Lords show teeth to help people on low incomes.
Byline: Dafydd Wigley Former Plaid MP writes for the Daily Post
Caernarfon MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, threatened a century ago, to emasculate the House of Lords if they blocked his social security scheme to help jobless, sick, and elderly people.
On Monday, the boot was on the other foot. It was the elected government who were cutting back assistance for low-income working people. It was the unelected second chamber - Dafydd Elis-Thomas and myself in their midst - who challenged Tory proposals. It was an ironic role reversal.
Messers Cameron and Osborne propose cutting working tax credits which will cost three million people an average of PS1,300 a year. Some would lose PS60 per week as from next April.
During the election, David Cameron specifically denied any such intention. So it was ridiculous for ministers to claim that the Lords had torn up the manifesto on which the Government was elected.
Mr Cameron last week issued a veiled threat to flood the Lords with new Tory peers to ensure a Government majority - as Lloyd George threatened a century ago.
It isn't just on working tax allowances that the Lords have defeated the Government in recent weeks.
On the Energy Bill, the Childcare Bill and the Cities Bill, the Lords passed amendments opposed by the Government. Why shouldn't they? That is their role.
So why have a second chamber? Other countries, like New Zealand and Latvia, manage with a one-chamber parliament.
Britain needs a second chamber because it's an over-centralized state. Westminster, England's only legislature, serves fifty million people. In America, Australia and Canada states and provinces make their own laws.
The House of Lords is an auxiliary legislature. Some bills are debated there before going to the Commons - with anomalies ironed out at that stage. Bills for which MPs have no time to scrutinize adequately, are scrutinized in detail by peers.
As a "revising chamber", the Lords suggest improvements; but elected MPs have the final word: and quite right too!
In the last parliament (2010-15), the Lords proposed over twenty thousand changes to legislation, of which six thousand were accepted by the Commons.
That doesn't justify an unelected second chamber; but it does suggest that its revising role is helpful.
No party has a majority in the Lords. Currently there are 226 Tories; 216 Labour; 103 Lib-Dems and 182 Crossbenchers. Together with Bishops and others, that's a total of 800 peers.
To guarantee a Tory majority, Mr Cameron would need 180 more Tories, increasing the second Chamber to a massive thousand peers.
In 2012, proposals to make the Lords mainly elected, with 315 members, was scuppered - by an unholy alliance of Tory and Labour MPs. Reaction to this week's revolt underlines the need for reform.
It now seems that the Chancellor will have to respond to the Lords' modest plea for him to rethink his draconian plans to deny tax credits for many poor working people.
Hopefully, the Government will think again. If so, the Lords will have done a service to vulnerable lowincome families. Lloyd George - whereever he is - must be enjoying a rueful smile!