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Wednesday, March 17, 1999 Published at 18:26 GMT

UK Politics

Benn's secret tribute to suffragette martyr

Tony Benn: Hidden plaque is "tribute to democracy"

Labour MP Tony Benn has revealed a secret he has long kept hidden in a House of Commons broom cupboard.

Beneath the UK's Parliament, the veteran MP and former peer has placed a plaque with a photo of a leading suffragette who died after throwing herself beneath the king's horse.

In a special edition of BBC One's Songs of Praise to be shown on Sunday, Mr Benn discloses his memorial and describes it as "one of very few monuments to democracy in the whole building".

[ image: The Derby moments before Emily Davison's death]
The Derby moments before Emily Davison's death
Emily Davison hid in the Palace of Westminster during the 1911 census. Asked for her address on that day, she replied: "The House of Commons."

Two years later, she came to an early death after throwing herself in front of the king's horse in the Derby to draw attention to the plight of women.

Mr Benn says of his plaque, which is draped in suffragette colours: "It is a modest reminder of a great woman with a great cause who never lived to see it prosper but played a significant part in making it possible."

The disclosure comes in a Songs of Praise special from the Houses of Parliament, presented by Nine o'Clock News regular Michael Buerk.

Emily Davison became a martyr for the suffragette movement, which turned radical around the beginning of the 20th century.

Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women's Social and Political Union, described the contribution Emily Davison believed her death would make in her autobiography, My Own Story.

She writes: "Emily Davison clung to her conviction that one great tragedy, the deliberate throwing into the breach of a human life, would put an end to the intolerable torture of women.

"And so she threw herself at the king's horse, in full view of the king and queen and a great multitude of their majesties' subjects."

But it took women's involvement in World War I to bring the first Representation of the People Act in 1918, which gave the vote to all women aged over 30. Ten years later, this was brought into line with men.

In Songs of Praise, Michael Buerk also meets Betty Boothroyd, the first woman to be Speaker of the House of Commons, who tells him she relaxes by going paragliding.

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