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Members’ Salaries

Volume 525: debated on Monday 21 March 2011

I beg to move,

That the following provision shall be made with respect to the salaries of Members of this House—

(1) For the period beginning with 1 April 2011 and ending with the relevant day, the rates of—

(a) Members’ salaries, and

(b) additional salaries payable to Members under Resolutions of this House in respect of service as chairs of select or general committees, shall be the same as those salaries as at 31 March 2011.

(2) In paragraph (1) the “relevant day” means—

(a) the day before the day on which the first determination of Members’ salaries by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority comes into effect, or

(b) 31 March 2013,

whichever is the earlier.

(3) Paragraphs (9), (10) and (12)(b) of the Resolution of 3 July 2008 (Members’ Salaries (No. 2) (Money)) cease to have effect on the day this Resolution is passed.

(4) The remaining provisions of that Resolution cease to have effect on 1 April 2011.

We move now to MPs’ pay. [Interruption.] Mr Speaker—

Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman. I fully understand that right hon. and hon. Members are not that interested in hearing speeches about their own pay, but I hope that as a courtesy to the Leader of the House those Members who are disinterested and inclined to leave the Chamber will do so quickly and quietly, so that those who wish to hear the Leader of the House can do so.

The whole House will be keenly aware of the country’s difficult financial situation, and both sides of the House accept that we have a substantial structural deficit, which must be brought down. The Government have had to take difficult decisions throughout the public sector, including imposing a two-year pay freeze on public sector workers earning more than £21,000. 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.

I quite agree that Parliament should not exempt itself, but I was under the impression that we were never going to vote on our pay again.

I will come in a moment to the point about whether we should overturn the decision that we took in July 2008. Let me briefly set out the background. On 3 July 2008, the House agreed a new formula for uprating Members’ salaries, which is what I think my hon. Friend was referring to. The annual percentage increase would be the median of a basket of public sector comparators, and this percentage would be calculated by the Senior Salaries Review Body and notified to you, Mr Speaker, in a letter from its chairman. That percentage increase would then take effect automatically from 1 April.

That system has considerable advantages. It provides a fixed uprating formula so that we do not determine our own salaries. It is transparent, as the formula and the SSRB’s determination are there for everyone to see. It is also fair in that it provides a link between the salary of a Member of Parliament and the salaries of others in the public sector. Those are the virtues that the Government usually believe should underpin any system for determining our salaries—independence, transparency and fairness. We have therefore not taken lightly the decision to set aside the pay increase and thereby abandon the formula.

As I said, the Government’s decision to invite the House to agree to a pay freeze is the product of the difficult fiscal situation in which we have to find significant cost savings across the public sector. As my predecessor as Leader of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), said in the 2008 debate:

“given that MPs are paid from the public purse, we should show the same discipline in our pay increases as we expect from the public sector.”—[Official Report, 3 July 2008; Vol. 478, c. 1062.]

The right hon. Gentleman is a decent fellow, but this is not quite the full story. The full story is that no Government have ever resisted the temptation to poke their nose into this business. We have set up mechanisms, to which the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) referred, and said that they should be independent and we should go along with them, and then when it suits the Government of the day—not just this Government but any Government—they change the rules. That completely undermines any claim they make to believe in independent mechanisms. Either we come forward with what the independent review mechanism says, or we do not. This Government, like their predecessors, are poking their nose in where it does not belong.

I should like to address very directly the hon. Gentleman’s point about the independence of the review that we are overturning. He rightly says that by bringing this motion before the House, a Government are once again asking Members to vote on their own remuneration—something that we believed we had put behind us. He asks the very good question as to why we are asking the House to reject the independent findings of the SSRB and whether the SSRB is unable to take on board issues of the kind that I have been talking about. The short answer is this: the system that was introduced in 2008 provided an objective mechanism for determining our pay, but it was a long way from being independent. The formula was devised by the previous Government and endorsed by the House, and in no sense could it be said to be independent.

For those, like the hon. Gentleman, who say that we are substituting our own judgment on this issue for that of the independent SSRB, I remind the House of what the chairman of the SSRB, Sir Bill Cockburn, said in his letter to you, Mr Speaker, on 19 January. He said:

“I should emphasise that the SSRB has no discretion in making this determination but simply applies the formula set out in the Resolution. We were not consulted when the Resolution was drawn up. The resulting figure is not what the SSRB would have recommended had we been able to have regard to all the circumstances including, this year, the Government’s pay freeze for public sector workers paid more that £21,000 a year.”

In a nutshell, the SSRB is saying that if its hands had not been tied by the House, it would not have recommended the 1% pay increase that came before us in January. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the pay recommendations for other professions published today by the SSRB and the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration, he will see that no uplifts are recommended for those earning more than £21,000.

