Tory Government defeated on controversial Universal Credit

Theresa May
Theresa May
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MPs secured a symbolic victory over the Government by backing a Labour-led motion to pause Universal Credit, with a senior Tory among their ranks.

Sarah Wollaston, chairwoman of the Health Committee, joined Labour, the SNP and other opposition parties in supporting a non-binding motion asking ministers to halt the roll-out of its flagship welfare reforms.

She was the only Tory to back the motion, which was approved by 299 votes to zero after the Conservatives whipped their MPs to abstain.

READ MORE: Bill Jamieson: Are plans for Universal Income delusional?

There was also confusion when the House of Commons division list initially showed DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, a key figure in the party which struck a confidence and supply deal with Theresa May’s minority administration, as among the ayes.

But Mr Dodds told the Press Association he did not vote in the aye lobby, adding: “They made a mistake.”

Labour MP Anneliese Dodds (Oxford East) was initially not listed on the ayes despite speaking out against UC roll-out in the debate.

The division list was later updated, with Mr Dodds’ name no longer on the ayes list and Ms Dodds’ name appearing on the list of Labour MPs who supported the motion.

READ MORE: Mhairi Black slams Universal Credit

Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams claimed the overall result was a “major defeat” for the Government.

Speaker John Bercow said it was a “statement of fact” Labour’s motion was passed, adding the Government should explain to the Commons what it intends to do.

The vote came after more than five hours of debate which saw fierce criticism of UC’s roll-out from the Opposition benches, including claims it has been a “shambles” and “idiotic”.

Dr Wollaston had threatened to vote against the Government unless ministers recognised they needed to address a “fundamental flaw”.

She raised concerns about the time it takes for new claimants to receive their first payment under UC, with MPs having already warned that the six-week wait has been causing issues.

Dr Wollaston also criticised her party’s orders to abstain, telling the debate: “If there is no way for me to express my view on behalf of my constituents, that I think this fundamental flaw must be addressed before it is rolled out to the Totnes constituency next year, I’m afraid I will have to vote against the Government.

READ MORE: SNP MP criticises Universal Credit Pilot

“I don’t wish to do that because I support the fundamental, the underlying policy of Universal Credit, we’ve heard many of its benefits.

“But we are undermining it, I say again, by not addressing the fundamental flaw at its heart and I hope the minister will give an assurance at the despatch box so I don’t have to vote against the Government.”

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith advised his colleagues to resist the temptation to rebel over UC and instead continue suggesting changes to David Gauke, his successor as Work and Pensions Secretary.

Following the vote, Labour’s Ms Abrahams said: “Yet again, the Prime Minister and the Tories cannot command a majority in the House of Commons.

“The Prime Minister is in office, but not in power.”

Tory former minister Sir Edward Leigh questioned what the point of the Commons was if it merely expresses opinions “for the sake of it”.

He said he had trooped through the lobbies to vote on hundreds of divisions on Wednesdays over 34 years as an MP, and that he was “under the impression that it served some purpose”.

“And what worries me is that surely there is some sort of precedent here.

“This is not and should not be a university debating society, what is the point of the House of Commons if we just express opinions for the sake of it and surely when we vote it should have some effect?”

Following the vote, Mr Corbyn seized on Mr Bercow’s insistence that the Government must respond to the “clearly expressed view” of the Commons.

The Labour leader tweeted: “Labour’s motion on Universal Credit passed unanimously.

“The Tories must now act on clearly expressed will of Parliament & pause its roll out