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Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): We would not be having this debate were it not for the stupidity of the Government and their colleagues a little while ago in supporting the moratorium on ministerial pay. I suspect that, privately, the Leader of the House wishes that he could look the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), who is notable by his absence

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tonight, in the eye. I suspect that when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he was the principal architect of the embarrassment now faced by the Government. As an Opposition Member, it is not my job to minimise the embarrassment of Ministers on the Treasury Bench, so I shall comment on their stewardship of this matter and say how I think pay for Ministers of the Crown should be guided.

Like other hon. Members, may I say that you, Madam Speaker, your three deputies and the deputy Opposition Chief Whip are exceptions to that rule, as your salaries pale into insignificance when we consider your real worth. Nevertheless, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is important to bear in mind the fact that, although the Leader of the House is right to say that that moratorium exists, we must be sensitive to how these matters are seen outside the House, where people legitimately contrast with their own experience the fact that this pay award is way above the rate of inflation. Some people have had no pay award for 12 or 24 months and thousands have had pay cuts. They wonder why Ministers of the Crown should enjoy a catching up when their families and loved ones must tighten their belts. We cannot escape the fact that that is the experience of many of our constituents.

As the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) said yesterday, it is time that we were more conscious of how we are perceived outside the House. This week we had the backdrop of the Maples memorandum. I do not wish to go into Mr. Maples' analysis of the Government, but his term "yobbo" was important. What does it signal to the public when a vice- chairman of the Conservative party refers to some of his own kith and kin as "yobbos" and, in the same week, an attempt is made to increase the salaries of those whom they support?

Some 24 hours ago, another vice-chairman of the Conservative party spoke in a most unhelpful and unfriendly manner to our European neighbours. His comments were deeply offensive and an awful lot of Conservative supporters feel they were not to be expected from someone who supports and sustains the Government. Inevitably, that rubs off on the Ministers whom he backs.

I am conscious of the fact that our employees in the House are to have a pay award of some 2.2 per cent. this year. Although I do not want to get bogged down in percentages, we must be sensitive to the fact that many servants here work very hard and will inevitably go home to their spouses and discuss the award for Ministers on which we are voting tonight. When they contrast it with their pay award they will not be happy, and rightly so.

If the order goes through tonight, Cabinet Ministers will, from the triggering date of 1 January, enjoy an increase in pay of £3,070 per annum, which is a substantial sum at a time when the Government expect people to restrain their pay claims. The Government try to dodge that matter, but they are showing about the same restraint in terms of salaries of Ministers as are directors of privatised companies. Contrast that with the actions of Jack Kennedy, who intervened forcefully against the president of United States Steel in one of his most important domestic statements, when he said that those people were selfishly putting their interests first when restraint was being demanded of workers elsewhere. I

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wish that the Prime Minister would emulate Jack Kennedy in terms of his position on both private pay awards for top directors in industry and Cabinet members.

Some important events happen when we are in recess. One that would have been probed much more had we not been in recess is the permitting-- admittedly, under the rules--of a junior Minister of the Environment to continue to some extent his professional practice of dentistry. I cannot understand why the Prime Minister did not say, "Look, you takes your choice. I'd be delighted to have you in my Government but you must give it a full-time commitment."

Mr. Kirkwood: "Get your teeth into it."

Mr. Mackinlay: Indeed. That did not happen and even if the Prime Minister had good reason to allow the hon. Gentleman to continue to be in the Government--I read in the press that it was to keep up his skills--we must all make difficult choices when we enter public office. If one accepts ministerial office, it must be given 100 per cent. commitment and everything must be put aside. I regret that that did not happen in his case.

I was interested in what the right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) said on this and earlier occasions. However, I disagree with him about the differentials between the pay of Members of Parliament and Ministers. I may be in a minority of one, but I do not believe that Ministers of the Crown, perhaps with the exception of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, should receive more money than ordinary hon. Members. The system whereby Ministers receive a much higher salary means that Back-Bench Members who take seriously their role of checking, probing, cajoling and criticising the Executive are considered less important, less skilled and less diligent than Treasury Ministers.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North): Is the hon. Gentleman arguing for significant increases in the salaries of Members of Parliament? That would be an interesting point.

