Pay & Allowances  (January 17th 2008)

I would, given the opportunity that the Home Secretary seems determined to deny us, vote without hesitation and irrespective of any ‘party line’, for the implementation in full of the police pay award backdated to 1st September, 2007.

I would do so not only because I believe that they deserve the modest increase that the Government is seeking to deny them but because when a group of people that are by law denied the right to withdraw their labour take a case to an arbitration tribunal then both sides,  Government and the Police Federation, should accept the recommendation.  That the Home Secretary, acting certainly within her rights but not in good faith, should have sought to move the goalposts and short-change the constabulary by denying them three months of their pay increase is shameful. 

It is also the case that the Government has now kicked the bottom out of its "restraint" policy and further angered the police by awarding teachers a pay increase that is above the Treasury’s own rigged figure for inflation.

Which brings me to this week’s debate on the pay and allowances of Members of Parliament. (The vote on salary, by the way, relates not as many believe to the figure for the coming year but retrospectively for the financial year that began in April, 2007!)

Members of the Press Gallery, including some BBC reporters paid out of your  licence  fee, are fond of including office costs and other allowances claimed against invoices as part of the “£250,000 a year” that MPs “get”.  Forgive me for asking the obvious question but how many of these hacks earning what they might themselves report as “inflation-busting six figure salaries” and enjoying “fat personal expense accounts” regard their office space (including that provided in the House of Commons), their staff costs, telephone, lighting, heating, business rates and equipment hire charges as part of the income that they “get”?  Not many, I think!

It is, of course, a nonsense that Members of Parliament should be voting upon our own pay and allowances at all. In the 1980s  The House  sought to deal with this issue once and for all by linking MPs pay to a Civil Service grade and leaving it to the Review Body to determine the details of that grade and allowances.  An agreement along those lines was more or less reached and then broken and we are now back where we started more than 20 years ago. 

I do not often agree with Gordon Brown and I have even been known to take issue on occasions with David Cameron but the proposal to put this matter to an independent inquiry team headed by the outgoing boss of the Senior Salaries Review Body I support wholeheartedly.

I support it wholeheartedly with this provison: whatever the inquiry recommends we should adopt without question and without cherry-picking the bits that the Leaders of the Government and Opposition and their Whips` Offices approve of while discarding the bits that they, or we or, most particularly, the press may not like.

That must be for the future.  If the House this week approves, for last year, a figure above inflation then I will give  any  after-tax increase  over  the 1.9% police rate, to the Police Benevolent Fund.

A word of caution, though. If MPs salaries, already falling behind by between seventeen and twenty-five per cent  (depending upon which comparator  you choose)  are allowed to deteriorate further and if the tabloid clamour to meddle with the pensions into which MPs pay, already, 10% of their salaries, then a sea-change will take place in the House of Commons.  Gone will be those many sitting at present who regard the task as a vocation and took a considerable cut in income to enter Parliament. In their place, able to ignore the insecurity built into the swings of the political pendulum, will be a mixture of the very rich and those with no career ambition or previous success outside the House.

We are already endowed with some who regard Parliament as just a job and who, prior to entry, had not enjoyed any other non-political career. The combination of that trend and poor esteem is unlikely to attract the best men and, particularly, women from business and industry and the services and law and education and from the shop floor. I do not, personally, think that our Country will benefit from an administration made up of elected career bureaucrats.

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