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British lawmakers forced out over expenses scandal

London – Two British lawmakers said Thursday they will quit after fresh embarrassing revelations over expenses, including one which claimed GBP 1,600 (EUR 1,800) for a "duck island".

The latest resignations emerged as Prime Minister Gordon Brown defended two of his ministers in the spotlight over expenses claims. A string of revelations over the past two weeks has rocked British politics.

Senior Conservative MP Sir Peter Viggers will stand down at the next general election, due by mid 2010, after buying the "duck island" – providing a retreat for ducks in the middle of a garden pond – for his home in Hampshire, southern England, The Daily Telegraph newspaper said.

"I spoke to him last night and I said ‘you are going to announce immediately your retirement or I will remove the Conservative whip’ and he has announced immediately his retirement," said Conservative leader David Cameron.

Cameron, who has ordered any of his MPs with questionable expense claims to face an internal party probe, told GMTV that party officials would now consider how much Viggers should pay back.

Viggers is the third veteran Tory to say they will not stand again following the scandal.

Later, Ben Chapman, a backbencher with Brown’s ruling Labour Party, said he would also go at the next election after allegations he overclaimed GBP 15,000 in expenses for mortgage interest. He denies any wrongdoing.

The House of Commons has been shaken to its core by leaked documents published in The Telegraph showing how MPs spent public money on everything from food and drink to toilet seats, tennis court repairs and moat cleaning.

On Tuesday, Commons Speaker Michael Martin was forced to announce his resignation over his handling of the crisis, the first such move in more than 300 years in Britain’s lower house of parliament.

Other political casualties have included suspended junior minister Shahid Malik, two suspended Labour MPs, David Chaytor and former minister Elliot Morley, and Tory MP Andrew MacKay, who resigned as an aide to Cameron.

In a pre-emptive move, Labour MP Ian Gibson said he would stand down if his constituents demanded it after the revelation Friday that he claimed almost GBP 80,000 on a London flat lived in permanently by his daughter.

He denied wrongdoing but told the BBC: "I spend my life working for constituents and would like to continue, but if you have lost their confidence then you have lost their confidence."

The Conservatives have called for an early election to allow voters to have their say – which Brown has resisted – and a Populus opinion poll for ITV News Thursday showed 54 percent backed the idea.

Meanwhile, Brown rejected claims that two of his ministers – Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon and Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell – had avoided paying capital gains tax on selling their second homes.

The Telegraph reported that the pair did not pay the tax because the London properties sold were considered by tax authorities to be their main homes and therefore not subject to it.

"As far as I know there is no problem that needs to be dealt with" in the cases of Hoon and Purnell, the prime minister said, while saying he had been "appalled" by some of the revelations that have emerged.

"If there are any other problems that need to be rectified, they will be rectified. But every case is different," he added.

MPs will be hoping for some relief from the expenses storm at Westminster as they head home Friday for a week-long Whitsun recess, even if a few may have some explaining to do to their constituents.

AFP / Expatica