|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
David Winnick (Walsall, North): I begin by wishing the new parliamentary commissioner wellit would be wrong to do otherwiseand I hope that he will carry out his duties in the way that we would all wish. Indeed, I have no reason to believe otherwise. However, the circumstances in which Elizabeth Filkin is leaving today are, to say the least, disquieting. My speech will be critical of the fact that her contract has not been renewed. If that is a minority point of view, so be it; it is mine and I want to explain why I have reached that conclusion.
Those qualitiesindependence and determinationare normally thought to be admirable, not a reason for what amounts to dismissal. Although I have encountered criticism of Mrs. Filkinnot in the Chamber, but around the placeI have not heard a single Member say that she is politically biased for or against any particular party. In view of the investigation she carried out, any such accusation would be laughable.
It is strongly denied that there was any whispering campaign against Mrs. Filkin, but she clearly does not accept that, as stated in the correspondence between her and the Speaker. I agree with the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, that perhaps the question of who chairs the Commission should be considered. I make no criticism of the Speaker, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is difficult to quote the Speaker in debate, and one does not wish to do so because it is rather invidious. That is the situation.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) said, the House of Commons praised the work undertaken by Mrs. Filkin. Indeed, she is praised in the House of Commons Commission document. Fine words, but this question is inevitable: if she carried out her duties in such a manner, why was she not reappointed?
Why has not the present parliamentary commissioner, who will be leaving this week, been offered the position? It is said that she can apply for her own positiona rather humiliating situation, even if there was any chance that she would be accepted. Would a single hon. Member who is in the Chamber now say that, if Mrs. Filkin had gone through the humiliating procedure of applying for her own job, she would have stood a chance? Nothe silence is adequate. The real criticism against Mrs. Filkin was not that she spoke to the press or that she involved herself in matters outside her remit. I do not believe that those allegations have any substance.
Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): Is my hon. Friend aware that Mrs. Filkin was regularly quoted in the press, including statements that she made on a Saturday, for example? How does he account for her having such ready access to the press on a day when servants are normally not available?
David Winnick: I shall give way in a moment; I am replying to an intervention. Let us be clearare we saying that, in effect, Mrs. Filkin has not been reappointed because she spoke to the press? If so, we should have had an explanation from the House of Commons Commission. Allegations about speaking to the press should be made official; let the House of Commons Commission say so, and we would then have an explanation that we could accept or reject. I do not think that we can work on the basis of what my hon. Friend has just said. I have a great deal of genuine respect for him, but I do not believe that that is a good explanation.
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West): Does my hon. Friend agree that we have to make a differentiation about speaking to the press? Mrs. Filkin was entitled to speak to them about the nature of her work and her office, and we should not to impute from that that she was guilty of leaks, which she was not. I hope to deal with that later.
Mr. Salmond: Would not the right way to bring complaints about our Standards Commissioner have been through the House of Commons Commission to the Floor of the House, where those issues could have been properly examined, debated and, I suspect, largely dismissed?
David Winnick: Indeed. I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. As I have said, it was up to the House of Commons Commission to deal with such issues. On reflection, it accepts that, in many ways, matters could have been dealt with very differently.
The critics say that Mrs. Filkin lacked a sense of balance and that she could not distinguish between serious allegations and those that were not in that category. Again, I do not believe that that was the case. She had a
The impression that one gets from the critics is that Mrs. Filkin had a wish to do down the Commons and make adverse reports as often as she could. I cannot for the life of me see why she should have any such motive. Why should she wish to do down the House of Commons?
An hon. Member, whom I shall not mention by constituency or nameI could not mention him by name in any casetold me today that he had been treated very fairly by the Standards Commissioner. He was one of several hon. Members who told me that the commissioner had asked to see them after allegations had been made about them as individuals, sometimesas in the case of the hon. Member that I mentionedallegations that were made outside the House. Such Members said that they were very impressed. They were heard courteously, their explanation was accepted, or very nearly accepted, and the commissioner made no adverse report but gave good advice. It is unfortunate that those hon. Members have not said that in today's debate; it would perhaps have given a sense of balance to what is happening.
When the parliamentary commissioner thought that there had been an infringement of the rules relating to outside financial interests, she said so regardless of position and seniority, and certainly party. Is not that what we wanted from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards? Is not that the way in which we wanted the work to be carried out?
If we are to continue with self-regulation, which my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough has said should be the case, there is an argument that responsibility for appointing and renewing the contract of the parliamentary commissioner should be given to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. If that were to happen, the recommended person would be subject, or otherwise, to the confirmation of the House, and then of course the House would debate accordingly. However, self-regulation has its difficulties. We are saying, in effect, that we should appoint the parliamentary commissioner and decide whether the contract should be renewed. By following that procedure, we arrived at the present very unhappy position.
It gives me no satisfaction whatever to have been so critical, but I am, as my remarks have obviously shown. I repeat that I would have liked the parliamentary commissioner to be reappointed. It was a shabby aspect of the whole matter that she was not reappointed to her position, and Elizabeth Filkin is leaving in circumstances that do not bring much credit to the House of Commons.
Mrs. Filkin can leave with a sense of pride, because she has carried out her duties in the way that she promised when appointed. She has been impartial and conscientious. She has acted honourably at all timesthat is my view and seems to be the view of the House of Commons Commissionand has undertaken her duties