The Cat and Mouse Act (formally known as the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913) was an Act of Parliament passed in Britain by Asquith's Liberal government in 1913. It made the hunger strikes that Suffragettes were undertaking in prison in their fight to win the vote legal, and stated that they would be released from prison as soon as they became ill. The Act was rushed through Parliament as the government became anxious over growing public disquiet as a result of the tactic of force-feeding suffragettes, and the determination of jailed suffragettes to continue their hunger strikes.
As a result of the Act suffragettes were no longer force-fed whilst in prison and were instead released when they reached a level of extreme weakness. Therefore, the government could not be held responsible for any harm (or indeed even death) that befell a suffragette who had refused to eat during her time in prison. It also meant that women who were released were often too weak to actively protest. These women were kept under a particularly watchful eye and arrested again for the most trivial of reasons thereby starting the whole process over again. The nickname of the Act came about as the process was likened to a cat's habit of playing with its prey before finishing it off.
The Act did little to deter suffragettes from their violent campaigns. These were only lessened in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War when many suffragettes ceased their activities in order to support the war effort. Hence the potential full impact of the ‘Cat and Mouse Act' will never be known.
Find out more about suffragette Annie Kenney's story here.