Baroness Betty Lockwood, equality campaigner

Baroness Lockwood
Baroness Lockwood
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Baroness Betty Lockwood, who has died at 95, was a miner’s daughter from Dewsbury who became a Labour Party activist involved in promoting equal opportunities for women on a national and international level.

She was the first chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission in 1975, a deputy speaker in the House of Lords and chairman of the EEC Advisory Committee on Equal Rights.

Later, she brought her considerable influence to bear on securing the future of West Yorkshire’s National Coal Mining Museum.

She was born in January 1924 at Owl Lane, Shaw Cross, a few yards from the pit at which Arthur Lockwood, her father, was employed. Later, Arthur and his wife, Edith, ran a fish and chip shop.

“There was a great sense of community within the mills and in the streets where people lived,” she said of her childhood. “There was very little crime in those days. Sometimes we got a bit of street fighting here and there but crime didn’t feature as a daily part of our lives.”

However, life had other dangers. At four, she injured her right leg while playing in a brickyard, and the resulting infection led to an amputation at age 18. Few knew that her adult life was spent with a artificial limb.

She attended Eastborough Girls’ School until 14 and went to work in a dress shop. But she continued her studies at night school, with the support of a grant from a Mary Macarthur scholarship, named after the Glaswegian suffragist. She supported herself by taking work as a telephonist and shorthand typist at the council.

Eventually she won a scholarship to read economics and politics at Ruskin College, Oxford.

She became active in the Labour Party as regional women’s organiser for Yorkshire, then in London as chief women’s officer, organising the party’s annual women’s conference and helping to formulate the Equal Pay Act of 1970.

In opposition, she worked to increase the female representation among Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidates, and the party went into the 1974 elections with women fighting in nearly a quarter of constituencies.

It was in 1975 that the Equal Opportunities Commission was constituted, under the provisions of Labour’s Sex Discrimination Act that year. Its brief was to work towards the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sex or marriage.

Betty Lockwood was its chairman – she endorsed the use of the male-skewed title, believing that actions, not words, were what counted – until 1983 and during her tenure she was elevated to a life peerage as Baroness Lockwood.

In her maiden speech in the Lords, she suggested that British mothers be given the same rights as fathers to pass their nationality to their children.

She was also at various times Deputy Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire, President of Birkbeck, University of London, Chancellor of Bradford University, and a member of the Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Her involvement with the mining industry’s heritage dated to the 1990s, when funding from the old Coal Board came to an end, and she lobbied the Government to made money available from the central purse for the establishment as a National Coal Mining Museum.

She became its chair, and her friend, the historian Dr Margaret Faull, who was its managing director for nearly 30 years, conducted recorded interviews about her career, which are lodged with the British Library.

“She was dedicated to the Labour Party and promoting women,” Dr Faull said. “Betty was tenacious in any cause that she took up and without her steadfast work the National Coal Mining Museum for England would never have achieved national funding which ensured its continued existence and success.”

She married Lt Col Cedric Hall, a widower, in 1978. He died in 1988.