Labour Party sees massive revolt but welfare bill that will cut £12bn from spending is passed in parliament

Abstainers include many contenders for the Labour leadership, including Andy Burnham

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Indy Politics

The Government's bill that will cut spending on welfare by £12 billion has been passed in the House of Commons, with 308 votes to 124.

Despite 48 out of 216 Labour MPs going against the whip and voting against the bill, far more abstained, letting the bill pass with a large majority.

Abstainers include many contenders for the Labour leadership, including Andy Burnham. However, he did vote for a Labour amendment which came just before the main vote, which said the Government's bill should not get a second reading. This vote was defeated, by 308 votes against 208.

Leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn was the only candidate to vote against the bill, going against the whip's instructions.

The other potential leaders, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, both abstained - although all are believed to have voted for the defeated Labour amendment.

Prominent Labour figures such as Diane Abbott, Sadiq Khan and David Lammy, all of whom are standing as London Mayor candidates, broke ranks and voted against the bill. No members of the shadow cabinet voted against the bill.

Following the passing of the bill, SNP MP Pete Wishart asked the Speaker if the seating arrangements in the House of Commons could be re-ordered, to show that the SNP is the official opposition. The SNP voted against the bill, with Hannah Bardell MP saying that her party wanted to create a "progressive alliance" across the UK that would oppose the government.

In the lengthy debate which preceded the vote, Tim Farron used his first Commons speech as Liberal Democrat leader to deliver a scathing attack on the Government’s plans, which he called “unfair, unwise and inhuman".

Seeking to draw a line under his party’s spell in coalition, Mr Farron also challenged Labour to overcome its “confusion” and join the Lib Dems’ depleted ranks in voting against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

Labour has been agonising over its response to the moves set out by George Osborne two weeks ago in his Budget, divided between MPs who want to oppose the measures outright and those who support some of them.

The Bill includes moves to cut entitlement to tax credits and housing benefit, to lower a household’s entitlement to welfare and to bring in a new “living wage”.

But Mr Farron, who is on the left of his party, condemned the package as “economically stupid” and accused ministers of “political spin” to cover up the impact of planned benefit cuts on the worst-off.

He said: “We will vote against this Bill because we know the depth and character of these proposals are unfair, unwise and inhuman. They are anything but economically necessary.”

He said: “This Government pledges a living wage which even they know is not one. They want a welfare state that is anything but good for our country’s welfare and it uses the guise of economic necessity to cover up ideologically driven cuts.”

Mr Farron said: “Cutting tax credits, tightening the benefit cap and ramping up Right to Buy are not just morally wrong they are economically wrong. Widening inequality is not just against British decency it is also economically stupid.”

He denounced Labour for giving in to the “narrative that the answer to our country’s needs is to pit the working poor against the temporarily not working poor”.

The Labour MP Helen Goodman, who defied her party leadership by tabling an amendment opposing the Bill, claimed the Government lacked the mandate to bring in the “regressive” changes.

She said: “Throughout the election campaign the Tories refused to say how they were going to save £12bn from the welfare Bill, and they refused to do that precisely because they knew the measures would be unpopular and hit them in the ballot box.”

She said the Bill’s “most obnoxious” element was its plan to limit tax credits to two children.

The shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Stephen Timms, focused his attack on the Government’s decision to abandon targets for reducing child poverty.

He said: “The Conservative Party manifesto promised it would ‘work to eliminate child poverty’. It is now absolutely clear they didn’t mean it. The Bill abandons any pretence that they did.”

Opening the debate, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, tore into Labour for failing to wean itself off its “addiction to pay debt” with other people’s money. He said: “In 1980, working-age welfare accounted for 8 per cent of all public spending but by 2010 it had risen to nearly 13 per cent. That’s more than £2bn, almost £8,000 for every household.

“Nine in 10 families who had children were eligible when we came into Government for tax credits. And so from last week it’s clear many of the other side still, I don’t believe, have actually learnt anything from some of the mistakes made during the 13 years of the Labour government.

“They haven’t weaned themselves off the addiction to pay debt and more debt off somebody else’s money, and they are still not credible when it comes to managing the public finances.

“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. However, it is also clear in the Bill we have been careful to ensure the changes are fair.”