The Men Who Govern Us.
The release of Mr. Mark Wilks, under precisely the same circumstances as the release of Miss [Clemence] Housman — that is to say, after a futile imprisonment, a series of defiant suffrage demonstrations, and with no sort of official explanation — is a triumph for the Women’s Tax Resistance League, the W.F.L., and the various men’s association[s] that helped to conduct the protest campaign. It is more than a triumph; it is an object lesson in how not to do things. To incarcerate a helpless and innocent man for his wife’s principles, knowing that that wife was one of a movement that never strikes its colours, was foolish on the face of it. (That it was also unjust is a matter which we recognise to be of little consequence in the eyes of those who make and administer our law). But to let him out without rhyme or reason seems foolishness of so low a degree that it is only to be described as past all understanding. One is reminded of the genial duffer who protested that he might be an ass, but he was not a silly ass. Our highest authorities are not so particular about their reputations as the stage idiot.
The Pity of It.
Yet we are all set wondering what is behind it all. Is it a contempt so great for the intelligence of the public on which they batten which makes our rulers so unconcerned about even the appearance of wisdom or consistency? Or is it sheer contempt for women which makes them bully, badger, and torture in turns, and then dismiss the matter as of not sufficient importance to pursue? It is too easy and flattering a solution to determine that ministers have been impressed by the women’s resolute defiance. It hardly accounts for the milk in the cocoanut. Nothing, for instance, would have been easier than to give Mrs. [Mary] Leigh and Miss Evans first-class treatment, and keep them in durance for months and years! The release of the latter lady at the same time as Mr. Wilks points, we sadly fear, not to an intelligent appreciation of the gathering forces of progress and humanity, but a cruel and callous disregard of wisdom, righteousness, and decency. If this be “representative” government, it is a sorry testimonial to the worth of the [sic] those represented.
No tale appears too farcical to present to the tax-payers on behalf of the Government. One explanation that has been seriously offered, with a view to relieving the Chancellor of the Exchequer from any odium that may be incurred by those responsible for the Wilks imbroglio, is as follows: “The Chancellor knew nothing of the case. His official correspondence followed him during his recent Welsh peregrinations, missing him everywhere, and only catching him up on his return to London, where he at once ordered a meeting of the Board of Inland Revenue, on whose report (unpublished) he acted promptly.” Now this is a little too thin.
Wanted, a Good Lie.
The political and militant organiser of the W.F.L., who pens these lines, has to confess with emotion that during recent wanderings in the fastnesses of the Land of George, certain correspondence, re-addressed to divers and sundry humble cottages in mean streets, did indubitably go astray. But the political and militant organiser is not a world-renowned personage who on occasion has been reduced to the Royal necessity of travelling incognito. The more than Royal progress of the Carsons and the Georges does not lend itself to these subterfuges; and we feel inclined to give the Chancellor the advice addressed by a too intelligent master to a schoolboy of our acquaintance, whose effort at explanatory romance was not convincing: “No, no, George, my lad; that doesn’t sound likely. Run away and think of something better.”
C. Nina Boyle
In consequence of the release of Mr. Mark Wilks, a sprightly account of which appeared in The Evening Standard, the proposed demonstration on Trafalgar-square was not held by the Women’s Tax-Resistance League . The main issues which have been brought forward by this new phase of the struggle are:— “That the present irregular method of administering the Income-tax and Married Women’s Property Acts amount to a penalty on matrimony; that the relief afforded to persons of limited income is unjustly and illegally filched from them; and that the Tax Resistance campaign has for one of its objects the determination to secure to the public one million and a half of money which is at present improperly diverted from the pockets of the people to the Government coffers. It took a woman expert — Mrs. [Ethel] Ayres Purdie — to fathom the real meaning of the law as it is administered to-day; and it is some considerable time since she expressed the opinion, and was laughed at by male legal experts for so doing, that the situation which actually arose was possible.
A tax-resistance meeting was held at Bolton on , at which Mr. Isaac Edwards presided, the speakers being Miss Hicks and Mrs. Williamson-Forrestier. The meeting was a public one, explaining the policy and principle of Tax Resistance, and was well attended.
