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Mr. Straw: The petitions proposal is not an original proposal from me; it has been around for a while. I
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understand that the Scottish Parliament has a good system in place for dealing with petitions that are signed by a significant number of Members. It was my instinct to raise the matter before the Modernisation Committee and, subject to what colleagues on that Committee and other Members believe to be right, to ensure that we take more seriously petitions that are often painstakingly drawn up, with the support of many constituents and other people throughout the country. I think that that is straightforward.

An inquiry is taking place into the future of early-day motions. That is a matter for the House and certainly not one for the Government. It is a tricky issue because they are used for serious national issues, serious constituency issues and trivial issues such as the success or failure of Burnley football club.

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): As a new Member, I would like to associate myself with the tributes to Eric Forth. He was unfailingly kind to those of us who were elected last year. I will miss his ready wit and his robust advice.

Now that the Government have reinstated structures in the national health service that they got rid of eight years ago, can we have a debate to reflect the real concerns of health practitioners in our constituencies who are concerned about the culture of continual change in the NHS. They just want a period of calm. They would like us to have the opportunity to reflect that in Parliament in the presence of Ministers. May we have such a debate?

Mr. Straw: I welcome all debates on the national health service—on what we have done nationally and on what happens locally. I hope very much that in such debates, Opposition Members, including those who are new, will be honest enough to talk about the state that the NHS would have been in had Conservative spending plans continued, and had the Government accepted their advice when each year—almost without exception—they voted against the spending plans proposed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If Conservative spending plans had continued, there would not have been the dramatic increase in the numbers of nurses, doctors and other clinicians—there has been an 85,000 increase in the number of nurses. There would also not have been a dramatic increase—it was increased by more than a quarter—in the real pay of nurses. Instead, there would have been the same stagnation in the health service, and, as a result, there would have been lower delivery of care for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and for the constituents of every other Member of this place.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I will remember next week those hon. Members who have not been called today.

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Points of Order

12.27 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday I received a reply from the Minister for Energy to a letter that I wrote to the Prime Minister about nuclear power. His letter said that the outcome of the energy review has not been pre-determined and that no decisions have been taken on the need for new nuclear power stations. He said that it was a genuine energy review. That is at odds with what the Prime Minister has stated. It is clearly essential that hon. Members are given—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is not a matter for the Chair. I am not responsible for what any Minister has to say, whether it be the Prime Minister or any other Minister. The hon. Gentleman will have to take up the matter—the contradictions—with the Ministers concerned.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the Order Paper today there is notice of a written ministerial statement on the Royal Mail. You may have heard the content of the statement being discussed on the “Today” programme this morning. I wonder whether that was with some foreknowledge that the House did not possess.

Mr. Speaker: I understand that there was a written statement. Information has been given to the House and it is available in the Vote Office.

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Members’ Salaries and Chairmen’s Pay

12.28 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move

Mr. Speaker: With this we will consider the two motions on the pay of Chairmen of Select Committees.

Mr. Straw: The motion on Members’ salaries will give effect to the proposal announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 30 March that the pay increases for Members of Parliament for 2006-07 should be staged, with the full increase being deferred until 1 November rather than being payable from 1 April last. The proposal is made in the context of the Government’s response to the 28th report of the Senior Salaries Review Body, which provides that the award to the senior civil service, to which Members’ pay is linked under the formula agreed in 1996, is being staged in a similar way.

Under the decisions taken in 2003 and 2005, annual uprating of the additional salaries for Select and Standing Committee Chairmen is also linked to the senior civil service pay bands. The motion accordingly provides that the increase in these salaries too should be staged.

Under these proposals, the salary of a Member of Parliament will be £59,686 from 1 April and £60,277 from 1 November. The principle of linkage to the senior civil service pay bands, agreed by the House in 1996, followed earlier systems of linkage. It was intended to avoid the need for a major debate on Members’ pay on every occasion when pay needed to be adjusted. However, the system agreed does not cover the present situation, because the pay bands to which our pay is linked would have risen by the full 2 per cent. from 1 April. If nothing further were done, our pay would rise by 2 per cent. from that date, even though this would not be the case in practice for most of the senior civil service.

