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Thursday, November 4, 1999 Published at 07:52 GMT

UK Politics

Lords promise welfare fight

Labour says it wants to offer disabled people a better deal

The House of Lords is set to mount a fresh revolt over the government's welfare bill after Wednesday's Commons rebellion.

MPs voted to overturn Lords amendments to the bill dealing with means-testing and eligibility for incapacity benefit, but 54 Labour MPs joined the opposition, and the government majority of 177 was cut to just 58.

[ image:  ]
A substantial number of Labour MPs ignored a three-line whip and declined to vote.

Lord Ashley of Stoke, the Labour peer spearheading the campaign to get the new measures overturned, immediately announced he would reintroduce the same amendments for when the bill returns to the Lords on Monday.

He wants the government to make further concessions to the bill which would raise the level of means testing for those on incapacity benefit who have occupational pensions to £128 instead of the proposed £85.

The BBC's Nicholas Jones: "The rebel MP's say, last night's revolt should be a warning to the government"
With time running out before the Queen's Speech on 17 November, the peer said ministers would only have themselves to blame if the whole bill was lost.

Lord Ashley, a former Labour MP, said he did not want the government to lose the entire bill.

He said: "I just hope that common sense prevails.

"All we want is a reasonable, honourable compromise that does not damage severely disabled people - a very reasonable request."

Lord Ashley: "The concessions are inadequate and not good enough"
Lord Ashley continued: "I feel very strongly they are totally wrong but this is a grave political misjudgement by a fine minister, Alistair Darling, but he has made a very bad mistake and I hope he will try to undo as soon as possible.

"If he doesn't, we press on in the House of Lords."

Despite suffering its second serious backlash over the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill, Labour said the rebellion was lower than expected.

Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling insisted he was "well pleased" with the result.

He said he was determined to get the bill passed, and told BBC Two's Newsnight programme: "At the end of the day it becomes a constitutional matter.

"The House of Lords has to accept that we are the elected chamber."

Alastair Darling: "It's an important part of the legislative programme"
Ministers have warned that if the Lords obstruct key legislation, they will abandon the compromise that would see 92 hereditary peers keep their seats in a reformed upper house.

[ image: Roger Berry: Wants more amendments]
Roger Berry: Wants more amendments
Prime Minister Tony Blair has staunchly defended the reforms, and told MPs the changes were necessary as the number of people claiming incapacity benefit had trebled since 1979.

He added that the bill's measures "will not affect any existing claimants".

But Labour MP Roger Berry, one of the organisers of the Commons revolt, said he was keen for ministers to come up with further concessions.

"I am hopeful the government will reconsider and will move closer to Jack Ashley's amendments," he said.

The Tories' shadow social security secretary David Willetts said the backlash was "a moral victory for disabled people and a humiliation for the government".

Joe Korner, of the Disability Benefits Forum, said the revolt sent a "clear message" to the Lords that "these cuts are unpopular, unfair and unbalanced".

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Relevant Stories

03 Nov 99†|†UK Politics
Labour suffers second welfare rebellion

02 Nov 99†|†UK Politics
The battle over welfare reform

01 Nov 99†|†UK Politics
Welfare rebels demand more concessions

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Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill

Department of Social Security

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