HC Deb 16 July 1835 vol 29 cc637-40
Mr. Grantley Berkeley

then rose to move, pursuant to notice, that in future ladies be admitted as strangers into the gallery, in order to hear the debates of that House. The hon. Member spoke as follows:—"In rising to bring forward this Motion, that ladies be admitted to the gallery of the House of Commons, I feel the less diffidence, because I am fully aware that however I may fail in the attempt to render the measure more acceptable to the House, still the cause itself will have an eloquent advocate in the breasts of all those who hear me, which will not fail to throw the weight of its feelings into that scale, which I trust will prove so redundant with favourable opinion as to confirm the boon I ask without even rendering a division necessary. In former times, 1716, Hatsel's Precedents inform us (vol. ii.) that not only was the strangers' gallery open to the ladies, but they were also permitted to occupy the benches immediately beneath it. In the Irish Parliaments they attended the debates, in France they to this day do the same, and they also enjoy that privilege in our own House of Peers. Then why should the Commons of England be behindhand in attention and liberality on such an occasion? I am well aware that there is an erroneous opinion entertained by a few, a very few, as to what is deemed the too great interference of ladies already in the political world; and I have even heard of some men who are sufficiently selfish in their confined notions of lawful rule and right of supremacy, to say that they ought to take no part therein; but this narrow reasoning I deny. So long as a female head can singly wear the crown of England, let them not hold so false a doctrine. Are there any to be found hardy enough to assert that the female portion of the population does not contain a vast share of the better intellect of the country, or that in very many instances it does not fall to their lot to think of, and to rule, the line of conduct which man in his more apparent wisdom may pursue? And is it not often in their power, a power which no one can take from them, by their influence to decide a contested election for county or town? It is; there cannot be a doubt of it. Well, then, I ask the House, if, as it cannot divest them of weight in matters over which their mental worth must ever give them sway, if it would not be better—if it would not be but an act of justice—to concede to them an opportunity of listening to a debate in an honoured situation, to which they are so thoroughly entitled? Before the recent conflagration, they had it in their power to preside over our political hemisphere, and I am not aware that the sittings of the House were later on that account; then why not permit them a less lofty but more comfortable accommodation? I have been assured by one or two right hon. Members, but who, I trust, have too much gallantry really to oppose me, that the only reasons on which they hesitated as to whether they should support me or not, were that if the ladies were admitted, they feared that those Gentlemen who could speak would always and on every subject be addressing themselves to the gallery instead of the legislative portion of the House, and that it would tend to lengthen the addresses, and increase the number of orators. To the first of these fears I have to say, that I much doubt now, whether in some instances hon. Members do not address themselves to those beyond the walls, or rather to the galleries, instead of to the minds of those in actual deliberation. Did they not do so, some right hon. and gallant Friends of mine would not persist in their speeches so long after they had become in reality tedious as twice-told tales, vexing the dull ears of drowsy men, and obviously useless from the fact that every Member in the House had long before made up his mind as to the vote which he should give. Again, I deny that it would be likely to increase the number of orators, for this reason; it strikes me that I have heard eight or ten words indifferently delivered and applied within these walls, which, after a night's rest or a journey into the country, became wonderfully refreshed and magnified, appearing in the papers to the eyes of the admiring public, both male and female, not only of twenty or thirty lines' duration, but embellished with sundry cheers, teeming with wit, poetry, and pathos, and ending in a reception widely different from that which, in my mistaken imagination, I held them really to have received. I maintain, therefore, that such orators, if such there should still be, whose speeches thrive from a few hours' rest, from a journey, or, with mushroom celerity, during the hours of darkness, that they would for their own sakes remain silent, in order that their female friends at least might still lean on the fond recollection that the power of former eloquence had not departed, but only slumbered till some more weighty call. Now, granting that from the presence of ladies the language of the House did assume a softer, a more poetical, and a more civil style, where would be the harm of this? I will ask the House to look back upon the language and upon the general spirit of coarse personality, which has at times distinguished the present Session, and to declare whether there is not wide room for improvement, and whether the bitter tone that has at times been used could not be mitigated by the honey that could be infused by a better presence? Why, I contend, that had the gallery, or part of it, been tenanted by ladies, several hon. Members of my acquaintance would never have had cause to allude to a breach of privilege, neither would a right hon. Friend of mine (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) have had sufficient obduracy of heart to have inflicted a speech of five hours' duration, had he known that for that time he must have stormed the tympanum of the female ear. Ireland herself, though ever eloquent, were ladies present, might learn a happy lesson, and throw off the rough and angry heather of her mountains, and appear in the more quiet and acceptable, and far more persuasive and useful, garb of her emerald vales. The sailor does not always reach the richest haven on the crest of the wildest wave, and violent language cannot persuade, while it must ever offend; or, to use the words of the Sovereign Elizabeth, 'anger makes men witty, but it keeps them poor.' I question much if the admission of ladies would have any effect at all, save the grace that their countenance ever gives; or if it had, whether it would not confer more good than harm on the character of debates in general. I therefore ask permission to appoint a Select Committee to consider and report upon the best means of setting apart and adapting a portion of the strangers' gallery for the admittance of ladies during the debates of this House, such admittance to be granted or regulated according to such form and manner as the Speaker shall appoint. Also that directions be given with a view to the same effect in the building of the new House of Commons."

