MPs' revolt threatens Welfare Bill

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THE GOVERNMENT may be forced to make further concessions over its cuts in benefits for the disabled before Parliament approves the Welfare Reform Bill.

About 50 Labour MPs may vote against the Government tonight over its plans to restrict incapacity benefit. Although the Government would win the Commons vote, it still has to get the Bill through the House of Lords, which has already demanded more generous concessions than those on offer.

Last night Downing Street insisted there would be no further concessions, but the Government's hand may be forced because peers are expected to reject the proposals for a second time on Monday. The parliamentary session ends next week and so the Bill could be delayed for a year unless peers can be persuaded to approve it.

Although a handful of the 67 MPs who rebelled in May have been won over by concessions, ministers are privately worried that a rebellion by between 40 and 60 Labour MPs would encourage the Lords to block the Bill. Roger Berry, MP for Kingswood and one of the leaders of the revolt, said he believed that, in the absence of further significant concessions, many fellow Labour MPs who abstained or voted with the Government in May would vote against it tonight: "Many colleagues gave the Government the benefit of the doubt last time - I don't think they will do so this time."

Lord Ashley of Stoke, the disabled rights campaigner, said ministers had been mistaken to reject compromise amendments he tabled in the Lords. "The Government is making a rod for its own back and it is going to suffer from that. I believe it will not get it through the House of Lords. Then we are faced with a real deadlock."

Yesterday Mr Darling tabled two amendments to the incapacity benefit reforms . One concern had been that recipients would start to lose benefit if they received more than pounds 50 a week from occupational pensions. Mr Darling raised the threshold to pounds 85. The other amendment extended the time limit on national insurance exclusions.

Lord Ashley described the concessions as "piffling".