UK Lawmakers Elect New Speaker of House of Commons

LONDON (AP) - British lawmakers elected a new speaker of the
House of Commons on Monday, part of a bid to put the political
storm over their lavish taxpayer-funded expenses behind them.

Opposition lawmaker John Bercow was elected to replace former
speaker Michael Martin, the first presiding officer forced out in
more than 300 years.

Martin was blamed for failing to rein in an expense system that
allowed parliamentarians to bill the public for a raft of expenses
including pornographic movies, horse manure and repairs to tennis
courts.

Details of the spending, published in The Daily Telegraph
newspaper, outraged the public, forced the resignation of several
lawmakers and threw British politics into turmoil.

The candidates vying for the top post promised to shake up the
House, and Bercow - who was dragged into the speaker's chair in a
ceremonial show of mock-reluctance to take the post - promised to
deliver.

"We have faced quite the most testing times," Bercow told his
colleagues after his election. "It has been a grueling experience.
Many members feel very sore and very vulnerable but large sections
of the public also feel angry and disappointed. We do have to
reform."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown congratulated Bercow, telling him
that lawmakers "have taken an important step in that process of
change" and that the House was on the "path to renewal."

Bercow led his fellow members of parliament from the House of
Commons to the House of Lords for the approbation ceremony, where
he was formally given royal approval and confirmed as the country's
157th speaker.

The speaker must be an elected legislator for a political party,
but once in office is supposed to be impartial and independent of
government - unlike in the U.S., where the speaker of the House of
Representatives is often a partisan advocate for the majority
party.

Bercow said his new role demanded he "immediately and
permanently to cast aside all of his or her previous political
views."

"My commitment to this house is to be completely impartial as
between members of one political party and another."

The British speaker, who has the use of a luxurious apartment
inside Parliament, decides which lawmakers are called on to speak,
can suspend those who break rules and represents the chamber in
discussions with the monarch and the House of Lords.

Tasks include maintaining decorum - sometimes shouting "Order!
Order!" - from a raised wooden chair that used to be used as a
toilet, ensuring lengthy debates could continue without breaks.
Being elected speaker also ensures a generous pay rise and the
use of a luxurious apartment inside Parliament.

Bercow will become the first Jewish speaker of the House of
Commons. Martin, elected to the post in 2000, was the first
Catholic speaker since the Reformation.


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