Lib Dems to table “fatal motion” to halt planned cuts to tax credits

The Lib Dem team in the House of Lords has announced that it will table a so-called “fatal motion” to the government’s proposed tax credit reductions.

Zahida Manzoor, our work and pensions spokesperson, will table the motion, which would decline to approve the regulations. If passed, the government will have to come up with a revised version of its proposals.

The motion is additional to a motion by Labour peer, Baroness Hollis of Heigham, which would decline to approve the Tax Credit cut unless the Government puts in place transitional measures.

Lib Dem peers will support Patricia Hollis’s amendment but the party is arguing that transitional protection is not sufficient to protect the families affected.

Tim Farron said:

We have been clear that the Government’s changes to tax credits are unacceptable. David Cameron explicitly ruled them out during the General Election. Yet now he is dead set on cutting support for people who are doing the right thing and going out to work for provide for their families.

These changes have all the hallmarks of a Poll Tax of the 21st Century. David Cameron and George Osborne need to listen to those, including their own backbenchers, telling them to think again.

While we agree that the transitional protection proposed by others would be an improvement on the Government’s plan, we believe that this would not go far enough. That is why we will we seek to stop these measures for good.

Zahida Manzoor said:

Our motion gives the House the opportunity to make clear its view on the Government’s plans for Tax Credits, and gives the Government a chance to reconsider its proposals.

While we support any measure to improve the on the Government’s approach, it is important that the Lords is clear in our view.

The House of Lords has the absolute constitutional right to oppose measures that it believes are flawed or damaging. I can think of few better reasons to use this power than to stop moves to cut vital support for millions of working families.

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  • Eddie Sammon 21st Oct '15 - 8:20pm

    This has given me a moral dilemma. My instincts are strongly against it, because I don’t believe anyone has the right to overrule the Commons, regardless if people have done it in the past.

    However, I also believe in self-defence and fundamental rights. But one of these was the supremacy of the Commons over the Lords and the Monarchy.

    My worry is that if people try to block the Commons because they don’t like a law then it sets a very bad precedent and shows that we don’t really live in a democracy and don’t even believe in one, because people will come up with excuses to overrule it.

  • So what’s more important then. Stopping cuts which will affect some of the poorest people in the country, or getting all het up about constitutional intricacies which most people genuinely don’t care about, and which, when given the chance to vote for parties who wanted to reform it, didn’t? It’s a no-brainier for me. Vote against the morally wrong cuts, and sort the constitution later. Some things are just more important.

  • Philip Rolle 21st Oct '15 - 9:00pm

    Just as it is very occasionally right to oppose the law of the land by unlawful means, it must occasionally be right to oppose a democratic decision by undemocratic process.

  • Andrew McCaig 21st Oct '15 - 9:06pm

    Eddie, Colin,

    You have to remember that the Tories have no electoral mandate whatsoever. I am all for reforming the Lords but only when the Commons is elected by a democratic voting system that reflects the will of the people.

    Maybe in that democratic House of Commons UKIP would have pushed through the tax credit cut… But since many of them would have been elected by working class votes, I doubt it.

  • Andrew McCaig 21st Oct '15 - 9:08pm


    Do bear in mind too that the combined representation of Liberal Democrats in the two houses is almost exactly 8%, so the Party is (by complete coincidence) correctly represented for the first time in generations

  • Neil Sandison 21st Oct '15 - 9:12pm

    Since the conservatives failed to spell out their welfare changes in the general election despite repeated requests and Cameron explicitly ruled out cuts to working tax credits they cannot hide behind their manifesto .Clearly the second chamber which is there to revise or identify damaging clauses in legislation can ask the commons to look again at these proposals. The lords may well save Osbourne and Cameron from their own foolishness in thinking they could push such draconian measures through on such a slender majority.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Oct '15 - 9:19pm

    Thanks Andrew. I still think that ultimately elected officials are supreme, whether to the Commons or the EU, but I think the balance between individual rights and democratic rights is one of the most interesting discussions we can have.

    At first I was angered by this idea, because I think if we start messing around with democracy then it leads to violence, but I’m not the one directly suffering from tax credit cuts.

  • Mick Taylor 21st Oct '15 - 9:24pm

    Cameron allowed his backbenchers to block the reform of the HoL in the last parliament, reneging on the coalition agreement. Oh dear, it’s come back to bite him in the proverbial. Cameron promised NOT to do what the government is now doing g, so it’s quite right for the Lords to ask him to think again. The Lords can’t prevent it in the long run, only delay it. Cameron would be better addressing the real problems of his policy rather than making threats which he can’t implement.

