Betty Harvie Anderson by Bassano

Judith Hart and Betty Harvie Anderson

The next in our series on women MPs by the House of Commons Hansard Writing Team.

Judith Hart (1924-1991) and Betty Harvie Anderson (1913-1979) were elected for Scottish constituencies in October 1959. Hart gained Lanark for Labour and held the seat until 1983; she held the successor seat, Clydesdale, until her retirement in 1987. Harvie Anderson held Renfrewshire, East for the Conservatives and represented the seat until her retirement in 1979. Hart was the daughter of a linotype operator and teacher.  She served as a Minister seven times and played a significant role in overseas development and aid policy. Harvie Anderson made history as the first woman to serve as Deputy Speaker, a post she resigned in 1973 in opposition to her party’s policy on Scottish devolution.

Judith Hart by Walter Bird
Judith Constance Mary Hart (née Ridehalgh), Baroness Hart of South Lanark, by Walter Bird. Bromide print on card mount, 4 September 1964. NPG x165792

Hart became politically active while studying sociology at the London School of Economics. Her husband, research chemist Dr Anthony Hart, shared her politics and gave up his own parliamentary ambitions to campaign for her. After contesting Bournemouth, West and Aberdeen, South unsuccessfully, she won Lanark, one of only nine Labour gains in 1959, by 540 votes.

In her maiden speech on 3 November 1959, Hart focused on economic opportunity and the need for Government intervention to support industry and employment. In 1964, she was promoted to the Scottish Office; posts as Minister of State for Commonwealth Affairs and Minister for Social Security followed. Her brief stint in the Cabinet, as Paymaster General—the fifth woman, and first mother (she had two sons) to serve in Cabinet—ended in 1969 when she attacked Barbara Castle’s White Paper, “In Place of Strife”, which proposed curbing the power of the trade unions.

Hart served three times as Minister for Overseas Development, in 1969, 1974-75 and 1977-79. In “Aid and liberation”, which she wrote in opposition, she argued for the cancellation of developing countries’ debt. She helped to negotiate the Lomé convention on economic co-operation between the EEC and developing countries and was later made a DBE. She was also instrumental in the planning of Abercrombie House in East Kilbride, which opened as a base for the Overseas Development Administration in 1981 and became the Scottish headquarters for the Department for International Development.

Hart campaigned against membership of the EEC in the 1975 referendum, leaving the Government shortly after. She sat on Labour’s National Executive Committee for 14 years, including as chair, and remained a vocal parliamentarian throughout the 1980s, speaking, for example, on the changing economy and its impact on women. She opposed the Falklands war and the expulsion of Militant affiliates from the Labour party. She was made a peer in 1988, but her career in the House of Lords was cut short by illness. Neil Kinnock, then leader of the Labour party, said: “She was a woman of high abilities who will long be remembered and admired for her distinguished work to advance human rights and her tireless courage campaigning for the defeat of world poverty.”

Betty Harvie Anderson by Bassano
(Margaret) Betty Harvie Anderson, Baroness Skrimshire of Quarter by Bassano Ltd, half-plate film negative, 12 June 1969. NPG x172394

Harvie Anderson was born in Glasgow and brought up in Stirlingshire.  Her father was a solicitor and secretary of the Glasgow Territorial Association, and she built on that military background when she served in the Second World War as chief commander of a mixed anti-aircraft brigade.  She went on to work in local politics, for which she received an OBE in 1956. After contesting West Stirlingshire and Sowerby unsuccessfully, she was elected for the Conservative stronghold of Renfrewshire, East in 1959. She married Dr John Skrimshire, a heart specialist, the following year.

As a back bencher, Harvie Anderson was twice elected to the executive of the Conservative 1922 committee—from 1962 to 1970 and again from 1974 to 1979—and she introduced the Animals (Restriction of Importation) Act 1964. Her local government knowledge led to her appointment to the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland of 1966-69, on which she emphasised the importance of recognising Scotland’s regional diversity.

In 1970, Harvie Anderson was elected Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, becoming the first woman to chair debates in the House of Commons as Deputy Speaker. Some Members She was uncertain whether MPs would accept a woman in the role and initially took the post on a three-month trial, but she proved a great success, overseeing tempestuous debates on matters such as EEC membership.

Harvie Anderson’s opposition to devolution was well known, and she resigned as Deputy Speaker after three years in opposition to her party’s policy. She declined to accept the Scottish portfolio in the shadow cabinet and continued to argue against a Scottish assembly throughout the late 1970s. She took a strong interest in defence, and opposed Labour cuts to the armed forces. She retired from the Commons in 1979 and was made a peer soon after, but died days after taking her seat in the Lords. The Speaker, George Thomas, said in the Commons that she “was held in high affection and esteem by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber…We salute the memory of a truly right hon. servant of this House.”

House of Commons Hansard Writing Team


Judith Hart, maiden speech 3 November 1959:

Judith Hart, “Aid and liberation: a socialist study of aid politics”:

Judith Hart, ministerial resignation statement, 11 June 1975:

Debate on the economy and its impact on women, 8 December 1982:

George Foulkes, speech on Scottish contribution to international development, 10 July 2000:

Betty Harvie Anderson, maiden speech, 21 March 1960:

Debate on the Animals (Restriction of Importation) Bill, 26 June 1964:

Harvie Anderson’s appointment to the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland:

Debate on the Queen’s Speech, 2 July 1970, the first to be chaired by Harvie Anderson as Deputy Speaker:

Second Reading of the Scotland and Wales Bill, 15 December 1976:

Speaker’s statement on Harvie Anderson, 8 November 1979: