Parliamentary procedure 1 versus those affected by #WelfareReform Bill 0

Screen shot 2016-08-16 at 05.42.23Holborn and St. PancrasScreen shot 2015-07-25 at 05.45.58

There’s been a lot anger – much of it stoked by unfavourable mainstream media and our political opponents, but some from those who should know better – over events surrounding the Second Reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill on 20 July 2015. Most of this  can be a lack of understanding [and a lack of explanation from the Labour leadership] over the archane and archaic nature of Parliamentary procedures.

The Bill received its Presentations and First Reading in the House of Commons on 09 June 2015. This is first stage of a Bill’s passage through the House of Commons – usually a formality, it takes place without debate. This is how it is recorded in Hansard:

Welfare Reform and Work

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Greg Clark, Greg Hands, Mr Oliver Letwin and Priti Patel, presented a Bill to make provision about reports on progress towards full employment and the apprenticeships target; to make provision about reports on the effect of certain support for troubled families; to make provision about social mobility; to make provision about the benefit cap; to make provision about social security and tax credits; to make provision for loans for mortgage interest; and to make provision about social housing rents.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow; and to be printed (Bill 51) with explanatory notes (Bill 51-EN).

The Second Reading is the first opportunity for MPs to debate the main principles of the Bill and usually takes place no sooner than two weekends afterFirst Reading, so I was surprised by the reference to this happening on 10 June 2015!

Just think what would and what wouldn’t have happened if the Welfare Reform Bill actutally HAD actually had its Second Reading on the following day.

Perhaps there would have been more focus on the outcomes for those affected by the provisions and none of the process of opposing this Bill?

We certainly wouldn’t have had Harriet Harman expected appearing on the Sunday Politics on 12 July 2015 telling Andrew Neill that Labour will not vote against the government’s Welfare Reform Bill at Second Reading.

This was covered in an article by the Guardian‘s political editor, Patrick Wintour: Anger after Harriet Harman says Labour will not vote against welfare bill [12 July 2015].

Her reasoning? The party simply could not tell the public they were wrong after two general election defeats in a row, she said, adding it had been defeated because it had not been trusted on the economy or benefits.

I may agree on the former, but have serious doubts about the latter – to suggest that having lost the 2015 General Election, Labour should abandon all [hope and] opposition to welfare cuts is frankly unbelievable.

Let’s remember, it took nearly 2 years to change the narrative over the pernicious Bedroom Tax. And still many think there were times when Labour MPs voted FOR the policy.

We made our case badly then, we must not do so again with future cuts to the safety net of social security.

On the  Radio 4 Today programme on 23 July 2015, in an interview with John Humphrys , John Prescott suggested that Harriet had come up with this course of action without consulting either the Shadow Cabinet or the Parliamentary Labour Party. No wonder there was confusion and ill-discipline.

No-one seemed capable or interested in articulating an alternative narrative to Harman’s “we must be seem to be tough of welfare” stance.

I was convinced all along that Labour needed  to signal its objections to the bill through some sort of amendment.

And within days of Harman’s appearance on the Sunday PoliticsAndy Burnham was calling for opposition to the duplicitous Bill- see Patrick Wintour: Andy Burnham clashes with acting leader Harriet Harman over welfare bill [Guardian, 12 July 2015]

Burnham was calling for a raft of credible amendments.

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In fact rather than a credible amendment, someone could propose a reasoned amendment – a Parliamentary measure which opposes a Bill going to its next stage. It allows you to set out the reasons why you are opposing the entire Bill, even when there are things in it that you support.

The ARE some good things in this Bill – the commitment to 3m apprenticeships [something which Labour was the first to promise] and the tricky conundrum of rent reductions for social housing tenants – changes which have the potential to make a positive difference for people, yet could cause financial problems for social landlords.

However flawed the Bill, the Tory Party have played a blinder in bringing  it forward – oppose it wholesale and they gain the upperhand, being able to continue their narrative that Labour are the party of welfare.

