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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 14:57 GMT
'No plot' to undermine watchdog
Michael Martin
Mr Martin has moved to rebutt Ms Filkin's claims
House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin has insisted there is no plot to undermine the independence of Parliament's sleaze watchdog.

Mr Martin pledged that the House of Commons Commission, which he chairs, would find a suitable successor to Elizabeth Filkin.

We have no intention of effecting any change in the role or function of the Commissioner, nor of threatening the impartiality of the holder of the post

Michael Martin
Ms Filkin, who is coming to the end of a three year stint as parliamentary commissioner for standards, has announced she would not be applying for a second term.

She has claimed that the job was being undermined by the committee's failure to automatically reappoint her, and a cut in hours and resources.

But Mr Martin insisted that his committee would ensure the "standing, ability and personal authority" of the next commissioner.

In a letter to Sir Nigel Wicks, who chairs the Committee on Standards in Public Life - which is expected to discuss the Filkin affair at a regular meeting today - Mr Martin insisted that there was no hidden agenda.

"We have no intention of effecting any change in the role or function of the Commissioner, nor of threatening the impartiality of the holder of the post," he wrote.

Elizabeth Filkin
Ms Filkin decided not to reapply for her job
"We wish to see as the next Commissioner for Standards someone of standing, ability and personal authority, able to establish credibility both outside and inside the House."

Sir Nigel has expressed concern that the advertisement for Mrs Filkin's post said the job would involve a three-day week - not four days as at present, when there was no obvious drop in workload.

Mr Martin replied: "We note that in 1998 the appointment was offered at three days a week, and that this was the basis upon which Mrs Filkin was offered the post.

"When the Commission put her nomination to the House following negotiations with her, the time commitment was set at four days a week, but this change was not based on a prediction of workload. In practice, Mrs Filkin has worked four days a week."

Whispering campaign?

"If it becomes clear that four days a week are still required, we shall agree to that."

Last week Ms Filkin wrote to Mr Martin attacking unnamed senior MPs - some who held high office - for conducting "whispering campaigns and hostile press briefings" when she mounted inquiries into financial affairs.

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

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

She specifically mentioned the issue of hours which she said were already not adequate to cope with the workload.

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