MPs step down over expenses scandal

LONDON Thu May 28, 2009 6:54pm BST

1 of 2. A policeman walks past the Conservative Party Constituency office of MP Julie Kirkbride in Bromsgrove, Birmingham, May 28, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Eddie Keogh

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LONDON (Reuters) - Three MPs who have faced criticism over their expense claims announced on Thursday they would leave parliament, joining a mounting casualty list from a row over MPs' perks.

Labour MP Margaret Moran and Conservative Julie Kirkbride, who have faced intense public anger over their expense claims, said they would step down at the next general election, due in the next year.

Conservative MP Christopher Fraser, who claimed 1,800 pounds in expenses for trees and fencing, said he would leave at the next election but said his decision was linked to his wife's health rather than his expense claims.

They joined half a dozen other MPs whose parliamentary careers have been cut short by a public uproar about MPs' expense claims.

The controversy over his handling of the affair has also led Commons Speaker Michael Martin to resign, the first speaker to be ousted in 300 years.

The decision by some MPs to step down now seems designed to try to prevent their parties suffering a backlash in their local areas at next Thursday's European and local elections.

Political analysts say voters may protest by staying at home or voting for fringe parties like the UK Independence Party or British National Party.

Kirkbride said in a resignation letter she wanted to see the Conservatives "have a great result in next week's elections."

Moran said the public anger over the expenses affair "has caused me great stress and has seriously worsened my existing health problem."

Both have denied wrongdoing or breaking parliamentary rules.

The Daily Telegraph has obtained records of MPs' expenses and has been embarrassing some of them with reports on how they used their generous allowances to claim for items such as repairing tennis courts or cleaning a moat.

DRY ROT

It said Moran spent 22,500 pounds of taxpayers' money to treat dry rot at a seaside house she had designated as her second home, 100 miles (160 km) from her constituency.

Television personality Esther Rantzen had said she would run against Moran if she stood for re-election in her constituency in Luton.

Kirkbride stepped down after The Daily Telegraph published new disclosures about her on Thursday, saying she used taxpayers' money to fund a 50,000 pound extension to her flat so that her brother could live in the property.

She was already facing questions after the paper said she and her husband, fellow Conservative MP Andrew Mackay, had claimed "second home" expense allowances on both residences.

About 5,000 people in her constituency signed a petition demanding she step down.

Mackay, 59, announced on Saturday he was standing down as an MP. He had already quit as a senior political adviser to Conservative leader David Cameron.

The expenses scandal has fuelled calls for reform of the parliamentary expense system and for far-reaching changes in the political system.

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft, Frank Prenesti; Editing by Richard Meares)

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