Last night the House of Commons backed the Conservative’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill containing £12bn in welfare cuts, with many Labour MP’s abstaining on a vote after supporting their own amendment to block the bill.
The use of an abstention by Labour MP’s, including Wrexham’s Ian Lucas, has created controversy with many seeing the vote as a clear ‘for’ or ‘against’ issue.
Yesterday evening two votes took place, the first an amendment tabled by Labour’s Harriet Harman, which included the line stating the intent ‘declining to give a Second Reading to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill’, in effect stopping the bill. Labour MP’s were guided by their party to vote for this, which Mr Lucas did, however it was defeated 308 to 208 votes.
The separate vote that took place shortly after was to see if the bill would get a second reading, Labour MP’s were guided by the party to abstain, apparently to show the public that Labour ‘accepts the need for some welfare cuts’. This reflected the message from Harriet Harman saying “We cannot simply say to the public you were wrong at the election”, saying Labour heard voter concerns over welfare payments.
After the vote local MP Ian Lucas had some direct questions and criticism fired at him after appearing to support blocking the bill, yet abstaining on the second vote where he could have cast a definite vote against it.
Wrexham.com spoke with Mr Lucas this afternoon after sending him a sample of ‘feedback’ received over the vote. Asking him to explain his position and what happened he told us: “Last night I voted twice, I voted once for a Labour amendment to to the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, the amendment is actually a vote against the bill.
“The thing about the bill is that it contains a few different proposals, one is the increase of the national minimum wage which was a Labour Party policy before the general election and has been adopted by George Osbourne through his proposals for a National Living Wage. It also contains proposals for levies on employees to create apprenticeships which was also Labour Party policy.
“It also contains very negative aspects, I don’t like the proposal related to child poverty, the amendment to targets or the issues relating to benefit caps. So it contains some positives but many negatives aspects.
“I had already voted against the bill via the amendment I abstained. I had not voted for the bill at any stage.”
Asking Mr Lucas about the contrast abstaining on the vote paints compared to his strong opposition to welfare cuts on his Twitter account he said: “I am very vocal about welfare cuts on social media and I will continue to oppose them, but there are aspects of the bill I support such as the increase in the national minimum wage.”
We asked Mr Lucas if he thought he was standing up for the people of Wrexham by his actions last night, he said: “I do think that I was standing up for my constituents when I was voting yesterday, and I will continue to do so. That goes as well for the Committee stage where we have a detailed discussion on different aspects of the bill. It will then come back and be voted upon again in the House of Commons, there will be changes to the bill in committee so we will see where it is at that stage.
“If I had voted against the second reading in the way say Diane Abbott did last night I would be voting against some aspects of Labour Party policy. You could say Plaid Cymru who voted against the bill last night opposed the increase of the national minimum wage. It works both ways, and that is why we put down what is called a ‘reasoned amendment’ explaining that we were in favour of some things but against others.
“After consideration and thinking about it I thought that was the best way to approach it.”
Referencing the reaction and backlash on social media towards the Labour Party, and some directed at himself, we asked if he regretted his decision to abstain. Mr Lucas replied: “No I don’t because I think the backlash is organised, it is often misrepresenting what my position is. I am comfortable in my position and I will justify it to anyone.”
Referring to Plaid Cymru, Mr Lucas said: “There are particular individuals who are very active on social media who take more delight in attacking the Labour Party in North Wales than they do attacking the Conservatives. For me the main opposition is the Conservatives who I have been campaigning against for a very long time and I will continue to make that argument.”
“The long and the short of this is that it is very complicated but that is the way these things work”
On the question of complexity we pointed out that an abstention on a vote could appear neutral, rather than coming out strongly either way.
Mr Lucas responded: “Well, I voted against the Government last night because I voted for a Labour amendment which they opposed and that we lost. There was a separate vote, which is not the one people are talking about, which was an abstention.
“As I have explained, that vote contained elements which I actually do support such as the increase in the national minimum wage. If you argue that people vote against that, they therefore oppose that policy, then you have to accept for example if you are a member of Plaid Cymru that it means you are against a national minimum wage. Is that their position?”
We asked if he supported fellow Labour MP’s, such as Andy Burnham, who have come out today to state they would oppose the bill at future readings. Mr Lucas told us: “If there are no changes to the bill Andy Burnham said yesterday that he would vote against a third reading. I will make my decision when the vote actually comes up as we don’t know what we are voting on until then.
“I will be guided by in the first instance by what the then leader says, and we do not know yet who that will be and where we are and what the bill contains. It is very difficult for me now to say what I will be doing in six months time. ”
The abstention action has been described by some in Labour as showing ‘understanding of public concerns about high costs of welfare spending’, so we asked if that was representative of his vote. Mr Lucas told us: “There is an issue relating to the high levels of welfare spending. We need welfare reform, but we need it of the right type. When I speak to people in Wrexham, and I have done alot of that on a continuous basis, even more than usual in the last year, that is an issue of major concern. Those people who say it is not an issue are not engaged with what people in Wrexham are talking about.”
The Commons backed the Welfare Reform and Work Bill by 308 to 124 votes, with 48 Labour MP’s going against the Labour Party whip and voting against it rather than abstaining.