Parliament: Welfare - Rebels back down as benefits Bill passes Lords

LEGISLATION TO cut disability benefits was passed by the House of Lords last night, despite last-ditch claims by Labour peers that they were "grossly unjust" measures.

Despite a 45-strong Labour backbench rebellion in the House of Commons, an amendment to the plans to restrict entitlement to incapacity benefit was overturned. Later, in the Upper House, Lord Ashley of Stoke, who has been leading peers' opposition, did not force a vote on his amendments, stressing that "enough is enough". The legislation is now to become law.

The Labour MPs' revolt was reduced from the 54 backbenchers who voted against the Government last week, forcing the peers to agree that it was "time to recognise the massive government majority in the Commons".

The storm centred on two measures that would tighten incapacity benefit to those who have been employed within the preceding three years and introduce means-test benefits for those with occupational pensions above pounds 85 a week.

Lord Ashley, speaking during the third Lords' debate on the issue, urged Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Social Security , to take "this glorious opportunity, in the spirit of co-operation, and heal the bridges with disabled people to offer further concessions".

He continued to criticise the benefit changes as "bad in principle and damaging in practice" but added: "So now we are left with the regrettable - to put it mildly - government statement, `no compromise'. I think that's one of the worst phrases to emanate from 10 Downing Street, from which so many splendid initiatives for disabled people have emerged."

Lord Morris of Manchester, another Labour peer, said: "I regret that the Government is insisting on these grossly unjust measures which penalise those people who have been saving week by week from their meagre wages."

Earl Russell, a Liberal Democrat hereditary peer, said ministers had to decide whether they wanted a "bicameral system" of government. "If we, as a country, want a revising second chamber that checks the Government when it does not want to be checked, we have to be able occasionally to induce change where the Government does not want us to."

Earlier, in the Lower House, Mr Darling warned that the Government had already made concessions to the Bill, stressing: "I am making it very clear that what is at stake here is significant help for thousands and thousands of disabled people. All of this will be delayed or fall by the wayside if this Bill is further delayed. This Bill needs to be supported."

Peers, led by Baroness Strange, a hereditary crossbencher, also withdrew their amendment on provision for war widows. Baroness Strange, the president of the War Widows Association, said: "There has been more than a whiff of unpleasantness in the air, never a very pretty smell. However, despite this, this is the third time this amendment has come back to us from the Commons and it would not be constitutional to send it back again."

With the Parliamentary session due to end tomorrow, ministers had feared that its flagship Bill, which includes other key provisions for welfare reforms, would have been lost if peers had continued their opposition and forced a further round of bout of constitutional "ping-pong". Hoping to put pressure on peers, the Government had also issued a thinly veiled threat that the Weatherill amendment, the deal to allow 92 hereditary peers to remain in the Lords, could be dropped.

However, with the Bill having cleared he Lords last night, MPs are now due to vote for the amended House of Lords Bill in their last debate of this session tonight.

THE 45 REBELLION

Diane Abbott (Hackney N and Stoke Newington), Harry Barnes (Derbyshire NE), Tony Benn (Chesterfield), Dr Roger Berry (Kingswood), Martin Caton (Gower), David Chaytor (Bury N), Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh N and Leith), Michael Clapham (Barnsley W and Penistone), Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston), Tony Clarke (Northampton S), Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley), Michael Connarty (Falkirk E), Jeremy Corbyn (Islington N), Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne Central), Ann Cryer (Keighley), John Cryer (Hornchurch). Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow), Denzil Davies (Llanelli), Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton), Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich). Frank Field (Birkenhead), Maria Fyfe (Glasgow Maryhill), Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow), Dr Norman Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde). Kelvin Hopkins (Luton N), Dr Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak), Ken Livingstone (Brent E), John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington), Alice Mahon (Halifax), David Marshall (Glasgow Shettleston), Robert Marshall- Andrews (Medway), Julie Morgan (Cardiff N), Gordon Prentice (Pendle), Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney). Brian Sedgemore (Hackney S and Shoreditch), Alan Simpson (Nottingham S), Dennis Skinner (Bolsover), Llewellyn Smith (Blaneau Gwent), Desmond Turner (Brighton Kemptown), Robert Wareing (Liverpool West Derby), Betty Williams (Conwy), David Winnick (Walsall N), Audrey Wise (Preston), Mike Wood (Batley and Spen), Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie).

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