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article imageUK Government silences House of Lords with arcane measure

By Duncan Hall     Feb 1, 2012 in Politics
The UK government overturned Lords amendments to its controversial Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Commons, and used an arcane constitutional step to prevent the House of Lords from blocking this or similar measures in the future
The UK Parliament is a strange beast. The House of Lords, as the unelected chamber, is rightly a junior partner to the elected Commons. However, many will argue (not least members of the Conservative Party who currently lead the government) that the Lords plays a vital role in scrutinising and delaying legislation, preventing hasty or bad bills from becoming law.
The House of Lords amended the government's Welfare Reform Bill in several ways, that some campaigners hoped (though did not expect) would be kept by the House of Commons when it returned today.
In fact the Lords amendments were overturned by 334 votes to 251 with few, if any, rebels on either side. Under normal circumstances the bill would then return to the House of Lords where they could chose to delay it again, proposing further amendments. If the government feels that the House of Lords is blocking the will of the elected chamber for too long, it can make use of the Parliament Act to override the Lords, as the Labour government did over its Hunting Ban. However, there is a constitutional convention that predates the Parliament Acts that the House of Lords cannot stop or amend legislation with significant financial implications. Often the Commons waives this particular aspect of its constitutional superiority, but not on this occasion. This means that the Government could well invoke the same constitutional convention to prevent the Lords amending its reforms to the National Health Service too.
At a time when much of the government's legislation relates to public spending cuts, this move severely curtails the role of the House of Lords as an amending, delaying and scrutinising chamber.
More about UK government, David Cameron, Ian duncan smith, john mcdonnell, welfare reform bill
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