UK Politics

Labour: Lords curbs 'stifle debate'

House of Lords

Labour has accused the government of trying to "stifle debate" by removing peers' power to veto some draft laws.

Shadow Lords leader Baroness Smith said the move was a "massive over-reaction" to the government's defeat over tax credit changes last year.

She was speaking as peers debated the proposals put forward by Conservative Lord Strathclyde.

The Tory peer said Lords were actually being given a new "very practical" power they had never had before.

He led a review launched by David Cameron into the powers of the House of Lords after they blocked plans to cut tax credits in October, to the anger of Conservative ministers.

The cuts were later shelved in the Autumn Statement.

'Ping pong'

The review recommended taking away the absolute veto the House of Lords had over laws, called statutory instruments, and instead create a new procedure allowing them to send the secondary legislation back to the House of Commons to "think again".

They would only be allowed to do this once, enabling the House of Commons to have the final say and push through its agenda even if the Lords disagrees.

Lord Strathclyde told a packed Upper House this new procedure would be the "ping without the pong" referring to legislation that goes back and forth between the House of Commons and Lords until both agree, commonly known as ping-ponging.

But Baroness Smith said it was "an unnecessary solution to a fictitious problem".

"The reality is that we seldom use our powers to their limits," she said.

"But that doesn't mean they shouldn't exist."

Unlike in the Commons, the Conservatives do not have a majority in the House of Lords.

Image caption Alistair, now Lord, Darling made his maiden speech in the Lords

Making his maiden speech in the House of Lords, former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling said he understood the frustration of being a government minister.

George Osborne should have been grateful to peers for bringing about the reversal, he said, recalling the former Labour government's much-criticised abolition of the 10p rate of income tax.

He said the tax credit changes should have been introduced as primary legislation in the first place, which would have allowed the Lords to scrutinise them.

"I am increasingly concerned about the amount of constitutional change taking place in this country on a piecemeal basis," he added.

In recent years, Lord Strathclyde said the House of Lords had developed a "lesser understanding of the implications of what happens when we use our powers too aggressively" and enjoyed "unfettered powers" to veto secondary legislation.

Under the proposed model, he said: "We have a conversation between the two Houses but they (the Commons) have the final say."

It was right for the Lords to have a new procedure "to do what we do best, which is to ask the Commons to think again", he added.

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