Tag: House of Lords

Why I strongly support Trade Unionism


Trade Unions are fundamental to a functional democracy. Research shows that Trade Unionism is linked with higher levels of social equality and better public services, as well as better working conditions and rates of pay that ensure people have a decent standard of living. The Conservatives have always hated Trade Unions because Tory governments tend to value, perpetuate and endorse inequality and poor pay. We currently have the highest levels of social inequality in the EU, and it’s even greater than in the USA. We also have the biggest wage drop, pay hasn’t fallen this much since the 1800s. Tories like cheap labor, and profit for big business

That isn’t in ordinary people’s best interests. The largest study of UK deprivation shows that full-time work is no longer a safeguard against poverty. Yet Conservatives claim to be the party for “hard-working people.”


In a democratic society, governments don’t attempt to oppress opposition by using partisan policies to restrict their funding in order to turn a first world nation into a one party state. This government has established quite an impressive track record of punishing its critics to silence them. The proposed abolition of the Lords’ right to vote on or veto secondary legislation, delivered by the Strathclyde Review, but written in the rancorous and authoritarian hand of David Cameron, is another measure of draconian decision-making to stifle dissent, a tactic commonly deployed, it seems, when the Conservatives are faced with challenges and the prospect of not getting their own way, regardless of how unpopular and unreasonable their own way is.

Cameron’s rancour arose following the defeat in the House of Lords of a sneaky legslation in the form of a Statutory Instument that would have removed in work support for workers on low pay – tax credits. The defeat and ensuing publicity of the Lords debate and the exposure of an underhand legislative move forced the government to back down. But the shadow secretary for Work and Pensions, Owen Smith, has pointed out that cuts to benefit in-work entitlements being introduced through Universal Credit mean that the controversial tax credit reductions have been simply been “rebranded” by the government rather than reversed.

Secondary legislation is unamendable and is allocated 90 minutes debate in the Commons at best, by the Conservatives. Secondary legislation in the form of Statutory Instruments was only ever intended for non-controversial and small tidying up legislative measures. A Tory aide admitted that the Government are trying to get as much unpopular legislation in through the secondary route as possible. But this has been very evident anyway. The government is intent on dismantling any inconvenient piece of the constitution.


Then there are the electoral reforms and proposed constituency boundary changes which are aimed at decreasing opposition votes and increasing Conservative seats. These are all examples of a very worrying authoritarian approach that the Conservatives have adopted to stifle challenges and concerns regarding the ideological basis and the impact of their policies without any democratic dialogue whatsoever.

Trade union funding is the cleanest money in politics: it comes from you and me, and therefore will ensure our interests are reflected in policy-making, rather than just those of big business tax-avoiding Tory donors.

It’s very worrying that vulture capitalists like Adrian Beecroft, a longstanding Conservative donor, has been permitted to re-write our employment laws as part of the government’s wider “labor market “reform.” Amongst Beecroft’s known personal investments are Gnodal, a computer networking company, and Wonga.com, an eye-wateringly high interest, opportunist loan company, that commodifies the poorest people with low credit ratings for massive profits. Beecroft has donated more than £500,000 to the Conservative Party since 2006.

The Beecroft Report caused considerable controversy because it recommended that the government should cut “red tape” in order to make the hiring and firing of employees much easier. In the report, Beecroft claimed this would help to “boost the economy” although no evidence for this was provided. It was alleged that significant sections of the report had been doctored. It was also reported that some recommendations had been removed from the original draft of the report.

The (then) Secretary of State for Business, Vince Cable, condemned the report, saying it was unnecessary for the government to scare workers. Beecroft responded by accusing Cable of being “a socialist who does little to help business” and cited his own personal experience of “having to pay out” £150,000 for unfairly dismissing an HR employee as one of the reasons he included the idea in the report. In an excellent article, James Moore, writing for the Independent, said that the Beecroft report contained “the seeds of the ruthless social Darwinism” and he connected the recommendation to Beecroft’s career of cutting jobs, and highlighted Beecroft’s long history of “wholesale attacks on workers’ terms and conditions.”

In a society that puts profit before people; where employees are regarded as a disposable cost and not an asset to employers; where noone but the powerful have rights; where wages are kept to the bare minimum, there can be no economic growth. Instead we are witnessing increasing economic enclosure and widespread exclusion – small pockets of privilege characterised by stagnant, accumulated wealth and increasingly widespread poverty elsewhere. With little public spending to stimulate small business and general growth, there can be no economic security.

All Conservative politics pivot on a fundamental commitment – the defence of privilege, status, and thus sustaining social inequality. But it is only by shifting money from the high-hoarding rich to the high-spending rest of us, and not the other way around, that investment and growth may be stimulated and sustainable.


Despite their recent rhetoric, the Conservatives are not and never have been the “party for workers.” New measures under Universal Credit will make benefit payments to people who are in work, but on low earnings, conditional on them taking “certain steps” to increase their pay or hours.

Many people in work are still living in poverty and reliant on in-work benefits, which undermines the libertarian paternalist/Conservative case for increasing benefit conditionality somewhat, although those in low-paid work are still likely to be less poor than those reliant on out-of-work benefits. The Conservative “making work pay” slogan is a cryptographic reference to the punitive paternalist 1834 Poor Law principle of less eligibility.

The government’s Universal Credit legislation has enshrined the principle that working people in receipt of in-work benefits may face benefits sanctions if they are deemed not to be trying hard enough to find higher-paid work. It’s not as if the Conservatives have ever valued legitimate collective wage bargaining.

In fact their legislative track record consistently demonstrates that they hate it, prioritising the authority of the state above all else. There are profoundly conflicting differences in the interests of employers and employees. The former are generally strongly motivated to purposely keep wages as low as possible so they can generate profit and pay dividends to shareholders and the latter need their pay and working conditions to be such that they have a reasonable standard of living.

