Betty Boothroyd

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The Baroness Boothroyd
Official portrait of Baroness Boothroyd crop 2.jpg
Official portrait, 2018
Speaker of the House of Commons
of the United Kingdom
In office
27 April 1992 – 23 October 2000
MonarchElizabeth II
Prime Minister
Preceded byBernard Weatherill
Succeeded byMichael Martin
Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons
Second Deputy Chair of Ways and Means
In office
17 June 1987 – 27 April 1992
SpeakerBernard Weatherill
Preceded byPaul Dean
Succeeded byJanet Fookes
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
Assumed office
15 January 2001
Life peerage
Member of Parliament
for West Bromwich West
West Bromwich (1973–1974)
In office
25 May 1973 – 2 September 2000
Preceded byMaurice Foley
Succeeded byAdrian Bailey
Personal details
Born (1929-10-08) 8 October 1929 (age 92)
Dewsbury, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Political partyLabour (Before 1992)
Speaker (1992–2000)
Crossbencher (2001–present)
Alma materKirklees College

Betty Boothroyd, Baroness Boothroyd of Sandwell OM, PC, Hon. FSLL (born 8 October 1929) is a British politician who served as the Member of Parliament (MP) for West Bromwich and West Bromwich West from 1973 to 2000. From 1992 to 2000, she served as Speaker of the House of Commons.[1] She is the only woman to have served as Speaker, and one of two living former Speakers of the British House of Commons. She sits, by tradition, as a Crossbench peer in the House of Lords.[2]

Early life[edit]

Boothroyd was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, in 1929, the only child of Ben Archibald Boothroyd (1886–1948) and his second wife Mary (née Butterfield, 1901–1982), both textile workers. She was educated at council schools and went on to study at Dewsbury College of Commerce and Art (now Kirklees College). From 1946 to 1952, she worked as a dancer, as a member of the Tiller Girls dancing troupe,[3] briefly appearing in the London Palladium. A foot infection, however, brought an end to her dancing career, and she chose to enter politics.[4]

During the mid to late 1950s, she worked as secretary to Labour MPs Barbara Castle[5] and Geoffrey de Freitas.[6] In 1960, she travelled to the United States to see the Kennedy campaign. She subsequently began work in Washington as a legislative assistant for an American Congressman, Silvio Conte, between 1960 and 1962. When she returned to London she continued her work as secretary and political assistant to various senior Labour politicians such as Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Harry Walston.[7] In 1965, she was elected to a seat on Hammersmith Borough Council, in Gibbs Green ward, where she remained until 1968.

Member of Parliament[edit]

Running for the Labour Party, Boothroyd contested several seats – Leicester South East in 1957, Peterborough in 1959, Nelson and Colne in 1968, and Rossendale in 1970 – before being elected Member of Parliament (MP) for West Bromwich in a by-election in 1973.

In 1974, she was appointed an assistant Government Whip and she was a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from 1975 to 1977.[8][9] In 1979, she became a member of the Select committee on Foreign Affairs, until 1981, and of the Speaker's Panel of Chairmen, until 1987. She was also a member of the Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) from 1981 to 1987 and the House of Commons Commission from 1983 to 1987.

Deputy Speaker and Speaker[edit]

Boothroyd's Speaker's shoe in the Women's Library

In 1987, following the general election that year, she became a Deputy Speaker under the Speaker Bernard Weatherill. She served in this role for five years. In 1992 she was elected Speaker, being the first woman ever to hold the position. There was some debate as to whether or not Boothroyd should wear the traditional Speaker's wig upon her election. She chose not to but also stated that any subsequent Speakers would be free to choose to wear the wig.[10] In 1993, the Government won a vote on the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty due to her casting vote (exercised in accordance with Speaker Denison's rule). However, it was subsequently discovered that her casting vote was not required, as the votes had been miscounted and the Government had won by one vote. She was keen to get young people interested in politics, and in the 1990s made an appearance as a special guest on the BBC's Saturday morning children's programme Live & Kicking.[citation needed]

