MPs angered by ministers' plan to make Beckett new Speaker

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Indy Politics

Margaret Beckett, the Leader of the House of Commons, was last night at the centre of a row over claims that ministers were trying to secure her election as Speaker.

Margaret Beckett, the Leader of the House of Commons, was last night at the centre of a row over claims that ministers were trying to secure her election as Speaker.

Mrs Beckett's name has been mentioned as a possible candidate to succeed Betty Boothroyd. Senior Labour MPs are speculating that her election to the post could be a "solution" to Tony Blair's problem of finding cabinet places to which to promote middle-rank Labour ministers.

But the suggestion has raised opposition among traditionalists similar to MPs' hostility to other officially endorsed candidates for Speaker. Tam Dalyell, Labour member for Linlithgow, said: "I am strongly against cabinet ministers or Shadow Cabinet ministers being considered for the Speakership. If the reason is to make room in the Cabinet for a promotion it would be a very bad reason indeed.

"But I am not at all astonished that this should be proposed because I had heard it mooted early on in terms of promotional convenience for the Prime Minister."

He added: "It would be terribly wrong if pressure were to be put on Labour MPs for such a solution."

A senior Conservative backbencher, who did not want to be identified, also said that it was "absolutely unacceptable" that someone should come straight from the Cabinet into the Speaker's chair.

He added: "Mrs Beckett is rightly highly regarded as a good Leader of the House. But she is making political pronouncements every week.

"The thought of putting Tony Blair's placewoman into the Speaker's chair would be regarded as repugnant to MPs of all parties."

Another possible candidate from the frontbenches is Mrs Beckett's opposite number in the Conservative Party, Sir George Young. Free-thinkers are adamant that he should not be slotted into the vacancy at the behest of party managers and neither should Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, who is understood to be favoured by Mr Blair.

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