British expenses scandal spread to European Parliament

LONDON - The British expenses scandal spread to Europe on Monday, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown ordered his European legislators to meet stricter accountability rules amid fears that similar abuses could be taking place at the European Parliament.

LONDON - The British expenses scandal spread to Europe on Monday, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown ordered his European legislators to meet stricter accountability rules amid fears that similar abuses could be taking place at the European Parliament.

For more than two weeks, disclosures over how British legislators used public money to pay for items ranging from horse manure to plasma TVs and swimming pool repairs have outraged voters and forced dozens of House of Commons members to announce early retirement.

Brown has called for sweeping reforms of the British Parliament's expense system, but has resisted calls to hold an early national election to let the public oust legislators who abused the system. The opposition Conservatives are far ahead of Brown's Labour party in opinion polls and widely expected to win the next election, which Brown must call by June 2010.

The Labour party said Monday that members who serve as EU Parliament members will in the future publish more detailed breakdowns of their expenses claims, including receipts, every six months. The legislators now publish limited details about their expenses, but do not show any receipts.

"We hope that the other political parties will eventually follow our lead on this," Glenis Willmott, the Labour party's leader in the EU Parliament said.

Labour has 19 of Britain's 78 EU legislators - who form a small fraction of the assembly's 785 members.

The European Parliament is facing elections across the bloc's 27 members in early June - and many believe the expenses system they operate under is as rotten as the one in Britain.

Many analysts predict British voters will back minority parties in the EU election as a rebuke to Britain's leading parties for the expenses scandal.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson, seen by some as a possible future replacement for Brown, said major reforms are needed to rebuild public trust.

"The current public mood of anger and disquiet ... demands a response," Johnson wrote Monday in an op-ed article for the Times of London.

Public anger has been fuelled by revelations of how legislators used public money to clean a moat, furnish lavish second homes or claim vast sums for mortgage loans. Most of the claims were legally valid under parliament's lax rules, but some - like claiming payments for mortgages that were already paid off - could spark criminal charges.

Details of the claims were to have been released in July following a freedom of information ruling that ordered expense receipts to be made public. But the details have been published by the Daily Telegraph newspaper after it acquired copies in advance via a former special forces soldier.

On Monday, the paper reported that nine senior British cabinet ministers spent 11,000 pounds of taxpayers' money to pay for advice on completing tax returns. Harriet Harman, a cabinet minister and deputy leader of the Labour party, also charged the public 10,000 pounds for media training.

 
 
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