Business backs pay rise for MPs to 'raise calibre'

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The Independent Online
The vast majority of business people think MPs do not get paid enough, and that this prevents able people seeking a career in politics, according to an Opinion Leader Research poll for the Independent.

A survey of 100 directors of medium and large companies in a range of business sectors across the country last week found that 77 thought the present MPs' salary of pounds 34,085 was "too little", and that 71 thought it discouraged "people of high calibre" from becoming MPs.

John Major last week asked the Senior Salaries Review Body to conduct an inquiry into MPs' pay, after a huge majority of backbench MPs signed a motion asking for their pay to be set by an outside body.

MPs' basic salary is twice the national average salary for full-time employees, but Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative MP for Chingford, said last month: "I find the life of an MP a financial disaster and I am not untypical."

But a rival motion from a small number of Labour MPs led by Chris Mullin (Sunderland South) deplored demands for higher pay.

The Independent's survey also suggests that Labour's drive to reassure business people still has a long way to go, with over half the sample saying that the nation's finances would be safer in the hands of Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, than in the hands of Gordon Brown, his Labour shadow. Only 20 of the strongly pro-Conservative sample preferred Mr Brown. But a quarter of respondents appeared unimpressed by either, replying "don't know".

The sample was roughly divided on the question which has dominated Tony Blair's "Business Tour". At a series of working breakfasts around the country, business people have told the Labour leader they are impressed by him, but wonder whether he can take the party with him when in power.

Nearly half the sample, 46, think a Labour government "would reflect Tony Blair's views and beliefs", while 49, think it would be "more left wing". But a surprisingly high proportion of the sample, 36, accept one of Mr Blair's central arguments of his charm offensive, that joining the European Social Chapter would have a "beneficial" effect on British business. A clear majority, however, believe the effect would be "detrimental", backing the Government's argument for negotiating Britain's opt-out from the Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty.

Mr Blair caused controversy when he addressed the CBI conference last autumn, saying he had no intention of signing up to every proposal under the Social Chapter. So far, only two measures, setting up works councils for consultation with employees and granting parental leave, have been approved by the rest of the European Union.

The view from the boardroom

Do you think the present salary for MPs of pounds 34,085 is too little, too much or about right?

Too little 77

Too much 2

About right 19

Don't know 2

Do you think the present salary discourages people of high calibre from becoming MPs?

Yes 71

No 27

Don't know 2

If Labour under Tony Blair won the next election, do you think a Labour government would reflect Mr Blair's views and beliefs, or would it be more left wing?

Reflect Tony Blair's views 46

More left wing 49

Don't know 5

Do you think the nation's finances would be safer in the hands of Chancellor Kenneth Clarke or of shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown?

Kenneth Clarke 56

Gordon Brown 20

Don't know 24

Do you believe that Britain signing up to the European Social Chapter would have a beneficial or a detrimental effect on British business?

Beneficial 36

Detrimental 58

Don't know 6

tOpinion Leader Research interviewed 100 company directors last week