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Betty Boothroyd, First Woman House Of Commons Speaker, Has Died Aged 93

Betty Boothroyd was the first female Commons speaker (Alamy)

3 min read

Baroness Betty Boothroyd, the first woman to hold the role of House of Commons Speaker, has died aged 93, prompting tributes to her "no nonsense" style in the role.

First elected as the Labour MP for West Bromwich West MP in 1974, Boothroyd was appointed to the Speaker role in 1992, and served until she stepped down in 2000.

In a statement, the present Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle paid tribute to her "no-nonsense" style and celebrated her achievement in "breaking the glass ceiling" during her historic term as speaker.

"Not only was Betty Boothroyd an inspiring woman, but she was also an inspirational politician, and someone I was proud to call my friend", he said.

"To be the first woman Speaker was truly ground-breaking and Betty certainly broke that glass ceiling with panache."

"Betty was one of a kind. A sharp, witty and formidable woman - and I will miss her," he added.

Boothroyd was the first woman to hold the role in Parliament's 700 year history and was the first speaker to be elected to the role from the opposition benches since 1835.

Tributes have flooded in from across politics to the figure who was both beloved and influential across party divides. 

Former prime minister Tony Blair, who came to office during Boothroyd's time as speaker, said she held the role with "great authority, warmth and wit".

He added: "It was a privilege to be in Parliament during her tenure and to know her as the big-hearted and kind person she was."

And Clare Short, a Labour minister from 1997 to 2003, paid tribute to Boothroyd's modernising agenda, saying: "She was the one who dropped the wig because she had her own lovely thick grey curling hair."

Mother of the House of Commons and Labour MP Harriet Harman, a Labour MP since 1982, described Boothroyd as a "remarkarable woman".

"For her, as a woman to get the chair in the overwhelmingly male Commons she had to be tough, professional, authoritative and indomitable," she wrote. 

"Betty was all those things. And she showed us women how to do it."

More recently elected Labour MP Charlotte Nichols said she was "absolutely devastated" at the news of Boothroyd's death, and described the profound infleunce the former speaker had on her. 

"She was my idol as a small child and the reason I got interested in politics," Nichols wrote. "I've only seen her once in Westminster and was too awestruck to even introduce myself, and now I'll never have that opportunity."

Labour Women's Network remarked on Boothroyd's 50 years of service in Westminster. "Humour and warmth were her weapons of choice," they said. "Thank you, sister for your huge contribution to British political life."

Conservative MP and International Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said Boothroyd was an "inspiration, not just for being the first female speaker, but for how she conducted proceedings in the House of Commons. With fairness, firmness, flair and fun".

Senior Labour MP Chris Bryant added: "It is very sad news to hear that Betty Boothroyd has died. She was stern but winsome, she cared about doing things properly (but could be naughty) and loved mentoring newbies. She was a parliamentary star without ever being pompous."

Born in Yorkshire in 1929, Boothroyd worked as a dancer in London's West End before two unsuccessful bids to become an MP in the 1950s, before eventually winning her seat in a by-election in 1974.

Following her Commons career, Boothroyd was made a peer, serving in the House of Lords from 2001 until her death.

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