In a dramatic fifth day of the Report Stage of the Welfare Reform Bill, Liberal Democrat cohesion amongst the Parliamentary Party in the Lords collapsed, with two of the three biggest rebellions in this Parliament ensuing. And, to be honest, it wasn’t difficult to see it coming. However, unexpectedly, only one of them led to a Government defeat.
Amendment 58D, moved by Labour peer, Lord Mackenzie of Luton, was a relatively opportunistic attempt to provide an exemption from the proposed benefit cap for “vulnerable individuals, and individuals and couples with children”, threatened with homelessness, owed a duty to be provided with temporary accommodation or who had been accepted as homeless and in priority need. Opportunistic because, as one Peer commented, it looked as though it had been drawn up on the back of an envelope.
Baroness Walmsley, whilst supporting the Amendment, noted;
I do not necessarily think that it is exactly the right amendment, but we need to send it back to another place and ask it to think again and tell us a little more about the measures that will be put in place — I hope that they will be, and know that the Government intend that they will be — to make sure that families with children are not made homeless.
and Baroness Hussein-Ece pleaded on behalf of the diversity of urban communities;
I want to live in a mixed community. I do not want to live in a Paris-style ghetto. I do not want ghettos such as in Paris, where the poorer families have been forced into the doughnut outside the city. We should support mixed communities. We want our children to have a healthy outlook and mix with people from all different backgrounds.
Repeatedly, Liberal Democrat Peers sought reassurance from the Minister, with Lords Ashdown and German offering Lord Freud every opportunity to offer clarity on transitional arrangements, and reassurance that families would not be made homeless as a result of the proposed changes in the Bill. But clarity and reassurance came there none.
With the Crossbenchers having hitherto voted heavily against the Government, it looked likely that another defeat loomed. And then, relief for the Minister, as the Crossbenchers split 52-31 against the Amendment, and with seventeen Liberal Democrat rebels outweighed by forty-two remaining loyal to the Government, the Amendment was lost by twenty-eight votes, 250-222.
Liberal Democrats supporting the Amendment were as follows;
Hussein-Ece, Baroness (her first rebellion of this Parliament)
Kirkwood of Kirkhope, Lord
Maclennan of Rogart, Lord
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, Baroness
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, Lord
Roberts of Llandudno, Lord
Sharp of Guildford, Baroness (her first rebellion of this Parliament)
Smith of Clifton, Lord
Taylor of Goss Moor, Lord
Thomas of Winchester, Baroness
This represented the second largest Liberal Democrat rebellion of this Parliament to date, only topped by the nineteen Peers voting against the Government on the European Union Bill on 15 June last year. But worse was to follow…