HC Deb 28 October 1908 vol 195 cc274-6

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will consider the possibility of treating the three imprisoned lady Suffragists, Mrs. Drummond, Mrs. Pankhurst, and Miss Pankhurst, as first-class misdemeanants.

SIR B. GURDON (Norfolk, N.)

Will the right hon. Gentleman take care that these rich and delicately-nurtured ladies receive exactly the same treatment as would be meted out to the poor, starving wife of an unemployed workman who was tempted to break the law and assault the police?


The division in which a prisoner is to be placed must by law be determined by the magistrate in his discretion, and I cannot order the prisoners in question to be treated as if they had been placed in the first division.

*MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)

Is it not a fact that in October, 1906, and from then until January of this year women imprisoned for similar offences were treated as first-class misdemeanants; why has that rule been departed from; and will the Home Secretary use his influence and authority to have similar cases treated as first-class misdemeanants?


As a matter of fact, the magistrates in their discretion did order first division treatment to the first batches of Suffragists, which were dealt with in 1906 and the beginning of 1907. Then, I think, nearly twelve months elapsed without further disturbances, but in January of this year and subsequently the magistrates, also in the full exercise of their discretion, thought fit to order the second division treatment. As I have repeatedly said, I have no power to interfere with the discretion of the magistrates by giving orders for the removal of prisoners from one division to another.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

Is it not the fact that in the case of Dr. Jameson and the raiders the Government of that day did overrule the decision not of a magistrate, but of the Judge of the High Court who had sentenced them, and whether, in view of the fact that these ladies have been convicted for what is undoubtedly a political offence he will exercise his power to see that they are treated as first-class misdemeanants?


It is true that in the cases referred to by the hon. Member the prisoners were transferred to what was then the first misdemeanant class, but that was done through the machinery of the prerogative of mercy. The whole situation has been altered by the Act of 1898, by which the discretion as regards the division to which the prisoner is to be sent is specially reserved to the magistrate.


Might I ask whether, in view of the peculiar circumstances of the case and the fact that this House has by an enormous majority affirmed the principle for which these ladies have been agitating, he will consider whether it would not be possible to have them treated in some sort of respectful way in prison?


I have repeatedly pointed out, I have no power to order an alteration of their treatment. It may be that the hon. Member is justified in saying that theirs is a political offence, but, as a matter of fact, I am not aware in what direction the hon. Member will find any power which would enable me to give effect to his suggestion.

MR. MYER (Lambeth, N.)

Is it not the fact that these ladies incited the mob to rush the House of Commons?


A jolly good job if they rushed some of you out.

*MR. LUPTON (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)

Is it not a fact that these ladies practically have imprisoned themselves, and that the Secretary of State has full power to discharge them at once, which is what they do not want?


The adies have full power to discharge themselves.


Has the right hon. Gentleman any power in this matter? Does he say that he has no power to order their removal to the first-class?


Yes, Sir, that is what I said.