Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Council to invite applications for Freewomen of the City

Lancaster City Council has issued its annual invitiation for applications from potential Freemen of the City of Lancaster. Traditionally, Freemen enjoyed certain exclusive trading and grazing advantages. Freewomen may also now be admitted but the council has yet to make it known (see update below (24/6/11 The council's public invitation specifies that it is issued exclusively to males over the age of 16 who fulfil one of the following four strict criteria:

* To be the son of a Freeman
* To be a native of the city having been born within the old City of Lancaster boundaries (covering roughly from Scotforth to Skerton)
* To have been a citizen within the old city boundaries for a period of at least 7 consecutive years
* To have served an apprenticeship to a Freeman for a period of 7 consecutive years

New Freemen will be entered at a special court of admission on July 9, starting at 10am, and applications are now being invited.

Back in 2009 the council said 'At this time the Act only allows the City to admit men as Freemen, but it is hoped that eventually the opportunity will arise when this can be changed to allow the admission of women.' And did nothing.

Now one Lancaster woman has challenged the 'tradition' of discriminating against women without cause. Long-time Lancaster resident Christine Simpson has asked the council for permission to apply to be a freewoman of the City. After some deliberation a council officer has issued her with the following response.

"The only category under which we can now admit women is the category of admitting the son or daughter of a Freeman, who must be at least 16 years of age. This is a category where the admission criteria has been changed by law, but the other three categories are not covered by the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. The City Council has to undertake a process in order to change these categories and I hope that they can be amended in time for the court to take place next July."

That women may be admitted as freewomen at all is news to many, as the council has as yet refrained from publicising this, and their recent invitation to applicants entirely excluded women and has yet to be corrected, despite their acknowledgement of its illegality.

As well of informing us of the council's legal position, which is at odds with its public position, Christine has written a response to the council which is as follows:

"I am not the daughter of a freeman, nor would I attempt to sidle, under paternal coat-tails, into the council's private club for gentlemen, while women are excluded from any category solely for being born female.

Girls were not admitted as apprentices when I was young in the 1960s and 70s. Like our mothers before us, we were not permitted to attend woodwork, metalwork or technical drawing classes in school. Because, my headmaster explained to me so that I would understand, these skills had to be kept exclusive to boys, so that as men they could find jobs and 'keep' families, and women must make shift to marry such men to be 'kept' by them. No sensible girl should think otherwise, or waste his valuable time disputing it.

Boys being prepared for careers as chefs, bakers, caterers or tailors were, however, permitted to join the girls in cookery and sewing classes, and received assistance and kindness from staff and their classmates when they did so.

I always found this biased mindset obstructive, perverse, callous and bigoted. The school managers had also generally gained through favour of gender and a cycle of corruption prevailed here and elsewhere. My parents were not taxed less for a daughter's education. The taxes paid by my ambitious and hard-working parents for my education went in part to employ men exclusively to put exclusive skills into boys, to keep their daughter dependent and unskilled. This practice is now illegal.

The innate sexism of the 'freeman' conditions is a legacy of this bigoted and now criminal mindset. There are no women apprentices in my generation that I know of. Do you? So, unlike men, we have never had any chance to fulfil such a condition. Yet again, you tell me, we must turn to our men, in this case fathers. So everyone who was raised by a single mother is also, quite deliberately, excluded. As were their mothers. Whose crafts and skills were also excluded, as they were, from recognised guilds or fair trade.

Excluded from most trades, and from such trading and social advantages as freemen could once exclusively enjoy, the profit of a woman's productivity could be more easily taken from her and gathered into a man's estate, to increase his civic and economic worth while remaining, by a gentleman's agreement, unrecognised, unledgered and unrewarded.

