Betty Boothroyd’s Yorkshire Day solidarity with current Speaker – Tom Richmond

NO wonder Sir Lindsay Hoyle chose to name his Patterdale terrier ‘Betty’ in honour of Britain’s first – and still only – female Speaker.

Baroness Betty Boothroyd is a distinguished former Speaker of the House of Commons. Photo: James Hardisty.

The current Speaker, whose animals are all named after politicians and whose menagerie also includes a parrot called Boris, is clearly cut from the same cloth as Yorkshire’s pioneering Betty Boothroyd.

And the proud Lancastrian will be heartened by a Yorkshire Day show of solidarity from Baroness Boothroyd over his move to make Ministers more accountable to Parliament.

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Like Sir Lindsay, whose no nonsense handling of Commons proceedings is a breath of fresh air and comparable to his Yorkshire heroine, Baroness Boothroyd maintains that policy-making and decision-making will be enhanced if MPs are briefed before the media.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle is the current Speaker of the House of Commons.

Yet, while this is not possible at times of Parliamentary recess, she has more than a point after Simon Clarke, the Local Government Minister, spluttered his way through a round of media interviews the other day.

Pressed repeatedly about potential changes to the quarantine rules, it was clear that The Daily Telegraph had been better briefed than this supposed and reportedly capable ‘duty’ Minister.

He’s not alone. Even when Parliament is sitting, MPs are, invariably, the last know about the intentions of Boris Johnson and, more to the point, Dominic Cummings.

And after The Yorkshire Post highlighted Sir Lindsay’s misgivings, Baroness Boothroyd sent an email offering her unequivocal support. It’s vintage Betty.

Former Sports Minister Kate Hoey was once adminished by Speaker Betty Boothroyd for bypassing Parliament.

“I have long held the position and made it clear from the Chair when I was Speaker that Ministers, and that includes the Prime Minister, that all policy decisions and amendments to existing policy should be first made at the Despatch Box in the Commons so that representatives of the people are the first to be informed and can question whatever a government maybe up to,” she writes.

“It’s called Parliamentary democracy! I always saw to it that Ministers adhered to it. I had to reprimand only one Minister verbally from the Chair and it never happened again.

“I back Speaker Hoyle in his determination to insist that Ministers inform parliament first before spouting off to the media and have let him know of my support. More power to his elbow.”

Hear, hear. Ministers have been warned. If they err, they won’t just be answerable to the current Speaker.

President John F Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address still resonates today.

But they can be assured of the wrath of one of the most respected Parliamentarians in history and one of the greatest ever public figures to be born in Yorkshire – Baroness Betty Boothroyd OM. And, to paraphrase her own words, more power to her elbow.

BETTY Boothroyd’s autobiography was revealing about the difficulties she faced convincing Ministers not to bypass Parliament.

“Only the Treasury showed any hubris at being told that I wanted a great improvement in performance all round, but that did not surprise me,” she wrote.

The then Speaker was also perturbed that only 60 per cent of letters from MPs were answered within a reasonable time.

“What hope did members of the public have of getting a satisfactory service?” she asked. It’s a question that is still relevant today.

As for the identity of the Minister who erred. “In my last year as Speaker, Kate Hoey, the Sports Minister, made a formal apology for her department’s release of a new national sports strategy before Parliament was informed of it.”

To use sporting parlance, 1-0 to the Yorkshire terrier...

FIRST the Local Government Association finally shows some leadership and calls for a timetable for social care reform.

Next 10 Parliamentarians, including ex-Cabinet Ministers Dame Cheryl Gillan and Mark Harper, say they’re already holding cross-party talks.

All chairs of various all-party parliamentary groups on social care, they’re looking at the issue from the perspective of disabled people.

But they say: “If we can hold this kind of constructive dialogue, we think others can and we look forward to formal cross-party talks to be called soon, which we will do everything we can do support.”

And then a Public Accounts Committee report condemns the “slow, inconsistent and at times negligent approach” to the social care sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Perhaps the tide is turning – all are points repeatedly raised by this newspaper. But I’m still sceptical about the ability of the Tories and Labour to work together given Boris Johnson’s hypocrisy – he’s done nothing since becoming PM – and Sir Keir Starmer making policy by hindsight.

And then there’s Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock. He said a “protective ring” had been thrown around care homes. Yet the PAC report says they “thrown to the wolves”.

In normal times, this would be prima facie resignation issue. But these are abnormal times because of Covid-19. And there’s very little honour – or personal responsibility left in politics. Mr Hancock proves this with every new utterance.

FINALLY Yorkshire Day has had an irritating tendency to be introspective and play to outdated stereotypes. Today is different. Everyone should be looking to the future – and asking what they can do to help rebuild the county’s economy and social networks.

As President John F Kennedy said in his 1961 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Or county, in Yorkshire’s case now.

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