New Speaker backs the modernisers - but denies betting on himself to win

Click to follow

Michael Martin, the new Speaker of the House of Commons, declared that he would not stand in the way of modernisation of Parliament yesterday as he gave an unprecedented press conference to set out his personal credo.

Michael Martin, the new Speaker of the House of Commons, declared that he would not stand in the way of modernisation of Parliament yesterday as he gave an unprecedented press conference to set out his personal credo.

Mr Martin distanced himself from the reign of his predecessor Betty Boothroyd by saying MPs should consider allowing breastfeeding in the Commons, and more family-friendly hours.

But his Speakership was plunged into controversy when sources said Labour MPs had made thousands of pounds from bets on his election on Monday. Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner was poised to conduct an inquiry into the affair following demands that all MPs should declare their winnings in the register of members' interests.

One Labour backbencher, Frank Roy, MP for Motherwell and Wishaw, said he had placed a bet at 20-1 before bookies slashed the price to 2-1 then suspended betting. He refused to say how much he had staked. The bookmaker, William Hill, said a punter in Wishaw had won £7,000. One MP is said to have made more than £50,000 .

Mr Martin said he had not placed a bet on himself. "Perhaps next time round William Hill might be very careful about taking bets," he said. The Liberal Democrat chief whip and party spokesman on Commons affairs, Paul Tyler, wrote Mrs Filkin saying: "If these bets in any way coloured MPs' judgement of the respective qualities of different candidates for the Chair, that is obviously a very serious matter indeed."

Mr Martin, barely 48 hours into his new post, also faced suggestions from MPs that he should face a fresh election contest after the next general election.

That prospect looked more likely yesterday when Tam Dalyell, MP for Linlithgow and possibly the next Father of the House, said he would refuse to follow the traditional "knockout vote" procedure to reinstate the Speaker. "It is a totally unsatisfactory procedure," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

He called instead for a ballot-based system, along the lines of that proposed by Tony Benn but blocked by the retiring Father, Sir Edward Heath.

Nicholas Winterton, chairman of the Commons Procedure Committee, said he would press for a change in the"outdated, archaic" election system early next week.

Mr Martin, at his press conference in the sumptuous Speaker's House in Westminster, said the election system was a matter for MPs to decide, but he did warn that he would act impartially.

"It would be a sad day if anyone felt that in some way I was a temporary Speaker," he said. The 55-year-old MP, first Catholic to be Speaker since the Reformation, revealed that he had not yet moved into the grace-and-favour apartment because his wife Mary felt that they were "comfortable" enough in their flat in Pimlico.

"It's different from the old tenement room I was brought up in," he said. "Once it's to her liking, we will move in here."

He firmly rejected "snobbish" criticism about his accent and his background as a former sheet-metal worker brought up in slums of Glasgow.

"I'm proud of where I come from," he said. "I'm proud of the fact that I'm an MP. If someone is snobbish then that's their problem not mine."

Comments