The next in our series on women MPs by the House of Commons Hansard Writing Team.
The general election of 1929—the so-called “flapper” election–saw women over the age of 21 voting for the first time under the provisions of the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928. Previously, only women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications could vote. Sixty-nine women contested that election; no more than 14 were elected. Among those were Megan Lloyd George (1902-1966), and Edith Picton-Turbervill (1872-1960): one elected for a Welsh constituency, the other bordering Wales. One served for decades, the other for only two years: both were fervent campaigners who spoke with force and charm.
Lloyd George was the first female MP to represent a Welsh constituency, Anglesey. Anglesey had a high proportion of Welsh speakers. She grew up in No. 11 and then No. 10 Downing Street while her father, David Lloyd George, was Chancellor of the Exchequer and later Prime Minister. She entered Parliament in 1929 as a Liberal MP, where she established a reputation for being an eloquent speaker. She used her maiden speech to describe the living conditions of her constituents, talking of “damp, narrow, littered up cottages, with often only an earth floor…and the slates loose so that sometimes the water comes pouring in and stands in pools on the floor.”
She espoused radical Liberalism and frequently urged her party to co-operate with Labour. During the 1930s, she chaired the Women’s National Liberal Federation, and as a leading member of the Woman Power Committee, established in 1940, she campaigned for women’s rights and wartime employment of women. In 1942, she became the first female member of the Welsh Church Commissioners, and in 1949 was made deputy leader of the Liberal parliamentary party.
After losing her seat in the general election of 1951, Lloyd George led the campaign for a Welsh Parliament. In 1955, convinced that the Liberal party had drifted too far to the right, she announced her decision to join the Labour party. She returned to Parliament as a Labour MP in the Carmarthen by-election of February 1957. A Welsh patriot and fluent Welsh speaker, she made the opening speech in the first ever House of Commons debate on Welsh affairs.
Edith Picton-Turbervill experienced a religious conversion on the London-Bridgend train in 1895 and devoted her life to social and religious activism. She proselytised to railway workers on the Vale of Glamorgan line, and later trained to be a missionary with the Young Women’s Christian Association. She worked as a missionary in India for a number of years, returned home in 1908 and in 1919 joined the Labour party. She unsuccessfully contested two seats – Islington North in 1922 and Stroud in 1924 – but in 1929 won The Wrekin, a largely rural constituency with a 4,000-strong mining community. Like Lloyd George, she spoke with fluency and grace. In her maiden speech, she called for a reduction in hours for coal miners in her constituency. She said that “we see across the continents, we hear across the world, we fly into the clouds, we dive into the depths of the sea. Are we…to say that the only way of making this an economic proposition is to underpay the men and to give them long hours.”
As an MP, Picton-Turbervill steered a private Member’s Bill through Parliament outlawing the passing of the death sentence against pregnant women, became the first woman to sit on the Ecclesiastical Committee and campaigned for equal bathing facilities in the Commons for female MPs. Her contributions in Parliament largely focused on her constituency’s agricultural produce, but she also regularly spoke about factory conditions.
In the years after the Balfour declaration of 1926, the constitutional rights of the dominions, particularly India, were a hot topic, and Picton-Turbervill drew on her experience of India during several debates on the subject. Although seen as a moderate Labour Party MP, she refused to support the National Government so lost her seat in 1931, after which she returned to campaigning. She was appointed to a commission investigating the condition of indentured girl servants in Hong Kong and Malaya, and her minority report resulted in the expansion of children’s services in both colonies. She lived until 1960 and was a lifelong campaigner for women’s rights.
House of Commons Hansard Writing Team
Photograph of Megan Lloyd George: https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw67832/Lady-Megan-Arfon-Lloyd-George?search=sp&sText=Megan+Lloyd+George&rNo=9
Second Reading: Housing (No 2) Bill: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1930-04-07/debates/efe9feb8-1627-4498-b9a2-5d3e68772625/Housing(No2)Bill
Maiden speech of Edith Picton-Turbervill https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/1929-12-19/debates/ad8c3974-d079-43f1-9515-a97f057379f1/CommonsChamber
Printed postcard image of Edith Picton-Turbervill https://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/22678283618/galleries/
Second Reading: Sentence of Death (Expectant Mothers) Bill: https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/1931/jun/18/sentence-of-death-expectant-mothers-bill