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British Parliament's speaker faces criticism over expenses, performance

British Parliament's speaker faces criticism over expenses, performance

Britain's parliamentary speaker has found himself at the center of a heated argument over his lavish expenses claims, including taxpayer-funded taxi rides his wife used for shopping trips.
Though he has broken no laws or rules, Parliament Speaker Michael Martin has been criticized for claiming around 4,280 pounds (US$8,420; euro5,680) for his wife's cab fares and around 17,500 pounds (US$34,125; euro23,025) toward the cost of a second home in Scotland.
His expenses, and claims for thousands of pounds (dollars; euro) more to pay for legal bills and airline tickets, have set many wondering if he is the right person to lead a review of the generous allowances offered to lawmakers.
And questions over his expenses bill are only part of mounting troubles faced by Martin, a janitor's son who made an unlikely rise through Britain's political ranks.
Martin, in charge of keeping order and upholding standards in the House of Commons, served as a lawmaker with Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour before he was elected as the strictly impartial speaker in 2000.
But opposition lawmakers charge that he deliberately favors his ex-Labour colleagues during debates, when he decides which legislators are allowed to speak.
Martin, in recent weeks, denied opposition Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg his customary chance to quiz Brown during a debate. In 2006, he prevented opposition Conservative party leader David Cameron from pressing Tony Blair over the identity of his likely successor.
Presiding over debates on Monday, Martin rejected criticisms, making a rare statement on the floor that is usually reserved for lawmakers to refuse to hand over his responsibilities for the expenses review.
"I will carry out that duty until this House decides otherwise _ and that is a good thing for the reputation of this House," he said.
Martin's spokesman resigned Friday after claiming he had been misled by the speaker's office _ and in turn had misled reporters _ over details of the taxi claims.
Alistair Graham, an ex-chairman of the committee on standards in public life, said Martin should no longer lead a review of lawmakers' expenses, which is due later this year.
It was launched after a legislator acknowledged he had paid family members for work they had never carried out.
Lawmakers claimed an average of 135,600 pounds (US$ 266,788; euro179,989) between April 2006 and 2007 _ the financial year _ and made claims for office costs, transport, staff, stationary, payments toward homes in London, food and insurance.
But information has only been released because of requests made each year under freedom of information laws. Campaigners are still fighting to force lawmakers to release detailed breakdowns of every individual item they claim for.
"The scope for reform is pretty enormous but unfortunately now the speaker ... is not the body to carry out that reform," said Graham.
But Martin's supporters insist the attacks are sheer snobbery at his modest background.
Martin was a sheet metal worker who rose through the labor union movement to become a Labour lawmaker, winning a seat in the House of Commons in 1979.
Others say his Scottish roots and religion _ Martin is the first Catholic speaker since the Reformation _ have long made him a target of establishment scorn.
"It's class prejudice, it's anti-Scottish and it's anti-Catholic," lawmaker George Galloway told The Associated Press.
Martin's critics "have never liked him, as they think he is too unpolished," Galloway said.
Each speaker is a serving lawmaker, but must resign from their party when elected and remain impartial. In return, the speaker stands uncontested by rival party candidates at elections and traditionally serves in the post until retirement.
Few lawmakers have commented on doubts over Martin's future, bound by an informal code of honor that prevents them from criticizing him. Some fear that speaking out would make Martin unlikely to call them to speak in future debates.


Updated : 2021-04-20 11:44 GMT+08:00