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We have agreed to have no increase in salary this year, other than the inflation increase. At April 2003, the median salary of the typical private sector comparator was £68,000, and that of the typical public sector comparator was £65,000. Our salary is £57,500, so our earnings are well below those of the comparators with which we are supposed to be matched. It is therefore unfair that from 1 April next year Members of Parliament face a dramatically reduced mileage allowance, which bears no resemblance to the true cost of motoring. I understand that Members who travel 20,000 miles a year will lose £3,600 from their income. Is that fair? I do not believe that it is.
I wish to draw the House's attention to the threshold. My constituency is about 180 miles from London. My wife and I generally, but not always, travel to London by car rather than by train, because doing so enables us to do our job in our constituencies betterwe are able to attend more meetings and meet more constituents. Every time we do that journey, we save the taxpayer £380. I get only a modest allowance for travelling by car, so I already subsidise every mile that I travel on constituency or parliamentary duties. I hope that the Leader of the House will say that my amendment will be decided on a genuinely free vote. It is wrong that Members of Parliament should so heavily subsidise their parliamentary activities. I feel very deeply about this. I am delighted that my amendment has received support from the Labour partythe Government partythe Liberal Democrat party, the Democratic Unionist party, and Her Majesty's Opposition: the Conservative and Unionist party.
I ask only for fairness. There has been a huge rise in the cost of motoring. In my constituency, it is 26 miles from north to south and 16 miles from east to west. I attend numerous events. We do not have the public transport that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) appears to have. I cannot get from the north to the south of my constituency by public transport or, for that matter, by bicycle, unless I spend a huge amount of time that reduces the time available to serve my constituents.
I say this to the Leader of the House: please let us have justice for people who seek to do a good job and to use their car only when it is necessary to do so in support of their parliamentary activities. The Senior Salaries Review Body is abusing its position by interfering in this matter, which has nothing whatever to do with it. Why it did it I do not know. I see the damp hand of the Inland Revenue; that is deeply regrettable.
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Members of Parliament have faced the situation that all their allowances were published in the tabloid press and elsewherelet us give them a fair crack of the whip. I have been in this place for 33 years. I worship this House and believe that it is the best Parliament in the world. Let us not undermine the role of Members of Parliament by undermining their ability to do the job that they are here to do.
I am afraid that I must disagree with the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), although I do so with respect for his position. He says that motoring costs have risen substantially, but Department for Transport figures show that they have decreased by 4.8 per cent. since 1997. I do not agree that 57p is the appropriate rate for mileage. The recommendation in the report is right on environmental grounds. Paragraph 4.51 explains why the rate was chosen and says that it includes depreciation, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey). It states:
If Members feel disadvantaged, they have, as the Leader of the House said, the option of switching to a cleaner, greener car. I endorse his view. I hope that he will have had some sway with his colleagues, and that if amendment (c) is carried, he will support my amendment (i).
The proposal on parking charges was not in the report but was subsequently inserted into the motion. There would have to be strict controls on how that is applied. For example, it costs £40 a day to park in short-term parking at Heathrow airport. No doubt Members could make the case that that was necessary in the performance of their duties, but it would not be good value for the taxpayer.
Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con): The trustees and I support the amendments that relate to the pension fund. We agreed to the increase in Members' contribution when we changed the accrual rate. The increase of 1 per cent. goes one further stepalmost all the wayto paying for that. Perhaps when the next actuarial valuation is made, a further increase will not be necessary. However, we shall not know that until the Government Actuary's Department conducts its valuation.
The package of measures that relate to pensions for widows, widowers and surviving unmarried partners and the payment for life of pensions to widows,
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widowers and unmarried partners is generally available throughout the country in pension schemes in the public and private sectors, and I fully support it. The need to make that cost neutral influences the idea that we should forgo our early retirement rights. I suggested that in a debate when we discussed forces pensions. It is right and proper that we should fall into line with what is happening elsewhere in society and in the public sector.
The change needs to be phased in, however. The Government's proposal would lead to a process of phasing in which I shall try to explain briefly. For new Members of Parliament, there will be no right to retire before the age of 65 without a diminution calculated by the Government Actuary. All existing Members will have some benefit. Those who retire in 2009 or the day after the general election after next will not be affected. After that, there will be a sliding scale whereby the actuarial factor is diminished to take account of Members' length of service so that they will not pay the full actuarial reduction but some actuarial reduction, tempered by a table that my fellow trustees and I, together with the Leader of the House and the Government Actuary, will construct. We will send full details of that to all hon. Members as soon as they are available. However, no existing Members will have a full actuarial reduction if they retire before they are 65.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I understand that time is pressing. With the exception of the contribution of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir John Butterfill), whose expertise I respect, much of the rest of the SSRB's report is a dog's breakfast. I believe that that is due to a lack of familiarity with some of the detail of the allowances. The Leader of the House would have been better advised to refer the SSRB report in its entirety, rather than only one aspect of it, to the Members Estimate Committee. That would have been better for the treatment of the recommendations and, I suspect, for the outcome.
I want to speak for one minute on a small matter. It is frustrating that I have failed to get it progressed. Perhaps it is a symptom of our treatment of such issues that something so minor has not been progressed. The SSRB defines the additional costs allowance as it is described on the House of Commons website. It states that the purpose of the allowance is
However, the additional costs allowance was brought into being by a motion in December 1971 and defined specifically as being for parliamentary duties in London or the constituency. At that time, there was no National Assembly for Wales or Scottish Parliament. For a small number in the north of Scotland and perhaps in rural Wales, it is often physically impossible to carry out parliamentary duties with Scottish or Welsh Ministers or, indeed, Westminster Ministers when they are visiting the relevant Parliament, without staying overnight, away from home.
The Fees Office solution, which is bound by a previous resolution, is to tell Members to claim out of their IEP. However, it is clear from the SSRB report that IEP is not designed to pay for Members' overnight
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expenses. The additional costs allowance should do that. I am not asking for an increase in the allowance, merely for the ability to claim from the correct allowance for meeting a Minister in the Scottish Parliament or the National Assembly for Wales instead of being told to claim from an allowance that was not designed for that purpose.
This affects a very small number of Members, but I would have thought that it was a very simple matter to resolve. I had a meeting with the Leader of the House last year to attempt to progress it, and I find it highly frustrating that something so simple, so clear and so obvious cannot be done to bring the House up to date in regard to its expenses provision. I strongly suspect that, if the SSRB were more familiar with the nature of our allowances, it would have had no objection whatever to my proposal. I therefore hope that the Members Estimate Committee will, if the House decides to charge it with considering these matters, introduce this minor amendment. It would make life for a few Members much easier by bringing the allowances into line with what they were originally intended to do, and by bringing them into terms with reality.
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