Is the government's proposed tax credits cuts in danger of being blocked by the House of Lords? The Conservative government has warned that if members of the Upper House attempt to kill its tax credits reforms, it would provoke a constitutional crisis.
The tax credit cuts are now being questioned by the Tory party's own MPs but despite this, a debate in the Commons on the cuts ended with a government victory after a motion put forward by the Labour party calling on the government to reverse its controversial policy was narrowly defeated 317 to 295. The matter now may rest in the hands of the Upper House.
Baroness Meacher, a crossbencher, who is the former chair of the East London NHS Trust, was forced to withdraw her 'fatal motion' on Tuesday night to kill off cuts to the tax credits following warnings that the House of Lords risked a renewed push to weaken their powers if they did not back down. After Lady Stowell, the leader of the Lords warned the non-party group of crossbench peers of 'damaging consequences' if they pressed ahead with the fatal motion, Meacher lost the support of the convenor of the crossbench group.
Meacher however has not given up the fight. She plans to table a motion asking the government to deliver a report responding to a warning by the Institute for Fiscal Studies that 3 million families would lose £1,000 a year if the government's tax credits cut proposal was implemented.
Meacher told the Guardian: "My plan at the moment is to put down a motion which will prevent this regulation being approved on Monday, which will require the government to produce a report responding to the IFS analysis and consider mitigating action before bringing it back. This gives time to the House of Commons to go on doing what they are doing. There are Tory MPs horrified by this.
"So we are giving the government time to think again, but the word fatal would not be appropriate. This is causing a great deal of consternation at government level and we are trying to find a way through which will ensure that the government revisits these regulations."
Meacher's original motion, tagged as a 'fatal motion' would have killed the government's proposal which has been set in a statutory instrument. This has only happened five times over the last century on matters unrelated to spending, according to the Guardian.
The Upper House can delay bills for a year but does not have the powers to block finance bills. However, since the government had chosen to introduce the proposals using a statutory instrument rather than placing them in the Finance Bill, the House of Lords, could effectively throw out the proposal in its current form.
A new 'fatal' motion would not have the support of crossbench peers whose leadership has made it clear that it would not support such aggressive tactics. Crossbenchers have 145 members in the 806-strong house. Labour has 205 peers, Liberal Democrats has 105 and there are 200 Tory peers.