Workplace disagreements about wages and conditions are now typically resolved neither by collective bargaining nor litigation but are left to management prerogative. This is because Conservative aspirations are clear. They want cheap labor and low cost workers, unable to withdraw their labor, unprotected by either trade unions or employment rights and threatened with destitution via benefit sanction cuts if they refuse to accept low paid, low standard work. Similarly, desperation and the “deterrent” effect of the 1834 Poor Law amendment served to drive down wages.

In the Conservative’s view, Trade Unions distort the free labor market which runs counter to New Right and neoliberal dogma. Since 2010, the decline in UK wage levels has been amongst the very worst in Europe. That isn’t a coincidence. It’s an intended consequence of Conservative policy.

The Conservatives talk a lot about the need for citizen responsibility, but seem to have exempted themselves. They also seem to have forgotten that responsibities are generally balanced with citizen rights. The right to withdraw labour as a last resort in industrial disputes is fundamental to free societies, as the European Convention on Human Rights recognises.

Not that this government concerns itself with international human rights laws. We are currently the first country to face a UN inquiry into serious disability rights violations. Conservative policies are also in breach of the human rights of children and women. Conservatives operate from within a non-cooperative, competitive individualist, relatively non-altruistic framework . Their anti-humanist, social Darwinist, anti-welfare policies reflect this. 

The government’s proposed changes to Trade Union laws are a major attack on civil liberties. The Conservative’s proposals have been criticised by Liberty, Amnesty International and the British Institute of Human Rights, amongst others. The three organisations issued this joint statement:

“By placing more legal hurdles in the way of unions organising strike action, the Trade Union Bill will undermine ordinary people’s ability to organise together to protect their jobs, livelihoods and the quality of their working lives.

“It is hard to see the aim of this bill as anything but seeking to undermine the rights of all working people. We owe so many of our employment protections to trade unions and we join them in opposing this bill.”

Trade unionists are at the forefront of the struggle for human rights; they are committed to social justice and international solidarity, and typically have strong community roots. These values make them prime targets of this government’s repression. 


“I oppose the government’s Trade Union Bill and I will stand up for rights and freedom at work.” Sign the petition here.

The Strathclyde Review clarifies the Conservatives’ authoritarianism


“The Government appear to consider that any defeat of an Statutory Instrument by the Lords is a breach of convention. We disagree.” Lord Norton of Louth (Conservative)

“The conduct of Parliament is a matter for Parliament, not the Executive. The Executive is accountable to Parliament, not the other way round.” Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Conservative)

“The assertion is that this House had acted in defiance of the Government’s “electoral mandate”. But the Conservative Party never told voters that it intended to make massive cuts to in-work benefits, and it won a House of Commons majority of only 12 seats on the votes of just 24% of the total electorate, so the claim that the Lords defied an electoral mandate is tosh.” Lord Howarth of Newport (Labour). Source: Hansard.

A Bicameral Parliament is one in which two assemblies share legislative power. The main purpose of the House of Lords is to act as a deliberative assembly, providing expert scrutiny to ensure democratic checks on the power of the Lower House, and where necessary, to provide a counterbalance for excessively partisan legislation that makes no concession to the accommodation and representation of minority views. The House of Lords provides an essential additional layer of democratic process which helps to prevent the so-called “tyranny of the majority” and divisive, potentially damaging partisan changes to public life.

There is always a need to ensure additional checks and balances against incumbent governments and for extending opportunities to review and improve the quality of legislation. There is always a need to broaden the political participation of particular groups in society and to explore ways by which under-represented groups may be identified and included in political processes.

A review by Lord Strathclyde, commissioned by a rancorous and retaliatory David Cameron following the delay and subsequently effective defeat of government tax credit legislation in the House of Lords, recommends curtailing the powers of Upper House. 

Strathclyde proposes that the House of Commons is given the final say over secondary legislation (in particular, Statutory Instruments), which is frequently being used for political manoeuvring to edit the details of Acts, and ensure rules, regulations and even changes to legal definitions are made by ministerial order, rather than by the rather more open and democratic process of primary legislation: it’s being used as a way of bypassing Parliamentary scrutiny. 

In fairness, on page 6 of the report, Lord Strathclyde says:

“I believe it would be appropriate for the Government to take steps to ensure that Bills contain an appropriate level of detail and that too much is not left for implementation by statutory instrument.”

The problem is that Statutory Instruments (SI) are being over-used and are under-scrutinised in the Commons. SIs have become a major form of law-making activity in the UK. In 2015, the UK Parliament passed 34 Acts, whilst 1,999 Statutory Instruments were made. (In fact, 2015 has been a relatively light year for SIs: in 2013 and 2014, 3,292 and 3,486 SIs were made.)

The Government ensure they have a majority on any SI committee and MPs are chosen by Whips. The Hansard Society estimate that SIs currently account for as much as 80 per cent of the Government legislation that impacts citizens. However, they are given substantially less Parliamentary time than Bills, enabling Government to push through their legislative programme with very little scrutiny, exacerbating a lack of democratic transparency and accountability of the Executive (the Government).

The report details 3 possible options:

  • option 1 would remove the House of Lords from the Statutory Instrument procedure altogether – to take Statutory Instruments through the House of Commons only
  • option 2 would 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 is 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

Strathclyde has recommended option 3. However that would have a profound impact on our constitutional democracy.

The Hansard Society said that:

“Most criticism of the system is concerned with the negative resolution procedure where the initiative lies with the Opposition to table appropriate annulment motions in the form of Early Day Motions (known as “prayers”). Given that the Government controls almost all the available parliamentary time in the Commons, unless the Opposition can persuade the Government to provide time, either on the floor of the House or in Standing Committee, the SI will not be debated.

The time limit (of an hour and an half) imposed on debates should be removed.”

The Society also recommend far more robust pre-legislative scrutiny mechanisms.

