Government Ditches Plans To Curb Lords’ Powers

In a move that should surprise no one, the Government has decided that it will not try to abolish the House of Lords’ veto over statutory instruments.

While the Parliament Act 1911 removed the Lords’ veto over Acts of Parliament, it did not make any provision for statutory instruments, so they can still be blocked by peers. In practice, the upper house’s veto over secondary legislation is rarely exercised (peers have only rejected seven statutory instruments since 1950).

This power became a matter of controversy last fall when peers voted to delay the Government’s proposed tax credit cuts. At the time, Ministers were adamant that the Lords’ veto needed to go, and they asked Lord Strathclyde (a former Leader of the House of Lords) to come up with an alternative. He recommended that the absolute veto be replaced with a suspensory veto.

The problem with this is that peers are actually quite good at scrutinizing statutory instruments. In fact, they’re arguably better at it than the Commons. As the Hansard Society points out, Lords committees are more engaged and more influential, and individual peers are more likely to delve into the minutiae of statutory instruments. The Lords’ veto ensures that the Government must engage with their criticisms, and its abolition would lessen ministerial accountability. In theory, MPs could provide the same level of scrutiny, but that would require some substantial changes to the way the Commons transacts its business, and the Government has every reason to preserve the status quo.

The Lords’ veto over statutory instruments provides a meaningful check on the Government’s power. As long as peers continue to use it judiciously, there is no reason to get rid of it.

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