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Friday, 7 December, 2001, 15:44 GMT
Standards body backs MPs watchdog
Elizabeth Filkin
Filkin: 'MPs must route out sleaze'
The committee on standards in public life is reportedly refusing to take part in the hunt for a new Commons watchdog.

The latest development follows the controversy over the decision of Elizabeth Filkin to quit the post - a role first recommended by the standards committee.


People ought to stop and draw breath because this is doing nobody, especially of all parliament, any good

Peter Preston, former Guardian editor
Committee chairman Sir Nigel Wicks is said to be "dismayed" by MPs' alleged treatment of Ms Filkin, according to a report in Friday's Independent newspaper.

The news will be seen as a further vote of no confidence in MPs' ability to police their own affairs.

Ms Filkin caused a storm with her decision not to re-apply for the job she has held since 1999 amid allegations that her investigations had been undermined by senior figures in Parliament.

Angry

Members of the committee on standards in public life, formerly known as the Nolan committee, are refusing to comment ahead of its next meeting on Tuesday.

But according to BBC Radio 4's The World at One programme, they are angry that they would only be given the role of observers in the selection procedure.

The committee is understood to have urged MPs to include at least one independent person on its selection panel.

Cook apology

In a further embarrassment for the government, the leader of the House of Commons, Robin Cook, has had to apologise for misleading MPs over the advertisement for Ms Filkin's successor.

Mr Cook initially told MPs the terms of Ms Filkin's job had not been changed, after she claimed it was being "downgraded" from four days a week to three.

But he has been forced to retract this statement in a letter to Labour backbencher David Winnick, one of Ms Filkin's supporters, it has emerged.

'Shambolic'

Former Guardian editor Peter Preston, who is applying for the role, said it was "inevitable" that the committee on standards in public life would take a back seat in the selection of a new commissioner.

"They have an overarching and rather lofty role and this is all too shambolic and miserable for them to get their feet wet.

"But I do think it is beginning to be a concern for everyone involved, including them, because it is such a shambles and it risks pulling down the whole Nolan edifice if it isn't tackled properly."

"In every sense, from the Speaker alleging that Ms Filkin had leaked letter when that was palpably not the case through to saying the job advertised in precisely the same terms - no it wasn't - everybody is looking particularly foolish.


The public perception is that MPs are behaving badly and I don't think that's true

Sir Gordon Downey, former commons standards commissioner
"People ought to stop and draw breath because this is doing nobody, especially of all Parliament, any good."

Meanwhile, Ms Filkin's predecessor, Sir Gordon Downey, said he had experienced none of the turmoil reported by her.

He said MPs had been largely co-operative, once they had got used to idea of someone from outside parliament monitoring their affairs, and he was "shocked" by the apparent treatment of Ms Filkin.

"She has obviously had a very hard row to hoe," he said.

"If there are people out there who are making life deliberately difficult that is a great pity."

'Sleazy'

However, Sir Gordon said he thought criticisms of the current system of self-regulation were overdone.

"The public perception is that MPs are behaving badly and I don't think that's true.

"I don't think the House is a sleazy body. There are one or two people who step out of line, but that is a different matter."

Sir Gordon said he would not be tempted to come out of retirement to replace Ms Filkin.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mark Mardell
"Elizabeth Filkin feels the whole political establishment has ganged up on her"
Commons standards commissioner, Elizabeth Filkin
"In my view they are not offering security for this post"
The BBC's Rebecca Milligan
investigates the issues surrounding MPs' expenses and finances
See also:

05 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Speaker hits back in sleaze row
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'
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