Downing Street has insisted there is no change in policy on the public sector pay cap, after a minister told the Commons there was an "active discussion" under way to ensure frontline workers are paid fairly.
Policing minister Nick Hurd's comments came after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called for a wage boost for public sector workers who have been subject to a 1% cap on annual pay rises since 2012, following a two-year freeze.
Pressure is mounting on the Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond to relax austerity, with several Tory MPs calling for an end to the pay cap after the party lost its majority in the General Election to anti-austerity Labour, which has pledged to scrap the 1% ceiling.
During Home Office questions in the Commons, Mr Hurd was challenged by his Labour shadow Louise Haigh over whether he supported the planned continuation of the cap until 2019/20.
He said: "We want to make sure that frontline public service workers, including the police, are paid fairly for their work, not least because of the contribution that they have made over the years to reducing the deficit that we inherited from the party opposite.
"And in that, the work they have done to safeguard hundreds of thousands of jobs. How we do that in a way that is sustainable and affordable is under active discussion."
Responding to Mr Hurd's comments, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "There are public sector pay review bodies carrying out their work. We are in the process of working through recommendations. That is what the minister was referring to."
Earlier in the day, a Government source said Mr Johnson wants a wage boost for public sector workers and believes any pay review recommendations that back increases should be followed.
Mr Johnson “strongly believes” a rise can be achieved in a “responsible way” which would not put undue pressure on the public finances, the source said, with the Chancellor still aiming to wipe out the deficit by the middle of the next decade.
Mr Johnson’s views go further than those stated by his old adversary and Cabinet colleague Michael Gove, who said the Government has “got to listen” to the pay review bodies.
The Government source said: “The Foreign Secretary supports the idea of public sector workers getting a better pay deal and believes the pay review recommendations are right.
“He also strongly believes the rises can be done in a responsible way and without causing fiscal pressures.”
Mrs May's official spokesman told reporters: "The position is exactly as it was set out last week, in that there are pay review bodies reporting.
"We have responded to some, and we will respond to others in due course, as is normal, later this year."
Recommendations for 1% pay rises for 2017/18 for nurses, doctors, dentists and members of the armed forces have already been accepted by ministers, but further recommendations are still to come from review bodies dealing with teachers, police, senior civil servants and prison officers, potentially allowing Mr Hammond to be more generous to these groups in his autumn Budget.
Asked whether it would be open to the Chancellor retrospectively to reopen decisions taken earlier this year, the PM's spokesman replied: "These are the settlements for 2017/18."
Increasing public sector pay would boost the earnings of 5.1 million workers, including 1.6 million in the NHS and 1.5 million in public education, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). It is likely to cost billions of pounds.
Tory former work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb said ministers who disagreed with the official policy should not be in the Cabinet.
He told BBC Radio Four's World At One: "I don't think it's a great sight seeing different Cabinet members giving slightly different messages to the media.
"My own personal preference is that people should be direct and upfront.
"If they want to take a position that is different from that of the Government, the official Government line, then they shouldn't be in the Cabinet.
"I'm saying that discipline on the part of all Cabinet members is really, really important."
Conservative MP Maria Caulfield, a former nurse, said she had found the pay cap "extremely difficult" and most nurses worked extra shifts to make ends meet.
She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think there is resentment building and not just in nursing, but across the public sector, that frontline staff have carried these services for the last seven years, and if there is no recognition of that and no pay coming forward to recognise that then that's when the resentment builds."
Conservative former chancellor Lord Lamont said Cabinet ministers should not "gang up" on Mr Hammond.
He told Today: "I think it is making his position - which is always very difficult - very, very awkward indeed.
"This is not a choice. It is unavoidable that we have restraint on public spending."
Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman and leadership candidate Sir Vince Cable said: "The staff who keep our vital public services running deserve a long-overdue pay rise.
"If the Government can find billions for corporation tax cuts, it is time they found a little bit extra for those working so hard to deliver our public services."