Sir George voted for restraint on MP's pay by supporting the Government and his own Party's front benches. He helped to vote down the pay rise recommended by Sir John Baker in favour of a lower one of 2.25%. He also voted against a series of catch-up payments of £650 per annum for three years.
"With the economy sliding into recession, and public sector workers having their wages restrained, this was not a time for MP's to go ahead with these increases."
In a subsequent debate, Sir George spoke and voted in favour of reform of MP's allowances - see below:
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): I want to contribute briefly to this debate because the Committee that I chair monitors the arrangements for allowances, and we therefore have an interest in the issues under discussion. I begin by thanking our three colleagues for the speed and efficiency with which they conducted their report. I broadly agree with the direction of travel, but there are some interface issues between the existing regimes and what is proposed that we need to tease out and to which I shall turn in a moment. Given the tight time scale and the complexity of the issues under debate, I can understand why this time it was not possible to involve a wider range of interests in the Committee’s conclusions. If we go round the course again, it might be better to take slightly more time to resolve some of the issues that remain unresolved and to deal with some of the anxieties that have been expressed in this debate.
My Committee supports proportionate measures that drive up standards and reduce the likelihood of colleagues falling foul of the rules. There is some evidence that over the years we have made significant progress in that regard. If one goes back a number of years, the principal causes of complaint were on matters such as the non-disclosure of interests and the acceptance of cash for activities such as questions and lobbying. Firm action by the House has dealt with those. More recently, the complaints have been about misuse of allowances, and they have formed a prominent part of my Committee’s work. We need the same robust approach to deal with those. The communications allowance is proving a fertile ground for complaints given the inevitably fine and not always clear line between a Member’s parliamentary and party political roles. I am glad that the MEC has accepted the implementation of my Committee’s recommendations on the communications allowance. I hope that that will reduce the risk of Members facing complaints about their publications, and I strongly commend the case for seeking pre-clearance from the Resources Department.
On accountability, we need to lead by example. Our arrangements should reflect best practice in the public and private sectors. That does not mean a hair shirt approach, but it does mean systems that are open and transparent about what we are reimbursed for and why, effectively administered and subject to independent audit. The MEC proposals move in the right direction, and I welcome that.
I want to make one general point and then put down two markers. The general point is this: having been Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges for some seven years, it is my view that the vast majority of Members are honest folk who did not become Members to enrich themselves but to do a useful job in public life. They genuinely do their best to abide by our rules, which are often complex and less than clear. If they break the rules, the consequences can be terminal, as we have seen. I know that not everyone outside will accept that view, but I believe it to be the case, and it should be said.
The first marker is that it is important, as we improve transparency and accountability, that the House’s arrangements for the independent investigation of complaints should not be compromised. My Committee would be concerned if the proposed practice oversight arrangements and the greater depth of external audit were to compromise the House’s arrangements for the investigation of complaints. I welcome the undertakings given earlier in this debate by the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) to consult the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and my Committee on the mechanics of implementing the relevant recommendations.
The second marker is this: as we look for greater accountability, we risk the regulatory pond becoming unduly crowded. Putting to one side the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which will have an ongoing interest in the issues that we debate, it seems likely that all the following bodies will have some direct interest in the practical operation of the revised arrangements: the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, my Committee, the Members Estimate Committee, the Speaker’s advisory panel, the Department of Resources, the National Audit Office and the practice assurance teams and whatever new Committee they report to. The risk is clearly one of over-supervision, which, rather than improving clarity and assurance, would have the contrary effect as those bodies trip over one another.
In conclusion, I welcome the Members Estimate Committee report, and the cautious welcome that it has received from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. I assure the House that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and my Committee will play their full part within the framework laid down by the House to ensure that any new arrangements work effectively, and that they help to rebuild confidence in allowance arrangements that are fair to the House and the wider public interest.