Inquiry to be told MPs not fit to regulate themselves

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Indy Politics

Parliament's record on rooting out sleaze among MPs faces sharp criticism this week when an inquiry will be told the House of Commons is not fit to regulate itself.

The Wicks committee on standards in public life, which starts sitting today, will be told public confidence in the system of self-regulation has been undermined by the sacking of Elizabeth Filkin, the former commissioner for standards in public life. It will hear criticism that Parliament's sleaze-buster should not have been accountable to a committee of MPs who have the power to sack their sleaze-buster.

Martin Bell, the former MP for Tatton who was elected in 1997 on an anti-sleaze ticket and sat on the powerful committee on standards and privileges, will tell the inquiry the system for ensuring MPs are properly scrutinised has failed.

"The mark of its failure was its treatment of Elizabeth Filkin," he said yesterday. "The commissioner for standards should not be accountable to the House of Commons commission. What other institution has the power to fire its own regulator? People with something to hide are scared of Elizabeth Filkin; for other people, it is fine."

Mrs Filkin, who gives evidence this month, is expected to stop short of naming MPs who, she said, undermined the independence of her role while she was commissioner. But friends say she is likely to say the job must be a full-time role and raise concerns that public confidence in Parliament can only be boosted by a rigorous sleaze-busting system.

The inquiry will also hear evidence that the new code of conduct for MPs is lax because it allows them to take sums of up to £550 from businesses and outside organisations without declaring them.

Keith Vaz and Peter Mandelson, both targets of inquiries into their conduct, are said to have both been approached to give evidence but have yet to reply.