Martin ahead as MPs vote down the challengers

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Indy Politics

MPs made parliamentary history yesterday when they debated for a full day the merits of a record number of candidates to become their champion as the new Speaker of the Commons.

MPs made parliamentary history yesterday when they debated for a full day the merits of a record number of candidates to become their champion as the new Speaker of the Commons.

Under the complex voting procedure, Sir Edward Heath, as the father of the House, proposed Michael Martin, the Labour MP for Glasgow Springburn. His rivals were put forward in a series of amendments to this motion, for MPs to debate and then vote on.

Mr Martin said he was "not proud" of the fact that the Commons' long hours impacted on staff's family life. "When we talk about hours we must always consider the staff who work for this House," he said.

"A Speaker has a clear duty to every side of this House, especially to the backbenchers, the minority parties and the Opposition parties. The Speaker's duty is to serve this House, not the executive power."

Sir Alan Haselhurst, the Tory MP for Saffron Walden, was called as the first amendment to the motion. He acknowledged the difficulties of combining long hours with family life, and said he hoped to be a "moderate moderniser". He added: "The power of the executive has grown and grown whilst the capacity of the legislature to check it has not increased commensurately. Arguably, it has diminished."

Alan Beith, the Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, told MPs: "In my experience there are many roadblocks on the way to reform in this House and it's my hope that the Speaker should not be one of them. The Speaker should enable the House to release its potential to be more effective in the service of our constituents."

Gwyneth Dunwoody, the Labour MP for Crewe and Nantwich, said: "What we do here affects the lives of all our constituents at every level. What I want to see is a parliament that not only knows its worth but is essentially one which is able to hold up its collective head and say, 'We have done the very best that we can do for you who elected us.' "

Sir George Young, the Conservative MP for Hampshire North West, said: "If the House loses influence, the Government can drop its guard and is no longer properly held to account.

"The heart of Parliament is this chamber. I believe it needs to beat more strongly, sending oxygen round the rest of the body politic. It needs to be more relevant to the lives of our constituents and more challenging to the executive. Parliament is the buckle between the people and their government and it has become loose."

Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife, said it was "self-evident to me that a Speaker drawn from a minority party would find it difficult not to reflect that experience in dealing with backbenchers of all parties".

He added: "I simply don't believe that over-tired and harassed members of Parliament, concerned about their families, are likely to fulfil that responsibility of scrutiny, or any other obligations imposed upon us, as effectively as the electorate would wish or would expect to be entitled."

David Clark, the Labour MP for South Shields, said: "It is obviously a difficult position to fill. One is a servant of the House, on the other hand one is the protector of the House. But I bring to the job judgement and integrity based on my belief in representative democracy."

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