Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
17 December 2015updated 26 Jul 2021 4:13pm

The Strathclyde Review recommends curbing the power of the House of Lords

A review into the upper chamber’s power has been released, following the peers’ defeat of tax credit cuts.

By Anoosh Chakelian

The government has published its review on the power of the House of Lords. The recommendations, devised by Lord Strathclyde, follow the peers defeating government legislation to cut tax credits in October.

When the Tory bill was voted down by the Lords, the upper house was accused of breaking the constitutional convention that the House of Commons always has supremacy on financial legislation.

Following its tax credit cuts defeat, the government asked Strathclyde to look into the relationship between the Commons and the Lords, in relation to the former’s primacy on financial matters and secondary legislation.

Secondary legislation allows the government to make changes to a law using an existing Act of Parliament, rather than having to push through a new one. Statutory instruments are the most common form of secondary legislation, and this was what was used to try and pass changes to tax credits.

The convention is that the Lords don’t throw out a piece of secondary legislation if it’s been passed by the Commons more than once.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Strathclyde, who consulted a team of parliamentary and legal experts, has provided three options to curb the Lords’ powers on this issue:

Option 1 Remove the House of Lords from the statutory instrument procedure altogether – to take statutory instruments through the House of Commons only.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

Option 2 Seek to retain the present role of the House of Lords but clarify the restrictions on how its powers should be exercised, by codifying them passing a resolution.

Option 3 A compromise option would create a new procedure in primary legislation. The new procedure would allow the House of Lords to ask the House of Commons to think again when a disagreement exists but gives the final say to the elected House of Commons.

The Strathclyde Review, which you can read here, recommends the third option. David Cameron is considering the recommendations and will respond in the new year.

The leader of Labour in the House of Lords, Angela Smith, will consider the options but has called the review a “massive overreaction” by the government to losing the vote on tax credit cuts.

However, although it seems a radical and controversial move for the government to curb peers’ powers off the back of losing a vote, it is not as sinister as it seems. The recommendations simply propose to enshrine what is already common and accepted practice, that the upper house does not veto secondary legislation that the Commons has passed more than once.