Welfare Reform Bill reaches conclusion

07 March 2012

The Welfare Reform Bill is scheduled to receive Royal Assent and becomes law (an Act of Parliament) today (Thursday 8 March)

The Welfare Reform Bill came to the end of its last stage, consideration of amendments or 'ping pong', in the House of Lords on Wednesday 29 February.

What is Royal Assent?

The bill has completed all its parliamentary stages in both Houses, so it now must receive Royal Assent before it can become an act of Parliament (law). Royal Assent is the Queen's formal agreement to make the bill into an act.

There is no set time period between the consideration of amendments stage and Royal Assent – it can even be a matter of minutes after 'ping pong' is complete.

When Royal Assent has been given, an announcement is usually made in both Houses by the Lord Speaker in the Lords and the Speaker in the Commons.

At prorogation (the formal end to a parliamentary session), Black Rod interrupts the proceedings of the Commons and summons MPs to the Lords Chamber to hear the Lords Commissioners announce Royal Assent for each bill.

Lords' consideration of amendments: Wednesday 29 February

The bill returned from the House of Commons, where it was last debated on Tuesday 21 February. The Commons rejected the one last outstanding change to the bill, concerning the 'bedroom tax' originally put forward by Lord Best (Crossbench).

Lord Best came back to the chamber with a 'different tack' and put down a further amendment (Motion A1 as an amendment to Motion A), calling for a government impact review of the under occupation penalty six months after the new act comes into force.

He explained: 'The amendment places an obligation on the government to review the impact of the underoccupation penalty on the families concerned and on levels of poverty and homelessness; to calculate the cost to local authorities and housing associations; to look at whether levels of underoccupancy actually fall; and to consider other foreseeable and unforeseeable consequences. The exercise would begin six months after implementation of the provisions in the bill.'

Lord Best withdrew his amendment comments from the minister Lord Freud (Conservative), Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Said Lord Freud: 'I look forward to discussing with him (Lord Best) the timing of any evaluation and those whom it covers.'

Lord Best concluded: 'I must be satisfied with the minister's response. He will, he said, be keeping under review the very key ingredient: the level of discretionary housing payments with which local authorities are provided to top up and help people who are in difficult circumstances.'

Lords' consideration of amendments: Tuesday 14 February

Two votes took place during the last 'ping pong' session in the House of Lords.

The first division took place in response to Lord Best's Motion B1 (as an amendment to Motion B) suggesting an alternative which states: 'but do propose Amendments 3B and 26B as amendments in lieu'.

Before the vote Lord Best (Crossbench) recapped on his amendment concerning social housing and local housing authority accommodation: 'This combined amendment seeks to achieve a compromise on the so-called bedroom tax, the underoccupation penalty that reduces the housing benefit entitlement - later the universal credit entitlement - for those of working age in a council or housing association property.'

His amendment was supported with 236 'content' votes and 226 members were against the proposal and voted 'not content', resulting in a government defeat.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Labour) moved Motion G2 (as an amendment to Motion G) suggesting the compromise: 'but do propose Amendments 47C to 47H as amendments in lieu' on the issue of providing benefits caps and the role of an Independent Body on the Benefit Cap.

The amendment was supported by 134 members but rejected by 223 'not content' votes, resulting in a government win.

Find out more about financial privilege

The government won several votes in the House of Commons (Wednesday 1 February) before the bill returned to the Lords yesterday. 'Financial privilege' was cited as the reason for returning certain amendments covering household benefits to the House of Lords. 

What is 'ping pong'?

If the Commons makes amendments to the bill, the Lords must consider them and either agree or disagree to the amendments or make alternative proposals.

If the Lords disagrees with any Commons amendments, or makes alternative proposals, then the bill is sent back to the Commons.

A bill may go back and forth between each House (ping pong) until both Houses reach agreement.

Catch up on last stage: third reading

The Welfare Reform Bill met its seventh government defeat at third reading (31 January).

Members of the House voted 246 to 230 for an amendment to limit the government proposed cuts to top up payments made to parents with disabled children, especially at the normal rate, in Clause 10 of the Welfare Reform Bill.

House of Lords made seven amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill

  • Report stage: Amendment 12 protects housing benefit for those with spare bedrooms
  • Report stage: Amendment 36A protects young disabled people from losing out on contributory employment support allowance (ESA)
  • Report stage: Amendment 38 opposes the introduction of a 12 month limit to claim ESA and proposes a minimum 24 months
  • Report stage: Amendment 38A excludes cancer patients, receiving treatment and those treated with cancer who have a limited capability to work, from claiming ESA
  • Report stage: Amendment 59 excludes child benefit from the proposed household benefit cap
  • Report stage: Amendment 62C opposes charging single parents from using the Child Support Agency (CSA)
  • Third reading: Amendment 1 seeks to ensure the gap between the two payments (higher and normal additional payments) to families with disabled children is not too great

Welfare Reform Bill: Key areas

  • The bill introduces Personal Independence Payments to replace the current Disability Living Allowance.
  • It restricts Housing Benefit entitlement for social housing tenants whose accommodation is larger than needed.
  • It will up-rate Local Housing Allowance rates by the Consumer Price Index.
  • It amends the forthcoming statutory child maintenance scheme.
  • Payment of contributory Employment and Support Allowance is limited to a 12-month period.
  • The total amount of benefit that can be claimed will be capped.

Catch up on past Welfare Reform Bill action

Further information

Find out more about watching House of Lords debates.

Image: iStockphoto

More news on: Parliament, government and politics, Housing and planning, Parliament, House of Lords news, Lords news, Bill news, Housing benefits, Central government

Share this page