Betty Boothroyd, first female UK House of Commons speaker, dies at 93

She dropped the tradition of wearing a shoulder-length white wig, and favoured skirts over the knee-length breeches worn by her predecessors

By AP

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Betty Boothroyd. — AP file
Betty Boothroyd. — AP file

Published: Mon 27 Feb 2023, 11:24 PM

Betty Boothroyd, the first — and so far only — female speaker of Britain’s House of Commons, has died, parliamentary authorities said Monday. She was 93.

Boothroyd, who presided over the Commons’ often raucous debates with no-nonsense humour between 1992 and 2000, died Sunday at a hospital in Cambridge, southern England.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called Boothroyd “a remarkable woman who dedicated her life to politics.”

“The passion, wit and sense of fairness she brought to politics will not be forgotten,” he said.

Born in Dewsbury, northern England, in 1929, Boothroyd worked as a dancer in a chorus line troupe called the Tiller Girls before entering politics. She worked as an assistant to several lawmakers and, after several unsuccessful runs, was elected to Parliament in 1973 for the Labour Party.

Nineteen years later, she became the first woman to be elected speaker by lawmakers in the 700-year history of the role.

She dropped the tradition of wearing a shoulder-length white wig, and favoured skirts over the knee-length breeches worn by her predecessors. Her iron-voiced admonition of ‘Order! Order!’ and brisk Yorkshire humour helped keep unruly lawmakers in line.

After leaving the job, she was appointed to Parliament’s unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who served from 1997 to 2007, said that Boothroyd “was a truly outstanding speaker, presiding with great authority, warmth and wit, for which she had our deep respect and admiration.”

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said Boothroyd was “an inspiring woman” and “an inspirational politician.”

“She stuck by the rules, had a no-nonsense style, but any reprimands she did issue were done with good humour and charm,” he said. “Betty was one of a kind. A sharp, witty and formidable woman — and I will miss her.”


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