Ministers prepare themselves for welfare reform battle

Aha! Old Commons hands tell me that the method by which ministers plan to get their way on the Welfare Reform Bill, and overturn the changes made by the Lords earlier this week (see post below) is to warn them off - because their changes would encroach on the government's spending plans.

What happens when the two houses of parliament disagree on a bill is the fabled process of "parliamentary ping-pong", which I imagine I'm going to be talking about rather a lot in months to come. This consists of the two Houses exchanging formal messages like this one (quoted in the current Clerk to the Commons, Robert Rogers', excellent book, Order! Order! A Parliamentary Miscellany):

"The Lords insist on certain of their Amendments to the Prevention of Terrorism Bill, to which this House has insisted on its disagreement, for which instance they assign their Reasons; they insist on certain of the Amendments to which this House has disagreed, for which insistence they assign their Reasons; they disagree to the Amendments proposed by this House in lieu of the Lords Amendments, for which disagreement they assign their Reason; they do not insist on the remaining Amendments to which this House has disagreed; and they agree to the remaining Amendments made by this House on which this House has insisted….."

One of the formal formulae reserved for this process is invoked if the reason for the Commons disagreement is that the Lords are trespassing on money matters - which by ancient parliamentary tradition are the preserve of the Commons. This is no arcane point - this country has fought a civil war over the right to tax, and America revolted against the Crown on the same issue. So if this argument is raised, it will be a very big step for the Lords to reject it.

But it is only convention, not law, that they bow to the Commons in such circumstances, so there is at least a theoretical possibility that they might battle on.

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