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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 21:41 GMT
Watchdog accuses MPs and speaker
UK Parliament
Ms Filkin was appointed to parliament in 1999
Parliament's standards watchdog, Elizabeth Filkin, has accused Commons Speaker Michael Martin of undermining her role and attacked MPs for applying "quite remarkable" pressure against her.

The broadside came in a letter she wrote to Mr Martin last week and released on Tuesday explaining why she will not be re-applying for the post she has held since 1999.

I cannot re-apply for such a post where independence is unprotected and the resources are not supplied to ensure justice

Elizabeth Filkin
Ms Filkin told the speaker proposed changes to her role, which involves checking complaints about the financial declarations and interests of MPs, meant its "independence is unprotected".

The two-page letter is sure to re-ignite the row sparked in October when it emerged Ms Filkin would not be automatically re-appointed when her term expires in February.

In the letter she attacks unnamed senior MPs - some who held high office - for conducting "whispering campaigns and hostile press briefings" when she mounted inquiries into their financial affairs.

Civil servants who served them, supposedly bound by rules ensuring they remain impartial, were involved, she said.

Hours cut

But the main thrust of her attack is directed at the House of Commons Commission, which Mr Martin chairs, for making changes to the parliamentary commissioner's role.

Whoever takes over from Ms Filkin will have their working hours cut from four to three days a week and be required to re-apply for their job every three years.

But, she told Mr Martin, there was already too little time to deal with the volume of work the job generates.

And job security was essential because it allows, where necessary, "conclusions to be reached which may be unpopular with the employer in the short term".

'Inadequate resources'

The commissioner wrote: "I am sure that a majority of Members, like the public, wish to see Parliament maintain standards of conduct defined by a published code of conduct and rules laid down in the House.

"I am sorry that you have decided to undermine the office established by the House for this purpose. I suspect that most people, including many Members, will regret your decision as much as I do.

Elizabeth Filkin
MPs have been divided in their views of Filkin
"For my part, I cannot re-apply for such a post where independence is unprotected and the resources are not supplied to ensure justice."

Ms Filkin went on to suggest she believed it was because she drew up reports unpopular to some senior MPs that she had not been re-appointed.

She said she found it "hard to accept" Commons Leader Robin Cook's assertion to MPs last week that her post had been readvertised in the interests of "openness and transparency".

Both the speaker's and Mr Cook's office said no comment would be made about Ms Filkin's letter, and Downing Street said it was "a matter for her".

But the Conservatives demanded an independent public inquiry into the allegations she made.

Blair blamed

Chairman David Davis told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "If true, these allegations demonstrate the executive yet again undermining Parliament and its offices."

Tory MP Peter Bottomley, a member of the Commons standards and privileges committee that considers Ms Filkin's reports and recommends what action to take, said Prime Minister Tony Blair was also to blame for undermining her.

David Heath, a Liberal Democrat member of the standards committee, said the affair had been mishandled "from beginning to end".

"Clearly something has gone desperately wrong here," he told BBC News 24.

The BBC's John Pienaar
"Some MPs feel the commissioner has pushed her powers too far"
Conservative Party Chairman David Davis
says the allegations must be fully investigated
David Heath MP
of the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee believes it has been mishandled
See also:

04 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Key extracts from the Filkin letter
03 Dec 01 | Scotland
Watchdog to probe MPs' expenses
25 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Cook defends Filkin job decision
19 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Sleaze watchdog faces axe
28 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Anti-sleaze investigator 'must go'
11 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Vaz inquiry widens
15 Dec 00 | UK Politics
MP censured over speaker bets
23 Mar 01 | UK Politics
MPs warned on sleaze
24 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Robinson faces three week Commons ban
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