HC Deb 06 June 1877 vol 234 cc1362-415

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the second time."—(Mr Jacob Bright.)


, in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, that he was aware that in taking that step he might be charged with inconsistency, inasmuch as he had on two occasions supported by his vote measures having similar objects to that embodied in the Bill before the House. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright), moreover, would have the right to ask him how it was that up to the very moment when he gave Notice of his intention to move the rejection of the Bill, he had remained a member of a committee which was formed with the object of extending the franchise to women. He would, in the first place, explain how it was that his name had appeared in the list of that committee. After he had given his vote in 1873 in favour of the Bill which was then introduced, he was asked to join the committee. Since then he had never acted upon that committee, he had received no notice of its meetings, and he had entirely forgotten that he had been connected with it, and, indeed, had not the slightest recollection that it existed.

When a good-natured Member of that House had reminded him of the fact that his name still stood on the committee, he asked him to let him know the exact title and address of the association, in order that he might at once withdraw his name from it; but to his immense astonishment, the hon. Member, who was himself an active member of the committee, was unable to give him either the exact title or the address of the association. He (Mr. Hanbury) hoped that that might be accepted as some explanation of his conduct in reference to this question. It might further be asked how it was that, having supported the principle of the Bill on former occasions, he now took the decided step of moving the rejection of the present measure. His reply was, he thought that if an hon. Member changed his opinion—and he (Mr. Hanbury) had considerably modified his opinion on the question—it would be unworthy on his part if he shrunk from giving his vote in an opposite sense to that which he gave it before, and not giving that vote in silence, but offering a full and clear explanation of the reasons which induced him to take that course. If he had been guilty of any inconsistency in the matter, he had erred in common with a great number of men, and, notably, in common with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright). When he (Mr. Hanbury) entered the House in 1873, a young Member, he was much influenced, on the introduction of the Bill, by the fact that some of the most honoured names of Leaders of his own Party had supported the Bill by their vote and their voice, and he was swayed by the belief that to a great extent this movement was "Conservative," and that the women who would receive votes would give them, as a rule, in favour of the Party to which he belonged. He now felt that these were very shifting grounds on which to base a great political measure; and when the family relations were disturbed, when the bases of society upon which their political institutions rested were assailed, it was time to rise above such petty considerations, and both on one side and the other to oppose the Bill. In supporting the principle of the measure he had undoubtedly been led away by a feeling of sentiment; but all feeling of that kind had been destroyed by the course which had been adopted by those ladies who, acting, doubtless, from very high motives, had taken part in an agitation on a subject to which he would not further allude, but which was one which he believed women ought never to touch upon in public. He looked upon their conduct respecting that movement as a foretaste of what the country might expect if women were engaged largely in politics, and particularly what its effects might be in the large towns, where, doubtless, influences would be brought to bear upon them at contested elections in a manner that might operate prejudicially in reference to the interests of the country. He would further say, that when he gave it his support, he had regarded the proposal as intended to be confined entirely to single women; but he now saw that it would confer the franchise upon a class of women which was already too large in our great towns—that of women who were shut out from fathers, husbands, and brothers, and whose influence would be anything but good. He had also formerly thought that the movement was much more extended among woman than was really the case, whereas he now found that it was making no progress whatever among them. With respect to the justice of the proposal, in the first place, he might state that as regarded many of the alleged wrongs of which women complained, it was not for that House, but for society outside to remove them. Some of the advocates of the measure alleged that it would prove a benefit to the poorer classes of women; but he denied that it would, and in support of that view he might refer to a letter written by Mrs. Besant to American papers, describing it as a movement carried on by women in the upper and independent classes, to whom alone the power to vote would be given. When the Bill of last year was before the House, his hon. and learned Friend behind him (Mr. Forsyth) said that he would give the franchise to single woman only; but the opinion of the hon. and learned. Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) was that the Bill would confer it upon married women; and, moreover, the hon. Member for Manchester had told them that he was in favour of extending the suffrage to married women, and he (Mr. Hanbury) saw from a correspon- dence in the papers that the movement would not end till that extension had been made. For his own part, he could not see how the promoters of the Bill could logically ask that the franchise should be conferred on single women only, inasmuch as that would be offering a premium upon celibacy, and would place under political disabilities those women who, being married, were most entitled to speak on behalf of women, and who were the most worthy representatives of their class. Upon what did the alleged claim of these women rest? Upon the wrongs, or upon the rights of women? Even admitting that women were the intellectual equals of men, he did not admit that their spheres were the same. In the manufacturing districts, where the work was not done at home, but in mills, men and women were brought together, and though there were safeguards and protection, yet hon. Members knew from the Returns made to that House that there had been a great change in the morality of those districts, and which had been most unsatisfactory. Whatever Parliament might do in this matter, it could not prevent there being always two sexes, and it would be dangerous to morals and to society if they were to bring about a system under which the spheres of men and women were to be intermixed. He believed that it was quite possible for hon. Members who had a large circle of acquaintances to say that they took no deep interest in the subject; but that, on the contrary, if they did take an interest in it, it was in opposition to the measure. No doubt Petitions had been presented, and meetings had been held in almost every town in the United Kingdom, but at them they constantly saw the same names, and there could be no doubt that the agitation was being got up by a certain number of ladies who always appeared upon the scene, and, by marching and countermarching across the stage, led the public to suppose that they who were engaged in its favour were more numerous than they really were. He did not believe if the Bill were passed it would remove the real grievance of women. It was said that a woman, if she had a vote, would not be obliged to take any large part in political life; but it would be utterly ridiculous, he thought, to say that a woman was to be content with giving a vote. She must enter into all the political considerations which influenced a man who gave votes. The franchise had been extended to men, who, they admitted, ought to be educated. He believed they had gone far enough, perhaps too far, in that direction. Those men, by leaving their homes and moving among other men, had opportunities, under difficulties, of picking up some knowledge on political affairs; but women, if they were not to leave their homes, but were still to remain, as he hoped they would remain, as ornaments in their homes, would have no chance of picking up that amount of knowledge which would justify their giving a vote upon great and complex questions. If they were not to leave their homes somebody must come to their homes. It was said that women took a deep interest in religion, and one of the great mischiefs in Continental countries was the power exercised over the community by means of priests coming to houses. There was a prejudice against such men in England, and he thanked God they were free of them in this country at present; but, if this measure passed, should we not have a kind of political priesthood insinuating their wily influence into the homes of the women of England? He would appeal from theory to practice. There was another consideration—in giving the vote to a woman, who might not desire it, they would give a dual power to the husband, who in influencing her, would exercise, in a manner, a double vote. Hon. Members who knew anything of America, were aware that the one thing which marked the social life of America was the almost complete subordination of the wife to the husband. He believed there was no country in the world in which this question of woman's suffrage was more scouted than in America at the present day. Then, again, there were duties to be performed to the State. No doubt, we might pride ourselves on an age of reason, but we must remember that the foundation of our society was power, force, and strength. More and more power and force were coming into the front. On the Continent we saw on all sides armed force, and in this country we might have to replace our present system of recruiting for the Army by something much more like conscription than that which at present existed; but it was quite certain that women could not contribute to the performance of that duty to the State. Property was not, he believed, represented as much as was supposed. A man of large property had great influence; but he (Mr. Hanbury) denied that his property gave him all his influence, and that sort of influence was largely exercised by women of the present day. Representation in the present day was based, not upon property or upon taxation, but upon family; and he contended that it was the family which of all things would suffer if they extended the vote in the direction proposed by his hon. Friend. It was argued that because women might vote at municipal and