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Betty Boothroyd OM

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Applause is not normally allowed in the House of Commons. But the ovation which greeted Betty Boothroyd’s election as its Speaker in 1992 defied the rules and was described by Parliament’s own magazine as “spontaneous, moving and wholly appropriate”.  Not only the first woman to sit in the Speaker’s chair, she was also the first backbench MP to become the guardian of the procedures and traditions of the Commons without the support of the Government of the day. Supported by MPs in all parties, she was elected by 372 votes to 238 as the preferred candidate.

She is invited to speak at a wide range of events including business conferences, networking events, WI Federations, fundraising events and awards dinners. Our clients describe her as a “great personality and a star performer”.

During her eight years as Madam Speaker, she became an admired figure in British public life and won international acclaim, with her unique position at the heart of the British Constitution. Among the many foreign leaders she welcomed to Westminster, those of Nelson Mandela, Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton stand out in the memory. An inveterate traveller, she visited every continent and was invited to address the Russian Duma and attend the 50th anniversary of Indian Independence as the chief overseas guest.

In 2005, the Queen recognised Lady Boothroyd’s services to the nation by awarding her the Order of Merit, a decoration entirely within the sovereign’s gift and restricted to 24 recipients who have “rendered exceptionally meritorious service to the Crown, or towards the advancement of the Arts, Learning, Literature”.

Since 1994, she has been Chancellor of The Open University, the world’s biggest “off-campus” university which accepts students of all ages and background, regardless of their qualifications, who aspire to achieve a British degree.

She supports many medical and other charities. She led the campaign to raise over £1million to erect a Memorial to the Women of World War Two in Whitehall and she presided over the ceremony in 2005 in which HM The Queen unveiled the monument, which celebrates the dedication of the seven million women who served their country in the Forces and on the Home Front in the last world war.

Betty Boothroyd became an MP on her fifth attempt in 1973 and represented West Bromwich in the Midlands until her retirement as Speaker in 2000, when she was made a Life Peer in the House of Lords, where she sits as an Independent Cross-Bencher.

Born in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, her parents worked in the local woollen mills. She joined the Labour Party as a teenager, won a national speaking award and began her career at Westminster as the personal assistant to three leading Labour figures. In 1960 she took a year off to work in the United States, first as a volunteer in the John F Kennedy presidential campaign and then as a full-time secretary for a Congressman on Capitol Hill.

Her awards include the Freedom of the City of London and Honorary degrees from the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews. As Speaker, she was voted Parliamentarian of the Year, Personality of the Year and Communicator of the Year.

A stern critic of Ministers and others who forgot their responsibilities to Parliament, she told MPs at her farewell “Rejoice in your inheritance, defend your rights and remember always that the privileges the House enjoys were dearly won and must never be squandered”.

Betty Boothroyd published her autobiography in 2001. The Times said it was “of profound human interest” and that its concluding chapters “constituted a powerful defence of parliamentary democracy”.