Resorting to the rulebook: Ministers bypass welfare clash

Iain Duncan Smith won't back down on welfare reform
Iain Duncan Smith won't back down on welfare reform

By Alex Stevenson

Ministers are using parliamentary rules to prevent the Lords causing further setbacks to the coalition's welfare reforms.

Employment minister told MPs he intended to invoke the Commons' financial privilege, as ministers sought to reverse seven Lords defeats to the welfare reform bill.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne told politics.co.uk that the opposition was working with parliamentary authorities and lawyers to force a vote on its proposals for a regional benefit cap.


"We think they've crossed the basic line of British decency and they're trying to use financial privilege to prevent it being reopened again," he said.

"We don't think this is what good democracy is all about. We think the government's got things wrong and they need to change."

If the government gets their way peers will not be able to challenge the coalition's welfare reforms, ending the clash over the legislation which saw peers deliver seven defeats during the bill's Lords stages.

The government used its Commons majority to undo the changes made by peers. It won the opening set of votes, on raising the proposed 12-month limit on claiming contributory employment and support allowance to 24 months and exempting cancer patients from compulsory ESA limits.

But eight Liberal Democrat MPs rebelled, including Andrew George, Sir Bob Russell and Greg Mulholland.

The government then won its vote overturning the benefit cap amendment with a majority of 83, after ministers announced £130 million would be spent on transitional arrangements helping families who could be made homeless as a result of the changes.

"We're saying - how can you have a cap on benefits that will actually cost money?" Mr Byrne added.

"We're saying there's a better way through - to have a cap that is different in different parts of the country. Because as we know living costs are wildly different in different parts of the nation."

Yesterday independent crossbencher Lady Meacher's amendment protesting against plans to cut payments to the parents of disabled children was backed by 246 votes to 230.

That was the final defeat in a series of embarrassing setbacks for the government, which had already lost votes on the benefit cap, child maintenance payments and social housing under-occupation.

Mr Duncan Smith had made clear as early as this weekend that he was not prepared to accept any of the amendments made by peers.

"Political history is littered with piecemeal attempts at reform and this has left us with a welfare state that is complex beyond belief, a system that actively makes benefit dependency a legitimate lifestyle choice and effectively condemns children to a life of poverty and lack of ambition," he said.

"That must end. Work is the best hope for a better future – our welfare system has to support that, not undermine it."

Opposition led by Church of England bishops resulted in a 252-237 defeat for the government on January 23rd.

That was then followed on January 26th by the biggest defeat yet for the coalition in the Lords, when moves to force a single parent to pay a charge in order to receive child maintenance payments were rejected by 270 votes to 128 - a majority of 142.

The coalition will have to use its majority to force the bill through the Commons, as Labour has made clear it does not intend to support the changes.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said he was determined to stop the government from "snatching" support from cancer patients and children with disabilities.

"We believe welfare to work needs jobs - and this bill doesn't create a single one," he said.

"Instead it cuts support for people trying to do the right thing like mums trying to go back to work and families trying to save, and quite frankly it crosses a line of basic British decency.

"This government now seems relaxed about giving giant bonuses for bankers but resolute about axing help for cancer patients and disabled children. That tells you everything you need to know about their values." 

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