UK Speaker rebuffs no confidence bid

May 18, 2009 12:00 am

, LONDON, May 18 – House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin said on Monday that he was "profoundly sorry" for the expenses scandal wracking Britain’s parliament, but rebuffed debate on a rare motion of no-confidence in him.

Amid widespread public anger Martin, who could become the first holder of the prestigious post ousted in 300 years, called for a meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and all party leaders within 48 hours on the crisis.

But in testy exchanges, he repeatedly refused to discuss what he would do about a proposed no-confidence motion, signed by 15 lawmakers after more than a week of embarrassing revelations about MPs’ expenses claims.

"We must all accept blame and, to the extent that I have contributed to the situation, I am profoundly sorry," he said in statement to the lower house of parliament.

Details of MPs’ expense claims, ranging from swimming pool and tennis court repairs to installing a chandelier and cleaning a moat, have emerged in leaked documents by the Daily Telegraph newspaper over the last 11 days.

Martin has been criticised for stifling reform of the expenses system in the past — and on Monday a series of MPs pressed him on a no-confidence motion which they said they will formally present on Tuesday.

But the speaker said he could not discuss it for procedural reasons — triggering opposition Conservative MP Douglas Carswell, who proposed the motion, to voice frustration.

"When will members (of parliament) be allowed to choose a new speaker with the moral authority to clean up Westminster and the legitimacy to lift this House out of the mire?" Carswell asked.

On Sunday the leader of the second opposition Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, became the first major party leader to call for the speaker to go, although neither Brown nor Conservative leader David Cameron have done so.

Cameron on Monday used the crisis to renew his call for an immediate election — polls suggest he is likely to win ballots which Brown must call by next June at the latest.

"I think there is now only one way of sorting out the mess and that is for parliament to be dissolved and for there to be an immediate general election," Cameron said.

The no-confidence motion was signed by lawmakers from Brown’s Labour party, as well as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

"More names are expected to declare, as MPs return from listening to their angry constituents over the weekend," said Carswell.

Martin was a long-time Labour member, but renounced his political loyalties according to tradition when he took office as speaker in 2000.

Elected by lawmakers and unchallenged in parliamentary polls, the speaker chairs the proceedings of the house and traditionally stays in the job until he retires. The last time a post-holder was ousted was more than 300 years ago.

In 1695, Sir John Trevor was forced to quit as speaker after MPs found him guilty of bribery for accepting money to push through a piece of legislation.

Business minister Peter Mandelson declined to speculate on Martin’s future.

"Whatever your views about the speaker, the fact is that this is a system of paying MPs, of remunerating MPs, which has got to change," he told Sky News television.


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