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The Government chose not to contest the Labour motion rather than face an embarrassing Commons defeat after it emerged the DUP would vote to back the Labour motion.
Whilst the motion is non-binding, it signals the first time MPs have taken advantage of Theresa May’s lack of majority in the Commons and fragile alliance with the DUP.
Although Conservative sources insisted they were “pretty relaxed” about the outcome of the debate – which will not require the Government to change policy.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the motion was not covered by the “confidence and supply” arrangement agreed by the two parties after Theresa May saw her majority wiped out in last June’s general election.
“Lifting the cap on nurses’ pay and in the public sector generally is our party policy. The Government understood that is the way that we were going to vote,” Mr Dodds told Sky News following the debate.
“It is not part of the confidence and supply arrangements. We are separate parties, we are not part of the Government and we will make up our own mind on those issues.”
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called on ministers to make clear whether they intended to ignore the “clear will of the House” or take action to end the pay cap in the NHS.
“It’s extremely rare for the Government not to vote down an opposition motion and the only explanation is it avoided a vote because it knew it would lose it,” he said.
“The Labour Party is no longer just the official opposition, we are a government in waiting, ready to properly invest in our NHS and its staff.”
During the debate Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt labelled the Labour motion as “bogus” and said it was “absolute nonsense” to suggest the cap over the last seven years was part of an “ideological mission” to reduce the size of the state.
However he faced some calls from the Tory benches to lift the cap with Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the Health Select Committee, arguing that it had gone on for long enough.
“Seven years of a sustained pressure on NHS pay is taking a toll, and nobody anticipated it would go on this long. So I think it is time to relax it,” she said.
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