DEATH: Betty Boothroyd, first woman House of Commons Speaker, dies

Baroness Betty Boothroyd, the first woman to be elected Speaker of the House of Commons, has died at 93.

The current Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle and Lord McFall, the former Dumbarton Labour MP who is now Speaker of the House of Lords, have paid tribute to Lady Boothroyd, who became the first woman to be elected Speaker in April 1992, staying on in the role until October 2000.

Baroness Boothroyd was a good friend of Lord McFall, of Alcluith, and a champion of the Scotch Whisky industry, agreeing to have the Dumbarton-distilled whisky sold to visitors in the Commons souvenir shops and named Speaker’s Choice.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle said: “Not only was Betty Boothroyd an inspiring woman, but she was also an inspirational politician, and someone I was proud to call my friend.

“She was from Yorkshire, and I am from Lancashire – so there was always that friendly rivalry between us.

But from my point of view, it was heartening to hear a northern voice speaking from the chair.

“She stuck by the rules, had a no-nonsense style, but any reprimands she did issue were done with good humour and charm.

“Betty was one of a kind. A sharp, witty and formidable woman – and I will miss her.”

Dumbarton MP John McFall, who is now Speaker of the House of Lords, championed Scotch Whisky in his maiden speech as an MP calling Dumbarton “the whisky capital of the world”.

The landmark red brick Ballantine’s distillery in Castle Street, was owned by the Allied Distillers group and was the largest in Scotland  and employed 1500 people at times.

Allied Distillers won the Queen’s Award to Industry and distilled and bottled dozens of brands there before being taken over by Chivas and moving to a state of the art plant at Kilmalid at Vale of Leven industrial estate.

The following extract from Hansard underscores Lord McFall’s position at the time. 

John McFall , Dumbarton,

11:58 am, 11th December 1987

He told MPs: “I am sure that on this occasion my constituents will forgive me for being on the same side as the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). There is an exception to every rule, and this is, I hope, an unforgettable exception.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for referring to the fact that I came down to London overnight. I had a pressing constituency engagement yesterday but I came down overnight by train because the Bill is fundamental to my constituency and to the whisky industry in Scotland. The importance of the whisky industry for direct employment in Scotland and in earning valuable export revenues cannot be underestimated. Two thousand individuals in my constituency are directly involved in the whisky industry. I stand to be contradicted, but I do not think that any other hon. Member has more constituency interest in Scotch than I have. I shall not echo the poetic words of the hon. Member for Tayside, North. Is he the 20th-century bard or a pale imitation of William McGonagall? I leave hon. Members to decide that question.

During the recess, I visited many distilleries and bottling plants in my constituency. The overriding impression that I gained from such visits was of the sustained co-operation between management, workers and unions, to the maximum benefit of the entire industry. There are two major employers in my constituency. One of them is the IDV Company, whose plant is at Strathleven bonded warehouses, and the other is Allied-Lyons, with its subsidiary, Hiram Walker. I shall refer to Hiram Walkers because I visited that plant most recently.

As most of us know, Hiram Walker produces Ballantine’s whisky, which has a unique worldwide reputation. During my visit to the plant, I spoke to management and unions and also examined the company’s industrial relations record over the previous 10 years—a record which bears examination from any quarter. It was achieved by the direct involvement of workers and unions in the company’s affairs. That is to be seen and recorded in terms of the Scotch whisky industry. Hon. Members should not take my word alone for that fact.

This week, I engaged in conversation with many individuals, such as the managing director of Hiram Walker in Dumbarton, Mr. Alistair Cunningham, the convener of shop stewards, Mr. William Moffat, and also the regional organiser of the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union in Scotland, Mr. Jim Morrell. They told me that there is full co-operation in the industry. That is why the industry is successful and has ridden through the recession of the previous few years. It is essential to recognise that union participation in the industry is important. If the hon. Member for Tayside, North can join with me along the way in regard to the Scotch Whisky Bill, I ask that he join me in underlining the fact that direct union involvement and participation in the industry is essential.”

Lord [John] McFall with Lord [Denis] Healey and Democrat editor Bill Heaney at a reception to mark the launch of Speaker’s Choice in Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament.

Sir Bernard Ingham, spin doctor extraordinaire, surrounded by members of the press.

Meanwhile, Sir Bernard Ingham, the long-serving press secretary for Margaret Thatcher, has died aged 90 after a short illness, his family said.

He was a Fleet Street journalist with The Guardian before becoming a Government press officer, and served as Mrs Thatcher’s press secretary for all but the first few months of her premiership.

After leaving Downing Street, he wrote his memoirs, Kill The Messenger, and worked as a political pundit, an after-dinner speaker, a cruise lecturer and a newspaper columnist.

His family said “he was a journalist to his bones”, starting out aged 16 on his local paper in West Yorkshire, The Hebden Bridge Times, and he was still filing weekly columns to Express Online and The Yorkshire Post until a few days before he died.

Sir Bernard was Margaret Thatcher's press secretary for almost all of her 11 year premiership.
Sir Bernard was Margaret Thatcher’s press secretary for almost all of her 11 year premiership.

His son John said: “To the wider world he is known as Margaret Thatcher’s chief press secretary, a formidable operator in the political and Whitehall jungles.

“But to me he was my dad – and a great dad at that. He was a fellow football fan and an adoring grandfather and great grandfather. My family will miss him greatly.”

Sir Bernard was married for 60 years to Nancy Ingham, a former policewoman, who died in 2017.

He leaves a son, two grandchildren and a great grandchild.

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