Tom Richmond: Speaker in love with his own voice is out of order

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HOW dare they? Not only has the pontificating John Bercow, the supercilious, self-centred Speaker of the House of Commons, managed to offend the family of a seriously-ill young child from Yorkshire who suffers from a debilitating disease – but archaic Parliamentary rules have now cut short an emotional Commons debate about the deaths of Horbury siblings Christi and Bobby Shepherd from carbon monoxide poisoning during a family holiday to Corfu that ended in unspeakable tragedy.

No wonder the reputation of Parliament is shattered when it cannot even find the humanity to discuss, in full, these harrowing cases – and their wider ramifications for policy-making. The Speaker was, frankly, heartless when he cut short Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland as he tried, and failed, to raise the case of six-year-old Sam Brown from Otley who suffers from the incurable Morquio Syndrome which limits growth and mobility.

Perhaps the ill-mannered Speaker might care to visit the family and see how their lives have been thrown into turmoil by the decision of the NHS to withdrawal of the life-enhancing drug Vimizim. By accusing Mr Mulholland of being long-winded (his question was shorter than many others), he was also denying a voice to young Sam as he battles, heroically, with his illness.

Yet the final straw was Tuesday night’s harrowing debate, led by Wakefield MP Mary Creagh, into the deaths of the Shepherd youngsters in October 2006 from a faulty boiler at a holiday home booked through the travel agent Thomas Cook, the family’s long struggle for justice and the loopholes in EU legislation that, potentially, exacerbate the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Even though the debate came immediately after votes on the Budget, less than 10 MPs chose to stay on to hear Ms Creagh outline attempts by herself, and Yorkshire MEP Linda McAvan, to put in place European-wide safety protocols so holiday destinations have a legal obligation to provide devices that can detect the deadly invisible gas.

Particularly perturbing was the response at the time of Sajid Javid, then Culture Secretary, who wrote that “a European safety standard would impose an unnecessary cost on tourism businesses in England”. According to Ms Creagh, he informed his officials that “he felt it was not a good use of EU time”.

Really? If this is representative of his approach towards health and safety, he’s not fit to be Business Secretary – his current role – or leader of the Tory Party if, as expected, he attempts to succeed David Cameron as Prime Minister.

However matters were not helped by Tracey Crouch being chosen to answer for the Government? Who is she? Ms Crouch is the Sports Minister at the Department of Culture and her pre-prepared response revealed a lack of knowledge. All she offered was weasel words – a desire that Justin King, the former Sainsbury’s boss now charged with restoring Thomas Cook’s reputation, can improve relations with the Shepherd family, and for “tourism operators across the UK to reflect on the lessons learned and to be ever vigilant”.

This response could not have been more half-hearted. Yet, when Ms Creagh promised not to rest “until we see a minimum European safety standard across all EU member states to ensure that we protect”, she was cut short by the Deputy Speaker because the debate had exceeded its 30-minute time limit.

I was staggered. If Parliament thinks the deaths of two youngsters and an eight-and-a-half year fight for justice against the corporate might of Thomas Cook is worth little more than 30 minutes, then its rules and regulations need to be dragged into the real world.

And that will only happen when this out of order Speaker is replaced by a Parliamentary champion prepared to put the public interest before the sound of their own pompous voice.

I SEE Mr Hypocrite (Andy Burnham) still wants to have it both ways – again. Labour’s leadership contender did finally apologise this week for the budget deficit prior to the financial crash when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury in Gordon Brown’s government.

“Sorry. It was a mistake. We shouldn’t have allowed the deficit to get that high,” said the Shadow Health Secretary before making it known, 24 hours later, that he disagreed with interim leader Harriet Harman’s endorsement of controversial Tory tax credit curbs in the Budget.

It looks like Mr Burnham will say anything to get elected, hence his refusal to condemn Unite, Britain’s biggest trade union, when it advocated unlawful strikes in response to Tory union laws.

SHEFFIELD MP Paul Blomfield’s call for the Palace of Westminster to be relocated to South Yorkshire while the Houses of Parliament are restored has earned a rebuke from Tory backbencher Philip Davies. “Many people come to the UK from abroad to visit the Houses of Parliament, but it is highly unlikely that they will come to visit us in some aircraft hangar in another part of the country,” said the Shipley MP.

Like it or not, Parliament needs to be within close proximity of 10 Downing Street and Whitehall’s ministries.

HOW dare they? Not only has the pontificating John Bercow, the supercilious, self-centred Speaker of the House of Commons, managed to offend the family of a seriously-ill young child from Yorkshire who suffers from a debilitating disease – but archaic Parliamentary rules have now cut short an emotional Commons debate about the deaths of Horbury siblings Christi and Bobby Shepherd from carbon monoxide poisoning during a family holiday to Corfu that ended in unspeakable tragedy.

KEN Clarke’s wife Gillian, who has just succumbed to cancer, was more than a “rock” to the former Chancellor. She was his soul-mate who sacrificed her own ambitions to enable her husband’s political career to flourish (in between cricket matches and bird watching expeditions).

“What should decide Ken’s reputation is how he does his job... the aspect of political life I find least easy to bear is the need to be constantly polite to people I cannot stomach,” she once observed.

She will be much missed.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk