The leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, has been accused by senior Conservatives MPs of paving the way for “tyranny”, after the government whipped its MPs to abstain on a Labour motion on universal credit.
Leadsom faced criticism from some Conservative MPs after saying the government was not bound by the resolution, which called for the rollout of the controversial welfare changes to be paused.
Sir Edward Leigh, the veteran MP for Gainsborough, said: “The road to tyranny is paved by executives ignoring parliaments.”
Valerie Vaz, the shadow leader of the house, pressed Leadsom on the government’s response. “This is where we make the law. This is not a school debating chamber. This is a disorganised government, disrespectful to the house,” she said.
“I know the government didn’t want to hear about people in rent arrears struggling to feed their families when they’re in work, but that’s the reality when government policy is failing.”
Leadsom also confirmed that the EU withdrawal bill would not return to the House of Commons next week, and pointed to long breaks of up to 10 weeks at the same stage of other recent constitutional bills, such as the Human Rights Act and the Fixed Term Parliament Act.
“It should be reassuring to the house to know that the government is looking very carefully at those amendments and clauses. I would like to point out to members across the house that there is nothing odd at all about a pause between second reading and committee of the whole house,” she said.
The EU bill delay and the government’s decision to ignore the universal credit motion underline the challenges of governing without a secure majority.
Jeremy Corbyn’s party is seeking to exploit the government’s weakness and press home the arguments made during the general election campaign by holding a series of debates on key social policy issues.
Labour’s motion on universal credit passed unanimously on Wednesday night despite the concerns of several Conservative rebels, but some Tory MPs were infuriated by being urged by their own side to ignore it.
Announcing parliamentary business for the week ahead, Leadsom repeatedly insisted that the government was listening to MPs’ concerns about universal credit, but Leigh said the secretary of state for work and pensions, David Gauke, should be forced to respond formally.
“I do urge my right honourable friend to listen to parliament, and I urge the secretary of state to come to parliament and make a statement, and it should be a statement full of meat,” he said. His own party would be outraged if a future minority Labour government ignored parliament in this way, he added.
Citing Gauke’s announcement that the universal credit helpline would be made free to use, Leadsom said: “This government is very clearly listening to parliament, and has very clearly taken action as a result of concerns raised in this house.
“DWP ministers will come back to the chamber to update members across the house on the progress with rolling out universal credit.”
Another MP, the avid Brexiter Peter Bone, said ministers should be obliged to respond to resolutions such as Wednesday’s with a statement to parliament within 12 weeks. “We cannot ignore the will of the house,” he said.
At the regular lobby briefing with journalists, the prime minister’s spokeswoman said ministers’ participation in the debate showed they were not being disrespectful. “What would be disrespectful would be not to participate in the debate,” she said.
“The secretary of state opened the debate and a minister of state closed it, and MPs from all sides took part and it was a five-hour debate. David Gauke was also in front of the select committee. We took part fully in the debate.”
Ministers would be keeping the policy under review ahead of the next stage of the rollout in January, she said.
“From our perspective, what’s important is that universal credit is working,. Yesterday the secretary of state made some announcements and we do not have anything further to add on that. We are listening to concerns and we will continue to do so, as it continues to roll out. We will keep it under review.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010