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1.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Gillian Merron): I would like to thank the House for this passionate debate on the current situation in Zimbabwe. In the short period of time I have left, I shall refer to some of the main themes, particularly our support for the people of Zimbabwe. Of course, I and the Foreign Secretary will look at all the points raised during the debate.

I pay tribute to the work of our UK officials in Zimbabwe. I spoke to our team this morning, who
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described to me the conditions there, and the work that they continue to do to support some of the poorest in Zimbabwe. The truth is, as we know, that conditions in the country are desperate, as we see a naked battle for power being played out. It is Mugabe’s reckless policies that are driving thousands into poverty every week, and let us never forget that it is the responsibility of the Government of Zimbabwe to look after their people. That is not happening.

Zimbabwe is a country that once enjoyed healthy growth, but has seen its economy shrink by a half in only a decade. It used to enjoy macro-economic stability, and it now endures inflation that is beyond imagination. The net result is that it is a country where more than four out of five live in poverty, and between a quarter and a third of the population have fled. By the end of this year, I regret to say that up to 5 million men, women and children could be facing severe hunger and malnutrition.

Despite constant threats and recriminations from Mugabe and his cronies, we continue to be one of the largest donors directly assisting those in Zimbabwe who need the most help. Last year, we provided support that helped to feed 4 million people, to fight HIV/AIDS, to support smallholder farming and to provide access to basic education, clean water and shelter. I am pleased to announce to the House that the Government will be allocating a further £9 million to provide food to the most hungry. That funding, through the World Food Programme, will provide food to more than 4 million of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable families, including many children. I can give the House the assurance that although most of the £9 million will be used to provide food, a proportion of the funding will be used to strengthen monitoring systems to prevent political interference and ensure that food is received by the right people: the hungry and suffering people of Zimbabwe.

The banning of non-governmental organisations has affected 1.5 million people and it demonstrates that Mugabe is using hunger as a political weapon with a callous disregard for human life. It is crucial that NGOs are allowed to restart operations, and the United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator held talks on Monday to seek the full or at least partial lifting of the ban on NGO activity.

Many hon. Members have suggested a range of additional measures. For us, the test has to be whether any additional measure targets Mugabe’s elite or whether it harms ordinary Zimbabweans, or, indeed, the poorest of Africans.

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of the proceedings, the motion lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to the Temporary Standing Order (Topical debates).

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Members’ Salaries

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Before I invite the Leader of the House to move the first motion relating to Members’ salaries, it may help the House if I set out the procedure to be followed. All six motions and related amendments are to be debated together. At the end of the debate, I will ask Members whose amendments are selected to the first motion to move them formally at the appropriate point, and then the first motion will be put. All other motions and amendments selected on Members’ salaries will then be put without further debate.

1.50 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): I beg to move,

I will be as brief as possible in my opening speech, and there will be no Government speech to conclude the debate to allow as many hon. Members as possible to have the opportunity to speak.

We have two debates this afternoon. The first is on Members’ pay and the second will deal with two issues: the Members Estimate Committee report on reimbursement of our expenses and a resolution to prohibit the release of information held by the House authorities about Members’ addresses and travel patterns.

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I suggest that there are three principles for hon. Members’ salaries. First, MPs should be properly paid for the work that they do to ensure that anyone can be a Member, not just the wealthy. Secondly, given that MPs are paid from the public purse, we should show the same discipline in our pay increases as we expect from the public sector. Thirdly, for the future, and following today’s debate, we, like everyone else, should not determine our own pay or vote on our own pay increases.

In January, the House agreed that Sir John Baker should conduct a review and report on a review mechanism for increasing hon. Members’ salaries without Members having to vote on that, and for determining the frequency with which reviews will take place and the appropriate comparator for Members’ pay. I am grateful to Sir John Baker, whose report the Government published on 17 June, for his work.