The Leader of the House is making a convincing argument that the SSRB, or whichever independent body we choose, should be more independent, not less. What he is doing tonight, of course, is renationalising the terms and conditions of MPs’ salaries, which is going in exactly the wrong direction. Does he accept that this matter will go on and on, and that MPs will be undermined consistently by the media and the public until we have a wholly independent authority that does not come back to this House or to the Government for a final decision?

I say to the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) that that is exactly the process that we are moving towards, although it will disappoint the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell). I will now come to what happens next.

What I do not understand from the Leader of the House is, if this increase is based on an average of public service salaries, are we not simply getting what the rest of the public services are getting?

If my hon. Friend looks at the comparator, he will see that it includes a number of people who earn less than £21,000 and that, crucially, it includes settlements that were made before the last election. To that extent, it lags behind the public sector pay freeze that we announced in the Budget.

To answer the point raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham North, the 2008 resolution also requires the SSRB to conduct a review of Members’ salaries in the first year of each new Parliament. By rescinding the resolution in its entirety, the motion removes the requirement for the SSRB to conduct such a review this year. The review of Members’ salaries will instead take place following the commencement of section 29 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, which will transfer the determination of our salaries to IPSA on a statutory basis. As I said at business questions last week, the Government intend to commence that section shortly. If, in future, the House wants to overturn any recommendations, it will require primary legislation, not a 90-minute debate such as we are having this evening.

Given the self-denying ordinance that the Leader of the House is proposing today for salaries, will he give a commitment that he will bring in primary legislation to ensure that there will be no increase in allowances for the next two years under IPSA, or is this the same old story that we have had in the past of holding the salary in a blaze of glory, and turning around and seeing allowances increased?

There is no intention of doing that.

The Government’s policy is to have a public sector pay freeze for those earning more than £21,000 a year. Members of Parliament clearly earn more than that. I think that it would be unacceptable for those earning just more than £21,000 to have no increase and for Members of Parliament earning three times that sum to get a salary increase of about £650. That is why I think it is right this evening to ask the House to freeze our salaries. I very much hope that the House will approve the motion in my name and that of the Deputy Leader of the House.

I think that the House recognises why the Leader of the House has tabled this motion, especially at a time when many in the public sector face a pay freeze, as he pointed out. To put it starkly, the public would find it hard to understand it if we got a pay rise when they are not getting a pay rise. That is why we will support the motion.

As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, we face this decision because the Senior Salaries Review Body is currently responsible for determining MPs’ pay, and it sets the salary in line with salaries in the civil service, using a fixed formula. He was right to point out that the chairman of the SSRB hinted in his letter that it would have done something different if it had not been bound by the formula. However, as the Leader of the House will be aware from the interventions that he took, there is no hiding the unease that Members throughout the House feel at being asked once again to vote on their pay, just when we thought we had got rid of the responsibility following the decision taken by the House in 2008. I therefore welcome what he said at business questions last week when I asked him about his intention to initiate IPSA taking responsibility for MPs’ pay, as is required in the legislation that he mentioned. He said that he would do so “shortly”, and that must be right, because the sooner responsibility is transferred the better, not least because we should not be taking decisions such as this.

Finally, although the motion is only about pay, we will in due course have to consider the question of deferred pay, in other words pensions. It would be very helpful if the Deputy Leader of the House, if it is he who winds up the debate, could say something about how the Government intend to handle the matter in the light of Lord Hutton’s recent report, and about the likely timetable for pensions, too, being handed over to IPSA, subject of course to the House being fully satisfied about the protection of acquired rights.

It is absolute agony that we are having this debate this evening after we have had such a fantastic and informed debate on Libya. It goes to prove that there is never, ever a good time to talk about MPs’ pay and conditions.

However, the debate comes under the heading “Boring but important”. Let us cast our minds back to May 2009, when this House and this democracy that we love so much went through a period of enormous upheaval. I remember that there were great protests outside Parliament—nothing to do with pay and expenses, but enormously voluminous protests. I used to stand in the yard listening to the protests and imagine what it must have been like at the Bastille 220 years earlier in 1789, with the hordes outside. I would close my eyes and think, “Will I get the piano wire or will I get the guillotine?” I think my constituents were rather wishing I would get both and they would both be very slow. It really was an appalling time for this country—this proud democracy brought low by something as innocuous as pay and expenses.

We all vowed in 2009 that we had learned our lessons. Indeed, in 2008 we had started the process of repair by, on 3 July, voting to remove responsibility for pay from our hands. The process of reform was in train. I took great relief, during the debates in 2008 and 2009, from the fact that at last we were not going to have these agonising evenings in the House, but here we are again, having another agonising evening.