Mr. Mackinlay: I am talking in terms of principle. Members' salaries should be harmonised with those of Ministers. I am not discussing the level of salaries. I am content with my salary, but I am not happy with the resources that I receive to fulfil my role as a Member of Parliament. That is another debate and, although I am prepared to go into it, I suspect that I would tax your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker--

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman continually demotes me. He is bound to reduce my salary.

Mr. Mackinlay: I apologise, Madam Speaker.

The question of resources will never go away. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House are eating into their salaries to provide a full service to their constituents. It is not a party point. Salaries should be ring fenced and we should have adequate resources, including a constituency office. Many hon. Members currently use the Conservative, Labour or Liberal party offices in their

constituencies. Unfortunately, the dear old Thurrock Labour party does not even own a pencil, so I have to rent one, which is eating into the office costs allowance of my salary. If resources for hon. Members were properly ring fenced, my salary would be more than sufficient.

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May I return to the thrust of my argument? Ministerial and Members' salaries should be one and the same because the job of probing and criticising the Government is extremely important. Many members of the public would consider my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) good value as he makes at least as important a contribution as the vast majority of Treasury Ministers. I endorse that view. To be generous, I could cite the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) as another example of a Back-Bench Member who gives good combative value for money and who cannot be bought by the system. We should therefore think in terms of parity of treatment for people who enter public life, which would reduce the desire to be in office in order to be on the pay roll. There is sufficient incentive and desire to be a Minister apart from the salary. If we are honest, we will admit that the vast majority of those who enter the House want to reach ministerial office. That should be sufficient incentive in itself. Perhaps some--such as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover--are an exception to the rule. I feel, however, that there should be no financial incentive.

Mr. Rooker: How does my hon. Friend know that he is right about that?

Mr. Mackinlay: I have a high regard for my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, and I suspect that he would act in the way that I have suggested.

As for the history of ministerial salaries, it was realised early in our political development that Ministers of the Crown had to be employed full time. Salaries and other emoluments were provided accordingly, at a time when it was accepted that ordinary Members of Parliament were part-time workers: the vast majority had other incomes. Even at the time when the right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) entered the House, the current extensive Committee structure did not exist. I do not criticise the right hon. Gentleman's contemporaries in any way, but in those days the role of Parliament was much smaller in terms of the time demanded. Since then, things have moved on.

In an earlier debate, the right hon. Member for Worthing wondered whether Select Committee Chairmen should receive a higher salary. He decided that they should not--rightly, in my view--but I do not see why hon. Members with an obviously full commitment to Parliament should survive on the salary of an ordinary Member of Parliament while Ministers received additional emoluments.

I feel that, considering the current reputation of the House, it is time for us to avoid in future the nonsense of moratoriums and freezes, which obviously cause embarrassment. The Government must recognise that they are embarrassed, given the background of "yobbo" memorandums, their desire for wage restraint on the part of others and--unhappily--the low esteem in which, to some extent, the House is now held. Unless the order is withdrawn, the House should divide to demonstrate that some of us are not prepared to alleviate that embarrassment tonight.

8.41 pm

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), and intend to deal with some of his comments.

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I feel strongly about this issue. I also feel strongly that there are times when--in the best interests of Parliament and the people whom it serves--it is best to resist the temptation to swing along with popular opinion, given the current state of that opinion. It is a bit like believing in anti-cyclical investment: "In a recession, invest; in the frenzy of a boom, rein in." Sometimes the same applies to politics, and I believe that it applies to the issue that we are discussing. When the mood is against us, we should hold our ground; when we think that everyone loves us, we should beware of hubris. As a champion of a number of unpopular causes, I know very well that any proposal to raise a Minister's salary will not meet with universal applause at the moment. Nevertheless, I wish to defend the proposed increase. Although it is against the fashion, I think that, when sense is restored, a broader base of opinion will be prepared to admit that it is really in agreement with tonight's proposal. In the present climate, it is almost impossible to conduct a reasoned national debate about the pay of Members of Parliament or Ministers; those in favour of any increase risk vilification.

