Scottish Parliament Salaries and Allowances

– in the Scottish Parliament at 4:22 pm on 21st March 2002.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 4:22 pm, 21st March 2002

The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-2919, in the name of John Young, on the Scottish Parliament salaries scheme and the Scottish parliamentary party leaders' allowances scheme. There are two amendments to the motion.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative 4:29 pm, 21st March 2002

At the outset, I make it clear that I speak on behalf of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, not on behalf of the Conservative group or any other political entity.

All members know that, in this debate, we will discuss the Parliament salaries scheme and the party leaders' allowances scheme. The two proposals that are before Parliament would give effect to new salaries for members and ministers based on the recent report of the Senior Salaries Review Board and would provide for the leaders of the two main non-Executive parties to receive an additional allowance.

I should make it clear that the SPCB's role today is to facilitate the debate. The SPCB has not taken a view on the salary levels; we consider that to be a matter for Parliament. Whatever is decided today, the SPCB will ensure that the arrangements for it are implemented.

I will explain briefly the background to the salaries proposal that is before the Parliament. Before the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Office commissioned the Senior Salaries Review Board to undertake an initial review of salaries for members and ministers. The SSRB's recommendations formed the basis of the Scotland Act 1998 (Transitory and Transitional Provisions) (Salaries and Allowances) Order 1999, which was passed at Westminster.

One of the report's recommendations was that a further review should be undertaken within three years. The SSRB considered that, with the experience of the Parliament's having been in existence, it would be in a better position to assess salary levels more accurately. On 8 June last year, the Presiding Officer and the then First Minister jointly commissioned the SSRB to undertake such a review, and the board's recommendations were published on 18 December 2001.

The SSRB's initial review pegged MSP salaries to 86.5 per cent of MP salaries. However, with MPs receiving additional pay in April 1999 and again in June 2001, MSP salaries fell to 82 per cent of MP salaries. In its report, the SSRB considered that, without some increase in salaries, MSPs would fall further behind members at Westminster. The board also considered that, with the rapid development of the Parliament, there had been an increase in the job weight of MSPs. It concluded that MSP salaries should be set at 87.5 per cent of MP salaries.

I offer those comments as a factual summary of the outcome of the review and the report. It should also be remembered that members do not work an eight-hour day; their working day can be considerably longer than that. Few members present would disagree with that observation.

The salary proposal makes provision for members to receive from 1 April an annual salary of £48,228, which is 87.5 per cent of what an MP will receive.

Today members are in the uncomfortable position of having to vote on their own salaries. We all accept that that cannot continue and that this should be the last time that it happens. However, under the Scotland Act 1998, Parliament cannot remove its discretion entirely; at the moment, the decision cannot be delegated to someone else. For that reason, the motion would confer on the SPCB the function of deciding salary levels for members and ministers. It is proposed that any future annual increases for members will be based on changes in Westminster salaries, to keep the linkage of 87.5 per cent. The same percentage increase will be made to ministerial salaries, in order to retain the linkage. It is likely that that mechanism will work for a considerable number of years and that no changes will be needed.

At the same time, it is recognised that Scottish circumstances could change in the future. In such circumstances, it might not be appropriate to retain the automatic linkage to Westminster salaries. For that reason, the proposal clearly places a responsibility on the SPCB first to review and then to implement any future pay changes, not only for members, but for ministers. That is important. When undertaking a review, the corporate body will be required to take appropriate advice on salary levels from outside bodies or individuals before implementing salary changes. That is a key point. The corporate body will also have to have regard to such advice.

On the party leaders' allowance scheme, members will be aware that an additional recommendation of the SSRB was that the leader of the main non-Executive party should receive a salary of just over £32,000 in addition to their member's salary. I should make it clear that during the review neither the leader of the SNP nor anyone else argued for such a salary increase. What was argued was that party leaders should be provided with an allowance to support them in carrying out the extra duties that they have as parliamentary party leaders. That includes their role as party spokespersons.

