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The wider issue is important. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the need to encourage high-calibre people to want to become Members of Parliament, and to the fact that these days this is a full-time job. That is not necessarily a view that will be shared by all my colleagues, or in other parts of the House, but my personal view is that it is a full-time job and we should treat it as such, as I have always done.
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That presents a challenge to those who are employed in areas where salaries are above those of Members of Parliament, which in the past may not have been the case. It is no longer the case that higher salaries are paid only to those in a significant role in business or banking, or who are barristers or in similar professions. A head teacher of a secondary school, for example, almost certainly earns more than a Member of Parliament.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Similarly, a superintendent of police.

Mrs. May: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There are a number of areas of employment where salaries are higher than those of Members of Parliament, which would not have been so in the past. People of very high calibre still wish to be Members of Parliament, but sometimes that involves them and their families making significant sacrifices to enable them to give their service to the country. We need to consider the issue.

I crave the indulgence of the House to raise one further point that cannot be accommodated by the SSRB triennial review, but which is a matter for all parties—the cost of standing as a candidate for election to Parliament. That can be a significant cost, particularly to someone nursing a seat for three or four years, if they are selected well in advance of an election. That presents a challenge to parties too, to ensure that we encourage high-calibre people to enter the House, as we are all keen to do.

On the pay of Chairmen of Select Committees, the right decision was taken by the House. It was an important step offering Members a different career structure, so that they do not have to become Ministers to feel that they are progressing and earning extra salary. The Leader of the House mentioned members of the shadow Cabinet. Having been a member of the shadow Cabinet since 1999, I, perhaps more than others, am conscious of the point. Members of the shadow Cabinet assume that burden with no extra pay over and above that of Members of Parliament.

The key issue is that the role of Select Committee Chairman offers an alternative career. In earlier exchanges during business questions, the Leader of the House referred to the introduction of the Select Committee system in the House. That has been one of the great strengths of the House over the past 25 years, and it is important that we recognise the value of that through the pay of Chairmen of Select Committees.

On the Crossrail Bill, I entirely understand the intervention by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) about the fact that all the members of the Committee take on a substantial burden because of the number of meetings of the Committee. I say openly and honestly that I would not like to be a member of that Committee. I intend to give evidence to it because Crossrail affects my constituency, but it is a detailed issue and a significant burden to meet and take so much evidence from those who have submitted petitions against the Crossrail Bill.

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It can be argued that for members of any Select Committee there is a burden if they do their job assiduously, which I know members of Select Committees do, but the Chairman of such a Committee has an extra burden to bear, and it is appropriate that the Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill be added to the list of those whose Chairmen who are paid. The Leader of the House made a valid point when he said that we cannot guarantee that in future other Committees will not need to be added. Now that he has finally been allowed to become Chairman of the Modernisation Committee, after a little local difficulty, he will know that, as became clear from the evidence taken yesterday, one of the current issues concerns the role of Select Committees, Standing Committees and Special Select Committees in the future. If the Modernisation Committee proposes changes to the way in which the House handles legislation and the legislative process, so that the balance between Select Committees and Standing Committees and their various responsibilities evolves, we may need to look again at the whole question of whom it is appropriate to pay.

I welcome the fact that Select Committee Chairmen are now paid—that has been an important move for the House—and I endorse the adding of the Chairman of the Crossrail Bill Committee to the list of those whose salary is increased in recognition of the extra work that they are doing.

12.50 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): It is always difficult when we discuss our own salaries and emoluments in this House. I must admit that many hon. Members whom I number among my friends and acquaintances regret the fact that it falls to me to speak from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench on such matters, because I have something of a reputation for taking a puritanical view of them. Indeed, I am very clear that in fact and in perception we must be extraordinarily careful that we do not seem to be giving ourselves preferential treatment above those who serve in the public service or the private sector beyond this place. For instance, when we discussed the enhancements made to the pensions of right hon. and hon. Members, I was opposed because I felt that it was a clear example of an occasion when we were protecting our interests rather better than we were able to protect those of many other people.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern, but if I remember the options on the pension correctly, one could either take it or increase it. What did he do?

Mr. Heath: I did not take it, but that is neither here nor there. I do not want to parade that as an example of virtue—it was simply the way that I felt about the issue.

We must also, however, be fair to Members of Parliament. We have to reflect the comparators that are set down and ensure that Members’ salaries are commensurate with the responsibilities that they take on. It worries me when Members’ pay falls way behind those comparators. I agree with the right hon. Member
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for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) that the job of a Member of Parliament should be to represent people in this place, not to go off and do some other job down the road. It always surprises and sometimes shocks me when somebody leaves high office, or even shadow responsibilities, and the first thing that the newspapers say is, “What job is he going to do now?” The answer is the job of a Member of Parliament, which is still their prime responsibility. It worries me that so many Members feel the need to top up their salaries in all sorts of ways. I cannot believe that that is to the advantage of their constituents. Of course, every individual has to take a view for themselves.

