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Phillip Mawer, parliamentary standards commissioner
Phillip Mawer, parliamentary standards commissioner
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: PHILIP MAWER, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

FEBRUARY 17TH, 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Now amidst all the news last week of Labour Party donations, leaked emails and the resignation of Jo Moore, a new parliamentary sleaze-buster was appointed. Philip Mawer is to take over from Elizabeth Filkin as the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. He'll start the job in March, but its a job that's been described by almost everyone as a poisoned chalice, in fact - particularly given as Elizabeth Filkin was effectively sacked. Why would you want to take such a job? It sounds awfully difficult. Well we're joined now by Philip Mawer.

Welcome, you're just about to start the job, Philip, and someone said about Elizabeth Filkin's handling of the job - Martin Bell, I think - said she that she had done the job too well and that's why she had to go. Do you think she did the job too well?

PHILIP MAWER: I can't comment on how my predecessor did the job. I, I do think that both she and her predecessor, Gordon Downey, established the role as a very important one in terms of public confidence in MPs and I intend to go and build on that.

DAVID FROST: But are you in any sense independent of the committee?

PHILIP MAWER: Well of course the -

DAVID FROST: Or are you actually really there only by them?

PHILIP MAWER: Certainly not their stooge - I'm not owned by them - and they, MPs pay my salary of course, and I report to the select committee, but I'm an independent person and they certainly don't own my mind, they don't own my conscience.

DAVID FROST: Elizabeth said yesterday that five cases of Labour ministers, past and present, her judgements were watered down by, by in fact the committee. What would you do if that happened to you?

PHILIP MAWER: Well I if I, obviously I want to work closely with the select committee and if I, I would have hoped that and expect that they would not be the sort of difficulties which have been alleged. But if they were, I would first take my concerns to the Speaker and to the Commons in general and then, obviously if I was not satisfied I would have to consider my position, but I don't expect that to happen. Let's be clear, I wouldn't take the job if I thought that I was going to be anybody's patsy or be easily seen off by anybody in Westminster.

DAVID FROST: Obviously it's very, doubly difficult for it to look fair and above board at the moment because there's such a vast Labour majority on the committee. As I'm sure you know, in the States, with the House of Representatives, their ethics committee is equal numbers from each side, whatever the electoral vote - even if there's a huge majority for the Republicans: Republicans, Democrats, same number on the ethics committee. That would be a much better idea here too wouldn't it?

PHILIP MAWER: Well it's clearly one option and I've no doubt it's one of the things that Sir Nigel Wicks and his committee on standards in public life will be considering, you know that they're looking into parliamentary self-regulation, they're beginning their work a week on Monday, and I would expect them to be looking at just such possible changes in the system.

DAVID FROST: Well I mean obviously self-regulation is in the - what David Mellor said of the press , in the last chance saloon. I mean, if another thing happens, as happened with Elizabeth Filkin I mean then, then there's going to have to be proper regulation, legal regulation, and not this rather incestuous arrangement.

PHILIP MAWER: Well there, there is proper regulation. There is a good argument for self-regulation, and indeed I think it's, if you look at the experience of self-regulation, taken as whole, it has worked. What has obviously been the case is that recent events have raised understandable concerns in the minds of the public and I think that we've got to make sure that, my task to help make sure that the new system, that the system is seen to work well in future. I wouldn't rule out self-regulation, not least because the alternatives bring their own problems - constitutional, heavily legalised, legalistic system and so on. So, the key thing is to make the present arrangements work well.

DAVID FROST: Are you in fact representing the committee to the world or representing the world, the public, to the committee?

PHILIP MAWER: I'm certainly not representing the committee - they have to speak for themselves. My job is to investigate complaints, to advise MPs on how to deal with the Register of Interests and so on, and to advise the committee. The committee will then have to answer for its decisions and it's not for me to speak for them.

DAVID FROST: And Philip, what about Elizabeth's role, do you admire what she did or did you learn lessons from what she did that will help you?

PHILIP MAWER: Well I haven't yet got into the, the job so I'm obviously still absorbing the experience of my predecessor. Of course I'm sorry about the circumstances in which she stood down from the role. She's built - she did many good things there - and clearly she's built a base on which I would hope to be very able to carry things forward and it's, it's instructive that she has said, in the last 24 hours, that she thinks that the role is one that can be done, she believes that self-regulation can work and the critical thing is to make sure that the conditions exist in which it can.

DAVID FROST: And as you go into the job, what needs to happen, for instance, for the Mittal case to come to you? Does some MP or member of the public - how does it get referred to you? It's all over the headlines today, if you were actually in the office tomorrow, how would you decide whether you were going to look into that?

PHILIP MAWER: Well of course my job is to, is to enforce the code of conduct for MPs and there's a, a different issue about ministerial code of conduct. There are regulations, as you know, relating to ministers and to government, and clearly a key issue at the moment is whether that ministerial system of regulation should be aligned with the parliamentary system of regulation. Again, I expect that that's an issue that Wickes committee may well want to consider.

DAVID FROST: That would bring them altogether in one place.

PHILIP MAWER: One new, at least modified form of regulation and it's certainly an option which some are advocating. And if Parliament and the government decided that they wanted the new standards commissioner the office that I will hold to take on that additional responsibility, then obviously I, I'd do it and do it well.

DAVID FROST: Well thank you very much for being with us Philip and may your chalice not be poisoned.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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