Labour'​s chief whip in the House of Lords has accused the coalition government '​ruthless​ness'​ in preventing proper debate on the welfare reform bill, which is set to axe disability living allowance and time-limit employment and support allowance. The claim was made in an email sent out to many Benefits and Wok members who had protested about the moving of scrutiny of the bill from the main chamber of the house to a small side room.

The full text of the email is as follows:

Welfare Reform Bill - House of Lords Debates

Firstly, can I thank you for making contact with Labours team in the Lords on this important Bill.

Like you and no doubt many others concerned about the Bill and its implications for many people in the UK we were concerned when the Government suddenly announced that it was going to prevent the Bill from being taken on the floor of the main chamber of the House of Lords. As Labour’​s Chief Whip, I had been carefully negotiating with the Government to ensure we had the maximum amount of time to discuss its serious implications for the many people in the country who are reliant on the Government to ensure they are free from poverty and receive much needed support. We know too how important and controversial the bill is for many who suffer from a disability.

It is unprecedented for any Government to put a procedural motion of the sort the Government Chief Whip Baroness Anelay did before the House - instructing the Lords to take a Bill in Grand Committee. These things are always reached by mutual agreement. We argued that the Bill needed at least 8 full committee days in the main Chamber of the House of Lords because it is controversial and has big implications for some of the poorest and most vulnerable of our citizens. We did force the issue to a vote and lost 263-211. Most of those supporting the Government were Liberal Democrats and Conservative peers who now have a political majority in the House of Lords.

Now, sadly, the Bill will be considered in a committee room. We will try to ensure that the Bill is not hidden away and forgotten. Most of all we will play our part in ensuring that the room and space used is accessible for those with a disability or mobility problem and that interested members of the public can listen in and access the debates and discussions.

In terms of voting on amendments to the Bill, this is not possible in a Grand Committee. This is one of its disadvantages from an opposition perspective. However, we can vote when the Bill is at Report Stage, though it might limit the number of issues we can realistically oppose in the division lobbies. I will be working out a strategy with our front bench team to ensure we make good use of the opportunities to oppose those parts of the Bill which are most objectionable. We hope that you can help us in this exercise and we would very much welcome your continued interest and contact. If you are involved in a campaign group do please keep sending the briefings. Personal testimonies are also very helpful in debates because they help explain and put in context the issues.

I am attaching the Hansard link ( ) to the short debate which took place on the location of the committee. Baronesses Jane Campbell and Tanni Grey-Thompson were brilliant from the Cross-benches. I just wish that the Government had not been so dogmatic. Sadly they have put too much controversial legislation into Parliament too quickly and are running out of time in this session to get it through. The Welfare Reform Bill is a victim of their ruthlessness.

Finally thank you for your interest.

Yours sincerely,

Steve Bassam
Opposition Chief Whip


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