Lord Craig of Radley (Cross-Bencher) points out that:

“Since 2010, 34 Acts have been passed by Parliament with Henry VIII powers. Before us at present there are five Bills with Henry VIII powers. In case your Lordships are not familiar with Henry VIII powers, I should like to read from Clause 68 of the Scotland Bill, which states: “The Secretary of State may by regulations make … such consequential provision in connection with any provision of Part 1, 3, 4, 5 or 6, or … such transitional or saving provision in connection with the coming into force of any provision of Part 1, 3, 4, 5 or 6 … Regulations under this section may amend, repeal, revoke or otherwise modify any of the following (whenever passed or made)” — and so it goes on. In other words, if your Lordships think that you have passed a Bill, you have not — because the Secretary of State can amend it by statutory instrument.”

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Labour) said she would like to thank Lord Strathclyde for his report, and:

“For the extraordinary speed with which it has been produced and the vigour with which he has sought to defend the Government’s exceptionally weak rationale for undertaking it.”

She also said:

“Lord Strathclyde asks for responsible Opposition. We provide that but seek responsible Government.”

Baroness Andrews (Labour) said:

“We have had to refer back to this House secondary legislation which contains substantial policy changes with substantial impacts — for example, the draft hunting regulations, immigration changes, and universal credit. In this Session alone, 32 SIs have had to be corrected by government after serious flaws were identified and 16 have had to be withdrawn completely.

If we add to that ministerial failure to provide impact statements, or Explanatory Memoranda which do the opposite of what they are supposed to do, a picture emerges of a Government who not only deliberately exploit secondary legislation and reduce parliamentary scrutiny in the process but are resentful of proper scrutiny. If we were to lose our exceptional power to reject SIs, Parliament would lose a legitimate brake on government excess. However, it would also reduce the credibility of the scrutiny process as a whole and open the gate to greater abuse. What is needed, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, anticipated, is a wholesale review of secondary legislation to remind Ministers of their public duty to be open and transparent about policy and legislation, to be accountable, and to respect—in fact, invite—the role of scrutiny.

We should not see this as a stand-alone report; rather, it should be seen alongside other legislation and proposals—for example, the lobbying Bill in the previous Parliament that restricted the ability of charities and other groups to campaign for their causes; new limits on freedom of information; and the Trade Union Bill, debated this week, which will strip the Labour Party of its funding, quite contrary to the balanced proposals from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. We have seen reports of Ministers being told to make increased use of statutory instruments to drive through legislation without proper scrutiny; and now we have the proposal to remove this House’s power to veto the same secondary legislation that the Government favour. It is hard not to see this as an authoritarian Executive waging war on the institutions that hold them to account. The Government are seeking to stifle debate, shut down opposition and block proper scrutiny. They are a Government who fear opposition and loathe challenge.”

Lord McNally (Liberal Democrat) said:

“I may want to see this House reformed, but I have no wish to see it become Mr Cameron’s poodle, and a neutered poodle at that.”

I suspect this is a Government that would prefer a world of neutered poodles.

Conservative Paternalism

A full transcript of this important debate can be found here

You can also watch the excellent contributions here.

The real “constitutional crisis” is Chris Grayling’s despotic tendencies and his undermining of the Rule of Law


We have been hearing justifications for grotesquely unfair policies from the Conservatives a lot recently based on a claim that “we have a clear mandate to do this.” The concept of a government having a legitimate mandate to govern via the fair winning of a democratic election is a central component of representative democracy. However, new governments who attempt to introduce policies that they did not make explicit and public during an election campaign are said to not have a legitimate mandate to implement such policies.

Most of you will immediately think of the recent debates regarding the tax credit cuts, and the authoritarian threats to stifle legitimate criticism of government policies, but this is just the tip of a very deeply submerged iceberg.

I am currently researching an article about the hatchet man of justice, Chris Grayling, and his recent signaling of a crackdown on what he calls the “misuse” of freedom of information requests (FOI) as a means of researching “stories” for journalists. I’ll write about that particular symptom of Grayling’s syndrome of totalitarian thinking separately, as I got productively side-tracked.

I recently wrote an article about the government’s secret editing and amendment of the Ministerial Code Government turns its back on international laws, scrutiny and standards: it’s time to be very worried.

It’s not the first time, either: see also – A reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the UK Coalition have exempted themselves.

And of course this – Watchdog that scrutinises constitutional reform is quietly abolished and Tory proposals are likely to lead to constitutional crisis, thisThe Coming Tyranny and the Legal Aid Bill and this – Sabotaging judicial review is one of this government’s most vicious acts.

I have had concerns for some time that the Conservatives behave unaccountably, profoundly undemocratically, with a disregard of the obligations of a government to be open and transparent, and often, the Conservatives shield very secretive and damaging long term aims.

During a House of Lords debate on Judicial Review reforms, respected peer and lawyer Lord Pannick QC spoke of the constitutional importance of Judicial Review and the hazards in circumscribing it, personally addressing Mr Grayling on the issue of the Lord Chancellor’s incompetence:

“However inconvenient and embarrassing it is to Mr Grayling to have his decisions repeatedly ruled to be unlawful by our courts, however much he may resent the delays and costs of government illegality being exposed in court and however much he may prefer to focus on the identity of the claimant rather than the substance of their legal complaint, it remains the vital role of judicial review in this country to hold Ministers and civil servants to account in public, not for the merits of their decisions but for their compliance with the law of the land as stated by Parliament.”

Grayling’s time as Justice Secretary has been an unremitting disaster. He has lost seven times so far in the courts and is the least impartial lord chancellor we have known. Rather than accept that he has attempted to legislate illegally, instead we see him trying to dismantle the mechanisms of democracy and law to suit his despotic policy designs, regardless.

I found a letter from earlier this year, by chance, it’s a response from the lord chancellor Chris Grayling to a report by the House of Lords Constitution Committee published last December following its investigation into the office of the legally unqualified but disdainful and arrogant lord chancellor: 

The Rt Hon. the Lord Lang of Monkton DL
The House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution
House of Lords,

The Right Honourable Chris Grayling MP
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
102 Petty France
London SW 1H 9AJ
T 020 3334 3555
F 020 3334 3669E
general.queries @justice.gsi.gov.uk
Our Ref: 20211

26 February 2015

Dear Lord Lang,


The Government broadly welcomes the Committee’s Report on The office of Lord Chancellor and makes the following observations in response to a number of the specific recommendations.

