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Thursday, December 11, 1997 Published at 07:58 GMT


Blair suffers in benefits revolt
image: [ Some of the Labour rebels protest about the cuts outside the House of Commons ]
Some of the Labour rebels protest about the cuts outside the House of Commons

The Government is trying to restore order in its ranks after it suffered a rebellion from a surprisingly large number of Labour MPs in the Commons vote on the controversial Bill to cut benefits for single-parent families.

Forty-seven Labour MPs voted against the Government, some 100 abstained, one minister and two Private Parliamentary Secretaries (PPS) resigned their posts, and a ministerial aide was sacked ahead of the crucial vote.

Because of Labour's large majority in the House of Commons, the Government managed to win all votes comfortably.

Labour's chief whip, Nick Brown, will now start the process of interviewing the rebels face to face. Observers say that in effect he will be giving them the yellow card and warning them that any further disobedience will not be tolerated.

Four MPs, including Ken Livingstone, figure head of the Labour left, will face tougher action, largely because the way they attacked the policy was seen to bring the party into disrepute.

There will be talks with Labour's general-secretary and the possibility of suspending them from the party has not been ruled out.

[ image: Alice Mahon says she was sacked]
Alice Mahon says she was sacked
A rebel is sacked

Despite a string of ministerial resignations, the Prime Minister acted tough on those who indicated that they would support the rebellion. Alice Mahon, an aide to the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, was sacked after she refused to resign.

Speaking on BBC News 24 she said: "I was sacked. I have no regrets. I'm devastated that I had to vote against a Labour Government. There is no triumphalism in this at all. I feel very emotional and upset."

"Our values are about protecting people who are in difficult circumstances."

She said the campaign to resist the changes would carry on.

[ image: Malcolm Chisholm resigned before the vote]
Malcolm Chisholm resigned before the vote
Resignations came from Malcolm Chisholm, the Scottish Local Government and Transport Minister; Michael Clapham, PPS to Health Minister Alan Milburn; and Gordon Prentice, the PPS to Transport Minister, Gavin Strang.

Clive Soley, Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, admitted that the rebellion was larger than he would have liked.

"I understand the strength of feeling that people have expressed. But they need to put it in the context of the Government's long-term aim of providing work for people rather than welfare, and to have a reformed and modernised welfare system that is fair and efficient," he said.

The matter is unlikely to rest. The BBC's political correspondent, Huw Edwards, said it was likely that disciplinary measures would be taken against others who refused to vote with the Government, which earlier won two votes in the Commons.

Motions by Labour rebels and the Liberal Democrats were rejected by large majorities.

The amendments called for an increase in benefits for the eldest child in lone parent families and backdating of payments.

Defending the Bill, Social Security Secretary, Harriet Harman, said the proposed changes in the rules would benefit single parents.

Speaking in the House she said: "We are offering lone parents a new deal... a new deal based on providing them with what they want - the opportunity to work, not a life devoid of choice except dependence on benefits."


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