GWYNNE BLOG: Debunking the myths on Commons procedure and the Welfare Bill

Firstly, let’s debunk a media myth: last night, the Parliamentary Labour Party, as a bloc, in its entirety, united, voted AGAINST the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

Certainly, how we got to that point probably would not have been my way of doing it, if I am being totally honest, but the facts are facts: We voted against the Bill.

Labour tabled a ‘Reasoned Amendment’ to the Bill. These are Parliamentary devices which allow you to set out (the clue is in the name) the reasons why you are opposing the entire Bill, even when there are things in it that you support.

It was necessary because the Tories have, perhaps craftily, lumped a load of stuff we don’t like, with a load of stuff they’d love us to vote against – that we most certainly ARE NOT opposed to.

Firstly, what is in the Bill that we do like?

Well there’s a commitment to three million apprenticeships, including more at a higher and advanced-level (I’m in favour of that.  Indeed I had a Private Members’ Bill in the last Parliament to do just that!); then there are measures to cut council and social housing rents (one in four people living in my Denton and Reddish constituency live in social housing and should see their rents fall because of measures in this Bill. I’m not against that); and then there’s extra support for ‘troubled’ families – a scheme that has been proven to work and has saved the public purse millions (as well as transformed the lives of many people who’ve been engaged in this work).

But then there are the measures like the abolition of child poverty targets and cuts to support for the sick and disabled who are not fit for work – this includes people who have cancer or Parkinson’s disease which we most certainly DO OPPOSE.  Indeed I spoke out on this issue in the debate yesterday.

And then there’s a few myths about what some people think is in the Bill that aren’t: tax credits.

Let’s be clear, we will vote against the tax credit cuts which will make 3 million low and middle income working families worse off. These measures are not in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill – they will be in Statutory Instruments in the autumn, and Labour will oppose them.

So last night all Labour MPs voted against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill on a Reasoned Amendment.  Some colleagues also voted against the entirety of the Bill.  I could not do that because this Bill is so finely balanced with things I do want to see happen.

So what happens next?  This is where we get to vote on all the things we don’t like in the Bill…

Labour has tabled detailed amendments on the substance of the Bill at Committee and Report Stage.

These include:

  • An amendment to prevent the Government abolishing the targets for reducing child poverty.
  • The Government are also trying to delete child poverty from the remit of the ‘Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’ so that it becomes just the ‘Social Mobility Commission’. An amendment will prevent that taking place.
  • An amendment which will mean that the household benefit cap would not apply to persons who are responsible for a child under 2 years old, are a carer, or are in temporary accommodation because of domestic violence.
  • A new clause which will require the Secretary of State to report each year on the impact of the household benefit cap, particularly on child poverty.
  • An amendment which will require the level of the household benefit cap to be reviewed every year, rather than only once in a Parliament. The review would be based on the new clause above requiring the impact of the benefit cap on child poverty to be assessed each year.
  • An amendment which will require the Social Security Advisory Committee to review the Discretionary Housing Payments fund each year to ensure that sufficient resources are available. Discretionary Housing Payments are used to support those who are unfairly affected by the benefit cap.
  • An amendment which will set the target of full employment as 80 per cent of the working age population – in line with the Labour Government’s definition and recent research which shows that this would be an ambitious target. The Bill includes a process for reviewing progress towards ‘full employment’, but does not define what is meant by that.
  • An amendment to require the UK Commission on Employment and Skills to assess whether the Government’s target for apprenticeships is being met, so that the Government can be held to account. There is significant concern among businesses and others that the quality of apprenticeships is being watered down in order to increase the numbers.
  • An amendment which will require the resources which are being dedicated to helping troubled families to be clearly set out.
  • An amendment which will ensure that interventions to support troubled families are focused on helping people into work.
  • An amendment to prevent the Bill restricting Universal Credit for three or subsequent children even when the third child is born before 5 April 2017.
  • A new clause preventing the restrictions to tax credits applying to three or more children where a third child is born as a result of a multiple birth, where a third of subsequent child is fostered or adopted, where a third child or subsequent child is disabled, or where a family with three or more children moves onto tax credits or universal credit in exceptional circumstances – including but not restricted to the death of one member of the family, the departure of one parent or loss of income through unemployment – which would be set out by the Social Security Advisory Committee. It also sets up an appeals process for all cases covered by this clause.
  • An amendment preventing cuts in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for the WRAG group of around £30 a week. People who are in the WRAG group have been through a rigorous test which has deemed them not fit for work, for example because they have Parkinson’s or are being treated for cancer.
  • An amendment requiring the Government to produce a plan to offset the impact of lower social rents on housing associations. Labour supports the reduction in social housing rents, which will help low-income families and bring down the housing benefits bill. However, we must protect against impacts on the ability of housing associations to build new affordable homes and maintain their existing properties.
  • An amendment which subjects the four-year benefit freeze to an annual review subject to changes in inflation.

