Cameron slaps down Duncan over 'rations'

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David Cameron today publicly slapped down frontbencher Alan Duncan after he complained that MPs were being forced to live "on rations" in the wake of the expenses scandal.

The Tory leader said Mr Duncan had made a "bad mistake" when being secretly filmed, but indicated he would keep his job - at least for now.

Mr Cameron told reporters in his Oxfordshire constituency: "I spoke to Alan Duncan yesterday and made it clear in no uncertain terms that when it comes to the mess of expenses, the words we use, just as the actions we take, have got to demonstrate completely that we share the public's real fury at what went on in parliament.

"Alan made a bad mistake and he has acknowledged that, he has apologised and withdrawn the remarks."

Mr Cameron went on: "He's withdrawn those remarks he shouldn't have made, and I think we should leave it at that."

Mr Duncan, the shadow leader of the Commons and a millionaire from his former career as an oil trader, swiftly apologised for his comments after they emerged yesterday.

His views were particularly embarrassing for the Conservatives because he leads the party on reform of the system of MPs' expenses and allowances.

They also threatened to undermine the hardline stance taken by Mr Cameron, who has ordered his MPs to pay back tens of thousands of pounds in expenses and barred some from standing for re-election. Mr Duncan himself has returned £4,000 he claimed for gardening.

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson stepped up his attack on Mr Duncan today, accusing him of "whingeing" and being two-faced.

"I think it's ridiculous for any Member of Parliament, but particularly a multimillionaire, to start telling the rest of the country and whingeing about the salaries that MPs receive," the peer said.

"You can have a discussion about whether they should be paid more or less but to suggest that MPs are somehow starving and being denied what they need to live on is completely ridiculous."

Mr Duncan's comments were covertly filmed by campaigner Heydon Prowse of the Don't Panic magazine and website after he was invited to the Commons by the MP.

It followed a stunt he staged at Mr Duncan's home - planting a flower bed in the shape of a pound sign in protest at his claim for gardening - which became a hit on YouTube.

In the latest recording, Mr Duncan says: "No one who has done anything in the outside world, or is capable of doing such a thing, will ever come into this place ever again, the way we are going.

"I spend my money on my garden and claim a tiny fraction based on what is proper. And I could claim the whole bloody lot, but I don't."

When he was asked how much he spent on the garden, he replied: "About £2,000 a year and this was £1,000 a year on expenses, you know. It's just, I'm afraid the world has gone mad."

Asked why people would no longer want to become MPs, he said: "Basically, it's being nationalised, you have to live on rations and are treated like shit."

In his statement, Mr Duncan said: "The last thing people want to hear is an MP whingeing about his pay and conditions.

"It is a huge honour to be an MP and my remarks, although meant in jest, were completely uncalled for. I apologise for them unreservedly."

The film also shows another Tory MP, Nigel Evans, referring to some sandwiches, claiming that he had made them himself.

"It's my second job. Got to have a second income, mate, couldn't survive on 64," he says - a reference to the MPs' annual salary of £64,766.

A spokesman for Mr Evans said he did not want to comment.

Mr Prowse admitted he felt "slightly sorry" for Mr Duncan and said some of his comments should be taken with a "pinch of salt" as they were made while they were at the bar.

But he added: "The comments about MPs being treated like shit, I don't think it was a joke, he was serious about that."

Labour MP John Mann said Mr Cameron should now sack Mr Duncan.

"He has got form on this. He has called for a big increase in the MPs' salary from the front bench earlier this year," he told BBC News.

"He is the Conservative Party spokesman and their fixer on the secret deals on MPs' expenses that took place across party with the Speaker."

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said Mr Duncan's comments exposed the "hypocrisy" of the Tories over the expenses scandal.

"While they claim in public that they want to clean up politics, they let their true feelings show as soon as they - mistakenly - believe the cameras have been switched off," he said.

Veteran Tory MP Sir Patrick Cormack said that although Mr Duncan's comments were "unwise" he agreed restrictions on MPs' pay and perks could put people off entering Parliament because it was an "extremely expensive business".

Sir Patrick told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "What we do not want in this country is a Parliament of political anoraks and extremely rich people."

He continued: "The fact is that being a Member of Parliament is an extremely expensive business.

"One is expected to give liberally to all manner of charities, one is expected to attend all manner of events, one is expected constantly to be putting one's hand into one's pocket.

"One has to recognise that and it is expensive being a Member of Parliament. It is a public service, it is a vocation and you don't go in it for the money."

But Sir Patrick acknowledged that an MP's £64,766 salary was "a great deal of money to a great many people".