By Sue Jones
A rarely-used procedure called a “fatal motion” is set to be tabled in the House of Lords this week, followed by a vote next week, with the very specific intention of killing off George Osborne’s proposed £4bn in tax credit cuts.
It has been reported that Peers in the House of Lords may table a “prayer” against a negative Statutory Instrument. Under the standard negative procedure, the Statutory Instrument is annulled if the prayer motion is agreed by the House within 40 days of the Statutory Instrument being laid.
Fatal motions are extremely rare, with only a very small number successfully passed since the 1960s, as Peers are wary of overreaching their usual delaying powers with such a drastic “nuclear option.”
Campaigners and crossbench Labour and Liberal Democrat Peers say that because cuts to tax credits were not in the Conservative Party manifesto, it means they are not bound by the usual Salisbury convention that prevents the HoL from blocking election promises. PM David Cameron promised prior to the general election that tax credit rates would not be cut.
The tax credit cuts were not included in the Finance Bill, which normally enacts a Budget, and the opposition have used the opportunity to seize on the fact that a Statutory Instrument can be halted by a single House of Lords vote.
The changes, which will affect millions of working people and see some families losing a reported £1,300 a year in vital income, are due to come into force in April 2016. But the statutory instrument needed to make them law is due to be voted on in the HoL on 26 October.
As reported by Welfare Weekly, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has pledged Labour would reverse the cuts to tax credits if they win the next general election.
The Huffington Post reports that a crossbench peer is being lined up to table the motion in a bid to garner as much support as possible, and use the in-built anti-Tory majority in the Lords to stop the Chancellor from going ahead.
The Conservatives have a small overall Commons working majority of 16. However they are outnumbered in the Lords, with 246 peers compared with 209 for Labour and 106 for the Liberal Democrats.
There are also a further 175 crossbench peers (not aligned to any party) and 25 of these are bishops. It is understood that the bishops may also take the rare step of voting against the Government.
The Liberal Democrats have already tabled a “regret” motion, but this can only delay the Bill from becoming law. However, a senior crossbencher will be asked this week to table a much more drastic ‘fatal motion’ to kill the secondary legislation.
Among the crossbench names mentioned by campaigners are former social work specialist Baroness Meacher, who has led previous Government defeats on welfare legislation.
Labour also has its own Opposition day debate on Tuesday, which although lacking any binding vote will be used to gauge how many Conservative MPs are worried about the plans and to court their support in opposing the Bill.
Labour MP Frank Field said: “This [motion] will be one of those amendments which are rarely tabled but which will kill the measure.
“As time goes on, more of Osborne’s backbenchers are now understanding that far from protecting strivers as the Chancellor promised, he is aiming the biggest cut ever in welfare on this group, who he courted during the election.
“It smashes his 2020 election campaign which would have been all about the strivers. Tory MPs have taken seriously, as the leadership haven’t, that they wish to represent strivers.”
Despite significant pressure from some Tory MPs in marginal seats, the Prime Minister and Mr Osborne have so far rejected warnings that the tax credits cuts will leave large numbers of the low paid workers hundreds of pounds worse off.
The Huffington Post reports today that the Government has threatened to suspend the HoL if Peers vote to block tax credit cuts, or flood the HoL with new Tory Peers to help push policies through the upper chamber.
A Government insider told the Huffington post: “If they do this, they will turn this from being a matter about tax credits into a huge constitutional issue of the Lords’ powers”.
One Tory source suggested Liberal Democrat Peers would vote against the “fatal motion”, due to fears the Party could see their numbers slashed if they back the motion.
Last updated at 21:49 on 19 October 2015.