While the status of 'freeman' exists under its current criteria with council approval, it lends legitimacy to practices aimed at excluding women from fulfilling their economic potential, and from having their contributions, both paid and unpaid, valued to their indispensible worth. Each such 'traditional' infringement in itself may seem small, but together they collude to maintain a mindset that holds it acceptable to keep repeating 'no women belong here' without any fair reason whatsoever. Or that it is a reasonable compromise, a generous crumb scraped from the table, to offer participation that is solely contingent on a dependent relationship with the 'right' man, ie, one who has already been favoured for his gender alone. This is crude.

It demonstrates not only a lack of faith in the added value women can bring to the role, but also a hostility to its expression. It acts out and fuels a fear that men cannot compete with women on a level playing field, even in areas they hold most masculine. Consequently, we are not permitted to collaborate either. In this instance absolutely no footing for women other than by referral to a male guardian keyholder is tolerated.

You refer to a possible reform by July next year. I wrote to you about this matter some years ago and was given a similar story. There have been years of procrastination, and it is my earnest desire that the stale 'traditions' of favouring men, in so many of life's areas, to the end of keeping women in needy dependency, will be recognised as abusive, and stopped now. That 'tradition' that men should obtain benefits and recognition from the institutions of state, for no more than being alive and around, while women must remain unseen and unrewarded. Many households are led and supported by women, as they were back when I was a child too, their hardship and exclusion from opportunity maintained by such 'traditions' explicitly to deter women from seeking independence from exploitation or abuse.

I petition the council that it be remedied this year. It is a petty matter but where it is publicised it brings disgrace upon the council and upon the city and implies (and celebrates) an unhealthy undercurrent in the relationship between the men and women in it. I am surprised that rational women and men in the council tolerate it, it is an open insult all around and, furthermore, an unprovoked and self-renewing incitement to bigotry in those annually invited to collude with you.

You are well able to deal with it. Please do not let it slide around or be kicked into the long grass. Reform would bring benefits to the city as a whole, and it should be a just reform, with the condition that an applicant be male removed entirely from every criteria. In its current form it is a publically administered policy of stirring prejudicial intent against each and every woman and girl in every home, school and workplace in this city. Just how, exactly, did the council decide, on recent reflection, to go ahead and undertake that destructive mission even whilst recognising it as abusive to half its constituency and insulting to all of it?

I would be grateful if you would provide me, in writing, with the council's current justification for supporting this process, signed by the leader of the council or its chief officer.

I will be happy to address the council on this issue and the substance of my address is above if you would like to forward it to members for their advance consideration.

I request that this matter to be resolved within a time-frame that would permit an application this year.

Failing that, I petition that the admission of new Freemen under any conditions that discriminate by gender be immediately suspended until reform can be implemented. The council has authority to withdraw from this practice. It has absolutely no authority or duty to actively promote and preside over any gender-prejudiced private men's club simply because it has omitted to sort out the paperwork. It is a perversion of authority and misuse of public resources to require council officers to promote and enforce bigotry and discrimination against women."


Application forms are available from the Mayor’s Office by telephoning (01524) 582070 or by email to Lvines@lancaster.gov.uk.

Updated later today: Lancaster City Council's Legal Department has issued the following response:
"The Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 inserted into Section 248 of the Local Government Act 1972 a new subsection (1A) which provides that "Where the son of a freeman of a city or town may claim to be admitted as a freeman of that place, the daughter of a freeman may likewise claim to be so admitted", and a new subsection (1B), which provides that "The son or daughter of a freeman of a city or town shall be admitted as a freeman whether born before or after the admission as a freeman, of his or her freeman parent, and wherever he or she was born".

These new provisions apply automatically as a matter of law.

Section 106(1)(a) of the County of Lancashire Act 1984 provides that "every male person shall be entitled to have his name entered on the roll of freemen of the City who – is the son of a freeman of the City and has attained the age of 16 years."

Accordingly there is now a statutory requirement under Section 248(1A) to admit as a freeman the daughter of a freeman of the City who has attained the age of 16 years. Because the County of Lancashire Act is silent on the matter, it can be assumed that sons of freemen have always been admitted wherever they were born, and whether they were born before or after their father’s admission as a freeman, and so Section 248(1B) does not affect Lancaster.