school-board elections, they ought to have extended to them the political franchise. He had said there was every reason why women should have a vote at school-board elections. In questions like that they took great interest. But he denied that they took the same interest in municipal elections. That question was not much more complex, but it did not come home to them so nearly as the school-board question, and therefore they took less interest in it. When he considered that we had interests all over the world, and that the influence of foreign countries was an influence directed by men, he felt it would be most mischievous for this country to allow hysterical politicians, who, he believed, had too great influence already on our foreign policy, to have any further influence upon it. He believed that such an influence as sentimental politicians endeavoured last Autumn to exercise upon our foreign policy would be for this country a very dangerous influence indeed. How was it that such a claim as this was put forward? It was based upon the idea that the two sexes had adverse interests—that women had grievances, and that men did not interest themselves in getting them removed. That he utterly denied, as it was the fact that many advantages had been conceded to them in recent years. The mere fact that this question was discussed calmly in that House was sufficient to show that the interest which men took in women and in their rights was a very keen and a very strong interest. Women had husbands, fathers, and brothers to represent them in that House and in the country; and it seemed to him a mon- strous assertion to rest this claim upon adverse interests of the two sexes. In a great number of ways rights were denied to women. They had been shut out of Professions which he for one would be glad to see them enter. Many a walk in life had been denied to them, with immense disadvantage to themselves and to ourselves. But in any grievance they had suffered, they had large numbers of fellow-sufferers in our own sex. Those grievances, which were remnants partly of the feudal system, did not press upon women merely, but almost upon nine-tenths of society. Those grievances, however, had been, and were being gradually removed, and many employments were being found for women. There was only one case in which he found a grievance of a specific kind which would be removed by the passing of the Bill, and that was the grievance of women who were farmers, and who it was said would lose their farms, because they could not give a vote. It appeared that there were nearly 25,000 women who were farmers—["No!"]—farmers and graziers, and, if that was the case, the grievance did not affect many. But after all, we come to the question, Were these women to have rights or privileges? No one would deny that at this moment they had immense privileges; and that their influence extended through every department of life. They apparently counted for nothing in political institutions; but he believed they were the life and soul of our social system. All the poetry and chivalry of life was on their side of the question. That poetry and chivalry surrounded them with strong barriers of protection, all the stronger, because they were unfelt and unseen. They could not have both privileges and rights. They must have either privileges, or rights. He denied their right to have both. Privileges were given to women and rights were given to men. Men were not gallant enough to give up their share, and if you tried to upset that arrangement you would bring on a quarrel between the two sexes, in which the weaker must go to the wall. Therefore, it was in the interest of women themselves, and in the interest of the nation, which had not only to consider its own interests, but the interests of other nations, that he opposed the Bill; and he hoped that that House, which was composed of a body of practical men, prepared to do justice to women in every way that was possible without upsetting what many believed to be the very basis of society, would emphatically reject this most pernicious measure.


, in seconding the Amendment, said: Sir, I should have been perfectly content to record my vote silently, as on the previous eight occasions, against this Bill, had it not been that I wish, in rejoinder to misrepresentations as to my opinions, to state the motives that make me vote as I do. It is freely said that those who oppose this Bill are hostile to improvement in the social condition of women. I wish for myself emphatically to deny the charge. Last year the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth) was satirical in his remarks about an association of Members in the House formed for refusing to women their rights. I beg to say that I never have connected myself in any way whatsoever with any association having for its object to oppose the movement in favour of this Bill. As a matter of fact, I never have taken part in any demonstration of opinion, other than my vote, with one exception, and that was to sign a Petition against what I consider a retrograde and very objectionable move recently attempted to undo the resolution of the University of London to admit women to medical degrees. I consider that a move to deprive women of a legitimized opening for the assertion of their natural faculties, and as such I deprecate the move. I am perfectly willing to leave the discussion and the issue of the matter in their claim to the