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In the News

Universal credit: successful use of Opposition Days by Labour?

Mike McCartney

21st January 2021

Functions of Parliament examples

Although there has been no official change in policy as this is written, as newspaper headlines have reported this week, the Prime Minister is reconsidering plans to cut £20 a week from benefits.

First what are Opposition Days?

According to the UK Parliament website:

“Opposition days are days allocated in the House of Commons for the discussion of subjects chosen by the opposition (non-government) parties. There are 20 days allocated for this purpose per session (under Standing Order 14).”

Source: Opposition days - UK Parliament

Generally, these days are seen as relatively unimportant because votes are whipped and given the government invariably has an in-built majority they almost always win, and the result of the vote is non-binding.

There are some exceptions to this, however. Quite a high-profile loss by the government of the day was back in 2009 when Gordon Brown’s government fell to a shock defeat on the rights of Gurkhas to remain in the UK. This then led to a volte face by the government.

See: BBC NEWS | Politics | Brown defeated over Gurkha rules

This week the Prime Minister ordered his MPs to abstain, and as a result they lost by 278 to 0. What is also worth noting is that this also included 6 Tory MPs – so also acts as an example of how MPs rebel.

As Channel 4 News broadcast, this was embarrassing for the government. Whether there is a policy u-turn on this, we’ll have to wait and see.

See short clip here: Universal credit vote ‘embarrassing’ for government – Channel 4 News

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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