Norwich MP among Labour rebels in welfare bill vote

Clive Lewis. Photo: Mark Tillie

Clive Lewis. Photo: Mark Tillie - Credit: photograph by mark tillie

Almost 50 Labour MPs, including Norwich South MP Clive Lewis, have defied Harriet Harman to vote against controversial Tory welfare reforms.

A rebel amendment tabled by Labour former minister Helen Goodman was not selected for debate and vote despite being signed by more than 50 backbenchers.

But some 47 Labour MPs still marched into the No lobby against Ms Harman's orders to abstain on the main second reading vote, which the Conservatives won 308 to 124, majority 184. Including a rebel teller, the Labour revolt stood at 48 of the party's 232 MPs.

Three of Labour's leadership candidates, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, stayed away but Jeremy Corbyn chose to join the revolt.

London mayor candidates Diane Abbott, Sadiq Khan and David Lammy were also among the rebels. The remaining No votes were made up of SNP and other minor parties.

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Ms Harman's reasoned amendment outlining concerns about the Welfare Reform and Work Bill was defeated 308 to 208, majority 100.

The interim Labour leader has insisted her party should not oppose the plans - which cut tax credits, reduce the welfare cap and introduce a 'national living wage' - outright because it will not be heard on the issues it has a particular problem with.

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But rebel ringleader Ms Goodman warned the Bill was 'obnoxious' and 'regressive', highlighting a future limit on tax credits to two children per household as a key failing.

Against the backdrop of Labour infighting, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith accused Opposition MPs of failing to wean themselves off their 'addiction to pay debt' with other people's cash.

He said: 'As a result of our reforms, five in 10 families with children will be eligible for tax credits, bringing a greater balance to the welfare budget.

'We are protecting the most vulnerable in society, including the elderly and disabled, and where possible we're only introducing changes for new claimants only so those people who have planned on the basis of what is currently available are not affected.'

Shadow work and pensions minister Stephen Timms said: 'We are committed to a cap on household benefits to help make families better off in work. We support reforms to mortgage interest support, which will strengthen work incentives and deliver savings.

'But this Bill does some very bad things as well.

'And it comes alongside a ruthless reduction in the support to working families through tax credits that will reduce work incentives and undermine the goals of universal credit - a reform which, even though it's now running four years late, we still want to succeed.'

Meanwhile, SNP welfare spokeswoman Hannah Bardell described the Bill as 'Dickensian', warning it would hit working families as well as children and vulnerable people.

Frank Field, the Labour chairman of the work and pensions committee, said: 'We need not to be at sixes and sevens on voting for things tonight but to hammer home there is one message here: that this Government talks a language outside this House and enacts a different language within this House, that they talk about strivers outside but we have a Bill before us tonight that will affect three million of those in work strivers who will be made worse off.'

Ms Goodman said: 'Throughout the election campaign the Tories refused to say how they were going to save £12 billion from the welfare bill, and they refused to do that precisely because they knew the measures would be unpopular and it would hit them in the ballot box.'

The Bishop Auckland MP added: 'I've been in this House for 10 years, I've never voted against my party's whip ... But I think there are so many issues in this Bill which are deeply concerning that I cannot avoid going into the no lobby tonight.'

Veteran left winger John McDonnell said he would 'swim through vomit' to join the rebellion and vote against the Bill.

Tim Farron, in his first Commons speech as Liberal Democrat leader, said: 'Tonight, we will vote against this Bill because we know the depth and character of these proposals are unfair, unwise and inhuman.'

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