UK & World News

  • 12 December 2013, 8:43

MPs' Pay Rises: Watchdog Defends 11% Rise

MPs deserve a "one-off uplift" in pay, the chair of the parliamentary watchdog has insisted, as he vows to push ahead with controversial plans to push up salaries.

By insisting that "reform is long overdue", Sir Ian Kennedy is placing himself on a collision course with the Prime Minister.

David Cameron slammed the idea of an 11% pay rise for MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday, even hinting that he might scrap the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority if it did not reconsider the proposal.

In what is becoming an increasingly heated debate Sir Ian has now hit back by defending his plans, which will be published today.

"We were given this job of tackling this issue independently for a reason. You are not independent if all you do is bend to the will of the government or the Commons," he writes in today's Times.

Sir Ian admitted this is a "troublesome issue" and that some of MPs' benefits are too generous, including pensions, resettlement payments and some expenses. Those will be tackled, he revealed.

"But the pay. The interest so often comes back to pay. We are in no doubt -MPs' pay needs a one-off uplift. Whatever measure you choose - including international comparisons and historic trends - they all lead to the same conclusion: MPs' pay has fallen behind. It needs to catch up."

Ipsa chief executive Andrew McDonald said the changes proposed to the package MPs receive will "taken as a whole, not cost the taxpayer a penny more".

Mr McDonald added that it was "research" and "not shouting" that was important. The decisions had been based on quality evidence and a consultation that included hundreds of responses from the public, focus groups and radio call-ins, he added.

"The package we will announce we will be exactly that: a package. It will be about more than pay." Expenses will be tightened up and MPs will have to provide an annual account of their work to constituents, he said.

The increase in pay will be outweighed by other reforms meaning overall there would be no extra cost to the taxpayer.

Mr McDonald insisted that people would understand the nuances. "The public view is more sophisticated than many commentators have given them credit for in the past few days," he said.

After this one-off action, a 7,600 salary increase to 74,000, MPs' pay increases will fall in line with the rest of the country, he added.

But Sir Ian is under pressure from Mr Cameron and his Labour and Lib Dem counterparts, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg.

They are all concerned about public outrage about a rise that would come into effect in May 2015 - as all other public sector workers have seen their pay capped at 1%.

Mr Cameron said: "First, the idea of an 11% pay rise in one year at a time of pay restraint is simply unacceptable.

"Secondly, Ipsa do need to think again and unless they do so, I don't think anyone will want to rule anything out. No-one wants to go back to MPs voting on their own pay but we have got to have a process and an outcome that can build public confidence.

"Third, in my view, I think this should all be accompanied with a cut in the cost of politics."

When pressed on whether the Prime Minister was suggesting scrapping the parliamentary watchdog, Downing Street responded that Mr Cameron was "not ruling anything out". Another option could be to strip Ipsa of its powers to set MPs' pay.

The recommended pay rise will be subject to a statutory review by Ipsa after the 2015 General Election.

But a Downing Street source said: "There's no final decision until 2015. A statutory review is planned after the 2015 election to look at whatever is published ... so probably best to let that process go forward. But I think the PM has been crystal clear what his view is."

However, Ed Miliband called for an urgent meeting with Mr Cameron, Nick Clegg and Sir Ian, to prevent the pay rise ahead of that.

:: Watch Sky News live on television, on Sky channel 501, Virgin Media channel 602 and Freeview channel 82.