'Sorry' Speaker will fight on

Michael Martin has been Speaker since October 2000
Michael Martin has been Speaker since October 2000

By politics.co.uk staff

Commons Speaker Michael Martin is refusing to resign despite apologising for his part in the expenses scandal, amid tense scenes in the Commons.

Mr Martin rebutted calls from backbench MPs for debate on a no confidence motion against him, saying it was up to the government or opposition to debate the issue.

Instead he used his statement to MPs, which many had suspected would feature his resignation, to outline plans to quickly introduce interim reforms of the allowances system.

It comes after days of pressure on Mr Martin to announce his decision on plans to curtail his time as Speaker - either resigning immediately or at the upcoming general election.

No such indication was given today. Instead the Speaker summoned prime minister Gordon Brown and other party leaders to a meeting within 48 hours to discuss emergency reforms to the MP allowances system.

politics.co.uk understands if an agreement is reached quickly a further statement could be made by Mr Martin before MPs rise for the half-term recess on Thursday.

This would not include any resignation announcement, however. At present Mr Martin appears determined to continue in his job.

The Speaker told MPs today they should refrain from submitting any expense claims until some way forward had been decided upon.

Apologising to the public on behalf of himself and all MPs, he said: "We have let you down very badly. We must all accept blame and to that extent that I have contributed to the situation I am profoundly sorry."

A visibly shaken Mr Martin had difficulty controlling MPs, many of whom reacted angrily to his statement. MP after MP rose to raise a point of order questioning his future.

Fifteen MPs sign no confidence motion - full story here

Confusion centred on whether the no confidence motion was 'substantive' or not. After consulting with his clerks the Speaker said the motion could "only be proceeded with if it is a substantive motion". The government will have to decide whether to debate it or not, Mr Martin confirmed.

David Winnick asked him whether he would "give some indication of your intentions". Mr Martin said that was "not a subject for today".

Tory grandee Sir Patrick McCormack told the Commons: "The times we are living in are unprecedented" and invited Mr Martin to "dwell" on the proposition that "the condition of the House is rather like the position of the country at the time of the Norway debate" [in 1940].

Today was the first time a no confidence motion against the Speaker has been tabled since 1695.

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Among those who Mr Martin will meet at his emergency meeting is Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who has already called for him to go. He called the Speaker a "dogged defender of the status quo" yesterday. Former home secretary Charles Clarke has also backed Conservative MP Douglas Carswell's no confidence motion.

Lib Dem leader calls on Speaker to stand down - full story here

Others - especially Scottish Labour MPS - have expressed anger about criticism focusing on him.

Jim Sheridan said on the Today programme attacks against Mr Martin were "cowardly" and "opportunistic".

MPs may be looking for the Speaker's head to roll after rising public anger against the failure to reform the system. A poll published in today's Telegraph put other parties up nine points to 19 per cent.

Voters shun main parties - full story here

It will be up to the government, which controls the Commons' agenda, to decide whether to vote on the no-confidence motion.

Downing Street has firmly placed the responsibility for this on leader of the House Harriet Harman's shoulders.

"It would not be appropriate for the prime minister to do anything other than respect the will of the House," the prime minister's spokesman said earlier.

"This is a matter for the business managers to consider at the appropriate time."

Gordon Brown was present in the Commons for the Speaker's statement, but left as MPs debated points of order. Mr Clegg was also present but David Cameron was absent.


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