Duff in call for expenses transparency

A CALL to end the European Parliament gravy train has been made by the East of England's Liberal Democrat Euro MP Andrew Duff, who is challenging all the region's other candidates in June's elections to sign a pledge on pay and expenses.

A CALL to end the European Parliament gravy train has been made by the East of England's Liberal Democrat Euro MP Andrew Duff, who is challenging all the region's other candidates in June's elections to sign a pledge on pay and expenses.

Mr Duff said that when the Parliament some months ago urged a common salary and a fully transparent expenses system based on actually incurred costs, the deal was rejected by national governments in the Council of Ministers.

This week he resurrected the proposal, and linked it with a demand to centralise the Parliament's work in Brussels, thus ending the monthly trek to Strasbourg.

Mr Duff wants enhanced transparency of the amount of money Euro MPs claim through reform of the system of expenses, including the reimbursement of travel expenses only on the basis of costs actually incurred.

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He is also seeking a strengthened code of conduct setting out MEPs' rights and responsibilities through reform of the Parliament's Rules of Procedure

Currently, MEPs are paid the same as their country's MPs, which leads to a huge discrepancy in salaries. In addition, a Euro MPs can cash in by legitimately buying budget air and rail tickets and claiming the full tariff because receipts are not required to substantiate the amount paid.

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AFTER five years of battling the European Commission's "failure to deal with fraud," Jeffrey Titford of the UK Independence Party has initiated a motion of censure to be voted on by the European Parliament next month over alleged corruption at Eurostat, the EU statistical office.

"If it receives sufficient support, it could bring down the entire European Commission," says Mr Titford, who is one of the East of England's eight Euro MPs. "The intention is to make the Commission take responsibility for the vast amount of taxpayer's money, estimated at more than £3million, that has disappeared at Eurostat."

His motion - which berates the Commission for not acting on a number of requests to protect "the Communities' financial interests and the fight against fraud" - has been signed by MEPs from across Europe, including Greens and a handful of British Conservatives.

However, other Tories - including the East of England's Geoffrey Van Orden, Robert Sturdy and Bashir Khanbhai - removed their signatures when Pedro Solbes-Mira, the Commissioner with responsibility for Eurostat, quit to return to domestic Spanish politics.

"This was an ideal opportunity for the Conservative MEPs in the Eastern

Region to demonstrate that they really are Eurosceptics," stormed Mr Titford. "It is simply scandalous that I was the only MEP from this region who was prepared to sign the motion. British taxpayers have been badly let down."

Mr Van Orden countered that the Conservatives had done more than anyone to expose the waste, maladministration and fraud in the EU and will continue to do so.

"The censure motion originally proposed against the Commission has little chance of success. Instead we have successfully demanded an urgent debate on the Eurostat scandal.

"The fact that UKIP chooses to attack us rather than the Government and those parties which are pushing for an EU superstate, says something about their true motives."

MEANWHILE at Westminster, MPs met with the public screened off from them for the first time ever in the Commons on Monday. A giant protective screen reaching from the floor of the public gallery to the roof was put up during the Easter recess.

The £500,000 temporary structure is designed to protect MPs from possible attack amid heightened security at Westminster.

Opinions about the screen are divided with some Members fearing it will act as an unnecessary barrier between them and the people they represent.

One Labour backbencher, Stephen Pound (Ealing North) branded the move "ludicrous," complaining that people will peer down at MPs like "goldfish in a bowl."

As questions to Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell got under way on Monday, several MPs stared up at the new structure as members of the public filed in behind it. The screen has been placed three rows back in the gallery allowing peers, peers' guests and other distinguished visitors, like ambassadors, to still sit with nothing between them and the chamber below.

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