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Monday, 10 December, 2001, 20:47 GMT
How can Parliament be policed?
The UK Parliamentary Standards Commissioner is stepping down, saying she has been undermined by the MPs she was hired to police.

Elizabeth Filkin told the BBC that she has been the subject of a whispering campaign since taking up the job in 1999.

She claims MPs from all major parties, including some Cabinet ministers, have sought to make it impossible for her to properly investigate allegations of misconduct.

Ms Filkin says the job of her successor will be even more difficult, as the post has been "downgraded" to fewer hours and they will have to reapply for their jobs every few years.

Will Ms Filkin's criticisms further undermine public confidence in MPs? How can Parliament be policed?


Proportional representation is the only way

Tom, England
Look at any government with a huge majority and it will tailor things to serve itself and its own political aims. The opposition parties do not have enough clout to stop the executive from pushing through self-serving rules. In the past we had a real separation of powers between the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary. The Lord Chancellor now sits on all three so it is hardly surprising that the Executive gets its way. Proportional representation is the only way to stop such huge majorities and restore any semblance of accountability and, indeed, democracy.
Tom, England

Perhaps it's an indication of the depths to which public opinion of politicians has fallen, but for my money the best idea I've heard on political sleaze was in Terry Pratchett's "Last Continent" where anyone elected to public office was instantly imprisoned for it. All we'd have to do is change the security arrangements at the House of Commons!
Andy J, UK

Ms Filkin should be reinstated with even more powers, and clean up the corrupt den that is the Commons. Many of us have had enough of the low standards our politicians set themselves. Let's expose their appalling behaviour, and once exposed they should be kicked out. At present they are widely distrusted and have little respect from Joe Public - it's hardly surprising!!
John Brown, England

All the sleaze really does make one remember why the word COMMON is present in House of Commons doesn't it!
Flossie, Wales

I did not feel that she was up to the job

Ben Bradshaw MP, England
As the Member of Parliament for the constituency of Exeter, I feel I must get involved in this debate. I knew Ms Filkin personally and, while I found her to possess a friendly, personable character I did not feel that she was up to the job. It is a shame she has been forced to resign but in the long run it is in everyone's best interests.
Ben Bradshaw MP, England

Ms Filkin never stood a chance once she attended to her job correctly. Our MPs didn't want policing, just a nodding dog. After all, it really wouldn't do to have all this sleaze out in the open now would it?
Barry, England

Our elected representatives need to be seen to be clean. A strong watchdog has to be in the public and government's interest. Any Prime Minister needs to know that those he has appointed, or may appoint, to high office are not going to let him down by having a few skeletons in the cupboard. He need only worry about their competence.
Stephen, UK

MPs don't want to be policed - too many are corrupt and don't want exposure. That is why so many of us are completely disinterested in politics. They have shot themselves in the foot again.
Bill, England

It just adds to the cynicism most feel about our MPs

Frank Ward, UK
It is a great pity she has gone. It is an even greater shame that we have such children running the country that they have to resort to a whispering campaigns against their watchdogs. It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. It just adds to the cynicism most feel about our MPs.
Frank Ward, UK

Appointing the Standards Commissioner should be done by a free vote in the House of Commons, not by a committee or by the Government. Their term should be automatically renewed by a majority vote in the Commons. That way backbenchers, who usually have less potential conflicts, are more likely to choose and support them. Investigations should be strictly private until finished or unless a summons is required due to non-disclosure of information.
Richard Gee, Scotland

British politicians are now at their lowest level after years of erosion of standards. Obviously the appointment of Ms Filkin was pure window dressing - they did not really expect her to probe their many misdeeds. Ms Filkin should go to a tribunal and charge them with constructive dismissal. Is it not significant that the politicians are more concerned with finding out how the resignation letter reached the press?
Malcolm Bird, UK

I am very concerned at the decision to advertise the post and also to lessen the hours; it does not make the House of Commons look very good.
John Dakin, UK

MPs policing Parliament will inevitably result in rank closing

Mike, Czech Rep.
The answer is simple; Parliament can either be policed by the Upper House (the Lords), the judiciary or both. That's what they're there for. MPs policing Parliament will inevitably result in rank closing when the occasion demands it. We have a political system which enables checks and balances, let's exploit it.
Mike, Czech Rep.

Back in 1997 Tony Blair promised the country that people who practiced wrong-doing would not be tolerated. But now Labour is showing itself to be filled with sleaze, in just the same way the Tory Party was prior to their 1997 meltdown. The foul stench coming out of Westminster demonstrates one simple thing - they have something to hide.
David, England

Ms Filkin's parting comments after her resignation sound more like sour grapes. She had been doing a very good job, but it seems that she was unable to cope with the pressure of the position, so has left spitting and resentful.
James C, UK

Would you prefer a few investigative journalists to do the job in place of a neutral civil servant?

David Hazel, UK
Those MPs seeking to undermine efforts to monitor standards will only undermine their own positions, and make the public even more cynical of politicians and of the political process. The thought that all people have when they learn that someone is trying to undermine such a system is "What are they trying to hide?" Well, MPs, what are you trying to hide? Would you prefer a few investigative journalists to do the job in place of a neutral civil servant?
David Hazel, UK

Self-regulation - even through an appointed body - will never work. We should demand a written constitution with the same structure as in the US; with oversight and a framework in which laws are made and implemented. Then there might be some incentive for openness and honesty. It is getting worse year by year; mainly because of the complete absence of any deterrents.
Peter Galbavy, London, UK

How can MPs exclaim surprise at the cynicism of the public towards politics if they are not prepared to be accountable?

