British PM pledges fresh start

June 23, 2009 12:00 am

, LONDON, Jun 23 – Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged the start of a "new chapter" in British politics, the day after lawmakers elected a new speaker on the promise of reform following a damaging expenses row.

Brown was set to unveil legislation to create a new independent regulator for members of parliament (MPs), who he said had been shown by revelations about their lavish spending habits to have "failed" in their public duty.

The scandal has claimed the scalps of about 20 lawmakers in recent weeks, including Michael Martin, who last month became the first speaker of the House of Commons in 300 years to be forced to quit.

MPs elected John Bercow, a member of the main opposition Conservative party, as Martin’s successor in a secret ballot on Monday night. The 46-year-old promised to be a "clean-break candidate" who was willing and ready for reform.

The speaker is the public face of the lower house of parliament and the role involves chairing debates and curbing the famously rowdy behaviour of MPs.

But Bercow will also be expected to lead lawmakers in moving past the expenses row, which has caused widespread public anger and disillusionment.

In his candidacy speech, Bercow said parliament must reform if it wants to be taken seriously after the expenses revelations, which showed MPs claiming everything from plasma televisions to a duck island.

"Unless and until we can move the debate on from sleaze and second homes to the future of this house, we shall remain in deep trouble. A legislature cannot be effective while suffering from public scorn," he said.

Brown welcomed his election, which must now be officially confirmed by the queen, saying that "undoubtedly the road ahead will not be easy" but the Commons was on the "path to renewal".

And in an article in the Daily Mail newspaper on Tuesday, he said it was time to "start the job of cleaning up British politics".

The expenses claims showed that politicians had "failed the basic test of politics – that it is public service, not self-service", Brown said.

He said he would be introducing new legislation to reform parliament on Tuesday, adding: "Starting today, a new chapter will be opened in the history of politics in this country."

Conservative leader David Cameron also repeated his support for reform on Monday night when he congratulated Bercow, who beat fellow Conservative lawmaker Sir George Young by 322 votes to 271 in the third round of voting.

"We share a collective responsibility for what went wrong, we share a collective responsibility for putting it right," Cameron said.

Bercow himself has come under fire for his expenses, and promised to pay back 6,500 pounds (10,600 dollars, 7,600 euros) after admitting he had not paid sales tax when he sold his previous constituency and London homes in 2003.

However, he said he did nothing wrong and repaid the money "voluntarily".

Ten MPs stood for the speakership, including former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, who pulled out after the second ballot after receiving just 70 votes.

Critics said she was too close to the current Labour government to play the neutral role required.

Bercow will now renounce his party membership and promised after taking the chair to be "completely impartial".

However, he will have to win over sceptics in his own Conservative party who oppose him because of his perceived sympathy to the ruling Labour Party, from whom he won wide support.

Bercow thanked MPs for bestowing upon him "the greatest honour that I have enjoyed in my professional life".

He added: "I continue to believe the vast majority of members of this House are upright, decent, honourable people who have come into politics not to feather their nests but because they have heeded the call of public service."


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