Questioning the Role and Remuneration of MPs

001Next year, Members of Parliament are to have their current £67,060 PA salary (plus expenses of course) increased by a hefty 11% at a time when ordinary people in Britain are being squeezed by benefit cuts, frozen wages and an increase in the price of living.

This begs the question as to ‘what do they do for this tremendous remuneration?’

Making the question even more pertinent is the news that Conservative Chief Whip, Michael Gove advised his MPs to not bother attending parliament on Thursdays, as no significant debates or votes would be held and this time could be better spent campaigning for re-election in 2015.

This underlines the seeming unimportance of actually attending parliamentary business as evidenced by the sparse attendance at recent votes about unimportant issues like the Living Wage and a Constitutional Settlement for Scotland.

Of course, this stagnation of parliamentary business has been caused by the extended five year parliament inflicted on the country by the Coalition government and the breakdown in relations between the coalition partners in the run up to the General Election. However, such a failure of the system to simply operate at all surely draws the question of what the job of an MP actually entails and how much they should be paid to do it

Is anybody worth £60K PA a year for spending two and a half days at their primary place of employment?

I believe I am not alone in feeling that MPs can get away with doing too little, are not especially obligated to represent their constituents and stand to gain too much by towing the party line and adhering to corporate interests.

First, let’s have a look at what MPs are supposed to do and how much they are paid, then I will suggest some reforms based on the idea that MP’s should be public servants, who are attracted to the role of government by the desire to govern the country well rather than to accrue individual power, prestige or wealth.   Furthermore the idea that government should be about governing the country well, to the benefit of it’s citizens rather than a mechanism by which public money is funneled into private hands.

The following information is copied verbatim from http://www.parliament.uk

The Job

The UK public elects Members of Parliament (MPs) to represent their interests and concerns in the House of Commons. MPs are involved in considering and proposing new laws, and can use their position to ask government ministers questions about current issues.

 MPs split their time between working in Parliament itself, working in the constituency that elected them and working for their political party.

Some MPs from the governing party (or parties) become government ministers with specific responsibilities in certain areas, such as Health or Defence.

When Parliament is sitting (meeting), MPs generally spend their time working in the House of Commons. This can include raising issues affecting their constituents, attending debates and voting on new laws.

Most MPs are also members of committees, which look at issues in detail, from government policy and new laws, to wider topics like human rights.

In their constituency, MPs often hold a ‘surgery’ in their office, where local people can come along to discuss any matters that concern them.

MPs also attend functions, visit schools and businesses and generally try to meet as many people as possible. This gives MPs further insight and context into issues they may discuss when they return to Westminster.

The Pay

The basic annual salary for an MP from 1 April 2014 is £67,060 MPs also receive expenses to cover the costs of running an office, employing staff, having somewhere to live in London and in their constituency, and travelling between Parliament and their constituency.

So that’s what they are supposed to do and how pay is set at the moment, although it is due to increase by 11% to £74,436 in 2015. To restore public confidence in MPs and bring some more transparency and accountability to their work, I would propose the following…

Proposed Reform

Schedule –

MPs should be required to spend at least three days a week in parliament, either attending the chamber for debates & votes or engaging in committee work. This should be scheduled in such a way that the chamber is as full as possible for all votes and debates.

The remaining two days of the week should be spent in the constituency, with at least one day (or two half days) spent in surgery and the rest attending community functions and assisting constituents. MPs would also be expected to give up time at weekends on to attend to constituency business.

Obviously the increased responsibility of cabinet ministers will require extra time to be spent at parliament or on foreign visits – it is not right that their constituents should lack connection to their MP, so cabinet ministers would be allowed to appoint proxies from their staff to attend surgeries and vote in the Commons in their absence.

Pay – 

While it is regularly mooted that MPs should be reduced to the minimum or average wage to increase their empathy with the common people, I feel this is a misguided notion as this would further make being an MP the preserve of the already independently wealthy, which is going to do nothing. However, I feel that MPs wages should be tied to the average wage which currently stands at approximately £26’500.

However, it is also true that power without proportional remuneration breeds corruption so I believe that MP’s standard wage should be double the average wage which would currently amount to around £53’000 a year (a 21% pay cut on current rates…) scaling up for ministers etc.

