Monday, December 24, 2007

Another year, another pay demand by MPs

In December last year I wrote an open letter to the Members of the House of Commons as there was news that they were whining about how little they were paid (that's over £60,000 plus very generous expenses, not to mention the possibility of putting members of their own family on the salary list).

Another year, another pay demand by our MPs. The story and the accompanying storm broke yesterday when we found out that our so-called legislators (I'll come to that in a minute) are demanding a ten per cent pay rise, well above inflation level. I don't suppose that means a commensurate ten per cent cut in the average allowance of £134,000. No, I thought not.

After all, as the Mail on Sunday put it:
One reason for the big claim is that many Labour MPs fear they will lose their seats at the next Election - and want to boost their Commons pension rights before it is too late.
Terrific. All at our expense, too, gentle reader.

Today there are lots of stories such as this one about Gordon Brown opposing the proposals and calling MPs selfish. Most of us can think of other, less pleasant descriptions but that will do to start with.

There is a good deal of predictable whining about the police not getting the pay rise they want. As it happens, that argument leaves me cold. As the think-tank Reform explained:
Discussion over this year's police pay settlement should take into account the fact that, over the last twelve years, police pay has risen at twice the rate of inflation and by more than the average of the public sector and the private sector pay increases.
One cannot possibly argue that productivity has gone up with the same fantastic leap. Indeed, that is true about the public sector in general - money has been poured in, salaries have gone up, productivity stayed the same.

Back to MPs, however.

Inevitably, the blogosphere is also buzzing. Iain Dale, has come out on the MPs' side, as he usually does, arguing that
Surely we should pay our MPs at a level where few would actually be put off standing for Parliament. I'd like Parliament to be representative of a number of professions, but few people from those professions would think about standing for Parliament because they would have to take a pay drop. Relatively junior managers in industry or the public sector now command salaries in excess of what MPs earn. What message does it send out that we are happy to pay MPs the same as the Deputy Public Affairs Manager of an NHS Trust?
On the whole, few of those who commented on the blog agreed with Iain (Peter Luff MP being one of those who did in a particularly whinging comment), pointing out that junior managers in the private sector do not earn that much, cannot command those expenses and cannot employ members of their family. If the Deputy Public Affairs Manager of an NHS Trust is on the same salary (plus expenses?) then he/she is seriously overpaid.

Tim Worstall, on the other hand, is demanding that MPs' salaries should be cut or reduced to zero on the grounds of supply and demand. There are very many people who want to be MPs and there will be even if they do not get the salaries they do.

I am not sure I accept Tim's argument entirely, though it makes more sense than Iain's about paying MPs as much as they could get in the private sector. Let's face it, most of them are MPs because they could not get much more than their train fares in the private sector. We are not talking potential captains of industry, hard-working GPs or anything of the kind. We are talking about people who have gone from one political position to another with an odd interlude of outside employment where they displayed no ability whatsoever.

There are many reasons why people who can do other things would not want to be MPs and they do not have much to do with the money. Maybe the company one has to keep.

Besides, why would we want to skim talented people off the wealth-creating private sector and send them into the parasitical public one?

It is curious that those parallels with the private sector concentrate, however erroneously, only on the pay, never on productivity or other problems like going out of business because of high taxes and an impossible regulatory structure.

What would a firm in the private sector do if it found that seventy to eighty per cent of its work has gone somewhere else? It would institute major cutbacks and many people would be laid off. Yet with that proportion of our legislation coming from Brussels and MPs not being able to reject it and not even reading it most of the time, we have no cutbacks; nobody is laid off; and a ten percent salary rise is demanded. I bet when that is debated, we shall have the House full to the rafters, unlike the time there is a debate on, say, the fishing industry and its destruction.

A year ago I wrote:
What is it you do, ladies and gentlemen that would justify yet another pay rise? Do you legislate? Well, not in the eighty percent of the legislation that comes, one way or another from the European Union and is passed on the nod because you do not have the right to reject or amend it. Let's face it, you do not even bother to read most of it. There is a lot of material there, I agree, but it is you and your equally greedy predecessors, who made sure of this state of affairs.

Let us not forget, ladies and gentlemen, Members of the House of Commons, that a good deal of that legislation does not even pass through Parliament. It arrives in the shape of EU Regulations, which are directly applicable and are put into place by Statutory Instruments, which you know nothing about, or regulations created by quangos such as the Food Standards Agency.

What of the remaining twenty per cent of the legislation? Do you live up to the expectations of the people, whom you are supposed to represent? Do you read the legislative proposals or Green Papers or Bills? Do you realize how badly drafted many of the last are? It would appear not, as those badly drafted Bills wing their way through the House of Commons and it is only when the (unpaid) Members of the House of Lords start scrutinizing them, line by line, clause by clause (something you ought to do, ladies and gentlemen, Members of the House of Commons) that the full shoddiness or horror becomes clear.

It is not unknown for the Government to have to rush scores, even hundreds of amendments at a late stage, say Report, in the House of Lords, having not realized before what a mess the particular piece of legislation was. It is many years since the House of Commons has made any effort to scrutinize legislation with any attention. GPs who carried out their duties the way you do, ladies and gentlemen, would be struck of the Register of Medical Practitioners.
And a good deal more. I stand by every word of it. Cut their salaries in accordance with the work they have voluntarily abandoned.

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