Skip to site navigation

Press Release: Constitution Unit report calls for new rules on Commons financial privilege

13 March 2014

At an event last night in parliament, the Constitution Unit launched a research report calling for the relationship between the Commons and the Lords on financial matters to be revised. The research was sparked by controversies over the coalition's Welfare Reform Bill, when defeats inflicted by the Lords (on controversial matters such as the benefits cap and so-called "bedroom tax") were rejected using Commons "financial privilege". Among negative comments at that time, former Conservative Chancellor Lord Lawson of Blaby suggested that use of financial privilege had been “completely contrary to the conventions of the constitution”.

The report looked at practice on financial privilege dating back to 1974, using parliamentary records, and included interviews with those currently involved.

Speaking at the launch, Constitution Unit Deputy Director (and report lead author) Meg Russell said that "claims that the government have somehow abused financial privilege are unfounded, but there is widespread confusion about the practice - both inside and outside parliament - and a need for far greater transparency". Report co-author Daniel Gover said that "complaints about financial privilege are nothing new, but they have been particularly prominent under the coalition since 2010 – and such controversies are likely to recur unless procedures change".

The report concludes that financial privilege has become increasingly salient due to the newly confident House of Lords, followed by the post-2010 political agenda of spending cuts. Changes that it argues for include:

  • Far greater clarity on the parliament website about how financial privilege works;
  • A clear and public definition of what Commons financial privilege extends to;
  • Statements issued (as for example occurs in Australia) explaining why financial privilege is thought to apply to any specific Lords amendment;
  • Other elements of clarification, and streamlining of procedures.

Responding to the report, highly regarded lawyer and Crossbench peer Lord Pannick (who has had his own amendments rejected on financial privilege grounds, without clear reasons) said “the Constitution Unit, Meg Russell and Daniel Gover have done a very great service in identifying the principles of financial privilege”. He said “I hope the report will encourage the Commons' authorities to look again at their procedures. At the moment, the procedures are indefensible”.

Notes to editors

  • The Constitution Unit is an independent and non-partisan research centre based in the Department of Political Science at University College London.
  • The report is the main output of a research project "An abuse of privilege? The Commons, the Lords and financial matters", which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation (for full details, including a blogpost and presentation from last night's seminar, see here).
  • Meg Russell (meg.russell@ucl.ac.uk) and Daniel Gover (d.gover@ucl.ac.uk) are available for interview.

Join the Debate

Blog

Is David Cameron actually seeking to destroy the Lords?

Fri, 28 Aug 2015 12:00:58 +0000

Yesterday’s new peerage appointments attracted almost universal criticism for further adding to the inexorable growth in size of the House of Lords under David Cameron. But could the gradual erosion of the Lords’ reputation actually benefit the government by weakening parliament? Might it even be a deliberate plan? And – given that the Prime Minister […]

Read more...

Elections, referendums, political parties and the Constitution Unit

Thu, 27 Aug 2015 10:00:06 +0000

In the third of our series of posts adapted from presentations at the Unit’s 20th anniversary conference, Alan Renwick documents on how the UK’s electoral framework has evolved since 1995 and illustrates how the Unit has shaped the implementation of changes. Looking forward, he identifies the franchise and the current gulf between citizens and politicians as key areas for […]

Read more...

The Constitutional Standards of the House of Lords’ Constitution Committee: A valuable tool for enhancing scrutiny

Tue, 25 Aug 2015 11:00:47 +0000

To mark the launch of the second edition of The Constitutional Standards of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, Jack Simson Caird considers the role that a set of constitutional standards could play in the current government. Drawing on the example of English votes for English laws, he argues that such a code would increase […]

Read more...
Mailing List

Connect with us

RSSFlickr

Footer menu