Norwich South MP Clive Lewis hits out at government over Universal Credit

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Labour's Clive Lewis has attacked the government for making a 'mockery of parliamentary democracy' after the Conservatives ordered their MPs not to vote in a debate.

The Opposition day motion called for a halt to the roll out of Universal Credit amid concerns it can take as long as six weeks for the first, new single benefit payment to be received.

Many MPs have expressed concern that if people have to wait for their payments it could lead to a surge in debt and the need for food banks.

But prior to the debate Conservative MPs were ordered by the whips office to abstain from the vote. In the end Labour won by 299 to zero.

But the decision to ignore the non-binding motion has caused controversy in parliament.

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Norwich South MP Mr Lewis said those people worried about the impact of the new benefit payment would be angered by the move. And he added that by refusing to vote the Conservatives were treating the House of Commons with 'contempt'.

'The concept of one, overall payment for benefits is one Labour backs,' he said. 'This was not an attempt to derail that. The version of Universal Credit we would support would be different from the one the government is proposing but main idea is one we can back.

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'This motion did not say the government should scrap Universal Credit it simply said that the roll out should be halted in order to try and stop some of the problems we are already hearing about from some of the pilot areas.

'If the government had believed in their policy on this they would have voted against the motion. Instead they ignored it.

'It is also hugely disrespectful to the House of Commons and makes a mockery of parliamentary democracy. By choosing not to engage in opposition day debates they are showing huge contempt.

'The government is meant to be the legislator – they are not doing their job. They should be sanctioned but that will be for the public to decide, of course.'

Addressing the House of Commons at the end of the debate Speaker John Bercow said: 'We very much depend in this House, this institution, this great place, on conventions, precedent and a sense of respect for the will of the House.'

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