THE three MPs who represent constituencies in the western tip of Corn-wall are costing taxpayers £600,000 a year.

Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne), Matthew Taylor (Truro and St Austell) and Andrew George (St Ives, which includes Hayle and Helston), each earn £57,485 as members of parliament but it is the six-figure sums they each claim in allowances that will surprise their electorate.

Allowances, paid to all MPs, have become public for the first time this week and overall 659 of them cost the country £80 million.

Ms Atherton's claims between April 2003 and March this year included security at her Cornish home in case of pro-hunt protestors. Part of her allowance has also helped fund her narrow boat moored on a canal in Camden Town, and which she uses when Parliament is in session as well as for holidays.

In total the Labour MP claimed £135,877 while Mr George claimed £143,773 and Mr Taylor £141,132.

All three MPs have strongly defended their claims.

Mr George said: "So, am I supposed to apologise for having a constituency further away from London than other MPs in my television region? Should I apologise for having the Isles of Scilly in my constituency? Should I apologise for seeking proper staffing cover for staff taking maternity leave?"

Out of his salary and allowances 45-year-old Mr George, a former Mullion and Helston school pupil, pays for a commons researcher, a personal assistant/office manager and constituency casework assistants.

Mr Taylor, 41, and MP for Truro and St Austell since 1987, said his travel costs were "obviously high" travelling to London by train and staying in the capital during the week.

"Unlike some MPs, I can't nip home each night, or even mid-week! The expenses cover the costs of the office in St. Austell - from rent and rates to equipment. There are no personal expenses allowed. Most years I have to subsidise office costs out of my own salary," he said.

Mr Taylor employs a secretarial team of three in St.Austell (all part time). "They do all the work of typing my dictated casework for constituents and handling all their phone calls, and pursuing their cases when necessary in addition to my work. We get about 300 letters every week, plus e-mails and phone calls on top," he said. He also employs a part-time researcher in both Truro and St.Austell, a full-time assistant in London and someone who works full time, but is only paid for three days a week.

"Even on relatively low wages the allowance does not cover all this, so part of the cost is covered by voluntary fundraising locally and out of my salary," said the MP.

Ms Atherton, who lives on a narrow boat in London and has a home in Cornwall with her husband Brod, was not available for comment. Her research assistant, Judy Robinson, a former Falmouth town council and Labour party worker, said there was one full- time and one part-time worker in the constituency.

"At Westminster there is a full time Parliamentary assistant covering policy, research, diary, communications and administration and a part-time research/admin assistant. Also we have temporary interns from London colleges and occasionally from the US."

At one time Ms Atherton's husband was working for his wife at the House of Commons but Miss Robinson would not confirm if this was still the case. "We cannot give out information about staff members," she said.

Miss Robinson confirmed that police had recommended additional security at the MP's home.

Ms Atherton was elected to parliament in 1997. She is a former member of Islington Council in London where she was its mayor in 1989-90.

All MPs who do not live near the House of Commons can claim up to £20,902 a year for accommodation in London. They can also claim costs for up to three trips to Europe a year, up to £19,325 for the cost of office accommodation and up to £77,534 for cost of staff which can include payments made to members of their own family.

They can also claim a car mileage allowance of 57.7 pence a mile for the first 20,000 miles although they do have to pay tax on 17.7p of it. All MPs also have a very secure pension scheme.

What the MPs claimed for:

Candy Atherton: Additional costs including payment when being away from home, £19,542; incidental expenses for office and staff use, £18,799; staff cost, £66,793; travel, £15,948; staff travel, £1,639; stationery, £2,041 postage, £7,046; IT provision, £1,954; other costs £2,115.

Andrew George: £20,333, £18,799, £68,198, £26,255, £1,459, £1,538, £5,280, £1,911, other costs nil.

Matthew Taylor: £20,333, £18,799, £71,662, £18,109, £1,972, £2,016, £6,307, £1,934, other costs nil.