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1992: Betty Boothroyd is new Speaker

VIDEO : Scenes from the Commons' historic vote

The House of Commons has elected a woman to the post of Speaker for the first time in its 700-year history.

Betty Boothroyd, the 62-year-old Labour MP for West Bromwich West, won her historic victory by a decisive 134-vote majority. It is the first time since World War II that a member of the opposition party has held the job.

Her appointment was contested, for the first time since 1951. Five Conservatives are known to have said they were interested, but despite a frantic last-minute campaign, only two, the former Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Brooke, and former minister Sir Giles Shaw, had enough support to be potential candidates.


"The fact that it was a contested election adds, I believe, to your success"

Prime Minister John Major

Sir Edward Heath, who as the new Father of the House presided over the election, called on Mr Brooke's supporters first to put their case. They were followed by the former Conservative cabinet minister, John Biffen, who proposed the amendment to substitute Miss Boothroyd's name.

More than 70 Conservative MPs filed in to the lobby to vote for her, and her election was carried without asking for more candidates.

MPs broke with Commons protocol by standing and applauding her to her chair.

Clearly moved, she said, "I wish to thank the House for the very great honour it has bestowed on me. I pray that I shall justify its confidence and I pledge that I shall do all in my power to preserve the Speakership and its traditions."

The Prime Minister, John Major, congratulated her and said, "You have become our Speaker-elect because this House trusts you. It believes you enjoy in abundance the qualities necessary to protect and sustain the House and to safeguard its rights. The fact that it was a contested election adds, I believe, to your success."

Miss Boothroyd, 62, is from Yorkshire, and worked for Britain's most famous chorus line dancers, the Tiller girls, before she became an MP in 1974. During the last five years, as deputy Speaker, she became popular with MPs across the political divide. She is known for her briskness and good humour. Famously, when MPs asked what to call her when she took up the post of deputy Speaker, she replied, "Call me Madam."

In Context
Betty Boothroyd was re-elected Speaker unopposed in 1997, serving a total of eight years before her retirement in October 2000.

She was immensely popular, both at home and abroad, for her warmth and humour while in the second-highest office in British government.

She became renowned for her forthright, distinctive style when bringing MPs to order. She astonished the Commons on the first time she presided over Prime Minister's Question Time, when she closed the session by saying, "Right - time's up!" It became one of her catchphrases.

She was succeeded by another Labour MP, Michael Martin, who faced opposition from a record 12 alternative candidates.

Betty Boothroyd was granted a life peerage, and took her seat in the House of Lords as Baroness Boothroyd of Sandwell in January 2001.


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