Theresa May defends football referee Tory MP Douglas Ross

media captionJohn McNally brandishes a red card as he asks about refereeing MP Douglas Ross

The prime minister has defended Tory MP Douglas Ross, who is to miss a vote on Universal Credit to be an assistant referee at a Champions League match.

Mr Ross is in Spain for the Barcelona v Olympiakos game on the same day as a debate is held at Westminster.

The Moray MP was not down to speak before a non-binding vote on the new benefit.

Theresa May was forced to defend Mr Ross at Westminster after SNP MP John McNally raised the issue.

Brandishing a red card across the chamber, the Falkirk MP said Mrs May "will be aware that the honourable member for Moray is not in his place - indeed he is in Barcelona doing his other job, today of all days".

He continued: "What signal does she think this sends to hard working members of the public who are expected to turn up for their day jobs or face sanctions?"

Mrs May replied that Mr Ross's constituents would be pleased to have a Conservative MP, saying that "the Scottish Conservative members are doing more for the interests of Scotland in this parliament than the Scottish Nationalists have ever done."

Mr Ross, a former MSP, was criticised in November last year for missing a Scottish Parliament committee meeting to run the line in a Champions League match in Portugal.

It led to calls for him to stand down from his frontbench role as the Scottish Conservative's justice spokesman.

Mr Ross later went on to defeat the SNP's Westminster leader Angus Robertson at the general election in June.

image copyrightPA
image captionMr Ross has previously faced criticism for missing a Holyrood committee

Mr Ross has been criticised by opponents for missing the universal credit debate.

SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson said Mr Ross was "yet again leaving his constituents without a voice in parliament because he'd rather rub shoulders with famous footballers".

And Labour's shadow Scotland Office minister Paul Sweeney said the Moray MP had shown "a perverse sense of priorities" in choosing the Champions League over a debate on "the huge damage that Universal Credit is causing".

'Sorry episode'

He said: "The rollout of universal credit has blighted lives across the country, forcing many to rely on food banks and crisis grants to get by. Yet Mr Ross doesn't even have the decency to turn up to Parliament and explain why he supports putting people through such misery.

"This sorry episode will leave Mr Ross's constituents in no doubt as to where his priorities lie and it's not playing the game for them."

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said Mr Ross had the support of the party and local voters - and insisted there would be many more Scottish Conservative representatives in this debate.

He added: "Douglas has held more than 50 surgeries since becoming an MP and has met personally with David Gauke to discuss local cases which have arisen from those.

"Despite what the SNP thinks, the people of Moray are right behind Douglas and his refereeing, as they showed decisively when they elected him as their MP just a few months ago."

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