MPs’ pay again

There was a good response to my item asking what you thought MPs should be paid, and how many things they should be able to claim in expenses. The range of views was much wider than I expected, and not everyone thought MPs were overpaid.

Today there are rumours that the Committee charged with coming up with proposals for reform of these matters is thinking about a substantial increase in basic pay, or about a system of claims for living expenses that would avoid having to file detailed receipts for the items which give the press so many stories.

My hunch is that as the Credit Crunch tightens, and as people find it more and more difficult to afford the basics, the climate will become more hostile to the idea that MPs should have a pay rise or any relaxation of the controls over expenses.

Having seen what some MPs claim – quite legally under the present system – I would like to see similar figures and details for other senior people in the public sector. How do all those so-called chief executives in local government fare? What about all those chairmen and chief executives of quangos? Can we see how much foreign travel, staying away from home and the like they all get up to? One of my Parliamentary colleagues is asking under Freedom of Information for details of judges’ expenses along with their private addresses, as he feels so strongly MPs should not have to divulge their private address. I am all in favour of proper controls over public sector expenses, but would like the system to be tightened up for everyone while we are about it.

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29 Comments

  1. torydeb
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    This issue over giving private addresses seems a bit silly and precious to me.

    Private addresses are given out during elections on the nomination forms, company bosses have their private addresses listed at companies house, available to anyone who wants them at most for a very small fee.

    Asking for judges to divulge their own addresses seems petty and desperate as well.

    I can hear your parliamentary colleague saying "If we're going down, we're taking everybody with us!"

  2. APL
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    JR: ".. about a system of claims for living expenses […] which give the press so many stories."

    Stories they may be, true though aren't they?

    If you want more trust in politicians, politicians have to stop being crooked, and be more trustworthy. Until then, we clearly need to see receipts for everything right down to the last penny.

    After all, what with ID cards and all, if you have nothing to fear you have nothing to hide!!

    JR: "that would avoid having to file detailed receipts for the items"

    Reform of the system simply must include more transparency, not less.

    JR: "the climate will become more hostile to the idea that MPs should have a pay rise or any relaxation of the controls over expenses."

    Actually Mr Redwood, it's not the credit crunch, we just don't like hypocritical liars lauding it over us, telling us one thing and doing the exact opposite, all the while lining their own and the pockets of their immediate family with public money.

    JR: ".. quite legally .."

    Well, yes maybe. Quite legally is a very 'movable feast' when your own club makes the rules! It's a little like putting Mira Hindley in charge of child care.

    Here is my suggestion intended in an entirely constructive vein.

    No paid salary, expenses receipted down to the last brass farthing, MPs should no longer sit in Parliament on a full time basis, but work on similar lines to the Territorial army, getting called up for debates – of which there should be massively less. In order to make this possible, government should be shriveled to at most four or five departments, defence, the treasury, home affairs including border control, and to complement the shrinkage of government, the civil service should be reduced by about 75% too. I understand the civil service pension commitments alone account for about 2% of income tax.

    Or we could just sack the lot of you and hand it all to Brussels, I mean what is the point of having a pretend government if it only does what it is told to do by the European Union?

  3. GeoffH
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    "….Judges expenses along with their private addresses, as he feels so strongly MPs should not have to divulge their private address."

    Your colleague is wrong. Judge's stay in lodgings while on circuit, rather than hotels, and the protection of their home addresses from public scrutiny is to ensure freedom from intimidation in order that they be unbiased and above interest in the cases they hear.

    MPs, whether they like it or not, are our representatives and need to be available to us, the electors and thus have no right to 'hide away' from us.

    When it comes to some of the things revealed, whether it's the Keens' life insurance premiums or the Blair's over-mortgaging their constituency home and seeing the interest paid by the electorates' taxes, we have had enough and if your colleague doesn't like this scrutiny then he can take himself off to private life where he can indulge his desire for privacy to his heart's content.

    As a committed Conservative voter you and your colleagues need to be put on notice. No matter how much we wish and ache for a Conservative government, we will not tolerate this gravy train at our expense.

    If there are no moves to curb this excess when you are returned to office, you may find pitchfork armed mobs in Whitehall and voters ostentatiously eschewing the ballot box altogether.

  4. Richard
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    It's staggering that MPs are allowed to decide how deep they want to stick their snouts into the trough.

    No wonder Gordon's under pressure not to call an election if 100+ of his cannon fodder would have to go and find proper jobs afterwards.

  5. Guido Fawkes
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I think the public are happy for MPs to keep their home address secret – even though they pay for it – we just want to know what the cash goes on.

    The £23,000 housing allowance is equivalent to £40,000 pre-tax income, taking MP's total basic package to over £100,000 per annum. Four times average earnings.

