MPs have agreed to limit their annual pay rise to two per cent, delivered over two stages to reflect the pay deal agreed with the civil service.

Tony Blair announced in March that the basic pay of an MP should increase by one per cent from April 1st this year and a further one per cent from November, taking it from £59,095 to £60,277.

And during a Commons debate yesterday, members agreed to the staged increase – although there were claims that it still falls short of what they could be earning in the private sector.

Conservative MP for Macclesfield Nicholas Winterton was particularly vocal on the subject, noting that according to the senior salaries review board which recommends MPs’ pay increases, their pay was 20 per cent behind similar jobs in the private sector.

“Is that fair in the short, medium or long term for honourable members? Will it encourage good, competent, able, intelligent people to put their names forward as members of parliament?” he asked.

He also suggested it was unfair that new MPs earned the same as members who, like himself, had been in the Commons for decades.

“It is important that members’ pay keep pace with the comparators, otherwise there is a grave unfairness for members who serve with loyalty and distinction in the House,” he declared.

Leader of the House Jack Straw accepted the member’s concerns, but said civil servants pay was also less than in the private sector, and noted “the high calibre of members of all parties who entered the House in 2001 and 2005, notwithstanding the pay”.

The question of whether MPs were paid properly would form part of the review board’s wider probe into members’ pay next year, he said, as would the issue of rewarding longevity of service – although whether new MPs would agree was “another matter”.

Mr Straw went on to point out that while cabinet ministers, chairmen of select committees and even party whips got extra pay for the work they did, members of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat front benches did not.

He reminisced: “As a shadow cabinet member for ten years, it always rankled that I was expected to work my socks off and speak on behalf of the party while not being paid a penny whereas our chief whip, who was expected simply to dragoon people into the lobby and not speak at all, was paid a large sum.”

When shadow leader of the House Theresa May got up to speak, however, she was more cautious than her Conservative colleague, saying the issue of MPs pay was a “difficult matter” with which governments have “grappled over the years”.

“We have not necessarily found the best way to deal with members’ pay. It is members who vote on our pay, and voters raise questions about it,” she said – adding that they were often encouraged by the media, whose salaries were not made public.

For the Liberal Democrats, David Heath warned MPs had to be “extraordinarily careful that we do not seem to be giving ourselves preferential treatment”.

However, the fact that new MPs were not being put off by the lack of a “comparable” salary should not preclude a review of the pay system, he insisted.

“It would be a complacent view, and an unfair one. Greater self-sacrifice is required, not only by members but by their families, which is sometimes inappropriate.”