The 2009 Act also adds Schedule 28A to the Local Government Act 1972. This provides a procedure which can be used where, as in Lancaster’s case, the freemen provisions are contained in an Act, to amend those provisions so as:

To provide for a woman to have the right to be admitted to freedom of a city or town in any or all circumstances where a man has that right;

To enable a woman admitted to the freedom of a city to use the title "freewoman";

To put a civil partner or surviving civil partner of a person admitted to freedom of a city in the same position as a spouse or surviving spouse of such a person

These amendments can be made by an order of the Secretary of State, following a "qualifying resolution".

A "qualifying resolution" is one that is proposed by three or more "eligible persons", and passed by a majority of the eligible persons voting on the resolution, provided that at least 10% of those to whom notice is sent actually vote. An eligible person is a person whose name is on the roll of persons admitted to the freedom of the city.

As yet there has been no qualifying resolution, so the only current provision for admitting women is Section 248(1A), in relation to daughters.

The following is a link to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 for ease of reference:- http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2009/20/contents"

Ms Simpson has referred the City Council Legal Department to the Equality Act 2010, which came into force for local authorities (LAs) in April 2011. It prohibits LAs from providing public services on a discriminatory basis or keeping policies that discriminate by gender, and lays upon them a duty not only to avoid discrimination, but also to advance equality in all their activities. Nor does it permit LAs to 'delegate' responsibility for discrimination to partner organisations - or 'eligible members' - to which it provides services such as administration and other benefits. Particulary when the eligibility itself is discriminatory and the discrimination self-interested.

Updated Friday 24/6/11. The City Council issued the following PR at 16.42:
"Applications are being invited for one of Lancaster’s most historic traditions.
Each year Lancaster City Council continues the longstanding custom of admitting new Freemen of the city.
Traditionally the honour of becoming a Freeman carried a number of privileges including the right to ‘pasture a limited number of beasts’ on the Marsh, to enter the city free from the payment of tolls and also to bring goods through toll gates for sale at the Lancaster Market.
Nowadays the role carries few rights, but remains popular amongst those who are proud of their heritage.

Both men and women are eligible to apply to become a Freeman if they are the son or daughter of a Freeman and are at least 16 years old.

Alternatively applications are invited, but only currently from men, which meet one of the following criteria:

• To be a native of the city, having been born within the old City of Lancaster boundaries (covering roughly from Scotforth to Skerton)
• To have been a citizen within the old city boundaries for a period of at least seven consecutive years
• To have served an apprenticeship to a Freeman for a period of seven consecutive years

New Freemen will be entered at a special court of admission on July 9, starting at 10am, and applications are now being invited.
Applicants are required to pay a fee of 50p for their admission and provide documents supporting their application.

Applicants are also required to attend the court in person and must bring with them a person who is willing to stand and vouch for their identity – for example a spouse, sibling or friend - and swear an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty The Queen and to the mayor and the city.

Application forms are available from the Mayor’s Office by telephoning (01524) 582070 or by email to Lvines@lancaster.gov.uk.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

If the EDL can be made to change their admissions policy, then so can the freemen. Not that the freemen are anything like the EDL of course....
Still, it is a bit uncomfortable to realise that out of 60-odd members it only needed three to raise a motion to change things - but they never stepped up. Knowing that there are at least 60 freemen around who are keen to keep on scrounging sexist benefits doesn't exactly make me feel better about this city.
What have they got to say for themselves?

ceri mumford said...

As a new councillor I'm shocked by this! Doesn't it contravene the Sex Discrimination Act? I guess it doesn't count as employment but it is clearly barring women from entry. Outdated and offensive, I'll certainly step up and I know other Greenies will too.

Rick Seymour said...

Looks like LancasterCC's communications team need a bit of a spanking....

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1972/70/section/248

I don't think this would be covered by discrimination as it's a status rather than employment and the Act itself is very clear on male or female.

