Anger as government halts welfare bill changes
The government has come under fire for seeking to use a parliamentary mechanism to prevent further attempts by the House of Lords to change the Welfare Reform Bill.
The House of Commons on Wednesday overturned a number of amendments to the bill, which will bring in a £26,000 annual total benefits cap for households, which had been agreed by the House of Lords. These included measures to exclude child benefit from the calculation of the cap and to water down a controversial bedroom tax for underoccupying social housing tenants.
Ordinarily the Lords would be able to insist on their original amendments, creating a situation known as ‘ping pong’ where the bill bounces back and forth between the two legislative chambers. The government has instead invoked financial privilege for the amendments, which usually applies to financial bills. This means the Lords cannot insist on their amendments when the bill returns to them later this month.
Abigail Davies, assistant director of policy and practice at the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: ‘The decision to avoid the ping pong process by invoking financial privilege is a slap in the face for proper scrutiny of the impacts of legislation.
‘Ironically, we suspect that by doing this government will introduce legislation that ends up costing the public purse more than it actually saves.’
Peers this week criticised the move. Labour peer Baroness Patricia Hollis, speaking in the House of Lords on Wednesday, said all social security bills, as well as transport and health bills inevitably involve expenditure.
She said: ‘If any bill involving any element of expenditure, including on welfare, pensions, health and education, can at the fiat of the House of Commons be ruled as money and therefore privilege, then… we might as well go home.’
Conservative Lord Thomas Strathclyde, the leader of the House of Lords, said there was ‘nothing new’ in the use of financial privilege in this way.
The speaker makes the ultimate decision on whether financial privilege applies. A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson confirmed that financial privilege will apply to the amendments.
He said: ‘We have listened to the Lords and there has been a healthy debate across the country on the merits of the bill.’