Angela Smith's response to story in the Financial Times on the Strathclyde Review
“This government does not like being challenged or held to account.
“The Strathclyde Review was clearly an over-reaction to the Lords vote on tax credits but even in its own terms the focus was on clarifying Peers powers over financial measures. It appears now however, that the government intends to use the review as a Trojan Horse for closing down wider parliamentary scrutiny of any secondary legislation – while openly using the latter to ram home contentious policies.
“During thirteen years of government, Labour was defeated over 500 times in votes in the Lords. We didn’t like it but we took it in our stride and dealt with the consequences. That’s the grown up approach to Parliament – rather than the breathtaking arrogance of some in the current government who think they should be allowed to do whatever they want.”
The Financial Times, December 6, 2015 8:42 pm
David Cameron moves to bypass House of Lords
Lord Strathclyde, the Tory grandee charged by Mr Cameron with reviewing the role of peers, is set to propose this month that the Lords should lose its veto over delegated or “secondary” legislation, such as the measure implementing tax-credit cuts.
Once that veto is removed, Mr Cameron is expected to step up his government’s increasing use of delegated legislation — also known as statutory instruments — to ram contentious measures through the upper house.
“We are being told to use statutory instruments wherever possible to get legislation through,” said one Conservative aide. Statutory instruments receive less parliamentary time and scrutiny than full bills.
Mr Cameron is worried that conventional bills are facing sabotage in the Lords, where the Tories have 251 seats out of a total of 822. Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined have 324.
According to senior Tories, the Lords have inflicted defeats on the government on 30 per cent of occasions over the past 15 years; since the election that has risen to 70 per cent.
Mr Cameron is set to overturn another Lords decision — to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in the forthcoming EU referendum — in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Last month, peers defied the government by amending the EU Referendum Bill to extend the vote, going against Conservative party policy.
To avoid this blockade, the government has increasingly used statutory instruments to get its way, most recently when George Osborne, the chancellor, used that route to try to enforce £4.4bn of cuts to tax credits.
If [peers] don’t accept this proposal, we could stop them having any say at all on secondary legislation. That’s a big bazooka
- Senior Tory Lord Strathclyde is expected to recommend this month that the Lords should in future be able to reject such measures only once.
“If the House of Commons insisted, that would be it,” said one senior Tory.
“The House of Lords has to tread carefully,” he added. “If they don’t accept this proposal, we could stop them having any say at all on secondary legislation. That’s a big bazooka.”
Last week, Lord Lisvane, a former clerk of the Commons, complained that secondary legislation was being used “increasingly for matters of policy and principle which should be the subject of primary legislation”.
Baroness Stowell, Tory leader in the Lords, said: “Clearly, it is important that all governments use the right vehicle to secure parliament’s decision on their business. That is what all governments seek to do, and it is what we have been doing and will continue to do.”
Mr Osborne faced cross-party criticism over his use of secondary legislation to enact his tax-credit changes, which some MPs called an attempt to evade scrutiny.
An alliance of Labour and Lib Dem peers in the Lords scuppered the statutory instrument by attaching a delaying amendment to it — a move that furious government ministers called an unprecedented flouting of parliamentary convention.