MPs' allowances revolt faces lack of support

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Indy Politics
ATTEMPTS by MPs to defy the Cabinet over plans to cut a 20 per cent rise in their allowances, understood to have been recommended by the Top Salaries Review Body, could founder because of the unwillingness of new Tory members to join a rebellion.

Whitehall unions, meanwhile, demanded yesterday that the Government implement in full the increases, of up to 30 per cent, for leading civil servants, judges and generals that are also understood to have been recommended.

Whitehall union leaders were incensed yesterday by reports that the Cabinet will today tone down the increases for the highest 630 civil servants, while MPs became increasingly agitated over the prospect of a far smaller increase in parliamentary allowances than the pounds 8,000 that is said to have been proposed.

MPs are to vote on the allowances on Tuesday. Some hope for a repeat of 1986, when Labour MPs successfully ambushed the Government and won support for a large rise in the office cost allowance. Because a number of members agreed to not speak, the crucial vote took place earlier than expected in the absence of Government supporters. Some Conservatives also rebelled.

The Government now has a much smaller majority, but any ambush may founder because of the unwillingness of new Tory MPs to rock the boat. 'Most of the new intake are not prepared to defy the Government,' one said yesterday. 'There are far too many public expenditure problems to be seen not setting a good example to others.'

Backbench MPs receive pounds 30,854 in salary and those with seats outside inner London also get an allowance of up to pounds 10,786 for expenses incurred on Parliamentary business away from home. Other perks include generous free travel, limited free travel for spouses and children, and free parking, stationery, inland telephone calls and postal services.

A perceived problem with the current system is that MPs can also claim up to a pounds 26,986 limit for office expenses at Westminster and in constituencies. Where workloads are light it is open to abuse. But many MPs are angry that they are unable to recruit and retain the skilled secretaries and researchers they need to do their jobs properly.

Labour will study the detail of the Government's motion before drafting its amendment.

On the pay issue, Bill Brett, general secretary of the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, said: 'Many civil servants in this group have received pay increases below the rate of inflation for the past seven years, while the pay of comparable groups elsewhere has risen at four or five times the rate of inflation.'

The unions emphasise that job security discounts are built in by the review body.