Yesterday in Parliament: Welsh MPs debate benefits cap

There may come a time when parliamentary debates about benefits are not of disproportionate interest to us in Wales, when welfare cuts do not have a bigger impact in Wales than elsewhere.

That time has yet to arrive during the 24 years I've been reporting politics at Westminster. So yesterday's five-hour debate on the government's plan to limit to one per cent annual rises in working age benefits featured contributions from a quarter of the 40 Welsh MPs.

Some raised examples from their constituencies. Labour's Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) asked: "How can it be fair when a young mother in my constituency on jobseeker's allowance is expected to live on £56.24 a week. She will lose £12 a week through the empty room tax and £9 a week in council tax. That leaves her with £35 a week to pay for heating, water and food. How is she going to survive? How can that be fair?"

Other Labour MPs made similar points. Wrexham's Ian Lucas said the changes were necessary only because the government had failed economically. Rhondda's Chris Bryant said: "In many constituencies where there is profound deprivation and low-income families have even less money coming in to spend every week, we will see further depression in the local economy, more shops closed and fewer people in jobs, so that we will never be able to refloat the economy.

"Is not the greatest scandal of all the fact that working people in our constituencies - people in jobs - are using food banks to feed their children?"

Monmouth Tory MP David Davies supported the welfare benefits up-rating bill but had concerns about the impact of redundancy on the middle-aged. He said: "I would have no hesitation in saying to somebody who is fairly young and in their 20s that they should be willing to accept any job going, no matter how demeaning it may appear.

"I have worked in nightclubs and done other low-paid work in my life. I would have more of a problem, however, with saying to people I know who spent 20 or 25 years working for Tata - British Steel as was - who lost their job through no fault of their own and who may be a father of three or four, "You have to go to work in Starbucks on the minimum wage."

"It is a shame that we find it hard in our benefit system to distinguish between different types of people, but that is the way it is."

Another Tory, Alun Cairns, criticised the last Labour government for enabling "quite privileged" people on £60,000 to qualify for tax credits.

Plaid Cymru's Hywel Williams ("on blistering form" according to his spin doctor) warned that Wales would be hit particularly hard by the changes. One family in six in Gwynedd received tax credits of some form, he said.

Labour's Nia Griffith said she'd received a distressing letter from a constituent diagnosed with cancer who'd been alarmed to discover the amount of statutory sick pay she would receive.

Labour's Albert Owen spoke of his predecessor, Megan Lloyd George, refusing promotion in a coalition government "because she wanted to stand up for the unemployed, the under-employed and the low paid, and she wanted to support the welfare state.

"Breaking the link today between the increase and inflation is in many ways a treacherous act for a Liberal."

Several Lib Dem MPs did vote against the government, while others - including Ceredigion's Mark Williams - abstained.