We, as Members of Parliament, are brilliant at not only setting our own bear traps but then jumping into them. I feel that that is what we are doing tonight, because the motion has been introduced by the Executive. I know that MPs, both those who served from 2005 to 2010 and our new colleagues, are much chastened by what happened in 2009. We are reforming ourselves from within, and we are not actually as stupid as some people would have us believe. I have absolutely no desire or ambition to accept a 1% pay rise. All that I sincerely wish is that the Back Benchers of this place had been allowed to propose their own motion.

I understood that there was cross-party agreement between the Opposition, the party of government and our colleagues in government, the Liberal Democrats, and I thought there was a real desire and move for a Back-Bench motion that would allow us, as Back Benchers, to do the right thing by this country and our constituents by postponing the pay rise for two years. I am therefore saddened that the Executive have brought forward tonight’s motion. Much play has been made of the new politics, which is not about expediency because expediency gets us into such trouble. The motion is expedient and it lays a future bear trap for us. I wish that we were not here, once again, discussing the tedious subject of our pay and conditions.

Here we are again. On 3 July 2008, the Speaker did not select my amendment. Last year, the same thing happened. Today, again, the Speaker has not selected my amendment. Democracy has not been the better for it. My amendment in 2008 would have prevented the practice of flipping homes. My amendment tonight would have reaffirmed the principle that we should not determine our own pay.

I will not vote for or against my pay tonight, and I urge others to do the same—not to abstain, but to refuse to vote. The motion removes the principle of our not determining our pay. It is not simply a decision on the SSRB proposals; it revokes the decision on independence without anything more than a vague promise that, at some stage, the Government will get around to tabling amendments to have IPSA set pay. The Government have had plenty of time in recent weeks to table such an amendment, and they have chosen not to do so.

If everything is to go to IPSA, so be it, but I am in the position, as a new Member, of not knowing what will happen to my staff pay 11 days hence, from 1 April. That is a disgraceful situation in which to be. None of us can work out what will happen to our staff. I have to renew contracts in 11 days, and I do not know what to do.

That shows the muddle that the Government and Parliament have got into. Instead of resolving those problems, whether one or other of us likes it or not, in a way that is crystal clear, within which we can work and that the public can see, we go round in circles. Here we go again.

Having been through the pain, which is not yet over, of the expenses scandal, and eventually decided that we should not determine our own pay, and having all allegedly agreed the principle, we are suddenly back where we started—deciding our own pay. The issue tonight is not the amount of the pay—that is a small part of the matter. Of course, it will always be important to Members and even more important to the general public. However, to breach the principle so unnecessarily and cack-handedly lays us open to ridicule. The House should get its act together on pay and expenses and say that we will not break the principle of not setting our pay, conditions or expenses, because that is precisely the problem that got us into the scandal in the first place. We must learn the lesson of putting it outside, keeping it there and not interfering with it. Whether it is comfortable or uncomfortable, whatever the level, whether we like it or the general public do not like, it should be determined independently, not by us.

I appeal to Members to refuse to vote either way on the pay, thereby not breaching the principle that it should be determined independently or agreeing that it should be brought back in-house because if we do that, we will rue the day, and pay and expenses will come back again and again to bite us. We should put that behind us.

It is universally accepted by anthropologists that one sign of higher animal intelligence is the ability to learn from experience. As the Leader of the House moved the motion, one was inclined to ask, “Have we in the House of Commons learned nothing from the calamity of the expenses scandal?”

I agree with hon. Members who said that the general public must be dismayed at Parliament’s continuing inability to put its house in order in relation to such matters, especially in view of the tumultuous events out there in the real world. How can we earn public respect and work in the national interest to solve this country’s acute economic problems and to reform public services, let alone to assert Britain’s place in the world, which we debated earlier, when we have so abjectly and continually failed to sort out our immensely damaging internal difficulties?

As the Leader of the House pointed out, after the expenses scandal, Parliament charged Sir John Baker, the then retiring SSRB chairman, to conduct a review. He was asked to make recommendations for a mechanism by which the pay and pensions of MPs could be independently determined—one that did not involve MPs voting on their own pay. His report, which was published in July 2008, recommended that MPs’ pay should be uprated annually in line with the public sector average earnings index, with a more general review of MPs’ salaries by the SSRB to take place in the first year of each Parliament.

That was supposed to be the end of the matter, with the embarrassing spectacle of MPs setting their salaries becoming a thing of the past—or so we thought. Of course, the unredacted receipts were published by The Daily Telegraph in May 2009, and suddenly the entire political class blissfully agreed on the root of the problem. Members and political commentators acknowledged that the widespread misuse by many MPs—I am afraid that it was many MPs—of second home and staff budgets, which as we all know helped to terminate several dozen parliamentary careers, came about largely as a result of Parliament voting down independently awarded salary increases.

