By a Newsnet reporter
Conservative Minister Iain Duncan Smith has refused to appear in front of Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee.
The Tory MP was invited to Holyrood to discuss the impact of the Welfare Reform Act but snubbed the invitation in a letter, claiming that an appearance at the Scottish Parliament would undermine Westminster’s own Select Committee and disrespect the “boundaries” of devolution.
Mr Duncan Smith’s refusal to attend the Committee at the Scottish Parliament has been described as ‘totally unacceptable’ by SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn.
The refusal by the Conservative Work and Pensions Minister to appear in front of Scottish MSP’s flies in the face of a pledge given by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who shortly after being elected in May 2010 promised a ‘respect agenda’ towards the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Cameron indicated he wanted Ministers from both administrations to appear when requested in front of the other’s Committees.
Speaking shortly after becoming PM, Mr Cameron said: “I want a real agenda of respect between our parliaments.
“I want to see Scottish ministers able to appear in front of select committees in Westminster and I believe that, if the Scottish Parliament would wish it, I would appear every year at the Scottish Parliament to answer questions.”
He added: “There should be Treasury Ministers to talk about budgets… the Scottish Secretary to talk about the Queens Speech. This agenda of our Parliament’s working together, of governing with respect. Both because I believe Scotland deserves that respect and because I want to try and win Scotland’s respect as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.”
Mr Hepburn MSP, Deputy Committee Convener of the Welfare Reform Committee said he wanted to question the Tory politician after a former health worker told how the benefits system had reduced him to a “blind beggar”.
Henry Sherlock, 50, from Falkirk, is blind and suffers from chronic heart disease, diabetes and depression. In September, Mr Sherlock described how he had been bullied by the Department for Work and Pensions and other agencies making cuts.
He told Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee: “I thought the days of the blind man begging with a cup on street corners were gone. Sadly, that is not the case. I still rely on family handouts and additional begged support in order to live.”
Jamie Hepburn added: “Mr Duncan Smith’s decision is totally unacceptable and contradicts Prime Minister David Cameron’s promised respect agenda between Westminster and the Scottish Parliament.
“We asked the Secretary of State to come and brief us publicly so that the people of Scotland can get answers to some of the questions we have uncovered.
“Mr Duncan Smith suggested to us that one of his senior officials could attend, demonstrating his total lack of understanding of the importance of this issue for the people of Scotland. For him to refuse to engage with us like this is disappointing in the extreme.”