Speaker speeds up MPs' expenses inquiry

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Indy Politics

Michael Martin, the embattled Commons Speaker, has speeded up a review of MPs' expenses – a move which could pave the way for him to announce he is to stand down.

There is growing speculation at Westminster that Mr Martin, 62, will tell the Commons in July that he will not seek another term as Speaker and will retire as MP for Glasgow Springburn at the next general election. Traditionally, a sitting Speaker is not opposed by the other parties.

Allies of Mr Martin said he did not want to bow to a media campaign against him but might decide to make his future intentions clear this summer if the dust has settled by then. He is said to be dismayed that his wife, Mary, had been dragged into the controversy, and this might make him more likely to quit. His spokesman, Mike Granatt, resigned at the weekend, saying he had been misled over £4,000 in taxi fares claimed by Mrs Martin.

Last night, the Information Tribunal which hears appeals over Freedom of Information requests ruled that the current "second-homes" allowance system is "deeply unsatisfactory". In a move that could have a knock-on effect for other MPs, the tribunal found in favour of a request for the release of information relating to 14 MPs – including Tony Blair, David Cameron and Gordon Brown – within 28 days.

Earlier yesterday, the Commons Estimates Committee, chaired by Mr Martin, bowed to pressure to bring forward the review of MPs' expenses it launched after the scandal involving the Tory MP Derek Conway, who employed his two sons as researchers while they were at university. Its recommendations will now be published in July. Mr Martin said on Monday he would complete the review that MPs had unanimously asked him to carry out.

After some MPs complained that an internal review would not allay public criticism, the committee agreed to widen its inquiry to take advice from independent bodies including the National Audit Office, the Audit Commission and the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the anti-sleaze watchdog, which will also be asked to comment on its draft conclusions. As a first step, the £250 maximum that MPs claim in expenses without producing a receipt will be cut from April, probably to £50.

The committee promised to look at "radical options" to restructure MPs' pay and allowances. As The Independent revealed this month, this could include merging their £22,100-a-year "second-homes" allowance into their £61,800 annual salary, which would provoke controversy as it would be portrayed as a 33 per cent wage rise. Another idea is for MPs' staff to be employed directly by the Commons rather than by the MPs. This would cut their headline bills for "expenses" and prevent a repeat of the Conway affair.

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the anti-sleaze watchdog, said the moves to speed up the inquiry were "useful steps forward but hardly root-and-branch reform". He added: "The public would be more trusting of changes if they had arisen from ... an independent body outside Parliament."

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, led a walk-out by his MPs after the Speaker refused to call their amendment to the Bill implementing the Lisbon treaty, calling for a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU. Ed Davey, the foreign affairs spokesman, was banned from the Commons for one day after calling the decision "an outrage".

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