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Friday, 19 October, 2001, 08:26 GMT 09:26 UK
Sleaze watchdog faces axe
Houses of Parliament
Elizabeth Filkin: charged with keeping sleaze at bay
The parliamentary sleaze watchdog Elizabeth Filkin, who investigates allegations of misconduct against MPs, has not been re-appointed for a second term in the post.

The decision, announced on Thursday, will please some MPs who believed her investigations could be over-zealous, although Ms Filkin can reapply for the post in an open contest.

I think she has been an outstanding public servant and has done a magnificent job and she should have been offered a second term

Independent former MP Martin Bell
Other politicians have already criticised the move, and former independent MP Martin Bell said he was "deeply disappointed".

And Labour MP David Winnick said it sent out the message that there was resistance in parliament to having an effective watchdog.

Ms Filkin's highest profile inquiry was into former Europe Minister Keith Vaz, which dogged Labour in the run up to the June general election campaign.

Liberal Democrat MP Archy Kirkwood, representing the House of Commons Commission, said an open contest will be held in February to appoint a new parliamentary standards commissioner.

Ms Filkin could re-apply for the post, he said, in which case she would be added to the short list.
Elizabeth Filkin
MPs are divided over Filkin's performance

The decisions comes after former Commons Speaker Betty Boothroyd attacked Ms Filkin in her newly published memoirs.

Ms Boothroyd suggested the commissioner had become too close to the media, while MPs were "put in the dock" on the basis of unsubstantiated accusations against them.

"To the media, she was headline news; to many MPs she had become a witch-hunter," said the former speaker.

Ms Boothroyd said Ms Filkin was painstaking and fair but added: "I felt the house would be better served by somebody who knew it well, working quietly in the background."

Move criticised

But senior Tory MP and former minister Peter Bottomley, who sits on the Commons standards and privileges committee that oversees Ms Filkin's work, condemned the decision.

"I think it is a failure of process, it's a failure of judgement, it's a failure of fairness," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Friday.

Mr Bottomley praised the job done by Ms Filkin and said she should have been re-appointed automatically.

Labour politicians had been unhappy when some members of their party had faced similar investigations to those conducted on Conservative MPs in the past, he suggested.

'Defence league'

Another possible reason for disquiet about Ms Filkin's performance was that there was a "defence league" that could not bear independent regulation of their actions, argued Mr Bottomley.

Mr Bell - who as MP for Tatton in the last parliament served on the standards and privileges committee - said: "I am deeply disappointed."

"I think it sends a very dispiriting signal about Parliament's willingness to police itself thoroughly.

"I think a lot of senior MPs were not happy with her thoroughness but that is the whole point of having an independent commissioner."

Mr Winnick said he was "very disappointed indeed" at the decision.

"The message that will come across, intended or otherwise, is that there is a majority in parliament across all parties who don't want to have someone as a watchdog who is very effective and moreover who looks into cases regardless of (an MP's) seniority," he said.

Lord Goodhart, Lib Dem member of standards committee
"I think she has been an energetic and effective commissioner"
See also:

28 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Anti-sleaze investigator 'must go'
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
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