Ken Clarke: New Laws Needed To Curb Power Of Lords

New laws should be drawn up to curb the power of the House of Lords, former chancellor Ken Clarke said after the Government suffered a bruising defeat over tax credit cuts at the hands of peers.

The Tory former Cabinet minister called for Britain's constitution to be put on a "clearer, legal footing" to ensure that MPs have the final say over tax and spending.

He urged Lord Strathclyde, appointed by David Cameron to carry out a review of the Upper Chamber's powers, to put the primacy of the Commons into law as quickly as possible.

The peer has already suggested that the Parliament Acts could be changed to curb the power of the Lords but described it as an "extreme" option amongst many others.

Mr Clarke accused Labour and the Liberal Democrats of using their Lords majority for party political purposes in order to delay the Government's controversial tax credit cuts.

He told Sky News's Murnaghan programme: "It's a pity that because the Labour and Liberal parties find that by chance they've now got a big party majority in the House of Lords they have cast a big party political vote to throw out £4.4 billion-worth of budget spending decisions.

"What I hope Tom Strathclyde will do, I would personally recommend it to him, is recommend that as quickly as possible we put into law and don't just rely on convention, that it is the House of Commons that decides tax and public spending.

"This isn't just an MP being proud and pompous in the institution, we need a Government that can do things.

"You don't want an American situation. Even the Italians have just reduced the power of their senate to block the commons, because we all know the Government sometimes have to do tough and difficult things.

"The Government has to take its own economic policy so the Government can be accountable for the results.

"You can't have the House of Lords just reading the newspapers, the Labour and Liberal parties deciding they agree with each other on a measure where the Government is having a row, a controversy, and voting it down.

"So I hope Tom will just put our constitution on a clearer, legal footing.

"Having to go on to appoint 150 peers and all that kind of thing would otherwise make this unnecessary constitutional crisis somewhat ridiculous."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown accused Mr Clarke of being "really naughty" and misrepresenting the situation.

He said the Government deliberately avoided debate on tax credits and insisted it was a welfare issue rather than a financial matter.

The peer told the Murnaghan programme: "He (Mr Clarke) was an absolute scamp on powers of the House of Lords, he knows perfectly well he misrepresented the Government.

"This was not a financial Bill, it was a welfare Bill and they deliberately avoided debate and thought they could do the same thing in the House of Commons.

"And he was really naughty about that, but that's what Ken's like."

He added: "There is a question as to whether the House of Lords should hold up ultimately financial measures by the House of Commons.

"The way we answer that question is we shouldn't, it's part of the Salisbury Convention.

"The reason we did that with tax credit is because it wasn't a financial measure, it was a statutory instrument about a piece of welfare although the Government tries to pretend otherwise."