MPs threaten revolt over cut in petrol perk

Commons pay: Ministers try to cool backbenches
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The Independent Online
The Tory MP Nicholas Winterton was last night threatening to lead a Conservative backbench revolt over a threat to cut MPs' mileage allowances from 74p per mile to 47p as part of their pay package.

The move was gathering support among disgruntled Labour MPs who say they could be worse off, in spite of a proposed 26 per cent increase, because of the proposals. The Government, which is calling on MPs to support pay restraint, was last night seeking to play on the discontent by tabling a motion for a vote tomorrow enabling the MPs to keep their 74p mileage allowance providing they limit their pay rise to 3 per cent.

There were also signs of a split in the Shadow Cabinet over Tony Blair's decision to back John Major's call for pay rises to be limited to 3 per cent while allowing a free vote. Some were furious with Mr Blair. "If we don't get the pay rise now, we will never get them under a Labour Government," said one of Mr Blair's colleagues.

Mr Winterton, MP for Congleton, will table an amendment to seek a review of mileage allowances. That would allow the MPs to vote for the 26 per cent pay rise, increasing MPs' pay from pounds 34,085 to pounds 43,000 a year.

Labour MPs calculated that the taxed pay rise would deliver a net pounds 5,600 a year increase, but they would lose at least pounds 5,400 with the cut in mileage allowances for those with large cars who do 20,000 miles a year. As the allowance is taxed, they would be worse off.

Soundings among MPs yesterday suggested a close vote, with many Labour frontbenchers and whips intending to ignore Mr Blair's lead, and the backbenches of both main parties in favour of a pay rise.

Despite Mr Blair's declaration that he favoured restraint, he is expected to miss the vote.Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, declared yesterday that he would be "voting for restraint".

In January, 298 MPs, nearly half the membership of the House, signed a motion calling for the issue of their pay to be referred to an independent body. Nearly 200 of the MPs who signed were Labour, including frontbenchers and whips. Most Labour signatories were yesterday intending to vote for the proposed pay rise.

"If you ask for an independent review you have to stand by that," said Angela Eagle, MP for Wallasey. "It is ridiculous that the Prime Minister's advisers earn more than he does, but the quid pro quo has to be that MPs have no outside earnings at all."

Senior Tory backbenchers agreed: "What is the point of calling for an independent review if you're not going to accept the findings?" asked one. He predicted many ministers and their aides would stay away.

The main group of Labour MPs who signed the January motion who say they will not vote for the review body's recommendation are leftwingers. Tony Banks said: "I am not voting for my own money." He signed the original motion to take the decision away from MPs, he said.