The rule of law and judicial independence 

We invite the Government to agree that the rule of law extends beyond judicial independence and compliance with domestic and international law. It includes the tenet that the Government should seek to govern in accordance with constitutional principles, as well as the letter of the law. (Paragraph 25)

The Government agrees that it should govern in accordance with constitutional principles and endorses the importance of the rule of law. However the Government does not endorse the view put forward in paragraphs 23 to 25 of the Committee’s Report in so far as it suggests that judges have power to insist that primary legislation passed by the UK Parliament “is not law which the courts will recognise”.

The Lord Chancellor’s duty to respect the rule of law extends beyond the policy remit of his or her department; it requires him or her to seek to ensure that the rule of law is upheld within Cabinet and across Government. We recommend that the Ministerial Code and the Cabinet Manual be revised accordingly. (Paragraph 50)

Page 2

To clarify the scope of the Lord Chancellor’s duty in relation to the rule of law, we recommend that the oath to “respect the rule of law” be amended to a promise to “respect and uphold the rule of law.”  (Paragraph 51)

The Government believes that the Ministerial Code, Cabinet Manual and Oath of Office already accurately reflect ministerial responsibilities in relation to the rule of law. In particular, both the Ministerial Code and the Cabinet Manual note the role of the Law Officers in “helping ministers to act lawfully and in accordance with the rule of law”. The Government does not agree that there should be specific requirement on the Lord Chancellor in this respect, nor that the Code, Manual or Oath require amendment.

The Law Officers’ role in upholding the rule of law has always been important.

The changes to the office of Lord Chancellor over the last decade have made it even more so. As a result, we consider that it is imperative the Attorney General continues to attend all Cabinet meetings, and that they are adequately resourced not only in their role as legal advisers to the Government, but in their capacity as guardians of the rule of law. (Paragraph 79)

The Government agrees with the Committee on the important role played by the Law Officers in upholding the rule of law. This view has been shared by successive governments. The Law Officers play this role, in particular, by advising on some of the most significant legal issues being dealt with by Government, through their significant public interest functions (for example bringing contempt proceedings) and through participating in the work of government as Ministers of the Crown. This includes the Attorney General participating in Cabinet meetings. Though the expectation is that the Attorney General will continue to attend all Cabinet meetings, this is ultimately a matter for the Prime Minister. The Government considers that the Law Officers are adequately resourced to fulfil their functions as they relate to the rule of law.

We recommend that the Law Officers give due consideration to the more reactive role of modern Lord Chancellors and ensure that the holder of that office is kept informed of potential issues within Government relating to the rule of law. (Paragraph 80)

An important function of the Law Officers is keeping all Ministerial colleagues informed of significant legal issues. The relationship between the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney General is an especially important one. The Lord Chancellor and the Attorney General meet regularly to discuss matters of common concern, including those that relate to the rule of law, and the expectation is that this will continue.

Page 3

A Constitutional Guardian in Government

There is no clear focus within Government for oversight of the constitution. We invite the Government to agree that a senior Cabinet minister should have responsibility for oversight of the constitution as a whole, even if other ministers have responsibility for specific constitutional reforms. In the light of the Lord Chancellor’s existing responsibility for the important constitutional principle of the rule of law, we consider that the Lord Chancellor is best placed to carry out this duty. (Paragraph 101)

The Deputy Prime Minister is the relevant Secretary of State for constitutional policy and has been so since 2010. Senior ministerial oversight reflects the importance of the constitutional changes outlined in the Programme for Government. This arrangement gives a clear focus for the delivery of reforms including Individual Electoral Registration; the introduction of fixed term parliaments; changes to the laws of succession; regulation of the lobbying industry and proposals for the recall of MPs.

The Deputy Prime Minister works in close collaboration with the Prime Minister and other relevant Cabinet Ministers including the Lord Chancellor and Attorney General and is supported by two ministers, and officials from the Cabinet Office Constitution Group.

The Future of the Office

We recognise the advantages to appointing a Lord Chancellor with a legal or constitutional background. We do not consider that it is essential but, given the importance of the Lord Chancellor’s duties to the rule of law, these benefits should be given due consideration. (Paragraph 109)

The Government welcomes the Committee’s acknowledgement that it is not essential for the Lord Chancellor to have a legal background.

We recommend that the Government either ensure that the Permanent Secretary supporting the Lord Chancellor at the Ministry of Justice is legally qualified, or appoint the top legal adviser in that department at permanent secretary level. (Paragraph 113)

The Government does not agree that the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice need be legally qualified, nor that the department’s top legal adviser need be appointed at permanent secretary level. The Lord Chancellor and Permanent Secretary have access to high quality legal services provided by the Treasury Solicitor’s Department including direct access to the Treasury Solicitor and one of his Deputies at Director General level, should it be needed.

Page 4

Given the importance of the Lord Chancellor’s duty to uphold the rule of law, the Lord Chancellor should have a high rank in Cabinet and sufficient authority and seniority amongst his or her ministerial colleagues to carry out this duty effectively and impartially. (Paragraph 117)

It is for the Prime Minister to determine the order of precedence of Cabinet Ministers.

The Lord Chancellor is currently and traditionally one of the highest officers of state. The Lord Chancellor should be a politician with significant ministerial or other relevant experience to ensure that the rule of law is defended in Cabinet by someone with sufficient authority and seniority. It is not necessary to be prescriptive: more important than age or lack of ambition is that the person appointed has a clear understanding of his or her duties in relation to the rule of law and a willingness to speak up for that principle in dealings with ministerial colleagues, including the Prime Minister. (Paragraph 125)

We urge Prime Ministers, when appointing Lord Chancellors, to give weight to the need for the qualities we have outlined in this report, and above all to consider the importance of the Lord Chancellor’s duty to uphold the rule of law across Government. (Paragraph 126)

The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 provides that the Prime Minister may not recommend an individual for appointment as Lord Chancellor unless he or she is satisfied that the individual is qualified by  experience. There is a range of evidence that the Prime Minister can take into account when reaching such a conclusion.

