The committee has been repeatedly frustrated in its attempts to question UK ministers on the welfare reforms introduced by the current Conservative UK Government and its predecessor coalition government.
Current Employment Minister, Priti Patel MP, who is responsible for welfare reform, agreed to a public meeting with the committee when she met informally with its members last October. However, in a letter to the committee dated 22 January, Ms Patel states that “Parliamentary commitments” have so far prevented her meeting with the committee again and goes on to say that “for the same reasons” she “would be unable to make it to Edinburgh before the Scottish Parliament is dissolved” in March.
Ms Patel's letter instead invites committee members to meet with her in London, however Scottish Parliament rules prevent its committees meeting in formal session out with Scotland.
Hugh Henry MSP, Convener of the Welfare Reform Committee has today replied to Ms Patel to once again reiterate the committee's stated wish to hold a public meeting with her before dissolution on 23 March.
Mr Henry, said:
"UK Ministers have now declined to appear before the Welfare Reform Committee on 11 occasions, since the committee was created in 2011. When she met with us for informal talks last October, Priti Patel agreed to a public meeting in the New Year.
“She has had four months to make this happen and she now tells us that she is unable to come to Edinburgh before dissolution in March.
“The committee has heard first-hand evidence from individuals and organisations on the front line of welfare reform over the last five years. Iain Duncan Smith has, for whatever reason, chosen not to engage with us at all and, although we’ve had several informal meetings with Ministers, it is unacceptable that MSPs have not had the opportunity to question UK Ministers in public session.”
Clare Adamson MSP, Deputy Convener, said:
“The UK Government keeps assuring us that it is in discussions with Scottish Government officials on the devolution of some welfare powers to Scotland. That is well and good, but it shows a complete disregard for the role of the Scottish Parliament and its committees in scrutinising the transfer of those powers.
“Dissolution is seven weeks away. There’s still time for Priti Patel to reconsider and agree to appear formally before the committee.”
Correspondence between the Convener and Minister is available on the committee’s webpages.
Previous occasions on which UK Government ministers have met informally (in private) with the Committee: Priti Patel (Minister for Employment) in October 2015, Lord Freud (Minister for Welfare Reform) in July and November 2012, and Iain Duncan Smith (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) in March 2013.
UK Government ministers have either declined or not responded to invitations to appear before the Welfare Reform Committee on 11 occasions.
The Scottish Parliament will dissolve for elections at midnight on 23 March.