Parliament & Politics: Neill faces questioning by MPs over Porter case

PUBLIC LIFE
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The Independent Online
LORD NEILL, the public standards watchdog, will still face questioning by MPs - despite his decision not to represent the former Westminster council leader Dame Shirley Porter in the Court of Appeal.

The Commons' Public Administration Committee (PAC) yesterday wrote to him over the potential conflict of interest in his earlier decision to act for Dame Shirley. On Tuesday, Lord Neill, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, withdrew from acting for Dame Shirley in her battle against a pounds 27m surcharge in the Westminster "homes-for-votes" affair.

But last night, the PAC chairman and Labour MP Rhodri Morgan revealed that his committee had gone ahead with its decision to quiz the peer about his involvement in the case. Mr Morgan said a letter had been sent to Lord Neill yesterday.

He warned that his committee reserved the right to ask Lord Neill to answer questions in person if MPs were not happy with his answer to the letter.

Mr Morgan said: "We want to be absolutely clear in our own minds that the general public can now be reassured that the integrity of Lord Neill and his ability to carry on the work as Lord Nolan's successor on the Committee on Standards in Public Life has not been compromised."

The PAC had originally decided to ask Lord Neill for an explanation - before MPs knew that he had withdrawn from the case.

But only a few minutes after they had taken the decision in private session, the peer issued a statement announcing his withdrawal.

He cited a "perceived" conflict between his role as lawyer and his position as chairman of the standards committee. But his statement also revealed that he had already acted for Dame Shirley in obtaining leave for her to appeal to the Court of Appeal.

Mr Morgan said the original letter agreed by the committee had been amended to take account of the new developments. But he said that MPs wanted to know "what is his personal view of the perceived conflict of interest now that he has decided to drop the case".

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