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Thursday, November 4, 1999 Published at 16:47 GMT


UK Politics

Welfare battle ahead

Lord Ashley is promising ministers a fight over their welfare proposals

By Political Correspondent Carole Walker

The prime minister's official spokesman has said there will be no more compromise at all on the proposed changes to benefits for disabled people, after last night's rebellion by 54 Labour MPs.

The stage is set for a renewed battle on the issue when the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill goes to the House of Lords on Monday.

The Labour peer Lord Ashley has said he'll put down the same amendments which lead to a resounding defeat for the government last time peers debated them.

He's also condemned the government's plans as almost obscene, saying they'll "clobber" many disabled people on low incomes.

The concessions offered by the Social Security Secretary Alastair Darling, intended to soften the impact of the plans to limit and means-test Incapacity Benefit, seem unlikely to win over peers, particularly after they were rejected by 54 Labour MPs in the Commons on Wednesday.

Commons vs Lords

Mr Darling has insisted he won't offer further concessions and the government will overturn any further reversals inflicted by peers, when the Bill returns to the Commons again.

Government sources say its now down to a constitutional issue: the unelected House of Lords should give way to the elected House of Commons, which has approved the Bill despite last night's rebellion.

Unless the Lords do back down, the Bill could be in jeopardy of a ping-pong battle between the upper and lower houses with less than two weeks of this parliamentary session left.

Its unclear whether Conservative peers are prepared to risk inflicting another defeat on the government.

Ministers are publicly warning that if the Lords prevent them getting their legislative programme through, they may withdraw the Weatherill Amendment to the House of Lords Reform Bill, which allows 92 hereditary peers to remain in the Lords for the time being.





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