We will force individual votes on our amendments, so it’s clear what we do and don’t support, without the Tory Party or their media friends trying to paint us as being one thing or another. 

And if none of our amendments succeed? Then we still have an opportunity to vote against the Bill at Third Reading.

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33 thoughts on “GWYNNE BLOG: Debunking the myths on Commons procedure and the Welfare Bill

  1. Pingback: Debunking the myths on Commons procedure and the Welfare Bill – Andrew Gwynne MP | Politics and Insights

  2. Andrew , thank you for this very useful clarification as to what the majority of Labour MP’s actually voted on during last night’s crucial debate in the House. It was a very tough call for all sitting Labour MPs but abstaining at this stage on this Bill was the right and only thing to do and at the same time maintain PLP unity? See what happens later in the year ? If no headway can be made to mitigate some of the more right wing aspects of the Welfare Reform proposal then a vote against an be considered.

  3. Thank you for this excellent article, Andrew, much-needed to inform a few very black and white thinking supporters, who have yet to realise that the media lies, distorts, misinforms and likes to perpetuate divisions. Something I have known for a long time. Hope you don’t mind my sharing this on my own site, with a credit to you. The more people who see this, the better.

  4. May I suggest you pepper the media with separate press releases as each amendment is debated. At least some of them will get through. And I shouldnt have to tell you to word them in a way favourable to the Party since editors will be more likely to use material they can cut and paste verbatim.

  5. Why not show your opposition by voting against, then? If all Labour had turned up, no doubt all the Tories would have too. Probably would have been defeated by Tory majority but at least the electorate could see you are, indeed, fighting for those who are struggling. The party of abstention is not giving a voice to those who voted for it by refusing to stand up in opposition.

      • Mary, we DID vote against. That was the whole point of the motion. “that this House DECLINES to give the Bill a 2nd Reading because…”

        The ‘because’ bit is important as the Tories were just waiting to pounce that Labour was against cutting Council House rents and apprenticeships and helping troubled families. We’re not.

        I’m sure it seemed a clever technique – and one that we and other parties use very frequently (the SNP used a Reasoned amendment to oppose the Finance Bill yesterday) but we aren’t in a good place because we didn’t shout loudly enough before the vote that what we were doing IS voting against the Bill BUT only because we dislike certain parts of it.

  6. Like other Labour MP’s today, you are explaining this.
    Why in the world this tactic wasn’t explained before the vote, I have no idea. If party members had been made aware beforehand, [which they could have been], then today’s disarray could have been avoided.
    Surely the tories would have known that Labour would use this tactic, so no surprise there. After some pre-election canversations and post-election observations, I am becoming more convinced that Labour party mambers are being sidelined. The MPs are afraid of ‘the electorate’ and the media. That is how it seems.
    I do have to agree with many people, however, that Labour ought to have voted directly against the Bill. THAT would have sent a message to ‘ordinary’ people that you meant business.
    I am a party member, hanging on by the skin of your [MP’s], mistaken belief that you understand us.
    Thanks.

    • I can see this was a purposefully divisive strategy by the Tories. It’s terribly difficult to find a way of tackling this type of ploy, and it is going to keep on happening. It’s not the first time either.

