Many members who have spoken in the debate, including Alex Cole-Hamilton and George Adam, have said how important a moment this is for our Parliament, and Ruth Maguire said that the bill is landmark legislation. I agree. Pauline McNeill said that we have entered a new era, in which the Parliament will make life-changing decisions. I think that the Parliament has made life-changing decisions in the past, but it is certainly a new era. Mark Griffin was right to say that we will have only one first go at this, so it is important that we get the bill right the first time. I agree with all of that.

Alexander Stewart said that we should make bold choices in the bill, and I completely agree, but it has to be said that we still do not know very much about the bold choices that Jeane Freeman and her ministerial colleagues want to make about devolved social security. There is still a huge degree of uncertainty about who will be entitled to what; there is no clarity on either of those questions in the bill. Jeremy Balfour was right to ask the minister when she proposes to produce regulations, or even draft regulations, that will clarify matters and reduce some of the uncertainty. Perhaps she will respond when she winds up the debate.

The minister and Mr Balfour exchanged views on assessments. It is not the case that medical evidence that is already on record explains what an individual claimant needs by way of a PIP—the medical diagnosis is different from the assessment of need. There will be occasions when the new Scottish social security agency will need to do a face-to-face assessment, even when the claimant would prefer not to have to undergo one. It cannot always be a question of choice for the claimant. Those are just some of the tough choices that will have to be made in the regulations, which we are not allowed to see yet; indeed, we do not even know when we will see them. The sooner the minister can be honest and up front with the Parliament about what those tough choices will have to be, the better our social security system will be.

There has been a lot of comment about effective parliamentary scrutiny. That is the area in which there is a key difference between primary and secondary legislation. I thank my friend Stewart Stevenson for schooling me in constitutional law—or, at least, in the constitutional law that was valid in the day of David Lloyd George—but the point about the difference between primary and secondary legislation was encapsulated by Johann Lamont when she said that she was worried about the use of secondary legislation not because it cuts MSPs out of the question, but because it cuts the people who come and give us evidence out of the question.

Stewart Stevenson rose—

We cannot take evidence on a piece of delegated legislation—even one that is subject to the superaffirmative procedure—to the same extent that we can in a stage 1 inquiry, which goes on for weeks. We do not have procedures that enable us to have parliamentary scrutiny of delegated legislation that goes on for weeks.

The other important point to make—if Mr Stevenson wants to countermand me on this, I will let him in—is that, at the end of a debate on a piece of secondary legislation, even if it is subject to the superaffirmative procedure, all that we can do is say yea or no to it. We cannot amend it. That means that stakeholders or users with lived experience of social security will not be able to come and explain to us, for example, that 90 per cent of the regulation is right but it needs to be tweaked in a number of regards. We do not have that power. That is where there is an important difference between primary and secondary legislation.

I accept the procedural point that Adam Tomkins makes, but he is wrong in practical terms. I speak from experience. If he consults Ross Finnie, he will find that, on two occasions, Ross Finnie had to withdraw secondary legislation at my instance, to consult stakeholders and to bring back something that met the requirements of stakeholders and of Parliament before it would be agreed. There is precedent for that. There have been multiple committee meetings on certain pieces of secondary legislation. It is up to Parliament to make the time available; it can do so.

Perhaps the Parliament will make a bit more time available to me right now.

The critical aspect of the difference between primary and secondary legislation is that the Parliament cannot amend secondary legislation, so in making primary legislation, we must be absolutely sure that the choices that ministers will put before us in the form of draft regulations or statutory instruments are choices that we just want to say yes or no to, without having the ability to amend them. That is a critical hurdle that the bill does not yet overcome, but which it will need to overcome by the end of stage 2 if we are to support it further.

The Government said in its response to the committee’s stage 1 report that it agrees that there should be a statutory social security advisory committee for Scotland. However, the one point that I want to make to the minister about that is that that committee must have a role in approving regulations or helping Parliament and ministers to approve them; its role should not be to provide redress for individual grievances. Providing redress for grievances is a different function from the function of helping with rule making and law making.

Providing redress for grievances is the second big theme that has emerged during the debate. There is widespread concern across the chamber about the social security charter. There is no point in legislating for a human rights-based approach to social security unless there are remedies when those rights are breached. They do not have to be remedies in a court of law, but they do have to be remedies and they have to be enforceable, whether through an ombudsman or a court of law—there will be a role for the courts to play.

There needs to be sharper clarity in the Government’s thinking, if I may put it so impolitely, about its exact proposals for a system that provides effective redress for grievances. I know that the minister thinks that the new social security agency will never make any mistakes; I share her optimism that it will make as few mistakes as possible. However, from time to time, claimants will not get what they think that they are entitled to and they will want to make complaints about that, so there needs to be an effective complaints machinery. We need much greater clarity than we have had so far about the role of the bill’s principles and the charter in the determination of those grievances.

I call Jeane Freeman to wind up the debate—eight minutes, please, minister.

16:51  

First, I thank the committee again and, on behalf of myself and the Government, I thank Sandra White for her work as convener of the committee through a substantive part of the stage 1 evidence gathering, which proved to be the foundation of the committee’s report.

I believe that this has been a good debate, in keeping with something that I think we all recognise: this is a historic moment in the life of the Scottish Parliament. I intend to touch on some of the issues raised in the debate. I will not be able to cover them all in the time allowed, but I am sure that members across the chamber will carefully read the Government’s response to the committee’s stage 1 report and recognise in it our openness to considering in more detail many of the issues that have been raised.

