The House of Lords is packed as peers consider their next response to the long-running saga surrounding the Welfare Reform Bill. Labour are trying to find new ways of inserting amendments to Iain Duncan Smith's flagship legislation, after the govenment overturned previous amendments by the Lords last week.
The government declared "financial privilege" on seven amendments to the Bill last week - using a convention whereby Lords may not debate or vote on financial matters. The declaration was branded "unprecedented" and an "abuse of power", because it only made that declaration when the Bill came into difficulty in the Lords.
Speaking at the start of the debate on Tuesday afternoon the former speaker of the Commons, Baroness Boothroyd, said the Commons had behaved in a "very heavy-handed manner."
"The constitution of our country operates by convention," she told peers. "This is a bicameral parliament, it operates by negotiation. Where were the usual channels during all of this?"
Labour is expected to introduce new amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill on Wednesday afternoon, but these must be substantially different to those already passed a fortnight ago in the Lords.
Those amendments were:
- To overturn the amount paid to children who are receiving the lower rate of Disability Allowance (DLA). The government wants to cut the total paid out to children receiving the lower rate, because they say payments to children have grown out-of-kilter with those paid to adults
- To water down the so-called "Bedroom Tax" which would reduce housing benefit payments for families living in council homes with at least one spare bedroom.
- To reverse an attempt to take Employment Support Allowance away from young disabled people - something peers say would only save £10m but which currently guarantees they can live independent lives.
- To raise to 24 months the proposed 12-month limit on claiming contributory Employment Support Allowance.
- To exempt cancer patients from the contributory ESA limits.
- A Bishop's amendment which excluded child benefit from the £26,000 household benefit cap. This was an amendment backed by Labour after it lost its own motion to prevent people at risk of being made homeless being assessed by the cap. Labour were accused of flip-flopping over the benefit cap after this vote.
- To overturn a proposal to charge single parents for using the Child Support Agency. This was the biggest defeat for the government since the 2010 general election.
Although the government did agree to several Lords amendments when the Commons considered them last week, these seven amendments were rejected on grounds of financial privilege.
In the first instance the Lords will consider a motion by the government to accept the Commons' reasons for overturning the amendments. This could take a couple of hours.
The House of Commons is in half-term recess so will be unable to react to any further amendments until next week at the earliest. The government is keen to get the legislation passed to it can begin its significant changes to the welfare system, which will take several years.
Ministers are thought to want the Bill passed into law by the 31st of March, the end of the financial year.