A Tory peer leading a bid to secure a vote by MPs on the cut to Universal Credit payments has been urged not to challenge official advice that it is “not admissible” under the rules.
Conservative Baroness Stroud has proposed an amendment to legislation aimed at enabling both Houses of Parliament to decide whether it is “desirable” to reinstate the £20-a-week pandemic uplift to the benefit.
But the upper chamber was told during a late night sitting on Tuesday that it was not within the “scope” of the Social Security (Uprating Of Benefits) Bill, which enables a temporary suspension of the “triple lock” on pensions.
However, as a self-regulating House, it was ultimately for the Lords to decide the question of “admissibility”.
Lady Stroud, a former special adviser to Sir Iain Duncan Smith when he introduced Universal Credit as work and pensions secretary, has previously pointed out that for procedural reasons the uplift “just died” without a Commons vote.
The Government has argued the £20 increase was a temporary measure to assist people during the coronavirus pandemic.
At the start of the legislation’s committee stage and in an unusual move, Tory Lords leader Baroness Evans of Bowes Park told peers she had been advised by the legislation office that the amendment “is not admissible under the rules governing what is relevant to a Bill”.
Since 1999, this had happened on only four occasions and in all but one case, the House had endorsed the guidance given.
Lady Evans said: “The advice from the clerks is clear and unambiguous.
“I hope she will seek not to challenge it and will not move her amendment today or bring it back at a later stage.
“But the fate of the amendment is ultimately in the hands of the House.”
She added: “Many members feel incredibly strongly about particular issues which are close to their hearts, but work within the rules of the House to achieve the changes they passionately believe in, because they understand they damage to the House, its reputation and standing if they do not.”
Responding, Lady Stroud said: “I do not take lightly the idea of disagreeing so fervently with my Conservative Government or of stretching parliamentary convention in an elastic way.
“But the removal of the £20 uplift is a grave misstep and risks undermining the levelling-up agenda, leaving behind society’s most vulnerable people and putting at risk the stability of many homes up and down the country as we enter an unpredictable winter.
“If this House stands for anything, it is to check and challenge the work of the Government, and this is all I am seeking to do here.”
Conservative former work and pensions minister Lord Freud, an architect of Tory welfare reform, said: “It is with the greatest possible reluctance that I have felt compelled to join Lady Stroud in putting down this amendment, which is considered inadmissible by the clerks of the House.”
He added: “In a word, this issue is important enough that the House may wish, on this occasion, to overturn its convention of keeping within scope.”
But work and pensions minister Baroness Stedman-Scott said: “This amendment deals with matters of public expenditure which are the province of the elected chamber.
“It also effectively asks this House to decide how that chamber should conduct its business, what it should debate, what it should choose to vote on and when that should be done.”
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