September 16, 2011

Government accused of avoiding scrutiny of Welfare Reform Bill

by Jan Harris

The level of scrutiny which peers will be able to give to the Government’s controversial Welfare Reform Bill has been severely reduced by a decision to refer it to a Grand Committee.

This means that instead of a ‘Committee of the Whole House’ considering the bill and voting on amendments to each clause, it will now be considered by a much smaller number of peers and the committee will not be able to vote on amendments.

The bill has been brought into question by the public accounts committee which is concerned that plans to cut £2.7 billion from the Department of Work and Pensions’ budget will make it difficult to implement the proposed welfare reforms.

There is also a high level of concern over plans to replace Disability Living Allowance with a Personal Independence Payment. It is believed that the number of people eligible to receive the pay may fall by 20 per cent.

The bill also proposed the introduction of a universal credit which would replace many existing benefits.

Given the level of public concern over the bill, the decision to refer it to a Grand Committee has been seen as an attempt by the Government to minimise opposition and avoid scrutiny, in an attempt to ease the bill’s way through Parliament.

The logistics of moving the debate to a much smaller room also means that the number of members of the public who can be admitted will be restricted and there will be little room for wheelchair users or those with assistance dogs.

The leader of Labour peers Baroness Royall of Blaisdon said: “This is a bad day for consensus, a bad day for democracy – and most importantly, a bad day for disabled and vulnerable people. This Government should be ashamed of itself.”

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