And based on the story, Ms Simpson would not be able to become a "Free[wo]man" as she does not meet the criteria.

The criteria is stated in the Act of Parliament and therefore the Council would not be able to reverse this even with a petition.

However Ms Simpson could push the council to scrap this system.

HOWEVER.... a council can grant the title of Honory Free[wo]man! (Outside of the criteria)

The question is .. have you "rendered eminent services" to the council district?

I would totally push and support the Honorary usage of the title but scrap the outdated historic sexist usage of the title.

Anonymous said...

Right now, a 16 year old Peruvian schoolboy can become a Freeman of the City of Lancaster, if he was born here (say if his parents were here on holiday at the time) but the Leader of the City Council (a woman) cannot. But the taxes she and I pay must still, in some part, go towards paying council officers to promote this discrimination against us.

As for becoming an 'Honorary Freewoman': this is an honour. One does not apply for it, it is bestowed. And, being honorary, it incurs none of the benefits that eligible freemen enjoy/ed.

The point is, not to wangle in through loopholes, but to be treated fairly, straightforwardly, and equally. A man does not have to 'render eminent services', to qualify. He simply has to live locally for seven years or be born here. Many women find it is not beyond them to meet these same criteria, taking, in the former instance, exactly the same amount of time to do it;-)

The Equality Act prohibits the council from providing services and benefits on a discriminatory basis. Women are not 'honorary' taxpayers. Public taxes must not fund services that discriminate by gender, all other things being equal. It's as plain as the nose on your face.

Anonymous said...

I've been a Freeman of Lancaster for 37 years but I had no idea about this. I would be more than happy to be one of the three if I am one of the qualifying 60. But I think when they refer to the 60 it will be the ones who are at the top of the list and in reciept of the Marsh Grass payments. They are likely to be an older generation as it takes many many years to get to the top of the list and they are more likely to be set in their ways. My Brother is 69 and I'm not sure even he is up there yet!
I am sure there will be more than 60 Freemen in total.
If my Brother is one of the 60 though, I will have a word.

Chris said...

Thank you for your helpful comment. I have asked the council which of the Freemen is eligible to propose a resolution.

They have replied as follows:
"I can confirm that the three proposers can be any persons whose names are on the roll of freemen.

"Since the relevant provisions of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009 came into force in 2010, Democratic Services staff have been required to prioritise the administration of the general election and electoral canvass in 2010 and the city and parish council elections and referendum in 2011, and this workload has meant that there have been insufficient resources to consider the appropriate arrangements for a ballot of freemen. The administration of such a ballot, with the need to obtain current contact details for as many living freemen as possible, will involve significant resources in terms of staff time, and it was not felt appropriate to contact the freemen about the new provisions until the Council was in a position to provide the resources that would be needed to support the proposers in arranging a ballot. It is hoped that such resources will be available during the next 6-9 months."

They have notified me of the wording already prepared for such an event:

"The 2009 Act also adds Schedule 28A to the Local Government Act 1972. This provides a procedure which can be used where, as in Lancaster’s case, the freemen provisions are contained in an Act, to amend those provisions so as:

To provide for a woman to have the right to be admitted to freedom of a city or town in any or all circumstances where a man has that right;

To enable a woman admitted to the freedom of a city to use the title "freewoman";"

They have an additional clause which I had not thought of but which I would support:

"To put a civil partner or surviving civil partner of a person admitted to freedom of a city in the same position as a spouse or surviving spouse of such a person"

"These amendments can be made by an order of the Secretary of State, following a "qualifying resolution".

"A "qualifying resolution" is one that is proposed by three or more "eligible persons", and passed by a majority of the eligible persons voting on the resolution, provided that at least 10% of those to whom notice is sent actually vote. An eligible person is a person whose name is on the roll of persons admitted to the freedom of the city."

It would be very worthwhile both to hold the ballot and to see which way it would go. I am prepared to wait for (yet another) year just to let a little daylight into the issue of where the current Freemen actually stand in their dealings with the female half of their community.