News and views from Paul Bull, the Labour and Co-operative Councillor for the St THOMAS Ward of Exeter City Council. Promoted by Dom Collins on behalf of Paul Bull, both of 26b, Clifton Hill, Exeter, EX1 2DJ.
Relevant document: The First Report from the Committee on Exiting the European Union, The process for exiting the European Union and the Government’s negotiating objectives, HC 815.]
8.41 pm Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): On 23 June, the British public voted to leave the European Union. Leaving the single market and the customs union was not on the ballot paper, and nor was the even worse option of falling back on World Trade Organisation rules, yet that is what this Conservative Government are now pursuing with no mandate.
Yesterday, the Centre for Cities published a report showing that Exeter, which voted remain, is the most dependent community in Britain on exports to the rest of the European Union. We send 70% of what we export to other EU countries and just 7% to the United States. My neighbouring city of Plymouth, which voted leave, is second on that list, sending 68% of its exports to the European Union. The south-west of England as a whole is the most dependent region in the United Kingdom on exports to the rest of the EU.
Full and unfettered access to the single market is crucial to thousands of businesses and the people whom they employ in my constituency and the south-west of England. Falling back on WTO rules would mean tariffs of up to 51% on the goods that we currently export, as well as tariffs on imports, which would put up prices in the shops even higher for the hard-pressed consumer.
Let us be clear that there is no going back once Article 50 is triggered. Unless there is a successful challenge to the current interpretation, this is a one-way street out of the EU to the hardest of hard Brexits.
Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): I have the greatest respect for the right hon. Gentleman, who is making his argument powerfully, but does he not believe that the time for such arguments was during the referendum campaign and that now we should focus on a positive future using our entrepreneurial flair, our trading skills and our inventiveness to make a success of what lies before us?
Mr Bradshaw: Yes, that was the time for arguing the principle. This is the time for arguing about the type of Brexit that we believe is in the best interests of our country. I am afraid that some of my colleagues are clinging to the straw of the vote that the Government have promised on any deal at the end of the two-year negotiation process, yet the Government have made it absolutely clear that the only choice will be between their hard Brexit and WTO rules. This could be our only chance to prevent the hardest of Brexits or to soften its blow, and I cannot and will not vote to destroy jobs and prosperity in my constituency.
I fully accept that it is easier for me to vote against article 50 because my constituency voted remain. I have been overwhelmed by the support for my position that I have received from my constituents and Labour party members, but I completely understand that some colleagues, particularly those in areas that voted heavily to leave, will find it more difficult to do this. In the end, however, as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) so ably reminded us, we are elected representatives who are called upon to use our own judgment about what is in the best interests of our constituencies and the country. Do we really believe that cutting ourselves off from our closest friends and main trading partners will hurt or help our constituents and our country? Do we honestly think it is in our national interests to hitch ourselves instead to this American President? We will all be judged in the future on how we voted on this Bill.
Finally, let me say that I am disappointed and saddened by the decision of my party’s leadership to try to force Labour MPs to support this Tory Bill. Even more, I regret that we are being whipped to vote to curtail our detailed debate to just three days—and this on the biggest issue of our lifetimes, which will have repercussions for generations to come. Scores of amendments to this Bill have been tabled, yet there is no chance of most of them being debated or voted upon. The situation is completely unacceptable and this is a dereliction of our duty as parliamentarians and as an Opposition.
Mr Winnick rose—
Mr Bradshaw: If my hon. Friend does not mind, I will finish now.
I will therefore vote against the Government’s programme motion to curtail debate. For the first time in nearly 20 years in this place, I will be voting against my party’s three-line whip on a Bill. In doing so, I am reflecting what I believe to be the majority view of those who elected me, and the view of millions of others in Britain who oppose this Government’s choice to pursue the worst and most destructive form of Brexit, and all the negative consequences that that will bring.
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 2015telling Andrew Neill that Labour will not vote against the government’s Welfare Reform Bill at Second Reading.
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.
Burnham was calling for a raft of credible amendments.
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:
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.
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.
(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
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.
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.
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.”.
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 MPswill 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