Gales View 24th July 2013
It was in the late 1980s that Members of Parliament received a pay increase which, while modest, was above the going rate” for others in percentage terms. I said, then, that I would take the money but pay the balance to charity and I have done so, with increases for inflation, via the Give As You Earn” scheme ever since. Over the years those payments have amounted to many thousands of pounds. I have never, hitherto, referred to this because it strikes me that what I do with the money that I earn and pay taxes on is my business and nobody else`s.
When I was first elected, back in 1983, I was working as an over-paid television producer/director and I took a two thirds cut in my annual income to become a Member of Parliament. My wife, Suzy, who had a good job with a good work-and-pension package took a fifty per-cent cut in her income to come and work with me. That is not a complaint. Nobody held a gun to my head and made me stand for election and my wife and I went into the task with our eyes wide open. I would though, sadly, probably not do it in the climate that surrounds politicians today.
Back in the 1980s MPs were hopelessly under-paid and we subsidised our office expenses out of our own pockets. It was some time before I could even afford a second member of staff to help Suzy, who was working all the hours that God sends, to keep pace with a growing constituency caseload. We were, though, not only allowed but expected to have outside interests, properly declared, in business or industry or the media or law or in consultancy. That meant that the House of Commons was full of people in Government and Opposition who had up-to-date experience of what the media now likes to call real life” and I believe that law-making benefitted greatly from the knowledge and experience that came with the need to earn a living.
Today we are paid a great deal more but the demand for Members to divest themselves of outside interests has meant that while Members of Parliament work long hours in the House or in the constituency – an 80-hour week is not uncommon – earning capacity has lagged behind comparators. A salary that equated, only a few years ago, to that earned by, for example, the head teacher of a significant secondary school now equates to that earned by a head of department in the same school and has fallen way behind that of a Doctor working far fewer hours.
There is never a good time for MPs to vote themselves a pay increase and that is why parliament decided to devolve responsibility for Members` and Ministerial salaries, along with pensions and office and other expenses, to a completely independent and outside body, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. The duty to set a Member of Parliament`s package of remuneration no longer lies, by law, in the hands of the House of Commons.
Much media attention has been paid to the IPSA salary proposals and much less to the proposed reductions in pensions and other payments but the fact is, of course, that the timing of the IPSA announcement is, when the nation is facing prolonged austerity, awful. The proposed increase is the subject of review and, even when finally agreed, will not be introduced until 2016. It will also, most certainly, be taxed at 40% but when asked I nevertheless have no difficulty in saying that I shall personally pay a significant proportion of any residual increase to charity, as I have done before and as I currently dispose of my unjustified winter fuel allowance.
We do, though, face a real problem as a nation. Unless the people who are elected to run the Country are paid a salary that enables them to meet the considerable hidden costs of so doing while at the same time supporting their own families then the best men and, particularly women, will not give up good careers to stand for parliament in the future. That means that we shall revert to the pre-war days when only those with family trust funds, family businesses, estates law firms to support them or other private incomes, together with a handful of non-aspirational career politicians will be prepared to stand for parliament. People tend to get the democracies that they are prepared to pay for but I am not sure that turning the clock back a hundred years is likely to prove attractive in the long run. I shall probably be pushing up daisies by the time that the full effects of retrograde and populist party leadership are felt but I care about the political climate in which my grandchildren will grow up and I think that it`s time that we began to recognise the value of the people who will be steering the economy and running Great Britain on their behalf.