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Veteran MP Dunwoody dies

Gwyneth Dunwoody, the longest-serving female MP and chair of the cross-party Commons transport select committee died last week after a short illness. She was 77.

Leading the tributes, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "So many people will be so sad to hear of the death of Gwyneth Dunwoody. She was always her own person. She was fiercely independent. She was politics at its best – a great parliamentarian.

"She will be sadly missed in all parts of the Houses of Parliament," he said.

Dunwoody will be remembered for her strength as chair of the transport select committee. Her passion and knowledge of the industry saw her awarded an honorary fellowship of The Institution of Highways and Transportation in 2004.

Fellow Labour MP and former construction minister Nick Raynsford said: "She was a formidable chair of the Committee, and she exercised her very considerable insights through the committee, and gave fearless challenges to sloppy and conventional thinking, and she continually withstood attempts to sideline her."

Her uncompromising and mischievous style won her admiration from those who worked with her, and drew trepidation from those who faced her questioning.

"She stamped her personality on the committee and people were in no doubt they were before a formidable inquisitor," said Raynsford.

Rail Freight Group chairman Tony Berkeley said: "[Dunwoody’s] commitment to transport and her willingness to question what she regarded as sloppy or poorly thought through policies has set an example to all who support the need for effective scrutiny of legislation or industry processes. I hope and trust that others will continue and develop this role. We shall all miss her terribly."

RMT union general secretary Bob Crow said: "Gwyneth was a straight-talking, no-nonsense and fearless individual whose powerful and principled leadership of the transport select committee helped to expose the utter failure of transport privatisation."

Some of Dunwoody's committee's conclusions went against New Labour doctrine, and the party whips tried to oust her from the post in 2001. A back bench revolt quickly arrested this plan.

"This was the swan song of her career," said Raynsford. "In the last decade she established her reputation for independent thinking – an encouragement to those of us who are getting on in years," he said.

Her independence of thought earned her respect across party lines. Conservative Party chairman Caroline Spelman said: "Gwyneth Dunwoody’s passing is a moment of great sadness for parliamentary democracy.

"To many, Gwyneth was a kindly matriarch in the House and her warm personality and powerful rhetoric will be sorely missed," she said.

Retired Labour MP Tony Benn said he was shocked at Dunwoody's death.

"She was an independent-minded woman who always spoke her mind and will be badly missed," he said.

Dunwoody was born in Fulham in 1930. Both of her grandmothers had been suffragettes, while her father, Morgan Philips, rose from being a coal miner to Labour Party general secretary.

Her mother became Lord Lieutenant of London after a spell as a minister in the House of Lords. With politics in her blood, she joined the Labour party at 16.

Her first spell as a minister was parliamentary secretary at the Board of Trade. She subsequently held a series of Opposition posts during the 1970s and 1980s.

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