Page last updated at 08:06 GMT, Thursday, 11 June 2009 09:06 UK

Ann Widdecombe seeks Speaker role

Ann Widdecombe: "I think I connect well with the public"

Veteran Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe has announced she is to stand as Speaker of the House of Commons.

The former Home Office minister said she wanted to "clean up the place".

Miss Widdecombe, 61, joins a growing list of MPs hoping to replace the current speaker, Michael Martin, who is due to step down on 21 June.

Former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett and Sir Patrick Cormack have also announced they are joining the race to be House of Commons Speaker.

Miss Widdecombe told the BBC she thought she would "connect very well with the public" and that the polls made her "the runaway favourite with the public".

After the next election ... it will be a very different ball game. I hope I can help us deal with that
Margaret Beckett

The MP for Maidstone and The Weald said the job "will certainly be an enormous challenge, because we do have to get the reputation of parliament restored in time for the next election. It's not something which can be postponed until afterwards''.

She also said her possible appointment as speaker would only be a temporary one, as she intends to retire at the next general election.

"My own retirement plans are very advanced and it's quite true that until Michael Martin resigned, this idea had just never entered my head.

"And that's why it's taken me a while to make up my mind that I would put my hat in the ring, because I wasn't entirely convinced that an interim was necessarily the right thing to do.

"But as I've talked to people, and people have responded positively, I've decided to do it."

She said she had delayed her entry into the race because she "wanted to see the outcome of events in the Labour Party".

She added: "Had there been the slightest possibility of an Autumn election it would have been a nonsense to stand because it would have only been for a few months.

"But I think if I were to have the best part of a year and if that was what colleagues wanted me to do then I would be able to be effective".

Miss Widdecombe said it was "crucial" to restore the reputation of Parliament, which she said had never been lower.

She said that although the "majority of MPs were not touched by this expenses scandal" the public now thought that "if you have got the letters MP after your name you must be up to no good and that is something we do have to counter".

Growing list

On Monday nine MPs are to take part in hustings for the Speaker job. Mr Martin's successor will be elected on 22 June.

Former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett became the third MP on Wednesday to announce she is standing for the job - her Labour colleague Parmjit Dhanda and the Conservative deputy Speaker Sir Michael Lord announced earlier they were standing.

Mrs Beckett, who left her government job as housing minister in last week's reshuffle, said: "I think at the moment we have got very considerable problems in Parliament. We have got to make changes.

"After the next election, if we have a more finely balanced chamber than we have had in the recent past, it will be a very different ball game. "I hope I can help us deal with that."

SPEAKER CANDIDATES
Ann Widdecombe (Con)
Margaret Beckett (Lab)
Sir Patrick Cormack (Con)
John Bercow (Con)
Frank Field (Lab)
Parmjit Dhanda (Lab)
Sir Michael Lord (Con)
Sir George Young (Con)
Sir Alan Haselhurst (Con)
Richard Shepherd (Con)
Sir Alan Beith (Lib)

She was the first woman to serve as deputy leader of the Labour Party and the first woman foreign secretary under Tony Blair.

She was replaced by David Miliband in Gordon Brown's first reshuffle but returned to the government as a housing minister the following year.

Michael Martin's decision to stand down as Speaker in May after nearly nine years in the role, came at the height of public anger over claims made by MPs on their second homes expenses.

Expenses row

Several MPs stood up to tell him he had to make way for a Speaker who could help the Commons reform itself.

Mrs Beckett has faced some questions about her own expenses - she claimed second home allowances of £72,537 from 2004 to 2008, despite having no mortgage or rent to pay on her constituency home and living in a grace and favour flat for part of the time.

She has defended them, saying grace and favour homes are not rent free and said MPs incur "extra costs that people even in comparable jobs do not have".

Asked if the controversy would damage her prospects, she replied: "Only time will tell."

Declaring his candidacy, Sir Patrick, the 70-year-old MP for South Staffordshire, said the new Speaker must ensure new rules being drawn up by the standards watchdog must be "rigorously enforced".

But they should also make sure that "they do not punish retrospectively those who have behaved responsibly, or inhibit men and women of limited means from aspiring to Parliament".

Margaret Beckett
Mrs Beckett is one of Labour's most experienced MPs

He added: "I believe that I could bring to the position of Speaker a robust impartiality founded on a passionate belief in parliamentary democracy and a deep love of the Palace of Westminster in general, and the House of Commons in particular."

Sir Patrick said he would retire from the role at the age of 75 at the latest.

Among people taking part in hustings for the role, organised by the Hansard Society, are the Conservative chairman of the Commons standards and privileges committee Sir George Young, Lib Dem Sir Alan Beith and Labour's Frank Field.

Sir Patrick, Tory MP Sir Alan Haselhurst and Tory backbenchers Richard Shepherd and John Bercow, will also take part in the hustings.



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