Labour split on pay rise vote

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair's insistence on voting against massive salary rises for MPs and ministers has split his Shadow Cabinet into warring factions on pay and perks. The Labour leader has ordered a free vote on the issue for backbenchers and the 20 MPs who make up the Opposition Front Bench. But Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, and his three junior Treasury spokesmen will follow Mr Blair into the Government lobbies in the crucial Commons vote on Wednesday.

John Prescott, the Deputy Leader, is likely to join them, but others privately insist they will not vote against the massive pay hikes that will put Cabinet ministers on pounds 103,000 a year after the general election.

A third camp, led by Shadow Environment Minister Chris Smith, wants to tie the pounds 10,000-a-year increase for back-bench members of Parliament to a ban on second jobbing. "I think that if we are going to get a substantial increase in salary, then we ought to give up all outside earnings," he said.

Other members of the Shadow Cabinet may abstain, calculating that voters are more likely to punish politicians who appear to be "helping themselves from the cookie jar".

Because Shadow Ministers (with the exception of Mr Blair) receive only an MP's salary, they are regarded as back-benchers and free to vote according to their conscience, said a party spokesman. But several will line up behind Mr Blair. "It just depends how much room there is in the crawler lane," observed one Labour MP acidly.

Most backbenchers on both sides of the House are likely to support the package of rises proposed by the Senior Salaries Review Body, rejecting John Major's austerity call for a 3 per cent limit.

But Labour critics of the deal, which would put Mr Blair on pounds 143,000 a year if he makes it to Downing Street, argue that it will cause problems with public service workers and their unions.

Chris Mullin MP said: "You can live quite comfortably on pounds 33,000 a year [the existing salary for MPs]. Having one rule for MPs and another for everybody else is going to be very damaging."

The Senior Salaries Review Body proposes a rises of around pounds 10,000 for ordinary MPs, taking their salary to pounds 43,000. Junior ministers' pay would go up to pounds 66,623 and Ministers of State to pounds 74,125. The Leader of the Opposition would get pounds 98,000, all Cabinet ministers and the Speaker pounds 103,000 and the Prime Minister pounds 143,000.

n The limousines in which Government ministers glide around cost the taxpayer pounds 86,046 each a year to maintain, the Government has confirmed. This is almost 80 times as much the pounds 1,180 a year that the average British family spends to keep a car on the road, according to the British Roads Federation. The total cost of running the ministerial fleet of Jaguars, Rovers and other cars, and its support activities, was pounds 7.4m in 1995/96.

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