Labour is set to force a House of Commons vote on controversial reforms to probate fees by formally objecting to a statutory instrument (SI) that would conventionally be passed unchallenged, the Gazette can reveal.
A source close to shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon confirmed that Labour intends to ’ensure there is a full vote’ on the proposals. If passed, the new scheme would raise fees on the largest estates from £155 to £6,000. The Law Society has described the Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order as a ’stealth tax’ rather than a fee to administer the service.
The government says that the reform will exempt people with estates worth less than £50,000 from any fees at all.
Last week, the House of Commons’ Fourteenth Delegated Legislation Committee voted by nine votes to eight to approve a statutory instrument (SI) on the changes which is set to go before the House of Commons chamber in the coming weeks.
Usually, unless there is a formal objection, an SI would pass. However, with an objection lodged it would give the house the chance to vote on the proposals. The last time an SI fell to a Commons vote was in 1978, when, in a wounding blow to James Callaghan's Labour government, a measure concerning the National Dock Labour Scheme was defeated by 301 votes to 291.
It is not known which MP will object but it could be Burgon’s shadow justice colleague Gloria De Piero. De Piero voted against the changes in the committee hearing and described the proposal as a ‘tax on grieving families’. The Liberal Democrats have also been critical of the proposals but the office of leader Sir Vince Cable did not respond to a request to comment on whether it will oppose the SI.
The changes, according to the government, will generate £145m for the MoJ in the next financial year and will be spent on improving the courts and tribunals service. If approved, the changes would come into force in April.