Given the current press reports, anyone outside the House would be forgiven for thinking that Ministers are due to receive massive increases, way ahead of comparable awards elsewhere in the public sector. They are not: let us be clear about the facts. The first fact is that, in 1993, the pay of all Members of Parliament and Ministers was frozen. If anyone asked for a declaration of principle to be expressed in hard cash, that would be it. The pay freeze did not provoke great headlines or great expressions of gratitude, and neither should be asked for or expected; but, because of that freeze, and because of the delay in linking Ministers' pay with civil service grades, Ministers have forgone--lost, never received, permanently missed out on--up to £4,000.

Because the former link with civil servants' pay had been undermined by changes in civil service pay arrangements, the House passed a motion that tried to re-establish a workable link for the pay of Members of Parliament with the average annual increase in salary for civil service grades 5 to 7 as a result of their pay settlement. It also provided for the resultant 1993 and 1994 increases for Members of Parliament to be staged, with 2.7 per cent. in January 1994 and 2.7 per cent. delayed until January 1995-- when Members of Parliament would also be entitled to whatever increase was agreed for the 1994 civil service settlement. That settlement has turned out to be 2 per cent.

Although that motion could not determine the amount of Ministers' pay, it was made clear at the time that Her Majesty's Government believed that

"the right course henceforth is for the salaries of Ministers . . . to be dealt with on exactly the same basis as Members".--[ Official Report , 3 November 1993; Vol. 231, c. 459.]

The order that we are discussing simply implements the policy set out last November. The key points that we are now discussing are exactly the same as those relating to the increase in the pay of Members of Parliament.

The root of the problem, and the discontent, is that, for purposes of easy comparison, no market can be freely left to set the salary of a Minister. It is essentially a pretty arbitrary exercise, ranging from the contention of some that they should be paid nothing to that of others who

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think that they should be very highly paid. When the spectrum ranges from zero to infinity, there is room for quite a few suggestions about who should be paid what.

The House of Commons cannot be compared with a private firm. When a concern is someone's property--when their own risk and money are involved--they can pay themselves what they like: on that basis thousands of people are being paid tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, even millions of pounds, and it is none of our business to object. In the public sector, however, people have a rough idea of what is the fair rate for a job by comparing it with the private sector or by bargaining.

Some fall between the two--this is relevant to what was said earlier by the hon. Member for Thurrock--such as, I admit, a former nationalised industry, such as British Gas, in transition to a competitive position in private enterprise. Such industries have their own methods. If we accept that, in such cases, share options are unreasonable because in a monopolistic company there is little prospect of shares falling, it must be right for British Gas executives to be paid a single open salary--as they have been. Those fully defensible changes in salary structure, however, fell on deaf ears, and few have pointed out that if the managers were poorly paid we should all probably pay more for our gas.

The problem is that there is no market to set the salary of a Minister. Some may say that that does not matter: my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) pointed out that there is no shortage of people ready to do the job. I caution against that view, however. I have not been in the House for long, but I can already cite a handful of hon. Members who have declined to become Ministers or asked not to remain in ministerial posts, simply because of the pay.

Most, of course, would do the job at almost any price. Politics is unique: if it is in the head and the heart, one does the job. We all know that, but if he has to worry about money, even a Minister of the highest calibre may do the job less well. Either as Back Benchers or as Ministers, some will find themselves earning more in the House than they would outside; some-- rather more, I suspect--find themselves working for less.

Some Back Benchers have outside interests and some do not, but, in the main, Ministers have none. They receive the official salary and that is it. In Britain I do not know anyone who has chosen to go into politics for the money. People here certainly do not go into politics to make money, but they do in other countries, and look what is happening to them. Most Ministers leave office considerably poorer than when they went in and that is a highly unsatisfactory way to produce the best possible culture for government.

What should we do? We should base salaries on a publicly acceptable link, and stick with that for ever and a day. Every time we do that, something goes wrong and we break the link. It is always a mistake to do so. We get

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no thanks for the gesture and it serves no constructive purpose. All we do is guarantee that greater problems will accumulate for the future.

