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Wednesday, December 10, 1997 Published at 17:03 GMT


Blair faces Commons over child benefit
image: [ Child benefit cuts for lone parents - the government is expected to win comfortably ]
Child benefit cuts for lone parents - the government is expected to win comfortably

The leader of the British opposition has attacked the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, over his party's handling of benefit cuts.

Only hours before Prime Minister's Questions began in the House of Commons, the Scottish Local Government and Transport Minister, Malcolm Chisholm, resigned.

William Hague, the Conservative leader, seized on this as evidence that the Labour party does not support its leadership on the cuts to single parent benefit.

He said Labour MPs would be "dragged through the lobbies to vote for a measure they called shameful, malign and completely wrong."

Mr Hague added: "It is another example of Government without principles or values."

The Parliamentary Private Secretary to Transport Minister Gavin Strang, Gordon Prentice, also resigned his position over the benefit plans.

Mr Hague repeated earlier statements by Labour cabinet members, which seemed to oppose what began life as Tory policy.

Accused on not having neither courage nor conviction, Mr Blair said: "There are different priorities but we believe the most important thing is to help those lone parents off benefits and into work and do so in a way that doesn't lose control of public finances."

Mr Hague replied: "Why didn't you have the courage to say this to people before the election? Why weren't the Labour Party straight with people?"

Mr Blair said: "You are simply wrong. I have the comments we made before the election when we said we will stick with the existing budget but we can offer better and different ways of getting lone parents back into work."

Around 20 Labour MPs are expected to vote against the Government later on Wednesday, with a similar number abstaining.

Mr Chisholm, aged 48, the MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, wrote to Mr Blair explaining his reasons for quitting.

"I have enjoyed my work there enormously but cannot bring myself to vote with the Government tonight on lone parents," he said.

Mr Chisholm later confirmed he would be voting against the Government.

Those who do so face tough party sanctions from the Whips Office, which instructs MPs on how to vote.

Would-be rebels insist they must oppose the cuts in principle, but Blair loyalists insist that this is a largely hard left-led rebellion which must be faced down if further spending "wish-lists" are to be avoided.

The Government will still win the key votes comfortably because of its large majority in the Commons.

Child benefit cut causes uproar

The row centres upon one of two proposals to cut benefits to lone parents unveiled in the Tories' final Budget in office.

One cut to a premium for lone parents on income support has already been passed by means of a regulation in Parliament.

The second cut relates to child benefit and is included in the broader Social Security Bill to be debated.

At present, lone parents receive _17.10 per week for their oldest child, while couples receive just _11.05.

Under the proposals, lone parents will receive the same as couples.

The combination of both cuts will mean new claimants from April receiving between _5 and _10.25 less in benefit from April than current claimants do.

A focus for rebels will be an amendment co-sponsored with the Liberal Democrats by leading rebel Labour MPs Audrey Wise and Dr Lynne Jones which would remove from the Bill the clause implementing the cuts.
Harriet Harman talks about the reasons for the cuts on BBC Radio

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  Relevant Stories

10/12/97 | Special Report
Briefing - Lone parent benefits

10/12/97 | Despatches
Labour heads for first rebellion

08/12/97 | UK
Government faces its biggest revolt so far

02/12/97 | UK
Harman defeats Tory attack

30/11/97 | UK
Backbench rebellion over benefit cuts

29/11/97 | UK
Labour benefits rebellion gathers pace

21/11/97 | UK
Backbench pressure builds on Harman

  Internet Links

Gingerbread - for lone parents

DSS - The Benefits Agency

Benefits Journal

Department of Social Security

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.
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