Before the expenses row blew up I led a discussion on this website of how much MPs should be paid. Some of you thought MPs should be paid more. Some MPs themselves think the answer to the current mess is to pay them more by way of salary, cutting back on the expenses allowed. I would like to say why I think a pay rise would be quite wrong.
There is no shortage of people wanting to be MPs, so there is no overall recuitment case for lifting the pay.
Given the state of the public debt it is clear the overall public payroll has to be contained. MPs acting as Ministers would have no moral authority to demand pay sacrifices elsewhere, if they are putting their own pay up.
The current basic pay for an MP is only part of the pay of many MPs. All Ministers, government Whips,The Leader of the Opposition and Committee Chairmen enjoy second salaries for their second official jobs. Other MPs earn money from journalism, advisory positions, non executive directorships, legal and dental practise, public speaking and other activities. An MP has to be on call seven days a week, work at week-ends and in the evenings, but has flexibility over when to do the job and has much more spare time in the many weeks of the year when Parliament does not meet.
There are three types of people financially who take on an MP role. Some come from jobs that pay less. Clearly the MP pay level is no barrier to them. Some are independently wealthy, from inheritance or past financial success. They often want the privilege of representing people and the interest of the job. The third group are people who are following a more lucrative professional career who will make some kind of financial sacrifice. That is their choice. It would be very costly and wrong to set the salary of an MP at a level which meant lawyers, bankers, media figures and business executives no longer were paid less.
Some favour banning all second jobs for MPs, though I think they mean banning all private sector second jobs. That would have an impact on the type of people coming in, limiting it more to the first two groups. It would also mean fewer people in the Commons with a current knowledge of many walks of life based on contemporary experience. It would mean more career politicians, even keener to follow their party lines and to engage in the media/political spin game.
We need to get a grip on total public spending. That is why MPs are right to be cutting back the generous scope of the current expenses regime, and why Mr Cameron is right to call for fewer MPs. It is only when people think MPs are offering good value for money that Parliament will have the authority it needs to get value from the rest of public spending.