Defiant Speaker refuses to resign over expenses row

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Indy Politics

A defiant Michael Martin, the Speaker of the Commons, insisted yesterday that he would not step aside from overseeing reforms to MPs' expenses despite a row over his own claims.

In a highly charged intervention in the Commons, he rejected calls for him to quit the chairmanship of the review of parliamentary expenses, instead declaring that his chairmanship would be good for the reputation of the Commons. MPs were furious at what one called an "attempted coup" by the press.

And John Lyon, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, the anti-sleaze watchdog, rejected a complaint about Mr Martin's use of air miles to help pay for flights for family members. He said there was no bar on use of air miles by MPs.

In the Commons, the Labour backbencher, David Winnick, had called for the review of expenses to be speeded, claiming the furore over allowances was damaging the reputation of Parliament. Mr Martin told MPs: "Unanimously, this House agreed to put this matter to the [Members Estimates] committee which I chair. This House has charged me with the responsibility and I will carry out that duty until this House decides otherwise and that is a good thing for the reputation of this House."

Mr Winnick had said people had a "rather misleading impression that we are on the make at public expense". He added: "This is a matter that is causing damage to the reputation of the House and the sooner we can resolve it the better."

Mr Martin's spokesman, Mike Granatt, has resigned for "ethical" reasons, saying he had been misled over £4,000 in taxpayer-funded taxi rides by Mr Martin's wife, Mary. The Speaker also faced hostile comment over thousands claimed for his Glasgow home although he has no mortgage on it.

Peter Bottomley, the former Tory minister, told the BBC's World at One: "When I first heard there was some suggestion he might be re-elected to be Speaker for a third term, I thought to myself ,'That's ambitious'." But he added: "I think it would be totally inappropriate for him to be hounded out."

Yesterday Gordon Brown led MPs who have been rallying round the Speaker. He told Five News: "I think most people know that Michael Martin has been, and is, a very good Speaker. He obviously brings a huge amount of experience from things that he's done earlier in his life to the job and I think you'll find there's an enormous respect for what he's achieved."

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, called for an "utter overhaul" of the expenses system, but warned Mr Martin was facing "something of a witch-hunt".