The Cat and Mouse Act
The increasingly ‘shocking’ tactics of the Suffragette movement proved to be highly embarrassing for the government. The policy of force feeding suffragettes who were on Hunger Strike had the effect of generating sympathy for the Suffragettes and was politically backfiring. The Government, led by Herbert Asquith, needed to find a way of tackling the Suffragette tactics. The solution came in the form of the Prisoners, Temporary Discharge for Health Act, which is better known as the Cat and Mouse Act.
The Cat and Mouse Act allowed temporary short term release of prisoners. In doing so it took away the need to force feed suffragettes. Instead the authorities now arrested them, locked them up, let them go on hunger strike and when they were weak, released them on license. Once the Suffragette was eating and fit again, they were then rearrested and put back in prison to continue their sentence.
Suffragette Poster criticisng the Cat and Mouse Act
External Link – Suffragette poster calling for the repeal of the Cat and Mouse Act.
Source: Chrisabel Pankhurst, Unshackled.
The Home Secretary argued that the alternative to forcible feeding was to ‘let the prisoners die’. He assured the House that women were prepared to die for the cause. ‘It has been said,’ he said, ‘that not many women would die, but I think you would find that thirty, forty or fifty would come up, one after another.’ Finally, he foreshadowed the introduction of a new legislative Act to deal with the matter. This proved to be the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act, as it was quickly named by the critics of the Government… The Government prepared for their fight against Mrs. Pankhurst by introducing this new measure, framed with the purpose of making her serve, in spite of the hunger-strike, every single day of the long sentence that was surely awaiting her.
External Link – leaflet calling for the repeal of the Cat and Mouse Act.
History Learning Site – narrative account of the reasons for the act.
wcml.com – The Cat and Mouse Act
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