The proposal on a party leaders' allowance scheme therefore provides that those qualifying party leaders of parties that are represented by 30 or more members in the Parliament shall receive an annual allowance of up to £21,000. The proposal extends the provision to the leaders of non-Executive parties that are represented in the Parliament by between 15 and 29 members—such a leader will receive an annual allowance of up to £11,000. I should make it clear that no work of a party-political nature can be undertaken in connection with party conferences and election campaigns using that money. The payment of such allowances will be transparent and all expenditure must be receipted and will be published along with information on the general allowances scheme.

I am not sure whether you wish me to move the motion at this point, Presiding Officer.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

You should simply move the motion, Mr Young.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

I will now move the motion. I move that the Parliament, in exercise—

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

It is not necessary to read the motion out, as it appears in the business bulletin. You should simply move the motion.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative

I was advised that it might have to be read out, but I shall simply move the motion and trust that everyone knows what it says.

I move,

That the Parliament—

(a) (i) in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 81(5)(b) of the Scotland Act 1998, confers functions as specified in the Scottish Parliament Salaries Scheme (SP Paper 554) on the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body;

(ii) approves the Scheme; and

(b) approves the Scottish Parliament Party Leaders' Allowances Scheme (SP Paper 555); and

(c) directs the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to pay on and after 1 April 2002 the salaries and allowances stated in the Scottish Parliamentary Salaries Scheme and Scottish Parliament Party Leaders' Allowances Scheme.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party 4:36 pm, 21st March 2002

I should make it clear that I am speaking in a personal capacity this afternoon. I begin by paying tribute to the business managers of the Parliament, who have had the difficult, if not impossible, task of trying to bring the salaries issue to the chamber this afternoon. I am sure that that process has not been made any easier by my amendment. I am sorry for that, but one sometimes has to do what one believes to be right. I felt that it was important to give members a choice today. My amendment does that by proposing an inflation-only pay rise instead of a 13.5 per cent pay rise. That is the only credible option, given that Tommy Sheridan's amendment is, quite frankly, a distraction from the real debate.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

No, I will not.

My reasons for lodging the amendment are simple. First, I do not believe that we should be voting at all on our own salaries. That is a hideous position to be in—I share John Young's sentiment on that—and I hope that we will avoid it in future years.

Secondly, I cannot vote for something that I am unable to defend in public and I cannot defend receiving a pay rise that is four times the pay rise of a nurse or equivalent to the annual income of many pensioners.

Thirdly, and most important, I do not believe that voting for the proposed pay rise will do anything to help to build trust and respect between the Scottish public and their Parliament. We should pay attention to the public mood on the issue. A poll today said that 99 per cent of the public thought that we should not accept the pay rise. We should listen to the views of the public.

Let Westminster MPs justify to the public why they should get paid more when they do less. That is an issue for them. I support parity, as long as it involves a pay cut for Westminster MPs. The issue is a question of political judgment about what is sensible and in the best interests of this Parliament at this time. I urge members to support my amendment.

I move amendment S1M-2919.1, to insert after "the Scheme":

"subject to the Scheme being amended as follows: in paragraph 2(1) leave out '£48,228' and insert '£42,918', and in paragraph 5 leave out from 'as specified' to end and insert 'in accordance with an index determined by the Parliamentary corporation.'"

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 4:38 pm, 21st March 2002

I am sure that I was not the only member who received a Christmas card from the Lanarkshire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust branch of Unison. That Christmas card had a poignant message. It said:

"Low pay is not just for Christmas—it affects us all year!"

It was signed

"On behalf of: all the forgotten, ignored and low paid NHS ancillary staff", most of whom are essential public service workers in our hospitals and none of whom was involved in the so-called independent Senior Salaries Review Board—neither, of course, were any of the 200,000 poor pensioners or lone parents in Scotland.

"Low pay is not just for Christmas", says the card, which points out that the minimum wage in our country is £4.10 an hour. The basic ancillary wage in hospitals in Scotland is £4.34 an hour.