When he proposed this staging of the senior civil service pay increase, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that it was to

I accept that the total saving to the public purse from the staging of the pay of Members of Parliament itself will be relatively small. It amounts to less than £230,000 in basic pay, and a little more than that if other factors—employers’ national insurance contributions and Exchequer pensions contributions—are included.

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I hope that colleagues agree that we ought to play our part and show restraint, as we are asking the senior civil service, to whose pay ours is linked, to show equal restraint.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): As the House knows, the Senior Salaries Review Body has made some critical recommendations on Members’ pay, and it has established comparators in both the public and the private sectors. Does the Leader of the House accept that Members’ pay is 20 per cent. behind the comparators to which it has been linked by the SSRB? Is that fair in the short, medium or long term for hon. Members? Will it encourage good, competent, able, intelligent people to put their names forward as Members of Parliament?

Mr. Straw: I accept the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, and I shall deal with the wider review of Members’ pay that will take place next year. As comparable pay in the private sector has risen much faster than pay for senior civil servants, they too are out of kilter with the comparators, so I accept the strength of that argument.

In its review next year the SSRB must take account of the extent to which pay levels act as a disincentive, deterring good people in all walks of life from serving in the House. It is important that Members of Parliament be paid properly, and—as members of all parties aspire to hold office—that should include Ministers. At the same time, however, I am struck by the high calibre of members of all parties who entered the House in 2001 and 2005, notwithstanding the pay and the cynical press that Members of Parliament generally receive. However, if pay does not keep pace with the comparators, particularly as the pressure on Members of Parliament to serve full-time is much greater than it was when the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and I came to the House almost three decades ago—

Sir Nicholas Winterton: It was more than three decades ago, in my case.

Mr. Straw: Indeed. In those circumstances there will be a disincentive, deterring good people not only from entering the House but, if they do enter it, from staying .

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire) (Con): Will the Leader of the House confirm that it is mandatory for the SSRB to hold that review, as there appears to be some doubt in its mind?

Mr. Straw: I have been handed a note saying that the broader questions will be dealt with in the SSRB’s triennial review, which is due in 2007. If I am wrong—and I intend to talk to the chairman shortly—I will make that known to the House. However, I have every reason to believe that there will be a full review next year—and that view is being confirmed by the nods of officials in the Box.

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Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): It might be more appropriate to confirm this at the end of the debate or afterwards, but what is the date of the triennial review? I understand that it was due to take place this year rather than next year.

Mr. Straw: I shall certainly confirm the date for the right hon. Lady.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: May I point out that Members of Parliament are in a unique position? Members entering the House for the first time—there were many such Members at the last election—receive the same pay as a Member of Parliament who has served in the House for 25, 30, 35 or even 40 years. It is important that Members’ pay keep pace with the comparators, otherwise there is a grave unfairness for Members who serve with loyalty and distinction in the House. I include the Leader of the House in that category.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have received a note saying that the review was to be commissioned this year, and will report next year. I have rather fewer complaints about my pay because, as I am a member of the Cabinet, it is a little more than the hon. Gentleman’s. I hope that the review will look at the issue of whether there should be an age and experience-related band, as it is perfectly possible to construct a series of steps—

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): Oh, no.

Mr. Straw: Hang on a sec. It is perfectly possible to construct a pay system in which Members are paid according to age and time spent in the House. Whether that is acceptable to the public purse, and above all to hon. Members, is another matter. There has been an improvement, however, as Chairmen of Select Committees and equivalent bodies, including members of the Speaker’s Panel, receive additional remuneration. The only people who do not receive such remuneration are members of the shadow Cabinet, who have to work extremely hard and are not paid properly for that work. However, that is an incentive to leave the shadows and enter Government. I hope that everyone accepts the case for staging, which is the subject of the motion.

May I deal with the two motions on payment for Chairmen of the Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill, both of which make the same proposition? The House decided to introduce payments for the Chairmen of the main Select Committees in 2003, following a debate in 2002 on the principle of payment arising from a report of the Modernisation Committee and from a subsequent report by the SSRB on the amount payable. In July 2005 we decided that that should be extended to nearly all the remaining permanent Committees. We decided, too, that a system of payment should be introduced for members of the Chairmen’s Panel who chair Standing Committees.

