Labour was mourning the loss of Baroness Birk yesterday, a spokeswoman in the Lords with 22 years' of unbroken service as Government Whip, Minister, and front bencher.

Baroness Alma Birk, died last night after a short illness, aged 77.

Though she recently handed over the post of leading spokesperson on National Heritage to Lord Donoughue, she was still the party's principal spokesperson on broadcasting in the House of Lords.

The daughter of greetings card publisher Barnett Wilson, Baroness Birk unsuccessfully contested Parliamentary elections for Labour at Ruislip-Northwood in 1950, and Portsmouth West in 1951 and 1955.

She was highly active in the Jewish community and took a keen interest in family and children's issues.

Baroness Birk wrote a column for the now defunct Daily Herald before spotting a niche in the women's magazines market and founding the mid market Nova.

Raised to the peerage as Baroness Birk of Regent's Park, she was a Government Whip in the February to October 1974 Labour Government and, when Labour won again in October, became a Junior Environment Minister, serving for five years.

She became Minister of State in the Privy Council office just prior to the 1979 election, then, in opposition, was on the environment front bench until 1986, before serving as chief spokeswoman on arts, libraries, heritage, broadcasting, and cable between 1986 and 1992.

When the Department of National Heritage was established in 1992, she was a shadow spokeswoman until her death.

Labour's Chief Whip in the Lords, Lord Graham, described her as ``very warm, very political, and absolutely devoted to the Labour Party''.