My amendment would set new standards for politics and politicians in Scotland. It is absolutely right that politicians should be paid a decent wage and that we should not leave politics only to the wealthy. However, in setting wages for ourselves, we should base them on the reality of life for a large number of people in Scotland rather than on the wages of the tiny minority who receive similar wages to ours.

I thank the Scottish Parliament information centre for carrying out research for me for the debate. The research shows that 882,000 Scots exist on an income of less than £10,000 a year, that 1.8 million Scots exist on an income of less than £20,000 a year and that the average gross annual wage of full-time employees in Scotland is £21,110 a year. If professional occupations, associate professional and technical occupations and craft and related occupations are combined, an average skilled wage of £25,000 a year is reached. That is a decent wage. There is no need for a sackcloth or Jesus-sandals existence on £25,000 a year. Some 75 per cent of Scots earn less than that wage and 95 per cent of Scots earn less than MSPs' current wage. The poll that was conducted by "Scotland Today" and to which Shona Robison referred was not scientific. However, it is worth making the point that, of 4,779 calls, 71 people believed that MSPs deserved the proposed wage rise and 4,708 said that they did not—that is a majority of 99 per cent against the rise.

That we are already overpaid is bad enough, but to recommend a 13.5 per cent wage increase is an insult to public service workers who have been asked to accept a 3 per cent increase and to tighten their belts. It is an insult to those pensioners who are struggling to survive and were asked to accept an extra £5, as well as to that army of carers throughout Scotland who have been asked to accept an extra 70p.

It is time that we set politicians' wages at the average wage of skilled workers in Scotland. That would exert intolerable pressure on the even more grossly overpaid MPs in Westminster to bring salaries into line with ordinary men and women, whom we are supposed to represent. I ask members to support my amendment and to vote to raise the level of respect for MSPs rather than the level of salaries for MSPs.

I move amendment S1M-2912.2, to leave out from first "; and" to end and insert:

"subject to the Scheme being amended as follows: in paragraph 1(1) leave out 'any index of prices or earnings' and insert 'Retail Price Index', in paragraph 2(1) leave out '£48,228' and insert '£25,000'; in paragraph 3(1)(a) leave out '£36,240' and insert '£10,000'; in paragraph 3(1)(b) leave out '£22,699' and insert '£7,000'; in paragraph 5 leave out from 'as specified' to end and insert 'by applying the percentage increase in the index'; in paragraph 7(1) leave out from 'determine' to end and insert 'recommend to the Parliament the salaries payable, and it shall be for the Parliament to approve, amend or reject any or all of the salaries recommended' ; leave out paragraphs 7(2) to 7(6), and in the Schedule leave out '£69,861' and insert '£15,000', leave out '£47,349' and insert '£15,000', leave out '£34,237' and insert '£15,000', leave out '£36,240' and insert '£10,000' and leave out '£22,699' and insert '£7,000'; and

(b) does not approve the Scottish Parliament Party Leaders' Allowances Scheme (SP Paper 555); and

(c) directs the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to pay on and after 1 April 2002 the salaries stated in the Scottish Parliamentary Salaries Scheme."

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 4:43 pm, 21st March 2002

I am surprised to find myself speaking at this stage of the debate, but I will briefly take the opportunity to say something, as I was one of the business managers involved in preparing the proposals that are before us today.

One reason why we were motivated to ensure that the combination of proposals was made is the erosion in salaries in relation to Westminster since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, as has been mentioned. It is universally agreed in the Parliament that it is highly inappropriate that we should have to vote on our salaries. Finding a means whereby that should not have to happen again was seen as a priority. A scheme was agreed to redress the relationship between our salaries and those at Westminster by establishing the 87.5 per cent principle. The scheme was also designed to pass responsibility for further consideration of salaries into the hands of the corporate body so that MSPs would never again be required to face such a decision.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative

No. Not at this stage.

I am suggesting that it is appropriate to move on those lines because I believe that it is the responsibility of Parliament to deal with the anomaly in which we find ourselves. All parties are now selecting candidates for the next elections to the Parliament and it is our responsibility to ensure that future candidates know what the remuneration is before they commit themselves to standing. Members of this first session of the Scottish Parliament must take responsibility and ensure that members in subsequent sessions will not have to suffer the indignity that the Parliament has had to suffer today.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 4:45 pm, 21st March 2002

We all find the subject very difficult and in no way do I criticise any member who comes to a different conclusion from mine.