For many years, the Executive have been overly concerned by the immediate public reaction to headline salary uplifts. As a result, subsequently, a blind eye was continually turned to the widespread misuse of the parliamentary expenses scheme, which became an income-enhancing allowance. Since the ground-breaking public revelations in The Daily Telegraph, the universal refrain from Parliament’s great and good—the Speaker’s Commission, the Members Estimate Committee and the Standards and Privileges Committee—was that the expenses system had been rotten for decades, yet those same MPs did their utmost to block meaningful reform of the now much-maligned expenses system, almost until the very day when The Daily Telegraph first published those receipts. Indeed, all the systematically suspect claims were defended resolutely by those distinguished, senior parliamentarians as being within the rules—which parliamentarians had made.

Small wonder that those parliamentarians waged such a disastrous, protracted campaign in the High Court between 2006 and 2009—in all of our names, I am afraid—to prevent the publication of expense receipts. They knew full well the public reaction that would follow.

I am particularly sorry to say that the Leader of the House, in his previous role as Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, was one such senior parliamentarian. That makes his attempt to drive through the motion tonight all the more regrettable. Of all people, he knows how we got here. On 30 April 2009, just two weeks before The Daily Telegraph balloon went up, the Leader of the House, in league with other politicians, put down a serious—

Order. I very gently say to the hon. Gentleman that I understand the issues that surround the motion, but we have a time-constrained debate, and it is incumbent on him to focus on the terms of the motion rather than ancillary matters.

I was coming to the end of this passage, Mr Speaker.

At that juncture, however, the Leader of the House allowed the glaring loophole in relation to second home allowances for MPs in suburban seats to be overlooked, on the basis that the independent review that we are now awaiting should report first. I only wish that today he was such a keen supporter of independent reviews. I believe that the independent salary review that the SSRB and IPSA were due to commence in the next few months would also have provided a long overdue opportunity to rebalance and aggregate MPs’ remuneration away from the byzantine and almost corrupt allowances scheme, towards a more upfront and transparent salary, which is why it is particularly regrettable that the second part of the motion is being proposed tonight. I fear that that opportunity will now be lost.

For the sake of one day’s good newspaper headlines, Parliament has unwisely insisted that we set our own salary again and impose this two-year freeze. As I mentioned earlier, the calamitous expenses system began in just such a way by rejecting independent salary reviews and then boosting allowances as some form of compensation. In my view, even the mere suspicion that this was happening again would be totally unacceptable and disastrous, as we try to build public trust. Such a process of rebuilding will be difficult enough in the years ahead, given the constant backdrop of high-profile criminal cases currently going to the courts. I do not wish to prejudge any of the other expenses conflicts, but I suspect that potentially there are several more former and sitting Members whose affairs will move from police investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service and then the Crown court in the months ahead.

Order. The difficulty here is that the hon. Gentleman has got a prepared text, to which he is sticking closely. However, I have already advised him that he must not dilate on matters that do not relate directly to the motion. I feel sure that being an experienced parliamentarian he will now turn to the matters within the motion. If he does not wish to do so, he can remain in his seat.

Order. May I make it clear that it is not a question of taking on board what I say? I am saying to the hon. Gentleman, without fear of contradiction, that I have given a ruling, and to that ruling he will adhere.

I shall adhere to your ruling, Mr Speaker.

If we pass the motion on salaries tonight, amidst a self-satisfied blaze of glory, it will be essential that we also resolve that, whatever changes are made to the IPSA allowances scheme, none will come into effect until April 2013. In short, it must be a two-year freeze on both salaries and all allowances.

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that the best thing that could happen tonight would be for the Deputy Leader of the House to withdraw the motion? We have been talking about a really important matter tonight, and it is absurd that we start talking about Members’ salaries and expenses. It should be done on a different day.

I am inclined to agree, but I accept that business has to go through and that we are heading towards the end of the tax year. It is regrettable, however, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Given the importance of what was discussed earlier tonight, this seems like very small beer indeed. It is regrettable that it has come to this pass.

My hon. Friend feels that this is small beer. Some of us feel that we have asked public servants to take a cut in their salary and now we are offering to do the same. Can we not just vote on it as quickly as possible?

I suspect that it might not necessarily come to a Division, because we all feel this way. There are difficulties and concerns. I take on board the concern that we are telling many public servants that they should not have an increase. However, we have an independent review mechanism in place, and we should stick to it. I believe that the public need a guarantee from the Government that those strictures that apply to salaries will also apply to all other allowances. If the freeze over the next two years is to apply also to the level and nature of the allowances, we can at least look our electorate firmly in the eye and say, “We are all in this together”.

