Gale's View MP's Pay  (July 9th 2008)

I have for years believed that the existing system of parliamentary pay and allowances, widely misunderstood by the public, deliberately misrepresented by the press and exploited by a few has been long overdue for reform. Sadly, last week’s vote in the House of Commons is unlikely to put the matter to rest

In fact, Members of Parliament should not, in my view, be debating this issue at all.   In accordance with an agreement entered into in 1983, we should have had our remuneration pegged to an appropriate Civil Service grade or "basket" of comparative salaries.  Until we do that, and sort out once and for all what MPs should spend on offices, staff, travel, and accommodation in London, hacks whose salaries and expenses are legendary will continue to have a field day at the expense of the reputation of parliament.

Most out-of-Town Members of Parliament find ourselves spending, when the House is sitting, three or four nights of each week in London. That is why we rent or buy houses or flats or choose to stay in clubs or hotels and it is for this purpose that the much-publicised Additional Costs Allowance is provided.

These days, and for several years now, I have rented a back room in a ground floor flat in Tooting, South London.  Now that my three children have grown up and left home and with my wife, Suzy, based at our own house in Kent, the requirement for a flat in which to accommodate the family has passed.  My accommodation in London is not glamorous but it is homely, congenial and more than adequate for my needs. It costs under £100 per week and even with gas, electricity, water, a contribution to Council Tax and ancillary costs thrown in represents, for the City, very good value. Accordingly I now use well under half of the ACA to which I am entitled.

Since moving to Tooting I have installed a fitted wardrobe and chest of drawers in order to allow for a little more cat-swinging space, I have had two power points and a thermostat for the radiator professionally fitted and I have bought a pair of heavily lined curtains to keep out the glare from the security light and the back of the oriental restaurant on the other side of the alleyway. All this has been done with the full and advance approval of the House of Commons Department of Finance and Administration and receipts for what is a one-off expenditure provided.

I have also purchased a television set.

Eventually, the television that I provided at my own expense about fifteen years ago, and upon which I have relied for news and current affairs information, expired and went to the great cathode graveyard in the sky.  And so it was that a couple of years  ago  I found myself in the car park of the Comet Warehouse in Margate discussing with the House of Commons Fees Office, on a mobile phone,  the question of the purchase of a new television in the Autumn Sales.  We had done the sums and worked out that allowing for a further two years of this parliament and a conservative four more years in the next (I never take re-election for granted but the statistics speak for themselves) it would be cheaper to purchase than to rent. Deal approved and done, I am now able to view, at the odd and anti-social hours that we are required to do these things, the material that, as a qualified "media expert" , I need to see.

I mention this because I am not a little fed up with being told that MPs should not be using the resources that are made available to us.   Properly account for the expenditure of taxpayers’ money certainly and change the rules and the employment terms and conditions if you wish but do, please remember that they are part of a package and we live within them not as we would wish them to be but as others have decided that they are to be.

When I first became a Member of Parliament I took a two-thirds cut in income and my wife took a fifty per cent reduction in her employment package to come and work with me as my then only member of staff.   Additionally, in the early days, I subsidised my office rental and costs to the tune of, over some ten years, about a quarter of a million pounds and we re-mortgaged our home several times to raise the money. Nobody made us do it and that is not a complaint but a statement of fact.

The game has changed greatly.  Salaries have risen and MPs are now paid at about the rate of a senior teacher in a secondary school. Staff salary resources have been increased and money has been provided to pay for office rental, running costs and business rates. (This is the money that adds up to the sum that tabloid journalists are prone to say that MPs "get"!) The workload, also, has grown year on year and more time is spent on social work and less, as a consequence, on the scrutiny of the executive and legislation.

I believe that last Wednesday the House of Commons missed a golden opportunity to scrap or phase out the present system of reimbursement for expenses and to fix Members` salaries at a sensible level for good.  Untrue.   The former would have faced internal opposition and the latter would have attracted press and public comment that MP`s were "awarding themselves an inflation-busting pay rise" but we have, I think, now managed to achieve the worst of all worlds. 

We now find ourselves in some difficulty: many good men and women who might otherwise have offered public service to our Country are deciding that they cannot take on the burden and if we proceed down the present path too far then what has hitherto been a vocation that has attracted people from all walks of life will become a task that only those with huge earned or inherited wealth will be able to undertake. I regard that as undesirable in the public interest and it is a circumstance that the Commission on Standards in Public Life, the Election Commission, journalists and, yes, the electorate might wish to take on board before embarking on another round of denigration!

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