Filkin: MPs and Speaker forced me out

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Indy Politics

The House of Commons sleaze watchdog launched a withering attack on ministers, MPs and the Speaker for undermining her position and creating "insuperable obstacles" to her independence.

Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, refused to reapply for her post because she says she has been the victim of intense pressure from high-ranking ministers and "unchecked whispering campaigns and hostile press briefings".

In a damning two-page resignation letter made public yesterday, Mrs Filkin in effect accused MPs of interfering with her work because she investigated sleaze allegations about "powerful individuals and interest groups".

Mrs Filkin's letter to the Speaker, Michael Martin, is a harsh indictment of the Commons which has turned against her because of the diligence of her inquiries into powerful politicians. She has ruffled feathers by publishing damning reports on MPs including Keith Vaz, the former Europe minister, and Geoffrey Robinson, the former paymaster general. Mrs Filkin is expected to publish a further report on Mr Vaz before she leaves office in February.

She said she came under "remarkable" pressure from ministers, MPs and "paid civil servants" when she was conducting investigations and her letter has prompted both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats to demand an inquiry into the claims.

Mrs Filkin, the former chairman of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Aid and member of the Audit Commission was recently told to reapply for her job by the House of Commons authorities which advertised the post.

But she has said she will not because the security and independence of the position has been undermined by vested interests in Parliament. Her letter reveals the full extent of the pressures she has been subjected to during her three years in office and she accuses the Government's spin machine of mobilising against her.

"Being realistic, I know, when taking on this job, that pressure would be applied by some members when facing an investigation and by their supporters," she said. "I knew well from my previous post that this faces an impartial investigator on occasion. However, the degree of pressure applied has been quite remarkable.

"In other cases it has been applied indirectly by unchecked whispering campaigns and hostel press briefings, some, I regret to have been informed, executed by named civil servants."

Mrs Filkin, 61, also blames the Commons for deliberately starving her of staff, despite official warnings that her office is under-resourced to deal with her huge workload. She warns that the House plans to cut the hours of her successor by 25 per cent, which will be woefully inadequate and "will make it impossible to provide a proper service to Parliament and the public".

In her letter, written last week, Mrs Filkin accuses MPs under investigation of being unwilling to give her information and of "obstructing" inquiries. In a particularly damaging attack on the Speaker, Mrs Filkin accuses Mr Martin of "undermining" the position of Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and effectively snubbing her by failing to meet her to discuss her decision not to reapply for her job.

"I am sure a majority of Members, like the public, wish to see Parliament maintain standards of conduct defined by a published code of conduct," she told the Speaker. "I am sorry you have decided to undermine the office established by the House for this purpose. For my part, I cannot reapply for such a post where independence is unprotected and the resources are not supplied to ensure justice."

The Speaker's office confirmed that Mrs Filkin's letter said "doesn't wish to be considered for reappointment" but refused to comment further.

David Davis, the Tory party chairman. "If true, these allegations demonstrate the Executive yet again undermining Parliament and its officers."