  • Mick Taylor 21st Oct '15 - 9:30pm

    @colin. The Lib Dems in the Lords can’t do anything by themselves. Their resolution will only pass if Labour support it. It looks as though the bishops and many cross benchers will do so as well. The Lords are only fulfilling their revising function and if Cameron insists he will ultimately get his way under the Parliament Act. In the meantime it is right to put off these cuts to the poorest working people in our society as long as possible.

  • George Kendall 21st Oct '15 - 9:52pm

    This may set a new precedent. That, if the incoming Prime Minister has deliberately misled the electorate that he wouldn’t do something, they have the right to try to stop him.

    Sounds a pretty good precedent to set.

  • If the Labour motion was tabled first, voted on and passed presumably this would pre-empt the Lib Dem motion which then won’t get called?

  • The position is really very simple, at the Election just 5 months ago, The Parties which opposed any further Lords Reform got more than two thirds of the popular vote while The Party most associated with Lords Reform saw its vote fall by two thirds. That looks like a massive popular mandate for The Lords as it is, with its present powers to stop The Government in its tracks.
    Of course my argument is daft, the voters simply dont care about Constitututional stuff; but its as reasonable as the one put forward by defenders of the Rights of The Commons. The Commons is a bit more democratic than The Lords but its a tiny bit compared to the bllody awful faults of the whole system.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Oct '15 - 10:19pm

    Arguably, if the Lords breaks past traditions then so can the Monarchy. It’s no minor thing to do. Tim is not talking about delaying it, but stopping the bill altogether.

  • Eddie Sammon’s points are important ones in terms of how we explain our position to the public. If we continually make the same move then we risk being painted as a party who ignores the Commons and, some would say, democracy. As the movement that secured the Commons’ supremacy we should be mindful of such issues.

    But I thnk on this issue we are doing the right thing. This matter is fundamental and the cuts will deprive people of the liberty we fight for. As Keith Legg said, on this issue I am going to put that matter ahead of quibbles with our unwritten constitution. We need to pick our fights and I am glad we are doing so on this issue.

  • As I see it, we have a Commons dominated by a party elected by less than 30% of the electorate demanding that the unelected Lords accept a piece of legislation which runs counter to a campaign promise made 6 months ago, and which absolutely was not in the governing party’s manifesto.
    Hmmn. There’s more than one aspect of this in which a constitutional crisis is evident.

  • Paul Kennedy 22nd Oct '15 - 1:05am

    @jedibeeftwix @Philip

    But we are not opposing the law of the land by unlawful means. We are trying to prevent a bad law from being passed by using our powers under the existing constitutional settlement which we also happen to believe is corrupt, undemocratic and unrepresentative, but have no way of changing in the short term.

    That is a much better position than that of the Tories who blocked our attempts to reform the House of Lords (and the ironically even more unrepresentative House of Commons), but are now complaining about our use of blocking powers in the unreformed House of Lords.

  • Julian Heather 22nd Oct '15 - 2:28am

    It’s all very simple. We don’t live in a democracy, but we instead have to endure an electorally corrupt system of government. In other times, our country would be called a “banana republic”. The Conservatives won only 37% of the vote at the General election on May 7th. The Conservatives do not have a democratic mandate to rule. It is right and just for us to use our Liberal Democratic members in the House of Lords to defeat Conservative measures, whenever we feel it is justified. We should continue to do so until the UK has a proportional system of voting which ensure that we properly have democracy in this country, ie rule by the majority.

  • Charles Rothwell 22nd Oct '15 - 7:17am

    I agree with all that has been said about the cuts not being in the Conservative manifesto and, of course, about the harm which very many people are going to experience when they are introduced. On the other hand, I must say that I can see where the Conservative argument is coming from and I do not see why low and middle level tax payers should go on subsidising employers to keep on paying low wages for ever and ever. Surely if people are not paid enough to live on, the solution is to pay them more and not to subsidise their abominable wage levels by taxing those who happen to be just above them in the income order? I also think the state being involved in credits for this, that and so many other aspects of economic life (tax credits, housing benefits, pension credits etc etc etc) is ludicrous and has nothing to do with the vision of Beveridge etc who set up the Welfare State in the first place. Secondly, the Liberal Democrats made it absolutely clear in the General Election campaign that, if awarded a majority, the Conservatives would, as Nick Clegg said, “Cut and cut and cut; that is what they do!” As it then turned out, the electorate rejected the party in one of the worst results in its entire history and which means that we are now virtually ignored by the media and the public as a whole (when, for example, are we ever going to hear one of our MPs ask a question at PMQs?) For us now to use our position in the Lords (due purely to a fluke of history) to oppose the Commons (not just the Conservatives, as this measure has been accepted TWICE in the Lower House (budget plus the Labour motion of a few days ago)) is going to make us look opportunistic and lacking in any real alternative strategy or vision.