We recognise concerns that the combination of the office of Lord Chancellor with that of the Secretary of State for Justice could create a conflict of interests at the heart of the Ministry of Justice. However, upholding the rule of law remains central to the Lord Chancellor’s role and in practice the office is given additional authority by being combined with a significant department of state. (Paragraph 133)

The Government welcomes the Committee’s agreement that combining the role of Lord Chancellor with that of Secretary of State for Justice strengthens the office.



The boldings are mine, the original copy of the letter may be viewed here.

I’m not a legal expert – nor is the lord chancellor – but I am someone with sufficient expertise to recognise when our long-standing laws and democratic processes are being side-stepped, deceitfully edited, re-written, or deleted to prop up an authoritarian government determined to impose a toxic, socially harmful and ideologically driven policy agenda, regardless of the consequences and public objection.

Government signal move to curb the powers of the House of Lords after tax credit defeat


Following the government’s embarrassing defeat on the proposed tax credit cuts in the House of Lords yesterday, the Conservatives are planning to curtail the powers of the Peers. Both the chancellor and David Cameron said the defeats have raised a “constitutional issue” which they were determined to tackle.

A Downing Street spokesman has said: “The prime minister is determined we will address this constitutional issue. A convention exists and it has been broken. He has asked for a rapid review to see how it can be put back in place.”

Yet even Lord Lawson, the former Conservative chancellor, voiced that he was struggling to support the tax credit cuts and he called on Osborne to do more to help low-income earners. He said: “Here a great deal of the harm is at the lowest end, and that is what needs to be looked at again. That is what concerns me.”

He added: “It is not just listening which is required [from the government] but change.”

The Clerk of the Parliaments has confirmed that Commons financial privilege does not extend to statutory instruments. Many Peers pointed out throughout the debate that welfare policy isn’t “budgetary.”

But on Tuesday, Downing Street will outline plans for a “rapid review”, which will examine ways to secure the “supremacy of the House of Commons on financial matters and secondary legislations, after the prime minister accused peers of “breaking a constitutional convention.” A furious Cameron is planning to set limits on the power of the House of Lords after George Osborne suffered a major and humiliating blow yesterday, when Peers voted to delay tax credit cuts in order to protect those who would lose out.

The Upper House voted in favour of a motion by the former Labour minister Lady Hollis to halt the cuts until the government has responded to new evidence regarding the likely negative impact of the cuts on protected social groups, and produces a scheme to compensate low-paid workers for three years. 

Baroness Lister pointed out that no impact assesment was carried out regarding the cuts, and said “the Bill is an example of none evidence-based policy making. She said “It betrays lack of understanding of policy and people’s lives,” and added “getting an impact assessment from the government is like pulling teeth”.

Lord Campbell observed during the debate that because of the Conservative’s pre-election lies, and because the public were deliberately mislead by several statements from the Tories, saying there would be “no cuts to tax credits,”  that “constitutional convention and niceties are not a priority.”

Meanwhile, George Osborne has indicated he will seek to calm tensions by softening the impact of the planned cuts which have been put on hold by the vote in the Upper House. In language that reflected some of the motion, he told the BBC he would help people struggling in the “transition” period when he delivers his autumn statement on 25 November.

He said: “Unelected Labour and Liberal Lords have defeated a financial matter passed by the elected House of Commons, and David Cameron and I are clear that this raises constitutional issues that need to be dealt with. However, it has happened and now we must address the consequences of that. I said I would listen and that is precisely what I intend to do. I believe we can achieve the same goal of reforming tax credits, saving the money we need to secure our economy while at the same time helping in the transition. That is what I intend to do at the autumn statement.”

The “rapid review” will establish ways of guaranteeing that “financial measures” cannot be overturned by the House of Lords despite the fact that Labour successfully argued that because the tax credits were being introduced through a statutory instrument and had not been declared as a formal financial measure, the move in the Upper House was justified. The review will examine ways of guaranteeing that statutory instruments cannot be overturned by the Lords, who have only done so on five occasions.

Downing Street and Treasury officials spoke after Hollis’s motion was passed by 289 to 272 votes. Peers also voted in favour of a milder motion by the crossbench Peer Lady Meacher – by 307 to 277 votes – that also declined to support the cuts until the government responds to the Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis of the negative impacts of the Bill. A fatal motion, tabled by the Liberal Democrat Peer Lady Manzoor, would have halted the Bill, but it was defeated by 310 votes to 99.

During the Lords debate, Baroness Smith said that 60% of the population want to see a u-turn on this policy. She also points out that the original Labour tax credit legislation wasnt subject to financial privilege. She also said that the government truncated the legislative process to introduce a wide reaching and radical change of policy, to avoid a degree of scrutiny. Baroness Hollis urged peers to support the working poor, not government. She argued that the Commons votes were taken based on incomplete evidence.

John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor, said: “George Osborne has got to think again. He has been defeated twice in the House of Lords tonight, but there are a large number of Conservative MPs as well who have been telling him very, very clearly he has got to think again.”

Just hours before the Lord’s debate, fresh evidence emerged of the potential impact of the tax credit changes on low-paid employees.

Policy in Practice, a welfare-to-work consultancy, calculated that some workers will be able to keep just 7p in every extra £1 they earn, effectively putting them on a 93 per cent marginal tax rate.

The report concluded the overall package of measures – including raising the national minimum wage and increasing the tax allowance – would leave two-thirds of claimants worse off and warned that owner-occupiers would be worst affected.

The calculations were revealed by the Conservative-supporting Spectator, which has urged a rethink of the policy that has been likened to the poll tax.

4-38-degrees-get.jpgA 38 Degrees campaigner outside the Houses of Parliament. An online campaign sought to drum up support among members of the Second Chamber to vote against motion.

