Westminster stinks in eyes of public, says MP

THE Essex MP who made parliamentary history by forcing the resignation of the Speaker of the House of Commons said he did it because in the eyes of the public “Westminster stinks”.

Graham Dines

THE Essex MP who made parliamentary history by forcing the resignation of the Speaker of the House of Commons said he did it because in the eyes of the public “Westminster stinks”.

Douglas Carswell, who has been MP for Harwich since 2005 and is seen as one of the leading campaigners to clean up parliament and the political process, said the moves to oust Michael Martin had been “unpleasant and necessary”.

Mr Carswell began gathering names last week for a motion of no confidence in the Speaker because of his role in “blocking measures which would make the system of MPs expenses and allowances totally transparent”.

The tipping point came when the Speaker rounded on two MPs - Labour's Kate Hooey and the Liberal Democrat Norman Baker - for opposing his decision to call in the police to find out who was leaking details of expense claims to The Daily Telegraph.

Mr Martin had originally tried to use the Freedom of Information Act to stop the minute details of each MPs' claims being published.

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Having lost that battle, he then sought to allow MPs to black out embarrassing details of their claims when they are eventually published, but again he was defeated.

Mr Carswell said last night that the removal of Mr Martin “had to happen”.

He said: “It was not a nice business. It's been extremely unpleasant work. I did this regretting I had to do it.”

The main priority for the new Speaker was to bring the Commons into the modern world.

“We need a bold reformer who realises that Westminster stinks. This gives us a unique opportunity now to create a new House of Commons that is not a caste apart.

“We have to modernise the building and make it suitable for the age of YouTube.”

Mr Martin's removal did not answer the problems of parliament, said Mr Carswell, but it was a necessary forerunner of the modernising process.

The Harwich MP said his constituents had been appalled at what he called the “greed” of members who were claiming large expenses and leading a lavish lifestyle.

“One elderly lady said she had to survive on �6,500 a year to buy all her food and pay her bills. But here were MPs claiming �400 a month for food without the need to show any proof that they were actually buying it.

“She could not understand how MPs were allowed to claim all this money while she had to scrape along on her pension. That's why the present system is so wrong and must be changed.”

Mr Martin might well have survived if Mr Carswell's motion had only been signed by Conservatives. But when Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs supported it, and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg indicated it was time for the Speaker to go, the game was up.

He bowed to the inevitable yesterday and announced he would stand down on June 21, forcing a by-election in Glasgow where Labour will be under pressure from the Scottish National Party.

Michael Martin is the first Speaker to be forced from his post in more than 300 years. Sir John Trevor was removed in 1695 after the House of Commons found him guilty of “a high crime and misdemeanour” for accepting a bribe of 1,000 guineas from the City of London authorities. .

But he was found out and efforts were launched to remove him from the speakership for bribery.

The office of speaker was first held by Sir Peter de la Mare, knight for Herefordshire, in 1376's Good Parliament,”, so-called because the Commons refused to grant the Crown any new taxes until its grievances had been addressed.

In the dispute with King Edward III, Sir Peter acted as spokesman for the Commons and their collective strength prevailed. But as soon as Parliament was dissolved, Sir Peter was thrown into prison.

The office of speaker continued to be fought over by Crown and Commons for centuries. In 1629, Speaker Finch took the King's line, declaring: “I am not less the King's servant for being yours.”

But in 1642, Speaker William Lenthall famously put the interests of the Commons to the fore. This was when King Charles I entered the House to arrest five members for high treason.

When he asked the Speaker if he knew where these members were, the speaker famously replied: “May it please your majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me.”

Seven Speakers have been beheaded and one murdered.