UPDATED: Bishop of Portsmouth says tax credit cuts are ‘morally indefensible’ as House of Lords votes against government plan

The Bishop of Portsmouth, Christopher Foster
The Bishop of Portsmouth, Christopher Foster
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The Bishop of Portsmouth has issued a stinging rebuke to the government over plans to cut tax credits.

Speaking in a debate in the House of Lords tonight about the plans, which the government hopes will save £4.4bn on the welfare bill, the Rt Rev Christopher Foster said he was ‘appalled’ by the government’s tax credit proposals and urged ministers to think again.

The government has tonight been defeated over the plan after peers voted by a majority of 30 to delay the cuts until ministers respond to an Institute of Fiscal Studies analysis of their impact and consider ‘mitigating action’.

Earlier in the evning, putting forward a ‘regret motion’, the Bishop called the cuts ‘morally indefensible’ and said: ‘It’s clear to me and many others that these proposals blatantly threaten damage to the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.

‘This must not be the way to achieve the government’s goal at a cost to those, who if we believe the rhetoric, the government intends to encourage and support.

‘To many in my diocese and beyond this seems punishing rather than encouragement.’

A regret motion offers the chance to voice concerns over a proposal but is not binding to the government.

Peers had been warned not to challenge the ‘primacy’ of the Commons in the escalating row over cuts to tax credits.

Lord Leader Baroness Stowell of Beeston said Chancellor George Osborne would listen carefully to concerns about the cuts if the Lords stepped back from rejecting or delaying them.

She urged peers to instead back the Bishop’s amendment calling on the government to consult further and ‘revisit their impact’.

Lady Stowell warned a packed chamber that if they went for any of the other options: ‘We would be challenging the primacy of the House of Commons on financial matters.’

Critics argued the cuts would penalise hard working families.

A government defeat, while not binding, is a severe embarrassment for the Chancellor and the Prime Minister.

Ministers had urged peers to respect century-old conventions that the unelected upper chamber does not block financial measures approved by the Commons or manifesto commitments.

Senior figures have warned of a constitutional clash and serious repercussions, with David Cameron even failing to rule out handing out a hundred or more new Tory peerages to give his party a majority.