Has not the hon. Gentleman contradicted himself? He made the appropriate point earlier that in the past MPs supplemented their salaries with allowances, but now he is suggesting that we freeze allowances and salaries. That means that people working for MPs and being paid less than £21,000 per year will be punished as a result of a decision in a matter unrelated to the motion.

I was referring to the allowances that are directly relevant to Members of Parliament, as opposed to the salary allowances.

Let me conclude, because others wish to speak and the hour is late on what has been a busy and momentous day in the House. The collective damage that has been done to the reputation of politics in this country is such that it is our duty to ensure that Parliament is never again silenced on these matters. I fear that the motion before us tonight is the very opposite of the leadership that we require if public trust is to be fully restored.

I have never before spoken in a Members’ salary debate; I trust I will never have to again. Today we have been debating what the armed forces will be doing in Libya. As Chair of the Select Committee on Defence—albeit not speaking on behalf of that Committee—I have only one point to make. For the armed forces to receive no pay rise and for politicians to receive a pay rise would be just so unacceptable in the country that we could not possibly think of allowing it to happen tonight.

Like the last speaker, I have never spoken in a pay and conditions debate in this place, and I do not think that I have voted in any of them either, on the basis that I did not think that it was ever correct that Parliament should set its own wages.

The problem I have is this. It may be a criticism of the Leader of the House—[Interruption]—who may be more interested in talking to the Whip—but I want to say how disappointed I am that this proposal is what he and his deputy have come up with. If this proposal is the best that these two intelligent men—both of whom I respect—have come up with, they must have been wasting their time doing other things of lesser importance. It is an embarrassment, because it is taking away independence—my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) is quite correct. The raison d’être is that the Senior Salaries Review Body was compelled to take into account a formula that led to this decision, when what was required was a motion to remove that condition on the Senior Salaries Review Body and then let it do its independent job without the constraints of that formula. That would still have resulted in an independent decision, but what all this has turned into is, sadly, an embarrassing decision.

I respect what was said on behalf of those who have taken a pay freeze, particularly those in the armed forces, who deserve to be paid much more, but really, this issue is about showing that a political decision has been taken to have a pay freeze, thereby garnering what I might assume would be some public applause, along with condemnation of those who might have wanted to take a pay rise. That is what this issue has turned into—a political decision—when it should have been about removing any constraints on an independent body to set the correct level. If that level was in line with a pay freeze for the public sector above £21,000, that would have been correct, but it would also have been independent.

However, to do what is proposed is to demean the House. If that means that the proposals have been drawn up in a short time scale, then what have the Leader of the House’s office and his deputy been doing all this time, if they knew that it would come to this? It is an embarrassment; therefore, I am sorry to say that the Leader of the House and his deputy have been found at fault. If they had any sense, they would withdraw the motion and bring forward a correct motion before the end of the financial year.

I would like to make a couple of comments entirely on my own behalf, not on behalf of my colleagues. I have sat through these debates for over 25 years. This House has never been served by Governments of any colour interfering in a process that we had already agreed should be resolved independently.

There are five written ministerial statements today dealing with pay reviews—for the armed forces, school teachers, NHS workers and prison officers, and for senior salaries. As it happens, the Government are accepting the independent pay review recommendations in each of those reviews. In the past, we have regularly asked people to advise on teachers’ pay or prison officers’ pay, but then the Government have interfered. They have asked for a review, but then asked us to vote against what an independent adjudicator has said a certain group of public servants should receive. It really is not possible to justify having one rule for one group and one rule for another.

When the Government have asked me to interfere with an independent pay review body, I have never voted for the Government and against the independent pay review body. It seems to me that that would be entirely contradictory. I shall not support the Government tonight either, because I do not think it is possible to justify setting up an independent process and then not following it. The Leader and Deputy Leader of the House, whom I respect, know that in the last Parliament the Labour Leader of the House did not accept the independent Senior Salaries Review Body recommendation in its entirety but tweaked it, interfered with it, changed it, and came back with her own proposal. As a result, we have a half-independent recommendation. The independent body is not able to give its free and unfettered view—it chose a different basket of pay comparators—but even that tweaked version is now being interfered with by the Government.

I understand the politics. The politics are that tonight we would have been given a 1% pay increase when we are asking other people earning more than £21,000 a year not to have that pay increase. However, the problem would not have existed if the Government had always accepted that the independent pay review body should recommend salaries for us as public servants, as well as for ambulance workers, health workers and so on. In that respect I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and others. It really is not acceptable for us to set a rule one year and break it the next.

When we debated this matter, in 2008, the then shadow Leader of the House—now the Home Secretary—made the position quite clear. She said that more than a year ago it was proposed that MPs should stop voting on their own pay and start looking into ways in which that could be undertaken. One of the important things that we shall be able to do today is take this whole issue away from the House, which is crucial. It is no good presenting one argument when in opposition and then changing it in government.