The main purpose of the decision to pay Chairmen of Select Committees was to promote recognition of another career choice in the House as an alternative to service as a Minister. It reflected a recognition of the
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importance of Select Committees in underpinning a modern democracy, and a general agreement that the chairmanship of many Committees involves a heavy work load and substantial responsibility. The House would wish me to take the opportunity to say how much we value the work of Select Committees and to thank the various Chairmen for their commitment. The decision to pay Chairmen was by no means unanimous, but the House as a whole has shown that it supports the principle by subsequently extending the list of Chairmen who receive the additional salary.

Chairmen of non-permanent Committees have not been paid, partly because they do not fit the criteria as clearly as other Chairmen. By definition, such Committees are relatively short-lived, although the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, which was ably chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), has just reported after four months and more than 20 sittings. It would be difficult to identify in advance which Committees should be covered and which should not. However, where there is an exceptional case, I hope that colleagues agree that we should reflect that in arrangements for the payment of salaries.

The Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill appears to be such a case. It first sat on 13 December, and it sits up to four times a week when the House is sitting. Until last week it had sat on 36 days, so as it typically sits twice a day, it has many more sittings than other Committees. It may continue to sit—but perhaps not at the same rate—until the autumn. The House will agree that its work load is higher than that of many other Committees whose members are paid an additional salary. It is higher, too, than the work load of other ad hoc committees.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Undoubtedly members of Committees considering private legislation—the Crossrail Bill Committee is such a Committee—undertake an awful lot of hard work, but I find it difficult to distinguish the additional work by Chairmen from that of the membership, as they both seem to do exactly the same job in the same circumstances.

Mr. Straw: It could be said that assiduous members of Select Committees do the same job as, say, the Chairman of a Select Committee who happens to be coasting. There is no precise science. All Members who are doing their duties in the House work very hard—far harder, I may say, than they get credit for, regardless of party, from many sections of the press. But there is a difference between chairing a Committee and being a member of it. There is plainly a difference in responsibility. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman does not seek to make the best the enemy of the good, and will accepts that there is an exception to the general rule to be made here.

I express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) for the work that he has done as Chairman of the Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill. Had he simply been coasting, had he not been taking his responsibilities seriously, I would not have tabled the motion and Members on both sides would not have accepted it. I accept that to add this Committee to the list of Committees whose Chairmen
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receive an additional salary will set something of a precedent. We will have to look at other cases as they arise, and it is not inconceivable that another Select Committee on a Bill may at some future point justify similar treatment. However, I do not envisage that we will have for some time another ad hoc Committee involving the work commitment for its Chairman that that one involves. It is a matter for the House to decide, but I think it is right to put the motion forward to provide an opportunity for the Chamber as a whole to make that decision.

12.41 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I support all three motions before the House relating to Members’ salaries and the pay of Chairmen of Select Committees.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for having recognised that the staging of Members’ pay does not in itself constitute a very large saving for the Government. However, as others, with whom we have been compared and linked in respect of the decision on our pay, are being asked to take their pay in stages, it is appropriate that we undertake the same level of restraint as we expect of them.

The Leader of the House referred to the wider issue, partly in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton). The pay of Members of Parliament is a difficult matter, with which Governments and Members have grappled over the years. We have not necessarily found the best way to deal with Members’ pay. It is Members who vote on our pay, and voters raise questions about it. They are often encouraged in that by members of the press, whose salaries are not revealed to the electorate or to their readership.

There is an issue that we need to address, and the SSRB triennial review will consider the wider aspects when it reports. I am grateful to the Leader of the House for clarifying that that will be commissioned later this year and will report next year. The question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer) is important, concerning the mandatory nature of that report. The report is not produced at the whim of the Prime Minister; a resolution was passed that a triennial review should take place.

Sir Michael Spicer: The resolution is cited on the Order Paper; it was motion 14 at the time.

Mrs. May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification. I am sure the Leader of the House has noted the point and the motion number, to ensure that the process goes ahead and there is no way that the triennial review can be stymied by a prime ministerial decision.

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