  • Like many others I am opposed to the continuing existence of the House of Lords. The fact remains that at present it is a part of the “Democratic process”. Any actions in the House of Lords within the procedural rules are therefore perfectly legitimate. On that basis there should be no moral dilemma for anyone. The Tories, above all others, embrace and support the House of Lords. The House of Lords stalling the Tax Credit cuts. Deeply ironic, yes. Undemocratic? Not a bit of it. Completely witihn the rules, however unfair the system may seem. Can I suggest the very fact that some people are in a quandary over this perhaps provides an insight into the current standing of the Libdems in U K politics?

  • George Kendall 22nd Oct '15 - 11:07am

    It baffles me why people in this thread are talking about it not being in the Tory manifesto. It’s far worse than that.

    Cameron used linguistic tricks to deliberately deceive the British Electorate into thinking he wouldn’t cut child tax credits. Similar to how Bill Clinton deceived the American electorate over his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

    This deceit isn’t something made up on the internet. See:

    Cameron has no excuse … there’s been no sudden deterioration in the country’s finances, and he doesn’t have a coalition partner forcing him to implement a policy he doesn’t like.

    I don’t understand why more is not being made of this deceit by the media. I suspect it’s because the Official Opposition is such a shambles at the moment.

  • Denis Loretto 22nd Oct '15 - 11:44am

    Events so far indicate to me that there probably is a latent majority in the Commons opposed to what the government is doing here. However the ignominy of voting for a Labour motion on a budgetary issue stopped Tory MPs from “putting their money where their mouth is” in the recent debate. However if Lady Meacher’s delaying motion is passed in the Lords it will give time for Frank Fields’ initiative (which has cross party support) to be put to the Commons. I think this is probably the best hope, given the democratic issues raised by several posters in this thread. Indeed I think there is a real risk that Lord Manzoor’s motion will be defeated in the Lords – partly because of the democratic and procedural issues discussed here and partly because (sadly) there will be reticence about supporting what may well be seen as a Lib Dem ploy.

  • After the Labour general election victory in 2005, the Liberal Democrats indicated that they did not feel bound by the Salisbury Convention as a result of decreasing voter turnout, the low share of the vote received by the Government, and the changes to the composition of the House of Lords introduced in 1999 by the Labour Government……

    Are we bound by it?

  • Alex Macfie 22nd Oct '15 - 4:54pm

    I think the Lib dems in the Lords did say after the last election that they were not going to be bound by the Salisbury Convention, for the same sort of reasons as in 2005 (low turnout, low share of vote for governing party). It is, anyway, just a convention, a gentlemen’s agreement, not constitutional law. The circumstances that led to it do not apply in this parliament, so there is no good reason to be bound by it.

  • A PM makes a public and televised promise in his election campaigning not to cut tax credits then breaks that promise and there are people wondering if the Salisbury Convention applies? That is bizarre. Get stuck in and welll done Libdems.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Oct '15 - 6:33pm

    So if one day Lib Dems or Labour want to introduce an unpopular policy should Conservative peers be able to block it in the Lords? It’s a weakening of our democracy as we know it because suddenly process and accountability in the Commons is not going to be the most important thing but a list of people’s excuses that they have for overriding the Commons.

  • Alex Macfie 22nd Oct '15 - 6:46pm

    Eddie Sammon: I don’ t like the system. But it’s the system we have. It would be crazy for us to refuse on some sort of vanity principle to use our power in the HoL to block an unpopular government measure. And it would not be seen as brave or courageous or principled, just stupid.

  • Eddie the House of Lords exists because the elected members of the House of Commons have to date decided not to abolish or reform it. So the answer to your question is yes, absolutely. Why not? The continued existence of the House of Lords reflects the wishes of the elected representatives in the House of Commons. Also this is at best a stalling tactic. It will hopefully cause the Tories to reflect and agree to transition measures. Not using this process would have been the affront to the “democratic process’.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Oct '15 - 7:02pm

    It’s not just a vanity principle Alex because Tories might respond by flooding the Lords with Tory peers and then not only do we have a more powerful Lords, but a more Tory Lords.

    This shows the urgency of abolishing/reforming the Lords and abolishing the Monarchy. But listening to some people’s reasons you would presume they would support a Napoleon Bonaparte style “liberal emperor” if he would introduce popular liberal policies. It also makes it harder for us to campaign for democracy around the world if we are using Lords.

    It’s a principle, and maybe it’s better. but it’s not the ones that I have been used to supporting.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Oct '15 - 7:32pm

    Hi Steve, you make a very good point about “The continued existence of the House of Lords reflects the wishes of the elected representatives in the House of Commons.”.

    The thing is I accepted “tradition” as legitimate. I’m no constitutional expert, but from what I know there are quite a lot of things that we only do because of tradition and if that no longer matters then it shows that some of the big democratic gains we have achieved over the centuries really have just been a sham and rather than a so-called “constitutional monarchy” actually it still have quite a lot of powers, along with the Lords.