As it happened, 4 reasoned amendments were tabled – 2 from Labour, 1 from the Liberal Democrats and 1 from the SNP:

Reasoned Amendment 2
Reasoned amendment 1 [in the name of Helen Godman on behalf of LABOUR backbench]

Reasoned Amendment 1
Reasoned amendment 2 [in the name of Harriet Harmen on behalf of LABOUR frontbench]
Reasoned Amendment 3A

Reasoned Amendment 3B
Reasoned amendment 3 [in the name of Angus Robertson on behalf of SNP]

Reasoned Amendment 4
Reasoned amendment 4 [in the name of Helen Tom Brake on behalf of LD]
Let me state that fact again – as well as reasoned amendment from the Labour Shadow DWP team, there was another from a group of 58 Labour Backbench MPs AND Green MP Caroline Lucas, plus others from the Lib Dems and the SNP. Each of these opposed Welfare Reform Bill going to its next stage by setting out reasons for opposing the entire Bill, even when there are things that the signatories suported.

At the start of the debate on the Second Reading, the Speaker informed House that he had  selected the amendment standing in the name of the acting Leader of the Opposition:

That this House, whilst affirming its belief that there should be controls on and reforms to the overall costs of social security, that reporting obligations on full employment, apprenticeships and troubled families are welcome, and that a benefits cap and loans for mortgage interest support are necessary changes to the welfare system, declines to give a Second Reading to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill because the Bill will prevent the Government from continuing to pursue an ambition to reduce child poverty in both absolute and relative terms, it effectively repeals the Child Poverty Act 2010 which provides important measures and accountability of government policy in relation to child poverty, and it includes a proposal for the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance which is an unfair approach to people who are sick and disabled.

To my mind, this was the least credible reasoned amendment on offer – in that within its weak and wolly wording it  accepted the need for welfare cuts and didn’t oppose the benefit caps. I wonder what would  have happened if Mr Speaker had chosen one of the other 3?

So the Second Reading proceeded as normal- The Government Minister, spokesperson or MP responsible for the Bill (Iain Duncan Smith) opened the Second Reading debate.The official Opposition spokesperson  (Stephen Timms) responded with their views on the Bill. The debate continued with other Opposition parties and backbench MPs giving their opinions.

My annotated Storify on the debate: 20/07/15 | Second Reading of #WelfareReform and Work Bill 2015-16.

After summing up  by Kate Green for the Opposition and Priti Patel for the Government, the Division on the reasoned amendment to decline a Second Reading was taken at 21:50

Vote on reasoned amendment

So whatever anyone might say, on Monday 20 July 2015 193 Labour MPs voted against giving the Welfare Reform & Work Bill a Second Reading using the Parliamentary process of a reasoned amendment.

Unfortunately, whilst Liberal Democrat MPs supported it, the Tories opposed it [as you would expect]. Disappointingly the SNP, along with Caroline Lucas of the Green Party, some  LABOUR MPs failed to support the frontbench reasoned amendment, choosing to instead abstain on the vote.

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LABOUR MPs absent for vote on LABOUR frontbench reasoned amendment

(Natascha Engel as Deputy Speaker could not vote because they are Deputy Speakers – automatically paired with government MP)

(Thangam Debbonaire has been diagnosed with cancer and was in Bristol having chemotherapy. She was ‘paired’ with a government MP so her absence did not affect the outcome of the vote.)

(Fabian Hamilton was recovering from surgery)

(Lindsay Hoyle s Deputy Speaker could not vote because they are Deputy Speakers – automatically paired with government MP)

(Lisa Nandy was on maternity leave.)

(Christina Rees was abroad on an all-party working group)

(Rachel Reeves was on maternity leave)

In a twitter conversation with me, Caroline Lucas explained her decision not to support the LABOUR frontbench reasoned amendment

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Many of the remaining LABOUR absentees later went on to vote AGAINST the Second Reading

Fifteen minutes later, on the next Division the majority of MPs voted to support the Welfare Reform and Work Bill at its Second Reading, allowing it to continue on its path to becoming law.