Mr. Mackinlay: Whose idea was it?

Mr. Duncan: I shall come to that.

It is sensible to restore the link for which the House has already implicitly voted. We broke the link because the nature of civil service pay bargaining at the time did not allow us to stick with it.

I think that Ministers are grossly underpaid. Remuneration for our Ministers compares badly with that in other countries. In Singapore, which is much smaller but economically more successful, Lee Kuan Yew makes a point of impressing on his growing country that Members of Parliament there should be paid about the same as senior partners in an accountancy firm or a firm of solicitors or the same as senior managers in a bank or something like that. He believes that that is good for democracy.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing pointed out that Ministers' pay has not kept up with earnings elsewhere or with inflation. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Lord President for answering a written question that I tabled yesterday. It points out that the differential between that which is earned by a Cabinet Minister and that earned by a Back Bencher in 1965 is now dramatically different from the differential that reigns today. If that same differential were to be in place, a Cabinet Minister would be paid well over £100,000 and the Prime Minister would be paid in excess of £150,000.

The salaries today are low compared with what could be earned in the commercial sector by most of those who hold a ministerial job.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton): Will my hon. Friend address the relationship between ministerial pay and pay in the higher echelons of the civil service, particularly the pay of permanent secretaries? It is unsatisfactory that Ministers should be paid substantially less than those at the top of the civil service.

Mr. Duncan: That is a helpful point which further illustrates my argument. The remuneration of a Back Bencher compares poorly with that of many who work within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. We humble Back Benchers are paid less than the deputy chef. I imagine that there are some servants of the House--I do not begrudge them a penny of what they earn--who are paid more than many a Minister of the Crown.

Our Ministers are entrusted with enormous budgets. They shoulder heavy duties and responsibilities, more than many in commerce. In the world of commodities, I used to buy and sell. We could churn away in the market and, in an oil boom, we would find out at the end of the year that we had traded a volume perhaps in excess of £4 billion. That is an enormous volume but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security makes that amount look pretty paltry. He is in charge of £86 billion and I think that even the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) would admit that my right hon. Friend is in charge of delivering that amount to those who need it most. It matters how he does his job. For that significant duty we pay him less than £70,000 a year. There are 30-year-olds in the City earning more than that. It would

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not be impossible to find an adviser to a Cabinet Minister who is earning considerably more than the Secretary of State to whom he is answerable.

Those who parade their conscience by opposing the order do so to cement--so they think--some sort of identity with those who earn less and who resent a Minister earning more. They can claim compassion, as I would have it, on the cheap. They can enjoy a minute of applause and an echo of shared resentment. Such ephemeral posturing does not get us far. It serves no lasting purpose except to diminish further those who express the view and to encourage more to express unmerited discontent about Parliament and its work. At the end of the day, it makes everyone a loser and draws us all downwards.

I hope that, from now on, we can have a more enlightened approach to this issue. Let me immediately contribute to that enlightened approach by saying something that I believe to be true. Although the Leader of the Opposition has his car and his Short money, he is under-resourced. For the good of parliamentary democracy, I would give the Leader of the Opposition and his office far more than they receive at present.

"Every hon. Member knows that there is never a good time to increase the pay of Members of Parliament by so much as a ha'penny, regardless of the rate of inflation or the circumstances of the rest of the community. Those in the news media, who earn far more than any of us, will be loud in their condemnation . . . so will many members of the general public who do not earn as much . . . I believe in a fair rate for the job. I do not abandon that principle solely for Members of Parliament or other public servants . . . I believe that a fair rate for the job should be paid irrespective of a person's other circumstances."--[ Official Report , 3 November 1993; Vol. 231, c. 462.]

I am amused to see the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) shaking his head. I have cited word for word the statement made by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) when she spoke in this debate last year. We learnt of the right hon. Lady's principles in that debate and I am afraid that they now conflict with the attitude of her party's leader, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair).

