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Strathclyde Review — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:12 pm on 13th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord Haughey Lord Haughey Labour 8:12 pm, 13th January 2016

My Lords, I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Darling on a first-class maiden speech. I am sure he will be a fine addition to this noble House. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, on a wonderful maiden speech.

Much has been said today about the rights and wrongs of the vote taken in this House on 26 October last year and I have no intention of repeating what your Lordships have already heard. I would like to dwell on what happened because of that vote and may take a different slant, as my noble friend Lord Foulkes did in his speech. My speech will, I hope, be short and to the point. I should have mentioned earlier that I was giving the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, three minutes of my allotted time.

At the end of October last year, this House was asked to scrutinise the tax credit regulations. After much debate it became apparent that there were various degrees of opposition from all sides of the House. The subsequent vote demonstrated that the majority of this House felt that the regulations should not be passed.

The uproar from the Government that followed that decision was absolutely astonishing. The knee-jerk reaction created headlines once again calling into question the legitimacy of this House. This led to the Prime Minister instructing the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, to carry out a review of the House of Lords. There followed media reports outlining how the decision was unprecedented and broke with convention. Some even suggested that this House had overstepped the mark. None of that is true. What we did in the tax credit regulations vote was exactly what this House was set up to do. The combined wisdom of this House prevented truly unjust financial misery being heaped upon nearly 2 million people. The banner headlines were all about opposition victory and government defeat. There was no victory and no defeat. After serious debate, common sense prevailed. We were asking the Government to think again.

Over the next few weeks, as the dust settled, the Government began to realise the ramifications of the regulations—that they were maybe a step too far. The Chancellor had the opportunity to lighten their burden. Even some Tory MPs on the Back Benches welcomed the opportunity to revisit them. The Chancellor, to most people’s delightful surprise, took the decision to do a major U-turn. This was met with great cheers from most Members of all parties in the other place, and the Chancellor actually made it look like a victory speech. Some commentators believed that it had greatly enhanced his chances of promotion.

In recent times, never has a decision been made in your Lordships’ House that has so overwhelmingly been proven to be the correct one. Over the past five years, this House has attracted numerous unsavoury and unwanted headlines—unfortunately, most of them warranted. Our legitimacy and very existence has been called into question. We could not have afforded to pay the PR bill for the positive response that this House got after that vote. There is no greater example of the worth of this Chamber and of the reason that it should exist than the outcome of the tax credit regulations vote. Suddenly millions of people throughout the UK realised that we had a major role to play.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has now concluded his review and I imagine that most noble Lords will have read it. The noble Lord’s favoured option is option 3. Like most Members of this House, I absolutely welcome a review of the structure of this great institution. However, it is a sad day when a decision made in this Chamber, which is now accepted by all parties to be the correct one, creates a situation where we are now discussing constitutional change. This is absolutely absurd and wrong.

Looking at the structure is one thing; changing the parameters or the remit of this House because of one vote is highly dangerous. If this is allowed to happen, where will it end? I personally believe that if option 3 were adopted it would be a sad day for this House. If this option had been in place when we had the vote in October, 1.8 million people would be suffering horrendous financial hardship, because a measure that is now widely accepted as being wrong could be in place.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for all his efforts in the review, but I honestly believe that adopting option 3 would diminish the worth of this House. The review smacks of an instrument that would deliver the Government’s desired outcome, no matter what. This “scope creep” by the other place is not healthy and should be resisted vigorously. As has already been stated by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in relation to public response the outcome of the vote on 26 October last year was certainly the most popular that this House has delivered in many decades. People on the outside looking in must be bemused by the fact that this has resulted in a debate around constitutional change. We must always remember whom we are here to serve.