'Never a good time to increase MPs' pay': Jack Straw defends politicians' 11% pay rise in face of public outrage

'Inappropriate' £7,600 salary increase should be reconsidered in light of economic climate, Treasury minister Danny Alexander says

Adam Withnall
Sunday 08 December 2013 10:08
The Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament

MPs are set to receive an 11 per cent pay rise, taking their salaries to £74,000 from 2015, despite objections from all three major party leaders.

Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury, said the increase would be “wholly inappropriate” coming at a time when many public sector workers have had their pay frozen.

Yet despite the fury the announcement has sparked among the public, several MPs have spoken out today in defence of their salaries being increased.

The former Labour cabinet minister and current MP for Blackburn Jack Straw said that while there is “never a good time to increase MPs' pay”, not doing so would unfairly deter “people from modest backgrounds” from entering politics.

Many people took to Twitter today to express their anger at the news, with constituents calling on their MPs to reject the pay increase. Labour leader Ed Miliband and the Lib Dems’ Nick Clegg have both said they will refuse to accept the extra money.

Though Prime Minister David Cameron said politicians should not receive more than others in a time of austerity, he is yet to join them in personally rejecting the rise.

The increase is set to be unveiled as part of proposals from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), which was set up in the wake of the expenses scandal to ensure MPs are not responsible for setting their own wages.

That change, applied in law, means there is little any of the political party leaders can do to stop Ipsa from raising salaries.

It will cost the taxpayer an additional £4.6 million, some of which will be cancelled out by a crackdown on MPs’ perks and a squeeze on their pension packages.

Yet that saving of around £2.5 million has not been enough to alleviate anger from politicians, campaign groups or the general public.

Ipsa said it would press on with the pay rise after research and a consultation period, during which it found that two thirds of MPs said they felt they were underpaid.

The chairman of the watchdog, Sir Ian Kennedy, said politicians’ pay had been suppressed for too long already and that it was “wrong in itself” to do so. The organisation has claimed that the expenses scandal largely came as a result of keeping down the basic rate of pay for MPs.

Mr Alexander urged Ipsa to reconsider, saying it should bear in mind public opinion and “the wider economic climate and the climate of people's living standards”.

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr show it would be “wholly inappropriate for MPs to get such a large pay rise when every other public sector worker sees their pay rises capped at 1 per cent”.

In July, Mr Miliband predicted that Ipsa would drop the significant rise, but added: “If this was to go ahead I wouldn't be accepting this pay rise.”

Mr Clegg said then that it was the “worst time” to advocate a double-digit pay rise.

David Cameron has previously described a pay rise as “unthinkable”, and a Downing Street spokesman said: “We believe that the cost of politics should be going down, not up.”

The Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley, however, said that Ipsa should be allowed to do its work. He said he would back an increase at the start of the next Parliament, adding that politicians' pay needed to be brought more in line with the amounts earned by people at the top of other professions.

“Each leader will say this is the wrong amount at the wrong time,” Sir Peter said. “The fact is, it was the leaders who set up the Ipsa system who are given the responsibility to set the level of pay and people can't interfere with it.

“The only way MPs could overturn this is to defy their leaders and pass a law saying Ipsa is abolished or it will be ignored. That's impractical given the public interest in setting up Ipsa in the first place.”

Mathew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance campaign group, said: “Taxpayers will be furious that the pay rise comes at a time when MPs urge public pay restraint and the Chancellor tells us he can't afford to ease the burden of taxes on hard-pressed households and businesses.”

The news led to outrage on social media, with many Twitter users comparing the 11 per cent pay rise to the frozen salaries of most public sector workers and bringing up David Cameron’s 2011 speech entitled “We are all in this together”.

One user wrote an open letter to his MP calling for the rise to be rejected, while James Vine (@JamesPSVine) said: “Let’s start a campaign. Don't vote at next election for any MP who will accept pay rise. #wereallinthistogether”

Jim Hodges tweeted: “As we are all in this together will we all get this? @David_Cameron”, and Ian Beckett called it “completely unacceptable”.

“This is a disgrace. There are many more public sector employees who deserve this kind of pay increase before they do,” wrote Geoff Hackney (@Geoff_Hackney), a Lib Dem political activist.

Ciara Webb (‏@ciarawebbonweb) said simply: “This disgusts me.”

Ipsa said it had looked at increasing the current salary of £66,396 to anywhere between £73,365 and £83,430, but that “in recognition of the current difficult economic circumstances” it had gone for the lower end of the scale.

After the bumper rise in 2015, MPs’ wages will then increase annually in line with average UK earnings.

Ipsa proposed a number of measures which it said would help offset the cost of the measure. They include an end to “resettlement grants” up to £65,000 for departing MPs, which would be replaced by a lower pay-off linked to an individual politician’s length of service.

A £15 dinner allowance will also be scrapped, claims for tea and biscuits will not be allowed, and taxpayer-funded taxis home only allowed after 11pm.

There will also be a crackdown on claims for running second homes, Ipsa said, with costs such as TV licences and contents insurance no longer being met.

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