The Leader of the Opposition has said that he will not take the increase. He hardly needs to, having just received a rise on becoming Leader. His office has briefed the press to advise that he also thinks that, in principle, the increase for Ministers is wrong. There seems to be a conflict there. I must ask the Labour party whether the right hon. Member for Derby, South has jettisoned her principles, whether the Leader of the Opposition has decided to indulge in an opportunistic stunt or both.

I fear that the Leader of the Opposition has made that decision, which is a pity. He has one policy and no one can deny that the mood suits his purpose or that he is doing well out of it. That policy is to feed discontent and then to milk it for all it is worth. He is choosing to seize on grievance and to cash in on the politics of what I call the lowest common denominator. I urge him to forsake that policy in public to the House and to the press, in this case and in all others. All hon. Members should support the increase. Let us hope that both parties will approach this parliamentary matter with maturity and enlightenment today and in the future.

8.59 pm

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): I cannot follow the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), who

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may be trying to get a job. I have heard people make speeches like that before and in the next reshuffle they finish up as a Treasury spokesmen. We shall have to wait and see.

The furore over Mr. Brown and Mr. Giordano at British Gas has taken the heat out of the debate. Last weekend, the 4.7 per cent. pay increase for Ministers and the £3,000 increase for the Prime Minister were the issues. Twenty-four hours later, Mr. Brown came on to the scene with a £475,000 salary--so exit Members of Parliament from the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) will admit that the anticipation with which he was looking forward to this debate rapidly melted away. However, some issues remain.

The Government are always on about performance-related pay for workers--the real wealth creators in our society. I cannot stand that policy. When I hear the Government telling all and sundry to accept individual payments and regional pay systems, all with a view to reducing the amount of money that workers receive and to breaking the back of the trade union movement, which is organising to raise pay and conditions, I cannot stand it.

I oppose not so much the 4.7 per cent. increase as the fact that workers in all sectors of industry and those in other professions such as nursing are being told that they must have

performance-related pay. That is why there is so much controversy outside the House. The pay freeze causes difficulties. Workers cannot reconcile the fact that, somehow or other, they have to pull their socks up and tighten their belts every time, with the fact that Ministers and Members of Parliament, on some golden day, get their pay increased after a pay freeze. By and large, workers never catch up after a pay freeze. That is why I made my earlier comments to the Leader of the House.

The signal workers' attempt to catch up with money that they had lost, relative to other grades in the rail industry and elsewhere, is characteristic of the debate. The Government said that they could not have the money and fought them for three months, along with British Rail. That is why I feel intolerant towards the idea of extra pay for Ministers.

I used to work with miners. I do not know whether many people are aware of the fact that the National Union of Mineworkers has not negotiated a single pay increase since the strike. There has been a total pay freeze for many years, so it is not difficult to understand people's opinions when they read headlines about Ministers having a catching-up process and a 4.7 per cent. increase.

I do not go for this percentage business. A 4.7 per cent. increase for someone on £40,000, £50,000 or £60,000 a year is very different from a 2 per cent. increase for a nurse on £200 a week or less. A 4.7 per cent. increase involves real money. When the right hon. Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) talks about percentages, he fails to recognise that the percentage increase for Ministers,

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although it may have fallen relative to increases for other professionals, means that they get considerably more money.

Mr. Mackinlay: They get £3,000.

Mr. Skinner: My hon. Friend is right. The hon. Member for Worthing said that the increase was relatively small, but £3,000 is as much as some pensioners have to live on. That sticks in the gullets of a lot of people.

Sir Terence Higgins: I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying about the difference between absolute and percentage levels, but my point was that ministerial pay has been cut by 58 per cent. in real terms.

