The savings accounts and health in pregnancy grant bill had its first reading in the House of Lords on 23 November. The Speaker of the House of Commons ruled, after the third reading in the Commons, that it was a money bill. This means that out of the 21 cuts to the poverty incomes of welfare claimants proposed by the coalition, any amendments to the three of them proposed by the bill cannot be debated in the House of Lords. This approach could be used to prevent the Lords from discussing other money-related changes in legislation.
The bill has been strangled without thought to the consequences. Our greatest concern is that incomes that in all government and independent measures are substantially below the poverty line will suffer cuts – of which the health in pregnancy grant is one – without any assessment of the impact on the health of women of child-bearing age, their foetus or their offspring; or the cost of the consequential mental and physical ill health to the NHS or the economy at large.
The NHS has announced that mental illness already costs the economy £105bn a year, including days lost at work – far more than heart disease, cancer or obesity. The Government Office for Science has shown there is a relationship between debt and mental ill-health. Cutting poverty incomes creates the need to borrow, normally at high interest, for necessities like food and to pay bills like utilities. Claimants of welfare already owed the state £3bn last year due to errors by them and officials in the delivery of benefits.
Lord Bassam’s motion enabling amendments to the bill to be debated and decided in committee in the House of Lords should be supported by peers on Monday 29 November.
The Guardian, 27 November 2010 by Paul Nicolson, Chairman of Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
Polly Toynbee made the below comment in her column of the same date.
And how about this? The Speaker has just declared every bill with a cut in it as a “money bill”, and not eligible for Lords debate, amendment or vote. This week the bill cutting the child trust funds, health in pregnancy grant and the savings gateway for low-income families was deemed as a money bill-although the Lords voted on it when Labour originally introduced it.
As there is no appeal against a Speaker’s diktat, Labour is seeking to protect the right of the Lords to debate and scrunitse these bills that have deep social implications. If they can’t, no cuts stand a chance of scrutiny, and the second chamber becomes virtually redundant when cutting is the government’s business. For the first time, a coalition gives the government a majority in the Lords, yet Cameron is stacking in another 67 on their side. Those Lords resisted an elected chamber had better prove their vaunted independence by kicking up an almighty stink at being denied any voice in the main cuts legislation whizzing through Westminster.