The next in our series on women MPs by the House of Commons Hansard Writing Team.
Conservative MPs Sheila Faith (1928-2014) and Angela Rumbold (1932-2010) were elected in the early years of Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister, in 1979 and 1983. The impact of boundary changes is evident here on the careers of female MPs. Faith served only one term, whereas Rumbold, having secured a seat became an influential Member until her defeat in 1997.
Sheila Faith was the younger daughter of Jewish draper Isaac Book and his wife Sarah. She was educated at Central Newcastle High School for Girls and at Newcastle Dental School, qualifying as a dentist in 1950. She married Dennis Faith the same year. The couple did not have any children, and Faith suffered a stillbirth in 1967—a tragedy that prompted her to turn to public service.
Faith worked as a dentist until 1970, when she was elected to represent Newcastle on Northumberland county council. She was appointed a magistrate in 1972, and in 1974 she was selected as the Conservative candidate for the Newcastle upon Tyne Central constituency, which had been held since 1951 by Labour’s Ted Short, who retained it in the October 1974 election. Faith went on to serve on Newcastle upon Tyne City Council from 1975 to 1977 and secured nomination as the Conservative candidate for the marginal seat of Belper, even though the selection committee was advised not to choose a woman because of the size of the constituency. She won the seat in 1979 with a majority of 882. She was the first woman to be elected in Derbyshire and the only female Conservative MP in the intake of 77 new MPs at the 1979 election.
In the Commons, Faith frequently spoke on health and was a founding member of the Select Committee on health and social services, helping to guide the Dentists Act 1984 through the House. A hardliner on law and order, she voted unsuccessfully to restore the death penalty for murder. Following boundary changes, Belper was largely subsumed into the new constituency of South Derbyshire, but she decided not to stand for election there because she feared that the seat was unwinnable. However, in 1983, Conservative Edwina Currie took South Derbyshire for the Conservatives, and praised Faith in her maiden speech in June 1983 for having “paved the way for the ready acceptance of a woman Member of Parliament.”
Faith served a five-year term in in the European Parliament from 1984 to 1989, succeeding Elaine Kellett-Bowman as MEP for Cumbria and Lancashire North. She served on the Parole Board from 1991 to 1994, and spent her retirement in Newcastle, where she was a member of the North-East Council of Christians and Jews.
Angela Rumbold was the eldest child of Harry and Frances Jones. Her father was a distinguished theoretical physicist and mathematician who became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1952. Rumbold attended school in Cambridge and London, and achieved a first-class law degree in law at King’s College, London. She worked in publishing from 1956 to 1959, and in 1958 she married solicitor John Rumbold, with whom she had three children.
In 1961, Rumbold helped to set up the National Association for the Welfare of Children in Hospital, and served as its national chairman from 1974 to 1976. In 1974, she was elected as a Conservative councillor in Kingston upon Thames, and became deputy leader of the council in 1976. She was appointed chair of the Council of Local Education Authorities in 1979. In 1982, she contested a by-election that was triggered when the sitting MP, Bruce Douglas-Mann, resigned from the Labour party and stood for re-election as a Social Democratic Party member. The poll was held in June, at the height of the Falklands war, and Rumbold won the seat for the Conservatives with a majority of 4,374. She held the seat until the Labour landslide of 1997.
Rumbold quickly rose through the ranks to achieve ministerial status. She served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (1985-86), and as Minister of State in the Department of Education and Science (1986-90), where she made her mark by helping to introduce the Education Reform Act 1988, which introduced the national curriculum and local management of schools. In 1990, she became a Minister in the Home Office, serving as chair of the ministerial group on women. “Slowly but surely,” she said in June 1991,“we are winning the battle. ”
Rumbold was a member of the Thatcherite No Turning Back group, and lost influence when Margaret Thatcher resigned in 1990. She did not return to ministerial office when the Major Administration was elected in 1992, but was made a Dame and Conservative deputy chair, using the role to encourage women to enter politics. After losing her seat in 1997 to Labour’s Siobhain McDonagh, she chaired a number of school governing bodies in south-west London, including at Surbiton and Wimbledon high schools. When she died in 2010, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi paid tribute to her as “an exceptional public servant” who “helped transform political life in this country by paving the way for many women of great talent to enter politics.”
Hansard Writing Team
Sheila Faith, maiden speech, 14 June 1970: BUDGET RESOLUTIONS AND ECONOMIC SITUATION (Hansard, 14 June 1979) (parliament.uk)
Edwina Currie, maiden speech, 23 June 1983: Second Day – Hansard – UK Parliament
Obituary of Sheila Faith in The Jewish Chronicle, 21 November 2014:PressReader.com – Digital Newspaper & Magazine Subscriptions
Angela Rumbold maiden speech Unemployment (Hansard, 27 July 1982) (parliament.uk)
Angela Rumbold, speech in a debate on women’s rights, House of Commons Hansard Debates for 27 Jun 1991 (parliament.uk)
Obituary of Angela Rumbold in The Independent, 23 June 2010 Dame Angela Rumbold: Outspoken Tory minister and staunch Thatcherite who worked tirelessly to raise educational standards | The Independent | The Independent