Page last updated at 16:19 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 17:19 UK

Martin's parting shot on expenses

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Michael Martin tells the party leaders that they should have reformed the expenses system earlier

Michael Martin has turned his fire on the party leaders in his farewell address to MPs as Commons Speaker.

He said he was "deeply disappointed" that MPs rejected reform proposals made by his committee in July last year.

He said he wished the party leaders had shown more leadership on the proposals, many of which he said were the same as the reforms they now backed.

Mr Martin is standing down after nine years following criticism of his reaction to the MP expenses scandal.

'Emotive issue'

In his valedictory address from the Speaker's chair, Mr Martin repeated his apology to the public over the expenses issue but said MPs also had to share the blame for failing to bring in reforms last year.

I wish that party leaders would have shown then some of the leadership that they have shown now
Michael Martin, Commons speaker

He told MPs: "This subject has caused understandable loss of public trust and confidence in us all. In my 30 years in the House I have seen nothing like it.

"Let me say again to the men and women of this country I am sorry.

"But also let me remind this house that it passed up an opportunity of dealing with this emotive issue less than a year ago."

He criticised the response of MPs to the 18 proposals set out by the Commons Members' Estimate Committee, which would have banned them from using public money to buy household goods for their second homes and introduced tighter checks on spending.

He said: "The response from this House was deeply disappointing.

"Half of the members did not attend to vote, and more than half of those who did vote rejected the proposals. I regretted that then. I deeply regret that now.

"And I suspect that many members of this House share my regret. Of course, the recommendations would not have solved every difficulty, but they would have ended many practices for which members have been attacked in recent weeks."

Green inquiry

He added: "I wish that party leaders would have shown then some of the leadership that they have shown now."

And although tradition dictated that votes on issues such as expenses are not whipped, he said: "This does not remove the responsibility of leaders to speak up for common sense and for the obvious wishes of the country in seeking necessary reform.

"We should have done that last year."

Tory leader David Cameron ordered his frontbench to vote to reform MPs' second home allowances in July last year, although 20 backbench Tories voted against it.

Some 33 government ministers voted to keep the old system and Gordon Brown did not vote. Out of the 176 MPs who voted against reform 146 were Labour MPs.

Liberal Democrat MPs voted to scrap the second home allowance.

Mr Martin also announced a cross-party inquiry into the arrest of Damian Green as part of a leaks inquiry, which led to criticism of his decision to allow officers to search the Tory MP's offices, and said he would give evidence to it. Mr Green was not charged.

He closed his speech with a quotation from a Robert Burns poem, which ends with the words: "To step aside is human."

MPs on all sides gave Mr Martin a 30 second round of applause, with some standing to show their appreciation.

'Collective responsibility'

Prime Minister Gordon Brown led tributes to Mr Martin, offering his "heartfelt thanks" on behalf of the whole House for Mr Martin's "long and dedicated service to Parliament".

We all now have a responsibility to restore the reputation of this House
David Cameron, Conservative leader

He said the Speaker's background, rising up from the streets of Glasgow to high office, was "an inspiring story of commitment and determination in the service of your community, your party, this Parliament and our nation".

It "tells of a man both of unique parliamentary abilities and of dedication, self belief and tireless hard work", Mr Brown added.

Conservative leader David Cameron also paid tribute to Mr Martin and wished him the "very best" in his retirement.

But unlike Mr Brown he also referred to Mr Martin's criticism of the Commons for failing to back expenses reforms last year.

He said that while not everyone had opposed the reforms: "We all share collective responsibility for that delay and we all now have a responsibility to restore the reputation of this House."

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said it was "especially generous" of Mr Martin to call him to speak as Mr Clegg had led calls for him to step down.

"Whatever differences there have been, you and I share a belief in the vital importance of our democracy," said Mr Clegg, adding Mr Martin had "shown us all how to temper great authority with great kindness - and that will be your legacy".

MPs from all sides lined up to offer their own tributes to Mr Martin in the Commons chamber.

Speaker Martin earlier presided over a stormy final Prime Minister's Questions with him in the chair.

'Great contribution'

He had to step in to silence Labour MPs baying "more" at Mr Cameron, after he mentioned Europe.

But he also ticked off Mr Cameron for breaking protocol by telling Mr Brown directly: "You are simply not worthy to be prime minister."

Mr Martin told MPs: "Even though it's my last day, the term 'you' is not something I can approve."

Mr Martin announced his decision to quit as Speaker last month, following widespread criticism of his response to the MPs' expenses scandal.

A new Speaker will be elected on Monday from a field of 10 candidates.

Michael Martin is the first Speaker to be forced from the post in more than 300 years.

He chose to step down after facing a motion of no confidence from MPs angry about his handling of the expenses issue and unconvinced he was the right man to lead efforts to reform Parliament.

By convention he will also stand down as an MP, forcing a by-election in his Glasgow constituency.



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