Labour leads on questions to EU: British MEPs put down more queries. Andrew Marshall reports

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Indy Politics
LABOUR Euro-MPs are more active than their Conservative counterparts in grilling the European Union's Commission, according to figures obtained by the Independent.

The commission's figures for written questions between January and November show 23 out of 45 Labour members asked more than 10 questions each. Only 11 of 32 Conservatives ranked in the same league. Written questions are used to elicit information from the commission, the EU's executive, by the elected members of the Parliament.

Alex Smith, Labour MEP for South of Scotland, asked more questions than all but one of his colleagues in the Parliament on a wide range of issues, but especially nuclear and environmental topics, which are important to his constituents. Questions were 'a useful way of keeping tabs,' he said. 'They allow you to be well armed when they try to fob you off.'

Sir James Scott-Hopkins tops the list for the Tories, with 28 questions. Winnie Ewing, Scottish Nationalist MEP for Highlands and Islands, asked 32. Ulster Unionist James Nicholson asked 11.

Questions are by no means the best or the only record of an MEP's performance. The list leaves out some of the best known MEPs on both sides of the house, who make their mark by committee work or by holding an official post. Equally, not all written questions are particularly useful.

Perhaps more surprising than the party split is the overall British contribution. Out of the 114 MEPs who put forward more than 10 questions, 35 or more than a quarter were British - by far the largest national representation. Of the Parliament's 518 members, 332 asked 10 or fewer questions and about 70 asked none at all.

'We are very conscious of our constituencies, whereas some of our colleagues are elected on a party list system,' Mr Smith said.

Most questions were asked by Sotiris Kostopolous, of Pasok, the Greek Socialist party, who asked 736 questions. But many accuse him of wasting time and money.

Some MEPs are critical of the costs of answering questions and of delays. 'The process is incredibly slow,' Edward McMillan Scott, Conservative MEP for York, said. He asked a question seven months ago on the commission's tendency to let certain nationalities control key posts and is still waiting for a reply.

----------------------------------------------------------------- UK MEPS WHO HAVE ASKED MOST QUESTIONS ----------------------------------------------------------------- MEP Constituency Party Number of questions Alex Smith South of Scotland Lab 84 Anita Pollack London South West Lab 54 Glynn Ford Greater Manchester East Lab 38 Christine Oddy Midlands Central Lab 38 Winnie Ewing Highlands and Islands SNP 32 Sir James Scott-Hopkins Hereford & Worcester Con 28 David Bowe Cleveland & Yorkshire North Lab 25 Christine Crawley Birmingham East Lab 25 Peter Crampton Humberside Lab 21 Hugh McMahon Strathclyde West Lab 20 -----------------------------------------------------------------