Earlier this week, I voted against Tory plans for tax credit cuts that will see families across Scotland. Although a Liberal Democrat motion which would have scrapped these dangerous plans altogether did not pass, another motion calling for the government to think again and introduce new protections was successful.
The response from Tories – in the House of Lords and in government – was hysterical. We were warned of a constitutional crisis. The reason for these shrill claims was that by convention, Lords do not vote down financial measures included in government manifestos or the Finance Bill.
But despite the protests of the Prime Minister and others, that is not what happened here. The Tories were attempting to force these cuts through using what is called a statutory instrument (so-called ‘secondary legislation’).
Legislation of this type cannot be amended and is subject to less scrutiny in parliament. The suspicion is that the only reason these major changes were put forward in secondary legislation is to keep the cuts as quiet as possible and give reluctant Tory MPs less opportunity to oppose them in the House of Commons.
The House of Lords has every right to vote down secondary legislation. Government defeats in the second chamber happen frequently on legislation of this sort. That is what happened on Monday.
We were not voting against Budget measures. We were not voting against something that was included at the heart of the Tory manifesto. We were voting against cuts that will hit 3 million families across the UK. These cuts were also specifically ruled out by David Cameron during the election campaign.
Holding government to account when Ministers take bad decisions is the primary role of any legislative body. I make no apologies for standing up for those who are set to lose out as a result of the damaging Tory plans.
This was the right decision, taken for the right reasons. I want to see reform of the House of Lords and an elected second chamber, but while the current system is in place, Lib Dems will use it to protect people on low and middle incomes whenever we can.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he will look again that these plans. That is welcome. But unless he comes back with new proposals that offer substantive protections for the poorest in our society then Lib Dems in the House of Lords will reject his plans again.