Courtesy of Getty images.

Government defeated twice on tax credit cuts in House of Lords

Lords voting

I doubt there’s a single person on low pay that is happy about the Conservative proposals to cut their tax credits and subsequently, their living standards, further. Today, research by welfare reform group Policy in Practice comes as peers prepare to debate George Osborne’s proposals, and it concludes that two-thirds of working tax credit recipients will be worse off in 2020.

The tax credit cuts were deliberately left out of the Tory manifesto, and when asked directly if his government was going to cut tax credits, Cameron chose to lie and said no. Now the Conservatives are claiming that this policy, never declared before the election, is somehow a “central plank” of the budget. The claim that Conservatives had previously declared cuts to welfare doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, either, because they did not specify what cuts they would make, despite being asked several times, and they claim to be a party that is all about “making work pay”. 

The Conservatives are claiming that the cuts were “democratically voted” through in the House of Commons, yet their majority in the lower House may not have happened at all, had they been honest prior to the election and declared their intention to cut people’s tax credits. 

The threats issued to the Upper House from the government arose  because the Conservatives are facing defeat on what is an extremely unpopular reform, even amongst their own party ranks, and are truly remarkable, showing a contempt for democratic process and a lack of willingness to engage in genuine, transparent democratic dialogue.

Earlier this year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) asked George Osborne to specify how he will reach targets announced in the budget, given that the poorest had been the hardest hit by draconian benefit cuts already. The IFS said that the worst of the UK’s spending cuts are still to come.

I said at the time that it’s not that Osborne can’t answer the IFS challenge: he won’t.

David Gauke, the Treasury secretary at the time was pressed repeatedly on the BBC’s Daily Politics to explain if the Tories would detail their planned welfare cuts beyond the £3billion previously specified.

He replied: “We will set it out nearer the time which will be after the election.”

Pre-general election television comments have exposed Prime Minister David Cameron’s lies about his party’s proposal to reduce child tax credits. During a special episode of BBC’s Question Time, aired in April, presenter David Dimbleby asks: “There are some people that are worried about you cutting child tax credits, are you saying absolutely as a guarantee that you’d never have it?”

To which the Prime Minister responds: “First of all child tax credit we increased by 450 pounds …” Dimbleby interjects: “And it’s not going to fall?” to which the PM clearly replies: “It’s not going to fall.”

It’s therefore a bit much to hear lectures on democratic process from a government that was so dishonest to the electorate before the election.

Following an impassioned, powerful and eventful three-hour debate, the Lords voted by 289 votes to 272 – a majority of 17 – for low-income families to be given “full transitional protection” from the cuts for at least three years.

They also supported a motion by 307 votes to 277 – a majority of 30 – calling for the cuts to be delayed until the Government responds to analysis of their impact by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and considers “mitigating action”.

Lord Campbell observed in the House of Lords Tax credit debate today that because of the Conservatives pre-election lies, and because the public were deliberately misled by several statements saying there would be “no cuts to tax credits,”  that “constitutional convention and niceties are not a priority.”

There are three separate motions from the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the crossbenchers presented to the Peers, calling for the cuts to be either scrapped or paused and re-scrutinised after further evidence has been gathered. The Liberal Democrats want to completely scrap the changes, which is a risky tactic that many have deemed a “fatal motion.” Labour are seeking to delay the changes, so that the Commons may re-scrutinise them in light of new evidence, and respond to that evidence, to mitigate the impact on the poorest, and crossbencher, Lady Meacher, is also calling for a delay in the cuts.

During the Lords debate, Baroness Smith said that 60% of the population want to see a u-turn on this policy. She also points out that the original Labour tax credit legislation wasnt subject to financial privilege. She said that the government truncated the legislative process to introduce a wide reaching and radical change of policy, to avoid a degree of scrutiny. Baroness Hollis urged peers to support the working poor, not government. She argued that the Commons votes were taken based on incomplete evidence. Her very powerful speech was delivered to a completely silent Upper House.

Labour’s shadow Lords leader Baroness Smith expressed her regret that the focus of the debate has been largely on the constitution rather than the people that will be affected by the changes.

She said there is “no constitutional crisis at all”, and “peers will not exceed their powers but will also not be cowed in their responsibility to hold the government to account.”

The Clerk of the Parliaments has confirmed that Commons financial privilege does not extend to statutory instruments. Many Peers have pointed out throughout the debate that welfare policy isn’t “budgetary.”

Conservative Chancellor Lord Lawson said: “I am torn because I believe there are aspects to these measures which need to be reconsidered and indeed changed. The great harm, or a great deal of the harm, is at the lowest end and that is what needs to be looked at again. That is what concerns me.

I think it is perfectly possible with tweaking it to take more from the upper end of the tax credit scale and less from the lower end of the tax credit scale.”

He also said  “It is not just listening which is required [from the government] but change”.

Baroness Hollis said that the government will save money as a result of the increase in the minimum wage. And by 2019 most tax credit claimants won’t be claiming tax credits because they will be on universal credit. Taken over the course of the parliament, the government will be making savings, “probably exceeding the very cuts the government demands,” she said.

The Reverend Christopher Foster pointed out that wage levels are low and the cuts are likely to have a very negative impact, including raising indebtedness, social injustice, damaged lives, ruining life chances, with detrimental consequences to mental health. He said this government provides  “a carrot for some, a stick for others” .

He went on to say that the cuts to the poorest are morally indefensible – “a punishment, not encouragement”.  He urged a vote in the interests of the poorest workers, saying he was appalled at the government for “masking the issues.” He called for house to clearly express disapproval at the government proposals. He said: “The Bill is not acceptable in its current form.” Like others, he emphasised that the government has moral obligations, and needs to do more than simply meeting fiscal targets.

Conservative Lord Mackay tried to argue a case for Commons financial privilege, as did other Conservative peers, including Lord Tebbit.

