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Reform Watch

15 January 2007
Government 'hugely encouraged' by easy ride through Commons.

The government has expressed great satisfaction with the easy passage of the Welfare Reform Bill through the House of Commons. It has now moved on to the House of Lords, where campaigners hope it will not get such an easy ride.

Speaking at the third reading of the Bill in the Commons on 9th January, government minister Jim Murphy said that he was "hugely encouraged by the positive and constructive atmosphere in which the Bill has been considered throughout our proceedings" and added that "When we have agreed, it has been welcome; where we have disagreed, it has always been good natured. That is why such a consensus has developed about the important detail of the Bill."

The Bill has so far survived entirely unscathed, with only government supported amendments being adopted. Campaigners believe, however, that the Bill will face greater difficulties in the Lords, where some peers are rumoured to be very unhappy with the almost total lack of detail in such a major piece of legislation. Ministers are likely to come under pressure to fill in some of the blanks, such as the levels at which the new benefit will be paid, before the Lords will offer their support.

It seems likely that the government may have to offer more information and some small concessions in terms of such things as scrutiny and reports on the working Employment and Support Allowance once it becomes law. However, with such an atmosphere of cross-party bonhomie and goodwill towards all benefit reform in the Commons, and with an almost complete lack of opposition to the main principles of reform from national advice sector bodies, it seems unlikely that the Bill will be subject to any major changes.