Green Budget: Political Reaction - Pensioners' handout helps Brown buy off backbench rebellion
Wednesday 26 November 1997
The Chancellor appeared to have quelled the threat of a growing rebellion over the pounds 6-a-week cut in lone-parent benefit with his package of help for pensioners and single parents.
He emerged smiling after being given a warm reception for the Christmas box he had just announced to help keep pensioners warm this winter. Many MPs saw it as a downpayment on the spring Budget.
"They will see this as an act of good faith by the Government," said Valerie Davey, the Labour MP who defeated William Waldegrave for the Bristol West seat in May.
Ms Davey had been lobbied on Monday by constituents for help with paying for home insulation. She said the Chancellor's decision to cut VAT on energy-saving material was "sensible, will create jobs and probably will be self-financing".
There were grumblings of discontent from left-wing Labour MPs that the Chancellor had found money to cut corporation tax but had failed to answer the criticism over the cut in welfare for future lone parents, the threat to miners' jobs, and possible cuts in benefit for the disabled. While there were no buns thrown in the tea room, the Chancellor had faced brickbats in the chamber over his refusal to back down over the cuts in benefits.
Audrey Wise, Labour MP for Preston, who led a Commons motion protesting at the cut, said. "Your own figures make it quite clear that it is not necessary to abolish benefits for lone parents.
"In view of the fact that abolition of these benefits impoverishes the poorest children, deepens the poverty trap and is generally a disincentive to work, can I ask you to look again at this matter, bearing in mind that this is not only about economic growth? Children's growth is damaged by poverty."
The Chancellor told her that he priority must be to enable lone parents who want to work to get into work. That was the message he took to the tea room, and although there were still grumbles around the corridors in Westminster from some Labour MPs, the bulk of the party was behind him.
Alan Howarth, the employment and equal opportunities minister, had worked on the scheme to help lone parents into work, and returned to his office to find the phones "red hot" with calls welcoming the announcement, including one from the Kid's Club Network, which said: "Parents and children around the country will be very happy."
One Labour MP with a reputation for independence said the test of the Chancellor's statement was the reaction of the Tory MPs. "The glumness on the Tory side said it all," David Winnick, the member for Walsall North, said.
Mr Winnick believed that the Chancellor had the support of the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party for his package, although he had complained to Mr Brown about the threat of means-testing for benefits for the disabled and asked him to consider the representations made by Lord Ashley and Lord Morris, two campaigners for disabled rights.
The Tories believe the figures will begin to unravel before the Budget. Michael Jack, Tory spokesman on agriculture, said the pounds 400m recouped from the European Union to pay for part of the package came from underspending on farm programmes. Hill farmers - "some of the poorest in the country" - were losing pounds 60m.
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