By Jonathan Isaby
After the intensity of and the interest in the debate on Libya yesterday, another motion on the order paper – which would have created huge media interests were it not for international events – was quietly passed after a short debate.
It was on the thorny issue of MPs' pay and, contrary to my headline, they didn't in fact vote for a freeze: a) the motion to freeze pay for two years was actually passed without a vote; and b) as is the case for public sector workers earning over £21,000, a freeze does of course amount to a real terms cut.
"On 3 July 2008, the House agreed a new formula for uprating Members’ salaries… The annual percentage increase would be the median of a basket of public sector comparators, and this percentage would be calculated by the Senior Salaries Review Body and notified to you, Mr Speaker, in a letter from its chairman. That percentage increase would then take effect automatically from 1 April.
"That system has considerable advantages. It provides a fixed uprating formula so that we do not determine our own salaries. It is transparent, as the formula and the SSRB’s determination are there for everyone to see. It is also fair in that it provides a link between the salary of a Member of Parliament and the salaries of others in the public sector. Those are the virtues that the Government usually believe should underpin any system for determining our salaries—independence, transparency and fairness. We have therefore not taken lightly the decision to set aside the pay increase and thereby abandon the formula."
"The whole House will be keenly aware of the country’s difficult financial situation, and both sides of the House accept that we have a substantial structural deficit, which must be brought down. The Government have had to take difficult decisions throughout the public sector, including imposing a two-year pay freeze on public sector workers earning more than £21,000. Hon. Members must now decide whether their constituents would welcome Parliament exempting itself from that policy and thus insulating itself from decisions that are affecting households throughout the country, or whether, as I believe, the public expect their elected representatives to be in step with what is being required of other public servants. I believe that it is right for us, as Members of Parliament, to forgo the pay increase that the current formula would have produced."
Among the speeches made by MPs was the following powerful contribution from Conservative MP, James Arbuthnot, which I reproduce here in its entirety:
"I have never before spoken in a Members’ salary debate; I trust I will never have to again. Today we have been debating what the armed forces will be doing in Libya. As Chair of the Select Committee on Defence—albeit not speaking on behalf of that Committee—I have only one point to make. For the armed forces to receive no pay rise and for politicians to receive a pay rise would be just so unacceptable in the country that we could not possibly think of allowing it to happen tonight."