Baroness Lister pointed out that no impact assesment was carried out regarding the cuts, and said “the Bill is an example of none evidence-based policy making.”

She said “It betrays a lack of understanding of policy and people’s lives,” and added “getting an impact assessment from the government is like pulling teeth”.

She also pointed out that the cuts will affect protected groups. Carers and disabled people will be negatively impacted, and the self-employed won’t have their losses offset at all by the “living wage.”

She cited the Resolution Foundation research, that finds 200, 000 children, rising to 600,000 by 2020, will be plunged into poverty because of the proposed cuts. She said there is “no adequate defence of policy – lone parents will be hardest hit. Tax allowances and the living wage won’t mitigate the impact.”

She concluded that child tax credits were introduced to address child poverty, and that the Bill penalises hard work. She pointed out that “the House of Lords has a role of scrutinising policy – and this policy doesn’t stand up to scrutiny”.

The first vote was on Liberal Democrat Baroness Manzoor’s amendment to move to the above motion: “to leave out all the words after “that” and insert “this House declines to approve the draft Regulations laid before the House o7 September.”

This would have killed off the legislation, but it was defeated by by 310 votes to 99 – a majority of 211.

Five reasons the Lords should vote to block tax credit proposals today – Policy in Practice

Policy in Practice was asked to pull together a briefing note on the changes to tax credits ahead of the showdown today in the House of Lords.

We work with our local authority partners to carry out detailed, household level analysis on the impacts of reforms now, all the way through to 2020. We take into account a sample of over 100,000 working age households, and assess the cumulative impact of tax and benefit reforms on household income.

Our findings were put succinctly by a benefits manager in a Conservative constituency:

‘The government wants people to work, but this goes against that’.

Policy in Practice is working with local authorities to map the impacts of welfare reforms on each low income household. To understand more about how we can help you to understand how people in your local authority will be impacted, click here.

1. Two-thirds of Working Tax Credit recipients can expect to be worse off in 2020

Based on analysis on over 100,000 households of working-age in receipt of Housing Benefit and Council Tax support, and taking into account the impact of the National Living Wage at £9.00 per hour, and a personal tax allowance of £12,500, we find that 67% of Working Tax Credit recipients will still be worse off in 2020, compared with today.

* Analysis update: We have updated our analysis this morning to take into account the 30 hours of free childcare that will be available to three and four year olds. If we assume that all households with children age three to four will be better off (which may not necessarily be the case) we find that half of all Working Tax Credit recipients within our sample will still be worse off in 2020.

2. Owner-occupiers will be among the hardest hit when the reforms first land in April 2016

Tax credit savings will be partly offset by higher Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support payments. Because tax credits reduce entitlement to other benefits, 57% of tax credit savings will be offset by increased Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support.These savings will not by spread evenly. Many owner-occupiers, who do not receive Housing Benefit, will not have their tax credit cuts mitigated and may find themselves pushed into crisis.

Some in receipt of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support will see their support increase by up to 85p for each pound lost in tax credits. This support, which offsets the some of the impact of the cuts, will erode over time due to increased earnings under the National Living Wage. Higher earnings cause tax credits, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support to be withdrawn, often simultaneously.

3. Work incentives will be weakened within tax credits and Universal Credit

A higher withdrawal rate will make it harder for people that try to earn their way back to their original standard of living. Working Tax Credit recipients that choose to counter the loss by increasing their earnings will lose up to an additional 7p for each pound earned. Effective tax rates may increase up to 93p in the pound.

4. Higher effective taxes make it harder to respond by increasing earnings, while people on low or no earnings will not be affected

To qualify for Working Tax Credit, households have to work a certain number of hours to be considered in remunerative work: 16 hours per week for lone parents and disabled people, 24 hours for couples with children and 30 hours for people without children. The option to increase their working hours may be limited, and will be penalised by a higher withdrawal rate of tax credits.

Tax credit recipients who are not in work and the lowest earners, including self-employed households (some of whom are thought to under-report their earnings) will not be impacted by these changes. Those that contribute most to the economy will be hardest hit.

5. The government was elected to reform the welfare system to make work pay

Low effective tax rates within tax credits and Universal Credit reward enterprise and endeavor, help lower earners, and aid progression in work. They ensure that more of the benefits of a National Living Wage and a lower tax threshold reach lower earners. Protecting the lower withdrawal rate within tax credits would send the message that this government is the party not only of low taxes, but of low effective taxes.

Identify which households will be impacted in advance

We find that frontline advisors within local organisations want to work with the government to support people toward greater independence, and to deliver on the policy intent. However, too often they don’t feel they have enough information to properly advise their customers.

To avoid leaving advisors on the back foot, local authorities including Birmingham, Newcastle, North Hertfordshire and Hounslow, are working with Policy in Practice to map the impact of welfare reforms on each individual household on a low income within their local authority.

This article was originally published today on the Policy in Practice site. You can read the original here.

Osborne’s tax credit cuts omnishambles


The Chancellor, George Osborne, has recently announced that the Conservatives are a true “workers party”  – claiming that his opponents, the Labour Party, represent the unemployed. But the Conservatives are attempting to re-write history: the Labour Party grew from the Trade Union Movement, and have a strong tradition of supporting worker’s rights and fair wages, and of course the Unions have retained close institutional links with the Labour Party.

Osborne has argued, somewhat absurdly, that reducing tax credit payments to people in low paid jobs would give them “economic security” by reducing the Government’s spending deficit. Labour argues that the richest should pay to cut the deficit, and has identified cuts to tax avoidance and corporate subsidies that could replace cuts to the lowest paid. Osborne’s priorities reflect a traditional Conservative ideology.

As Richard Murphy, from Tax Research UK, points out:

“… the government is forcing the burden of risk bearing onto those least able to bear it in society – that is those with the lowest income. So just as we now know inequality, especially concerning wealth, is rising rapidly, insecurity is also increasing exponentially as risk is being passed from those with the capacity to bear it to those who have not.”