Sir John’s report made several recommendations. I shall list the key ones. First, the Senior Salaries Review Body should be the mechanism for periodic reviews of Members’ pay. The Government agree with that. Secondly, the SSRB’s periodic review should be once per Parliament. The Government agree with that. Thirdly, MPs’ pay should be increased each year at the rate of the public sector average earnings index. The Government do not agree with that, and propose an alternative. Fourthly, there should be £650 a year catch-up for each of the three years 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11. The Government do not agree with that and propose that it be rejected.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Are the Government taking a different view of the Baker recommendations on pay because they believe that MPs would be paid too much?

Ms Harman: We take the view that the recommendation is not consistent with the Government’s pay policy and approach to public sector pay. Later, I will set out our approach to the current position.

I have tabled a series of motions, which will allow the House to vote for Sir John’s proposal for a comparator or for the Government’s proposal. They will allow hon. Members to vote separately on whether to accept or reject the three £650 catch-ups.

Sir John Baker’s comparator proposal is opinion motion No. 1, the Government’s proposal is opinion motion No. 2, and Sir John Baker’s £650 catch-ups is opinion motion No. 3. Both the opinion motions on Sir John’s proposal and the Government’s proposal provide for arrangements for future, independent reviews of hon. Members' pay. Both the Baker and the Government motions provide that: the SSRB should remain the independent body, which conducts reviews of hon. Members’ pay; those reviews should occur once in each Parliament, and that the outcome of those reviews should be implemented without the need for further debates or votes in the House. In both opinion motions, those arrangements are set out in paragraphs 2 and 3. Whether the House chooses the Baker or the Government proposals, that should be the last time we have such a debate or vote in this House.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): The Leader of the House knows that I sit on the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It may be for Members’ convenience to know that the Chairman has
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written to the Speaker—the document is in the public domain—welcoming the decision to have a genuinely independent mechanism for setting Members’ pay and also supporting the Members Estimate Committee report.

Ms Harman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful information. That view is shared in all parties. It is the Government’s view and that of the public that we should not have to set out own pay and that there should be a proper, independent and fair mechanism to do that. Whether hon. Members vote for the Baker proposals or for the Government proposals, the review mechanism will be established.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): I understand where my right hon. and learned Friend is coming from in that, if we accept Baker’s recommendations, it could upset or throw a bad light on the Government’s pay policy for this year. However, what will be the position in subsequent years? Do we know what the Government’s pay policy will be next year and the year after that?

Ms Harman: The Government’s approach to dealing with the danger of inflation and wanting to ensure that interest rates remain low and that the economy remains on a stable course is reflected in our view that public sector pay increases should be consistent with 2 per cent. We have urged public sector unions and negotiators to accept three-year deals. I will say more about that shortly.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Will the Leader of the House give way?

Ms Harman: Perhaps it would assist the House if I made some progress. I will take interventions if I have not dealt with points that hon. Members wish to raise. I ask hon. Members to let me simply set out the position and, if I have not answered a question, I will give way. May I do that?

Mr. Chope: Yes.

Ms Harman: Thank you.

Let me consider the comparator—the index to which MPs’ pay should be pegged in future. Sir John’s preferred option is the public sector average earnings index, but the Government do not accept that for two reasons. The main reason is that, this year, it would result in an increase of 3.5 per cent., which does not reflect our view that public sector pay settlements should be consistent with the achievement of the consumer prices index inflation target of 2 per cent. Secondly, we believe that our proposal for basing our increase on a basket of public sector employees’ salaries is preferable—that is, making the comparator for Members’ salaries the median of the increase in the pay settlements of a basket of 15 public sector work forces. They include judges, doctors, teachers and civil servants in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence. Our opinion motion No. 2 sets out the 15 public sector work forces who would form the comparator.

Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con) rose—

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Ms Harman: I can deal with all the points as I go along, but it would probably be better for hon. Members to hear the line of argument and the information on the Government’s view. However, I will give way to the hon. Gentleman as chair of the pension fund.

Sir John Butterfill: Does the Leader of the House also agree that the Government’s proposals and, indeed, those that they made to Sir John Baker when he was preparing his report, have been rejected out of hand in Sir John’s subsequent report?

