MP Martin set to be Commons Speaker

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Indy Politics

Labour MP Michael Martin is favourite to replace Betty Boothroyd as the next Speaker of the House of Commons after a day of debate and controversy.

Labour MP Michael Martin is favourite to replace Betty Boothroyd as the next Speaker of the House of Commons after a day of debate and controversy.

He looks set for the post after his main challenger, Sir George Young, was voted out of the running.

Three of the other 10 candidates, Gwyneth Dunwoody, Alan Beith and Sir Alan Haselhurst, were also voted out.

Earlier, Sir Edward Heath, the Father of the House, sparked furious protests in the Commons by rejecting calls on the way in which a new Speaker is voted in.

MPs, including Tony Benn, said a simple ballet should replace the existing complicated series of nominations.

He said he had "considerable sympathy" with those who wanted a ballot but warned it was not a "simple solution".

And he added that to set up an alternative to the current procedure would take "considerable time" and required careful investigation.

After nearly 30 minutes of protracted argument, he ruled that he could not accept the proposal put forward by veteran Labour left-winger Mr Benn and the process of nominating and seconding contenders for the Speaker's job began.

The nominations order began with Mr Martin and continued with Sir Alan, Mr Beith, Mrs Dunwoody, Sir George, Menzies Campbell, David Clark, Nicholas Winterton, John McWilliam, Michael Lord, Sir Patrick Cormack and Richard Shepherd.

Mr Benn told the House: "We are in some difficulty today. We don't know the names of the candidates because they have never been put on the Order paper."

To cheers, he called for a ballot, telling Sir Edward: "You have absolute power as the Speaker has to accept an amendment if you choose to do so.

"I am not suggesting this is a perfect system but it is practical.

"I hope you will allow the House to choose it because the House must have the Speaker it wants.

"The Speaker must enjoy the authority he or she needs to do the job that they are elected to do."

Backing the move, Tory David Davis, chairman of the public accounts select committee, said it was important to adopt a system that was "transparent and visibly fair" rather than one that was "antiquated".

Labour's Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham) also demanded a "free, fair and open democratic ballot".

But Sir Edward said that while he understood the anxieties felt by many Members about the present system and had "considerable sympathy" with them, his powers did not extend to presiding over a debate and decision on other methods of election.

To shouts of "No!", he said: "I think we would become very confused if we tried to change the rules in the middle of our election."

Liberal Democrat chief whip Paul Tyler warned that the procedures did not reflect the views of MPs, or those who elected them.

"Even if this afternoon, we do proceed as you have indicated, we are likely to leave a sense of dissatisfaction and real frustration in the House - whoever is elected."

To some jeers, Mr Tyler claimed that with an election likely next year the whole procedure could be repeated again soon and whoever won now was just a "temporary appointment".

Tory Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) took up the theme, claiming there was a majority for a change in the rules and adding: "We make our own rules in this House.

"Standing orders are therefore only to guide us. Set aside standing order number one (under which the election is conducted) until we have had an opportunity for the House to take a vote on Mr Benn's amendment."

Sir George's nomination for Speaker was defeated by 317 votes to 241, Sir Alan Haselhurst's by 345 to 140, Alan Beith's by 409 to 83, Mrs Dunwoody's by 341 to 170 and Mr Campbell's by 381 to 98.