Monday, May 18, 2009

Martin Rejects Calls to Resign, Summons Party Leaders

Speaker of the House of CommonsMichael Martin rejected calls to resign and summoned Britain’s party leaders for talks aimed at defusing controversy over lawmakers’ expense claims.

“We all bear a heavy responsibility for the terrible damage to the reputation of this house,” Martin said today in Parliament. “We must all accept the blame, and, to the extent that I have contributed to the situation, I am profoundly sorry.”

Martin, 64, leads debates in the lower chamber of Parliament and has defended the system that allowed members to claim the costs of maintaining second homes. At least 90 of the 646 members of the House of Commons from all parties have been swept up in questions about those expenses.

If he stepped aside, it would be the first time in more than three centuries a speaker was ousted from office. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg abandoned political convention and urged the speaker to quit, backing a motion of no confidence in Martin from a lawmaker from the Conservative opposition.

“Members of Parliament have been caught red handed using taxpayers’ money to pay for moats, patio heaters and property development, with many claims as farcical as they are shameless,” said Lisa Harker, co-director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, a consultant close to the government. Public trust in the political system “has now collapsed.”

Questions Unanswered

Martin brushed aside questions about when he will finish his term in office, saying it was “not a subject for today.” Asked by reporters if the speaker intended to carry on in his role, his spokeswoman replied, “yes.”

Responding to questions from the floor of the House of Commons today, Martin said lawmakers couldn’t debate his tenure unless the government ordered it. He sought guidance from a clerk in the house about the nature of the confidence motion, which was proposed by Conservative lawmaker Douglas Carswell.

“Members on all sides have now tabled a substantive motion calling for a vote of no confidence in you,” Carswell said. “When will members 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?”

Responsibility for scheduling debates rests with Harriet Harman, who is leader of the House of Commons and a member of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Cabinet. That shifts the matter to Brown, who has so far avoided direct comment on Martin’s future.

“We’ve got a dead speaker walking,” Paul Flynn, a lawmaker from the ruling Labour Party, said on Sky News. “He appeared to be entirely inadequate. We’re in the gutter and we need someone to lead us out of this.”

Bookmakers William Hill Plc gives odds of 5-4 that Martin will resign before June 1, or five pounds ($7.6) for every four bet. A member of Brown’s Labour Party, Martin took up his post in 2000 after predecessor Betty Boothroyd retired.

Labour lawmaker David Winnick today sought to provide an alternative to Parliamentarians forcing Martin out by suggesting he step down voluntarily.

“I say this with reluctance, and I say it all the same, that if you gave some indication of your own intention to retire, your early retirement, sir, would help the reputation of the House,” Winnick told Martin in Parliament.