Women's suffrage: Labour will pardon suffragettes convicted while fighting for right to vote, says Jeremy Corbyn

'Some were severely mistreated and force-fed in prison post-conviction, so a pardon could mean something to their families', Labour leader says

Jeremy Corbyn says Labour would pardon Suffragettes

Suffragettes who were convicted and even jailed while fighting to win the vote for women will be pardoned by a Labour government, Jeremy Corbyn has announced.

The women were “treated appallingly by society and the state” and their convictions were “politically motivated”, the Labour leader said.

“Some were severely mistreated and force-fed in prison post-conviction, so a pardon could mean something to their families,” he added.

The announcement came as Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, appeared to resist pressure for a pardon – warning the issue was “complicated” in cases of arson and violence.

More than 1,000 women were arrested and many were imprisoned during the battle for equality, making them “political prisoners”, campaigners say.

Labour’s announcement falls on today’s 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which is being marked across the country, with Theresa May delivering a speech in Manchester.

The 1918 Act was the first to give women the vote, although only to those over the age of 30 who also owned land or a home. Suffrage was not extended to all women until 1928.

Mr Corbyn first called for pardons for suffragettes in 2004, but the Blair government said they were only possible if new evidence suggested the conviction was unsafe or if the crime had since ceased to exist.

The second scenario was used to grant Alan Turing a pardon in 2013 for his conviction of gross indecency for being gay, because there was no longer such a crime.

But Mr Corbyn said today: “As a country, we must recognise and honour the enormous contribution and sacrifice made by women who campaigned for the right to vote.

“Many of those women were treated appallingly by society and the state. Convictions of suffragettes were politically motivated and bore no relation to the acts committed.

“Some were severely mistreated and force-fed in prison post-conviction so a pardon could mean something to their families.

“Labour in government will both pardon the suffragettes and give an official apology for the miscarriages of justice and wider persecution they suffered.”

The move will delight campaigners including the Fawcett Society, which promotes gender equality and described suffragette activism as a “noble cause”.

“It would be a fitting tribute to pardon them now. They made such sacrifices so that we could all enjoy the rights we have today. In any meaningful sense of the word, they were not criminals,” said Sam Smethers, the organisation’s chief executive.

The Home Secretary said of the campaign for a pardon: “I completely understand where it’s coming from.”

But she added: “I will take a look at it, but I must be frank. It is complicated because if you’re going to give a legal pardon for things like arson and violence it’s not as straightforward as people think it might be.”

Ms Rudd said: “I’m just pointing out, unfortunately, the practical reality of bypassing the law in this way, but as I said, I would like to take a look at individual proposals to see what can be done.”

Labour’s announcement came after a shadow cabinet meeting held in the Museum of London, which is hosting a suffragette exhibition dedicated to those who campaigned for over 50 years to achieve votes for women.

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