The Senior Salaries Review Body last week concluded a survey of hours worked by MPs, including time spent in their constituency. This will show that some MPs work in excess of 80 hours a week.
The review body's recommendations on future salaries will be tabled before 30 June, and MPs are keen to vote them through before the summer recess starts a fortnight later.
MPs are currently paid pounds 34,850 a year, and they also receive an allowance of pounds 42,754 to cover office costs, including secretarial and research work. Members with constituencies outside London pick up another pounds 11,267 for accommodation in the capital. In the survey MPs were asked if this allowance was sufficient. "Ninety per cent of us said no," a Conservative MP disclosed.
Senior figures on both the government side and in the Labour Party concur that salaries will rise sharply this year in a "catching-up" exercise that will put MPs on at least pounds 45,000. One Tory estimate went even higher, to more than pounds 50,000 a year.
MPs will be able to argue that their salaries are only going up pro-rata in line with officers of the House of Commons, who will be awarded a salary hike in the 30-40 per cent range this week, to bring their pay up to the level of top civil servants.
Some members want to get the business of their salaries sorted out quickly, fearing that the Government's precarious majority could trigger a snap general election. More than 50 MPs on the government side alone are standing down next time, and their pensions would be fixed as a percentage of their final salary. Current pension arrangements are viewed as "very, very meagre". A Conservative backbencher who did not wish to be identified said: "It will be done before the election because there are so many people going out."
Salary rises on the scale contemplated will certainly prompt a public outcry about MPs "helping themselves". But the Government will also be in serious political difficulties if, as expected, the review body recommends substantial increases for ministers.
Sir Edward Heath, the former Prime Minister, was expected to argue on GMTV today that MPs should be paid pounds 100,000 a year - but he also said their numbers should be halved from the present figure of 660.
"MPs ought to be paid three times as much," he says. "They ought to be given at least three times the staff in order to deal with constituents' problems, and then we might get the right people into Parliament."
Discontent over pay has been rising among MPs since the end of last year, when the Nolan Committee's report requiring greater disclosure of earnings from outside consultancies was approved by Parliament. Publication of the 1996 edition of the Register of Members' Interests, giving broad details of how much they earn, is imminent.
John Major referred MPs' salaries to the review body - which also sets pay for judges, civil servants and military top brass - after 230 MPs signed a motion demanding an independent examination of their pay and conditions earlier this year.
Elsewhere in the public sector, local government workers will get only a 2.9 per cent rise this year. However, it is generally accepted that MPs' pay has lagged behind in recent years. Discounting inflation, real average earnings have risen by four-fifths since the mid-Sixties, while the pay of MPs has remained unchanged and that of ministers has fallen by half. Allowances have improved, however.Reuse content