British politicians face being given a pay rise that they do not want

Independent body wants to give House of Commons a pay rise but both sides find idea abhorrent

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 December, 2013, 9:34pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 December, 2013, 9:34pm


Not many people turn down a raise; even fewer denounce the very idea. But leading British legislators, burdened by their reputation for money-grabbing, have been fighting this week for the right to reject higher pay.

A plan announced by an independent body on Thursday to increase the salaries of members of parliament by about 11 per cent provoked bitter complaints, most notably in parliament itself, where the leaders of the two largest parties competed to register their outrage.

Parliamentarians took a public battering in 2009 over a padded-expenses scandal, when a variety of dubious claims on the public purse were exposed.

Four former members of the House of Commons were jailed, a fifth was spared prison for reasons of mental health, and a sixth is due to be sentenced soon. Two members of the House of Lords have also been jailed.

In the aftermath of the 2009 scandal, parliament created the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to set rules for pay and expenses. On Thursday, the panel said that the base salary for the Commons, now £66,396 (HK$842,644), should rise to £67,060 next year and then £74,000 after the next general election in 2015.

Coming at a time when many Britons struggle to make ends meet after a long recession, the planned pay raise is an embarrassment both to the Conservative-led coalition government and to the Labour opposition, which wants to highlight the cost-of-living pressures facing ordinary Britons.

The trouble is that they have no say about it, at least under current law. When they created the independent authority, legislators surrendered the power to vote on the issue, leaving the awkward prospect of being forced to accept a raise.

Prime Minister David Cameron attacked the plan even before it was announced. Speaking on Wednesday, Cameron said it would be "wrong" to get a big rise at a time when the government was trying to restrain pay for public servants and he called for an "outcome that can build public confidence". Labour leader Ed Miliband said that the three main parties must "get together to deal with this".

The chairman of the authority, Ian Kennedy, a prominent lawyer, defended the rises as appropriate and necessary. He laid out his case in an article in The Times on Thursday.

"Whatever measure you choose, including international comparisons and historic trends, they all lead to the same conclusion," he wrote, "MPs' pay has fallen behind. It needs to catch up." He said that changes to the allowances and pensions would offset the cost of higher salaries.

"I know that there is a tension between the reasoning and the politics," he added. "But we were asked to fix the problem for a generation, not for a news cycle."