The Times ran a story yesterday on the vote in the European Parliament to discharge the annual budget, and specifically on a vote we took on transparency of MEPs’ expenses. (Read the original story here — not free.)
The Times alleged that MEPs across the political spectrum — including Labour, Tories and UKIP — voted against proposals to improve transparency. But this is highly misleading.
The report focuses not on the overall result of the voting, but rather on one specific amendment. The amendment in question was basically a compromise position. It would have improved transparency somewhat, but, in our view, it would not have improved it enough. It was a step forward, but an inadequate one.
Our decision as Labour MEPs was to vote for that compromise amendment, but also to vote for other, stronger amendments that followed it. That way, we hoped to get the strongest possible decision on transparency, but in case the stronger amendments didn’t get majority support, we would still have the compromise amendment in place, which would represent some improvement.
In the end, the compromise amendment was supported by the vast majority of Parliament, including Tories and UKIP — although some UKIP MEPs have subsequently changed their votes. (MEPs are allowed to do this for a short period after each vote, as long as it doesn’t change the result — it’s meant to be a way to correct things if you press the wrong button!)
But then, during the vote, it was argued that the later, stronger proposed paragraphs were cancelled by the fact that we had already approved the weaker one. This ruling was challenged, but the President decided that they were indeed cancelled and so we didn’t have a chance to vote on the stronger paragraphs at all! This happened despite the fact that MEPs had been assured in the debate that the texts were not incompatible and we would be able to vote on both.
So where does that leave us? As ever, context is important in these matters. We Labour MEPs are proud of our very strong track record on transparency. We have pushed for it, voted for it, and, where Parliament’s own rules have fallen short, we have voluntarily introduced it for ourselves, with tighter controls on our expenses and allowances. We were the first UK party to supplement Parliament’s rules with our own rules, requiring every one of us to have our allowances externally reviewed by independent accountant and published on our website.
You can see all Labour MEPs’ full transparency declarations on the website of the European Parliamentary Labour Party, and you can see even more details in the Transparency area of my own site.