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Andrea Leadsom [Image: PA].

The nation can breathe easy in the knowledge that the minority Conservative government has said it will respect the results of debates called by the Opposition after all. Right?

Apparently, the only reasons the Tories didn’t bother to vote in the debates on public sector pay and tuition fees are: They agreed with the former, and it was too late to change the latter.

Do we believe that?

Former Tory Chief Whip Mark Harper said in the debate on the subject today (October 10): “In the NHS debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health did not argue against the motion on the Order Paper. What he actually said was that it was bogus, because it did not address some of the fundamental issues.

“The final part of the motion talked about ending the public sector pay cap of 1%, and of course my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who excellently wound up that debate, made the point that for the forthcoming financial year, the Government would allow the pay review bodies more flexibility anyway, so it seemed rather pointless to be engaging in that debate. The debate, of course, is about what constitutes a fair pay rise—what is affordable.

“We all agree that NHS workers—indeed, public sector workers generally—should get a fair pay rise. The point of political debate is to ask what “fair” means. We have to balance affordability for the economy, what public sector workers need to get paid for recruitment, retention and morale purposes, and what those in the private sector, who pay taxes to pay for our public services, are being paid. If we read the motion, I think we find it was completely consistent with the Government’s policy, which I suspect is exactly why the Secretary of State for Health did not feel it was sensible to urge Conservative colleagues to vote against it.

“The second very important motion on the Order Paper that day was about the higher education regulations relating to tuition fees… The regulations were laid before the House on 15 December 2016 and came into force on 20 February this year, so voting against them would have had no effect whatever.”

Labour MPs said this was not enough.

“Having been given that Opposition day on 13 September, the shadow Secretaries of State for Health and for Education moved and spoke eloquently to their motions, and we then witnessed the bizarre spectacle of the Government making no comment whatsoever,” said Valerie Vaz. “They had tabled no amendment to the motion. There was no voting for and no voting against, so Parliament was left in limbo. What was the status of the motion? It was a proper, substantive motion, defined as a self-contained proposal submitted for the approval of the House and drafted in such a way as to be capable of expressing a decision of the House. And it did, in this case to NHS workers and students about to start university.”

Her colleague Toby Perkins added: “Many people watch debates that come up, on Opposition days and at other times, and they expect a vote, and if there is no vote then they believe that the view of Parliament has been heard and they expect things to change as a result. If the Government’s approach is to allow motions through but then not carry them through in policy terms, then people will rightly think that we are just a talking shop.”

Even arch-Tory Peter Bone agreed: “Does my right hon. Friend not agree that if Parliament decides on something the Government should listen?.. I would like to suggest to the Leader of the House that it becomes a formula that if the House expresses a view, the Government should respond to it. That does not mean that they have to accept everything, but they should come to the Dispatch Box and say what they are doing on the issue.”

Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom claimed that the House of Commons “expressed an opinion” when it agreed to the Opposition day motions.

If that is true, when will we see the legislation to reverse the tuition fee increase?

She went on to say that the government would examine Opposition motions “case by case, and voting is a matter for the House.”

But how can we believe this, without action on the decisions that were made on September 13?


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