PM takes on the House of Lords in bid to reshape constitutional law

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By Katie King on

David Cameron vs the upper house


David Cameron looks set to rattle left-wing lawyers even more — this time by taking a swipe at the House of Lords.

With the grand reveal of the British Bill of Rights on the horizon and an EU referendum coming up, you’d think Cameron had had enough fun tinkering with public law for one year — but oh no.

Lord Strathclyde — who has been appointed by Cameron to review the proper role of the second chamber — has been instructed by the PM to look into slashing the Lords’ powers.

Strathclyde is set to propose that the House of Lords should lose its veto over delegated legislation. Secondary legislation can then be used to ram politically contentious measures through parliament, with far less scrutiny than is given to primary legislation. One Conservative aide reported that this underhand practice is already being used:

We are being told to use statutory instruments wherever possible to get legislation through.

Earlier this year, the public watched in equal aversion and admiration as the House of Lords stilted Chancellor George Osborne’s tax credit reforms. On this, Strathclyde said that the House of Lords acted “deplorably”, and it seems this has been used as the catalyst to shake up the Lords’ constitutional relationship with the Commons.

The political make-up of the Lords leaves the Tories particularly open to defeat. The Conservatives have 251 seats, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats have a combined force of 324 — a factor which no doubt provides a strong motive to curb the House of Lords’ power.

Motive aside, there looks to be a big constitutional law development on the horizon. Certainly, the Twitterati aren’t too happy about it.

There is a particular concern that the Tory government is chipping away at important checks and balances on its power. Lawyer and top legal commentator David Allen Green tweeted:

And his concerns were echoed across the profession. Human rights lawyer Shoaib Khan added:

Strathclyde’s proposals are going to be announced next month — so watch out public law students.