Watchdog censures its own chairman

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The House of Commons standards watchdog has upheld a complaint against its own chairman for failing to declare a financial interest before speaking in debates.

The House of Commons standards watchdog has upheld a complaint against its own chairman for failing to declare a financial interest before speaking in debates.

The embarrassing ruling against Robert Sheldon, chairman of the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee, led to calls yesterday for his resignation from an MP who said he had "compromised his position".

The watchdog upheld a complaint that Mr Sheldon did not declare a financial interest in four textile companies before speaking in debates between 1993 and 1999 on the economy, manufacturing industry, small businesses and exchange rates.

Under the rules MPs not only have to declare financial interests in a public register but must refer to them before intervening in House of Commons debates which relate to their interests. The committee chairman had registered his shareholdings in the Register of Members Interests and the watchdog recommended that no further action be taken.

"It is clear... Mr Sheldon had no intention whatsoever of concealing his interests from the House," the report concluded.

However, Ian Bruce, Conservative MP for Dorset South, who made the original complaint, said Mr Sheldon should step down as chairman of the Standards Committee.

"The chairman has compromised his position by breaching the principle of transparency as set out in the code of conduct and has no alternative but to offer his resignation," he said. Mr Sheldon withdrew as chairman of the Standards Committee while his case was being considered.

The committee upheld a ruling by Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Standards commissioner, that Mr Sheldon, Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, should have declared an interest, even though the companies he had interests in were not mentioned in the debates.

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