Rebellion grows as Welfare Reform Bill stumbles

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Indy Politics

The Government faced the prospect of a second defeat in the House of Lords over its controversial Welfare Reform Bill.

The Government faced the prospect of a second defeat in the House of Lords over its controversial Welfare Reform Bill.

Labour Peer Lord Ashley said he intended to table amendments to the Bill next week which could lead to the Bill being defeated for a second time.

But Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Social Security, reacted angrily when speaking on the BBC Today programme: "The government was elected to make changes to the Welfare State ... we're making those changes", he said.

Facing increasing resistance in the House of Commons with a reduced majority Mr Darling now has to get the bill through the House of Lords - for a second time - where peers, under the direction of Lord Ashley of Stoke, are likely to apply further pressure for concessions to the bill. Mr Darling made further angry remarks about the possibilitty of a defeat in the House of Lords. "At the end of the day the House of Lords has to face that we are the elected chamber", he stated.

Last night Ministers overturned defeats inflicted by peers but the Commons rebellion could lead to further problems in the Lords next week. With time running out ahead of the Queen's Speech on November 17, a game of "parliamentary ping-pong" with peers over the legislation now looks likely. If the Lords stand firm, the measure could even be lost.

In May, the Government's majority was cut to just 40 when 67 Labour MPs defied the whips and opposed the disability benefit cuts in the biggest revolt since Labour came to power.

After last night's first vote in which MPs voted by 325-265 to overturn a Lords defeat on limiting incapacity benefits to people who had been in recent employment, Mr Darling commented outside the Chamber: "Ministers are well pleased with the result. The rebellion is down to 53. This sends a clear message to the Lords. The Government intends to see this Bill through."

But shadow social security secretary David Willetts said: "This is a moral victory for disabled people and a humiliation for the Government. My message to Tony Blair is to stop bullying and start listening."

Labour former MP Lord Ashley of Stoke, who spearheaded the Lords defeats on the disability benefit cuts, said that he would be retabling the amendments in the Upper House today. He predicted the Government would face further defeat when peers came to vote on them next week. "This has clearly been a substantial rebellion," Lord Ashley said. "I think the rebels in the Commons won the moral argument.

Earlier, the Prime Minister defended Governments plans to means-test incapacity benefits for people with pension income, saying welfare reform was needed because claims had trebled since 1979.

Mr Blair was responding to Liberal Democrat Leader Charles Kennedy who warned the plans would "end up penalising some of the most vulnerable people in society". But the Prime Minister insisted more help would go to severely disabled people, adding: "We are going to spend an extra £2 billion on disabled people."

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