A minister launched an unprecedented attack on Elizabeth Filkin, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, for protesting about "nasty, rude and dismissive" MPs. The Social Security minister Jeff Rooker was furious with Ms Filkin over a speech to the Royal Society of Arts in which she castigated MPs for failing properly to take up constituents' cases.
Mr Rooker said Ms Filkin was exceeding her brief by criticising the behaviour of MPs. "She should stick to what she is extremely well-paid and has been appointed to do, which is to police the Register of Members' interests," Mr Rooker said in a letter to The Independent.
Ministers have privately grumbled about Ms Filkin but this is the first time a minister has openly criticised the commissioner, who acts as the watchdog against the threat of corruption among MPs.
Mr Rooker was angered by extracts of her speech reprinted in The Independent review section yesterday. He said that Ms Filkin needed reminding that, "unlike her", MPs were elected, and could be thrown out by their constituents for ailing to respond to their concerns.
There has been discontent in Downing Street over Ms Filkin. The Prime Minister's aides were dismayed when she decided to carry out a lengthy investigation into Peter Mandelson's financial affairs after his resignation as a minister for accepting a loan from the former paymaster-general Geoffrey Robinson.
Tory MPs have also been angered by Ms Filkin's role. "There is a problem over the rules governing her job," a Tory source said. "She has to investigate complaints, and it appears that there is a scandal surrounding MPs before they are cleared."
MPs have been reluctant openly to criticise Ms Filkin or her role over fears that they will be seen by the public as complaining about the rooting out of breaches of parliamentary rules, such as the "cash for questions" affair, which led to the commissioner's post being created.
In her speech, Ms Filkin said: "It's apparent to me from the complaints I get that there are a few MPs who are not [doing great work on behalf of their constituents]: who are nasty to the people who come to them for help, who are rude to them, and who are dismissive in situations where that's very hurtful and harmful to the individual concerned.
"Those aren't things that I can look into. I'm not suggesting that I should, but I think there's an issue out there for that whole business of accountability for the work that one's paid to do."
Last night, Ms Filkin said Mr Rooker was entitled to his views: "I was trying to describe as faithfully as I could complaints that people bring to me. There are some things I can investigate and some I can't."
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