On 12 July 2000, following Prime Minister's Questions, she declared to the House of Commons that she would resign as Speaker after the summer recess. Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, paid tribute to her as "something of a national institution". Blair's predecessor, John Major, described her as an "outstanding Speaker".[11] She resigned as Speaker and as an MP by accepting an appointment to the position of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds on 23 October 2000.[12]

Life peerage and recent activity[edit]

Boothroyd was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law (Hon DCL) by the City University London in 1993. Boothroyd was chancellor of the Open University from 1994 until October 2006, and has donated some of her personal papers to the University's archives. In March 1995, she also was awarded an honorary degree from the Open University as Doctor of the University (DUniv). Since 1999, she is an Honorary Fellow of St Hugh's College, Oxford.[13] Two portraits of Boothroyd have been part of the parliamentary art collection since 1994 and 1999.[14][15]

On 15 January 2001, she was created a life peer, taking as her title Baroness Boothroyd, of Sandwell in the County of West Midlands,[16] and her autobiography was published in the same year. In April 2005, she was appointed to the Order of Merit (OM), an honour in the personal gift of the Queen.[17]

Boothroyd is an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Light and Lighting (Hon. FSLL) since 2009,[18][19] and she is an Honorary Fellow of St Edmund's College, Cambridge.[20] Boothroyd is furthermore the Patron of the Jo Richardson Community School in Dagenham, East London, England, as well as being President of NBFA Assisting the Elderly. She was also, for a period, Vice President of the Industry and Parliament Trust.

In January 2011, Boothroyd posited that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's plans for some members to the upper house to be directly elected could leave Britain in constitutional disarray: "It is wantonly destructive. It is destruction that hasn’t been thought through properly.” Boothroyd said she was concerned that an elected Lords would rival the Commons, risking power-struggles between the two.[21]

Personal life[edit]

Boothroyd took up paragliding while on holiday in Cyprus in her 60s. She has described the hobby as both "lovely and peaceful" and "exhilarating".[22]

In April 1995, whilst on holiday in Morocco, Boothroyd became trapped in the Atlas Mountains in the country’s biggest storm in 20 years. Her vehicle was immobilised by a landslide; she and a group of hikers walked through mud and rubble for 9 hours looking for help. They were eventually rescued.[23][24]


Coat of arms of Betty Boothroyd
Coronet of a British Baron.svg
Boothroyd Achievement.png
Gules a representation of the mace of the Speaker of the House of Commons palewise or surmounted in base by a rose argent barbed and seeded proper over all on a fess gold an owl gardant proper between two millrinds sable.
I Speak To Serve [25][26]
The mace is a symbol of Parliament, and thus represents Lady Boothroyd's role as Speaker of the House of Commons. The white rose represents Lady Boothroyd's home county of Yorkshire, while the owl represents her alma mater, Dewsbury Technical College. The millrinds refer to her constituency of West Bromwich because they symbolise the industrial revolution, which is a dominant part of that area's history. Her motto can be explained in her own words: I only speak when I've got something to say, and when I've something to say, I'm trying to serve my country, and to serve the philosophy that I cherish very much.[27][28]

Honorary degrees[edit]

Boothroyd has received several honorary degrees in recognition of her political career.


