Page last updated at 12:30 GMT, Wednesday, 13 May 2009 13:30 UK

Leaders in Commons expenses clash

Cameron: 'How can we bring about the change this country needs if we cannot change ourselves?'

David Cameron has called for a wider crackdown on MP's allowances as he and Gordon Brown clashed on the issue at prime minister's questions.

The Tory leader said a £10,000 payment for MPs to communicate with their constituents must be scrapped and also called for a cut in the number of MPs.

Mr Brown said reform required cross-party support and it was "unfortunate" the Tories did not seem to agree.

The exchanges came after days of damaging allegations over MPs expenses.

A growing number of MPs from all parties have agreed to pay back thousands of pounds claimed in expenses after reports based on leaked receipts by the Daily Telegraph.

'Tin ear'

Mr Brown told an unusually subdued House of Commons that MPs must apologise for the way the expenses system had been misused and mistakes should be "rectified".

He said proposals from the Commons Members Estimate Committee to make all claims made since 2004 subject to external audit was a start in restoring public confidence.

This would be followed by the independent review of the system by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which he urged to report as soon as possible.

He stressed no single party could resolve the current crisis alone and he was seeking a "political consensus" to ensure a "fair and transparent" system of pay and expenses.

Mr Cameron urged the prime minister to show more leadership on the issue, saying he had demonstrated a "tin ear" over the amount of public anger and calls for immediate reform.

"Isn't it time to wake up and see what's going on in the country?" he told MPs.

"Isn't it time for us to see ourselves as the rest of the country sees us? Isn't it time to stop the talking, stop the endless committees, and start showing some real leadership to deliver some real change?"

He called for all MPs claims to be published on the internet once they are made and said the communications allowance for sitting MPs was a "gigantic waste of money" and should be abolished.

Fewer MPs

The cost of politics needed to be radically reduced if public confidence in Parliament was to be restored, he said.

The Boundary Commission must begin a review of parliamentary constituencies, he said, with the intention of making the House of Commons "smaller and more efficient".

Mr Brown said it was "unfortunate" that Mr Cameron was focusing on areas of division rather than agreement.

He said it was up to MPs to decide if the communications allowance, in place since 2006, should continue.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said the most pressing issue was to ensure no MP could "play the property game" by using the expenses system to increase the value of a property and then pocketing the benefit when the property was sold.

He said all Lib Dem MPs must pay back any money they make from the sale of homes subsidised by the taxpayer.



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