Mr. Skinner: But that is not understood by people outside. Pensioners who have lost money see Ministers getting an extra £3,000 a year while they have to get by for a whole year on that kind of money. What about the minimum wage? How often have I heard Tory Members--one after the other, parrot fashion--attacking us because we are trying to get about £4 an hour for people on poverty wages? They then have the audacity to say that a 4.7 per cent. increase and £3, 000 extra is chicken feed. That is the background to the debate; it is not about us talking as a gentlemen's club, but about people outside making comparisons.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) rose --

Mr. Skinner: No, I shall not give way. Two or three hon. Members have been here for the whole debate and are still waiting to speak. To give way to the hon. Gentleman would be unfair to them. The motion will undoubtedly be passed, despite a vote, but I do not want to hear the Government say that nurses, local government workers and fire fighters will have to sup the mop in the next few months. Many people are waiting in the pay queue and they are due for an increase shortly. The Government should take note of some of them as they are in the public sector, but my guess is that the Government will tell them that they cannot have an increase greater than the rate of inflation--some will get less or even face a pay freeze. I do not want to hear that argument from Tories who then say that they themselves have fallen behind and are simply catching up. That is what puts people's backs up. Yes, there will be a vote; but the chances are that, because of Mr. Brown and Mr. Giordano, some of our supporters have been lost.

9.6 pm

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): As usual, my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) made an excellent contribution. He has followed the issue for many years. He rightly said that there is never a right time to examine ministerial pay or, for that matter, Members of Parliament's pay.

I understand what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) said about percentage increases, but it is worth noting that the percentage increase awarded to the Prime Minister from 1979 to 1995 has been 107 per cent. while the increase that he--the hon. Member for Bolsover--has received as a Member of Parliament has been 251 per cent. I do not dismiss what the hon. Gentleman said, but we have to consider ministerial pay in the larger context.

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I hope that the Lord President will pursue a little further what he said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who made a very reasoned speech. If one looks back over the years, it is possible to find reasoned speeches made by Opposition Members on this subject. When the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) was shadow Leader of the House he said: "Of course, by any outside comparisons, Ministers of the Crown are underpaid. I say that in an objective sense, not in support of Ministers in the present Government."--[ Official Report , 10 December 1991; Vol. 200, c. 824.]

The notion has been long accepted.

I cannot understand why Ministers receive a reduced parliamentary salary. It is nonsense to say that they do less in their constituencies than Members of Parliament. I know that the time is not right to change that, but it is time that we at least considered doing so.

We should also examine the pay of some other office holders in the House who I do not believe are adequately recognised. It seems strange that, because of the usual channels, the Opposition Chief Whip and two of his deputies should be recognised and yet, from what the Leader of the House has told us on many occasions, it also seems that the usual channels involve the shadow Leader of the House. She has been involved in discussions on the Jopling proposals. Perhaps, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) said, the matter should be considered by Nolan and the contribution made by people who have responsibilities-- other than ministerial responsibilities--should be recognised in some sort of salary payment. I see that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) is saying that he, too, is involved. Earlier in the debate, the hon. Member for Perry Barr mentioned the new Select Committees and said that the Members concerned will have extra responsibilities. It is true that some Members have more responsibilities and the matter should be considered on a far wider scale. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing said, the Nolan Committee could consider the matter.

It is astounding that the Solicitor-General is paid more than the Patronage Secretary. The Prime Minister is the second highest paid member of the Cabinet--the Lord Chancellor is paid considerably more. There are a number of nonsenses and they should be dealt with. I hope that at some stage the time will be right to do so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) mentioned the number of people in this place who are paid more than Members of Parliament. An interesting written answer in column 191 of yesterday's Hansard shows that 101 people employed here are paid more than Members. We should deal with that problem.

In some respects, I even agree with the hon. Member for Bolsover--two Derbyshire Members agreeing is most worrying--and it is probably the only issue on which we have agreed. We should consider the salaries of people with public responsibility on the various boards that have been set up. Some are paid far more than local councillors. We should consider that in more reasoned times. Perhaps the Nolan Committee would be the right means of doing so. We have seen some examples of gesture politics recently. Last weekend, the Leader of the Opposition said that he would not take his percentage increase. That is

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hardly surprising. On 1 July, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) was paid about £31,687. According to the latest figures, he is now being paid about £61,349. It is easy to give up a 4 per cent. pay increase when one has recently received a 100 per cent. increase. I might have taken a little more notice if he had said that he would not take any increase, rather than trying to get some cheap, quick headlines, which he did.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to say at some stage that the whole issue will be referred to the Top Salaries Review Body or to the Nolan Committee.