franchise to common sense, without the intervention of anything like an artificial organization. The question is a serious one, and should be treated seriously. I am glad that the tone of debate has come to be serious. The matter has to be disposed of on its merits alone, and not a side issue. In my opinion the agitation proceeds from a number of very earnest and very active women, but not from the body of the women of England, as it is often affirmed. I think this is one of the many misrepresentations put into circulation. The agitation, as set on foot by these energetic ladies, seems to me positively mischievous, as calculated to promote in no way real amelioration in the condition of women. I maintain that its practical effect has been in many instances to divert, in pursuit of a phantom, the energies that might have been usefully directed for the attainment of their benefit. Can any hon. Member deny the fact that amongst the women who have done most for the education of their sex, there are many who have steadily stood aloof from this movement for the franchise? Girton College, an institution founded by the active energy of several reforming ladies, is calculated to do great service to the higher education of the women of England. ["Hear, hear?"] I hear the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright) say "Hear, hear;" but amongst the most active of the promoters of that College are ladies wholly indifferent to this movement. I was very much pleased to hear the character of the discussion on both sides of the House. This matter has been earnestly fought, and it has been most carefully advocated by many hon. Members of Parliament. I wish to state in a very few words what are my cardinal objections to this measure. I shall consider but a few of its capital defects. It is necessary to examine this Bill carefully, and to see what it actually involves and what it may involve. I submit that this is a specious Bill and a disingenuous Bill, because it means more, and must imply more, than actually appears on the face of the Bill. Whatever its advocates may choose to allege, whatever they may choose to say now that they are fighting this Bill before the House, I say it is perfectly impossible to resist the enfranchisement of all women, whether single or married, once this Bill is passed. I do not hold that in questions of politics the principles of logic are to be absolute guides. Political questions are not mathematical problems, but if this Bill is carried as it stands, nothing will be able to resist that force of logic which will drive the Legislature to admit that the franchise must be conceded to married women. There is no possibility of arguing against the admission of married women once you admit the plea which is alleged in support of the claim of unmarried women, for so to argue would be to deny that in the sum total of society married women contribute as much to the moral worth of society as single women. I have given my best attention to the pleas that have been urged in support of this claim. There is, I think, an inconsistency in the ground adduced for this claim. I have heard it urged publicly that this measure, which is to redress the imperfections of our social system, will only add 13 per cent to the electoral roll. Either your figures are fictitious, or this Bill must have much greater consequences than should be anticipated from such data. I say that this Bill carries its own proof that the pleas upon which it is recommended are shifting pleas, which are used according to expediency. These are not the only points connected with the Bill which I think deserve serious attention. I think there are points in this Bill which ought to make even those in favour of its principle hesitate before they accept it. I observe in the papers to-day that there was an influential deputation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday, who is himself in favour of the principle of the Bill. Now, according to the reports, attention was drawn by him to a point to which the hon. Member for Tamworth has alluded. That point is the lodger franchise. Now, I am particularly anxious to avoid any word liable to the charge of an invidious imputation, but when you reflect what the lodger franchise imports, and when you consider what the additions to the electoral roll must be if the lodger franchise were extended to women, there will be some cause for hesitation before voting, for the Bill must include all the class of women who come within the category of female lodgers. It is enough for me to have referred to this matter for hon. Members to understand the substance of my objection on this head. I say, however, that there is one other objection, which in my mind lies at the very root of the whole question brought before us. I think this Bill is based upon a most objectionable principle — namely, the principle that there is some antagonism between the sexes. Now, Sir, it is impossible, however speciously you may argue, however speciously some advocates may controvert it, I say it is impossible to explain away this basis of antagonism which lies at the root of the whole controversy. This is a Bill which seeks by an artificial enactment to do away with a division of labour, which division of labour exists in virtue of a higher law than any man can make, the law of instinct and the law of nature. You may try to mingle and confuse the spheres of activity of the two sexes, but the result will be a society peopled by beings really of a hybrid nature. Woman's part can never be usurped in the world without man denying himself; woman cannot turn to those spheres peculiar to man without losing that place and charm from which she derives her real and genuine influence.