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Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund

October 17, 2011

Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative): Although I do not agree with the final few words of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), I agree with much of the rest of what he said. If this was genuinely the last time that the House would ever consider these issues, I would be rejoicing and might even be entirely persuaded by what the Leader of the House said. He knows as well as I do that, if IPSA recommends a significant salary increase in advance of April 2013, the Government—perhaps even a Government with him still as Leader of the House—will introduce a two-line Bill to ensure that we do not vote on the proposal.

This is a crying shame: we got into this mess, going back 25 or 30 years, because Executives repeatedly interfered with salaries, general remuneration, pensions and expenses, and there seems to be no end in sight. I have not been reassured by what has been said. I have quite a lot of sympathy with what the Government are trying to achieve, but I would have even more sympathy if they had said, “This is IPSA’s responsibility. Let IPSA get on with it.” That was the position as we understood it when the bomb went off less than three years ago over the expenses row.

At the beginning of 2009—a somewhat different time—I wrote an article for the Daily Mail arguing that the disparity between public sector and private sector funded pensions had the makings of an enormous political controversy. I recognised that MPs would have to take a lead and that the public sector, which includes us, had to wake up to the reality of higher life expectancy and the unchallenged cost of unfunded pensions.

We must place on record some commonly misunderstood facts about our so-called brilliant pension scheme. We have quite a generous pension scheme, about which the hon. Members for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe) and for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) made important contributions. Compared with many other pension schemes, ours is well funded, but those who are on the 1/40ths scheme already pay a 11.9% contribution, which is considerably higher than the norm for other public sector pensions. Those facts never seem to be mentioned by hon. Members or the press when the issues are discussed.

I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough about the lesson to be learned from recent months: we might have hoped that the Executive would stop trying to pander to every whim of the press. Unfortunately, the motion seems to be a little more governed by tomorrow’s headlines than by the justice of the case. I say that with some regret, because I broadly agree that Members of Parliament should take a lead on the issue but should not pre-empt other discussions—that would be wrong, too, given the great difficulties the country will face.

I regret that, once again, the Government, like so many before them, have failed to grasp the nettle on MPs’ remuneration and to consider our salaries, expenses and pensions in the round, rather than disjointedly holding a debate every six or nine months and reducing our total remuneration at the margins.

Above all, the lesson that we ought to have learned from recent times is that we should leave this to an independent body. IPSA now, rightly, sets our rules. I understand some of the concerns about IPSA’s operation expressed by the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell). I have had some of my own concerns about it, as I am sure many hon. Members have, but it would be far better to leave IPSA to recommend an appropriate contribution, rather than have the sense of interference.

I go along with the motion. I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) that the amendment will not necessarily be pressed to a vote. We have a very important debate to follow, so I am glad to hear that, and I praise the Leader of the House for ensuring that we have a fairly full debate on Hillsborough. That debate is not just for Members of Parliament from Merseyside or south Yorkshire, where the terrible events took place; as a keen football fan, and the vice-chairman of the all-party football group, I think it very important that we hold that debate, and I sincerely hope that, after quick winding-up speeches, we can move on to it and put the issue we are discussing to one side. I hope—I speak more in hope than in expectation—that I shall never again have to speak in the House on any matters to do with MPs’ pensions, pay or expenses.