      The Tories have since pushed the label yet again “the party of welfare”. Indicating that we did in fact oppose effectively. We were put in a lose/lose situation on this. If MPs abstain, it’s seen as a lack of opposition by our left core support – even though that clearly isn’t the case. If MP’s vote against the Bill, we get labelled “the party of welfare.” Unfortunately, recent research indicates that we lost votes to UKIP and the Tories because some former supporters consider we are “too soft” on welfare (and immigration, they also cited distrust of trade union links, tax and the Tory lies – their narrative about the economy – worked), so we have a dilemma. How do we deal with being caught between public perceptions and public interests? How do we reconcile populism with democracy and ethics? This is a situation that has been engineered almost entirely by the Tories and mainstream media. I don’t think many can see the dilemma and the SNP and Greens, ever electioneering, certainly don’t help.

  7. Hmmmm. I really hope you are on our side, without that we feel helpless and hopeless. How do you feel about the cuts in disability benefits. I am so worried that I will lose my motability car when I am reassessed for PIP. Without this car I would be completely housebound and as I live alone I could not manage my day to day living. I can walk only with crutches and then just a few steps. I am in constant pain but try as hard as I can to be positive. So without PIP, I may as will give up. Thank yoj forexplaining the situation. x

  8. Well isnt that just typical of this goverment, the way they tell it Labour is with them on what they are doing, good way to turn people on Labour, therefore leaving no one with a majority to rock their vote!! good luck going up against them and I hope you can all get somewhere, but they are such slippery so and so,s, they will probably have some other trick up their sleeves !!

  9. Pingback: The trouble with abstention, is that it looks a lot like cowardice | A Mad Man With A Blog

  10. It was such a clever strategy, in that it failed to avoid a massive blow to Labour’s credibility. It is all well and good Mr Gwynne explaining – explanation before the vote, accusation of Osborne cynical manipulation, and/ or total opposition alleging Tory manipulation of policies blah blah – not beyond the with of intelligent people. But this farce? No.

  11. Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating and commented:
    Another Labour MP clarifying what actually happened on Monday nights vote on the Welfare Bill.

    Please read it, understand it and then repost it on all of your social media blogs.
    Labour Party members, supporters,affiliates and the general public must know the processes of these Bill readings to appreciate what has really happened and what comes next.

  12. Thanks for this, I appreciate the classifications. I hope you can see, though, that along with the way Harriet Harman presented abstention (actively supporting some of the bill’s more unpopular provisions, explaining that this was partly because the country had just voted for a Tory government) and the SNP’s much easier-to-understand opposition to the bill, what Labour did *looked* like a failure to oppose yet more brutal Tory cuts and reforms.

    It wasn’t the betrayal it was painted to be, for all the reasons you’ve explained, but it was terrible politics. It looked like a gesture of appeasement, at a time when many in this country are dying for an effective opposition. Corbyn and McDonnell got this one right.

  13. Thanks for the clarification. I feel a lot better now about sticking to my plan to vote for Andy. However, the handling of this had been appalling and as someone else said why oh why wasn’t this explained to members beforehand. No wonder people are angry.

  14. Pingback: News update for the fortnight ending 26/7/15: EXTRA BIG EDITION | abspolitics

  15. When you say at the end ‘And if none of our amendments succeed? Then we still have an opportunity to vote against the Bill at Third Reading.’ Are you suggesting that if you get just one amendment through you will support this Bill? This needs clarification…do you want all amendments to succeed before you vote for the Bill or will just one do?

  16. Thanks very much, Mr Gwynne, for your detailed explanation (link provided via Stella Creasy’s newsletter).

    It is truly a shame that the Labour Party couldn’t have provided similar clarification – as a “Party” – for its members and supporters. Perhaps the rage and condemnation might not have been so severe. I recognise that Ms Harman might not have wanted to leave a potential headache for the next Labour leader, whoever that person may be, by taking too firm a line with this Bill.

    With that said, the Opposition should still have opposed on a point of principle (in my view).

  17. Thanks very much indeed, Mr Gwynne, for your clarification and explanation of actions taken by the Labour Opposition MPs. I discovered this page through a link on Stella Creasy MP’s newsletter, via a link in the Guardian!

    It is a shame that the Labour Party itself didn’t provide a similar service for its members and supporters regarding this controversial Bill. There would have been much less heat and more light shed on the subject. I can now ask intelligent questions when I next meet my excellent (local Labour) MP and ask her about this.

    Thanks again.

  18. Pingback: Corbynism has already claimed its first major victim: Andy Burnham « Labour Uncut

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