The Daily Telegraph
First female Speaker Betty Boothroyd dies aged 93
SEVEN prime ministers joined those paying tribute yesterday to Baroness Boothroyd, the first female Speaker of the Commons, who has died aged 93.
The crossbench peer broke 700 years of tradition when she became the first woman elected to the parliamentary role in the spring of 1992.
She died at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge on Sunday.
Renowned for her fair play, sense of humour and passionate belief in the sovereignty of Parliament, Lady Boothroyd’s term coincided with Sir John Major’s attempts to defend his slim majority. She was in the Speaker’s Chair during extensive wrangling over the Maastricht Treaty and had to navigate the sleaze scandals that beset the Major government. She also witnessed Sir Tony Blair’s rise in 1997.
When she retired in 2000, she ended her remarks with the phrase most commonly associated with her, “time’s up”, to loud applause, cheering and the waving of MPS’ order papers.
Rishi Sunak described Lady Boothroyd as a “remarkable woman”, adding: “The passion, wit and sense of fairness she brought to politics will not be forgotten.”
Sir John said: “Betty Boothroyd was a superb speaker, easy to like and easier still to admire. As speaker, she was full
‘She was easy to like and easier still to admire. As speaker, she was fair and full of common sense’
of common sense, and utterly fair in her rulings. She handled a fractious Commons with great skill. She set a standard for every future speaker.”
Sir Tony paid tribute to a “bighearted and kind person”, adding: “She was a truly outstanding speaker, presiding with great authority, warmth and wit, for which she had our deep respect.”
Boris Johnson hailed her “elegant authority” and Theresa May described her as “formidable in the Chair”, commanding respect from across the House.
David Cameron said: “She always struck me as perfect for the job: bags of common sense; loved the institution she served; lots of natural authority; and always able to see the wood for the trees. It was an honour to meet her after she left the Commons and went to the Lords.”
Gordon Brown said Lady Boothroyd was “tough, yet charming, compassionate and caring”. Describing how she broke through the glass ceiling “with panache”, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the current Speaker, said: “It was heartening to hear a Northern voice speaking from the Chair.” Born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, in 1929, the only child of textile workers Ben and Mary Boothroyd, she originally trained as a dancer, appearing at the London Palladium as a member of the Tiller Girls dancing troupe before a foot infection ended her dancing career.
Having won a national speaking award, she turned to politics, and worked as secretary to Labour MPS Barbara Castle and Geoffrey de Freitas before travelling to the US in the early 1960s to campaign for John F Kennedy.
When she returned to London she worked for senior Labour politicians before being elected to a seat on Hammersmith borough council in 1958. She won a Parliamentary seat taking West Bromwich in a 1973 by-election.
After a stint as an MEP, she got her big political break in 1987 when she became a deputy speaker under Bernard Weatherill, succeeding him five years later. She described the House of Commons as “the chief forum of the nation today, tomorrow and, I hope, for ever”. In 2011, she described the idea of an elected House of Lords as “wantonly destructive”, warning it risked power-struggles with the lower chamber.
In her 2001 autobiography, she explained her decision to put public service above marriage. Despite never marrying or having children, she had an active social life, and took up paragliding on holiday in Cyprus in her sixties.