Nick Clegg threatened laws to curb executive pay yesterday as he warned that the private sector must take its share of the pain in the "age of austerity".
The Deputy Prime Minister promised that the Government would "call time on excessive and irresponsible behaviour" on boardroom pay by setting out proposals next month.
"I believe that people should be well paid if they succeed," he said. "What I abhor is people who get paid bucket loads of cash in difficult times for failure."
Although Mr Clegg, right, said the Government would not limit private-sector wage levels, he pledged to legislate if necessary to ensure a new approach in the boardroom.
He promised to break open the "closed shop" in which executives scratched each others' backs on remuneration committees, saying that employee representatives could sit on these committees.
He also said that shareholders could be given more influence over pay and companies could be forced to publish figures on their top and median salaries.
His tough talking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show was seen as an attempt to portray a more even-handed approach after the Chancellor, George Osborne, was accused of singling out the public sector in the austerity measures he announced last week. "We need to make sure people in the public sector don't feel that they are doing all the heavy lifting; that people who are in a sense living by a completely different rule in the private sector are also held to account," Mr Clegg said.
"Just as we've been quite tough on unsustainable, unaffordable things in the public sector, we now need to get tough on irresponsible and unjustifiable behaviour of top remuneration of executives in the private sector." Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, will unveil the plans in the new year.
Mr Clegg sought to allay fears in his party that it has signed up to public-spending cuts beyond the 2015 general election. He said: "The Liberal Democrats will be entirely independent and we will be very keen to push our unique mix of economic credibility and fairness."
All parties would have plans for savings after the next election, he said, suggesting his party would differ from the Conservatives by opposing the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons and ending free bus passes and TV licences for "millionaire pensioners".