The Government has avoided embarrassing Commons defeats by allowing two opposition motions to pass – after the DUP said it would side with Labour.
The first motion called for the pay cap for NHS staff to be lifted immediately; the second was on blocking a rise in tuition fees.
Both non-binding motions went through on the nod, with the Government abstaining.
The Conservatives had faced the prospect of losing both votes as the Democratic Unionist Party, which props up Theresa May’s minority government, had announced it would vote with Labour.
It would have meant the first defeat for the Government since it took over after the General Election – a symbolic defeat that would have nonetheless highlighted Mrs May’s vulnerability.
Public sector pay is currently dominating the political debate – and was the main issue at the TUC conference.
Following the election in June, Mrs May agreed a £1bn “confidence-and-supply” deal with the DUP after the Conservatives failed to win a Commons majority.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds MP said the pay cap vote was in line with the party’s policy and was not part of the deal.
“Lifting the cap on nurses’ pay and in the public sector generally is our party policy,” he told Sky News.
“We had no difficulty voting that way, and the Government understood that is how we were going to vote.
“It’s not part of our confidence-and-supply arrangement. So we will make our decisions on a case-by-case basis in those cases that aren’t covered by the confidence-and-supply agreement.”
Conservative sources said they were “pretty relaxed” about the outcome of the debate as it does not require the Government to change policy.
On Tuesday, Downing Street signalled that the 1% limit on public sector pay rises – a controversial policy first adopted seven years ago – is to be scrapped.
Number 10 said prison officers and police would receive raises above 1% for the first time since 2010, and that ministers were ready to show “flexibility” across the rest of the public sector for 2018/19.
But the move, announced on the same day figures showed the inflation rate had reached 2.9%, did little to ease the criticism of the Government’s pay restraints.
Union leaders and Labour said the pay cap should be lifted across the sector.
Also on Wednesday, firefighters rejected a 2% pay offer, with the Fire Brigades Union saying the offer included a “whole host of strings” and failed “to clearly address the pain our members have experienced as a result of years of falling real wages”.
The opposition motion on NHS pay demanded that the Government “end the public sector pay cap in the NHS and give NHS workers a fair pay rise”.
At the start of a debate in the House of Commons, DUP MP Ian Paisley signalled his party’s support for Labour’s motion.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said the Government’s move was solely aimed at avoiding defeat – and urged Mrs May to scrap the pay cap for all public sector workers.
“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.
(c) Sky News 2017: Labour motion on NHS pay rise passes without opposition