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

News

Party conferences and the constitution

Fri, 24 Oct 2014 10:00:50 +0000

­­­Artemis Photiadou offers an overview of what the three main parties had to say on current constitutional debates at their party conferences last month. Few party conferences have been held against a more intense constitutional backdrop than this year’s, with the Scottish independence referendum result announced on 19 September, Labour’s conference commencing only two days later, […]

Read more...

Regulating the permanent campaign

Wed, 22 Oct 2014 09:00:00 +0000

Barry K Winetrobe suggests that some modern electioneering practices, especially when well before the formal election campaign begins, could confuse and mislead voters and should be regulated. A few weeks ago, my local paper ran a classified ad for a meeting with ‘your local parliamentary candidate’. The ad had the promoter/printer imprint on it. I […]

Read more...

Deliver us from EVEL?

Mon, 20 Oct 2014 09:00:58 +0000

Bob Morris draws on the Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure currently passing through Parliament to consider the viability of English Votes for English Laws. Yes, from EVEL (i.e. English Votes on English Laws), not evil as in sin. But, surely, now there is devolution all round except in England, it must be […]

Read more...
Mailing List

Connect with us

RSSFlickr

Footer menu