Members' and Ministers' Pay and Allowances
Mr Christopher Chope (Southampton, Itchen)
It is with considerable trepidation that I rise to make my maiden speech in this controversial debate. As I know that there are many right hon. and hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate, I shall cut short my remarks about the city of Southampton and my predecessor, Mr. Bob Mitchell. I pay tribute to Bob Mitchell, who served the Itchen constituency so well over many years. I know that the people of Southampton feel strongly that he represented their interests regardless of whether they happened to support his party. I have a difficult job ahead of me in trying to emulate his achievements as a constituency Member of Parliament.
Yesterday I received a desk and a telephone, and my secretary now has a telephone. That being so, I have much to celebrate. It is appropriate that Members should count their blessings. I count mine as someone who was elected to the House for the first time on 9 June, for I had not necessarily expected to be elected. There are about 3 million who are unemployed and what we say in this debate will be heeded by the unemployed and by the many outside the House who have made greater sacrifices than some of us are prepared to make tonight.
I ask the House to accept the motion of the Leader of the House, which I consider to be preferable to the amendment of my right hon. Friend ithe Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann). In all the circumstances, it would be reasonable to take a decision for just one year. It would be a mistake to link our salaries and payments with those in the Civil Service, because the Government would have a vested interest in fixing the remuneration of civil servants and we would automatically be t.ed in with them. Why should judges and admirals not be tied in with them at present? Any notion of Members being tied in with civil servants' salaries and pay scales is wrong, and for that reason I should find substantial difficulty in supporting the amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton. I hope that the Leader of the House will he able to persuade the House to vote for the substantive motion in an unamended form.
We must set an example to those outside the House in recognition of the considerable feeling that Members do not reflect the feelings of ordinary people. I know that many in Southampton have made substantial sacrifices to enable Britain to get back on its economic feet. Last year hon. Members accepted a 4 per cent. increase in their remuneration, and I should like to think that they set a valuable example to the country. At that time inflation was running ahead of 4 per cent. and now we are all delighted that it has declined to 3·7 per cent. Over the next few years we have a chance of making Britain a low inflation country. I hope that we shall not do anything tonight that will jeopardise our chance of setting an example for Britain and for many other countries in the western world. The battle to reduce inflation and to keep it under control is vital, and the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House are most in keeping with what can be afforded.
I wish to have the freedom in this Parliament to say publicly to those involved in pay bargaining that, although they may think it desirable that they should have pay increases, their firms and the country cannot afford them. Many of us said to pensioners during the election campaign that it was marvellous that they were going along with the rest of us and making sacrifices in the national interest. I said to pensioners in Southampton that a 3·7 per cent. pension increase, in line with inflation, was reasonable in the circumstances, although I, like many other hon. Members, would like them to get real rises in income. I do not see how we can vote ourselves real rises when we are not prepared to give them to pensioners and many others. Of course, the consequences of paying such rises would be devastating for the economy.
I was leader of Wandsworth council for three and a. half years and was, in effect, an employer of those who worked for the council. I believe that public sector workers are prepared to make sacrifices if a lead is given from the top. Many employees of Wandsworth council were priced out of their jobs, and we should set an example to them. We had difficult decisions to take in Wandsworth and we adopted the principle that councillors should set an example.
I remind hon. hon. Members that many councillors have a major responsibility for controlling inflation and ensuring that local government expenditure is kept under control. They receive a pittance compared with what hon. Members are paid. Often, they do not accept the special responsibility allowances or the full attendance allowances. Rates in Southampton are lower now than they were in 1976, and that achievement has been made possible only because of the considerable sacrifices made by local councillors.
I ask hon Members to think of other people, including those who run small businesses, work much longer hours than we do and often face greater risks for less reward. We were prepared to be paid £X last year, so why are we not prepared to be paid £X plus 4 per cent. in the coming year? If we were able to manage last year, surely we should be able to manage in the coming year. In so doing, we shall be setting the right tone for the difficult battles that lie ahead on public expenditure and the control of inflation. That is why I support the recommendations of the Leader of the House.