Should the House of Lords block cuts to tax credits?

Earlier this week, the government saw off a motion from Labour attacking their plans to cut tax credits. This however may not be the end of the story. There are rumours that the House of Lords where the government does not have a majority may seek to kill the policy through a so-called ‘fatal motion’. This sort of motion if successful would halt the cuts to tax credits and could spark a constitutional crisis.

The government has chosen to introduce these measures through a Statutory Instrument rather than include them in the Finance Bill. There are 2 different types of Statutory Instruments; Affirmative Instruments and Negative Instruments. An affirmative instrument must be agreed by both Houses of Parliament. A Negative Instrument becomes law without a debate or vote but may be annulled by a resolution of either House of Parliament. This particular measure falls into the latter category and therefore can be annulled by the House of Lords through a ‘fatal motion’.

A ‘fatal motion’ works like this. Peers may table a ‘prayer’ (a motion or amendment in real terms) against the Statutory Instrument. The Statutory Instrument is then annulled if the prayer motion is agreed by the House of Lords within 40 days of the Statutory Instrument being laid. These moves are very rare in modern British politics and were only proposed successfully three times in the last parliament.

The government has warned the Lords about blocking these plans. During Prime Minister Questions David Cameron made it clear that he believed it was for the House of Commons to make financial decisions. Tory veteran Ken Clarke has also said that the House of Lords must not abuse its position and that peers would be overstepping their role if they voted down the proposal.

Traditionally the House of Lords will not oppose any government legislation brought to the House which was included in a government’s election manifesto. This is known as the ‘Salisbury Convention’. However many have argued that this convention does not apply here as the measures were not included in the Conservative election manifesto.

The House of Commons is our democratically elected chamber and I think this has to be respected. The House of Lords has an important role in scrutinising and amending laws, but I don’t believe they should have the power to override the government. This may not have specifically been in the Conservative manifesto, but it is clear the financial direction the government have wanted to travel in, and the mandate they were elected on. Therefore in my opinion it would be wrong for the House of Lords to vote down these plans.

Article by Mike Hough

Photograph – Wikipedia

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