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Friday, October 8, 1999 Published at 04:10 GMT 05:10 UK

UK Politics

Madam Speaker celebrates 70

Betty Boothroyd brings MPs to heel

Betty Boothroyd, or Madam Speaker as she is known throughout the world, is celebrating her 70th birthday.

The former Tiller girl became the first female speaker of the House of Commons in 1992.

How long she will remain in the speaker's chair is anyone's guess but Miss Boothroyd constantly denies the rumours that she will stand down before the next election.

Order! Order!

It is a tricky job, keeping order among more than 650 MPs, but, in recent years at least, it has been much less dangerous than it once was.

In centuries past, more than a dozen speakers have lost their heads for offending the monarch of the day.

But today MPs are more likely to feel the wrath of the speaker than the speaker is to feel the wrath of the monarch.

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One commentator described Miss Boothroyd as being like a "headmistress, nanny and pub landlady" all rolled into one.

And woe betide any MP who forgets the rules of the House while Miss Boothroyd is in the speaker's chair.

She has little time for rule breakers, even if it is the government that is stretching the limit.

And madam speaker has no time for government leaks to the press, as she told MPs recently.

"I am most anxious that on any new policy, any change of policy, properly elected members of this House are told first before any section of the media.

"I cannot deprecate strongly enough the leaks and the briefings that go on, perhaps behind our back, in this matter."

Yorkshirewoman Miss Boothroyd is a political veteran. After a brief spell as a dancer in London, she pursued a career in politics and even helped John Kennedy campaign during the 1950s while she lived in the US.

A woman of influence

She was elected MP for West Bromwich in 1973, after attempting to enter the Commons for the first time more than 15 years earlier.

In her career she has fought in a dozen general elections and first joined the Labour Party's youth wing when she was 16.

Although never a minister, Miss Boothroyd was voted onto the national executive of the Labour Party and was recently voted the 18th most influential woman in the UK in a poll by Good Housekeeping Magazine. The Queen came 89th.

Being seen as more influential than the monarch is not something that most of her 154 predecessors could imagine, but then again most of them probably would not have considered taking up paragliding in their 60s as she did.

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