Transcript from BBC Radio 4, The
World at One,
broadcast on 22 December 2000 at 13.10
hrs (from Jerusalem)
NICK CLARKE: For the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner
then, Elizabeth Filkin, the Committee's findings are something
of an embarrassment. Her conclusions, based on the balance of
probability, was that although Dr Reid had not misled the Commons'
authorities over the employment of his son, both he and Mr Maxton
had done so in respect of the other two researchers. At present
she's in Jerusalem, but she told me by phone that she stood by
her report, and rejected the criticism that it had relied on a
lower standard of evidence.
ELIZABETH FILKIN: They didn't say I didn't apply
the correct standard of proof, they said they had applied another
standard of proof.
NC: Yes, but implicitly in that is that they have
not therefore accepted your conclusionsthat's the problem
EF: Well, when you have a system such as the House
has set up, it of course allows for two different sets of people
to come to different views on the same evidence. That must be
so, and that's what's happened in this case. But you will have
seen that the CommitteeI'm pleased to sayhave been
very complimentary about my report. Paragraph11 ..
NC: .. yes, I've read paragraph 11 and it does indeed
say what you say it says. I suppose the conclusion is, having
spoken to the journalist who was the main complainant here, he
says he's distressed and disturbed because some of the tough things
you had to say are more or less wiped, the slate is wiped clean
by what the Committee has done.
EF: Well, that's the complainant's view. And my report
is there, published for all of you journalists and for members
of the public to read, with all the evidence on which I came to
my view, and indeed the standards of proof set out clearly as
to why I came to the view that I did, all in the public domain.
And people can come to their own conclusions about it.
NC: Do you stand by it?
EF: Absolutely, every word.
NC: Will it change the way you tackle your next investigation?
EF: Not at all. I've tackled all my investigations
as I've always carried out investigations in this job and the
past onemy first responsibility is to be fair to the people
complained about and the people who are complaining. And I have
to be absolutely sure I am being fair to both of those parties;
then I have to do a job by the Committee, which is to provide
them with a detailed, careful report on that investigation, presenting
all the evidence, making a detailed analysis of the evidence,
and coming to a view as to whether the complaints against the
rules which Parliament has laid down are upheld or whether they
are not. And that is what I have done in this case, and I shall
continue to do it because I know of no other proper way of doing
NC: Even if at the end it can just be overturned,
quite quicklycomparatively quickly compared to the amount
of work you've put into itby the MPs themselves.
EF: The House has set up its own procedures for its
own purposesthat is a matter for the House and for the
Committee, that isn't a matter for me.
NC: Elizabeth Filkin... ends
Transcript from BBC Radio 4, The
broadcast on 5 December 2001
Commons Standards Commissioner Elizabeth Filkin
has announced she is quitting her post, accusing senior MPsincluding
cabinet ministersof undermining her job.
In her only interview on the subject, she talked
to reporter Andrew Hosken.
ANDREW HOSKEN (Q): Why
are you not reapplying for the post of Commons' Standards Commissioner?
ELIZABETH FILKIN (A):
Significant changes have been made to the post which, from my
point of view, undermine the post itself and therefore I wouldn't
wish to apply for it in those circumstances.
Q: What changes have
been made to make you change your mind about reapplying?
A: Well two very
important things have changed. One, the hours have been reduced
by 25%. During the whole of the three years that I've been in
the post I've had to work more hours than I'm paid at the moment.
So I can't see that that would be possible.
I was also promised to have the necessary staff for
my office when I took up the post and although independent inspections
have been carried out on several occasions of my office workload
and I know that they have recommended additional staff, none have
But the other reason is that if you're doing a job
where you are bound to come out with conclusions that aren't to
the liking of some powerful people, you do need to have a job
which has security of tenure.
In posts such as mine, the practice is to offer one
term and to offer a second term to the person automatically, unless
of course they haven't done the job properly. That hasn't occurred
in my case and therefore, in my view, they're not offering security
for this post-holder.
Q: In your letter
you refer to some of the investigations that you undertook that
have been unwelcome to powerful individuals or interest groups.
Just who are those powerful individuals and interest groups?
A: I'm told that it's
numbers of senior politicians and numbers of groups within the
House of Commons but I don't know the detail of all of that.
Q: Are we talking
about cabinet ministers and very senior civil servants as well?
A: I am informed by
numbers of Members of Parliament and journalists that that is
the case. But I wouldn't have that first-hand information.
