Peevish MPs accept pay freeze

Pay freeze for MPs' wages will last one year
Pay freeze for MPs' wages will last one year

By Alex Stevenson

The Commons agreed to freeze MPs' pay last night, but only after 90 minutes of grumbling from backbenchers.

A one per cent pay rise had been on the cards, but the government stepped in to propose that MPs suffer the same two-year pay freeze faced by all public sector workers in 2011/12 and 2012/13.

The decision means MPs will continue to draw a £65,738 salary for the next year, denying themselves the one per cent pay hike which an automatic formula implemented by the Senior Salaries Review Body had proposed.

Leader of the House Sir George Young, beginning the debate, said: "Hon. members must now decide whether their constituents would welcome parliament exempting itself from that policy and thus insulating itself from decisions that are affecting households throughout the country, or whether, as I believe, the public expect their elected representatives to be in step with what is being required of other public servants.

"I believe that it is right for us, as members of parliament, to forgo the pay increase that the current formula would have produced."

Although his deputy, Liberal Democrat David Heath, described the decision as a "no-brainer" and it was passed unanimously without the need for a vote, a number of MPs voiced their concerns about the decision.

The Commons' political and constitutional reform committee's chair, Graham Allen, said the government was "renationalising the terms and conditions of MPs' salaries".

Labour backbencher Michael Connarty said the proposals would "demean the House".

Conservative MP Mark Field claimed the Commons had "abjectly and continually failed to sort out our immensely damaging internal difficulties".

And deputy Liberal Democrat leader Simon Hughes regretted the coalition's inconsistency, claiming it would have been easier had the government accepted an independent pay review body to recommend salaries for all "public servants".

"It really is not acceptable for us to set a rule one year and break it the next," he said.

Many MPs were frustrated by the circumstances of the debate. Tory backbencher Charles Walker was among those who regretted that the debate took place after the momentous debate on Britain's participation in the no-fly zone after Libya.

"It is absolute agony that we are having this debate this evening after we have had such a fantastic and informed debate on Libya," he said.

"It goes to prove that there is never, ever a good time to talk about MPs' pay and conditions."

Despite the complaints, none of those who objected to the government's approach forced the issue to a vote as midnight approached, however.

Tory MP David Nuttall summed up the problem: "Constituents will not be fooled if we accept the one per cent increase and say, 'It was all because of an independent body - nothing to do with us, guv'. They will realise that we put that body in place."


Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.