BURNLEY MP Peter Pike's expenses are the fourth highest in Westminster, it has been revealed.

Mr Pike today defended his right to claim £153,989 on top of his annual £57,845 salary - saying he was entitled to it and it was spent legitimately as part of his job.

But politicians and people in

Burnley today described news of Mr Pike's claim as "astonishing."

The figures, for the past three years, have been released for the first time in advance of the Freedom of Information Act coming into force early next year.

Pendle MP Gordon Prentice claimed £123,419 in 2003/2004 and £117,562 in 2002/2003.

Mr Pike's claim, up from £129,671 the previous year, included £67,513 for staff costs, including employing his daughter Jane as his House of Commons Secretary, £25,434 for his own travel, £18,944 for his London home and £4,045 for staff travel.

It also included £18,799 for Incidental Expenses, £2,493 for centrally purchased stationery; £8,132 for postage, £2,064 for central IT provision; and £6,565 for "other costs".

In the last two and a half years Mr Pike has attended 84 per cent of Commons votes - ranking him 54th out of the country's 659 MPs - and he is a frequent participant in Commons debate.

Burnley Council Conservative group leader Peter Doyle said: "It's absolutely astonishing. Is he in Parliament to represent the people or in Parliament to make money?

"How much does it cost to travel down to London and back? I just think it's disgraceful.

Liberal Democrat leader Gordon Birtwistle said although the bill was large it was justified if that was how much the MP had spent.

Mr Birtwistle said: "It's an astonishing amount of money.

"If he is entitled to the money, he's entitled to it but I'm surprised he is fourth in the league. I thought the figure included his salary but it doesn't so he's taking home over £200,000. I find that quite staggering.

"If he needs that money to do his job then so be it. Hopefully it's been well spent representing the people of Burnley."

The total cost of expenses for the seven East Lancashire MPs in 2003/2004 was £912,624 and £875,140 in the previous year.

The average claim by MPs was £118,437 and the total bill for expenses in the last financial year was £78million.

Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans claimed £141,910 in 2003/2004, making him 25th in the list, and £139,761 in 2002/2003.

The lowest claimer in both years was Hyndburn Labour MP Greg Pope who took home an extra £106,271 in 2003/2004 and £102,332 in 2002/2003.

Blackburn MP and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw claimed £106,858 in the last year and £114,464 in the previous 12 months on top of his total £118,437 salary as an MP and Cabinet Minister.

Rossendale and Darwen MP Janet Anderson claimed £135,779 in the last year and £139,577 in the previous one.

Mr Pike said: "I pay the proper rates for my staff and my offices. I employed Jane when a member of staff in London left suddenly and it was difficult as an MP due to retire at the next election to find anyone to work for me.

"She gets the appropriate rate for the job. I have a large office in Burnley employing the equivalent of two and half full time staff to deal with the huge correspondence I receive.

"I have to have two homes in Burnley and London unlike the PM whose claim of £80,836 reflects him living at the taxpayers expense in Downing Street. I claim exactly what I spend and I am entitled to.''