The Leader of the House cited the quality of the recent intake of Members. I agree. I think that we had an extraordinarily talented intake on both sides of the House this time.

Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): Hear, hear.

Mr. Heath: Even the hon. Gentleman who says, “Hear, hear”, whom I perceive to be one of the new intake, will recognise that we have had some very talented individuals joining us. However, although that may be a seductive argument for saying that we can therefore allow market forces to do their work and allow salaries to dwindle, it is wrong. It would be a complacent view, and an unfair one. Greater self-sacrifice is required, not only by Members but by their families, which is sometimes inappropriate. Having for several years led a county council with an annual turnover of about £500,000 on the basis that total expenses were about £4,000 per annum, I know how difficult it is to make such sacrifices in order to achieve one’s political objectives.

Sir Michael Spicer: All the difficult questions that the hon. Gentleman is posing are surely meant to be sorted out by the Senior Salaries Review Body. Would not the answer be for us simply to accept its recommendations?

Mr. Heath: That is by far the simplest way of dealing with it, and it takes the matter out of the political argument, which is as it should be. I would hope that it takes an objective and independent view, not one clouded by the misconceptions of bundling up all our office expenses—for example, staff and computers—into our salary and saying that they are perks for the individual concerned. All those factors are removed from the equation and we have an objective view.

I entirely support the contention of the Leader of the House in the first motion. Given that the Government have determined that civil service pay should be staged, it would be wrong of us to seek an advantageous position, and we should accept that recommendation.

That brings me on to the payment of the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Crossrail Bill. I have genuine problems with that. I hasten to add thatthat has nothing to do with either the person orthe qualities of the hon. Member for Mansfield(Mr. Meale), and everything to do with the apparent lack of discipline and control over the process—a process that I generally welcome. Those who chair
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Select Committees of the House undertake a very substantial job and generally do so with a great deal of assiduity and sheer hard work. I can readily accept that there should be a career structure within the House and that it should be rewarded, but I have always been reluctant for it to be greatly expanded. I agree with the right hon. Member for Maidenhead that we are rapidly approaching the situation whereby the only people who will not be paid extra are those who do a great deal of the work of the House by speaking from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Front Benches on each and every Bill and attending Standing Committees to speak as required, and do so without any extra emolument at all. I hasten to add that I am not seeking that extra emolument, but merely pointing out that it is a rather perverse situation.

We now have payments for the Chairmen on the Chairmen’s Panel who chair our Standing Committees. Again, I do not argue with that. It is a gradated structure. However, naming a specific temporary Committee sets an unhelpful precedent. The motion makes no provision—although it is clearly implied—that the payment should cease at the point at which the Select Committee reports. However, I have a more substantial objection. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Mansfield is a member of the Chairmen’s Panel—if so, he is receiving a payment as such—but I suspect that he is not. That is surprising. Hon. Members who are put on a Select Committee on private legislation undertake a truly horrendous task. It is very time-consuming and difficult work that is usually, frankly, given as a punishment by the Whips Office for some misdemeanour, and I have the greatest sympathy for those who undertake it. But the fact remains that that hard work is shared by all the members of the Committee. It is not like being the Chairman of a departmental Select Committee. Those Chairmen do a tremendous amount of work outside the Committee, meeting individuals, preparing for meetings and guiding the reports that the Committee produces. They do a whole array of further work, but I do not believe that that is the role of the Chairman of a private Bill Committee. The work of those Committees is shared by all their members.

I do not intend to show any disrespect to the hon. Member for Mansfield, who I know is doing very good job of work, but he is not there all the time, and I believe that up to four other Members have also chaired that Bill Committee. So it seems odd to reward only one member of the Committee, quite substantially under the terms of this provision, for doing that temporary job. Furthermore, it is not clear to me from my reading of the resolution whether this is an annualised payment in line with those of other Select Committee Chairmen, on whether there is a pro rata element related to the timing of the Bill. It would be helpful to know that.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman will take my intervention as confirmation of his theory about punishment. May I tell him that I was asked, although not instructed, to sit on the Committee on the Crossrail Bill? However, I declined the invitation.

Mr. Heath: As I have no idea of the hon. Gentleman’s present relationship with his Whips, I
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cannot possibly comment. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (John Pugh) was certainly not given his post as a punishment. He is there as a willing conscript, although he might now be regretting having been prepared to take on those responsibilities.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: How was the Chair of the Crossrail Bill Committee chosen? Was he chosen by members of the Committee, or was the decision made through the usual channels? This is an important issue when we are talking about Members of Parliament getting a very substantial additional sum tacked on to their salary.

Mr. Heath: The hon. Gentleman has asked an extremely important question. No doubt the Leader of the House will be able to answer it when he responds to the debate. If there was a genuine election within the membership of the Committee, that would be one thing. However, if there was an instruction to the effect that someone had been favoured with the chairmanship of the Committee and was to receive a substantial emolument as a result, that would change the view of the House on what exactly is going on. For all those reasons, I really need to be convinced that this is a sensible way forward.

