THE Scottish Parliament will have powers to bust the UK benefit cap and increase all areas of welfare including pensions, Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael has confirmed.
Giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs select Committee in the Commons, Mr Carmichael said that the conclusions of the commission chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin means that the only limit set on Holyrood would be to prevent it from cutting benefits set by the UK.
He agreed that a clause in paragraph 54 of the agreement, first put forward by the Tories, will allow Holyrood to create its own benefits means that MSPs will be able to increase all forms of welfare payment.
The deal was struck by five parties including the SNP, which was represented on the commission by Deputy First Minister John Swinney, along with the Greens, Tories, Lib Dems and Labour.
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Mr Carmichael’s evidence appears to challenge the claim made by the SNP that the Smith proposals will not allow it to shape welfare in Scotland.
Lib Dem Edinburgh West MP Mike Crockart asked whether the ability to create new benefits and top up UK benefits would give the Scottish Government “a fairly wide remit to do anything they like on the welfare system.”
Mr Carmichael said: “It gives them very wide powers. Obviously it is up to the Scottish Government to say how it would fund increases in expenditure.”
Mr Crockart added: “Is it correct that the only power they don’t have is to cut an existing benefit?”
Mr Carmichael replied: “Yes, bluntly put that would be my assessment of it.”
The committee’s Labour chairman Ian Davidson asked if the same applied to pensions.
Mr Carmichael said: “If they wanted to top it [the state pension] up they would have that power.”
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