After a lot of slithering, I have come to the following conclusion. We are fully entitled to the increase. Indeed, there is a good argument that we are entitled to more, because the differential between MPs and us is not acceptable.

I put the following argument to members for their consideration. We are in the unique position that we fix our own salaries. In my view, and that of many other members, the gulf between the better paid and the worst paid in this country is increasing and is unacceptable. We could make a gesture. Although we are entitled to the salary, as we work for it and we were allocated it, we could say that we would go for a rise only in line with inflation. That would be a gesture to help the lower paid and to shame the high-paid cats who pay themselves huge bonuses.

Photo of Irene McGugan Irene McGugan Scottish National Party 4:46 pm, 21st March 2002

I speak in support of Shona Robison's amendment. I am aware of the hard work and long hours that every member contributes and I am aware that elsewhere, whether in another political forum or even in the private sector, far higher remuneration would be available and remitted. However, we are in the new Scottish Parliament, not anywhere else.

It is also clear that the reason why we all sought election was for public service, not for private profit, irrespective of what some sections of the press may think or other individuals may imply. We are here to serve Scotland and to listen to Scotland.

Public service in our country is currently a matter of political controversy. That is a debate for another day, but it is clear that we should not distance ourselves from the public sector and those who work in it—people such as nurses, for example, who we argue are undervalued and underpaid. We should not reward ourselves in a manner and at a rate that we are unwilling or unable to provide to others in Scotland.

The time will come, as it should in an oil-rich country such as Scotland, when we can legitimately and properly reward those in the public sector—a time when we can pay proper salaries and not provide platitudes. That time must come soon; it is long overdue. However, the time is not now. Our comparators are not in the private sector but in the public sector. We correctly pillory abuse of shareholder moneys by private sector bosses and we rightly condemn low pay in the public sector.

We can and should address our salaries, but as part of re-establishing the merit and worth of the public sector. We must defer to the sensitivities of others, particularly our colleagues in the public sector. We should use Shona Robison's amendment to re-establish the role and the importance of public services. We will do so not by making ourselves an exception to the rule, but by changing the rule for everyone.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 4:49 pm, 21st March 2002

I will vote for the SSRB's recommendation, but not because I particularly think that I am worth that amount of money. That is not what I am being asked to vote on; I am being asked to vote on the rate for the job, as agreed by an independent tribunal, which considered the matter with the agreement of the chamber. It is strange that now, when some members are sensitive about public opinion, they say that the valuation should be set aside. What will happen if an independent tribunal says that nurses, doctors, policemen or other public servants should receive an inflation-busting wage increase at some point in the future, because they have fallen behind their comparators in the public sector? It was agreed that the initial wage level for members of this Parliament was not commensurate with what members would get through service in the Westminster Parliament. There is a parallel in those situations.

Are we to say to a future arbitration body that we do not agree with its decision? The public are sensitive about the train drivers' demands for an inflation-busting increase that would raise their earnings above the average industrial wage. If we listen to the public, as my colleague Shona Robison urges, they might say that they prefer Tommy Sheridan's proposal. In that case, what will we say to the train drivers?

If we depart from the time-honoured tradition of paying the rate for the job, we will become involved in hypocrisy and double-dealing. Although I understand Donald Gorrie's wish to make a gesture towards people in the public sector who are underpaid, this issue is not gesture politics—it is the real thing. Whether members like it or not, they will have to vote every year for a budget, which will include our salaries and the salary of every person who works in the Parliament. The issue cannot be dodged. If members agree to either of the amendments, we will have to go through the procedure again and the time will never be right to set a wage that is almost what we think we should receive.