The goods of Mrs. Fyffe, hon. treasurer of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, member of committee of the Horsham and South Kensington Branches of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, and hon. secretary of the London “Common Cause” Selling Corps, have been seized for tax resistance, and will be sold on , at Whiteley’s Auction Rooms, Westbourne-grove.
A procession will form up at Roxburghe Mansion, Kensington-court, at and start at going to the corner of Westbourne-grove and Chepstow-place, where a Protest Meeting will be held. Mrs. [Anne] Cobden Sanderson, Mrs. [Caroline] Louis Fagan, Mrs. [Margaret] Kineton Parkes, and others will speak. The procession will then go on to the sale. It is hoped that as many members of the Freedom League and other Suffragists as can will support Mrs. Fyffe by walking in the procession and attending the sale.
Mrs. Fyffe, who is an ardent Tax Resister, was presiding at a meeting of the Kensington branch of the National Union (London Society) at her own house, when the bailiffs arrived to distrain on her goods. It was a novel experience for the non-militant ladies!
Mrs. Louis Fagan, summoned at West London Police-court for non-payment of taxes in respect of motor-car, man-servant, and armorial bearings, had quite a merry dialogue with the presiding genius, Mr. Fordham, who waxed — might one say waggish? — during the encounter. After refusing to discuss her “conscientious objections” — while in no way belittling them — he imposed a penalty of 20s. and 2s. costs in respect of the man-servant; £10 2s. costs in respect of the motor-car; and 2s. 6d. for the armorial bearings.
Mrs. Fagan represented that her conscientious objection included fines as well as taxes, and he expressed regret at having no alternative to offer save imprisonment. “I shall sentence you to a month,” he said, “but you won’t do it, of course — you ladies never do. If I really wanted you to have a month, I should have to call it five years!” With such little pleasantries the affair passed off in the happiest manner; and Mr. Fordham was equally obliging in fixing the time for the distraint on Mrs. Fagan’s goods “at the earliest possible moment,” to suit the lady’s convenience. The goods were seized on ; and all Women’s Freedom League members who know anything of the way in which the sister society organises these matters should attend the sale in the certainty of enjoying a really telling demonstration.
Mr. Lansbury’s Chivalry
At a meeting held in the Hackney Town Hall on to demand the release of Mr. Mark Wilks, Dr. Elizabeth Wilks and the Rev. Fleming Williams, who were received with enthusiasm, both addressed the audience, and a resolution of protest was carried unanimously. The stirring speech given by Mr. [George] Lansbury contained valuable hints for Suffragists.
“Parliament,” he said, “did not do more for the cause of the women because the women did not make themselves felt sufficiently. If, instead of remaining Liberal, Conservative, or Socialists, they went on strike against the politicians, they would get what they wanted.
“Many years ago, Mr. Lansbury continued, he had believed in the honesty of politicians, and in the sincerity of political warfare, but much water had flowed under the bridges since then, and many new ideas had gone through his head. What was of most importance to the women of this country was not politics — whether Tory or Liberal — but the emancipation of their sex.
“The imprisonment of Mark Wilks, though it might be a laughing matter to the daily Press, was no laughing matter for the man imprisoned. It was a jolly hard thing for Mr. Wilks. He believed that if the working-class women of this country could be got to realise that his was no mere fight for a vote, but a fight for their complete emancipation, they would soon get this sort of thing altered.”
Resistance in Scotland
The Glasgow Herald tells us that:— “Dr. Grace Cadell, Leith, has, as a protest against the non-enfranchisement of women, refused to pay inhabited house duty on a property belonging to her in Edinburgh. Several articles of her furniture have been poinded to meet the amount of the tax, about £2, but so far the authorities have not taken these away.” We are also expecting news of the distraint on Miss Janet Bunten’s property for the same reason. Miss Bunten, Hon. Sec. of the Glasgow Branch, has already lost goods in this manner, and has also been sentenced to imprisonment for refusal to pay dog license or fine in default.
The “Favouritism” of the Law.