Several hon. Members rose to second the Motion.

Lord John Russell

would not enter into the subject of debate, but he really meant to oppose the Motion of the gallant Member. If it were the intention of the House to admit ladies into the gallery to hear its debates, the House was competent to fulfil that intention directly, without the intervention of a Committee, and he should therefore give a direct negative to the Motion.

The House divided: Ayes 153; Noes 104—Majority 49.

List of the AYES.
Ainsworth, P. Butler, Colonel
Alsager, Captain Byng, Hon. G.
Bagshaw, J. Callaghan, D.
Barnard, E. G. Campbell, Sir H. P.B.
Barneby, J, Canning, Sir S.
Beauclerk, Major Cayley, E.
Berkeley, Hon. F. Charlton, E. L.
Berkeley, Hon. C. Chetwynd, Captain
Bernal, R. Chichester, A.
Bewes, T. Chichester, J. P. B.
Blackburne, J. T. Cole, Viscount
Blackstone, W. S. Compton, H. C.
Bodkin, J. J. Conyngham, Lord A.
Bolling, W. Coote, Sir C.
Borthwick, P. Corbett, T. G.
Bowring, Dr. Cowper, Hon. W.
Brady, J. Crawford, W.
Brodie, W. B. Crawford, W. S.
Brotherton, J. Crompton, S.
Browne, Rt. Hon. D. Denistoun, A.
Bruce, Lord E. Dick, Q.
Buckingham, J. S. Divett, E.
Burton, H. P. Dowdeswell, W. E.
Donkin, Sir R. S. O'Brien, W. S.
Duncombe, Hon. W. O'Connell, M.
Dykes, F. L. B. O'Connell, J.
Edwards, Colonel O'Connell, Morgan
Elwes, J. P. Ossulston, Viscount
Ewart, W. Oswald, J.
Fancourt, Major Parker, J.
Ferguson, G. Parrott, J.
Fergusson, R. C. Pease, J.
Fielden, J. Pechell, Captein
Finn, W. F. Penruddocke, J. H.
Fitzsimon, C. Perceval, Colonel
Fleetwood, P. H. Plumptre, J. P.
Follett, Sir W. W; Plunkett, Hon. R.
Fort, J. Pollington, Viscount
French, F. Potter, R.
Freshfield, J. W. Poulter, J. S.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Power, J.
Gisborne, J. Praed, W. M.
Gladstone, W. E. Pryme, G.
Gore, W. O. Reid, Sir J. R.
Goring, H. D. Ronayne, D.
Grattan, H. Rundle, J.
Gresley,Sir R. Rushbrook, Colonel
Hallyburton, Hon. J. Ryle, J.
Hardy, J. Scourfield, W. H.
Harland, W. C. Sharpe, General
Harvey, D. W. Sheil, R. L.
Hawkes, T. Sheppard, T.
Hay, Colonel Leith Sibthorp, Colonel
Henniker, Lord Steuart, R.
Hindley, C. Tancred, W
Hogg,J.W. Thornely, T.
Holland, E. Trench, Sir Frederick
Hope, Hon. J. Trevor, Hon. A.
Hope, H. T. Tulk, C. A.
Hoskins, K. Tynte, C. J. K.
Howard, P. H. Tyrell, Sir J. T.
Hughes, W. Hughes Vesey, Hon. T.
Irton, S. Vigors, N.
Johnstone, J. J. H. Vyvyan, Sir R. R.
Jones, W. Walpole, Lord
Kirk, P. Ward, H. G.
Lawson, A. Wason, R.
Lefroy, A. Westenra, Hon. H. R.
Longfield, R. Williams, W.
Lucas, E. Wilmot, Sir J. E;
Lushington,Rt.Hon.S. Wilson, H.
Macnamara, Major Wilmington, Captain
Mangles, J. Wortley, Hon. J. S.
Maule, Hon. F. Young, Sir W. L.
Miles, W. Young, J.
Molesworth, Sir W. TELLERS.
Mordaunt, Sir J. Berkeley, Hon. G.
Nagle, Sir R. Buller, C.

Committee appointed.