Betty Boothroyd, first and only woman speaker of the Commons, dies aged 93
Baroness Betty Boothroyd, the first and only woman speaker of the House of Commons, has died aged 93.
The Dewsbury-born politician was the Labour MP for West Bromwich for 27 years and served as speaker of the House from 1992 till 2000.
Current speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle led tributes to the straight-talking trailblazer, saying she was not only “an inspiring woman, but she was also an inspirational politician, and someone I was proud to call my friend”.
Baroness Boothroyd entered the House of Lords in 2001 shortly after resigning as an MP and the speaker, being succeeded by Michael Martin.
Lady Boothroyd was unafraid to make her feelings known to her successors in the job, with Sir Lindsay admitting in a 2020 interview she “gets me put in my place” with regular phone calls telling him whether he is getting things right or wrong, and encouraging him to “tell him (the Prime Minister) straight”. And in April 2019 she publicly criticised then speaker John Bercow over his attitude to Donald Trump addressing Parliament during a state visit while he was US president. Born in Dewsbury, in Yorkshire, Lady Boothroyd worked as a professional dancer from 1946 to 1948 and appeared in pantomime in London’s West End before going into politics, unsuccessfully contesting four parliamentary seats before being elected to West Bromwich (later to become West Bromwich West) in May 1973.
Politicians from across the spectrum paid tribute to the former Labour MP.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted: “I am saddened to hear of the death of Betty Boothroyd. A remarkable woman who dedicated her life to politics, she was an inspiration as the first woman Speaker. “The passion, wit (and) sense of fairness she brought to politics will not be forgotten. My thoughts go out to her family.” Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer said: “Betty Boothroyd was an incredible and inspirational woman. “As speaker, she was at the forefront of a generation that smashed the glass ceiling for female politicians. She made the role her own, with a wit and style that will never be replicated. “Betty was a dedicated and devoted public servant who will be dearly missed by all who knew her. My thoughts – and the thoughts of the Labour Party – are with all her many friends and family.”
Prime minister of the time, Tony Blair, described her as “something of a national institution” when she quit.
Following her death, he released a statement paying tribute to her “great authority, warmth and wit”.
The former prime minister said in a statement: “It was a testament to Betty’s many fine qualities that she became the first female Speaker and the first from the Opposition benches.
“She was a truly outstanding Speaker, presiding with great authority, warmth and wit, for which she had our deep respect and admiration.
“It was a privilege to be in Parliament during her tenure and to know her as the big-hearted and kind person she was. My thoughts are with her family and many friends.”
Speaker Hoyle said it was “truly ground-breaking” for her to become the first woman speaker and “Betty certainly broke that glass ceiling with panache”.
He added: “She was from Yorkshire, and I am from Lancashire – so there was always that friendly rivalry between us. But from my point of view, it was heartening to hear a Northern voice speaking from the Chair.
“She stuck by the rules, had a no-nonsense style, but any reprimands she did issue were done with good humour and charm.
“Betty was one of a kind. A sharp, witty and formidable woman – and I will miss her.”