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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 29 September 2020

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motions, Scottish Budget Update, Topical Question Time, Complaints against MSPs (Committee Bill Proposal), Social Security Administration and Tribunal Membership (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Social Security Administration and Tribunal Membership (Scotland) Bill, Sentencing Bill, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Mossmorran (Just Transition)


Contents


Social Security Administration and Tribunal Membership (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

The next item of business is stage 3 proceedings on the Social Security Administration and Tribunal Membership (Scotland) Bill. In dealing with the amendments, members should have the bill as amended at stage 2, the marshalled list and the groupings of amendments.

Should there be a division, the division bell will sound, and proceedings will be suspended for a short technical break.

I encourage members who wish to speak on any group of amendments to press their request-to-speak button as soon as the group is called.

We turn to the marshalled list.

Section 5—Investigations

Group 1 is on investigations. Amendment 1, in the name of Shirley-Anne Somerville, is the only amendment in the group.

Amendment 1 is a short, technical amendment, to fix numerical ordering in the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018.

Section 96(2) of the 2018 act is a numerical list of sections under which regulations are made under affirmative procedure. One of those listed sections of the 2018 act is section 75. Section 5 of the bill reorders the 2018 act so that its section 75 becomes section 84A. Section 96(2) of the 2018 act therefore requires amendment so that the reference in the list to section 75 is substituted by a reference to section 84A. Section 5(8) of the bill does that; however, the present provision places the reference to section 84A in the list after section 85, when it should be before that section.

I trust that members are content and will support what is a minor tidying amendment.

I move amendment 1.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

After section 6

Group 2 is on uprating for inflation. Amendment 2, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is grouped with amendment 3.

The new Scottish child payment will play a vital role in tackling child poverty. When it was first announced in June 2019, we made a commitment that the payment would be uprated annually in line with inflation. We already have the power to increase the value of the payment through amendments to the Scottish child payment regulations, but our statutory duties to report on and uprate certain forms of assistance in sections 77 and 78 of the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 do not extend to the child payment.

That is why I made clear in our response to the Scottish Commission on Social Security’s report on the Scottish child payment regulations, published on 8 September, my intention to lodge substantive amendments at stage 3 of the bill, to ensure that we enshrine in law the annual uprating of the Scottish child payment in line with inflation.

Sections 77 and 78 of the 2018 act contain the existing, overarching provision on uprating. However, as the Scottish child payment is to be made under top-up powers, under section 79 of the 2018 act, it is not covered by existing duties.

Amendment 2 modifies section 77 of the 2018 act so that the existing duty to report to Parliament annually on the inflation-adjusted level of all forms of assistance that are payable under part 2 of the act is now extended to require ministers to report on the inflation-adjusted level of all forms of top-up assistance that are payable under regulations under section 79.

Amendment 2 also modifies section 78 of the 2018 act to require ministers to bring forward regulations uprating the value of the Scottish child payment in line with its inflation-adjusted level. Since sections 77 and 78, as modified, will relate to assistance under parts 2 and 3 of the 2018 act, amendment 2 also moves those sections to part 4 of the act and renumbers them as sections 86A and 86B.

Amendment 3 makes provision in connection with this reordering to provide that

“Anything done under section 77 or 78 of the ... 2018 Act”

before the date on which the relevant provisions of this bill come into force will be treated after that date as having been done under the renumbered sections.

As the first payments of the Scottish child payment will start from the end of February 2021, the duty to uprate annually will be in effect from April 2022 and will be brought into force by commencement regulations, which are likely to be laid in late 2021, and that will be made under section 11 of the bill. I urge members to support the amendment.

I move amendment 2.

Amendment 2 agreed to.

Amendment 3 moved—[Shirley-Anne Somerville]—and agreed to.

Section 7A—Power to suspend payment of assistance

The final group is on the suspension of assistance. Amendment 4, in the name of the cabinet secretary, is the only amendment in the group.

Amendment 4 is another minor technical amendment to the provisions on suspensions, which were introduced at stage 2 of the bill. The amendment makes it clear that the ability to suspend payment should be Social Security Scotland’s first choice where an individual has failed for the first time to supply information by the date set by the agency.

Where assistance is suspended after requesting information from the individual, Social Security Scotland will be required to ask for the information again and allow a further period for that to be supplied. If an individual fails to supply information for a second time, Social Security Scotland will have the power to terminate entitlement to assistance.

I want to make clear, as I did at stage 2, that although we will have the power to terminate entitlement at this point, the outcome is not predetermined. Case managers will consider all the information that is held before making their determinations. The decision to terminate entitlement will not be taken lightly and will be used as the last step in a process, not the first. We will continue to work in a co-operative, fair way with all clients in seeking to obtain the information that we need to ensure that people continue to be paid the right amount at the right time. The priority is to avoid clients being overpaid assistance and to develop a fair process that is tailored to individual circumstances.

As stage 2 amendments made clear, our system of suspensions has important safeguards, including the need to consider an individual’s financial circumstances and their right to request a review. This minor technical amendment will fulfil stakeholders’ expectations and ensure the effective functioning of Scotland’s social security system.

I move amendment 4.

Amendment 4 agreed to.

That ends consideration of amendments.

As members are aware, I am required under standing orders to decide whether, in my view, any provision of the bill relates to a protected subject matter—that is, whether it modifies the electoral system or the franchise for Scottish parliamentary elections. In my view, no provision relates to a protected subject matter, so the bill does not require a supermajority in order to be passed at stage 3.