10 AM TUESDAY 19 OCTOBER 2004
HOUSE OF LORDS COMMITTEE CHALLENGES GOVERNMENT PLANS TO USE SECONDARY LEGISLATION FOR SOCIAL SECURITY PAYMENTS
The all-Party House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution has published a report (HL Paper 172) critical of the Government's decision to give itself powers to use delegated powers (rather than primary legislation) to make payments of any size, at any time, to persons aged 60 or over.
In his budget statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the intention to give a one-off payment of £100 to the over seventies, in order to mitigate the burden of increased council taxes. It subsequently transpired that primary legislation was required to give effect to this undertaking, and a Bill, the Age-Related Payments Bill, was duly introduced.
In doing so, the Government included an extra clause (Clause 7) giving itself power to make unspecified payments in the future to any person over sixty, subject only to an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Its justification was that, should the need ever arise, the potential recipients could receive the money immediately rather than have to await protracted parliamentary processes. Following its passage through the House of Commons, the Speaker certified it as a money bill, meaning that if the House of Lords did not consider it within one month it would automatically become law.
The Constitution Committee, in its 10th report (HL Paper 124), questioned whether it was constitutionally appropriate for the powers in clause 7 to be so widely drawn. Separately, the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform concluded (HL Paper 121) that clause 7 was "an inappropriate delegation of legislative power". Despite these reservations, the Bill went through its second and third readings in the House of Lords in one day.
In the absence of any Government comment on its concerns, the Constitution Committee sought clarification from the Minister. The correspondence is published in appendices to the 19 October report. In essence, Baroness Hollis argued that because it was a money bill, "it is the privilege of the elected chamber that its will prevails without challenge". For its part, the Constitution Committee maintains that this is an inaccurate statement of the constitutional position and that the House is perfectly entitled to debate such bills and to expect a response from Government. It also remains of the view that the case for section 7 of the Act has not been adequately made.