Britain's Commons votes itself 26% raise Prime minister, members of Cabinet get big boosts

July 12, 1996|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Britain's nurses and school teachers have to take low pay raises, but not the members of the House of Commons.

While nearly every other public worker makes do with a 3 percent increase, the politicians in Parliament's lower house voted themselves a 26 percent wage boost.

At least they had the good political sense to wait until near midnight Wednesday before voting on the package.

"We're being portrayed as a bunch of Dickensian money-grabbers," Labor's Dale Campbell-Savours said.

In their dash for cash, the pols turned their backs on a proposed 3 percent pay rise backed by Prime Minister John Major and Labor leader Tony Blair.

By a vote of 279-154, they went for the big boost recommended by an independent salaries review board.

The 651 members of the House of Commons get a raise from $52,831 to $66,650. Cabinet ministers and Blair receive even bigger boosts, while Major gets an increase to $157,413. After the election, the prime minister's pay hits $221,650, more than the base salary of the president of the United States.

Pension payouts will be based on the new salaries, a measure costing Britain's treasury nearly $38 million.

The politicians did vote to cut their mileage allowances by about a third. But that won't keep them from filling up the gas tanks in their Jaguars and Range Rovers.

"MPs take the cash," trumpeted the Guardian. "Members tuck into their midnight feast," roared the Independent.

Britain's Parliament has sunk in esteem over the years, after a rash of political and sexual scandals.

Wages are also a contentious issue in a society where pay envy is often a national obsession. Highly paid authors, bosses of privatized utilities, even lottery winners recently have suffered some ridicule for striking it rich.

This year, most public-sector workers have settled for 3 percent raises. High-profile, one-day strikes involving London's subway drivers and postal workers have also focused attention on salaries.

Tony Newton, the leader of the Commons, said the House had to answer whether it could "ask for restraint in others without exercising restraint itself."

Newton's plea was quickly dismissed.

Sir David Mitchell, a Conservative, said 130 Commons officials were better paid than the members.

"We even get less than the executive chef," he said, adding that the purchasing power of his salary had not changed since his arrival at the House of Commons in 1964.

Labor's Peter Shore also supported the proposal, saying a member's work had "become a full-time job. I believe we should be paid accordingly."

The members should have plenty of time to enjoy their pay increase. The House of Commons goes on summer recess from July 25 to Oct. 14.

Pub Date: 7/12/96

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