THERE was applause from the public gallery at tonight’s full council meeting as the Conservative group backed a motion calling for the repeal of the “bedroom tax”.

In a public break from party policy, the bulk of the borough’s Tory benches – including leader Cllr David Greenhalgh and deputy Cllr Andy Morgan – sided with Labour and the Liberal Democrats in calling for the government’s underoccupancy charge to be scrapped.

Labour’s Cllr Nick Peel had tabled the motion and said the move marked a u-turn by the group, which had voted against a motion he tabled in April calling for the policy to be repealed – with the exception of Conservative Cllrs Alan Wilkinson and Bob Allen, who abstained.

But Cllr Morgan claimed he had never publicly backed the policy and said it should be looked at again, adding: “I support the intent of the motion if not the political gerrymandering, I urge everyone to support it or at least abstain to do what’s best for the Bolton family.”

Cllr Peel said: “There is some very interesting politics on the benches opposite, I welcome the public conversion of Cllr Morgan to anti-bedroom tax.”

Calling a named vote, the motion was backed by Labour, Liberal Democrats and most of the Conservatives with the exception of Cllrs John Walsh, Phil Ashcroft, Alan Rushton, and Walter Hall who all abstained.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Greenhalgh said he supported the underoccupancy charge "in principle" but said its current format was "unfair" due to a lack of available properties for people to downsize, saying it should be repealed and reworked.

Elected members had earlier ran the gauntlet of a protest by campaign group Bolton Against the Bedroom Tax as they entered the town hall, with Cllr John Walsh and campaigner Linda Charnock at one point having a heated exchange, with Cllr Walsh saying the “spare room subsidy” was not a “tax”.

The protesters later gathered in the public gallery and greeted the vote with applause and shouts of “well done”.