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MPs across the House pay tribute to first female Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd

MPs across the House pay tribute to first female Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd

Politicians from across the spectrum have paid tribute to Baroness Betty Boothroyd, the first woman to be elected Commons speaker, as the House fell silent in her memory.

Current Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle described Lady Boothroyd as “one of a kind” and current and former prime ministers and party leaders remembered her “authority, warmth and wit”.

Lady Boothroyd shattered more than 700 years of parliamentary tradition when she became the first woman to be elected Commons speaker in April 1992, staying on until October 2000.

She then entered the Lords as a crossbench peer in January 2001.

Sir Lindsay wrote: “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.

“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.”

As MPs gathered in the Commons to mark a minute’s silence in her memory on Monday, he added: “I know all members will wish to join me in expressing our deep sadness at the loss of the groundbreaking parliamentarian who was a dedicated and illustrious servant of this House.”

Sir Lindsay said Lady Boothroyd was “someone I was proud to call my friend”, joking: “The sad part was she was from Yorkshire and I, being from Lancashire, saw there was always friendly rivalry between us. But from my point of view, it was heartening to hear a northern voice speaking from the chair.”

And in the upper chamber, the Lord Speaker Lord McFall of Alcluith said Lady Boothroyd was an “integral part of the parliamentary community and will be sadly missed”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described Lady Boothroyd as a “remarkable woman”.

“The passion, wit & sense of fairness she brought to politics will not be forgotten. My thoughts go out to her family,” he tweeted.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said she was an “incredible and inspirational” woman who “smashed the glass ceiling for female politicians” by becoming speaker.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly remembered her as a “trailblazer” who changed the course of history in taking the role, and International Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch praised the way Lady Boothroyd conducted parliamentary proceedings, “with fairness, firmness, flair and fun”.

Shaun Bailey, the Conservative MP who now holds her old seat of West Bromwich West, said he was conscious of “following in the footsteps of someone who paved the way for so many”.

“Her legacy will always be a source of pride for everyone in our community,” he added.

Former Labour prime minister Sir Tony Blair paid tribute to a “big-hearted and kind person”, while ex-Conservative PM Sir John Major said she was “easy to like and easier still to admire”.

“She was a truly outstanding Speaker, presiding with great authority, warmth and wit, for which she had our deep respect and admiration,” Sir Tony wrote.

“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.”

Former Tory prime minister Theresa May described Lady Boothroyd as “formidable in the chair”, commanding respect from across the House.

She added: “I will always remember her inimitable style, but also her immense personal warmth and kindness.”

Sir John said: “Betty Boothroyd was a superb speaker, easy to like and easier still to admire.

“As speaker, she was full 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.”

Conservative peer Lord Pickles shared a “much-treasured memory” of the late politician singing around a piano.

He tweeted: “Very sad to learn of the death of Betty Boothroyd. She was a great Speaker, widely admired in the UK and in parliaments worldwide.

“She threw wonderful parties in Speakers House. I have a much-treasured memory of Betty and Denis Healy singing musical hall songs around a piano.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “RIP Betty Boothroyd – formidable, ground-breaking and an inspiration to so many.”

Betty Boothroyd death
Betty Boothroyd in her sitting room at Speaker’s House in 2000 (Matthew Fearn/PA)

Sir Chris Bryant, Labour MP and chairman of the Committees on Standards and Privileges, described Lady Boothroyd as “stern but winsome”.

He said: “She cared about doing things properly (but could be naughty) and loved mentoring newbies. She was a parliamentary star without ever being pompous.”

Lady Boothroyd was unafraid to make her feelings known to her successors in the job.

In a 2020 interview, Sir Lindsay admitted 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”.

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, West Yorkshire, Lady Boothroyd was a professional dancer from 1946 to 1948 and appeared in pantomime in London’s West End before going into politics.

She unsuccessfully contested four parliamentary seats before being elected to West Bromwich (later to become West Bromwich West) in May 1973.

MPs will be able to pay tribute to Lady Boothroyd in Parliament on Tuesday.