Speaker John Bercow has lost some of the respect he should enjoy from parliamentarians and voters because of his refusal to wear traditional dress, his predecessor Baroness Boothroyd has said.
Lady Boothroyd said that Mr Bercow’s decision to wear a lounge suit instead of court dress was “not good for Parliament”.
In an interview to be broadcast on Sunday, the peer – who occupied the Speaker’s chair as Betty Boothroyd from 1992-2000 – also warned that plans for an elected House of Lords amounted to “wanton destruction”. And she denounced the abuse of expenses by MPs, which emerged under her successor Michael Martin, as “an absolute disgrace”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World This Weekend, Lady Boothroyd said she had spoken to Mr Bercow about his decision to abandon the Speaker’s uniform and asked him to at least wear a white shirt and “weepers” – broad white cuffs – and a more traditional gown.
“I think the symbols of the office are very important,” she said. “It has not been good for Parliament that the Speaker hasn’t worn the official uniform.”
Asked if his decision had cost him the respect of MPs, Lady Boothroyd said: “I don’t know the backbenchers, but he doesn’t have perhaps the respect I would like him to have from people of my generation and people up and down the country.” Mr Bercow has said he wants to modernise the office of Speaker and felt “uncomfortable” with traditional dress.
Lady Boothroyd has been an outspoken opponent of the plans for a directly-elected House of Lords being drawn up by a committee chaired by Nick Clegg, which she described as a “cabal”.
She said she would be happy to see the final 92 hereditary peers gradually removed from the House by ending the process of replacing those who die. And she supported the establishment of a statutory appointments commission to decide on future elevations to the peerage.
But she warned that an elected Upper House would lose the expertise of eminent professionals, like scientists, doctors and academics, who would simply not be willing to put themselves up for election.
Lady Boothroyd said she felt no personal responsibility for the Commons expenses scandal, which she said blew up after her time in the chair. “People were greedy and they took advantage of a system and they disgraced themselves. What annoys me is they disgraced a parliament I have tried all my life to cherish and work hard for,” she said.