    Yes we want to know what all "public servants" are up to with public money. The Quangocrats are no doubt as bad as MPs. Sunshine is the best disinfectant….

  6. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    One way in which excess credit can be curbed is to ban the promotion of store cards ! Customers get very annoyed at having to keep responding to stupid questions about taking on extra personal debt & from what I can gather many people who work in shops find that it adds to their stress levels as they are trapped between managers who want their card applications targets to be met and shoppers who have come to buy the weekly shop not get into even more debt with disgusting interest rates .

    Over a trillion pounds of personal debt is a disgrace with banckrupcies & reposessions rising and people not a million miles away from the money lenders who Our Lord kicked out of the Temple are coining in the vast interest charges at the expense of personal misery . We should loosen morgage regulation while tightening up on these loan sharks who prey on the feckless & stupid . People may well need to own their home as rent is dead money – they do not need luxuries that are beyond their means . If you have not got the cloth making the coat will end in failure .

    MP's should pass three bills by cutting QUANGO's to fund a bigger personal allowance so that household budgets are less debt reliant , banning one of the irritations of our era ( being pestered for credit cards when going shopping ) and loosening morgage regulation to try & starve off a property market recession .

    Would that not be better than MP's just voting themselves vast amounts of money at the expense of people struggling to pay the bills ? If the political class do care about ordinary folk then this would be a way to amaze the cynics and prove the doubters wrong !

  7. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Please recognise that this isn't just a question of knowing what MPs spend, although it is a necessary starting point, it is the very nature of the items that they have given themselves the right to claim for. What normal household expenses are actually paid for by MPs and not the taxpayer? It is no wonder that MPs seem blissfully ignorant of the strains on the average person’s bank balance when they have a system of expenses which goes far beyond what should be necessary and appropriate. The list of "legitimate" expenses is frankly outrageous and indefensible and there are far too many specific examples for this blog. This is another reason why MPs are held in such low esteem but this seems to count for less to them than the desire to enrich themselves at the taxpayers' expense. As for knowing about other public sector expenses, the fact that this is unknown shows how little interest MPs have previously taken in these matters – clearly those in glass houses did not want to throw stones!

  8. Acorn
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    John, it is a bit late to start throwing your toys out of the political pram, because you have been rumbled. All 650 MPs – Speakers included – were happy to keep this one in the cupboard until the likes of the Taxpayers Alliance (TPA) put the matter centre stage.

    As a member of the top echelon of people we are occasionally allowed to vote for; why the hell are you having to use the FOI to find out a judge's expenses. Do you not have an equivalent of the corporate "due diligence" process? What have the Select Committees been doing about scrutinising this area of public spending – nothing. It is not in the interests of the "Westminster club" to put the dirty washing on the public line.

    The TPA is investigating "public bodies". Not only have they struggled to find out how much these quangos are spending, it became obvious that not even HM Treasury knows how many there are!

    Until MPs demonstrate that they have the "cojones" to get a grip on who is spending our money on whom; don't expect us to vote you a pay rise at the next ballot box.

    Perhaps we should have performance related pay for you? Instead of an earnings per share target; how about tax per GDP share?

  9. Letters From A Tory
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    The climate may be hostile but Gordon Brown's weakness in the face of backbench rebellions over any issue (car tax, 10p tax, 42-day detention etc) makes it even more likely these proposals could get through.

    I made my feelings on the matter perfectly clear on my blog this morning.
    http://lettersfromatory.wordpress.com

  10. Nick
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I'm now investigating a holiday home. I can then declare that as my principle residence. Now, clearly I'll need a place near work for when I'm there. Since the alowances have been approved by the Inland Revenue, they are kosher, so I do forsee any problems in claiming 27K a year housing allowance. All tax free of course.

    This is a great way of extracting profits out of a company if you have one.

    What do you think my chances of success are?

    Will I get my local MP to support me if the IR object?

    Nick

  11. Peter Whale
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    What is wrong with the system that allows everyone to have the same tax system and the same expense allowances.

  12. Rose
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    You might like to consider this, from http://www.jamesbarlow.co.uk/shockpower

    25 May, 2008 – 16:27 — james
    Total Budget for Bristol City Council's Chief Executive

    The total annual cost of the Office of the Chief Executive of Bristol City Council is £14,650,000 pounds. Using my ready reckoning rule, this is equivalent to a minimum of £76.03 added to every council tax bill.

  13. backofanenvelope
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Widening the scope will just enable MPs to vanish in the general uproar.

    Why not set an example – publish your expense details on this blog.

    In fact, why doesn't the Tory party publish all MPs accounts now – why wait to be forced to comply?

    You MPs should be leading not running for cover.

    reply: My expense details are published on theyworkforyou.com and I have just sent a commenbt round to my constituents about what I do in my newspaper.

