Peers warned not to block Welfare Bill

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BARONESS JAY, the Leader of the Lords, warned rebel Labour peers who are today planning to defeat the controversial Welfare Bill that the Government will not back down.

Her uncompromising 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, a veteran campaigner for the disabled, warned on the same programme: "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 veteran Labour campaigner, 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 opening 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.

Baroness Jay said she did not believe that the Bill would have to be reintroduced in the next session.

"It will go through, it may take another round of what they call ping- pong ... but I think that ultimately we will get it, and we will get it, because it's a good Bill." 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 ... We do have the understanding that one of the arrangements was that we would get the legislative programme through.

"And I expect that in the Lords that will be agreed to in the end," she said on BBC 1's Breakfast With Frost.

The Tory leadership has privately signalled to peers that after tonight's expected defeat of the Government is reversed by the Commons, the Tory front bench will abstain. "We intend to win on Monday but not by too much," one senior Tory said.