MPs are criticised over 'beauty parade' scramble to be Speaker job

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Indy Politics

The battle to replace Betty Boothroyd as Speaker of the Commons threatened to become an unseemly squabble last night.

The battle to replace Betty Boothroyd as Speaker of the Commons threatened to become an unseemly squabble last night.

Eight hopefuls have put themselves forward for an unprecedented "hustings" meeting at the Commons in spite of it being frowned upon as unParliamentary behaviour by Margaret Beckett, the Leader of the House.

John Major also expressed his doubts about the wisdom of allowing the MPs to parade their views before Labour MPs, hours before they made their choice of Speaker.

Traditionally, the Speaker has to remain strictly impartial and independent. Mrs Beckett expressed her concerns in a letter to the Labour MP Gordon Prentice. "The Speaker should be seen to be impartial. Pitching openly for votes may make this more difficult even for a successful candidate," she said.

However, eight MPs have said they will be there to put forward their own views, and answer MPs' questions before they make their choice of a new Speaker.

The eight candidates now ready to join the "beauty parade" are the Labour MP John McWilliam,the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Alan Beith, the former Labour minister David Clark, Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, and the senior Conservatives, Sir Patrick Cormack, Nicholas Winterton, John Butterfill and Michael Lord.

Five other candidates - Richard Shepherd, Sir George Young, Sir Alan Haselhurst (all Conservatives), the Liberal Democrats' Menzies Campbell, and the Labour MP Michael Martin - have all so far refused to join the hustings meeting.

Mr Major expressed concern that a potential Speaker should have made promises to the electorate before taking the chair. "The independence of the Speaker is vital and I would not wish to see it inhibited in any way," he said.

Mrs Beckett refused to delay the MPs' vote on the choice of Speaker, leaving MPs the prospect of a tortuous day likely to marred by rows over the election procedure.

As the oldest member of the Commons, Sir Edward Heath will be in charge of the procedure. There are bound to be protests. The veteran Labour MP, Tony Benn, has called for a change in the system to allow a ballot of MPs.

Mrs Beckett has already made it clear she does not believe a change in the system to elect the Speaker is justified because it was considered by a committee of MPs.