Expenses –

The ongoing public horror at the revelations of how much is spent on expenses and what it is spent on shows that the process is in need of severe reform. I believe the notion of expenses can be handled thusly.

Second Homes: A dormitory for MPs will be built within cycling ride of parliament allowing non-London based MPs to have a place to sleep, wash and work while at parliament. The dormitory will offer basic eating facilities, either in a canteen or allowing MPs to cook for themselves.

Travel Expenses: MPs will be provided with free public transport cards which allow them to travel between parliament and their constituencies in a timely, economic and environmentally sustainable fashion.

Office & Staff: A specific allowance will be granted to MPs for the purpose of running their office and hiring staff.

Constituency Home: I should think that with a guaranteed income of £50k, the MPs should have no problem securing a mortgage on a property in their constituency, and thus no further expenses are required.

Checks & Balances –

MPs should be made to remember that they are public servants. They should not be allowed to ignore the wishes of their constituents, and abuse their position by seeking to gain financially. Usually they do this by representing corporate interests via their position of power.

Recall: Therefore, I suggest that the Recall of MPs bill as proposed by Zac Goldsmith and eloquently supported be Caroline Lucas, yet defeated in a commons vote should be implemented. Indeed I believe that the terms of the bill should be strengthened to make it easier for dissatisfied constituents to recall their MP and force a by-election.

Maybe then they’ll remember to vote on things like the Bedroom Tax or Living Wage?

Conflict of Interest: It is concerning how many MPs own shares and/or have non executive directorships in companies who then go on to benefit from government legislation – especially where privatisation or the handing out of corporate licenses are concerned.

If MPs are supposed to be public servants, acting in the best interests of the people and the country then such a conflict of interest cannot be allowed to continue.

As such, MPs should be forbidden from holding an extra-parliamentary business interests while in power and should be barred from holding directorships in companies who may have benefitted from government legislation while they were in power (perhaps limited to certain industries) for a period after leaving office, say five or ten years.

Conclusion – 

Of course, all such suggestions have roughly zero chance of being put through any time soon as MPs quite like earning lots, being able to not spend much of those earnings as they can claim most everything on expenses and swanning about in fancy cars to their taxpaper funded home in London while they earn exponentially more by awarding their friends fracking licenses.

Still, it bears saying that it doesn’t take RADICAL reform (i.e. massive change to the role or remuneration of an MP, merely clarification and control) to really clean up the way MPs do business, make sure they do the business they are elected to do and don’t abuse the position for personal gain.

Postscript: House of Lords

It also bears discussing the expensive, archaic and undemocratic anachronism which currently serves as the UK’s upper chamber of Parliament, supposedly reflecting and amending the bills passed by the (relatively) democratically elected House of Commons.

However, the Lords is in fact a collection of hereditary peers, largely outnumbered by life peers who have achieved their position by being nominated by the then-Prime Minister, usually for services rendered (i.e. donations) to the government of the day. This is another example of how corporate money and inherited wealth skews the political process and leaves the interests of common people unrepresented.

I would propose a elected Senate, with each parliamentary region (as used in the EU elections) providing three senators to serve nine year terms on a staggered basis (i.e. a new senator would be elected every three years, while in the initial election the first three candidates would be elected with the candidate gaining the most votes getting the initial nine year term, second serving for six years and third place serving for three years before having to seek re-election.)

The purpose of such a senate would be to ensure that a Written Constitution (another constitutional issue I feel needs to be addressed) is upheld and that parliament was indeed acting the interests of both country and people rather than corporate or party political interests.

Therefore, the senators would have to eschew all party loyalties and would be required to submit to the same conditions as MPs regarding conflicts of interest, while receiving similar remuneration.

Senator’s election expenses would be strictly controlled to allow ordinary people to stand for election on the same basis as the individually wealthy, with the senator’s character and intelligence being their primary asset, rather than which party they stand for or how many billboards they can afford. The idea being that people of good character and community standing are as qualified to regulate parliament as industrialists and media tycoons…

A second chamber of only 36 members seems exclusive, but given the Senate’s limited powers and reflective mandate, this is the ideal antidote to the bloated and undemocratic Lords.

Anyways, just an idea.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s