  14. Cliff
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Obviously, to keep inflation down (Sarcasm) the MP's pay should be fixed at 2.9% per year over the next three years. Then again, I suppose when their income is at stake, most Labour MPs will vote in favour of a large rise. One rule for them, another for the rest of us. When the people want a large pay rise, we are being greedy and putting the stability of the economy at risk (sic) but, when the MPs vote on their own pay, stability goes out of the window.

    My own view is that MPs are not paid enough for the job some of them do but, where does one fix the rate? Should it be fixed on a productivity basis so that those that put in the hours reap the rewards and those that do very little once elected earn less? Sounds a good idea to me but, how do we measure the productivity level?

    It seems the main concern of the public is the level of expenses claimed and what those expenses can be claimed for.

    In my opinion, each constituency should have an office with flat above owned by the people which the MP can use if he does not live locally.
    In Westminster we could have a large hostel type building for MPs to use when staying in London.

    Second homes funded by the taxpayer and then the MP keeping the profits on the second home when sold is obscene in my view.

    I think the level of MPs salaries should be raised to reflect the role they perform but, being an MP should these days be regarded as a full time job, which it is, and MPs should not have to rely on creative expenses claims to get a realistic income.

    John, most of my criticisms above do not apply to you as, being a Wokingham resident, I know that we get very good value for money from yourself.

    Whether there are wide spread frauds or dodgy expenses claims being perpentrated or not is not really the question, it is the perception that these things take place that causes the harm and I feel that MPs expenses claims should come under the same rules put on ordinary people by the HMRC namely, no receipt no allowance and only allowable items accepted that are directly brought about as a consequense of carrying out the role of MP.

  15. Defamatory Vileness
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Being an MP is a voluntary activity – it used to be called "public service".

    Why should MPs get paid excessively generous allowances simply for doing their job when everyone else has to juggle their budget to make ends meet?

    What's more, MPs can vote themselves any allowance or emolument they like – a privilege denied to the rest of us.

    [I thought Maggie had abolished closed shops in the 1980s – apparently not.]

  16. John Lewis
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    I think the previous comment is entirely misconceived.

    Our homeware is competitively priced and rumours that MPs are are given preferential treatment by our accounts department to gild their SW1 flats with exotic, designer-label marble extravagance are wide of the mark.

    Successful, hard-working professionals should enjoy the fruits of their labours. They require domestic tranquility and aesthetic harmony to grapple with the ever more pressing issues that impinge of the lives of the ordinary folk to whose well-being they are dedicated.

  17. Neil Craig
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    The amount spent on MP salaries is merely a drop in the bucket of the £550 billion government spends. I could wish reporting on such things showed more numeracy – I suspect you do to.

    Still the expenses can be a bit of a racket & I am not convinced the Lords is worth the money & whoever ran the contracts for Portcullis House should be strung up.

    Your point about increases in the present economic climate is well made. I would have no objection to MPs being well rewarded by a bonus when the economy grows above 2.5% – 33% of salary for each 1% of extra growth for that year would concentrate minds wonderfully.

    (But then I stood for the 9% Growth Party)

  18. David Eyles
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    Definitely yes to the details of quangos and local authority Chief Executives. But first we need to track down all the quangos.

    There will be a growing debate about this over on the Taxpayers' Alliance as time goes on, because we do not know just how many there really are. I do not think anyone in the government knows how many there are. And if they do, they won't tell us until it is dragged out of them.

    Government funding – its called "sponsorship" in Treasury papers – is reaching all sorts of nooks and crannies of our lives and businesses. Quangos arise directly from government departments; indirectly from bigger quangos; indirectly from EU funding and indirectly from joint funding from departments and local authorities. Funding also reaches charities and quasi regulatory organisations, e.g. the Soil Association, which receives about one third of its total income from the taxpayer.

    All of these have committees overseeing them, and they too receive money from the taxpayer.

    I would like to see total funding as well as senior staff's pay and pension rights. I would also like to see just how far into our lives these unelected, unaccountable organisations get.

  19. lucysharp
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Civil service and judicial expenses payments are subject to published rules, are required to be authorised before being incurred, have to be submitted on proper claim forms with receipts and have also to be countersigned by a budget manager. All claims have to be submitted within a month and are kept for seven years; they are also subject to internal audit. Frankly I am astonished at the sloppy way in which MPs' claims are processed and recorded. I do not really blame MPs for this; it seems obvious that the expenses system is just a way of paying the rate for the job. Would it not be better for us all to accept that if we want MPs to carry out their duties properly we will just have to pay them a sensible amount of money, even if that means a salary of £100k? I cannot believe that someone of your integrity and common sense is really seeking to defend the current system.

  20. Drew Belobaba
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    I note with approval that members of the General Court of New Hampshire – the state legislature are paid $100 per year, and get a few persk such as free travel on toll roads.

