Senior Conservatives call for big MP pay rises

LONDON (Reuters) - Two senior members of the Conservative Party have called for MPs to be granted big pay rises in the wake of a scandal over expenses.

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Conservative leader David Cameron, tipped to become prime minister in a general election due within a year, distanced himself from comments that risk undermining his efforts to show the party has understood public anger over MPs’ expenses.

“David Cameron has repeatedly made it clear that we need to reduce the overall cost of politics and that MPs should no longer vote on their pay,” the Conservatives said in a statement.

Conservative MP Patrick Cormack said that the salaries of MPs should be doubled from their current level of around 65,000 pounds in exchange for the abolition of most of their allowances.

“In order to ensure that Members could perform their parliamentary and constituency duties effectively, and have, where necessary, a second home, the salary of Members would have to be doubled at least,” Cormack wrote to the Committee on Standards in Public Life earlier this year.

He said the idea might be “deemed politically unacceptable.”

Former minister Douglas Hogg, who included a claim for moat cleaning on his expenses and is stepping down at the next election, said MPs should be paid a six-figure sum.

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“My own conclusion is that in order not to deter the professional and business classes from coming into the House of Commons, MPs should be paid a salary of around 100,000 pounds together with appropriate expenses,” he told the committee.

Britons were enraged after newspaper reports detailed claims from MPs for everything from dog food to swimming pool maintenance. They also showed how MPs switched the designation of their second home in order to maximise allowances.

A senior Conservative apologised last week after he was secretly filmed saying MPs had been forced to “live on rations” after a scandal that tarnished parties across the political spectrum.

Chancellor Alistair Darling, deputising for Prime Minister Gordon Brown, criticised the calls.

“At a time when everyone else is pulling in their belts, at a time when people are worried about their jobs, some people are going part-time, MPs cannot be treated any differently from anyone else,” he told reporters.

MPs earn almost triple the average annual salary. They have also been criticised for the long holidays they enjoy.

The committee, an independent body which advises the government on ethical standards in public life, plans to publish a report on MPs’ expenses in October.

Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton