Welfare bill

Ping pongAnother day, another Lords defeat for the government. Last night, peers voted by a majority of only 10 to moderate proposals to cut housing benefit from people in council houses who have spare rooms. Under the amendment passed, war widows, foster carers and disabled people would be exempt from the cut, which DWP says would cost £100m.

Many within Number 10 are delighted at this defeat. They say that the more peers defeat the welfare bill, the more it keeps these popular proposals in the news. It reminds voters of some of the government’s most vote-winning schemes and helps paint the Lords and Labour as out of touch. One senior coalition source told me that it was a “win-win” situation, saying:

Obviously we’d like to get the reforms through and onto the statute book, but we’re quite happy for this to go on a bit longer.

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I wrote in today’s FT about how Labour’s Lords operation has helped delay or even stall several significant government bill in the upper chamber, including the health, welfare and legal aid bills.

Today, it is the welfare bill that is in question, with Labour, the Lib Dems and crossbenchers lining up to vote for a range of amendments that would change plans to impose a £26,000 cap on overall benefit payments for any one family.

As I mention in my piece, part of the reason the government has already suffered four defeats on this bill is that the opposition whipping operation, led by Lord Bassam, has been particularly effective. Labour has drummed up a core of Lib Dems and crossbenchers willing to oppose the coalition on a whole raft of measures, and is inflicting some real damage.

Now minsters will either have to make significant changes to the bill in the Commons or hope they can simply face down peers if it is going to pass in time for the Queen’s speech, which will probably be in May. Read more