Edwin Thornber, Britain
When the government wants power over their subjects they put forward legislation such as the current so-called Anti-Terror Bill to give themselves more power to examine individuals' private lives and transactions. However, if it is their probity which comes under scrutiny, they weasle their way to downgrade the power and scope of this scrutiny. How can MPs exclaim surprise and bemusement at the cynicism and indifference of the public towards politics if they are not prepared to be accountable to an independent body? It reeks of corruption and the self-serving attitude so prevalent amongst today's professional politicians.
Edwin Thornber, Britain

I cannot believe that Parliament can authorise the contract of their own watchdog. It should be an independent person like the Queen who is able to deal with this type of contract. I work for a large national company that has a watchdog, does this mean that if we don't like their recommendations, we can sack them? No I didn't think so.
Martin, UK

This government has proved that absolute power corrupts absolutely

M.P.Marshall, UK
Parliament will never be policed properly simply because the last thing ministers want is to be policed at all. ALL opposition parties want ministers to be held to account, but only until they gain power. This government has proved that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
M.P.Marshall, UK

You need a separate independent body to police Parliament, a body that answers to no politician, especially not a Labour MP. But how can such a body come into existence when even the Speaker is no longer independent?
Steve McCoull, UK

Where is Guy Fawkes when we need him?

Shaun, Teignmouth UK
We should not be at all surprised that our politicians are attempting to spare their own blushes by scaling down the possibilities of their chicanery being brought to light. They want the electorate to be fully accountable when it comes to paying our taxes and accepting minimal wage rises yet are more than happy to clip the wings of the House of Lords and the Standards Commission when they cannot bludgeon through their own agendas. Where is Guy Fawkes when we need him?
Shaun, Teignmouth UK

The upsetting thing is that Ms Filkin has left her post and Keith Vaz has not had the common decency to vacate his.
Alex, NZ\UK

I thought it was the government who set this position up make sure there was no sleaze? I suppose with the number of senior Labour politicians scoring major own goals, it was all becoming a bit embarrassing. Maybe the final straw arose because she was getting too close for comfort (to something really big?) Clearly this role is needed and it shouldn't be manipulated to prevent a consistent approach. The position should run for the duration of the Parliament. We've already had Mr Brown fail to adhere to Parliamentary ethics and refuse to give information to a select committee, now an enforced cover up. When will the sleaze end?
Richard Philips, UK

Well it's taken them a while but now we see that New Labour are no better than the old Conservatives. It seems the old adage "It doesn't matter who you vote for, the government always get in" is very, very true.
John Harding, Wales UK

I hope the Cabinet Secretary will now publish guidance for civil servants on how to resist pressure from Ministers to engage in such activity, and that the Prime Minister will make a clear statement that any Minister who puts improper pressure on a Parliamentary enquiry will be expected to resign.
Robert Kaye, UK

The very people being policed are those that choose the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner

Steve Fuller, England
I find it difficult to believe that the very people being policed are those that choose the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. This is incredible. It is a poor state of affairs when somebody is effectively removed from office because they are doing too good a job. Could Mr. Blair please explain how this situation will conquer apathy at the ballot box? One has to ask what they are scared of.
Steve Fuller, England

Ms Filkin did not realise that she wasn't expected to actually investigate MPs - her job was pure PR

Paul, England
Ms Filkin obviously did not realise that she wasn't expected to actually investigate MPs - her job was pure PR. Politicians invented her post so that they could claim that there was an independent watchdog but they never intended it to bite them. Of course MPs are going to resist outside scrutiny of their affairs - they aren't going to put up with anyone derailing their gravy train.
Paul, England

The only way for this to work is to put the gamekeeper out of the reach of the poachers, ie to put someone in place that is beyond the influence of the politicians, and in the current system that means a senior judge. Any other individual will be vulnerable to political interference.
Kathy Sadler, UK

Strange isn't it? Tony Blair promises to clean up sleaze in politics, but when the sleaze concerns his own ministers the watchdog is killed. What a hypocrite. No wonder so many people don't vote.
Jane Allinwaite, England

I find the situation appalling. On one hand you have our elected government introducing measures to place the police, NHS and education under closer scrutiny and on the other hand the elected government wishes not to be scrutinised themselves. Do they take the entire country for fools?
Richard Greaves, UK

At least this is one bad story New Labour cannot bury

Giles, England
We have known for some time now that this government is just as corrupt as the last one. Perhaps now people will believe it. At least this is one bad story New Labour cannot bury.
Giles, England

I suspect that her remarks will further tarnish the reputation of MPs. Given the difficulty that some MPs have understanding such simple concepts as reimbursing allowances to which they are not entitled, there is a clear need for independent monitoring of their interests. However, it is important that the process is fair and that MPs are not unfairly pilloried in public only to be cleared at a later date.
Chris Klein, UK

Parliament doesn't want to be policed properly, only appear to be policed. When it is a case of snouts at trough time, the last thing you want is some jumped up nobody telling you what you are doing is wrong.
Gerry, Scotland

This government was elected on an anti-sleaze ticket. It is pretty rich that, as soon as a few of their cronies are found wanting and are criticised by the body they set up to ensure the probity of MPs, they immediately cry foul and try to undermine the organisation they set up to investigate and report on any alleged unethical activities. As a local councillor I am required to operate under a far more stringent code of conduct and declaration of interests than any MP.
Chris Holman, UK

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See also:

05 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Sleaze role 'under threat'
04 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Watchdog accuses MPs and speaker
04 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Key extracts from the Filkin letter

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