Martin claims victory - but will the Bell still toll for him?

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* The Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, is about to claim victory in his acrimonious dispute with the former independent MP, Martin Bell.

* The Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, is about to claim victory in his acrimonious dispute with the former independent MP, Martin Bell.

Sources close to Sir Philip Mawer, the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards, said yesterday that Martin would be cleared of wrongdoing, following a month-long investigation into his use of public funds.

Bell had contacted Mawer with a series of unspecified allegations linked to a Sunday newspaper investigation into the "Gorbalsgate" affair, concerning the amount Martin's wife, Mary, is paid to carry out secretarial work in his office.

The Mail on Sunday has claimed that she does little to justify her salary. It also alleges that Martin, above left, claims a £20,000-a-year housing grant, despite living at a grace-and-favour Westminster apartment.

Those allegations have now been rejected by Sir Philip, however. Asked about Bell's complaint, his spokesman says: "In the absence of supporting evidence, the Commissioner is not taking this any further."

Meanwhile, Bell is keeping quiet about the details of his complaint. "You can't be sued for the contents of a complaint, but I really can't expand on it in the press," he said yesterday. "However, I don't regard the issue as entirely closed."

Maybe not: as this column reported last month, Martin's expenses will be made public in October, when the first register of MPs' allowances is published.

* DAVID WALLIAMS was pelted with fruit on Tuesday, after rashly deciding to heckle Michael Howard at a celebrity bash.

The Little Britain star had pudding thrown at him after he began booing when Howard was presented with GQ magazine's "politician of the year" award. As a result, his natty white suit was ruined.

"I didn't know that Howard was going to be here tonight and I felt a little uneasy sharing a stage with him," explained Walliams later. "I felt that it meant somehow that I was endorsing him, which I would never do. So that's why I booed.

"He's using this occasion for reflected glamour. It's pathetic from his point of view; he should be out doing his job. I don't see how this comes under his remit."

Asked whether Howard's staff were behind the attack, the Tory leader's spokesman yesterday declined to comment.

* PAUL BETTANY has hit back at the nay-sayers who reckon his forthcoming Wimbledon film will flop.

Although, as Pandora recently reported, certain tennis writers have compiled a dossier of "errors" in the flick, Bettany, left, tells me that John McEnroe has "seen it and loved it".

"He said it was the first film he'd seen that captures the essence of tennis and the tension," said Bettany at Tuesday's GQ Man of the Year awards.

"That was a great relief because, as everyone knows, John's not afraid to be honest, and can be a fierce critic."

McEnroe also has a cameo role in the film, so might not qualify as the most independent of critics. But we'll let that pass.

* ROD LIDDLE claims - in all seriousness - to be engaged to Alicia Monckton, the young blonde for whom he ditched his wife Rachel Royce.

Meanwhile, the former Today editor's career is looking up, too. Having been dragged through the tabloids, his market value has increased and he's about to take on new duties for Rupert Murdoch.

"Rod will shortly begin writing for The Sunday Times ," says a chum. "In the long term, he's going to take on the slot currently filled by Michael Portillo, who may or may not have to leave the paper."

Meanwhile, I gather Liddle's 23-year-old fiancée has been sharing in the success. She has been offered a job by The Mail on Sunday . How cosy!

* Jolly brave of Michael Buerk to invite David Starkey to the launch of his memoir, The Road Taken, on Tuesday.

The pair often clash, and a couple of years back their rivalry upset Radio 4 listeners, when the historian and controversialist shouted a four-letter obscenity during a particularly forthright row on The Moral Maze.

This week, hostilites resumed. After Buerk, right, had delivered his speech at the book launch, Starkey turned to Pandora.

"Michael and I have known each other for years, and we're mates most of the time, but that speech was pure smuggery," he said. "It was so smug - smug to such an extent - that I've just invented the word smuggery, to define it."

pandora@independent.co.uk

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