Parliament and public interest

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IT would be disingenuous, at a time when so many politicians are persona non grata with the electorate, not to praise those MPs who work tirelessly on Parliament’s select committees to defend the public interest.

Their diligence represents the very best of the House of Commons and was self-evident when the Home Affairs Select Committee questioned those police chiefs and council officials whose negligence exacerbated the Rotherham sex grooming scandal. This was Parliament at its very best as independent-minded politicians were relentless in the pursuit of the truth, typified by veteran Labour backbencher Paul Flynn expressing disgust that he belonged to the same party as disgraced South Yorkshire crime commissioner Shaun Wright.

After three hours, the committee’s view was unanimous – MPs ordered Mr Wright and Joyce Thacker, the children’s services director of Rotherham Council, to step down with immediate effect for their own “sense of honour”.

It is shameful that neither has done so – Ms Thacker bleated yesterday that she was let down by Mr Wright when he was chairman of the children’s services committee in Rotherham, while the commissioner is likely to offer a contrary argument when he is quizzed by the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel today for the first time since publication of Professor Alexis Jay’s report into the industrial-scale abuse of 1,400 youngsters in Rotherham.

Like the select committee, this panel does not have the power to sack the commissioner – proof, if any was needed, that the law needs to be updated urgently so MPs, commissioners, councillors and other public officials can be held to account when their conduct falls short of the standards expected of them. Nothing less will now suffice.

A Major moment

Sir John’s warning to the Scots

HOW IRONIC that the most passionate – and substantive – intervention in the Scottish independence election campaign yesterday came from one of the few English politicians who chose not to venture north of the border.

Step forward Sir John Major. “We would be immensely weaker as a nation in every respect – morally, politically, in every material aspect – if Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom were to part company,” observed the former Prime Minister, whose political stock continues to rise in retirement. “This year is the 100th anniversary of the First World War. As we honour the people who fought together then, would it not be extraordinary if the SNP broke up the most successful union and partnership in all history in any part of the world?”

The regret is that Sir John cannot be persuaded to dust off his famous election soapbox to bolster the faltering pro-Union campaign. Despite his unfair reputation for dourness, he single-handedly changed the outcome of the 1992 general election by confronting the hecklers.

He says his presence would not be helpful, but Sir John’s economic warning could not have been blunter when he observed: “It is one week away from the vote and the people of Scotland do not know what currency they will have – I’ve never known such incompetence.”

If Sir John Major is not going to stop Alex Salmond, then who is in a position to make the Scots see sense?

It’s unlikely to be David Cameron, Ed Miliband or Nick Clegg whose presence in Scotland yesterday, alongside a ranting John Prescott, played into the hands of the Nationalists.

A cycling pioneer

Honouring Beryl Burton’s legacy

WERE Beryl Burton alive today, she would not only be regarded as one of the finest cyclists in Britain, but one of the greatest sportswomen anywhere in the world.

A five-time world champion and holder of

the 12-hour time-trial title, her achievements were made even more remarkable by the fact that she suffered chronic health problems as a child.

There is a sense, however, that she never quite received the recognition she deserved and, consequently, her inspirational story is not as widely-known today as it should be.

It is to be hoped that this will change with Leeds City Council’s welcome move to posthumously grant her the Freedom of the City.

Given that the appetite for cycling has never been greater – evidenced by today’s report on the continued success of the West Riding Track League, a volunteer-led cycle league that has been running since 1897 on one of only two grass velodromes in the UK – the timing of this honour could not be better.