9.12 pm

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly at the end of this debate. It is always difficult speaking at the end and I can assure the Leader of the House and my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that I have one eye on the clock and will stop at exactly 9.20 pm, which will no doubt be a relief to everyone in the House.

On a serious note, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) that this is a sensitive issue. Factory closures have recently been announced in Norwich, North. That is a very serious matter as some people will become unemployed and will go on to low incomes. As other hon. Members who represent East Anglia know, my constituency is in an area of low wages. I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, therefore, in saying that the issue is sensitive to people outside this place.

In the remainder of my speech I shall speak in support of the order. From listening to the debate, it has become clear that the House supports it. Although the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is not listening at the moment, I must say that his speech almost convinced me that he was secretly in favour of the order, especially following the controversy about British Gas, to which I may refer again in a moment.

Mr. Skinner: No, I am not.

Mr. Thompson: I may have got it wrong. Certainly, the hon. Gentleman's opposition was nothing like as enthusiastic as I had expected--

Mr. Skinner: I am nearly an old man--[ Laughter .]

Mr. Thompson: I have no personal axe to grind in this matter. It is fairly well known that my time in the House is limited.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): A couple more years.

Mr. Thompson: I hope so. I think that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has missed my point, but I shall not pursue that.

I well recall that in the 1980s I took a position that was not entirely shared by some of my hon. Friends and opposed the review of top salaries. I remind hon. Members that I believe that it is incumbent on people on high salaries to set an example from the top. I have not departed from that view. I believe that it is important that people on high salaries are conscious of the effect of pay awards on those on lower pay. I have not changed my mind on that matter.

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Nevertheless, I still feel that it is right to support the order. The hon. Member for Bolsover referred to the chief executive of British Gas. I put on record my own view which, I suspect, is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House, even if not by all my hon. Friends. I believe that it is incumbent on senior captains of industry, even though there are no restraints on them as we have here, to set an example and to bear in mind their public responsibilities. Although it is not relevant to this debate, I join those, such as the hon. Member for Bolsover and some of my colleagues, who feel that the pay rise of the chairman of British Gas was an unfortunate example to set. I hope that lessons have been learnt from it.

I am in favour of a link not with captains of industry but with public and civil servants. I agree with my hon. Friends who have spoken of links with civil service pay, and about looking at the professions and other people who serve the public outside. It is wrong to look at captains of industry; it is right to look at civil servants. I go along with those who suggest that it may be a little odd that Cabinet Ministers are paid less than permanent secretaries. We should look at doctors, at editors, at teachers and at professionals generally when we make comparisons with Ministers. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) spoke about the salaries earned by editors. It is most unfortunate that our national newspapers are writing in such a derogatory way not about my party but about Parliament in general. I asked myself why I wanted to speak at all in this debate. The main reason--I agree, therefore, with comments from hon. Members on both sides--is the way in which this Parliament, and this is not a party point, and what goes on here are being distorted by the press. That is another reason why I want to make a few remarks in support of the order.

I do not believe that this is the right time to talk about the pay of Members of Parliament, although a number of hon. Members have done so. After all, the issue of the pay of Members of Parliament is linked with other issues, such as whether they should receive pay from outside. The pay of Members of Parliament will be debated fully on other occasions. Ministers, of course, are constrained in the pay that they can get from outside. This is, as other hon. Members have said, a serious issue.

I remind the House that I do not support the order because I believe that there should be unrestrained pay increases at the top. I am in favour of restraint and I am in favour of an example being set, but I believe, as my hon. Friends and others have said clearly in the debate tonight, that Ministers' pay is low at present by any comparison.

A number of colleagues have referred to pay in the House. I hope that you, Madam Speaker, will not rule me out of order for concluding my remarks in the following way. I shall not refer to your salary again. That has been done already this evening. The Clerk of the House of Commons--I think that this is last year's figure--earns £95, 051 a year. A Principal Clerk, junior to the Clerk, earns £64,283 a year. My final example, because we all know these figures, is that the Director of Catering Services earns £57,612 a year.

I rest my case. Ministers are not well paid by any standards. They work hard and ridiculously long hours, which is not good for Government, but that is another

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