Brown apologises for politicians' perks

LONDON Tue May 12, 2009 12:12am BST

1 of 4. Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivers his address to the Royal College of Nurses congress in Harrogate, northern England, May 11, 2009.

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LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised Monday for politicians' expenses to try to staunch a damaging parliamentary scandal but a newspaper published new revelations about MPs' extravagant claims.

The disclosures in the Daily Telegraph newspaper were the latest in a string of embarrassing headlines about expense claims by Labour MPs -- including Brown and his cabinet colleagues -- and opposition figures.

The reports have prompted widespread public anger and calls for an election, not legally required until mid-2010, to be held immediately.

"I want to apologise on behalf of politicians ... of all parties for what has happened," Brown said in a speech.

The Daily Telegraph said on its website late Monday that Conservative politicians had received tens of thousands of pounds to maintain manor houses and stately homes.

One claimed 2,000 pounds for clearing the moat around his manor house. Another claimed for cleaning his swimming pool but told the Telegraph he would repay the money. A third claimed 380 pounds for horse manure for his garden.

The reports of how MPs have used allowances on top of an annual salary of almost 65,000 pounds -- more than double the national average -- are particularly damaging at a time when the country is suffering its worst recession since World War Two.

SCANDAL HURTS MAIN PARTIES

A new opinion poll showed the scandal was turning voters against both Labour and the Conservatives, The Times said.

A Populus poll on the newspaper's website found a shift towards the Liberal Democrats and fringe parties such as the far-right British National Party and anti-European Union UK Independence Party.

The Conservatives led Labour by 39 percent to 26, enough to give them a landslide election win. But both parties' support was down four points from a poll in early April.

The Liberal Democrats gained four points to 22 percent and other parties added four points to 13 percent.

Some commentators say Labour, in power since 1997, are in danger of slipping to third place behind the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in June 4 local and European elections, possibly triggering a challenge to Brown's leadership.

A parliamentary commission said Monday it would do all it could to speed up publication of MPs' expense receipts, originally planned for mid-July, but spokesman Nick Harvey said it would still take "weeks and not days."

The Telegraph has published details over the past three days of claims by Labour MPs for thousands of pounds spent on gardening, home furnishings and security.

Monday, the newspaper turned the spotlight on the Conservatives, printing details of a 4.47 pounds claim for dog food by the Conservative spokeswoman for Wales Cheryl Gillan.

David Willetts, Conservative spokesman for "innovation, universities and skills," claimed 115 pounds plus VAT for workmen to replace 25 light bulbs at his second home in London, according to the Telegraph.

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft)

(Editing by Richard Williams)

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