Page last updated at 18:10 GMT, Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Welfare Reform Bill - part one

The government has successfully overturned three of seven defeats inflicted by peers on the Welfare Reform Bill.

MPs voted down Lords changes to entitlements to the employment and support allowance (ESA), during a debate on 1 February 2012.

They voted by 324 to 265 to throw out an amendment from Baroness Meacher which called for young people who have never been able to work due to illness or disability to receive "contributory" ESA - usually paid to those who have paid a certain amount of National Insurance.

MPs also backed ministers by 332 to 266 over plans to means-test the same allowance after 12 months, so people recovering from an illness or injury will be able to claim contributory ESA for one year rather than the two years proposed by peers.

Finally, they voted down an amendment that would have exempted some cancer patients from being means-tested by ESA, by 63 votes.

Work and Pensions Minister Chris Grayling told the Commons the provisions in the bill were the right ones.

He said he accepted the "anxiety around cancer" but it was important not to "write off automatically any individual affected by a particular condition".

The welfare state should provide a "safety net" for those with no income, but should not be "unlimited", Mr Grayling told MPs.

'Literally indefensible'

Shadow welfare minister Stephen Timms said the "dreadful" proposals would hit 100,000 people "who had all their lives done the right thing".

He claimed the government was wrong to set a "literally indefensible" benefit cut-off at 12 months because it was "not enough" time to expect cancer sufferers to return to work.

"By removing contributory benefit long before most people will have a chance to get back to work, it removes an absolutely key plank of the contributory system - people having the paths to be able to depend on support in event of a disaster," Mr Timms said.

DUP MP Ian Paisley agreed, telling MPs that allowing only one year to return to work after cancer treatment was too "prescriptive".

But Mr Grayling said no condition should be picked out for special treatment, claiming the change would cost £90m if accepted.

Financial privilege

Mr Grayling also told MPs the government would use parliamentary rules known as "financial privilege" to get their measures on the ESA through.

The rules mean the House of Lords is not allowed to change or reject tax and other financial proposals.

The decision would have to be formally signed off by a special committee of MPs before the bill returns to the Lords.

If approved, peers would not be able to send the same amendments back to the Commons, therefore preventing parliamentary "ping pong" over some aspects of the bill.

You can watch the second part of the debate here.


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