The next in our series on women MPs by the House of Commons Hansard Writing Team.
Conservative MP Mary Holt (1924-2021) and Labour MP Audrey Wise (1932-2000) both had an association with Preston, and represented the town in Parliament.
Mary Holt was born in Preston and studied at Cambridge. She passed her Bar exams in 1949 and worked as a barrister before her election in 1970 as MP for Preston North.
In Parliament, Holt took a particular interest in law and order. She thought the public were right to be “extremely concerned by the rising incidence of crime”, and supported longer sentences for serious offenders. In 1973, she backed the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Bill, which provided for greater equality in marriage law, describing it as “one further step in the slow march of every woman towards obtaining equal rights with men in law”.
In the general election of February 1974, Holt lost her seat to Labour’s Ronald Atkins, from whom she had taken the seat in 1970, and failed to win it back in the October 1974 election. She returned to legal practice, and in 1977 she became a judge on the northern circuit, a position she held until she retired in 1995. She received a Badge of Honour from the British Red Cross society, and, in 1987, the freedom of the cities of Dallas and Denton, Texas.
Audrey Wise was born in Newcastle to a family with strong socialist and union links. She left school at 14 and trained as a shorthand typist In 1953, she married optician John Wise, with whom she had a son and daughter.
Wise served as a Tottenham borough councillor from 1953 to 1957. She spoke at the first national Women’s Liberation Movement conference in 1970, and in 1973, she helped to found the campaign for Labour party democracy. She was elected as MP for Coventry South West in 1974, and held the constituency until 1979. In 1977, with fellow Labour MP Jeff Rooker, she rebelled against the Labour Government with an amendment to the Finance Bill which raised personal tax allowances by linking them to inflation. The Rooker-Wise amendment passed with support from the Conservatives, and resulted in £450 million being handed back to taxpayers. Wise told the Chamber that it was “the method by which the most could be done for those with the least”.
In 1977, Wise joined the picket line at the Grunwick film processing laboratories in Willesden in the strike by the largely female Asian workforce aimed at establishing trade union recognition. She was arrested and fined £20. After losing her seat in the 1979 election, she stood unsuccessfully for Woolwich East in 1983, before winning Preston in 1987.
Wise was a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee from 1982 to 1987, and became the first woman president of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers in 1991. At the start of the 1988 Session, she set out an alternative Queen’s Speech, describing it as “a Queen’s Speech for women”, including a proposal to establish “a Ministry for women…headed by a Cabinet Minister”. Wise was the driving force behind the Health Committee’s influential 1992 report on maternity services, which led to the woman-centred approach to childbirth. A lifelong fighter on behalf of the disadvantaged, she opposed the new Labour Government’s cuts to lone parent benefit in 1997. She was diagnosed with a brain tumour in April 2000 and died later that year.
House of Commons Hansard Writing Team
Mary Holt, speech on the Criminal Justice Bill, 22 November 1971 CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILL (Hansard, 22 November 1971) (parliament.uk)
Mary Holt, speech on the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Bill, 16 February 1973
Audrey Wise, contributions in debate on the Finance Bill, 25 July 1977: Commons Chamber – Monday 25 July 1977 – Hansard – UK Parliament
Audrey Wise, “Queen’s Speech for women”, 22 November 1988: https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1988/nov/22/first-day