The other day a woman, an utter stranger to me, came into the office to seek advice. She was a pale, worried little creature, and had a little blind child. Her trouble was that she had had to leave her husband on account of his brutality — he seemed to be a thoroughly bad lot — and had returned to her parents with the child. She never saw her husband, nor received any money from him, but he was getting her Income-tax repaid to him. Her income was very small, and she needed it all for herself and her child, and asked how this procedure could be stopped and the money obtained for her own wants. I could only tell her that nothing could be done, as the law held that her income belonged to her husband, on hearing which, she broke down and sobbed bitterly, saying she had thought that women might be able to help her.
These are cases one hears of every week, but the Press remains conveniently silently about such, and reserves all its sympathies for the “wronged” husband. These repayments often amount to quite respectable sums, perhaps as much as £40 or £50, for a three years claim. I must say that personally it is terribly distasteful to me, when I have recovered tax deducted from a married woman’s income, to be obliged to draw the cheques in favour of her husband, though morally the money is hers. Yet this is what I am forced to do for my own protection, as, if I handed the money to its real owner, I should still have to pay it to the husband in addition. He could sue me in the County Court for it, or I might perhaps be charged with “feloniously misappropriating” his money, if I dared to hand it to the wife.
The isolated case of Mr. Wilks is a relatively small matter when compared with numerous cases of defrauded wives. Mr. Wilks, being released, will have saved £40 by imprisonment, and lots of these wives would joyfully do a few weeks in Holloway, if thereby they could save their money.
What we want to do is to get the law altered, and the Married Women’s Property Act recognised by the Crown, so that marriage shall not involve the brand of “idiocy” and a financial penalty for a woman. But there seems to be a general impression abroad that the only injustice lies in Mr. Wilks being imprisoned, and not in the law being as it is; and that as he has been got out, that will be the end of the whole thing, and nobody need trouble about it or make any further fuss, unless and until another husband finds himself held liable for tax on his wife’s income, and put in prison for not paying it.
Whether people are Suffragists or Anti’s or neutrals, it is equally to their interest to get the law brought up-to-date. The Anti husband of an Anti wife might quite as easily find himself in Mr. Wilks’ position, and “tax-resistance” has nothing to do with it, because Income-tax on a wife’s income may be demanded from a husband quite without his wife’s knowledge.
There is a case going on at the present time where 2s. 8d. is being demanded from a man for Income-tax on some Consols which the authorities state are held by his wife. She has never been asked to pay it, and is not even aware that it is being demanded from him. He disputes paying it on the ground that he has no evidence that she possesses any Consols, as he has never asked her anything about her means and never intends to do so. He has formally appealed against the charge, and at the hearing of the appeal his wife’s name was not mentioned, nor her existence even referred to, as the Consols in question are legally deemed to be in his possession. This husband will doubtless be put in prison in due course. He contends, quite logically, that if he is held liable for the tax on one of his wife’s investments, he ought to be held equally liable for the tax on all of her other investments, and while the whole position remains so unsatisfactory and anomalous he will pay nothing and do nothing, but will remain simply passive.
At the hearing of the appeal two highly-paid Special Commissioners, drawing, I believe, at least £1,000 a year each, sat to consider the matter. There was also present a Surveyor of Taxes, who had come up on purpose from Brighton at the public expense, the appellant and his legal representative (myself). This gentleman and I wasted our valuable time, and the three Revenue officials wasted their time (and the public’s money) for upwards of an hour, discussing a matter involving 2s. 8d., and the existence or non-existence of some Consols which none of the persons present knew anything about. There were also one or two clerks who took everything down; and altogether it was a most amusing demonstration of the methods of the Circumlocution Office, and the sublime art of How Not To Do It.
Numbers of married women invest their money in order to escape from the anomalies of the Income-tax Act, so some day we may see an equal number of husbands being called upon to pay tax on these investments (which they know nothing about), and ultimately getting locked up sine die. When men in considerable numbers begin to feel the shoe pinching, probably some serious effort will be made to amend the law.
Ethel Ayres Purdie