Posted by: Carl Brown03/02/2012
After months of lobbying, debates and shock government defeats in the Lords it seems the Welfare Reform Bill will be pushed through amid controversy over use of parliamentary procedure.
The government’s decision to seek financial privilege to prevent Lords from insisting on their amendments has prompted howls of protest from the upper chamber. Lord Richard Best says there is no point in having a revising chamber if the Commons can simply use procedures to restrict it from having a say.
The ironic thing about this use of financial privilege, which is usually invoked for money bills involving major public expenditure, is that the government has been at pains to stress that saving money is not the sole motivation for the bill.
Employment minister Chris Grayling said in the Commons on Wednesday that the debate over the £26,000 total benefits cap ‘is not simply about the financial aspects’ but about fairness. The financial privilege move risks giving the impression that the hit on the public purse is the main aim of the policy and severely dents the coalition’s claims that combating unfairness is its primary objective.
While the coalition was overturning the Lords amendments and seeking to use privilege to railroad the bill through, Labour put forward its own last-ditch attempt to force changes to the way the benefits cap will be set. Labour called for an independent body to set different caps across the country according to local circumstances.
This idea has some merit, but lost credibility as Labour refused to say the level at which it thought the cap should be set, insisting it would be a decision for the new body.
It was also not able to say whether it would retain the overall level of savings from the cap (around £305 million) or seek to reduce them.
Labour was perhaps mindful of the fact that if a regionalised cap was introduced, but with the same overall savings level, benefit levels would be effectively reduced in low rental value areas, the party’s heartlands.
The bill therefore did not receive adequate opposition in the Commons, while opposition in the Lords has been effectively nullified by privilege.
From Housing matters
Carl Brown looks at regulation, training, board members, pay and a host of other issues that impact the day to day running of social landlords