22 Jun 2009

MPs to elect Speaker in wake of expenses scandal

9:22 pm on 22 June 2009

MPs choose a new Speaker of the House of Commons on Monday whose main task is being widely seen as restoring parliament's battered reputation in the wake of an expenses scandal.

But already accusations are flying that the government is running a secret campaign in favour of former cabinet minister Margaret Beckett.

"There is a lot of skulduggery going on," Labour MP Stephen Pound told BBC radio. "It is a depressing example of MPs looking inwards to their own advantage when we really should be looking outwards."

Harriet Harman, the Leader of the House, denied that government whips were seeking to install a preferred candidate when MPs choose between as many as 10 hopefuls in a series of secret ballots.

"I am sure there is no skulduggery and nor should there be," she told BBC radio.

The election proceedings follow the ousting of speaker Michael Martin, who formally stood down on Sunday after losing the confidence of the House of Commons.

The former Glasgow sheet-metal worker had held the position since 2000 and is the first speaker to be ousted in more than 300 years.

MPs had blamed Mr Martin for presiding over the disastrous expenses parliamentary expenses scandal that provoked public fury and the resignation of a number of MPs.

His successor will no longer be in charge of the Commons allowances system, which the government plans to hand over to a independent body.

Bookmaker Ladbrokes named Ms Beckett its favourite, with Old Etonian Conservative George Young in second place and fellow Tory John Bercow third.

Also in the running are Conservatives Patrick Cormack, Alan Haselhurst, Michael Lord, Richard Shepherd and Ann Widdecombe, Labour MP Parmjit Dhandra and Alan Beith of the Liberal Democrats.