MPs do not own my mind, says new watchdog

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Indy Politics

Parliament's new Commissioner for Standards said yesterday that state funding of political parties was unlikely to put him out of a job, insisting "we are all sinners".

Tony Blair is considering proposals for state funding to end the repeated allegations of sleaze that have arisen from donations to Labour coffers by wealthy businessmen.

Philip Mawer, who takes up his post next month, said he had yet to form a view on the issue. But he said: "I suspect that human nature is such that, while I would like of course to be out of a job, there will be instances in which people do not observe the standards expected. That is because of human nature.

"We are, at the end of the day, all sinners. It should be no surprise that a churchman talks in those terms. I believe that the job I am called to do is one which can help to ensure high standards."

Mr Mawer, the general secretary of the General Synod of the Church of England, who takes over from Elizabeth Filkin in March, said his first task was to ensure there was public confidence in the system of Parliamentary self-regulation. In an interview marking the start of his term of office, he responded to claims from MPs that the system of complaints has been open to abuse for party political advantage and promised to uphold standards free from influence and pressure.

Speaking in his office at Church House, just three minute's walk from the Palace of Westminster, he said: "MPs may pay me and I may answer to their select committee, but they do not own my conscience and they do not own my mind.

"I shall express my mind clearly and that will be published for all to see through the select committee."

Mr Mawer said his experience investigating complaints in the Prison Service had prepared him for the highly charged world of Westminster. He said: "Although I come from the Church of England, there was a life before that."

He rejected criticism of his decision to work just three days a week. He has agreed to spend one day a week in his new position from March, while he completes his work with the General Synod. But he said he would be working for three days a week by May and would extend his hours if the workload warranted it.

He would not comment on the furore surrounding the departure of his predecessor.