  1. ^ "Miss Betty Boothroyd". Hansard. Retrieved 13 May 2021.
  2. ^ "Parliamentary career for Baroness Boothroyd - MPs and Lords - UK Parliament". Retrieved 13 May 2021.
  3. ^ "Betty Boothroyd: To Parliament and beyond". BBC Online. 24 October 2001. Archived from the original on 24 May 2009. Retrieved 21 January 2009.
  4. ^ "Betty Boothroyd Biography |". Archived from the original on 19 July 2019. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
  5. ^ "Baroness Boothroyd". UK Parliament Website. Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  6. ^ Political Correspondent (9 November 1957). "Sir Victor Raikes Resigns Seat". The Times.
  7. ^ Betty Boothroyd Autobiography Paperback – 3 Oct 2002 (synopsis). ASIN 0099427044.
  8. ^ "EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT (MEMBERSHIP) (Hansard, 1 July 1975)". Archived from the original on 16 January 2017. Retrieved 13 January 2017.
  9. ^ "EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT (MEMBERSHIP) (Hansard, 1 March 1977)". Archived from the original on 16 January 2017. Retrieved 13 January 2017.
  10. ^ BBC Parliament coverage of the election of the Speaker of the House of Commons, 22 June 2009;
  11. ^ "Boothroyd praised as 'national institution'". BBC News. 12 July 2000. Archived from the original on 22 March 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  12. ^ "No. 56014". The London Gazette. 31 October 2000. p. 12206.
  13. ^, Journey-. "The Rt Hon. Baroness Boothroyd OM". St Hugh's College, Oxford. Archived from the original on 25 March 2019. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  14. ^ Art in Parliament: THE RT. HON BETTY BOOTHROYD CHOSEN SPEAKER IN THE YEAR 1992 Archived 6 July 2013 at the Wayback Machine;; accessed 21 March 2014.
  15. ^ "Artwork - Baroness Boothroyd". UK Parliament. Archived from the original on 8 July 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  16. ^ "No. 56095". The London Gazette. 19 January 2001. p. 719.
  17. ^ "No. 57645". The London Gazette. 20 May 2005. p. 6631.
  18. ^ Newsletter 6, 15 October 2009, of the Society of Light and Lighting Archived 12 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine - website of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers
  19. ^ (23 November 2016). "House Heroes". Archived from the original on 25 March 2019. Retrieved 25 March 2019.
  20. ^ "St Edmund's College - University of Cambridge". Archived from the original on 10 September 2018. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  21. ^ Kirkup, James (16 January 2011). "Betty Boothroyd attacks Nick Clegg's 'destructive' Lords reform". Archived from the original on 20 January 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  22. ^ McSmith, Andy (12 July 2000). "Superstar who ruled MPs with an iron rod and a ready wit". Archived from the original on 30 August 2019. Retrieved 5 April 2019 – via
  23. ^ "Superstar who ruled MPs with an iron rod and a ready wit".
  24. ^ "BBC News | UK POLITICS | Madam Speaker's career".
  25. ^ 2 Kidd, Charles; Shaw, Christine, eds. (2008). Debrett's Peerage & Baronetage (145 ed.). p. 150. ISBN 978-1870520805.
  26. ^ "House of Commons Speaker's Residence". C-SPAN. Archived from the original on 21 February 2019. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  27. ^ "Lords fail to find house room for Lady Boothroyd's crest". The Daily Telegraph. 28 January 2001. Archived from the original on 21 February 2019. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  28. ^ "Baroness Boothroyd on her official portrait as Commons Speaker by Andrew Festing". Archived from the original on 8 November 2019. Retrieved 31 March 2019.
  29. ^ "Honorary graduates chronological". City, University of London. Archived from the original on 14 September 2013. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  30. ^ "Selected Honorands". 22 February 2013. Archived from the original on 8 June 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  31. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 February 2017. Retrieved 27 May 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  32. ^ "Honorary degrees". 21 July 1995. Archived from the original on 29 July 2017. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  33. ^ "2003 - Betty Boothroyd to be awarded honorary degree - University of St Andrews". Archived from the original on 3 October 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2017.


  • Betty Boothroyd: The Autobiography. Publisher: Century (4 Oct 2001). ISBN 0-7126-7948-0

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for West Bromwich
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for West Bromwich West
Succeeded by
Preceded by Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means
Succeeded by
Preceded by Speaker of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
Academic offices
Preceded by Chancellor of the Open University
Succeeded by