Trailblazing former UK House of Commons Speaker Betty Boothroyd dies

British Speaker of the House of Commons Betty Boothroyd looks on during her visit to State Duma lowe..

By William James

LONDON (Reuters) -Betty Boothroyd, the trailblazing first female Speaker in Britain's House of Commons, has died aged 93, drawing tributes from across parliament for her distinctive, firm-but-fair style honed over a five-decade political career.

First elected to parliament as a member of the Labour Party in 1973, Boothroyd made history when she was chosen by lawmakers to become Speaker in 1992, serving an eight-year term as the enforcer of parliamentary protocols.

"She stuck by the rules, had a no-nonsense style, but any reprimands she did issue were done with good humour and charm," current Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said in a statement on Monday.

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

Born in Yorkshire, northern England, she delivered cutting rebukes to any who stepped out of line, often providing a stark contrast to the male-dominated parliamentary ranks and their formal and deferential language.

"I'm sick and tired of hearing you shout out from a sedentary position," she scolded one lawmaker who was heckling then-Prime Minister John Major in 1997.

During her time in the Speaker's chair, Boothroyd refereed parliament through tumultuous debates over the European Union's Maastricht Treaty - notably in 1993 having to cast a rare deciding vote to resolve a deadlocked chamber.

Presiding during an era of high political drama and scandal Boothroyd became known internationally as the voice of Britain's parliament. She remains the only woman to serve as Speaker in the House of Commons.

"Betty was formidable in the chair, but earned the respect and admiration of the whole House," former Prime Minister Theresa May wrote on Twitter.

"I will always remember her inimitable style, but also her immense personal warmth and kindness."

In 2013, Boothroyd said the most memorable moment of her Speaker's career was when Nelson Mandela took her hand as he walked to deliver an historic address in parliament's Westminster Hall after heeding her warning about a tricky set of steps on the way.

After retiring from the House of Commons in 2000, she was made a member of parliament's House of Lords upper chamber where she continued to contribute to political debate into her nineties.

In October 2020, in what would be her final speech recorded in the chamber's official record, Boothroyd lamented the impact parliament's post-Brexit paroxysms were having on public trust in politicians.

"We shall not deserve our reputation and regain our self-respect until once again the world knows that our word is our deed and that we are committed to the rule of law," she said.

Tributes to Boothroyd poured in from across the political divide, hailing her formidable parliamentary presence and her personal warmth.

"The passion, wit & sense of fairness she brought to politics will not be forgotten," Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Twitter.

(Reporting by William James; editing by Sarah Young, Michael Holden and Andrew Heavens)