Brit Ministers claim public money

LONDON: Several British Cabinet ministers claimed public money for accountants to help them fill in personal tax returns, a newspaper reported Monday, stepping up its expenses scandal revelations.

Finance minister Alistair Darling, Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith were among nine top members of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government who claimed over 11,000 pounds (12,500 euros, 17,500 dollars) between them, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Brown, who is facing growing calls for an early general election, is reportedly considering a sweeping cabinet reshuffle because of the controversy, which has caused fury among voters.

Seven members of parliament -- including the House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin -- have said they will step down amid the row, ahead of the next election due by the middle of next year.

The latest claims are thought to be within parliamentary rules and Chancellor of the Exchequer Darling was among those to defend himself.

"Like many MPs, I employed an accountant to prepare tax returns for each of the years in question to ensure that the correct amount of tax was paid in respect of my office costs," he said in a statement.

Brown is facing calls for an early general election from David Cameron, leader of the main opposition Conservatives who have a double digit lead in most opinion polls.

A Guardian newspaper/ICM opinion poll Saturday also showed two thirds of Britons calling for an election this year rather than next.

In an article in Monday's Telegraph, Cameron said the expenses revelations had "shaken parliament and our whole political process to the core" and urged more ordinary people to get into politics to help reform the system.

"When it comes to the people who actually become members of parliament, this is also an opportunity to widen the net, increase the talent pool and attract people who have never previously thought of serving," he wrote.