'We will clean up Parliament from within,' says Cameron

Opposition leader vows to get tough on MPs' expenses, but admits his party has been part of the problem
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David Cameron seized on public anger over MPs' lavish pay and perks yesterday, as he attempted to put the Conservatives at the heart of attempts to clean up Parliament.

The Tory leader used a speech at his party's spring conference in Gateshead to steal a march on his rivals on the vexed question of MPs' finances, with an assault on a system that guarantees them fat pensions, allowances and the right to vote on their own pay rises.

Amid continuing condemnation following the publication of details of the entitlements politicians can claim to furnish second homes, Mr Cameron delivered a scathing verdict on the role MPs – and his own party – had played in the decline in voters' confidence in Parliament.

But he claimed it was the responsibility of MPs and their leaders to find a way out of the crisis.

"Let's be clear what they think of us," Mr Cameron said of the public view of MPs. "You lie and you spin, you fiddle your expenses and you break your promises. Let's not pretend that we're outsiders to Westminster, come to clean things up. We've been part of the problem and we need to sort it out from within.

"That's why we'll bring about a clear change in Parliament. No more MPs voting on their own pay. No more cushy final salary pension schemes – [instead, a] clear declaration of expenses and allowances."

Mr Cameron has sought to capitalise on discontent over the generous allowances afforded to MPs. The "John Lewis" list, published last week, revealed that MPs could claim on expenses to buy items for the home, such as £100 for coffee machines and £750 for plasma televisions.

Mr Cameron has also put the family at the heart of his party's agenda, telling a gathering of Conservative activists that his ambition was to make Britain "more family-friendly".

He claimed support for the family was the key to curing social ills such as crime, drug abuse and educational underperformance, as well as cutting the cost of government and paving the way for "sustainable" lower taxes. He repudiated the traditional right-wing focus on the need for a two-parent family, insisting it "doesn't reflect the realities of bringing up a child" in modern Britain, and hailing the efforts of "single parents, divorced parents and widows" in raising their children well.

He said the modern Conservative Party was "a party for all families", including single parents, and he argued that politicians had to take a lead in calling for greater responsibility from business.

Citing the campaign by parents to have a children's bed named Lolita withdrawn from sale by Woolworths, Mr Cameron told Tory party members: "Parents want to know that the freedoms they give their children won't be exploited by ruthless marketers and shameless retailers. So making Britain more family-friendly means saying, yes, we will raise the tax on alcoholic drinks aimed at children and we'll give local communities the power to force the police to take away the licences of the bad retailers who sell it to them.

"And making Britain more family-friendly means demanding that TV producers, magazine editors, music companies and book publishers accept that what they do really matters to our society. Too often, the programmes, articles, music videos and books introduce our children to sex and violence and adult emotional dilemmas at an incredibly early age. It's not right and parents want you to stop it."