I believe—I know that most members agree—that our wages should be equal to those of MPs in Westminster. [Applause.] I am glad that that meets with approval. However, that is not what we will vote for tonight. Members are concerned about public opinion, but they must set aside all consideration of the Scottish Television opinion poll, because if it had asked, "Do you think all MSPs should be beheaded?" I think that 99 per cent of people would have said yes.

My final point is about events in my office today. As members know, I have spoken in various places around the town today, some of which were draughty and cold. People know that I support the motion—I do not support the exact figures, but I support the principle that the rate for the job should be determined by independent arbitration—and although I have been inundated with faxes, e-mails and phone calls in support of my comments about Alain Baxter, not one member of the public has contacted my office about members' pay.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 4:53 pm, 21st March 2002

I am sure that, for Ms MacDonald, the public of Scotland would make an exception on the beheading. I do not intend to make a long speech, but a couple of points must be put on the record. That obligation falls to me as one of the business managers to whom Shona Robison referred.

None of us wants to take part in the debate. Colleagues from all parties would agree that the topics that we should discuss are jobs, health, education, transport and crime. However, the motion was lodged by the SPCB and has been the subject of discussion among the four main political parties. The motion is based on an independent review by the SSRB and, if passed, will mean that today will be the last time that individual MSPs are required to vote on their pay. That is the crucial point.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent

I am rather puzzled about why we are repeatedly hearing the mantra that things will be much better next time because the issue will not be publicly debated in Parliament. Surely next time MSPs will be accused of sneaking through a large wage rise. Is not it better to have a debate?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

If Dorothy-Grace Elder's premise were correct, I would probably agree with her, but it is not correct. The motion will mean that in future the SPCB will have an independent review of our salaries, the result of which will guide our salary levels. If the review recommends a decrease in our salaries, we will have to accept that. That is why I support that element of the motion.

If either of the amendments are agreed to, the effect will be different. Shona Robison's amendment would give the corporate body the opportunity to decide which index our salaries should be pegged at. I do not think that that is what members want.

The motion takes annual increases out of our hands altogether and links us—rightly, I think—with the closest group of politicians that it could: our colleagues at Westminster. If, in future, the corporate body thinks that we have got the level wrong, it is open to it to commission an independent review and to determine how the annual increase should be made, based on the outcome of that review.

We need a period in which the Parliament and its members can concentrate on the work in hand without the diversion of what we should be paid. The motion facilitates that and it is for individual members to decide how they want to proceed. For the record, I confirm that all members of the Executive parties are free to vote as they see fit.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 4:56 pm, 21st March 2002

I will not support the motion for two reasons. First, there is a desperate need for the Parliament to rebuild confidence among the general public. Any member who has chapped on doors recently and engaged with the general public will realise that there is extreme cynicism out there and a feeling that politicians are in it only for the money. Voting through a 13 per cent increase in our pay would reinforce that viewpoint.

Secondly, and more important, the SSRB premise is that MSPs are doing only 87.5 per cent of the work of our colleagues at Westminster. No one in the chamber believes that. If we support the motion, we accept that principle, in which none of us believes. I ask members to reject the SSP's recommendation, to vote for the inflation-linked rise and to return to the subject at another time.

Photo of John Young John Young Conservative 4:57 pm, 21st March 2002

I shall be brief. As I said in my opening remarks, the role of the corporate body has been to facilitate the debate. A number of interesting comments have been made during the debate and, in the past 15 minutes, I received a note posing a question.

The question was whether, if the motion and the amendments were disagreed to, the existing salaries order would remain in force—that is, whether members would continue to receive a salary. The uprating mechanism in the existing order is based on senior civil service pay mechanisms that will be replaced on 1 April. That means that members' salaries will not be uprated until such time as the Parliament agrees a motion on salaries. The same applies to the salaries of the Presiding Officer, his deputies and the ministers.

If the motion and amendments were disagreed to, another consequence would be that no party leaders' allowance scheme would be introduced. I mention that purely to make members aware of the facts. As I said at the beginning of the debate, I am speaking on behalf of the corporate body. It is up to members to make the decision—it is not up to me or other members of the corporate body. Whatever decision members arrive at, it is our duty to implement it.