The Government was accused of failing to show leadership by Tory MPs at a stormy meeting of the 1922 Committee last night. Nicholas Winterton, the Tory MP for Macclesfield, said: "It's a gigantic cock-up."
Conservative MPs were preparing to defy the Cabinet's lead and vote in favour of the pounds 9,000 a year rises recommended by the Senior Salaries Review Body, to take their pay from pounds 34,085 to pounds 43,000.
They were so angry that some were ready to vote against the increase in ministerial salaries which could take the Prime Minister's salary up from pounds 84,217 to pounds 143,000 and cabinet ministers up from pounds 69,651 to pounds 103,000 after the election.
Senior cabinet sources said that ministers would accept the increases if the 3 per cent pay limit was rejected by MPs.
Some Conservative MPs accused ministers of leaving it to their backbenchers to vote the pay increases for them.
"They are being very sneaky," said one angry Tory backbencher. But ministerial sources discounted early speculation that there would be a majority for the higher pay rise and said last night that the vote would be on a knife- edge.
"A lot of Tory MPs with marginal constituencies are going to abstain, because they are afraid of being attacked as fat cats by Labour candidates. It's far from a foregone conclusion," one said.
The Prime Minister said the pay rises were too high. Tony Blair, the Labour leader, who was also consulted before the decision to peg the increase, gave a clear signal he expects the Opposition front bench to vote against a higher pay increase. He said: "We have got to ask ourselves whether it is sensible when we are asking the country to make sacrificies to award ourselves some vast pay increases."
The Government payroll vote and the Labour front bench, totalling over 200 MPs, are expected to vote in favour of the 3 per cent limit.
About 50 left-wing Labour MPs led by the Campaign Group will also oppose the rise. The outcome will depend on the number of abstentions in the late-night vote on Wednesday.
Chris Mullin, the Labour MP, who will vote against the higher increase, said: "You cannot have one rule for MPs and another for everyone else." If it goes through, he will take only the existing MPs' salary and pay the rest to good causes, he said.
Mr Winterton, however, was also angry with the SSRB recommendation to slash MPs' car allowances for bigger cars. He drives a 4.6 litre Land Rover to his constituency which is 180 miles from London with his wife, Ann, who is also an MP. He said MPs should have larger engine cars to be assured of arriving "in safety and comfort" from their constituencies.
Sir Terence Higgins, a former Tory Treasury minister, is leading the backbench campaign for the higher rate on the grounds that it is catching up for 30 years lagging behind the private sector.
The pay rises proposed by the Government would raise their pay from 1 July 1996, with further increases from 1 April each year, linked to movements in senior civil service pay bands.
n The "missing cash" which MPs are not obliged to disclose in the Register of Members' Interests under the new rules on standards in public life could amount to millions of pounds, it was claimed today. Labour Research - an independent trade union and labour movement organisation - says these are the findings of an exercise which uncovered gaps in the information provided by MPs.Reuse content