Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Cat and Mouse Act

The "Cat and Mouse Act" (officially, the Prisoner's Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act) was passed in Britain by Herbert Asquith's Liberal government in 1913.

The discussion of this act is of concern to the historical discussion of feminism, where feminists view the passing of this act as a response to the actions of the militant suffragette organization, the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded by Emmeline Pankhurst. This act was seen to be a means of suppressing the power of the organization by demoralizing the activists, as women in this movement would perform nonviolent acts of protest such as the breaking of windows and the "technical assault" (without causing harm) of police officers, who were summarily jailed.

In response to what the organization viewed as brutal punishment and harsh treatment by the government at the time, WSPU members would go on hunger strikes. This was to be a demonstration to the media as being demonstrative of the brutality that they had suffered. Some women were freed on taking this action, and in response by the government, some of those who took hunger strikes were often force-fed by nasogastric means. Repeated uses of this process often caused sickness, which appeared to serve the WSPU's aims of demonstrating the government's treatment of the prisoners.

The "Cat and Mouse Act" was passed in order to release prisoners who were suffering illness for them to recuperate -- however -- the police were free to re-jail offenders again once they were better, in order for the prisoners to serve out the time of their sentence.

For the WSPU policy of hunger strikes, and for the force feeding, this caused great distress to the suffragettes who were jailed and went on hunger strikes. To counter the forcefeeding, suffragettes moved to thirst strikes.

The "Cat and Mouse Act" was viewed as being very harsh, not only to suffragettes but to other prisoners, mostly for violating basic human rights. For the suffragettes, its institution by Asquith caused the WSPU, being run as a quasi-military organization, to perceive Asquith as 'the Enemy', and for this enemy to be eradicated in what the organization saw to be an all-out war.