Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Battle over tax credits gets constitutional

Some politicians and commentators are claiming that the House of Lords’ refusal last night to pass the government’s planned cuts to tax credits amounts to a ‘constitutional crisis’.

That is nonsense for a number of reasons.

Firstly, as the journalist Peter Jukes observed on Twitter:

Osborne’s line about “unelected Lords” stopping #taxcredits is fatuous. Had he got his way “unelected Lords” would have approved them.

The real constitutional outrage here is the abuse of Statutory Instruments. As I reported back in 2013, the government used a Statutory Instrument to open up England’s NHS to unprecedented levels of competition through its Section 75 regulations. It’s a devious tactic to avoid proper parliamentary scrutiny. I’m glad the House of Lords called the government out on it this time.

It is also a bit rich for the government to cry foul on democratic process when they’ve gone about implementing this policy in such an undemocratic fashion.

Lords generally respect manifesto commitments, but these cuts to tax credits weren’t in the Conservative manifesto before the election. Furthermore, David Cameron said that he had no plans for such cuts when challenged on the subject.

This point was forcefully made in the Lords debate yesterday by Labour peer Lord Campbell-Savours when he said that Cameron:

deliberately misled the British public and the British public would regard what he said now as a lie. A lie to win a general election. The British public are fed up with politicians who tell lies on that scale.

I believe that those lies trump all the constitutional niceties, whether they be financial privilege or the fatality of amendments.