LONDON: The British government said it has dropped plans to curb the power of the unelected House of Lords, which it had been considering following an embarrassing policy defeat. In October last year, the upper chamber of parliament defeated the government’s plans to cut welfare benefits, a crucial part of its austerity drive. Accusing peers of causing a “constitutional crisis” by exceeding their powers under Britain’s unwritten constitution, the government asked Conservative lord Tom Strathclyde to review their role. Strathclyde’s report in December recommended that the Lords lose their veto over so-called statutory instruments – secondary laws that amend or flesh out existing Acts of Parliament.
Responding to the report on Thursday, Commons leader David Lidington said the report was “compelling” and “we are determined that the principle of the supremacy of the elected House should be upheld”. But he said “we have no plans for now to introduce new primary legislation” to enact reforms. The decision reflects conclusions of the Commons constitutional affairs committee, which said in May that Strathclyde’s proposals would be an “overreaction and entirely disproportionate”. It noted that the House of Lords – made up of 812 religious leaders, hereditary and appointed members – had only used its right to block secondary legislation five times in the past 50 years.
But some criticised the lost opportunity for reform – particularly ahead of what could be major battles over Brexit. The pro-European Liberal Democrat party has threatened to vote against the start of Brexit negotiations unless the government promises a second referendum on the terms of exit before Britain leaves the EU.While the Lib Dems have only eight MPs in the Commons, they could cause trouble in the Lords, where they have 104 members. Former business leader and independent peer Digby Jones said the decision by Prime Minister Theresa May to back down on reforms considered by her predecessor David Cameron was a “big mistake”. “I think they’re going to live to regret it on all of the Brexit stuff coming down the pipe”.