Iain Duncan Smith’s evidence to the work and pensions committee – Summary

Summary provided by Paul Sparrow from The Guardian

• Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, has been accused of not being open with a Commons select committee and of treating it with arrogance and disrespect. The accusation came from Labour members of the Commons work and pensions committee, during a particularly testy hearing, which saw several members of the committee speaking to him with disdain, and Duncan Smith treating them likewise. Dame Anne Begg, the committee chairman, complained that last year Duncan Smith appeared before the committee and implied everything was going well with universal credit, when in fact a major internal review was underway. She said:

You can imagine why some people are a bit suspicious that this is a department attempt to sweep things under the carpet.

Debbie Abrahams, another Labour MP, was even more scathing.

[I can say] with the strongest feeling my concern about the hubris that you have demonstrated in your tone to this committee. You haven’t explained – certainly to my satisfaction and I’m sure anybody that is watching will drew their own conclusions – you have not made any satisfactory explanation about how you have informed, and kept this committee informed, about the difficulties that your department is experiencing. There’s been obfuscation, smoke and mirrors, even up to to a few week before the report from the National Audit [Office]. The memorandum that was released in August was clearly saying everything was fine and dandy. It is clearly not. I will give you one more opportunity to answer so that you can explain to this committee why there was such poor information provided by your department.

Labour’s Glenda Jackson said that Duncan Smith’s attempts to explain the situation had left her feeing she was “in the fog”.

• Duncan Smith has told the committee that he is under no obligation to tell it about everything that is happening in his departmentHe said this:

With respect, I don’t have to tell the committee everything that is happening in the department until we have reached a conclusion about what is actually happening. I will take those decisions myself and account for the decisions that were taken and I have done that …

With respect, I don’t think this committee can run the department.

But he strongly rejected Begg’s claim that he was sweeping things under the carpet, or that he had given the committee a misleading account of the state of the universal credit programme in evidence last year. And he had some particularly ill-tempered exchanges with Jackson. At one point he said he did not know what she was trying to ask, and that it was as if she were talking in a foreign language. At one point he implied that she did not understand how departmental accounts work.

• Dame Anne Begg, the committee, chairman, has told Duncan Smith that the committee does not think he has solved the problems affecting universal credit. She told him this:

I think our problem is we are not convinced by your argument that you have got it sorted out.

• Duncan Smith has described as “ludicrous” reports that there has been a row between the Cabinet Office and the DWP over the implementation of universal credit.

• Duncan Smith has said the benefits cap was never meant to save “staggering amounts of money”. Asked about the revelation that it has affected fewer families than originally expected, he said it was intended to change behaviour as much as to save money.

That’s all from me for tonight.

Thanks for the comments.

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