Leading article: An unhealthy sense of entitlement

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The Independent Online

Our MPs feel aggrieved because their £61,820-a-year salaries make them less well paid than head teachers or senior managers in the private sector. The House of Commons Commission seems likely to suggest that their pay should be bumped up to about £75,000 after the next general election.

Our political representatives also want to spare themselves the sort of embarrassment that the former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett suffered at the weekend, when it was revealed that the Commons authorities had knocked back her claim for £600 towards house plants for her Derbyshire home. The Commission has therefore proposed that every MP with a second home should be entitled to an automatic £23,000 expense allowance, with no need to put in detailed claims.

Being an MP is an unusual profession. There are no formal entry qualifications, except the self-belief that enables a person to perform in front of a constituency party. Although MPs in marginal seats can be harshly punished at election times for their leader's poor performance, between elections there is no formal supervision of their work, no assessment of how well they are serving their constituents, no penalties for incompetence. And they get to set their own pay – to say nothing about their extremely generous pensions.

Despite all this, what shines through the House of Commons Commission's proposals is a self-regarding sense of entitlement, which assumes without question that they should be as well rewarded as head teachers. The harsh truth is that while many MPs work diligently, there are also more than a few who would struggle to land a job as a teaching assistant.

While it is obviously right that MPs representing seats a long way from London, who have no choice but to maintain two homes, should be reimbursed, the Commission does not question whether this perk should be available to those with constituencies in commuting distance. Nor does it explain why married couples who are both MPs should be entitled to claim double. Perhaps, in this time of falling house prices, Parliament should make a once-and-for-all investment in properties to be used rent free by MPs. It might be cheaper over time than subsidising their mortgages, and would stop any profiteering at public expense.

The case of Derek Conway, who paid his sons out of his office allowance while they were at university, demonstrates how little internal pressure there is on MPs to keep costs down. Yet transparency and publicity work. That is why, for all the embarrassment endured by Mrs Beckett, the proposed automatic housing grant for MPs – like the idea of a £13,000 salary hike – is to be resisted.