This is not in the same league as our earlier debate. It is not in the same league as issues of war and peace to do with Libya and so on, which are far more important. However, I hope that in future the Government will take independent advice, that they will apply—above all, for people on low pay—the principle that someone outside this place should advise on salaries and pay, and that we will then take that advice. If we do not, we will undermine our case, and I am afraid that we will not assist the public sector, many of whose employees look to us to set an example to them.

The right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) was doing so well until he reached his peroration.

This is a classic case of an immovable object meeting an irresistible force. If there is a vote tonight, I shall go with the irresistible force, namely what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), the Chairman of the Defence Committee. It is absolutely inconceivable that Members of Parliament should be given a pay rise at a time when the pay of other public servants, particularly members of the armed forces, is being frozen. That will determine my vote tonight.

I will a little later, if the hon. Gentleman will be patient. I do not wish to be derailed from the other half of the equation, which is that the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark is also absolutely right. It is nonsensical to say that a process will become independent because interfering with it has led to desperately dire consequences in the past, and then to tear up that principle at the first opportunity.

I have only one positive suggestion to make, but I think that it is worth trying. I am not sure whether the Leader of the House will respond to suggestions, but if he does, I hope he will consider this one. I am sure that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority consists of very capable people, but we have heard from no less an authority than the Prime Minister that it may not be there for ever, and we would not wish to give this very important task to a body that may not be with us indefinitely.

I have a rather simple suggestion. Why cannot the pay of hon. Members be linked once and for all to an agreed level of civil servant, whatever that level may be, so that if they get a pay freeze, we get a pay freeze? [Interruption.] I hear whispers around the Chamber that we have done that already, but we evidently have not done it efficiently enough if the result is, as the Leader of the House has explained, that their pay is being frozen while ours is not. I simply say that we should be linked once and for all to an agreed rate of civil service pay that cannot be interfered with so that when the Government impose a pay freeze on public employees for right and proper reasons, we will be affected by it, and when they do not we will not. It is as simple as that and I cannot see the problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) was right to agree with what our right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) said. It would be impossible for the House to accept a pay increase in these circumstances. The recommendation for people in the national health service who earn below £21,000 a year is that they should receive an extra £250 in a year. For us to take 1% on our pay would not work in these circumstances.

I do not know why people are afraid of setting their own pay, but that is not the system we have decided on. We have decided that it will be done through independent determination by IPSA as we had previously decided that it would be done through independent determination by the SSRB, but that is not the subject of the motion. As has rightly been said, we cannot run both organisations, so which should we drop? Clearly, we have to drop the one that we set up first, which was the SSRB. If it does not do this work, IPSA will, but I do not have confidence that IPSA will get it right. Let me briefly make a recommendation to it: why not set a rate of pay that comes into effect after the next election and have no increase during the Parliament? That would solve an awful lot of problems. We would not have to compare ourselves with anyone else year on year and no one would get an increase during a Parliament.

On allowances, it is wrong that IPSA has left us waiting so long for the money that our staff are going to be earning in a month’s time, but again that is not an issue for today. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) about freezing all allowances, but he will not mind that. When remarks were made about my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and second homes, I did not recognise the factual basis of what was said. Perhaps it would be possible for the person who made that remark to communicate it to my right hon. Friend and to me and then we will know what that was all about.

Essentially, the way to solve the problem raised by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) about not wanting to vote for or against the motion is not to force a vote and to let the motion go through.

Following on from my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley), I agree that we should not vote on this issue tonight, but from a different perspective. I do not think it is for the Executive to bring forward this motion. If such a motion is to be brought forward, it should be done by the Backbench Business Committee so that it is Parliament bringing it forward and deciding whether to accept the pay increase.

I have a second reason for thinking that the motion should not be proceeded with tonight, and I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will not force it to a vote and will instead come back with a different motion—or, better still, let the Backbench Business Committee bring forward a motion. We have had such an important debate today and I have been agonising over the weekend about which way to vote; in the end I did not vote at all. It seems absolutely absurd to the British public that we are wasting one and a half hours on this tonight when we could have continued with the main debate, which is what we should have done. I urge the Deputy Leader of the House to withdraw the motion.

I am conscious that, with the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), all the speakers in the debate so far were Members of the House before the last election. I was not, so I bring a slightly different perspective.

In the run-up to the election, partly, for obvious reasons, because of the constituency in which I was standing—Bury North—the expenses scandal and the issue of Members’ pay were raised frequently. In light of the decision taken in 2008, I was able to say, “Well, Members voting on their pay is not an issue any more; I will not get involved in such matters.” That is what I was saying to my would-be constituents in the run-up to the election, so I have a dilemma tonight.