Mr. Martlew: I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman’s argument, but I do not quite understand it. If the Chairman of that Bill Committee were a member of the Chairmen’s Panel, he would be paid. If he were the Chair of a Select Committee, he would be paid. So why should he not receive payment for chairing this particular Committee?

Mr. Heath: The hon. Member for Mansfield would be paid rather less if he were a member of the Chairmen’s Panel. He would be paid as a prospective Standing Committee Chairman, which, by a resolution of the House, would depend on his experience in the role, but he would still receive considerably less than the rate of pay that is felt to be appropriate for a Select Committee Chairman.

The anomaly is that this Bill Committee is described as a Select Committee but it is not a departmental Select Committee— [ Interruption.] The Leader of the House objects to my use of the word “anomaly”, so I shall retract it. However, such Committees are a kind of hybrid between a Standing Committee and a Select Committee. Many other temporary Committees are set up for similar purposes, and the only logical conclusion is that anyone who chairs any Committee of the House in any circumstances ought to have a temporary pay increase—

Mr. Straw: Yes, I have got the point.

Mr. Heath: That being the case, I shall not detain the House further by repeating my arguments. I would love to be convinced that the proposals represent a sensible way forward, but I cannot see that at the moment.

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1.4 pm

Mr. Straw: With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to the debate. I am glad to hear that there is general approbation for the first motion, which is to restrict our pay increase to just 1 per cent., and widespread agreement with the second and third motions on the Chairman of the Crossrail Bill.

The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) raised a fundamental point about how we settle our pay, in saying that we have always had difficulties because we have to vote on our own pay. This is almost unique, except for those who run a company that they wholly own. I remember the debates that took place on this matter in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the system was much worse than it is today. In those days, there was no linkage, which was just awful. The system of linkage is much better, because it provides a clear benchmark. I am not sure whether we could devise a better system, although—to pick up the points made by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and others—we must not forget the important associated issue of what the benchmark should be. We need to ensure that the salaries of Members of Parliament keep up with certain comparators, without any shifts being offensive to our constituents.

The right hon. Member for Maidenhead also made an interesting point about the cost to people of standing as a candidate. It would be hard to make the case that such costs should become a charge on the public purse directly, although they are onerous—

Mrs. May indicated dissent.

Mr. Straw: No, I know that the right hon. Lady was not suggesting that.

I must point out to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that I was not suggesting that, because the level of talent that has been elected to the House in recent Parliaments, particularly since 1997, when the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) entered the House—

John Bercow: Your cheque is in the post.

Mr. Straw: Thank you very much.

The fact that the level of talent has been high does not mean that we should not consider fair remuneration for Members. My point is that, despite the fact that the rewards here are modest—and less than what most Members of Parliament could command if they worked elsewhere—it is interesting that people of talent still enter the House. That happens despite, rather than because of, the remuneration system here.

Mrs. May: Purely to set the record straight, may I tell the Leader of the House that I was not suggesting in any way that the cost of standing as a parliamentary candidate should be a drain on the public purse? However, all parties need to examine these issues, particularly as we are trying to encourage greater diversity among the people coming into the House.

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Mr. Straw: I accept the right hon. Lady’s point. That issue is the subject of separate inquiries into the funding of political parties, and into whether those parties should be able to pay some of those expenses. All hon. Members have made substantial financial sacrifices when trying to become Members of Parliament.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome talked about the Chairman of the Crossrail Bill Committee. First, he can be assured that the post is time limited. If the Crossrail Bill Committee ceases to exist, thatsalary will cease to be paid to the Chair. This is not the 18th century; this is the 21st century.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) asked how the Chairman of that Committee had been chosen. The answer is that it is a combination of the usual channels—

Mr. Prentice: Ah, I thought so!

Mr. Straw: But it is also up to the Committee itself. It is the same arrangement as for a Select Committee. It does not involve a Chairmen’s Panel nomination. So the usual channels ensure that, by some osmotic process, a name comes forward. That Member becomes a member of the Committee and—hey presto!—all other members of the Committee, by an entirely democratic free vote, approve that person. That seems to work fine— [ Laughter.] If my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle wants some of this, he should just see me and I will do my best to ensure that he receives similar favour.

John Bercow: Will the Leader of the House give way?

Mr. Straw: One second. Somebody outrageously suggested that places on hybrid and private Bill Committees are reserved for punishments by the Whips. I am sure that that is still true in the Conservative party; it is no longer true in the Labour party and the Government, because we now have a caring, sharing Whips Office that does everything by gentle persuasion. However, it certainly was true, as I remember— [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Maidenhead says that her Chief Whip is also very nice. He, of course, gets paid, unlike members of the shadow Cabinet.

As a shadow Cabinet member for 10 years, it always rankled that I was expected to work my socks off and speak on behalf of the party while not being paid a penny, whereas our Chief Whip, who was expected simply to dragoon people into the Lobby and not speak at all, was paid a large sum. There we are; it just gets one used to life in government.

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