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Labour List has the full list of those Labour MPs who broke the whip by voting against the Second Reading.

Following the Division on the Second Reading, the Welfare Reform and Work Bill – as a Government bill –  progressed through two further procedural stages when the Commons agreed [verbally] a Programme Motion and the Money Resolution.

Since the Bill includes a proposal for new or increased public expenditure, this separate Money Resolution needed be passed by the Commons as the Committee on a bill cannot consider the sections of the Bill which relate to this expenditure unless the Commons has agreed to the necessary money resolution.

A Programme Motion in the House of Commons is usually agreed to immediately after a Bill’s Second Reading and then becomes known as the ‘programme order’. Programme orders help to make a Bill’s progress through its various stages much more predictable.

What next?

The Bill will move into the Committee Stage, where detailed examination of the Bill will take place – each clause (part) and any amendments (proposals for change) to the Bill will be debated.

Amendments proposed by MPs to the Bill are published daily and reprinted as a marshalled list of amendments for each day the committee discusses the Bill. The Chair of the Committee will select amendments or discussion are selected by the Chair of the Committee and only members of the committee can vote on amendments during this stage.

Abstaining on this vote for a Second Reading is of far less significance than working to amend the bill during the subsequent committee stage.

During the debate, Stephen Timms said:

The Secretary of State does not need to wait until the Committee because we will table a raft of amendments tonight: if our reasoned amendment fails and the Bill receives a Second reading, we will table our amendments. He will see in that list of amendments a series of amendments to deal with the unfairness in that part of the Bill. Those amendments will give him the answer that he seeks. They will appear on the Order Paper tomorrow so that the House can consider them over the weeks ahead.”.

True to his word those amendments were tabled – some 24 of them:
Notice of Amendments as of 20 July 2015
Notice of Amendments as of 21 July 2015

and new amendments will be available HERE as and when they are tabled.

Labour’s approach to this Bill in Committee will be to oppose the Bill line by line and clause by clause. Labour’s MPs will force individual votes on their 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 these amendments succeed? Then there is still have an final opportunity to vote against the Bill at Third Reading. It is this vote that will stop the Bill becoming law

Further reading:
Debbie Abrahams [LAB, Oldham East and Saddleworth] Government’s ‘Wicked’ Welfare Reform and Work Bill [21 July 2015]

Kate Green [LAB, Stretford and Urmston] Kate’s letter to her constituents on the Welfare Reform Bill [21 July 2015]

Andrw Gywnne MP {LAB, Denton and Reddish] Debunking the myths on Commons procedure and the Welfare Bill [21 July 2015]

Ian Lavery MP {LAB, Wansbeck] Why I voted against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill [21 July 2015]

Emma Lewell-Buck MP [LAB, South Shields] Read Emma’s statement on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill [21 July 2015]

Diana Johnson {LAB, Hull North] The need for a proper Labour response to Welfare Reform [23 July 2015]

Steve McCabe [LAB, Birmingham Selly Oak ] Steve McCabe MP on the Welfare Reform Bill [23 July 2015]

Ian Murray [LAB, Edinburgh South] Welfare and Work Bill [21 July 2015]

Jeff Smith [LAB, ] Why we voted against the Welfare Bill – and why we abstained [23 July 2015]

Karin Smyth MP [LAB, Bristol South] Opposing the Welfare Reform & Work Bill [22 July 2015]

Keir Starmer MP [LAB, Holborn and St. Pancras] My position on the Welfare Reform & Work Bill: Second Reading [20 July 2015]

Kitty Jones The Welfare Reform Bill and Labour’s reasoned amendment
A blog focusing on parliamentary process rather than offer an opinion, just to clarify the issues – she is clear that LABOUR opposed Second Reading of Welfare Bill using a reasoned amendment.

Compass Statement on Welfare Reform & Work Bill – Time for Labour to find its voice [27 July 2015]