I start with some of the points in the committee’s report that Clare Adamson helpfully raised. She mentioned the role that social security could play in the eradication of poverty. I am indeed sympathetic to that point, but I have to add the caveat that we are talking about the Scottish social security system. Members have debated back and forth what our powers actually are—we will have powers over 15 per cent of the total spend on social security in Scotland and 11 benefits. Of course we have a role in the eradication of poverty and of course social security has a part to play in that, but we cannot be held responsible for benefits that we do not have power over, or for powers that we do not have. Ms Adamson also raised the committee’s point that ministers should have a duty to ensure that people are given what they are entitled to. At the moment, as members will know, the bill refers to a “role” for ministers. Again, I am sympathetic to that point. We will return to both those points when we come to Government amendments at stage 2.

I turn to the substantive question of the balance between primary and secondary legislation. There is, of course, a reason for the approach that we have taken as a Government. I take members back to the points that I made in my opening speech, taking us right back to the consultation that we held in 2016 and the consultations that we have had since then. Those consultations have been with not only stakeholder organisations but people with lived experience of the benefits system, key organisations that provide welfare support and advice, our local authorities and many others. All have consistently said to us that one of the fundamental problems with the UK legislation is that it is opaque and incomprehensible at times because it is contained in both primary and secondary legislation. Indeed, a citizen’s advice bureau told me that it takes longer to work through the UK legislation than it takes to provide advice to clients.

Our purpose here is to provide clarity on the foundation of social security in Scotland, with the details in regulations. That is our intent. In my view, putting eligibility criteria on the face of the bill will not best serve the interests of the people who receive benefits. It will not give us enough time to consult, via experience panels, the expert group or any other means, as we have consistently committed to doing. I am not prepared to break that consistent commitment because I am convinced that our approach is the right way to build this new public service and the only way to meet the principles of the bill.

That said, we are of course willing to consider amendments and will look at the issues over the recess. Mr Griffin’s idea was that we would bring forward all the amendments before the recess—by Thursday. I am sure that my officials are watching the debate, and that would have given some of them conniptions. That will not happen. However, we have already begun to set up discussions with Mr Griffin and others that will happen immediately we come back to look at Government amendments.

We have said that we will bring forward amendments to introduce a superaffirmative procedure in recognition of the difficult balance that Mr Griffin acknowledges we have to strike and to set up a body to provide for independent scrutiny. I wrote to the Social Security Committee in June asking for its views on how we might do that and what such a body would do. I have been consistently clear that I want an independent scrutiny body and that I want a duty on ministers—unlike at the UK level—to consult on any regulations or changes in social security that they want to introduce before those are introduced, with no exemptions and no fast tracking.

We asked our expert group to consider that matter and I am very grateful to it for the report that it produced. We will go back to the group in due course. I hope that the Social Security Committee will also give me advice on both that issue and Mr Tomkins’s point about how an individual can seek redress in terms of the charter.

I know that Mr Tomkins understands full well that legal enforceability is always on the table. In this case, it comes from the Scotland Act 1998, which requires that Parliament’s legislation is compatible with the European convention on human rights and with the Human Rights Act 1998, which makes it unlawful for public authorities to act in a way that is incompatible with convention rights.

Mr Tomkins will also know of the report commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission from the University of Ulster, which talks helpfully about how the principles of dignity and respect, which the charter will translate for us, are difficult to enforce judicially and makes some suggestions about how we might do that. I look forward to returning to the committee and discussing with members how we make that possible. It is of course a different form of redress from the complaints procedure that we would expect any well-governed public body or agency to have in place. We need to make that distinction very clearly.

Members ask us to put detail into primary legislation because the alternative cuts out Parliament’s scrutiny. However, that is not compatible with also asking us to put into primary legislation a power to create new benefits. I do not believe that we need such a power, as I have already explained. It would be a very wide-ranging power for ministers to have with no particular scrutiny other than through the scrutiny of regulations. There is a contradiction there.

Mr Macpherson made an important point about DHPs that we will consider—we look forward to discussing it further. We will come back to the matter of redeterminations. On the question of uprating, we have already made a commitment on annual uprating of the benefits under disability assistance. We also said in our response that we welcome the committee urging us to consider how we might review the impact on benefits of rising costs.

The Government has already committed to a significant increase to the carers allowance and to the best start grant, which takes current provision for the first child from £500 to £1,100 and for the second child and all subsequent children from the current position of zero from the UK Government to a total of £800. Therefore, we are already moving in the direction of ensuring that, within the overall restrictions on our budget—I am conscious that Derek Mackay is sitting next to me—we are making significant progress and moving to ensure that individuals receive adequate support through the social security system.

Will the minister take an intervention?

I am sorry, but I must press on. I am coming to the points that Ms Lamont made.

I could not agree more with Johann Lamont when she states that a false distinction is being made between those who pay tax and those who are in receipt of benefits, and I am very grateful to her for the important point that she made, which she asked us to consider, about placing social security in a wider context. However, I am also very grateful to George Adam for reminding us all that our first priority in all of this is the safe and secure transfer of 11 benefits in order to ensure that 1.4 million people receive the support that they are entitled to on the day that they expect it and at the right amount.

Finally, I have listened very carefully and made extensive notes. We will consider all the points that have been raised, and we will come back and have discussions at the start of next year. I know from what members across the chamber have said that, at that point, all of us will be looking for solutions to the issues. We will reach consensus as best we can. There might still be points of difference, but our overall objective is to create a social security system that is founded on good legislation and which the people of Scotland can be proud of.