"Conservative leader David Cameron is to launch a new crackdown on his MEPs’ expenses later, the BBC has learned. All Tory MEPs will have to fill out a "right to know form" with details of expenses they have claimed."
3pm: Cameron started off by explaining the "inadequate" and "unacceptable" processes in the European Parliament for dealing with expenses, such as the unaccountable €4000 per month for general expenditure, and saying that his proposals were about "bringing more transparency and honesty to a system that is at best
seriously flawed" and needs a "deep clean".
He said he’d worked with both head of compliance Hugh Thomas and sitting Conservative MEPs in drawing up the right to know proposals, and that acting leader Philip Bushill-Matthews will be signing them off with him. The form, adapted from one used for MPs, will come into place on September 1st and details will be published twice a year on the delegation’s website.
MEPs will also have to submit an annual statement of expenses to an independent accountant to certify that they
comply with both Brussels and Party rules. These statements will have to cover not just what allowances are spent but also
what surplus remains. Candidates for the 2009 European elections will have to sign this code of conduct.
From September all MPs will be subject to this code of conduct just as the frontbench is at the moment. Cameron said he would not allow the use of "service companies" and that the name of any paying agent must be declared on the register of interests. Any employed family members will have to be named, together with details about their salary and role.
Asked to comment about the allegations against Caroline Spelman and the Wintertons, Cameron said that he wasn’t trying to find one person to burn at the stake and said that these rules – which the other parties haven’t gone as far on – were about genuinely trying to sort this problem out for the future.
Editorial comment: "These are good reforms that will put the Conservative Party in the lead in restoring integrity to the way politics is paid for in the European Parliament. Some Conservative MEPs think the scrutiny that they have been getting is unfair – complaining, not unreasonably, that they are more transparent than most parties (with the exception of UKIP who have been good on this issue) and nationalities. That may be true but taxpayers’ money is taxpayers’ money and they should be accountable for how they use it. There is one big gap in Mr Cameron’s proposals, however. These forward-looking reforms do nothing about the surpluses that many MEPs have already gathered. There is a history of MEPs not using all of their staffing and general expenses allowances and keeping the balance. Over the years this has seen many MEPs retire with windfalls of tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds. Many sitting MEPs are sitting on very substantial surpluses that should be repaid to the taxpayer."
“A few months ago, I called a Press Conference to announce new procedures, transparency and the ‘Right to Know’ form for our MPs. Now we are doing the same for our MEPs.
“Recent months have revealed a series of loopholes and inadequate controls governing the allowances and expenses claimed by MEPs. This is unacceptable.
“So today I am setting out a series of measures to bring more detail, more transparency, and more honesty to a system widely regarded – at best – as seriously flawed. I worked on these together with our MEPs. The Leader of our MEPs has signed up to the new Code. I think everyone knows it is time for a deep clean.
“I believe these changes will help to ensure that the delegation of British Conservative MEPs are committed – and as importantly are seen to be committed – to high standards of propriety in public life.
“The European Parliament operates a different system of allowances and expenses to those which apply in the House of Commons, and they are of course subject to different rules. There are some new rules coming in from June 2009 that will make things better. But we don’t want to wait for that.
“So I am setting out some new arrangements today which will improve transparency and controls, and tackle some of the problems that have occurred. I do not pretend that any party is whiter than white or purer than pure. But my job, with the MEPs, is to sort our own stuff out.
“From September, Conservative MEPs will follow a Code of Conduct that brings in equivalent transparency arrangements to those we have already introduced for Conservative Frontbenchers, and which the overwhelming majority of backbenchers are following too. Similar arrangements will of course now apply to the whole House of Commons from October.
“On MEPs, there are a number of issues. Let me take each of them in turn. I know there are concerns about links to family members and the use of ‘service companies’ used to collect and spend MEPs’ allowances.
“So, from September 1st 2008:
* The name of any Paying Agent of Service Provider used by a Conservative MEP must be named in their Declaration of Financial Interests. They must not be a family member or a service company.
* Any family member employed by a Conservative MEP must be named and their salary published within bands of £10,000.
* Any bonus paid to a member of staff must not exceed 15% of their annual salary, and confirmation of this included in the Annual Statement.
* They should publish, as for MPs, the names of staff they employ, their job title and where they are based, and whether it is full or part-time – as our MPs will now do at Westminster.
Let me repeat: we will outlaw the use of service companies. Paying agents or service providers must be accountants.
“Second, I know there are also concerns about the general lack of transparency of allowances and expenses. Put simply, no one knows how much is claimed, how much is spent, and how much is left over.
* We are introducing a new ‘Right to Know’ form for Conservative MEPs – suitably adapted for the arrangements of the European Parliament – but based on the one we have brought in at Westminster.
* MEPs will need to publish on the Delegation website – twice a year – a breakdown of the allowances they have claimed in the preceding six months. This will start at the beginning of 2009, and will cover the period from September 2008-December 2008.
* A Compliance Officer will be appointed for the Conservative Delegation of MEPs by the Chairman of the Delegation. The Compliance Officer will report to the Chairman of the Delegation and to the Compliance Officer of the Conservative Party.
* At the end of each European Parliament Financial Year on 31 December, each Conservative MEP must submit an Annual Statement of expenses to an independent, professionally qualified accountant for certification.
* The Annual Statement must be certified as complying with the relevant European Parliament rules and with the Conservative MEPs’ Code, and submitted to the Delegation’s Compliance Officer by 31 March – 1 March in the year of a European Parliament election.
* The accountant will be a provided with a copy of the European Parliament’s rules and with the Code specifically governing Conservative MEPs.
“And finally I know there are growing concerns about surpluses. These occur because MEPs receive allowances, often en bloc, and are then left with the money at the end of the year. This area needs to be put beyond any doubt.
* The Annual Statement must cover what the MEP has spent under the allowances of the EP – secretarial assistance allowance, general expenditure allowance, daily allowance, travel allowance.
* It must also show if there was any surplus remaining from the staffing allowance; how much; and confirm that it has been repaid in accordance with the EP’s rules.
* A summary of each Member’s Annual Statement, plus certification, will be published.
“We have been working on these improvements with our MEPs. As I said, the Acting Leader of the Delegation, Philip Bushill-Matthews, will be signing the Code of Conduct with me.
“In terms of taking up these new requirements, the position is very clear. Any Conservative candidate wishing to stand in the European Parliament elections in 2009 will need to sign up to them before they can be nominated by the Party to stand in those elections. These changes are the latest measures I have introduced across the party to ensure more transparency and honesty.
“Last week I led my Shadow Cabinet to vote for reform of the expenses system and against the notorious John Lewis list. The Government voted against reform and for the John Lewis list. And our Prime Minister was on the missing list. I hope with the announcement of these changes today he doesn’t go AWOL again – and that his – and indeed other political parties – introduce similar arrangements.”
Philip Bushill-Matthews MEP, Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament, added:
"I welcome today’s announcement and fully support the Party’s initiative to ensure greater transparency of the expenses and allowances system.
"The new proposals give us equivalence with MPs in Westminster and will allow a much more open system in the future."