British MPs win disputed 10 per cent pay hike

LONDON (AFP) - British lawmakers will receive a 10 per cent pay rise, it was announced Thursday, even though many of them said they were opposed to the idea at a time when austerity cuts are causing hardship.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) said members of parliament would see their basic salary rise from £67,060 to £74,000 (S$142,960 to S$157,757).

Pay rates will then be tied to average rises in public sector wages - which have been capped at one per cent per year for another four years as the government tries to eliminate the budget deficit.

Prime Minister David Cameron has branded the pay boost for MPs as "unacceptable" and a petition on the website calling for the pay rise to be stopped has gathered around 450,000 signatures.

It has caused bitter divisions among MPs themselves, with some decrying the salary boost and others arguing they have long been underpaid compared to other senior public servants.

"Pay has been an issue which has been ducked for decades, with independent reports and recommendations from experts ignored, and MPs' salaries supplemented by an opaque and discredited system of allowances," IPSA Chairman Ian Kennedy said.

"We have made the necessary break with the past."

ISPA was set up in 2009 following a parliamentary expenses scandal, which saw several MPs jailed.

The system for determining lawmakers' pay and expenses was handed to the body, which is independent of parliament and government.

"We are very aware of the strongly held views of many members of the public and by some MPs themselves," Kennedy said.

"Instead of linking MPs' pay to wages in the whole economy, it will be linked to public sector pay."

Over the last five years, MPs' pay increased by two percent, compared to five percent in the public sector and 10 percent in the whole economy, he said.

"It is right that we make this one-off increase and then formally link MPs' pay to public sector pay."

Kennedy said the pay rise would not cost any more public money because it was allied to cuts in MPs' expenses, pensions and severance pay.

Backdated to May 8, the day after the last general election in which Cameron's Conservatives won an outright majority, the extra money will be paid to MPs automatically.

"The PM has consistently throughout this process opposed the pay increase that IPSA has been considering," Cameron's spokeswoman said.

She declined to comment on whether Cameron would take the pay rise or what he might do with the extra money.

Blocking the rise would require a change in the law.