Lilley claims protesters taking to wheelchairs

Minister angers disabled campaigners by alleging some are faking immobility
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Indy Politics

Chief Political Correspondent

Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, yesterday upset disabled campaigners by warning that protesters would take to wheelchairs in June to oppose a new wave of cuts in welfare.

The protests are expected over the replacement of Invalidity Benefit with Incapacity Benefit, which introduces a new range of tests for eligibility to force more to take work or sign on the dole.

Mr Lilley told a Westminster luncheon that the Government would face an orchestrated campaign. He said: "From June onwards, we shall see on our television screens people who have been refused benefit and for the first time in their life, they will be seen in a wheelchair."

The minister said anyone who needed to be in a wheelchair would not have to take a test under the eligibility rules for Incapacity Benefit.

Mr Lilley has been briefing Conservative backbench MPs to withstand the expected summer backlash when the Treasury-driven cuts are implemented.

The Government also faced trouble over spending cuts by the Treasury on two other fronts. Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Employment, suffered an embarrassing set-back in the Lords over the Jobseekers' (sic) Bill.

Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, was privately blamed by some of his most senior colleagues for the storms facing the Government over cuts in public expenditure to make way for tax cuts in the autumn.

Mr Portillo was forced to bow to the Lords' criticism of the Jobseekers' Bill which cuts benefit for unemployment from 12 to six months and introduces new checks to ensure claimants are "deemed" to be actively seeking work.

The Lords objected to the lack of a proper definition for being "deemed" to be seeking work. The Government will have to recommit the Bill to the Committee Stage next week and introduce a new definition. That will force it to reopen the debate on the issue when it returns to the Commons to consider Lords' amendments.

The Government had a majority of 35 for the Bill's Second Reading in the Commons, but Alan Howarth, Tory MP for Stratford-on-Avon, voted against it.

The Government is also preparing to face protests over cuts in compensation for criminal injuries. The Home Secretary, Michael Howard, will announce next week plans to rush through an emergency Bill to impose the controversial criminal injuries compensation scheme which was thrown out by the Law Lords.

The Bill is expected to be introduced in the Commons before the end of the month to implement a new scheme in the teeth of fierce opposition by unions and associations for firemen, teachers, nurses and others who face violence at work.

The Government is braced for a close vote in the Commons with the threat of a Tory backbench rebellion on the Bill which will replace compensation awards for injuries and loss of earnings with a scale of payments, including £7,500 for rape, £250,000 for total paralysis and £20,000 for the loss of an eye.

The Law Lords' ruling in April that the scheme was unlawful was a blow to Mr Howard, but the House of Lords, which savaged the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill, could inflict severe damage.