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this clay three months."—(Mr. Hanbury.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, that he had come early to the House, as he was desirous to hear the reasons why the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Hanbury) had been so suddenly converted. His hon. Friend was not an old man; he had certainly come to years of discretion; he had been in Parliament before; he had had this question before him for many years, and he had told the House that he had voted for it on every occasion till now. And he had been a Member of a Committee for promoting the object of the Bill. There was not a single argument which the hon. Member adduced to-day which ought not, if true, to have convinced him seven or eight years ago. Every one of the objections urged by his hon. Friend applied equally 10 years ago as now. His hon. Friend said there was no sign of progress and no increase in the number of Petitions. [Mr. HANBURY: "No?"] How were they to mark progress in public opinion with regard to particular questions? If they had regard to increase in the number of meetings and of speakers and of the attendants at meetings in town and country, then he (Mr. Forsyth) said no question that had been before Parliament for many years had made so much progress in public opinion as this question of women's suffrage. You could hardly mention a town in England, or Wales, or Scotland, or Ireland where there had not been held crowded public meetings of persons unanimous in favour of this Bill. He should like to know how many meetings his hon. Friend could mention as having been held against it. He did not believe he could find that there had been three in the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Tamworth had said that this was a Bill which must necessarily and logically give the franchise ultimately to married women; and, indeed, resting on the opinion of the hon. and learned Member for Taunton, he went so far as to assert that that Bill itself would give the vote to a married woman. Now, as a lawyer himself, he maintained that it would not. A married woman did not pay rates; but they were paid by her husband. Then the hon. Gentleman had founded an argument against the Bill on the probability of the Ballet law being repealed; but he ventured to think that nobody in the House dreamed of repealing the Ballot Act except that hon. Member himself. Next, it was urged that they should look to the Continent, where the Roman Catholic priests had so much influence, and they were told that political priests in this country would creep into people's houses, leading captive the minds of silly women. But did not women read newspapers as well as men, and did they also not obtain their information on political subjects from conversation and discussion? Then it was said there was looming over Europe the power of force, and that as woman could not contribute to that power, she should not have the vote. But would it not be well to have a gentler influence brought to bear on politics, which would not be arrayed on the side of brute force? Last year the hon. Member for Mid-Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), with a touch of epigrammatic smartness, said that the Bill was supported by two classes of persons —feminine men and masculine women. ["Hear!"] Well, the present Prime Minister had always voted and sometimes spoken in favour of that Bill. Was Lord Beaconsfield "a feminine man?" The Chancellor of the Exchequer had spoken in Devonshire in favour of the Bill; and the First Lord of the Admiralty, again, had also supported it. He wondered who would call the First Lord of the Admiralty "a feminine man." Then as to masculine women, who, that had read the biography of the late Mrs. Somerville—a supporter of that Bill—would say that she was a masculine woman? He could not conceive a character more full of feminine tenderness than that of Mrs. Somerville. He might ask the same question in regard to Miss Florence Nightingale and other ladies; but he did not think it right to bring their names into the debate. The sole ground on which many hon. Members rested their opposition to the Bill was, that to give the vote to women would to a certain extent make them unfeminine. That was a sentiment and nothing more. Many hon. Members had admitted to him that that argument was entirely in favour of the Bill; but still they said they did not like the measure, and would vote against it. Well, he confessed that if he believed in his conscience that the effect of giving the franchise to women would be to make them more masculine, to render them less tender, less gentle, and less attractive than they were, whatever he might think of the logic of the matter, he should not be prepared to pay so great a price for the measure. The Bill merely gave an intelligent woman the right of saying she preferred that A instead of B should represent her in Parliament, and it would not admit her sex to sit in that House. In one sense he acknowledged that political agitation was not the sphere for women. He would rather not see women mounting the platform and