I have resolved that dilemma in this way. On the one hand, an independent review body has suggested a 1% increase, and on the other, public sector employees earning more than £21,000 are subject to a pay freeze. We should accept the motion for two reasons. First, it is common sense that the public would be amazed and astonished, no matter what excuses were given, if we somehow arranged—that is how they would see it; we would be arranging it—to be treated differently from the rest of the public sector. That is one reason why we should accept that we should be in the same position as the rest of the public sector and accept a pay freeze.

The other reason is that I believe in the sovereignty of Parliament, and constituents know that ultimately, whatever we may say about independence, we put those independent people in place, and he who gives can take away. Constituents will not be fooled if we accept the 1% 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.

The main reason for accepting the motion is common sense, which is always my touchstone. What do the people out there want us to do? There is no doubt that they would not accept it if we agreed to a pay rise. For that reason, I support the motion.

I believe that the motion is a retrograde step. Many of us in this place have believed for a long time that we should not decide our own salaries and pensions, and have abstained in debates on them. We thought in 2008 that we were ensuring that a third party would, in effect, decide; we are now yet again bringing the matter back in-house.

The Government’s case has not been helped by the suggestion that the SSRB is in some way not really independent. Its recommendation is linked to a range of salary increases, but those decisions are made outside this place. It is as independent as we are going to get, so I really do not think that that suggestion helps the Government’s case at all.

For the avoidance of doubt, because there will be those outside this place who think that those of us who have spoken against the Government proposals speak from self-interest, let me make it clear that I for one would be happy to donate my increase to charity. The point is not the financial interest; the point is that a number of us fought long and hard to make sure that decisions on those subjects were made outside this place, yet we are once again bringing them into the Chamber. That is a retrograde step that we will regret. The idea of moving this forward through the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is not very welcome at all, given IPSA’s track record in certain areas.

We are losing the plot on this issue and have taken a retrograde step. Last year and the year before that we thought that we had solved the situation, but now we are bringing the matter back in-house. That will not serve the long-term interests of the Chamber or the reputation of this Parliament.

I do not want to detain the House for long—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] That is clearly the best reaction I am going to get this evening.

I detect throughout the House a real desire not to be having this debate at all. Having to debate our own pay is not good for the House at any time, and particularly not after the debate that we have just had. We are where we are, however. We are caught between a rock and a hard place. Last week, I went into my local hospital and members of staff there told me that they were genuinely worried about how they were going to pay their mortgages. A pay freeze for the armed forces has already been mentioned. I do not think that anyone here believes that MPs could take a pay rise in those circumstances.

Members have rightly said that the whole question of our pay needs to be taken away from this House and given to an independent body. If we are honest, we have to admit that Governments have always interfered in the recommendations of pay review bodies—that has certainly been the case in all the years that I have been in the House. We need finally to get away from that. The solution is not as simple as linking our pay to a grade in the civil service, as the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) suggested. We tried that, but the grade was abolished. That is how we got into many of the problems that we faced later.

We need to get this matter out of the House very quickly, and to establish an independent system for setting our pay. Having listened to the debate, I believe that that is overwhelmingly the view of Members. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will not simply tell us that that will happen “shortly”; I hope that he will tell us when it will be done, because no one wants to be in this position ever again.

Hear, hear to what the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) said at the end of her speech: I do not think that we want to be in this position again.

I want to pick up on something that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) said about pay review bodies. Yes, it is true that a succession of reports from such bodies has been accepted by the Government. They deal with teachers, the Prison Service and the health service. Every single one of them says that there should be no increase in pay this year for those who earn more than £21,000. Only one pay review body is proposing an increase for people who earn considerably more than £21,000, and that is the one that deals with Members of Parliament. Why is that happening? Because it is not an entirely independent review, as we have already heard from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of Commons, and because it was pre-emptively interfered with by the decision of the previous Government and the previous House in setting the parameters for our pay, which has resulted in the anomalous position of the proposal of a 1% pay increase for MPs while everyone else in the public service gets a pay freeze. That is why we have had to come back to the House today.

On a point of clarification, there has been a lot of disquiet in the debate about Members of Parliament having to vote on their own pay. Can my hon. Friend confirm whether there will be an annual vote on our pay when IPSA takes over this matter?

There certainly will not be—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) can scoff, but there will not be. It will be a genuinely independent process.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) asked why we had not tabled an amendment. There is no need for an amendment in order to transfer the matter to IPSA, an entirely independent body, because the legislation is already in place. All that we need is a commencement order. He went on to say that he would refuse to vote this evening. Let me tell him, and anyone who is minded to do the same, that if the House refuses to vote for the motion this evening, we will have a 1% pay increase, and those hon. Members will have to justify that pay increase to their constituents at a time of national constraint. I do not believe that that would be easy to do.