Q: What about those
people who will say this is just sour grapes? Elizabeth Filkin
wasn't considered to be doing a very good job and she's paid the
A: Well, of course,
people are welcome to their opinion.
Q: Personally, you
must feel very sad about how it has ended?
A: I am. I was persuaded
to put my name forward for the job. I was pleased to be appointed.
I thought the job was an important one for the public and I've
tried to do it properly.
I'm pleased to say that many other people who are
independent of me have read what I've done and have felt that
I have done it properly and that's very cheering. So I'm very
sad that I can't continue to do it.
Q: What is your reaction
to the fact that they have effectively, from what you're saying,
watered down the powers of the Commissioner?
A: Well I'm very concerned
about it and that's why I wrote such a detailed letter to the
Speaker when I had decided that I wouldn't put my name forward
Q: When you mention
powerful individuals or interest groups, we are talking, aren't
weor am I being unfairabout the Labour Party and
the Labour government?
A: I don't know whether
it's one party or another party. I'm informed that there are some
people in all the parties but I don't know that. But I don't believe
it's limited to one party.
Q: You mention pressures.
What kind of pressures were brought to bear on you during your
various investigations into Members of Parliament?
A: Seeking to bring
pressure on Britain's list of cases. Seeking to claim that I have
not conducted a fair inquiry.
I do know that very early on in the post, in the
first couple of months of my time in office, that already there
were some people who were talking to the press and saying that
I wasn't a suitable person to be doing the job even before I published
my first report.
Q: It is no secretit's
on the public recordthat that report was about Peter Mandelson.
A: I would not make
any comment whatsoever on any individual MP.
Q: But it would be
a fair conclusion to reach that that was your first inquiry and
that that was when pressure was brought to bearor attempts
were made to bring pressure to bear?
A: I will make no
comment whatsoever on any individual MP.
Q: How did it make
you feel personally though because you'd been persuaded to take
this job and yet this was going on in the background? It could
not have been very pleasant for you and your family.
A: Well from time
to time it saddened me. I thought it was a pity but by and large
I've got on and did the job. It's been very busy and I haven't
really had time to think about those things very much.
Q: You also mention
the whispering campaigns. Can you describe what that means?
A: I'm informed that it
has involved senior people or senior people's offices but I know
no more than that.
Q: You also say in
your letter that some of the hostile press briefings and coverage
that you've experienced has been executed by named civil servants.
Who do you mean when you say that?
A: I have been told
the names of some individuals in some offices by journalists,
obviously that I can't verify whether what those journalists have
told me are true. But that is what I have had reported to me and
that's why I put it in those terms in the letter to be precise
Q: You mention the
pressure brought to bear on witnesses. What sort of experience
did these witnesses come to you with and did any of them say,
I can't give any evidence because I am under pressure?
A: I am approached,
from time to time, by members of the public who do wish to make
complaints about Members of Parliament who then when they understand
what the process isand it's a very daunting process from
a member of the publicdecide that they could not contend
with that because, as many members of the public say, they believe
that MPs are very powerful and they fear, rightly or wrongly,
that they could be done harm.
Q: There have been
a number of cases, not about individuals but about groups of members
about allegations of misuse of public funds. Do you think this
is a wider problem and do you think this is something that would
give you concern in the future?
A: But I only look
at individual cases. I have no monitoring functions so I can't
tell you whether it's widespread or not. But I do think it is
an area where people can make mistakes.
I do think it's an area where people sometimes are
woolly about what they're claiming and whether they can claim
that and I do think that that ought to be open since it's our
money, it's public money to the sort of scrutiny that is applied
to public money in other public offices or indeed in the civil
service or in local authorities or in hospital trusts.
Anywhere where people are spending public money,
the scrutiny is very rigorous and I would assume that ought also
to apply to our elected Members of Parliament.
Q: But it doesn't?
A: The scrutiny needs
to be on the same level as it is in these other public offices.
Q: Margaret Beckett,
the former Leader of the House of Commons, described you as being
over-zealous. How do you respond to that criticism?
A: Well I don't respond
to that criticism but, in my view, if you're going to be fair
to a complainant and to the Member of Parliamentand in
my job I have to be fair to bothone has to be scrupulous
and rigorous because if you're not, if you don't bother to get
to truth, you will end up being unfair to one or the other and
I don't think that's right.