The next in our series on women MPs by the House of Commons Hansard Writing Team.
Conservative MPs Mervyn Pike (1918-2004) and Joan Quennell (1923-2006) both served in the Second World War, using their wartime experiences to gain managerial experience before winning their seats in by-elections.
Mervyn Pike’s family ran Clokie and Company, a pottery business in Castleford. She was educated at Hunmanby Hall in East Yorkshire and Reading University. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during the Second World War, working on the recruitment and training of aircrew. In 1946, she succeeded her mother as managing director of Clokie and Company. She contested Pontefract for the Conservatives in 1951 and Leek in 1955, before winning Melton in 1956 in a by-election called after the resignation of Foreign Office Minister Anthony Nutting over the Suez crisis.
In the Commons, Pike was soon promoted to the role of Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Home Office in 1957, before becoming Assistant Postmaster General in 1959 and Under-Secretary at the Home Office in 1963. After the 1964 election, she left the Conservative front bench before returning in 1966 as shadow Minister for social services. She was on the liberal wing of her party, both on welfare and on industrial relations, and wrote a pamphlet, “Needs Must” (1967), in which she rejected the notion that “feckless work and reckless breeding cause poverty” and addressed the need to support the welfare of vulnerable members of society.
Pike stood down as an MP in 1974, and was made a life peer the same year: her coat of arms included a Castleford stoneware teapot. She became chair of the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, and, in 1981, the first chairman of the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. She lived in Kelso with her companion, Dame Susan Walker.
An only child, Quennell was educated at Bedales School in Petersfield, near the family home. After serving in the Women’s Land Army during the Second World War, she went on to manage a mixed arable and dairy farm. She was a member of West Sussex County Council from 1951 to 1961, chaired Horsham Conservative Association, and was awarded an MBE in 1958. She won Petersfield in a by-election in 1961, and held the seat until 1974, when she stood down. In 1963, Gyles Brandreth recorded in his diary that she was “awkward and stiff”, and she rarely participated in debates in the House of Commons, preferring to table questions to Ministers. She could, however, be shrewdly charming. When Horace King retired as Speaker, she told the new Speaker, Selwyn Lloyd, on 13 January 1971 , “I do not want to put any ideas into your head, Mr. Speaker, but one of Mr. Speaker King’s most touching gestures when he became Speaker was to give a special dinner for all the lady Members of the House.”
Quennell raised issues relevant to her agricultural constituency, for example, tabling questions on butter and potato imports, and also voiced concern about “the unpredictable side effects which…insecticides appear to have…The decimation of our wild life is now becoming apparent and alarming and could have fundamental effects on the natural balance and ecology of the countryside.”
Education was another passion. A governor at Crawley College of Further Education, she supported college-based and streamlined apprenticeships, and was an early enthusiast for teaching assistants. She was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Ernest Marples at the Ministry of Transport from 1962 to 1964, and in 1970, became the first woman to be appointed to the Public Accounts Committee. She was also a member of the Chairmen’s Panel.
House of Commons Hansard Writing Team
Joan Quennell, speech in the debate on Speaker King’s retirement, 13 January 1971
Joan Quennell, question on the agricultural chemicals approval scheme, 2 March 1964