MPs' pay - they don't deserve more

March 05, 2010 12:37 PM

The news of a pay rise for MPs, while so many people in the public and private sectors are facing a freeze at best, will shock taxpayers.  MPs are already well paid, as we set out in a recent TPA research note:

"In the general context of UK earnings, individual MP’s are amongst the top 3 per cent in terms of income. A weekly pre-tax income of £1,217 in 2008 meant that MPs were paid over 3 times the average weekly wage of £388."

Guido Fawkes sets out how well some young MPs are doing financially.  When they get other jobs, like becoming Ministers or chairs of Select Committees, they get even more money.

Iain Dale argues that having given the Senior Salaries Review Board (SSRB) responsibility for recommending levels of MPs' pay, we have to accept their recommendation. Well, it would be wrong to ignore their advice outright, but as with all 'advice', those who make the decision can take it or leave it. If Government always followed the advice of experts, what would they do when the experts disagree?

Let's remember that it isn't the SSRB who pay MPs' salaries, but ordinary taxpayers.  In the end it is their views of what their representatives should be paid that have to be respected, not the SSRB's. Our views can be informed by the SSRB's report, but decisions cannot be made by it.  It's a democracy, and it is the taxpayer that pays for MPs' salaries.

Most people - rightly - don't accept the idea that rising pay for doctors and judges - the basis of the SSRB's recommendation - is an adequate justification for MPs to get a pay rise.  For one, most doctors haven't been exposed letting the public down like MPs have in the last year.  Second, doctors and judges need to go through a long and expensive education which would generally mean they are paid more (MPs, in contrast, need no prior qualification or experience).  Third, there isn't a long line of candidates waiting to be doctors or judges in the way there is for MPs.  Fourth, doctors in particular have had a very generous deal in the last decade, taxpayers don't want the generous treatment they've received replicated elsewhere. If the SSRB factored these considerations into its analysis, it might have come to rather different conclusions.

Finally, we come to the argument which persuades some people of the case for higher MP pay: "If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys".  But the reality is that the best candidates aren't in it for the money.  We will appeal to better people if the Commons does better work.  Being a rubber stamp for an overly powerful executive is going to have a limited appeal to talented people who want to do important work.  Too many only enter the Commons in the hope of becoming a Minister, and that is part of the reason why parliamentary scrutiny of legislation is weak, leaderships are so powerful and the Lords and the judiciary so often feel the need to step in.

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