Baroness Betty Boothroyd dies aged 93 as tributes paid to first female speaker of the Commons

27 February 2023, 11:52 | Updated: 27 February 2023, 12:54

Ms Boothroyd has died
Ms Boothroyd has died. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

The first female Speaker of the House of Commons Betty Boothroyd has died aged 93, Sir Lindsay Hoyle announced today.

The serving speaker paid tribute to her, describing her as "inspirational" and praising her approach to the job.

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

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

“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.

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“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.”

Baroness Boothroyd was born in Dewsbury in 1929. Raised in a working class family, her mother was in Labour.

She did not immediately embark on a political career – instead holding dreams of becoming a dancer on the West End – but she then contested four election unsuccessfully before winning the West Bromwich seat in the 1973 election.

Baroness Boothroyd has died aged 93
Baroness Boothroyd has died aged 93. Picture: Alamy

After becoming a strong advocate for Britain’s membership of the common market – a position she would hold for decades as she campaigned for a “people’s vote” on Brexit – Baroness Boothroyd became deputy speaker in 1987, then became the first speaker after being elected in 1992 when Bernard Weatherill stepped down.

“Call me madam,” she told and MP who asked how he should refer to her.

"Elect me for what I am, and not for what I was born," she said.

Known for her no-nonsense approach to presiding over the Commons, Baroness Boothroyd helped to modernise the appearance of the speaker, refusing to wear the traditional wig.

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She said her most memorable moment during her time in the job was Nelson Mandela’s state visit in 1996.

She stood down in 2000 and was made a life peer in 2001, then received the Order of Merit from the Queen in 2005.

Most recently, she was a prominent voice for a second referendum on Brexit, and was sharply critical of Boris Johnson's handling of partygate.

Baroness Boothroyd spent years in the speaker's chair
Baroness Boothroyd spent years in the speaker's chair. Picture: Alamy

Tony Blair, whose first years as prime minister were during Baroness Boothroyd's final years, said: "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."

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