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.
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.
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.