If the Deputy Leader of the House is so keen for an independent body such as IPSA to control MPs’ salaries, why does he not hand that over from 1 April this year?

We shall do so when IPSA and the House are ready, and it will be done shortly. We have already given that reply, and I repeat it again. Incidentally, may I tell the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) that he will soon receive a reply on pensions, but we have made it clear that MPs’ pensions will be informed by the Hutton review in exactly the same way as pensions in the rest of the public service? It is a matter that the House will soon have the opportunity to discuss.

I was extremely disappointed by part of the contribution from the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) in which he appeared to impugn the integrity of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. That is entirely regrettable and unjustifiable, given his record in opposition and in government, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to withdraw that suggestion.

I was simply trying to inform the House of events that took place two years ago, and was in no way trying to impugn the integrity of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I was just pointing out that in his former guise he had made the case for independent reviews very strongly in amendments that he had tabled, and I hoped that he would do the same again.

May I briefly ask the deputy Leader of the House whether, if there is a salary freeze in the public sector from April 2013 to April 2014, he will do his best, once MPs’ salaries are in IPSA’s hands, to stop IPSA putting up those salaries, despite the fact that, by that stage, IPSA will be the entirely independent body that he believes the SSRB is not?

I did not hear the hon. Gentleman say what he said that he had said about my right hon. Friend—I heard something quite different—but we shall have to look at the Official Report to be sure.

Once IPSA has control of Members’ salaries, it will be entirely independent and it will not be for me or for anyone else to tell it how to do its job. Independent assessment is right—we all agree about that. In principle, Members of Parliament should not vote on their own pay. But in a House that does not flinch from having an opinion on the remuneration of others, we cannot just ignore the perception or consequences of an increase of our own pay.

I do not think that a single Member of Parliament wants this wretched 1% pay rise. What we wanted was the chance as Members of Parliament to do the right thing and table our own motion to decline it. What we are getting, I am afraid, in a robust speech from the hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench, is Executive posturing at our expense and it does him no favours at all.

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion, but I think that the House has been given the opportunity to decide whether it wants that 1% pay increase, and it must make that decision.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is approaching a response to the point that I made. Has it not come to everyone’s notice recently that there might be a problem with public sector expenditure? It has been parroted in every speech in the House since the election. Why did the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House not introduce something to free the SSRB from the formula in which it was trapped, enabling it to make an independent recommendation on our salaries and on which we would not have to vote? Where has the hon. Gentleman been sleeping?

There are two answers to that. First, I am not a member of the SSRB, so I did not know what recommendation it was going to make. If we tried to adjust the so-called independent formula, would we not be having precisely the same debate about the Executive interfering with the will of the House, which had decided to give to that independent body the right to set our pay? It would be said that we were coming in with a formula of our own. I can just imagine the speeches that would be made, and they would be very similar to the ones that have been made this evening.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster talked about animal intelligence. It occurs to me that if there were a lemmings review body that independently came to the view that a headlong dash into a freezing fjord would be for the best, lemmings ought at least to have an opinion on the matter. What we are providing this evening is an opportunity for Members to consider the consequences before complying with the decision.

In this case, the review body has made it plain that it would not have made the recommendation that it did unless it was constrained to do so. It would have independently come to a view that there should be no increase in our pay this year. I find it difficult to believe that any Member of the House thinks we should be treated differently and significantly better than others working in the public sector.

I am staggered that I should have to make this comment: no one in the House is suggesting that we should take that 1%.

In that case I am extremely pleased, as it means that we will quickly move to a conclusion of this difficult matter. The commitment to independent review is retained. The anomalous position this year is recognised. We do to ourselves what others have had done to them. It is not a decision for Government; it is a decision for the House. Members must make up their own minds, but in my view— and I do not think I am alone—it is a no-brainer. I hope all right hon. and hon. Members will support the motion.

Question put and agreed to.


That the following provision shall be made with respect to the salaries of Members of this House—

(1) For the period beginning with 1 April 2011 and ending with the relevant day, the rates of—

(a) Members’ salaries, and

(b) additional salaries payable to Members under Resolutions of this House in respect of service as chairs of select or general committees, shall be the same as those salaries as at 31 March 2011.

(2) In paragraph (1) the “relevant day” means—

(a) the day before the day on which the first determination of Members’ salaries by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority comes into effect, or

(b) 31 March 2013, whichever is the earlier.

(3) Paragraphs (9), (10) and (12)(b) of the Resolution of 3 July 2008 (Members’ Salaries (No. 2) (Money)) cease to have effect on the day this Resolution is passed.

(4) The remaining provisions of that Resolution cease to have effect on 1 April 2011.