LETTER:Salaries, MPs and the interests of the Commons man

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The Independent Online
From Dr A. M. Hulme

Sir: Writing of the vote on the Nolan recommendations, Andrew Marr says: "This vote must be only the first step to a wider reform of the Commons, of its remuneration" ("Now Parliament has shown the way, the press should follow", 7 November).

There seem to be two particular indicators as to how MPs' pay should be reformed. First, it is widely acknowledged that MPs are underpaid by the standards of most comparable democracies. The difficulty of rectifying this has always been political - how to raise pay without setting an inflationary example to the electorate.

The second point is that many MPs, for the most part Tory, regard an MP's job as part time. On these grounds, they justify spending time on outside paid activities. Few of us in the electorate agree with this position, since it inevitably reduces the time an MP has to devote to representing us, dealing with our problems and concerns and, crucially, devising good legislation.

But rather than applying an outright ban on outside work, why not structure the "market forces" to which MPs are subject to give them more incentive to do what we pay them to do?

As a short-term incentive, MPs who receive any payment from outside work (of any sort - whether it be directorships, litigation or whatever) should receive only 50 per cent of the full parliamentary salary.

As a longer-term incentive to forgo outside work, parliamentary candidates should be required to inform their electorate in advance of whether they will be full-time or part-time MPs.

The first measure will inevitably reduce the parliamentary salaries bill somewhat. This should provide an opportunity to increase the salary of full-time MPs out of "efficiency savings". We might then at last be on our way to having a competent representative House of Commons.

Yours sincerely,

A. M. Hulme

Sutton Coldfield,

West Midlands

7 November