Speaker row clouds return of British parliament

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New British lawmakers gathered Tuesday for the first time since knife-edge polls brought a new coalition government to power, but a call for the speaker to be sacked threatened to cloud the ceremomy.

Members of the 650-seat House of Commons were to take their seats in the lower house of parliament with the first business the election of a speaker. Incumbent John Bercow was expected to become the first in living memory to have his re-appointment challenged by a vote.

The challenge was an unexpected distraction after the major changes brought about by the May 6 polls which ended 13 years of Labour rule in Britain.

Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives won most seats in the elections, but not an absolute majority, and after five days of haggling they struck a deal with the third-placed Liberal Democrats.

The 57 Lib Dem members of parliament (MPs) including their leader Nick Clegg -- now Cameron's deputy premier -- will take their seats on the government side of the house, next to the Conservatives' 306 deputies.

A speaker has not been voted out since 1835, and is usually re-appointed on the nod without a formal Commons vote at the start of each parliament.

But Bercow has drawn criticism and a small number of opponents were expected to shout "No" when the question of whether he should resume his chair is asked at the opening ceremony.

Although it appeared unlikely that Bercow will be sacked, only one MP is needed to oppose the motion in order to force a full vote.

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, who is leading efforts to get rid of Bercow, said: "It is going to happen, there will be enough," while Labour deputy Kate Hoey was also expected to back the move.

"If there is an opportunity to say 'no' I think the new parliament should have an opportunity to elect a new speaker," said Hoey.

After the ceremony, lawmakers will begin swearing oaths of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II over the next few days.

They must adapt to the first power-sharing government in more than six decades: the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have long baited each other across the aisle in House of Commons debates, but will now have to sit together.

Every MP will also be under increased scrutiny in the wake of last year's expenses scandal, where the revelation that lawmakers claimed thousands of pounds for second homes, duck houses and swimming pools caused public outcry.

© 2010 AFP

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