47 Labour MPs vote for move to reject cuts in benefits

 

Labour's seven-month post-election honeymoon ended abruptly last night with a massive show of backbench anger in the shape of a rebellion over cuts to lone parent benefits. A total of 47 Labour MPs voted for an amendment which would overturn the cuts in defiance of a three-line whip, according to government whips.

Fifty-seven Labour MPs did not vote in the division.

The amendment which would have reversed the planned cuts to child benefit for new claimant lone parents from April of next year was defeated by 457 votes to 107.

The Bill was later given a third reading by 295 to 58, government majority 237.

The scale of the rebellion clearly surprised even Labour whips. Yesterday they had been predicting privately around 20 rebels.

That figure was scaled up to 35 by the afternoon.

Earlier, Mr Malcolm Chisholm, a junior Scottish Office minister, who resigned his post, told the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, he did so with great reluctance and would oppose the cuts in the parliamentary vote later.

In his resignation letter, he said the cuts were "an attack on some of the poorest women in society".

Mr Blair suffered a second blow when another Labour MP, Mr Gordon Prentice, quit his job as parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to the Transport Minister, Mr Gavin Strang.

The resignations coincide with other MPs stepping up their opposition to the benefit plans and announcing their intention to oppose the government at a hastily arranged news conference.

Among the rebels was Ms Alice Mahon, PPS for the Culture Secretary, Mr Chris Smith. Mr Mahon said she would vote against the government.

Political sources said this would almost certainly result in her dismissal from the unpaid post, generally seen as the first step on the ladder to a ministerial job. One source said Ms Mahon would not resign but would "wait until she was sacked".

Mr Mick Clapham, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Health Minister, Mr Alan Milburn, was the third ministerial aide to quit his government job in the revolt.

The government wants to reduce state benefits for Britain's one million lone parents by up to £11 pounds a week in an attempt to encourage them to abandon welfare and go to work. Instead, it plans to help lone parents by setting up after-school clubs for children.

The cuts were originally devised by the previous Conservative administration, which lost power in the May election.