Houses of ParliamentI wanted to write to constituents to explain my position on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, because the story is more complex than has been reported.

On Monday I voted for a reasoned amendment tabled by Labour, calling for the Bill to be rejected because of the impact it would have on child poverty and on disabled people. Sadly the Government was able to use its majority in the House to defeat this amendment. However, it is important to be clear that the Bill did not become law on Monday, and still needs to go through a number of parliamentary stages before it is passed, the Bill will now go into Committee Stage then onto third reading in the House.

I strongly oppose the bulk of the welfare changes in this Bill. However, there are also measures I support, like a commitment to 3 million apprenticeships (something which Labour was the first to promise) and rent reductions for social housing tenants – changes which have the potential to make a positive difference for people in Shields.

Rather than reject the good elements of the Bill as well as the bad ones, I believe the best approach is to allow the Bill to progress to Committee Stage, where Labour MPs can challenge the Government line-by-line and table specific amendments to get rid of the parts of the Bill we oppose. So once Labour’s reasoned amendment was rejected, I chose to abstain from the vote on Second Reading. This abstention was not an endorsement of the Bill, but a decision to enable Labour MPs to amend the Bill so that we can reject the Tories’ attacks on welfare while keeping those sections of the Bill which are positive.

Labour has already tabled a number of amendments that would remove the worst parts of the bill, including the Government’s plans to redefine child poverty and to cut support for disabled people. I look forward to supporting Labour’s amendments later in the year, and fighting against the Government’s attacks on support for the least well-off.

If Labour’s amendments are rejected, MPs will have a further opportunity to vote on the final Bill at Third Reading to prevent it from becoming law. If our amendments are rejected, and we are not able to remove the parts of the Bill that would harm vulnerable people, then I will of course oppose the Bill at Third Reading.

It is important that Labour approaches this Bill in a sensible way. A blanket vote against the Second Reading of the Bill on Monday would have allowed the Tories to continue to sell the lie that Labour are opposed to any reform of the welfare system at all.  We cannot allow that to happen. If as a party we are going to win back power in 2020 and stop the Tories doing even more harm to the poorest, we need to show the public that we are willing to engage in debates on welfare reform and how we ensure those who need support get it. However, I believe that this Bill is seriously flawed, and when it returns to the House later this year I will work with Labour colleagues to amend it, and if necessary vote against it.

I hope that this helps to explain my position.