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UK lawmakers vote to overhaul some of their perks

By Matt Falloon
/ Source: Reuters

By Matt Falloon

British lawmakers voted on Thursday to overhaul some of their perks, a week after Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposed changes to quell growing public anger over the allowances that members of parliament enjoy.

Disclosures about expenses -- the husband of one senior minister charged porn films to the taxpayers' account -- have exacerbated Brown's woes this year on top of a slumping economy, poor poll ratings and a smears scandal.

The vote was a partial success for Brown who suffered a rare parliamentary defeat Wednesday when legislators voted to overturn new rules restricting the number of former Nepalese Gurkha soldiers who can settle in Britain.

With an election probably little more than a year away and the opposition Conservatives tipped to win, Brown has come under pressure to win back public trust and get a grip on his party.

"It's been very important the prime minister put forward his proposals," Labor lawmaker Keith Vaz told Sky News. "These changes will benefit our standing with the public at large."

Brown's sudden push to change the expenses system had stirred controversy because it pre-empts recommendations from an official inquiry due later this year.

There has had to be some compromise on what changes to make in the interim.

Thursday, legislators voted to declare details of second jobs, ban outer London lawmakers from claiming a second home allowance, switch staff employed by lawmakers into the employment of parliament and force members of parliament to submit receipts for all expenses claims.

But Brown's proposal to replace the second homes allowance for all lawmakers with a daily allowance based on attendance was shelved.

Asked earlier Thursday if Brown had watered down his proposals to get a positive result, his spokesman said: "That's complete rubbish ... We need to make progress now where we can make progress."

Britain's 646 legislators claimed 93 million pounds ($138 million) in allowances last year in addition to their salaries, much of it accounted for by claims for running their office.

They earn basic pay of about 65,000 pounds a year but can claim expenses for running offices and second homes, needed because many travel from their constituencies to attend parliament in London.