Westminster parliamentary watchdog in row over its independence

By staff writers
November 14, 2012

Ordinary members of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority at Westminster will not be seeking to reapply for their positions.

They say that the work of the Authority is being undermined by those in parliament who do not want it to be rigorous and effective in rooting out malpractice.

This means that four out of five members have now gone, and will be replaced with people chosen under House of Commons Speaker (chair) John Bercow's own system, causing questions about whether IPSA is genuinely independent.

The decision by former MP Jackie Ballard, along with Scott Baker, Ken Olisa and Isobel Sharp, came after it was announced that they would have to do so at the end of their inaugural terms of office in January 2013 - on a much disputed interpretation of the rules.

IPSA chair Sir Ian Kennedy has warned that the new members would be seen as tame appointees, and that the watchdog will be seen as prone to "political influence".

Alexandra Runswick, deputy director of the political reform group Unlock Democracy, said today (14 November 2012): “Sadly the the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 was an example of parliament legislating in haste and repenting at leisure.”

“By forcing through legislation, despite a more comprehensive review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life already under way, the Brown government has left us with a legacy not dissimilar to the Dangerous Dogs Act in terms of unintended consequences,” she added.

Ms Strudwick continued: “This ambiguity is just the latest example of this. On the surface, it is not clear from the legislation itself that the ordinary members of IPSA do have to reapply for their jobs as they have already been appointed on the basis of ‘fair and open competition’. It sets a worrying precedent to have to rely on a single lawyer to interpret the will of parliament - clearly parliament needs to sort this mess out itself.”

“Fundamentally, we are wary of any system in which an ‘independent’ parliamentary watchdog is effectively accountable to parliament itself,” she continued.

“Forcing the IPSA members to reapply after just three years is reminiscent of the Elizabeth Filkin affair in which it is alleged the former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards was forced out of her job in 2002 for being too diligent.”

Unlock Democracy is a leading campaign for democracy, rights and freedoms, incorporating the former Charter 88 and New Politics Network.

* Unlock Democracy: www.unlockdemocracy.org.uk

* IPSA: www.parliamentarystandards.org.uk


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