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Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 09:50 GMT

UK Politics

Benefit row goes to the wire

The bill includes cuts to disability benefits

The battle over the government's plans to restrict access to incapacity benefit looks set to go on right up to the final moments of this Parliamentary session.

On Monday, peers in the House of Lords refused to back down in their showdown with the government and inflicted a double defeat on ministers.

Lords Reform
They backed an amendment on extending pension rights to war widows and another to change government plans to deny Incapacity Benefit to some out-of-work disabled.

Another amendment, to make it easier for disabled people with occupational pensions to qualify for the Incapacity Benefit, was approved without a vote.

The Bill now returns to the Commons, where the Government will try to reverse the amendments in the face of bitter backbench opposition.

'Remarkable debate'

Leader of the campaign in the Lords, Lord Ashley of Stoke, said the Government had lost the moral argument and should now back down.

[ image: Lord Ashley: Bill is 'an unjustified attack on disabled people']
Lord Ashley: Bill is 'an unjustified attack on disabled people'
He said: "It was a remarkable debate for its unanimity among those who supported my amendment. There was only one peer who disagreed. It was the overwhelming vote of the House of Lords."

But Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling said there would be no more concessions.

He said: "We will ask the House of Commons to overturn the Lords amendments. I have already made two significant changes to the Bill last week and I have made it very clear that there are no further changes to come."

The BBC's Carole Walker: "The Government has said the unelected house should bow to the elected house"
Disabled groups, who have been demonstrating outside Parliament in wheelchairs,welcomed the votes.

Steve Winyard, spokesman for the Disability Benefits Consortium, said: "MPs now have a final chance to resist these unfair and unpopular cuts to disability benefits.

[ image: Alistair Darling: No more concessions]
Alistair Darling: No more concessions
"We urge MPs to support their constituents who are disabled or who become disabled in the future by voting for them."

'Not too late'

Shadow social security secretary David Willetts said: "What more will it take for ministers to get the message? War widows should not be penalised for remarrying. Disabled people should not be penalised for having a pension."

"It is not too late for the government to see sense."

With the Parliamentary session due to end on Thursday, the entire Bill, which includes provision for other welfare reforms important to the government, could be lost if it is again rejected by the House of Lords.

But most observers expect the peers to accept the will of the elected chamber and let the measure go through eventually.

Last week the government issued a thinly-veiled threat that the Weatherill amendment - the deal to reprieve 92 hereditary peers from abolition under the reforms of the Lords - could be ditched if the Lords continues to defy ministers.

The House of Lords Bill has been scheduled to clear the Commons on Wednesday.

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UK Politics Contents

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08 Nov 99 | UK Politics
Peers inflict double defeat on government

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