LONDON – Britain’s unelected House of Lords dealt a strong defeat to Prime Minister David Cameron’s government — and provoked a constitutional squabble —on Monday by voting to delay a cut in tax credits.
The 307 to 277 vote in favour of halting the cuts pending an independent review put the House of Lords in a rare clash with the elected House of Commons, which backed the measure, part of the Conservative government’s spending cuts aimed at reducing Britain’s deficit.
The cuts would slash 4.4 billion pounds ($6.8 billion) in tax credits for parents and people in low-income jobs. The opposition Labour Party opposed the move, saying it would leave up to 3 million people hundreds of pounds (dollars) a year worse off.
A growing number of Conservative politicians have also argued against the measure, saying it would weaken the party’s claim to represent working people.
The government claims the cuts will be offset by other measures, including a higher minimum wage.
After an emotional debate, the House of Lords took the unusual step of refusing to back a Commons’ vote involving fiscal matters. The Conservatives have a majority in the Commons but not in the Lords, whose members are mostly political appointees, with a smattering of hereditary nobles, judges and clergy.
Treasury chief George Osborne, who championed the cuts, conceded defeat and said he would introduce measures to lessen their impact on working people.
“I said I would listen and that’s precisely what I intend to do,” he said.
But Osborne said the Lords’ vote “raises constitutional issues that need to be dealt with.”
In the House of Commons, Conservative lawmaker Edward Leigh said the rights of legislators were being trampled by the unelected Lords.
“Not for 100 years has the House of Lords defied this elected House,” he said after the Lords’ vote tally was announced.
By tradition, the House of Lords can only revise, and not overturn, legislation passed by the Commons. But the tax-credit changes take the form of new regulations rather than a new law, so members of the Lords asserted they have the power to stop them.
Labour Treasury spokesman John McDonnell had urged the government to do a “U-turn” on the measures to protect British workers.
“These are people who go to work, look after their kids, do everything asked of them and they are going to lose, on average, about 1,300 pounds ($2,000) a year,” he said.