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Anger as Welfare Reform Bill debate 'squirreled away' from public scrutiny

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Anger as Welfare Reform Bill debate 'squirreled away' from public scrutiny

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Central Government

Anger as Welfare Reform Bill debate 'squirreled away' from public scrutiny Anger as Welfare Reform Bill debate 'squirreled away' from public scrutiny

Peers agreed today to a Government plan to hold the committee stage of the controversial Welfare Reform Bill away from the main chamber of the House of Lords, despite strong opposition from Labour.

Government chief whip Baroness Anelay of St Johns argued that the next stage of the Bill should be debated in a committee room and peers accepted the plan by 263 votes to 211, majority 52.

Decisions on where committee stages are held are almost invariably taken in private between the parties, making today's vote extremely unusual.

But today both sides blamed each other for the breakdown of negotiations.

Labour chief whip Lord Bassam of Brighton described the situation as "very grave".

He said: "The Government has got itself into a muddle over its legislative programme. This is a controversial Bill and it deserves to be debated on the floor of this House."

Lady Anelay argued that if the House was to have "reasonable time" to debate all Bills, the committee stages of a fair number should be taken off the floor of the chamber.

"This session we are set to have the lowest proportion of Bills sent to grand committee since 2001/02," she said. "That simply isn't a sustainable position."

Outside the chamber, the leader of Labour peers Baroness Royall of Blaisdon said: "The Government has dealt disabled people, and vulnerable people dependent on support, a severe blow by forcing through a procedure to squirrel its Welfare Reform Bill away from scrutiny in the main chamber of the House of Lords.

"Ignoring the pleas of disabled groups - as well as disabled peers in the chamber itself - the Government declined Labour's offer of further constructive discussions to reach agreement on how to handle the Bill in Parliament.

"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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