    I would like to know more about it, but yes, as I understood it: our “constitution” is partly based on tradition and if it isn’t then we should swap up and see what the documents actually say.

  • Eddie I’m completely opposed to the monarchy and the continued existence of the House of Lords. The monarchy I’m relaxed about in terms of influence over government., as it is effectively symbolic and nothing more. The house of Lords is a different matter but for as long as it remains, let’s use it to our advantage.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Oct '15 - 5:23am

    According to Comres 43% of people disagree with the plan and 34% agree with it. Therefore it is arguably democratic to vote against them, but it is still under 50% of the public that is against them.

    But this is not the case I have been hearing from Tim and others. The case I have been hearing is “it’s not fair”. We can’t have government via “it’s not fair”. People need to make a strong case when overriding the Commons.


  • Alex Macfie 23rd Oct '15 - 8:08am

    I would reform the Lords given the opportunity. However, that is not going to happen under the present administration (we tried to reform it when in government, but the Tories reneged on it). This is not about a “liberal emperor” because we are not in control of the system. But while we have this power in the Lords, we might as well try to use it. If the Tories then decide to use their power to flood the Lords with more of their own, or to redefine the constitutional position of the Lords to the government’s advantage, then that is their prerogative, but it would (far more than us using our accidental power in the Lords) invite serious calls to reform the Lords. At the end of the day the public are not generally concerned with constitutional matters, but they might become concerned if the government tries to change constitutional law so it can railroad a measure it knows to be unpopular.

  • Alex Macfie 23rd Oct '15 - 8:09am

    The measure wasn’t in the Tories’ manifesto. And their mandate is weak, in terms of percentage of the electorate (let alone voters) that supported it. That seems to me a strong case.

  • Alex Macfie 22nd Oct ’15 – 6:46pm ……………..I don’ t like the system. But it’s the system we have. It would be crazy for us to refuse on some sort of vanity principle to use our power in the HoL to block an unpopular government measure. And it would not be seen as brave or courageous or principled, just stupid….

    Please don’t mention principles; principles are rather like virginity…LibDems forfeited that right over the NHS reorganisation…Remember that?
    David Cameron promised, pre-2010 election, “No top down re-organisation”…Our parliamentary party fell over itself to sign up to that broken promise…That was when I stopped voting LibDem…

  • There is a very strong argument in favour of the Lords overruling the Commons here.

    This measure was not it the Conservative party manifesto and Cameron explicitly denied they would cut tax credits in the election campaign. Given the very narrow margin of victory, you could claim he deliberately deceived the public to gain votes and in this matter his majority is illegitimate.

    Also consider he had the opportunity to reform the Lords last parliament and didn’t take it, and Conservative peers have in the past voted against the will of the Commons when it’s convenient for them – he has no grounds for complaint without being a hypocrite.

  • @expats: I don’t like a lot of what the Lib Dems did in coalition. But what’s done is done. We need to move on from the Clegg era and the Coalition. Whatever mistakes we made when we were in government, they have no bearing on what we can and should do NOW to hold the present government (of which we are not part) to account.

  • “It’s a weakening of our democracy as we know it because suddenly process and accountability in the Commons is not going to be the most important thing but a list of people’s excuses that they have for overriding the Commons.” (Eddie Sammon 22nd Oct ’15 – 6:33pm)

    No it isn’t a weakening of our democracy, if anything it is a strengthening of it – we have a two chamber system, so it is right for the second chamber to exercise the powers it has been granted. The HoL has overridden the HoC many times; everytime it ‘amends’ legislation’, remember it is up to the HoC to then accept or reject the amendments.

    If we have an elected second chamber then this type of action is something we can expect to happen, regularly, so this is just a flavour of what’s to come… 🙂

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Oct '15 - 2:16pm

    The issue of tax credits shows that the losers squeal loader than the gainers. The Chancellor should know that. Th passion of a member of the audience on Any Questions shows the depth of the hurt, both about the money and and about election promises. The Tories now have a trust issue which will haunt them for a long period, even if they change thie minds on the money issue.
    Flooding the House of Lords with Tories would take time. All they need to do is to declare the measure a ‘money bill’.
    The Lords are unelected and therefore not very democratic. Elections to the Commons are not proportioante and therefore not very democratic either. For a backbench Tory MP such as Rees-Mogg to talk about a UK constitution is specious nonsense, but we should campaign to have one.

  • Alex…I agree. However, I want to oppose policies on their merits without pretending that we are the only party with ‘principles’; ours are as ‘elastic’ as the rest..
    I support using the HoL to oppose this policy (a policy ‘weaseled’ in by a less than honest government). Tory peers have, in the past, shown little compunction in voting on Labour’s financial bills so there is no ‘moral high ground’ for them to claim…

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