MPs unite to demand an increase in salaries

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The Independent Online
A cross-party campaign to increase MPs' pay got under way in earnest last night as more than a third of the Commons signed a motion urging Lord Nolan's Committee on Standards in Public Life to examine the issue.

The motion, calling for the Nolan committee to make recommendations by the end of April, is promoted by four senior Privy Councillors, Alf Morris (Labour), Sir Terence Higgins (Conservative), Sir David Steel (Liberal Democrat) and James Molyneux (Ulster Unionist) and senior figures from Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists, Dafydd Wigley and Margaret Ewing.

Sir Terence said: "If you look back over the last 30 years, real incomes have gone up by over 80 per cent. MPs' pay hasn't gone up at all, and ministers' pay has more than halved."

The move comes in the wake of a Harris Political Research Unit poll for The Parliamentary Monitor showing that only 15 per cent of MPs are content with their pounds 34,085-a-year basic salaries.

An examination by Nolan would, however, require John Major to amend the committee's terms of reference as well as backing from Tony Blair, the Labour leader.

Sir Terence, MP for Worthing, said he believed the necessary cross- party consensus could be achieved because most of the 240-plus members who had added their names to the motion by last night were Labour members.

The Nolan Committee took evidence on MPs' and ministers' pay when it was first set up but considered it fell outside its terms of reference on standards in public life.

The motion presses for the terms of reference to be clarified, arguing that standards in public life depend on the people who participate in it.

"There is now a real danger that candidates of sufficient ability and integrity do not stand for election to the House of Commons," it said. "And ministers who have lost office leave the House of Commons at the next general election rather than continue as senior backbenchers."

Sir Terence, a former minister and former chairman of the Commons procedure committee, conceded that the demand for more pay could play badly in the country. But he insisted: "It's a question of both recruitment and retention.

"If a minister's career ends at 51 he will not want to stay on for the next three parliaments. If you are a minister you are clearly of reasonable ability and you will get a great deal more outside. They will not be available to chair select committees. The whole select-committee system could break down."

The House decided in the Eighties that MPs' pay should be equivalent to a civil service assistant secretary, which would have brought their pay up to pounds 48,000.

But Margaret Thatcher did not bring the recommendation into effect, leaving members' pay pegged at the lower end of the principal range.