speaking in public. But observe the cruel dilemma in which women were placed. If the few gifted with the power of eloquence and of argument did not come forward and advocate the rights of their sex, then it was said that women did not want the franchise—that not one of them had spoken in its favour. On the other hand, if they did come forward, they were told that they were out of their sphere and becoming political agitators. If the boon they now asked for were granted them, they would cease their agitation. Defluit saxis agitatus humor, Et minax, quod sic voluere, ponto Unda recumbit. Those who opposed the Bill were responsible for taking woman out of her sphere of retiring modesty, and making her come forward in public to claim her rights. Women now had votes at municipal elections, and the hon. Member for Tamworth admitted that even in sitting at the school board they were in their proper sphere; but the questions at issue in those cases were, for the most part, of the same character, only on a smaller scale, as those involved in Parliamentary elections and discussions. He would illustrate the injustice of the pre- sent system by taking the case of two towns. In Bristol, one-quarter of the houses occupied by ratepayers and taxpayers were occupied by women, many of them living in the best part of the city, and yet not one of these women had a voice in choosing a Member for Bristol. Then, at Bath, the great proportion of the occupiers of the houses in its splendid streets and terraces were not enfranchised, because they were women, many of them spinsters, and all of them heavily rated and taxed. Again, in England, one-seventh part of the whole of the land held by owners of more than one acre was held by women, not one of whom was entitled to vote. He denied that that Bill, as asserted last year by his right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), was based on an assumed hostility between the sexes; but what its advocates said, was that there were certain questions which women had a peculiar right to have an opinion upon, and on which they ought to be heard, because they had, as to some of them, perhaps a more pressing interest than men themselves had. After answering the allegations of the same right hon. Gentleman as to the special privileges now enjoyed by women, and particularly as to the exemption of women servants from taxation, the benefit of which he said went to the employers, the hon. and learned Member referred to a debate of an instructive character which occurred the other day in the Italian Parliament. Hitherto, in Italy, no woman was legally competent to witness to a public deed. That would seem to us monstrous; and a Bill was lately brought into the Italian Parliament to repeal that law. But against its repeal, strange to say, this objection was raised—"You must not distract woman from her family mission." That was precisely the same argument as was now used against giving a vote to women. The Bill enabling women to witness to public deeds had, however, been passed by the Italian Parliament, and he trusted that before long the British Legislature would pass a law enabling women to vote for Members of that House. But it was said this would be a premium on celibacy, because if a woman married, she would lose her vote. The inference drawn from that, he supposed, was that she would refuse to marry in order to keep her vote. He would like to see the woman who, having to choose between matrimony and a vote, preferred the latter. Then, as to the "thin-end-of-the-wedge" argument, he would quote to the House a passage from the last work of our great novelist, George Elliot, Daniel Deronda, which was as follows:— I think that way of arguing against a course, because it may be ridden down to an absurdity, would soon bring life to a standstill," said Deronda. "It is not the logic of human action, but of a roasting-jack that must go on to the last turn when it has once been wound up. We can do nothing safely without some judgment as to where we are to stop. Surely if unreasonable demands were afterwards made, the House could refuse them. With regard to the ledger franchise, he admitted that its application to women might let in some objectionable persons, though he thought their number would practically be found very insignificant. Speaking for himself individually, rather than lose the Bill he would consent to a Proviso, if the House thought fit to introduce one—to the effect that the ledger franchise should not extend to women. He did not want to see a stigma put upon the many on account of the bad character of a few; but, considering the difficulty felt on that point by others more strongly than himself, he was willing to accept the Proviso to which he had referred. He did not, indeed, expect that Bill to pass in the present Parliament, and having himself twice brought it forward and tested the opinion of the House on the subject, in his judgment it would have been better to have deferred the measure until they had a new Parliament, when the result, he believed, would be very different. However, his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright), having re-introduced the Bill, he gave it his hearty support, feeling sure that when it became law, as it eventually would do, men who now spoke against it would be heard saying they were surprised and ashamed at their former opposition to it, and would laugh at what were now their imaginary fears.


