Leadsom defends Tory abstentions in pay cap vote

Written by Tamsin Rutter on 15 September 2017 in News
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Leader of the house claims government policy on the pay cap has already been “thoroughly covered” after Labour tables opposition-day motion

Andrea Leadsom Credit: Paul Heartfield

The leader of the House of Commons has defended the government’s decision not to take part in a vote tabled by Labour on public sector pay this week, claiming that the policy had already been “thoroughly covered”.

Andrea Leadsom, MP for South Northamptonshire and one of the frontrunners in last year's Conservative Party leadership campaign, defended prime minister Theresa May’s decision to order MPs to abstain in the opposition day motion votes on public sector pay and tuition fees on 13 September.

She said the government had taken the debates “extremely seriously” and was addressing the policy issues in great detail, but did not feel the need to participate in the vote.


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Labour’s motions – which called for an end to the public sector pay cap for NHS workers and opposition to the £250 yearly increase in student tuition fees – were passed on Wednesday after being backed by Democratic Unionist party MPs.

As it became clear that the government had no majority to win, Conservative MPs were told to abstain from the non-binding vote.

Speaking at an event run by the Institute for Government think tank, Leadsom said: “A vote on an opposition day resolution is not binding on the government.

“On these particular subjects, we took the view that they have been really clearly set out, that we very clearly listening, that we are addressing the policy issues in great detail, and therefore we decided that we did not need to also participate in an opposition day motion vote.”

The relevant secretaries of state attended the opposition day debates, and there have been recent ministerial statements and new policies announced on both issues, she added.

Earlier this week Downing Street signalled an end to the public sector pay cap, which has been set at 1% since 2012 following a two-year pay freeze.

It was confirmed that police and prison officers will receive a 2% and 1.7% pay rise respectively for 2017/18, while government said it recognises that “more flexibility may be required” across the rest of the public sector from 2018.

Speaker of the house John Bercow, speaking at a previous IfG event earlier that day, warned that it would be a “matter of widespread concern” if government regularly ignored votes that it was set to lose on opposition day debates.

"Parliamentary votes do matter and I think it would be a very worrying development if they were to be treated lightly or disregarded,” he said.

Responding to these concerns, Leadsom said the government took subjects raised by the opposition very seriously, and it was not government policy to routinely abstain from such votes.

In a wide-ranging discussion, she also said she believed this parliament, which has only been sitting for a few weeks, was more “cooperative and collegiate” than people think.

Leadsom also defended the “so-called Henry VIII powers” that would allow the EU legislation transferred into UK law to be amended by ministers without a parliamentary vote, saying that the powers are “not unique to this parliament”.

The Department for Exiting the European Union was examining various suggestions for how best to scrutinise delegated powers, she added.

About the author

Tamsin Rutter is senior reporter for Civil Service World and tweets as @TamsinRutter

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