Ms Harman: I would not say that those proposals have been rejected out of hand. They were not Sir John’s preferred option—I make no bones about that. We have tabled Sir John’s option and published the report. Everyone can see what Sir John said about his preferred option. Although the Government accept a considerable amount of what Sir John proposed in his review and are grateful for his work, we do not accept the comparator and the catch-up, because we believe that they are not consistent with the approach that we want the public sector to take on pay. If I may, I will develop the argument on that.

Our opinion motion No. 2 sets out the 15 public sector work forces who would form the comparator. That mechanism would be understandable by the public, who would see our pay connected to a group of public servants, and would deliver 2.25 per cent. this year. That is lower than the first year of the current three-year settlement for nurses of 2.75 per cent., but higher than the settlement received by salaried doctors and dentists. For future years, the terms of the motion would ensure that Members’ salary increases were consistent with our approach to the rest of the public sector.

Let me turn to the catch-up payments in opinion motion No. 3. The Government do not accept Sir John’s recommendation that Members’ salaries should be increased by an additional £650 each year for the next three years. MPs do important work, which is the foundation stone of our democracy. We do not hear about this in the media, but over the past five years our pay has fallen behind inflation. The Government do not reject the catch-up because we think that MPs are overpaid—far from it—but only because it would not be consistent with the approach that we are taking to the rest of the public sector. Combined with Sir John’s comparator, the annual £650 catch-up would bring our annual pay increase to 4.55 per cent. On that basis, we reject it.

Let me turn to the amendments on the Order Paper. Amendment (d) to opinion motion No.1, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Tony Lloyd) and of other hon. Members, would have the effect of implementing the Baker comparator, but limiting the increase to hon. Members’ salaries to no more than 2.75 per cent. this year, 2.3 per cent. next year and 2.25 per cent. in 2010-11. Amendment (d) would then provide for the increases forgone under the Baker comparator to be paid from 1 April 2011, in addition to the increase that year due to the average earnings index. That would amount to an increase of approximately 6.7 per cent. in 2011-12. That is not consistent with the Government’s public sector pay approach and we ask the House to reject it.

Amendment (a) to opinion motion No. 1 stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) and of many other hon. Members.
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It would implement the Baker comparator, but limit the increase to hon. Members’ salaries for the current year to no more than 2.3 per cent. Amendment (a) would then provide for the 1.2 per cent. forgone from the Baker comparator to be paid from 1 April 2009, in addition to the Baker comparator increase that year due to the average earnings index. That would amount to an increase of approximately 4.7 per cent. in 2009-10. That is also not consistent with our public sector pay policy and we ask the House to reject it.

Finally, amendment (e) to opinion motion No.1, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central, would have the effect of ensuring that Members’ pensions entitlements would be the same as they would have been if the Baker pay proposal had been implemented in full. The parliamentary pension scheme bases pensions on a Member’s salary in their last 12 months of service. A principle of public service pensions is that pensions are based on pay that people have received and contributions that they have made, not the pay that they would have received if circumstances had been different. Accepting amendment (e) would create a precedent. If we allowed that approach for MPs, it would be more difficult for the Government to resist the same approach from elsewhere in the public sector. We therefore ask the House to reject amendment (e).

Let me turn to amendments (b) and (a) to opinion motion No.3. Amendment (b) to that motion, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central, would have the effect of delaying until 2010 the three separate £650 catch-up payments proposed by Sir John, although the full amount of £1,950 would be paid in one go in 2010, rather than being spread over the preceding three years. Again for the reasons that I have explained, that is not consistent with the Government’s approach and we ask the House to reject amendment (b).

Amendment (a) to opinion motion No. 3, which stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn and of many other hon. Members, proposes to accept the Baker catch-up payments of £650, but delay their start date by one year. Even though the catch-up would be delayed, starting next year rather than this year, catch-ups are not consistent with the Government’s approach to public sector pay, as I have said. We therefore ask the House to reject amendment (a). The combined effect of the two amendments standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn would be an increase of about 5.7 per cent. next year, which would be the combination of the deferred indexation increase and the catch-up of £650.

Although the Government have a clear view on the different elements of the Baker proposals, it is for the House to decide these matters. I hope that the Government position will be supported, for the reasons that I have explained.

Mr. Chope: The terms of reference that the right hon. and learned Lady gave Sir John Baker were to

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