Members began by discussing Amendment 1, which sought to remove the commitment to a cap of one per cent on the uprating of benefits from the bill.
Lord Mackenzie of Luton (Labour), who suggested the amendment alongside Baroness Sherlock (Labour), Lord Low of Dalston (Labour) and The Lord Bishop of Leicester (Non-affiliated), stated: ‘Our opposition to this bill is clear. We oppose it locking in indeterminate cuts to real incomes through to April 2016.’
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Conservative), spoke against the amendment, arguing for the ‘need to constrain public expenditure to make room for the private sector to create wealth.’
The spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions, Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Conservative), reiterated the government’s belief that ‘this bill is a short term change, made at a desperately difficult time, as we seek to rebalance the public finances.’
She continued: ‘I have made the case for seeing these changes in a wider context, and my noble friends have made powerful contributions about the wider economic context. It is clear that the changes, while painful, are necessary.’
Lord Mackenzie of Luton thanked the minister for her response but put the amendment to a vote. The House voted 206 for and 275 against.
The second amendment under consideration looked to exclude certain payments from the cap in order to protect children’s benefits and tax credits.
It was proposed by The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds (Non-affiliated), who said: ‘The major thrust of these amendments is to defend the nine out of 10 children in this country who are affected by the bill.’
He went on to outline the potential impact of a ‘gradual erosion’ in child benefit and concluded: ‘Children already contribute more than their fair share to our austerity burden. This bill adds to their burden. I hope that we shall at least remove this extra pressure on them by accepting this amendment.’
Responding on behalf of the government, Lord Newby (Liberal Democrat), said the House was united in its wish to 'ensure that children in this country have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.’
He went on to confirm that the government is currently carrying out a consultation to broaden the definition of child poverty and announced ‘a further £200 million of additional support in universal credit’ to help families pay childcare costs.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds thanked the minister for his response and assurances but put his amendment to a vote. The House voted 221 for and 261 against.
Lord Low of Dalston (Labour), then moved Amendment 3 which he described as ‘essential, if the government are to fulfil their pledge to protect disabled people for the one per cent uprating cap.’
Baroness Stowell of Beeston again responded on behalf of the government. She spoke of the consensus existing in the House on the ‘wish to protect those who are further from the labour market, or who have additional costs because of disability.’ However, she confirmed the government’s view that the existng proposals are ‘proportionate and fair.’
Lord Low of Dalston thanked the minister for her response but put his amendment to a vote. The House voted 198 for and 253 against.
The final amendment considered by the House was suggested by Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope (Liberal Democrat). He described it as a proposal to ‘protect the position of benefit recipients should the Office for Budget Responsibility’s estimates for inflation be exceeded by three per cent.’
Lord Newby replied on behalf of the government and reaffirmed its commitment to ‘low and stable inflation.’ He argued the existing mechanism of evaluating the impact of changes in inflation on households was enough: ‘Our published distributional analysis goes further than that of any previous government... we are confident that the government will be able to scrutinise the effects of this bill and our whole suite of welfare reforms.’
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope thanked the minister for his response but put his amendment to a vote. The House voted 173 for and 220 against.
The Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill now moves to third reading for the final chance for the Lords to amend any part of the bill. It is scheduled to take place on 25 March.
Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill summary
The Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill implements an announcement by the Chancellor in the 2012 Autumn Statement that increases in certain working-age welfare benefits and tax credits would be limited to one per cent, rather than increasing them in line with inflation.
Previous stages of the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill
What is report stage?
Report stage gives all members of the Lords further opportunity to examine and make changes, known as amendments, to a bill.
Report stage usually starts 14 days after committee stage. It can be spread over several days (but usually fewer days than at committee stage).
Before report stage starts, all member's amendments are recorded and published. The day before a report stage discussion the amendments are placed in order - a marshalled list.
During report stage detailed line by line examination of the bill continues. Any member of the Lords can take part and votes can take place.
After report stage the bill is reprinted to include all the agreed amendments.
The bill then moves to third reading for the final chance for the Lords to discuss and amend the bill.