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Lord Goodhart, Lib Dem member of standards committee
"I think she has been an energetic and effective commissioner"
 real 28k

Friday, 29 June, 2001, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
'Back sleaze watchdog', says peer
Elizabeth Filkin
Elizabeth Filkin: Some MPs want her to go
Supporters of the Commons sleaze investigator Elizabeth Filkin have launched a rearguard action to save her job.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Goodhart defended the parliamentary standards commissioner on Friday in the wake of attacks from Labour and Conservative MPs.

The parliamentary commissioner for standards has been doing a very good job at investigating the serious complaints

Lord Goodhart
Lord Goodhart, a member of the Committee for Standards in Public Life which first suggested setting up Ms Filkin's post, described her as "energetic and effective".

His comments came after Labour's Tam Dalyell, the longest serving MP, said he did not want the Ms Filkin re-appointed when her contract ends in January.

It is thought a House of Commons commission chaired by speaker Michael Martin may agree with Mr Dalyell - although the government has pledged a a "zealous" fight against sleaze.

New attack

Ms Filkin, who has been most prominent in investigating former Labour minister Keith Vaz, came under renewed attack on Friday from Humfrey Malins, the Conservative MP for Woking.

He told BBC News: "She's spent a lot of time in recent months investigating what I call trivia in House of Commons which has caused a great deal of irritation to people and I am afraid far from certain her job is a necessary one."

But Lord Goodhart said he certainly wanted to stay in the post after her current three-year contract expired.

Lord Goodhart, Liberal Democrat peer
Goodhart: Filkin should stay as commissioner
"I think she's been an energetic and effective commissioner and I think a lot of the trouble with trivia is due to the fact that there is a tit for tat practice among some MPs who simply accuse each other of breaches of the rules," he said.

There were trivial complaints, such as Conservative leader William Hague's failure to register his use of Jeffrey Archer's gym, said the peer.

But that was not the key issue.

"The key to the matter is that I believe that the parliamentary commissioner for standards has been doing a very good job at investigating the serious complaints," continued Lord Goodhart.

More support needed

He believed MPs on the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee had not always given Ms Filkin "adequate support".

And he warned that failing to reappoint her could send out the wrong signals.

"I think there would be considerable worries about whether there was a parliamentary culture which meant members of parliament did not like an outsider looking at the way they were carrying out their business," added Lord Goodhart.

Ms Filkin's friend and former colleague Sir Kenneth Clucas said: "Anyone who has felt upset by her manner must be very thin skinned.

"My guess about the way she behaves is she would be very persistent in her questioning but extremely polite in doing it."

Tam Dalyell said on Thursday that many MPs had complained of leaks to the media of Ms Filkin's reports and of investigations made on "frivolous, trivial and false grounds".

"There are colleagues on all sides whom I respect who have thought that she was overstepping the mark," he said.

Robin Cook, Leader of the House of Commons, appeared to suggest the government disagreed when pressed on the issue by MPs the same day.

Zealous watchdog

He said Ms Filkin had been "extremely zealous in carrying through her duties".

"We do require a zealous commissioner and we will make sure that the house is served by a zealous commissioner."

Mr Cook criticised speculation in the press about Ms Filkin's future.

"I don't think that is helpful to Ms Filkin or to her authority, nor does it serve of any interest to the house," he added.

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See also:

11 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Vaz inquiry widens
26 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Questions over former PM's earnings
15 Dec 00 | UK Politics
MP censured over speaker bets
23 Mar 01 | UK Politics
MPs warned on sleaze
28 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Anti-sleaze investigator 'must go'
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