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Tax Credits

Volume 601: debated on Tuesday 27 October 2015

Application for emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)

I seek leave to propose that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration—namely, the uncertainty caused to millions of UK families following the vote on tax credits in the House of Lords yesterday. Accordingly, therefore, I would like to apply for an emergency debate under Standing Order No. 24.

Across the UK there are 7 million working-age families with children eligible for tax credits, and the impact of this Government’s proposed tax and benefits changes will be to reduce their incomes by an average of almost £1,300 a year. In Scotland, over 200,000 working families with around 350,000 children are set to lose out. That is an enormous and disproportionate impact on parents who are working hard in low-paid jobs to support their families.

But yesterday’s vote in the House of Lords, when peers passed amendments for the cuts to be put on hold, subject to independent analysis, and for transitional protections to be put in place for three years for those affected by them, throws the Government’s plans into chaos and leaves low-income families in the dark. Members of this House need to know how the Government intend to respond, and need to know as a matter of urgency.

Yesterday in the House of Lords the wheels came off the wagon quite spectacularly for the Government’s austerity reforms, in spite of a valiant whipping effort that saw 93% of Tory peers turn up to support the Government. The degree of Cross-Bench concern about the injustice of these measures is almost unprecedented. I know I am not the only person on this side of the House—or, indeed, the other side of the House—who berates the House of Lords as an affront to a modern democracy. But when even our unelected, unaccountable and, in my view, rather bloated second Chamber unites to tell the Government they have got it very wrong, it is incumbent on the Government to listen. When even the leader of the Tory party in Scotland tells her own Government that these cuts to tax credits are “not acceptable” and that they need to think again, it is incumbent on the Government to listen.

The Government have tried to present these austerity cuts as part of a package of measures, but we know that their paltry increases to the minimum wage fall very far short of a real living wage. This Government have made a choice to put parents with low-paid jobs on the frontline of their failed austerity agenda and we need answers from them urgently. What transitional arrangements are now being put in place for the millions of working families who are set to lose out? Will they give us a cast iron assurance that they will not now flood the other place with more Tory appointees who turn up like phantoms to do their dirty work?

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Lady has said and I have to give my decision on this matter without stating any reasons. That is the requirement upon the Chair. I am afraid that I do not consider that the matter which the hon. Lady has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24, and I cannot therefore submit the application to the House.

I said that I am not required to give any reasons and, indeed, there is a sense in which I am required to give no reasons. I do, however, think it is important for people beyond this House to find our procedures entirely intelligible, and I think it worthwhile to note that these important matters have just been debated, they will be debated further today, and there is a scheduled debate on them on Thursday.

Members have other means by which to pursue these matters and I feel sure they will, but the hon. Lady has very properly asked me whether I think this should be debated as an emergency debate under Standing Order No. 24, and, having reflected upon what she said, my answer on this occasion is no.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Across the House there is a great deal of genuine concern about the implications of the events in the unelected Chamber last night, and many of us would welcome your initial view on the constitutional implications of that. Many of us believe that those with no accountability for taxation have a moral duty not to vote on such issues, and many of us would go further and believe that it is a bit rich to question, for example, the democratic deficit in the European Union when we have an unelected and appointed Chamber as part of our own legislature.

Just before I respond to the right hon. Gentleman, I will hear the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies).

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I looked through the Standing Orders last night and discovered that what the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) called an “unelected, unaccountable and somewhat bloated” second Chamber actually has no power at all to reject European Union treaties, such as that on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, but it seems that it does have the power to reject the will of this elected House. As a doughty defender of elected Members of Parliament, will you issue guidance as to how we may ensure that the will of this elected House prevails?

I think I will do a wrap-up at the end. Let us hear from the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christian Matheson), and then we must hear from Mr Rees-Mogg—the day would not be complete without him.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am pleased to hear the late conversion of Conservative Members to democracy and the rejection of an unelected Chamber, but can you give me some guidance? Is there not a constitutional role for the other place in giving pause to this House when it has made a decision that is out of sync with feelings in the country, so that the House can look at that decision again?

Order. I say to the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), who is a very distinguished taxi driver by profession, that he will be aware of the cab rank principle, and also of the principle of waiting in a queue for one’s turn. We will come to him. Don’t worry, he will not go cold. We will look after his interests, I am sure.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder what you will do to remind their lordships of our declaration of privilege from 1678, declaring that all financial matters pertain to this House, a privilege that the House of Lords has now ignored only three times since 1860. As our mouthpiece, will you bring that to the attention of their lordships in no uncertain terms?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am becoming increasingly concerned about the outbreak of revolutionary fervour among Conservative Members. Has there ever been a precedent for a Chancellor of the Exchequer being outflanked as a defender of the working classes by the House of Lords?

I wait at your pleasure, Mr Speaker.

Further to that point of order, may I point out that we have had a general election this year, and that during the campaign the Government were consistently asked whether they had any intention of cutting tax credits? They consistently said that that was not their intention. It is parliamentary convention that the House of Lords does not overturn manifesto commitments, but that measure was not in the Conservative manifesto and there is clear concern in the country about it. It is right that the House of Lords should ask the Government to think again.

One does not have to put one’s hand up, Mr Docherty, but it will be a pleasure to hear your point of order before I respond.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It seems that the House of Lords—the unelected, unaccountable, bloated Chamber through the other side of the doors—is causing some angst today. Will you forgive my ignorance as a new Member, Mr Speaker, and highlight to me and many of my Scottish National party colleagues why, while we cannot vote on some issues in this House, the unelected and unaccountable barons and baronesses of the Scottish peerage will be able to vote on them in the other?

The short answer to the last question, which I think had something of the character of a rhetorical inquiry, is no.

Let me say, with all courtesy to the House, that I was keen to hear all the points of order before responding. I intend no discourtesy to the House when I simply say this: the responsibility of the Chair is for order. Nothing disorderly has occurred. There has been no procedural impropriety; that would not have been allowed. Whether people like what happened last night, because of the substance of the issue or their views on constitutionality, is a matter for each and every one of them. In terms of where matters rest, as I said last night from the Chair in response to a point of order from the shadow Chancellor, this is now a matter for the Government to take forward as they think fit.

With reference to the point of order from the Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), the hon. Gentleman flatters me. He does not need guidance from me on how to go about his duties, and neither does any other right hon. or hon. Member. It is not for the Chair to put a gloss on what transpired last night. I think, in truth, that Members are actually not all that interested in my gloss or my response to their points of order; they simply wanted to get their views on the record, and that they have done.

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. I want to refer back to this House’s claim of privilege, which we have made for many centuries. I would have thought that you were the defender of this House’s privileges and that this is beyond the immediate political debate.

The matters that are currently in dispute are inevitably of what I will call a high-octane character. In such circumstances, if I may very politely and respectfully say so to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think it helps matters if the Chair adds in substantive terms, without exceptionally good reason, to the total number of evaluative comments that have already been made. I think it would be better not to do so. I do jealously guard the rights of this House, but I have to rest with what I have said—that nothing procedurally improper has taken place. Let us wait to see how matters are taken forward. As I said to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) last week, in the final analysis each House knows what its powers are and are not.

Further to the point of order, Mr Speaker, I wonder whether it would be in order for a motion to be debated on the Floor of the House congratulating the House of Lords on what it decided yesterday.

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that it would be entirely orderly if he, for example, secured a Backbench Business Committee debate. It is not for me to encourage such a debate, nor to discourage it, but the answer to his question is as I have stated.