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British minister in expenses row

LONDON, Jun 18 – Britain\’s parliamentary expenses row claimed another victim Wednesday with the resignation of a junior finance minister, in a new blow to the government of embattled Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Treasury minister Kitty Ussher said she had not abused the expenses system but did not want to cause Brown or his government any "embarrassment".

She quit as the Daily Telegraph newspaper, which has revealed damaging details of lawmakers\’ lavish expenses in recent weeks, alleged late Wednesday that Ussher had avoided tax on the sale of her constituency home.

"I did not do anything wrong," she insisted in her resignation letter to Brown, adding that she had decided "some time ago" to step down as an MP at the next election to spend more time with her children.

Yet her departure will be a blow to Brown, who has sought to reassert his authority after the turmoil earlier this month which saw 11 ministers quit, historic European and local poll defeats and reports of a plot to unseat him.

Ussher expressed full support for Brown, saying: "I support your leadership and am 100 percent loyal to the Labour Party which is why I do not wish to cause you or the party any difficulties."

The timing is also embarrassing, coming just moments before Ussher\’s boss, finance minister Alistair Darling, made a keynote speech on the state of the British economy to business leaders in London.

Brown\’s Downing Street office sought to limit the damage by naming Ussher\’s replacement within minutes of her announcement.

"The prime minister has accepted the resignation of Kitty Ussher. (Junior communities minister) Sarah McCarthy-Fry has been appointed as her replacement," it said.

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A string of MPs from all parties have quit in the past few weeks following the revelations in The Daily Telegraph.

Full details of about one million claims from the past four years were due to be officially published by the House of Commons on Thursday.

Ussher\’s resignation was apparently prompted by allegations made by the Telegraph that she had claimed her constituency house was her second home in order to claim expenses on it, but changed it to her \’main home\’ when she sold it in 2007 to avoid paying tax on the sale.

Earlier, the outgoing speaker of the Commons lashed out at Brown and main opposition leader David Cameron for failing to show "leadership" on the issue of expenses, which has caused widespread public outrage.

Michael Martin, who became the first speaker in 300 years to be forced out because of his response to the row, said a parliamentary committee had proposed reforms to the allowances system last year but they were not passed.

"The response from this House was deeply disappointing," he said.

Referring to promises by Brown and Cameron to change the system following the newspaper revelations, Martin added: "I wish that party leaders would have shown then some of the leadership that they have shown now."

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