Byline: ANDREW WOODCOCK
MPs are guilty of making ``vexatious and trivial'' complaints against one another which have contributed towards the undermining of public confidence in Parliament, leader of the Commons Robin Cook said yesterday.
Mr Cook insisted that MPs caught out in serious breaches of their code of conduct were ``rare exceptions'' and that standards of integrity at Westminster were as high as anywhere in the world.
It was vital to preserve the Commons' system of self-regulation in order to uphold the principle of Parliament's freedom from interference by any higher authority, he said.
The Government had beefed up its code of conduct for ministers to make it an offence for them to fall short of the standards of behaviour expected of them as MPs, he disclosed.
In future, any breach of the MPs' code of conduct would be automatically seen as a breach of the ministerial code, he said.
He also disclosed that next week he would recommend to MPs the creation of a Nominations Committee to decide on membership of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, which investigates complaints against MPs.
Replacing the highly-partisan Selections Committee by this body, chaired by the Deputy Speaker and made up of senior members from all sides of the Commons, including the Father of the House, would boost public confidence in the self-regulation system, he said.
Mr Cook was giving evidence to the first hearing of an inquiry into conduct in the Commons by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
The investigation was launched in February in the wake of controversy surrounding the decision not to reappoint Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Elizabeth Filkin, though committee chairman Sir Nigel Wicks stressed that it would not investigate individual cases.
Ms Filkin, who claimed that her position was undermined by a ``whisper-ing campaign'' by MPs, is herself set to give evidence at a later hearing.
Mr Cook suggested that MPs had an obligation to co-operate with the Commissioner's inquiries and were wrong to involve lawyers in their cases.
Ms Filkin last year criticised former Foreign Office Minister Keith Vaz for having his solicitor answer some of her queries. …