Tuesday, May 19, 2009

British House of Commons Speaker to Resign

Michael Martin, the Speaker of the British House of Commons, has announced his resignation.

Martin is resigning in the wake of a scandal involving the expenses of British MPs. The Daily Telegraph has been working on this story since 2005 as it has tried to obtain the data through Freedom of Information requests. However, the government has blocked releasing this information at every turn.

Last year, the High Court ruled the government had to release this information which it agreed to do in July. However, this information was subsequently leaked to The Daily Telegraph which has been began publishing it incrementally earlier this month.

Needless to say, this has caused British MPs from all parties great embarrassment. Many of these expenses involve work done on MPs residences amounting to ten of thousands of pounds of taxpayer money. Prime Minister Gordon Brown apparently made a claim for the same plumbing repair bill twice.

Unlike Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the British House of Commons is not the leader of the majority party nor sets the political agenda. Rather they oversee debate in the House of Commons. American viewers will be familiar with Prime Minister's Questions which airs on C-SPAN where the Speaker tries to maintain order. The Speaker also oversees the administration of the House of Commons including their salaries and expenses. The fact that Martin chose to address the leak of information rather than the information itself has caused further embarrassment and led to MPs to call for vote of non-confidence in him. Although ironically some of the MPs who called for Martin to step down themselves had questionable expenses.

However, all things considered, Martin is getting off lightly. In the early days of Parliament, when the Speaker lost confidence of the House he literally lost his head.

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