Jay gives peers a warning not to block Welfare Bill Peers warned not to block Welfare Bill

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LABOUR PEERS who are today planning to defeat the controversial Welfare Bill have been warned by Baroness Jay of Paddington, the Leader of the Lords, that the Government will not back down.

Her message was reinforced by Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Social Security, who said: "The Government has made those changes, there are no further changes to come and I think the House of Lords needs to focus on that.

"I am not prepared to see a situation where a major piece of legislation bringing benefits to millions of people is blocked."

One Cabinet source said last night that the Government was prepared to lose the Bill rather than make more concessions.

But Lord Ashley of Stoke, a veteran campaigner for the disabled, said: "The penalty for the Labour Government of forcing through these measures will be catastrophic if they don't do something. They can't hide behind the Parliament Act; they will have to give way and give ... a reasonable proposition for disabled people."

Tonight's vote will allow the hereditary peers to go out with a bang in the protest at the cuts in benefits for the disabled, led by Lord Ashley, with Tory, cross-bench, and Liberal Democrat peers.

The 54 Labour MPs who voted against the Bill last week in the Commons will be trying to increase the number who rebel against the Government, if it is rushed back to the Commons tomorrow.

Baroness Jay also warned that the session of Parliament, which is due to end on Thursday, could be extended into next week to force the Bill through the Lords if necessary before the Queen's Speech, which opens the next session on 17 November.

"My bottom-line position is that the Commons have made a decision, they have thought again, Alistair Darling has made significant changes, and really it is up now to the Lords to say, `Well, we asked them to do that, that's our constitutional position, but ultimately the Government must get its programme'," she said on BBC 1's Breakfast With Frost.

She noted that the threat of scrapping the Weatherill deal - enabling 92 hereditary peers to stay in the Lords - remained in the air, and was a last resort. "Frankly I don't think that would be the way to handle it."