TORY high command has stopped short of supporting the controversial decision by a Scottish Conservative MP to help referee a football match in Spain rather than participate in an important Commons debate on Universal Credit.

Douglas Ross, the MP for Moray, has attracted widespread criticism from his political opponents for deciding to act as a linesman in tonight’s game between Barcelona and Olympiakos in the home team’s Camp Nou stadium.

Asked about why Theresa May would allow such a thing, a senior Tory source said : “We don’t necessarily discuss whipping in public but, you know, we have made some comments previously about what we plan to do going forward in terms of non-binding votes on Opposition days.

“I would point you to the comments to the member in question, who has said that this does not interfere with his parliamentary duties and he would not do anything that would do so.”

Asked if the Tories would not be pushing Labour’s debate on Universal Credit to a vote this evening, the source pointed out how previously the party would “say to MPs: if you feel your time is better spent elsewhere, then...”.

Asked if Mr Ross’s time was better spent running the line at a football match rather than engaging in an important debate at Westminster, the source replied that Tory MPs who took an interest in the subject would be speaking in the debate, including Government ministers.

The senior source was then asked if the Prime Minister agreed with Mr Ross’s contention that his absence from Westminster to help referee a match would not interfere with his parliamentary duties. He replied: “I’m not sure I have got anything more to add there, I’m afraid.”

During Prime Minister’s Questions, the SNP’s John McNally producing a red card from his pocket, told Mrs May: "She 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.

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

The PM did not answer the question directly but said: “The constituents of Moray will be very pleased that they have a Conservative Member of Parliament who is seeing[after] their interests in this House.

"And I can say to him that the Conservatives, the Scottish Conservative members, are doing more for the interests of Scotland in this Parliament than the Scottish Nationalists have ever done."

Earlier, her Tory colleague Andrew Bowie defended Mr Ross, saying he had personally raised concerns over welfare with David Gauke, the Work and Pensions Secretary.

“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," Mr Bowie told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland.

He spoke out after Paul Sweeney, the Shadow Scotland Office minister, accused Mr Ross of having a "perverse sense of priorities".

The Labour MP 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."

But Mr Bowie added: "Douglas has held over 50 surgeries since becoming a Member of Parliament, the people of Moray still back him as their Member of Parliament, as has been proven by[the fact] he takes up their cases. He has spoken to David Gauke personally.

"Douglas has made concerns known and talked to David Gauke separately at various other places around Westminster. There will be many other Scottish Conservatives in the debate this afternoon."

Mr Ross has been an MP since June, when he ousted the SNP's Westminster leader Angus Robertson to win the Moray seat.