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Expenses scandal

May 20, 2009

The speaker of the UK House of Commons has become the first person to be forced out of the job in more than three centuries, amid a row over MPs' expenses

Speaker of House of Commons announces his resignation to British MPs
Michael Martin announces his resignation to MPs in the House of Commons at WestminsterImage: AP

Michael Martin told a hushed House of Commons that he would be stepping down on June 21, after fellow MPs accused him of condoning an expenses system which has caused an uproar with voters ahead of local and European elections.

Martin chose to fall on his sword after it became clear he no longer enjoyed cross party support, including that of British Premier Gordon Brown.

"In order that unity can be maintained, I have decided that I will relinquish the office of speaker on Sunday 21st of June. This will allow the house to proceed to elect a new speaker on Monday 22nd of June," he said.

British politicians have had their expense claims exposed in newspapers, with some being embarrassed by reimbursements of huge amounts of money for items now deemed 'inappropriate.' These claims included furnishing, mortgage payments and even pay-per-view pornography films.

Martin garners scathing critique

Newspaper editorials on Wednesday criticized Martin's handling of the scandal, calling on the Labour prime minister to dissolve parliament and call an early election.

The Daily Telegraph, which sparked the crisis by exposing MP's claims, described Martin's departure as the first stage of a "very British revolution."

House of Commons Großbritannien
Details of politicians' excessive expenses angered British taxpayersImage: AP

However, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has dismissed calls for an early election, arguing that it would not solve the problem.

Earlier, Brown criticized Westminister's "cosy self-regulation," in which members of parliament determine the rules, as a "gentleman's club."

He said a new, independent body should be set up to oversee expenses claims and enforce tougher regulations.

"I believe that the keystone of any reform must be to switch from self-regulation to independent external regulation," said Brown.

"Westminster cannot operate like some gentleman's club where the members make up the rules and operate them among themselves. If MPs continue to set their own codes and rules, however objectively they should try to do so, the public will always question the transparency and the standards that they rightly demand," he added.

Scandal could prove costly

With voter confidence at an all-time low, the fallout from the expenses scandal could have a direct impact on the outcome of the upcoming local elections and elections to the European Parliament.

Prime Minister Brown will face questions about the resignation of the House of Commons Speaker at his weekly question and answer session on Wednesday.

Editor: Nick Amies