UK minister steps down in perks row

Shahid Malik quits pending investigation as controversy over MPs' expenses mounts.

    Shahid Malik is the first member of government to step down over the expenses scandal [Reuters]

    Gordon Brown, Britain's prime minister, has asked an independent adviser on ministerial interests to investigate the claims over Malik's expenses.

    "Because that allegation would represent a potential financial benefit ... this could represent a breach of the ministerial code," Brown's spokesman said.

    Malik, who insists he followed the rules of parliamentary expenses, is expected to return to his job if cleared.

    Suspended

    The Daily Telegraph has embarrassed both major parties with daily revelations of how many MPs have run up tens of thousands of dollars in expenses - with some claiming for the cleaning of their swimming pools, the installation of lightbulbs or manure for the garden.

    On Thursday, Elliot Morley, a former minister and Labour politician, was suspended after claiming thousands of dollars for a non-existent mortgage.

    On the same day, Andrew MacKay, an opposition MP married to a fellow Conservative minister, resigned as an aide to David Cameron, leader of the party, after it was revealed that he had claimed for mortgage repayments on both the couple's homes.

    Britain's 646 legislators receive an annual salary of about $98,000, but also claimed atotal of $141m in allowanceslast year, an average of $219,000 each.

    The huge expenses claims have come to light as Britain suffers its deepest recession since the second world war, with thousands of people losing their jobs.

    The expenses scandal has affected Labour's rating amongst voters, with an opinion poll on Friday showing popularity slumping to an all-time low.

    It is also piling pressure on the government to call elections sooner than the next scheduled date of mid-2010.

    The controversy has overshadowed the campaign for June 4 local and European elections, when analysts expect many voters either to stay away or vote for fringe parties.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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