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Lady Lockwood

Lady Lockwood

Labour Party activist and arts supporter

Lady Lockwood is quite an institution. As Yorkshire as tea and Alan Bennett, she has worked tirelessly on a regional, national and international level focusing on equal opportunities for women.

Born in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire in the 1920’s, Betty Lockwood was the daughter of a coal miner. She left school at 14, and continued her studies at night school. With the support of a scholarship, she then read economics and politics at Ruskin College in Oxford. She became active in the Labour Party as regional women's organiser for Yorkshire, then moved to London as women's officer. She campaigned for equal pay and was instrumental in the creation of the Equal Pay Act 1970.

From 1975 to 1983 she served as the first chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission and was chair of the European Advisory Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men from 1982-83. In 1978 she was elevated to a life peerage as Baroness Lockwood, of Dewsbury in the County of West Yorkshire.

Lady Lockwood is also disabled person, having lost a foot at 18, although this is not how she sees herself…

Can I ask you what your position is in relation to your impairment?

I think its fairly neutral and I think this is because I’ve always refused to accept that I am disabled. I’ve always been determined to do what I wanted to do irrespective of the disability.

I remember when I used to work for the Labour Party and I went to work at headquarters, the personnel department rang up and said ‘I’m looking at my quota of disabled and I wondered if I could include you?’ So I just said ‘well, I never regard myself as disabled and I’m not registered as a disabled person so its up to you if you want to put me down, I’m not sure whether I would count as a disabled person’. And I suppose that’s really been my attitude to it, that I don’t regard myself as disabled.

So it’s never stopped you doing anything or achieving anything?

I didn’t really analyse it and I just didn’t worry about it. I came to have an artificial leg because as a child I had an accident and I mean in those days we were not as hygienic as we are now and so it turned septic and gangrenous and so I had to have some toes amputated. The foot never really grew, which was inhibiting, so there was a problem with shoes and it was a bit smelly when it was discharging. My parents always said, ‘we’re not going to decide for you, you can make up your own mind.’ And so when I was 18, I had it amputated. I was always very pleased that I did because it meant I didn’t have this problem of a bad leg, so I haven’t really looked backwards ever since that.

As a teenager it did inhibit me with my relations with boys and things. It held me back from being interested - I probably was but pretended not to be because of my leg. I was always a little inhibited socially, but not because of my leg. I suppose it’s from my poor background. When I was a child, my father was unemployed for a long time and my mother went out to work as a weaver and so she was the bread winner. My father got occasional jobs until eventually he got a job navvying in the building industry which he did until he retired. So that, more than my leg I think, inhibited me socially. I suppose I have always been determined to overcome poverty and any disadvantage that I might have had.

It’s interesting to hear you describe yourself as socially inhibited when you went and worked with so many people

Meeting people did help be become more confident. Well, I had this job as regional woman’s organiser for the Labour Party which meant I was travelling all over the Yorkshire meeting different groups of people. And you know, all sort of people of all types. And then when I went to London as a National Woman’s Organiser, I did that on a national scale with international links. And then when I became appointed chairman to set up the Equal Opportunities Commission there were many more people to meet.

And your leg never affected how you were seen, or even what you wore?

Well, trouser suits were not worn then so I went with the fashions. I even used to wear a mini. I always had to wear stockings, you know, to help cover up the join. So I wore mini skirts, but I didn’t like wearing them you know, I didn’t like that as a fashion and I was very pleased when skirts all went below the knee! But I didn’t attempt to cover it up by not wearing mini skirts. It’s never been an issue with me you know; I’ve just accepted it and I suppose I’ve been determined to be as normal as anyone else.

After I got into the House of Lords I joined the all party disablement group not because I thought I was disabled, but because I thought I ought to do something. Just as for sex discrimination, disability discrimination was another kind of discrimination that I was interested in. It wasn’t because I thought I had been discriminated against, I don’t think I have. I don’t feel like I have a particular connection to disabled people as a disabled person myself, but as a political person then I feel I have an obligation to be as helpful to them as I was to women.

What does being a leader mean to you?

I don’t know. I’ve just done things and not consciously regarded myself as a leader. The first time anybody in my hearing had described me as being determined, I’d never even thought of myself as being determined. When I was leaving the job I had as Chief Women’s Officer of the Labour Party, to become chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, there were a number of groups who wanted to present me with farewell gifts, that kind of thing. I was at a meeting in London, big woman’s rally and I remember the press office party being absolutely furious because he wasn’t getting a story, because Jim Callahan spent most of the time in his speech talking about me! And he described me as a woman of steel determination… me!

What do you think makes a good leader?

Well for me a good leader shares my beliefs, and has the ability to put these over and move people.

Do you see yourself as a leader?

Not consciously, no. There is always more I could have done. I have a friend of mine who is almost following in my footsteps and she’s now in the House of Lords, and I sometimes almost get a bit envious of her in a way because she’s much younger than I am and she’s very thrusting, where as I have never been… I know I can seem so but comparing myself with Joyce I’ve never been thrusting in the way that she is. Sometimes I think, why don’t I do more of that? Perhaps I could have done more that way. But I’ve been very lucky in life, in the things that I have been able to do and the experiences that I have had as well as on a personal level, with the friends that I have and have had.

What about access?

I’ve got a disabled parking pass which helps me enormously because I couldn’t have done some of the things locally and regionally that I have done and do do if I didn’t have the possibility of parking quite near to wherever I was functioning from.

In the early days, my car really became an extension of me. It gave me a real sense of freedom and meant I could do so much more. Initially when I had the car, parking wasn’t really a problem but it has got more and more difficult. I never needed it too much until I went down to London. I can’t cope well with the tube, because of the steps and the humidity that does sometimes set up blisters in my leg. And so working in London I had to get a disabled parking disc. And so it wasn’t until I moved to London in 1967 that I first took advantage of my disability!

At events, I don’t want to be the only person who is sitting and this is why I’m not very keen on receptions because of all the standing. For half an hour, I’m fine, but between half an hour to an hour, it’s beginning to get a bit uncomfortable. And when I go to a reception now in parliament, you know you could spend your life at receptions, first of all I reconnoitre where the chairs are! And when the speeches are on, I sit down. I don’t insist on a chair, but sometimes people who know me and who know about my leg make sure there is one available for me.

What message would you pass on to disabled people concerned about leadership and how they might be seen?

Well, that they should not think about their disability but think about the principles and the cause for which they were being approached. They should forget their disability and instead absorb the reasons for the work and go for that.