  21. AlanofEngland
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    How many Quangos were there in each year since 1998?
    Year # of Quangos
    2006 524
    2005 546
    2004 518
    2003 517
    2002 555
    2001 526
    2000 537
    1999 563
    1998 692
    http://quangos.ercouncil.org/faq/answer,0,1,0,0,0

  22. AlanofEngland
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    http://quangos.ercouncil.org/search/

    Every quango in the UK is listed here….

  23. AlanofEngland
    Posted May 27, 2008 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    There are allegedly 1132 "agencies", committees, boards and councils spending your hard earned money on a monumental pile of reports, studies, papers and consultation documents, a vast array of which never see the real light of day. The Taxpayers Alliance, independent campaigners for lower taxes, revealed the ugly truth about Britain’s “hidden state” this week, pointing out that even the Government finds it too large and diverse to manage.

  24. Mike Law
    Posted May 28, 2008 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    The whole system would be much more transparent if:

    1/ Any property purchased by an MP which enables her/him to carry out her/his parliamentary duties should be handed back to the state once that MP is no longer in office (that is if the MP has been claiming expenses against the mortgage payments etc. for that property). The property could then either be sold and the money be used to purchase another property for the next MP for that constituency should they need one, or the property could be handed over to the new MP.

    2/ A nett financial asset limit should be set with regards to those MPs who do wish to claim for payments against second properties. In my view, if a MP has a assets portfolio above £3 million he or she has the means to buy or rent a decent second property without the assistance of the state.

    However, should an MP be in such a position and they do purchase a property in their constituency or London and they find that, once they end their tenure as a MP, the value of the property has fallen, they should be compensated for the loss. This would not apply to those who already owned such property prior to becoming an MP.

  25. mikestallard
    Posted May 28, 2008 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    As the power of parliament leeches away into Europe, so the excessive pay of MPs becomes more and more ridiculous.
    We, the ordinary people, want you to be one of us – not one of them.

  26. David Eyles
    Posted May 28, 2008 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Alan of England – thank you for that link. I have scanned that list very quickly. Unfortunately, as with everything else I have looked at, the list is incomplete, although it contains some quangos that other lists don't.

    For instance, look up http://www.foodfrombritain.com, click onto Regional food producers and then "regions" and then watch the names of 17 other mini quangos spring up like asparagus in May. The regional governments and local authorities are all sources of these additional quangos. EU funding to the regions also produces more. There seems to be no end to it…….

  27. Mark Cannon
    Posted May 28, 2008 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Your colleague who has asked for the addresses of judges is being childish and silly.

    Just because he objects to the provisino of MP's addresses, it does not follow that judges should publish theirs. That is just childish

    And it is silly too because judges need to keep their addresses private: there are plenty of angry villains who would like to know where they live. And judges do not get second houses paid for out of tax-free allowances. It is because the taxpayer pays for MPs second homes that the details of what is being claimed should be made public.

    I would have hoped that all Conserviative MPs would have realised by now that the voters are not happy with MPs obtaining substantial sums of taxpayers money by way of allowances and then trying to cover up the details.

  28. Abused Taxpayer
    Posted May 28, 2008 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    John,
    Before MPs start awarding themselves a new pay and allowances package, there are some clear pre-requisites if a degree of trust and legitimacy is to be restored:
    (a) a radical overhaul of the Fees Office – employ some professional accountants and book-keepers and put in place an expenses management regime which is commensurate with the amount of public money being spent. The PAC would be extremely critical of the operation of the Fees Office if it were outsie of Parliament.
    (b) create and publish a clear set of rules for MPs expenses and allowances, which are in keeping with the rules enforced by HMRC on any salaried employee (e.g. approx £5 allowable for incidental expenses not £25, limits on AHCA, etc). This would for example stop the abuse of the system by the Keens – their home is within commuting distance of Parliament, why should they claim AHCA – HMRC would not tolerate this for a non-MP.
    (c) adopt the same procedure as the Scottish Parliament and publish all expense/allowance claims on a publicly available website.
    (d) put in place a rigorous disciplinary mechanism – if MPs abuse the system it is fraud – treat it as such. BTW enforcement should be on the basis of spirit and letter of the rules, i.e exploitation of loopholes will not be condoned.
    These steps would go along way towards providing a degree of accountability and transparency and starting to restore the trust which has so patently been lost.

  29. Provincial John
    Posted May 31, 2008 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Sir,

    When payment of MPs began in 1911, the aim was simple: to stop working men from being unfairly excluded through want of means. What nobody intended was to create a body of professional politicians living off the public purse, entitled to an upper middle class way of life and the perks of middle management. Parliament worked at least as well with unpaid MPs serving for the honour of it as it does with the rather part-time members of today.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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