Time's up, says Boothroyd, as Blair leads praise

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Tony Blair led tributes to Betty Boothroyd yesterday, describing her as a "truly outstanding" Commons Speaker who had "greatly enhanced" the reputation of her office.

Tony Blair led tributes to Betty Boothroyd yesterday, describing her as a "truly outstanding" Commons Speaker who had "greatly enhanced" the reputation of her office.

The Prime Minister said Miss Boothroyd, who will officially step down at the end of the summer recess, had presided over the House with "authority, impartiality and not least with warmth and humour.

"You can calm the House when it is angry, defuse it when it is tense, we all fear your knack of the legendary stifled yawn, which has been one of the most effective ways of bringing members to a close," he said. "You may never have held one of the great offices of Government but you have held and enriched the greatest office in Parliament."

William Hague, the Tory leader, said her retirement would mark the "end of an era. In your eight years as Speaker you have become both a national and international figure with your inimitable call to order, instantly recognisable throughout the world, augmented in pitch by a packet of cigarettes every day," he said.

"At a time when to many Parliament has appeared increasingly marginalised, you have done more than anyone to try to reassert its central role in our democracy and to resist its downgrading," he added.

Earlier Miss Boothroyd told a crowded chamber: "I have enjoyed the job. I was about to say I enjoyed every minute of it - I enjoyed almost every minute of it." Turning to the moment she decided to stand down, Miss Boothroyd remarked she had thought of the famous biblical passage "about there being a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance".

Famous as a Tiller girl before becoming first female Speaker, she added: "Well, my dancing days are long gone.

"I shan't weep, I can promise you that, but I shall certainly mourn the fact that an allimportant phase in my life has come to a natural end. But I believe it's time for laughter too as we remember together all the lighter moments that we have enjoyed.

"I say to you, rejoice in your inheritance, defend your rights and remember always that the privileges this House enjoys were dearly won and must never be squandered. I say to all of you in a phrase you know so well but has never been more true: Time's up."

Meanwhile, 50 MPs from all parties called for new, democratic rules to select a new Speaker for the Commons. The current, complex system would "do credit to the Borgias", one of them said.

Sponsors of a Commons motion calling for open voting and manifestos for Speaker candidates were the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Clive Soley, the Welsh First Secretary, Rhodri Morgan, and the independent MP Martin Bell. The move was also backed by Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Plaid Cymru MPs.

Under the existing rules, the outgoing Speaker can influence the election because she can decide the order in which nominations are taken during a debate in the chamber.

After the first nomination is made in a motion by one MP, other members are free to propose amendments nominating their chosen candidates. Each of these amendments is voted on in turn, either until one is approved or none is left, at which point a vote is taken on whether to pass the motion proposing the first candidate.

So if the first vote is successful, only two of the six candidates will even be nominated.

Peter Bradley, Labour MP for The Wrekin, said reform would allow members to vote for a Speaker who supported better rights for backbenchers and the modernisation of the House.

"We just want every member to have the opportunity to vote for every candidate," he said. "The nightmare scenario is that two completely unacceptable candidates come forward and one of them is elected before any of the others gets the chance to submit themselves."