Rishi Sunak accused of pettiness for denying MPs chance to pay respects to speaker Betty Boothroyd

Exclusive: Government refuses requests to delay parliament’s start time so MPs can attend Baroness Boothroyd’s memorial service

Zoe Grunewald,Archie Mitchell
Sunday 14 January 2024 15:45 GMT
Baroness Betty Boothroyd's best moments

Rishi Sunak has been accused of being “petty” for refusing to allow MPs time to pay their respects to the former House of Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd.

The prime minister has ignored calls from MPs to delay the start of parliamentary proceedings by one hour on Tuesday for members to attend the memorial service for the late speaker, who served from 1992 to 2000.

Baroness Boothroyd, who died in February last year at the age of 93, commanded respect across the House, and politicians from all parties wanted to attend the service of thanksgiving for the Labour stalwart, which will be held in Westminster Abbey on Tuesday morning.

Betty Boothroyd was a widely respected speaker of the House (PA)

But the government has refused multiple requests to delay the start of business so that MPs can attend the service without a clash. Tuesday is an important day in the Westminster calendar, as MPs are set to vote on a series of amendments to the Rwanda bill.

Labour MP Charlotte Nichols, who has previously described the “profound impact” Baroness Boothroyd had on her life, said the government’s decision was “disrespectful to parliament as an institution”.

“Parliamentary proceedings get moved around all the time for all sorts of different reasons; this is certainly something that could be accommodated ... it is totally within the government’s gift,” she told The Independent.

Ms Nichols added: “She was not just hugely significant for Labour members, she was the first and only female speaker, and it is disrespectful to parliament as an institution, given the importance of the role she held, to not allow everyone to pay tribute in the way they would wish to without potentially missing parliamentary business.”

Rishi Sunak’s government has refused requests to start parliamentary business an hour later (AP)

The decision leaves scores of MPs from across the House having to choose between attending the first hour of parliamentary business and paying their respects to one of their former colleagues.

A senior parliamentary source accused the PM of political point-scoring and called the decision “petty”, while Dame Diana Johnson told The Independent that she thought it was a mistake.

She said: “That is really very disappointing, and I would urge them just to reconsider. If it’s just delaying proceedings by an hour, I’m sure most MPs would welcome that, and welcome the opportunity not to miss parliamentary business. I know Betty would be very keen that we’re all able to attend parliament.”

The Independent understands that the government had been asked to delay the start of the parliamentary day by one hour, which would mean that all outstanding business, including the Rwanda debate and vote, would still receive its full allotted time.

However, the leader of the House Penny Mordaunt and the chief whip Simon Hart are understood to have declined.

Penny Mordaunt previously said Baroness Boothroyd had given her ‘confidence and pride’ in parliament (Getty)

In December, Ms Mordaunt gave an emotional tribute to the late baroness, saying: “She gave us confidence and pride in this place, and that was no accident. She wanted to give all a chance, because she had cherished every chance that she had been given. For me, that care was evident in a particular letter she wrote to me after I had proposed the loyal address in 2014, and I was so grateful for it.

“She concluded that she wanted me to ‘flourish’ – not just to be successful or to do well or to get on, but to flourish, to excel, to be all I could be, to have a ruddy good time doing it and to understand what my purpose was. She knew her purpose: ‘I speak to serve,’ she said, and she served us well.

“May she rest in peace, and may these tributes to her remind us all of the responsibility and the opportunity it is our privilege to have. Thank you, Betty.”

Mr Sunak also gave a tribute at the time, calling Boothroyd a “remarkable woman who dedicated her life to politics”.

Baroness Boothroyd was a Labour MP from 1973 until 1992, when she was elected speaker of the House of Commons. She served until 2000 before being elevated to the House of Lords as a crossbench peer.

Betty Boothroyd passed away last year, aged 93 (PA Archive)

The Yorkshire-born baroness was the first female speaker of the House and was a champion of democracy during her time in parliament.

She became known – before her more divisive successor John Bercow – for the way she barked out “Order, Order!” and she was much loved in her local village of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

The current speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, told The Independent: “I have the highest respect for a great friend like Betty Boothroyd, one of the greatest speakers in history. I am very disappointed that not everyone will be able to attend her memorial service.”

Chief whip Mr Hart has declined to comment, but allies rejected suggestions that he had refused to meet the speaker.

A government source said: “The PM paid tribute to Betty Boothroyd at her funeral last year as one of our greatest speakers and the House was able to pay their respects to her at the time.”

The Independent has reached out to Ms Mordaunt’s office for comment.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in