Page last updated at 16:19 GMT, Tuesday, 12 May 2009 17:19 UK

Speaker faces anger over expenses

Speaker Michael Martin is put on the spot over his attack on Labour MP Kate Hoey

House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin is coming under increasing pressure over his handling of MPs' expenses, with one Tory urging him to resign.

Douglas Carswell is seeking support for a vote of no confidence, saying Mr Martin has brought the House into disrepute by not introducing reforms.

And Labour MP David Winnick called on him to apologise for "personal comments" about Labour MP Kate Hoey.

Gordon Brown's spokesman said Mr Martin was doing a "good job".

But he stressed Mr Martin's future was a matter for the Commons.

Labour's Lord Foulkes also defended the Speaker, saying there was "too much panic around" over expenses.

It is very difficult for MPs to oust speakers, who usually remain in office until they retire.

Angry exchanges

In recent days, the Daily Telegraph has printed several stories about leaked expenses claims submitted by MPs, including those for swimming pool maintenance, dog food and changing light bulbs.

Mr Martin was involved in angry exchanges with Lib Dem MP Norman Baker and Labour backbencher Kate Hoey in the Commons on Monday.

What happened in the Commons was very regrettable indeed and the Speaker took off his umpire's hat and put on a player's hat
Norman Baker, Lib Dem MP

Ms Hoey defended the Telegraph and said the decision to ask police to investigate the leaks suggested MPs had something to hide.

An annoyed Mr Martin said he had already heard Ms Hoey's "pearls of wisdom on Sky News" and chided Mr Baker for talking to the press.

Mr Martin said: "Is it the case that an employee of this house should be able to hand over any private data to any organisation of his or her choosing?"

On Tuesday, Labour MP David Winnick called on Mr Martin to apologise to Ms Hoey for his "personal comments".

'Not adequate'

He told Mr Martin: "Can I put it to you, Sir, that a member of Parliament should be able to raise a point of order without such personal comments which, some of us at least, consider inappropriate. Shouldn't the Speaker always refrain from personal comments?"

Mr Martin rejected Mr Winnick's call, saying the MP had not been in the chamber during Monday's debate.

After Mr Winnick protested that he had been present, Mr Martin said: "That was the business of yesterday and we have moved on from there."

After Mr Winnick said that was "not adequate" as an answer, Mr Martin said: "If it's not adequate then the honourable gentleman knows what he must do."

Mr Carswell, a long-time critic of the Speaker, launched his campaign after Mr Martin complained that the details of claims had been leaked, rather than criticising the contents of MPs' receipts.

Mr Carswell said: "I'm fed up with my friends regarding me as a crook for doing my job. It is because of this man that we have got into this situation.

"Anyone who is capable of doing the job would have seen all of this coming and realised that in a modern democracy we need transparency. He failed to do that."

'Very regrettable'

Mr Carswell is seeking the backing of six MPs before tabling his motion of no confidence in Mr Martin next week.

Mr Baker told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he would have to look at the wording before deciding whether to support it.

He said: "What happened yesterday in the Commons was very regrettable indeed and the Speaker took off his umpire's hat and put on a player's hat and used his position as chair to, disgracefully in my view, attack individual MPs, particularly the way he launched into Kate Hoey.

The system has been abused by some MPs of all parties but not, I repeat not, by the vast majority
Lord Foulkes, Labour

"It was a spectacular misjudgement and if he's going to attack MPs in the chair he cannot be surprised when MPs now attack him in return."

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said the Speaker had "got it wrong" in his approach and must heed public calls for contrition by MPs and the need for urgent reform of the expenses system.

But Lord Foulkes defended Mr Martin, saying: "Douglas Carswell has put down an early-day motion. There are more than 1,000 of those out, most of them congratulating their local football team on promotion. Can you remember one being debated, let alone being voted upon?"

He added that Mr Martin had "quite rightly" reprimanded Ms Hoey following her intervention the Commons.

Lord Foulkes went on: "Kate Hoey goes on television and radio all the time judging her colleagues, treating them as guilty before they have been proved [guilty] and I think that is really quite improper and the Speaker was right to do that."

He also said: "The system has been abused by some MPs of all parties but not, I repeat not, by the vast majority.

"The system has to be changed and the system is going to be changed. We know that. But there's too much panic around."

Former Conservative chairman Lord Tebbit has urged voters not to back any of the three main political parties in next month's European elections, arguing they have lost touch with the public.

But Lord Foulkes said this was "dangerous nonsense", which could help the British National Party.

'Will of the Commons'

The prime minister's spokesman said: "The Speaker is appointed by the Commons, not the government.

"The prime minister obviously supports the will of the Commons, therefore he supports the person who has been elected as Speaker of the Commons.

"The prime minister has said before and he stands by that, that he thinks the Speaker is doing a good job.

"But these are not really matters for him; these are matters for the House of Commons."

The Commons authorities had been due to publish details of MPs' in mid-July, after losing a freedom of information battle.

The publication is now to be brought forward following the leaks to the Telegraph, although officials said that, because of the volume and complication of the documents involved, this would take weeks rather than days.



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