Once paid in fish, British MPs face perks backlash

Fri Apr 17, 2009 8:50am EDT
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By Frank Prenesti

LONDON (Reuters) - After damaging stories about porn films, bath plugs and barbecues charged to the public, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has fast-tracked an inquiry into the allowances that MPs claim to supplement their salaries.

The level of extra allowances has sparked fierce debate about whether they are justifiable. Britain's members of parliament, once paid with fish, claimed 93 million pounds ($138 million) in expenses last year.

Public fury intensified after scans of expense claim receipts for all MPs were leaked to the media last month.

The most embarrassing case was that of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who admitted that a claim was submitted for two porn films her husband rented. The 10 pounds has since been repaid.

Smith also claimed 88 pence for a bath plug, 550 pounds for a stone sink and 39.99 pounds for a barbeque set to fit out her constituency home, according to the leaks. She has denied claiming the barbeque.

Britain's MPs have come a long way since the 13th century, when some were paid in mackerel. Lawmakers are now entitled to an annual salary of 64,766 pounds.

But tales of padding out basic pay with lavish spending at a time when thousands are losing their jobs are an unwelcome headache for Brown as he tries to keep his economic recovery agenda to the forefront before an election next year.

The receipts, covering claims going back to 2004, are set to be released officially this year. Brown has requested that a parliamentary inquiry into the expenses be fast-tracked.   Continued...