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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 22:26 GMT
Tories tackle Speaker over ruling
David Cameron
Mr Cameron had to change his question

David Cameron is seeking "urgent clarification" over Commons Speaker Michael Martin's intervention at prime minister's questions.

Mr Martin sparked uproar in the Commons by stopping Mr Cameron asking Tony Blair who he wanted as "his successor".

In an unusual move, Mr Martin said the Tory leader could not ask about the Labour leadership.

That decision sparked anger among Tory MPs but the party is not thought likely to officially challenge the ruling.

It is instead seeking clarification from the Speaker on what Mr Cameron may - or may not - ask at prime minister's questions, sources have told the BBC.

I have let the right hon Gentleman away with that before...
Michael Martin

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said Mr Martin had been trying to do his job, but that the "consensus among all parties is that today he made a hash of it".

During stormy exchanges in the Commons, Mr Cameron reacted to Mr Martin's rebuke, saying: "Mr Speaker, are you honestly saying we cannot ask the prime minister of the country..."

He was then interrupted by Mr Martin, who threatened to suspend the sitting if Tory MPs did not stop interrupting him.

Struggling to be heard above shouting MPs, Mr Martin then attempted to explain the ruling.

"He has no right to ask at the floor of this house at Prime Minister's Question Time who the prime minister is supporting for an office within the Labour Party," Mr Martin explained.

'Bizarre'

Mr Cameron, whose original, interrupted, question had not mentioned the Labour Party, replied: "Perhaps I could just with my last question, ask the prime minister who he would like to see as the next prime minister of this country?"

David Cameron
Mr Cameron gets into a row with Speaker Martin

Shouting "Order! Order!" as the House once more erupted, Mr Martin told the Tory leader: "I'll allow that. That's in order."

Mr Blair then heaped praise on the chancellor for delivering the lowest inflation, lowest unemployment and lowest interest rates in Britain's history.

Mr Cameron's spokesman said he would be taking the matter up with the opposition whips' office.

He described Mr Martin's intervention as "bizarre and extraordinary".

Mr Martin made a similar intervention in 2002 when he reprimanded then Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith for asking party political questions.

SPEAKER'S DUTIES
Keep order during debates
Ensure House rules obeyed
Act impartially
Represents Commons
Chooses MPs to speak
Can suspend sittings
Protects interests of minorities

Mr Duncan Smith had launched an attack on Mr Blair over Labour's links with the trade unions during prime minister's questions.

Mr Duncan Smith agreed to ask his next question "in a slightly different way".

Neutral

In recent weeks, Mr Martin has rebuked Mr Blair for trying to use prime minister's questions as a platform to criticise Conservative policies.

The Speaker has the job of presiding over debates in the Commons.

Mr Martin, who was elected as a Labour MP but whose role requires him to be politically neutral, took over in 2000.

The Glaswegian former sheet metal worker's election - following the retirement of Betty Boothroyd - broke with convention as it meant that two Labour MPs in succession had occupied the post, which is normally held by the two major parties in turn.


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