By Martin Kelly
A Scottish Labour MP has suffered an embarrassing slap-down by his own party after he called on bedroom tax arrears to be written off and for payments to be re-funded to tenants.
Ian Davidson was left red-faced after his call for the pledge was rejected by colleague Stephen Timms, Shadow Minister of State for Employment.
The Scottish Affairs Committee was debating recommendations of a report which said Bedroom Tax arrears should be written off and payments should be refunded. During the debate SNP MP Pete Wishart challenged Ian Davidson MP on whether Labour would commit to the recommendations of the report.
However Davidson was left red-faced when he said he agreed with the recommendations but was slapped down by his colleague Stephen Timms, Shadow Minister of State for Employment, who said that while he thought it sounded like an nice slogan, a UK Labour government would not make the commitment.
During the debate on the controversial policy, Davidson, who chairs the Scottish Affairs Committee got to his feet and called for his party to back the report recommendations, saying it would be a great election slogan.
He said: “I wonder if I can ask my party spokesman, whether or not he accepts the recommendation of the report that all bedroom tax should be written off and all payments made should be re-funded and would he like me welcome a general election with the slogan ‘Vote Labour and get your bedroom tax back’?
However colleague Stephen Timms rejected the idea, saying: “Well that sounds a very good slogan but sadly I can’t give my honourable friend the assurance that he seeks.”
A desperate Davidson was heard pleading “tomorrow?” in an effort at mitigating his embarrassment, whilst his party colleague Pamela Nash urged “yes, yes”, to no avail.
The apparent split between the Scottish Labour MPs and the party’s shadow minister for employment has prompted calls from the SNP for Labour to spell out its position on the bedroom tax.
SNP spokesperson for Work and Pensions Dr Eilidh Whiteford said:
“This was a major own goal for Labour as it reveals they were not committed to compensating those affected by the Bedroom Tax and writing off the debts.
“The comments also highlight how Labour will say one thing in Westminster and something completely different in Holyrood.
“The Bedroom Tax is a deeply unfair policy which will be scrapped in an independent Scotland.”
The debate also witnessed an admission from Mr Davidson’s party colleague, Pamela Nash, that a decision by 47 Labour MPs to fail to appear for a vote last year which called for the bedroom tax to be abolished, had been a mistake.
The MP for Aidrie and Shotts said of the mass no-show: “I do agree that that number of Labour MPs shouldn’t have been paired at that time,”
Amongst Labour MPs to fail to turn yp for the vote were Ms Nash and her colleagues Douglas Alexander, Gordon Brown, Brian Donohoe, Frank Doran, James Hood, David Hamilton, Ann McKechin, Jim Murphy and Anas Sarwar.
Commenting, SNP MP Ms Whiteford added: “It is a shame that Labour MPs did not feel so strongly on November 12 last year at their own debate in the House of Commons when there was a real opportunity to abolish this punitive tax. 47 Labour members didn’t even bother to turn up including – shamefully – 10 Scottish Labour MPs .
“In contrast the SNP government is doing all it can to help mitigate the impact of this divisive tax and have pledged that funding for Discretionary Housing Payments will continue next year with another £20 million to help victims of Westminster’s Bedroom Tax.
“One of the most significant gains of independence is that Scotland will have full control over its welfare system. That means only with a Yes vote will we finally be able to get rid of the unjust Bedroom Tax and have a welfare state that reflects the views and votes of the people of Scotland.”