John Barnes, Historian

Alderman Mrs. Eveline Hill, (1898 – 1973)

Eveline Hill represented Manchester Wythenshawe from February 1950 until October 1964, when she was defeated as much by the building of council houses in her seat as by the efforts of her Labour opponent. Thirty years in local government, when she chaired not only a major committee but also the South Manchester Hospital Committee, added to her experience in running the family business, made her a valuable member of the House as her backbench Conservative colleagues realized. From 1955 she chaired the Conservative backbench health committee and although men were subsequently to be chosen to chair the backbench Health and Social Security Committee, she was elected one of its two joint Vice Chairmen. She spoke less in the House than most, only 45 contributions in fourteen years, but when she did it was always to the point and with authority.

Eveline Hill was born on 16 April 1898 to a rising middle-class family in Manchester, where her parents, Richard and Mary Ridyard, ran a catering business. Her father had previously been an iron miller. She was educated at elementary school and progressed to secondary education in the state sector. On leaving her state secondary school in Manchester, she joined the family business. On 26 April 1922 she married John Stanley Hill, an oil and tallow refiner, and as was then usual, gave up work to look after the family. There were three children; a son, John, and two daughters, Betty and Faye. Her husband died in 1947 at the early age of 52.

On the death of her father, Mrs. Hill and her brother took joint control of the family firm. She also became involved in the Conservative Party and in 1936 was elected to Manchester City Council for the Didsbury ward. She specialized in health issues, and was chairman of the Health Committee and of the South Manchester Hospital Management Committee. In addition to her council work she was County Borough organizer for the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS) for Manchester from 1943, until 1950 and a Justice of the Peace from 1945. She also chaired the Earl Haig poppy appeal from 1944. After her election to Parliament, she continued to serve on the City Council and was elected an Alderman in 1957.

At the 1950 general election, Hill was elected as Conservative MP for Manchester Wythenshawe, a newly-created constituency at the southern end of Manchester which included her ward. She took 22,775 votes and had a comfortable majority of 5,584 over her Labour opponent, with a Liberal in third place and a Communist fourth. Her maiden speech on 13 May 1950 was a sharp attack on the Government’s house building programme which had fallen. She thought the planned total of 1xxxxx quite inadequate and used knowledge gained from her service on Manchester’s housing committee to identify the large numbers of families forced to wait, the problems this caused newly-married couples, and the way in which private house builders were in effect prevented from making even the limited contribution towards meeting the need that had been allowed earlier in the life of the Attlee Government.

Not unnaturally she was chosen to be on the House of Commons catering Committee and later that year had to defend it against attacks launched by Conservative colleague.

In November 1950 Hill won a spot in the ballot for Private Member's Bills and introduced the Deserted Wives Bill which proposed to allow courts to award tenancy of a house and ownership of the chattels within it to a wife who had been deserted by her husband. However, she was unable to find the votes to force a vote on its merits and the Bill fell. Although Labour ministers were unsympathetic officials ensured that the issue was looked at by The Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce, but further bills on women’s disabilities made no better progress in the next parliament.

When she faced the electors in October 1951 she had a straight fight with Labour and predictably improved her majority, taking 28,611 votes and winning by 6,566. In July 1952 it was announced that she had been appointed to the Post Office Advisory Council. In March 1952 Mrs. Hill, together with Lady Davidson, Lady Tweedsmuir and Irene Ward, in other words the full complement of Conservative women backbenchers, wrote to The Times on 7 March 1952 to urge Conservative Associations to adopt more women candidates. The signatories did not blame Conservative central office, but looked instead to the ‘local people’ who had the final say in the adoption of candidates. These were urged to select more women of merit and, equally important, to select them for winnable seats. Hill and her colleagues were concerned at the small number not just of Conservative women in parliament, but of women of all parties:

“Far too often women fight the hopeless seats over and over again. Women candidates ask no favours, only to be considered on their merits. A total of 17 women MPs is far too few in relation to the number of candidates at the last election. We write this letter, not as feminists, but because we believe there are many able and distinguished women who could serve their party and the country if given the chance.”

Mrs. Hill was sparing in her use of questions, but her knowledge of the health service and particularly of the non teaching hospitals was evident in many of the speeches she made, usually on debates inaugurated by others. Of particular interest was her view that the NHS should be aiming at having fewer hospitals, and that there should be more preventive and what would now be called community care. She had a great concern for the confused elderly, who were often treated as if they were mental patients, but in her belief that more could be looked after in their own homes, she recognised the need to fund the local authorities adequately so that they could, for example, supply home helps. She spoke from experience of the need to treat the hospital building programme in such a way that the capital spend was not treated as falling in one year only, but spread over a number of years. Occasionally her own experience betrayed her. She was clearly uneasy about the gap between the school leaving age and the starting age for nurse training, but the figures given by the Department suggested that recruiting had improved since the new starting age had been introduced. But on other subjects like the shortage of geriatricians or of finance for developing x-ray departments, she spoke with authority and found a hearing.

Mrs. Hill broke the Conservative whip when on 16 December 1954 she joined with other Manchester members to oppose changes in the constituency boundaries affecting the city. They had not found favour with the City Council. However, the changes went through and she found herself in a much less favourable position at the 1955 general election. Not only had she lost supporters, but it was calculated that some 13,000 council house tenants had been added to her seat. She was re-elected by 2,822 votes. “Victory shows that not all Council estates are Labour”, she claimed, but observers noted a very relieved note in her voice and thought she owed a good deal to the affection felt for her as a constituency MP. She became chairman of the Conservative backbench committee on Health and Social Security, campaigned against the blanket ban on heroin because of its use in pain alleviation, and took up with renewed vigour the issues around dental health and the shortage of dental practitioners. She supported the increase in prescription charges in 1956 and two years later supported government proposals to increase National Health Service charges, arguing that people who made contributions were putting something away for a rainy day in the traditional manner.

In 1959 in a straight fight with Labour her majority fell to 1,309 as the character of the constituency had changed sharply. Once an area that straggled out into the countryside, it had become the home of a major Council housing scheme to take people out of the city’s central area. The Times correspondent, suggesting that her seat might well be lost, was exaggerating only slightly when he thought that in the five thousand extra voters registered, there was probably not a single Tory.1

In the new parliament Mrs. Hill was elected joint Vice Chairman of the Conservative backbench Health and Social Security Committee, and in that capacity, while supporting the hospital building programme, she again dwelt on the cost of delayed discharges. Complaining about the long delays while agreement was sought for new hospitals, she wanted more discretion to be left to the Regional Hospital Boards.

In 1961 Hill supported the reintroduction of corporal punishment and she also rebelled in the following year over a Bill setting up a training council for Health visitors, seeking to increase the council's power to make grants. Reacting to the 1963 budget, she hoped that husbands would pass on to their wives some of their allowances which had been increased. In 1964 she was amongst those uneasy with the proposals to abolish resale price maintenance.

Having held a marginal seat for two elections, Hill's position was made more difficult by the continued growth of council housing in the constituency in the early 1960s. At the 1964 general election, she had to contend with the intervention of a Liberal and was defeated by her long-standing opponent Alf Morris, by a surprisingly wide margin of 4,777 votes. Mrs. Hill had retained her seat on Manchester City Council throughout her time in Parliament, but decided to retire two years later. The Council appointed her as an honorary Alderman in recognition of her long years of service.

She died of heart failure at her home, Glenavon, 115 Styal Road, Gatley on 22 September 1973. A very brief obituary appeared in The Times, and although Mark Pottle has written her life for the ODNB, much remains to be discovered about the life and achievements of this “formidable” woman.

1 Times 15 October 1959 p.16