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Pressure mounting on UK politicians

THE Speaker of the House of Commons must step down and parliament may need to be dissolved after an expenses scandal that has damaged its reputation, the leader of Britain's third main party said yesterday.

The unusual comments from a party leader underline the pressure politicians are under to change how the system operates to try to restore trust after 10 days of media disclosures about extravagant expenses claims made by members of parliament.

Newspapers reported that Queen Elizabeth had expressed concern to Prime Minister Gordon Brown over the disclosures, which have angered Britons at a time of economic recession when some are losing their homes and unemployment is rising.

Pressure is mounting on the Speaker, Michael Martin, over his handling of the expenses scandal which has highlighted flaws in the parliamentary system which pays allowances from the public purse.

"I've arrived at the conclusion that the Speaker must go," Liberal Democrats' leader Nick Clegg told BBC television. "He has proved himself over some time now to be a dogged defender of the way things are, the status quo, when what we need very urgently is someone at the heart of Westminster who will lead a wholesale radical process of reform."

The Sunday Times said a motion of no confidence against Martin could be tabled by members of parliament today. If ousted, Martin would be the first Speaker to be sacked since 1695.

The position of a Speaker or presiding officer in British politics dates back to the 13th century.

As well as keeping order in the lower house of parliament and calling MPs to speak, the Speaker is the house's highest authority who must have support across the political spectrum.

Clegg said politicians may have to go further than replacing Martin and reforming the system to win back public trust.

In 10 days of disclosures from leaked files, the Daily Telegraph newspaper has targeted all the main political parties, detailing expenses claims for moat cleaning, adult films and dog food.

Britain has seen its share of political controversies over the years, but few have tarnished all three of the country's main political parties in a single stroke.

The ruling Labour party has been hardest hit and polls point to a backlash at next month's European elections.

Any legislator in the ruling Labour Party who is found to have broken rules regarding their expense accounts must leave the government, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in an article published yesterday.


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