Osborne’s “long-term economic plan” isn’t without controversy. According to many economists, during recessions, the government can stimulate the economy by intentionally running a deficit. The budget deficit is the annual amount the government has to borrow to meet the shortfall between current receipts (tax) and government spending.

Of course, last year, serious doubts were raised regarding Osborne’s deficit targets after the treasury met a significant tax revenue shortfall. Osborne’s obsession with deficit cutting and the Conservative small-state ideology has clearly overlooked the problems created by poor pay and high living costs, which has impacted detrimentally at both a micro and macro level, creating an economic spiral of cuts and stagnation. And it has widened inequality significantly.

In order to keep his promises on further future tax cuts for higher earners, Osborne will invariably make even more cuts to public services, public sector pay and the social security safety net that are so deep they will severely damage both the economy and potentially, the fabric of our society.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have recently criticised George Osborne’s proposed tax credit cuts, because it is “at odds” with wider Conservative stated aims to “support hardworking families”.

Research conducted by the IFS calculated that only around quarter of money take from families through tax credit cuts would be returned by the new National “Living Wage”.

Tax credits are payments made by the Government to people on lower incomes, most of whom are in work.

It was announced today that the Work and Pensions Committee is holding an urgent evidence gathering session on the proposed reforms to the tax credit system on Monday 26 October. The Committee will question representatives of respected independent think tanks that have analysed the impact of the Conservative plans, including the IFS and the Resolution Foundation, who revealed that the planned welfare cuts will lead to an increase of 200,000 working households living in poverty by 2020, and that almost two-thirds of the cut would be borne by the poorest 30 per cent of households, whilst almost none of the cuts will fall upon the richest 40 per cent of households.

A Labour motion calling on the government to rethink the controversial tax credit cuts has been defeated in the Commons. But despite Labour losing the vote today, the debate saw a number of Tory MPs attack the proposed changes, too.

In her maiden speech today, Tory MP Heidi Allen said that her party risks betraying its values, as she voiced her opposition to tax credit cuts.

She suggested ministers were losing sight of the difficulties of working people in their “single-minded determination to achieve a [budget] surplus”. She also said that the tax credit changes do not pass the “family test”, warning that the pace of the reforms is “too hard and too fast”.

The opposition day motion called for a reversal of the policy but MPs voted against it by 317 to 295 – a government majority of just 22. Next week, the vote in the House of Lords was set to be far closer, with the very real possibility that on Monday, Peers would  vote to block the changes. Because the tax credit cut proposals were not in the Tory manifesto, it means they are not bound by the usual Salisbury convention that prevents the peers from blocking election promises.

Also, the tax credit cuts were not included in the Finance Bill, which normally enacts a Budget, and the opposition have used the opportunity to seize on the fact that a Statutory Instrument can be halted by a single House of Lords vote.

Mr Cameron effectively ruled out cutting the benefit before the election, telling a voters Question time that he “rejected” proposals to cut tax credits and did not want to do so.

The cuts are part of £12bn cuts to the social security budget that the Government is to make – the details of which the Conservatives refused to announce before the election.

However, in an unprecedented move, the Conservatives have threatened a constitutional “showdown”, and have refused to engage in dialogue with peers that want kill off the proposed Tory cuts. The government warned the House of Lords it would trigger a full-scale constitutional crisis by pressing ahead with their plans.

Despite the fact that the chancellor faces a growing rebellion against the cuts among Tory MPs, the government told the group of crossbench peers that they also “risked” a renewed push to weaken the powers of the upper house if they refused to back down.

The threats from the government that came because it was facing probable defeat on what is an extremely unpopular reform, even amongst their own party ranks, are truly remarkable, showing a contempt for democratic process and a lack of willingness to engage in transparent dialogue. They came after Lady Meacher, a crossbencher who is the former chair of the East London NHS Trust, threatened to table a “fatal motion” to kill off the cuts to tax credits.

The Tories do not have a majority in the Lords and faced defeat after Labour and the Liberal Democrats said they would support Lady Meacher.

It is understood that Meacher withdrew her fatal motion on Tuesday night and announced she would table a motion calling on the government to deliver a report responding to the warning by the Institute for Fiscal Studies that 3 million families would lose over £1,000 a year.

Meacher told the Guardian today:

My plan at the moment is to put down a motion which will prevent this regulation being approved on Monday, which will require the government to produce a report responding to the IFS analysis and consider mitigating action before bringing it back. This gives time to the House of Commons to go on doing what they are doing. There are Tory MPs horrified by this.

So we are giving the government time to think again, but the word fatal would not be appropriate. This is causing a great deal of consternation at government level and we are trying to find a way through which will ensure that the government revisits these regulations

This move will also allow time for the Work and Pensions Committee to gather further evidence to present to the government, too. The Committee have stated that they will ask representatives questions on the following topics;

  • The impact of the April 2016 tax credit cuts (in isolation and in the context of other welfare measures in the Summer Budget), and the National Living Wage
  • The winners and losers and their characteristics
  • The extent to which the National Living Wage will compensate individuals receiving lower tax credit payments
  • The distributional impact of these measures, individually and combined
  • The scale of the financial gains/losses to households and what influences this
  • The quality of the analysis produced by the Government to support their proposals
  • Other options for achieving savings from the tax credit system that will mitigate the impact on the least well off
  • The implications for work incentives and the Government’s wider objectives in welfare reform

Select Committees work in both Houses of parliament. They check and report on areas ranging from the work of government departments to economic affairs. The results of these inquiries are made public and the Government must respond to their findings.

A select committee is a cross-party group of MPs or Lords given a specific remit to investigate and report back to the House that set it up. Select committees are one of the key ways in which Parliament makes sure the Government is adequately scrutinised, held to account, and has to explain or justify what it is doing or how it is spending taxpayers’ money.

Committee findings are reported to the Commons, printed, and published on the Parliament website. The government then usually has 60 days to respond to the committee’s recommendations.

The Osborne omnishambles is far from done and dusted yet.

555114_453356604733873_1986499794_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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