SNP Urged To 'Come Clean' On New Powers

David Mundell has challenged the Scottish Government to "come clean'' on how it will use new welfare powers as MPs prepare for a second consecutive day of debate on further devolution for Holyrood.

The Scottish Secretary called on the SNP administration to detail what it will do with the powers and any consequences for the taxpayer.

The Scotland Bill making its way through Westminster will transfer £2.5 billion of welfare responsibility to the Scottish Parliament but the nationalists insist the legislation does not go far enough.

The party has put forward amendments that would remove Westminster vetoes it says exist over using welfare powers as well as give Holyrood control over working-age benefits, benefits relating to children and employment support programmes.

Speaking before the Bill's welfare provisions are scrutinised in the House of Commons, Mr Mundell said Scottish ministers faced "difficult choices''.

"It is crunch time for the Scottish Government,'' he said.

"They will soon be receiving the powers over welfare which they have long wanted; they now have to tell us how they intend to use them.

"If that means higher welfare payments, they will have to be clear with Scotland how that will be paid for: higher taxes or cuts to services.

"Let's be clear: they need to come clean with the Scottish electorate. People deserve to know the price tag of their policies and who will be picking up the bill.

"The UK Government's priorities are clear - to make savings on welfare so we don't have to ask working families to pay more.

"All the while - on welfare, on pensions and on the economy in general - we continue to benefit from sharing risks and resources with the rest of the UK.''

Mr Mundell said the UK spent about £94 billion a year on working-age benefits to support people who are unemployed or on low incomes.

He also repeated warnings that full fiscal autonomy, under which Scotland would be responsible for raising all the cash it spends, would leave the country £10 billion worse off.

The SNP repeated calls for opposition parties to back its amendments to the Bill, which was designed to implement the recommendations of the post-referendum Smith Commission on further devolution.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP, the SNP's social justice spokeswoman, said the welfare elements of the legislation "fall far short'' of the spirit and letter of the commission.

She said there was no mention in the Bill of giving the Scottish Parliament the power to create new benefits in areas of devolved responsibility and restrictions in its provisions would limit the original proposals.

Dr Whiteford said: ''Crucially, the Bill also limits the powers of the Scottish Government to continue to provide assistance through the Scottish Welfare Fund and contains a Westminster veto over the Scottish Government's powers in certain areas of Universal Credit - and restrictions on employment programmes.

"That is why the SNP's welfare amendments to the Scotland Bill are so important and why Scotland needs the opposition parties to come together to support them. Labour will show where they stand - for Scottish control or Tory control.''

Labour's shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said: "The Tories must abide by the letter and spirit of the Smith Agreement and go further. That means the Scottish Parliament taking control of welfare powers with no UK Government veto. It means that the Scottish Parliament must have the final say on benefit rates in Scotland.

"This Bill, and these amendments, will ensure that the Scottish Parliament has complete control over the creation of new benefits in Scotland, over the job creating powers of the Work Programme, and over Housing Benefit which can be channelled into investment in housing.

"Scots voted for more powers for the Scottish Parliament, but they also voted to maintain the pooling and sharing of resources across the UK. The SNP must respect the outcome of the referendum and not attempt to break up the welfare state - one of Labour's proudest achievements.''

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "In the light of the UK Government's proposed £12 billion cuts to social security we need to create a fairer and simpler social security system - one that does not stigmatise people who claim benefits but treats them with dignity and respect and have the flexibility to deal with the damaging decisions that are being made.

"Deeper cuts will only impact further on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including children, who are the real victims of the UK Government's austerity agenda.

"That is why we held a discussion last week with stakeholders over the proposed powers, and over the next few months will be listening to the people affected by the UK Government's welfare changes and cuts, and getting their views on how we can create a system that suits their needs.

"We will set out our proposals in due course once the UK Government have confirmed whether they will deliver the full social security and employment powers included in the Smith Commission, and whether they will listen to the proposals set out last week by the Deputy First Minister for additional powers to enable Scotland to provide a more comprehensive approach to social security and getting people into work.''

Labour's shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said: "The Tories must abide by the letter and spirit of the Smith Agreement and go further. That means the Scottish Parliament taking control of welfare powers with no UK Government veto. It means that the Scottish Parliament must have the final say on benefit rates in Scotland.

"This Bill, and these amendments, will ensure that the Scottish Parliament has complete control over the creation of new benefits in Scotland, over the job creating powers of the Work Programme, and over Housing Benefit which can be channelled into investment in housing.

"Scots voted for more powers for the Scottish Parliament, but they also voted to maintain the pooling and sharing of resources across the UK. The SNP must respect the outcome of the referendum and not attempt to break up the welfare state - one of Labour's proudest achievements.''

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