Tories split on fraud vote

JUST weeks before elections to the European Parliament, the Conservative Party was split apart in Strasbourg this week over an attempt to censure the European Commission for alleged financial corruption in the statistical office Eurostat.

JUST weeks before elections to the European Parliament, the Conservative Party was split apart in Strasbourg this week over an attempt to censure the European Commission for alleged financial corruption in the statistical office Eurostat.

It was ironic that such disunity should take place on the day that 162 appointed MEPs from the 10 new member states of the European Union were welcomed to their first meeting of the Parliament – a day symbolising the reunification of Europe.

All four Tory MEPs from the East of England – Geoffrey Van Orden, Robert Sturdy, Bashir Khanbhai and Christopher Beazley – joined their leader Jonathan Evans in abstaining but several on the right of the party joined Jeffrey Titford of the UK Independence Party in voting for the anti-fraud motion.

Three other East of England Euro MEPs – Labour's Richard Howitt and Eryl McNally and Liberal Democrat Andrew Duff – helped defeat the censure bid which was lost 515-86 with 63 abstentions. Mr Van Orden said he had abstained because it was no longer credible to vote in favour of Mr Titford's resolution following the resignation of the Pedro Solbes, the Commissioner responsible for Eurostat, to return to Spanish politics.

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However, Mr Van Orden insisted there was a need to pursue greater accountability and control of the EU budget and the European Parliament should have the right to dismiss individual commissioners. .

"Along with my British Conservative colleagues I have been actively engaged in raising concerns relating to fraud, waste and mismanagement in the European Union institutions and we have played a major role in highlighting the issues to the wider public."

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To which Mr Titford retorted: "The censure motion was a genuine attempt to make the Commission take more responsibility for more than £3m in fraud at Eurostat.

"Many Tories actually signed the motion and then withdrew their signatures at the last moment. They have very badly let down British taxpayers, who ultimately have to subsidise EU fraud."

Greeting new MEPs to Strasbourg on such a day of discord, the Parliament's president Pat Cox said enlargement was a "win-win situation" for all EU nations. "Today's events would have seemed an impossible dream in early 1989 but those dreams have now come true – it is a wonderful moment."

Hans-Gert Poettering, the leader of the majority centre-right coalition of MEPs to which the Tories belong, recalled he had been an elected member since the first elections in 1979. "At that time, the notion that three nations then occupied by the Soviet Union, the members of the Warsaw Pact or communist Yugoslavia, would one day be joining the EU with Malta and Cyprus would have seemed unrealistic in our lifetime.

"Welcoming the 162 new MEPs makes this a great day for democracy, for Parliament and for the EU – a day for rejoicing."

THE Brecks, that unique landscape of special scientific interest straddling the Suffolk-Norfolk border, came under the microscope in the Commons when West Suffolk Tory Richard Spring sought assurances that everything possible was being done to protect stone curlews and to encourage their breeding.

Junior environment minister Ben Bradshaw said the number of breeding pairs of stone curlews on the Brecks last year was 110, compared with 55 in 1988.

He told Mr Spring the boundary of the Breckland Farmland Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) was drawn up by English Nature on the basis of the nest records collected under the Stone Curlew Recovery Project, financed jointly by the RSPB and English Nature, for the years 1995 to 1999.

"Areas regularly containing two or more nest sites over this period were included, conservatively using a foraging range of up to 2 km from each nest site. Other features were also taken into account, in particular the need to have boundaries corresponding to physical features such as roads, drains, ditches, field edges or the boundaries of land holdings.

"All or parts of 28 SSSIs have been recommended as Breckland potential Special Protection Area (pSPA) because together they support breeding bird populations of three species of European importance.

"Breckland SPA qualifies under the EC Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds (79/409/EEC) as it is used regularly by 1% or more of the Great Britain population of three species of birds listed in Annex 1 of the Directive – stone curlew, nightjar and woodlark."

JUNIOR defence minister Ivor Caplin told Labour's Gwyneth Dunwoody that no formal requirement had been placed on the Ministry of Defence to fund navigational aids to prevent Royal Navy vessels and other MOD owned or operated vessels colliding with offshore wind farms, which are proliferating off the coasts of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.

"The cost of correctly marking these structures by navigational buoys and lights is the responsibility of the owner and, as such, must comply with standards defined by the Maritime Coastguard Agency in conjunction with the General Lighthouse Authorities," said Mr Caplin.

GENETICALLY modified crops are a major issue with voters – but when I listened to Tory MP John Whittingdale (Maldon & Chelmsford East) speaking in a debate in the Commons on Wednesday, there were just 17 other members present plus Deputy Speaker Sylvia Heald.

The time was 5.45pm. Constituents might wonder, with so much public concern about so-called "Frankenstein food," just why the other 642 MPs showed no interest on their behalf.

A CONSERVATIVE Euro candidate in the region which covers Suffolk and Essex, who is at the centre of an expenses controversy, is damaging the reputation of his colleagues in the European Parliament and should go, one of his political opponents claimed yesterday.




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