Downing Street suggests Tory MP's time is 'better spent' at football match than at Universal Credit debate

Douglas Ross will be a linesman at a Champions League match at Barcelona's stadium

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Wednesday 18 October 2017 14:30 BST
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Douglas Ross MP is heading to the Nou Camp stadium to officiate in a match
Douglas Ross MP is heading to the Nou Camp stadium to officiate in a match (Getty)

Downing Street has defended an MP who is missing a debate on the Universal Credit rollout by suggesting his time “can better be spent” at a football match in Spain.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said that despite the absence of Douglas Ross from the Commons, his other career as a football referee had not interfered with his “parliamentary duties”.

Instead of attending the debate, Mr Ross will be officiating as a linesman at a Champions League match at the Nou Camp stadium, where Barcelona will take on the Greek team Olympiacos.

Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman slammed his absence as “completely unacceptable” ahead of a non-binding vote called in the Commons by Labour, which the Government looked set to lose.

At 7pm MPs were expected to vote on the Labour motion demanding the rollout of Universal Credit is halted, amid concerns that vulnerable people face delays before receiving their full benefit, but the football match was due to begin at 7.45pm.

On Mr Ross’ absence and whether Tories would vote in the Labour’s UC debate, a Number 10 spokesman: “I have said previously that on some of these debates, we may say to MPs if you feel your time can better be spent elsewhere then….”

Asked if Mr Ross’ time was better spent in Barcelona than in the debate, he added: “What I should have said was, you will see Tory MPs who take an interest in this speaking in the debate and participating and of course you will have ministers speaking from the despatch box.”

Theresa May appears to say "yes" to Corbyn's request to scrap Universal Credit

Ms May was embarrassed in September when the Democratic Unionist Party, propping up her Government, backed Labour proposals in favour of increasing NHS pay and against a rise in tuition fees – with the non-binding motions passed unopposed.

Critics claimed Tory MPs had purposefully not voted in a bid to strip Labour’s victory of political credibility.

A similar situation was expected by some to occur in the UC vote, with the situation exacerbated by a potential Tory revolt on the issue involving up to 25 MPs.

Mr Corbyn’s spokesman said: “The shambles of the Universal Credit rollout is causing serious suffering. It’s leading to increases in debt, evictions, homelessness and…a six week wait for benefits.

“It is an extremely serious matter acknowledged by the former Tory prime minister John Major and a number of Tory backbenchers.”

He added: “It’s completely unacceptable, and an obligation on Conservative MPs, if they care about the suffering that constituents are experiencing.”

Prior to becoming an MP Mr Ross served as an MSP at Holyrood and had come under fire after missing a meeting in 2016 to travel to Portugal to be assistant referee at a clash between Sporting Lisbon and Real Madrid.

SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson hit out saying: “Part-time Tory MP Douglas Ross just never learns his lesson and he is yet again leaving his constituents without a voice in Parliament because he'd rather rub shoulders with famous footballers.”

But fellow Scottish Conservative MP Andrew Bowie defended his colleague in the morning, saying Mr Ross had personally raised concerns over UC with Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke.

Mr Bowie, speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme, said: "I think the people of Moray are quite happy for him to continuing refereeing as well as being their MP and he's doing a very good job at both."

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