MPs column - Europe top of agenda again

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Europe is once again top of the agenda in Westminster.

We in the Conservative party have pledged to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, and one of our MPs, James Wharton, has put forth a Private Member’s Bill which would provide for one.

There is a possibility, however, that our coalition partners, the Lib Dems, may be able to combine with the Labour opposition and block it.

We do know this: the only realistically feasible way for voters in Great Britain to have a referendum on Europe is to vote Conservative.

We are the only party capable of winning a majority in the Commons who have pledged to do so, and it is one of my priorities as a backbench MP to hold the Prime Minister and the front bench to account.

Britons have made it clear to the Government that they want a say on Europe, and I salute the Prime Minister for responding positively to our appeal.

As extensively covered in one of the Sunday tabloids, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority recently published their annual figures for MPs’ expenses.

The tabloid quite rightly expected IPSA’s figures to be accurate, and pointed out that my expense claims for gas and electricity were rather high.

I was surprised by the figures myself, and did a little digging. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that IPSA had overstated my expense claim by over a thousand pounds.

IPSA misled the public by releasing inaccurate information, but they have admitted their fault and corrected these particular figures.

As it happens, I have one of the lowest overall annual expense claims, mainly because (unlike most MPs) I don’t claim 
back anything for rent or mortgage.

But when you focus on energy, my costs appear higher.

Around half of MPs make no energy claim whatsoever, but in the majority of cases this is because their energy costs happen to be included in their monthly rent.

One of the best things about Great Britain is that anyone from any background can become a Member of Parliament.

The MPs whom voters have elected have a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences – from mineworkers’ sons to hereditary viscounts and everywhere in between, from all over the country.

Each one brings the richness of his or her experience and a valuable perspective to the law-making process. If we didn’t pay some of MPs’ expenses, Parliament would only be open to the wealthiest people in the country. There are obviously problems with IPSA, but MPs are working hard to force IPSA to work better and to be truthful in their reports.

This is also the season of Remembrance, and as a veteran of the Honourable Artillery Company I was proud to stand with fellow MPs with military experience at a service in Guards Chapel last week and to lay a wreath at the War Memorial in Market Rasen on Remembrance Sunday.

We must never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

Sir Edward Leigh

MP for Gainsborough