Sir, I agree in almost everything that was said by the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Hanbury), except when he made what I may call an Exeter Hall peroration, in which he expressed what I consider the utterly groundless suspicion entertained by many persons in this country with respect to the conduct of Roman Catholic priests on the Continent. The statement, almost at the commencement of his speech, by the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Forsyth) took me by surprise. He affirmed with great emphasis that there was no town in the United Kingdom in which a great meeting had not been held in favour of this Bill. I have the honour of representing the borough of Tralee, and I am not aware of any meeting in favour of this Bill there, or, indeed, in any town in the neighbourhood, or in the Province of Munster. The hon. and learned Gentleman put forward as one of his most substantial reasons why the Bill should be accepted by the House, that really all that would be done would be to enable ladies to make a selection between two or more individuals, and that they would have nothing more to do than to apply certain principles. I am anxious to say two or three words upon a question which has been before the House and the country for many years, but upon which I have never ventured before to express an opinion. I was at first favourably disposed towards the movement, of which the Bill is the first-born, owing to my great respect for the late Mr. John Stuart Mill, for the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett), for the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright), and for many others who had thrown themselves into this movement with a restless ardour and activity, which, to me, is irreconcilable with the fact that they are all men of undoubted sanity, and of vast intelligence. But notwithstanding my utmost efforts to conform to the views on this subject of so many of my Friends, I have never been able to bring myself to regard this movement about the rights of women in a serious light, or indeed as anything else than an attempt to subvert the natural order of the world by investing women with prerogatives and imposing upon them duties that belong exclusively to men, simply from the fact that they are men. That this attempt should be made by philosophers and other great and wise men is what gives to the question, at least to my mind, its comical aspect. It is only, in the main, persons with very callous hearts, indeed, that can see anything amusing in the vagaries or antics of those who have been so unfortunate as to have lost their wits, or who have never been fortunate enough to have any; but there is something irresistibly droll in the spectacle of a man who is known to possess what are called "brains" acting in a way as if he were really a simpleton. Without meaning anything disrespectful, I may say that the movement, of which this Bill is the offspring, has always appeared to me the merest political juggle, and an intimation that those who have given themselves up to it are sadly in want of occupation. If, as has been stated, it had received any appreciable support from the people of England, I would come to the conclusion, from the earnestness with which they have taken up the matter, that all questions affecting the happiness of the nation—which alone deserve to be called political questions—have been settled; and that, upon the principle that it is always necessary to be doing something, we are about to enter on a period of meddling legislation. I would anticipate, therefore, should the measure pass, the introduction of Bills prescribing how we are to cook our food; how to bring up our children; how, in certain circumstances we are even to blow our noses, and how we are to perform other operations which are essential in our most civilized communities. The passing of Bills in this House depends on various grounds. Of some, it is said they are premature, inopportune; that they are before the time, or that they are reactionary. Of others, it is said that their principle is vicious, Communistic, or revolutionary. This Bill is the only one I have ever known to be introduced which must be resisted on the ground that the principle on which it is founded is simply ridiculous. The project we are solemnly invited to consider is nothing short of a proposal to get rid by Act of Parliament of the division which Providence has made of the human race into men and women, with functions to each which do not enter into the domain of the other. But notwithstanding my opinion as to the unpractical character of the measure, I should be sorry to have it supposed I am insensible to the claims on our devotion of those of whom the hon. Member for Manchester is the chosen champion, or that I am disposed to treat them with severity. If they have any political grievances, I am not aware of them; but if they are pointed out, I should be happy to unite, not merely with the hon. Member for Manchester, but, I may say, with the whole House, in redressing those grievances. But I do not think there is any ground for saying that the legislation of this country has dealt unfairly with women. But there is one charge brought against those opposed to this movement from which I am anxious to free myself. It is frequently said we ascribe to women a certain moral and intellectual inferiority which renders them unfit for the proper discharge of political duties. For myself, I believe women, speaking generally, in a moral sense, to be infinitely our superiors, owing to their self-imposed submission to certain restrictions which the lords of the creation think they may dispense with. Intellectually, I believe, they are quite our equals. If they have not done as much for art, science, and literature as men, it is because there are physical obstacles in the way, on which I need not dilate, which prevent them from doing as much. But it comes within my own experience that I have met women whose powers of acquiring knowledge, whose originality, thought—whose genius, in short, exceeded that of any men I ever met. I would venture to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, notwithstanding the prophecy of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone, that he never will succeed in establishing political equality or anything else like it between men and women. I would also venture to suggest to him that he should direct his efforts, and confine his enthusiasm and those of others who like him are under some special fascination, to winning complete social equality for the ladies. It is unfortunately true that the women do not enjoy complete social equality. We may say, I think without undue self-glorification, that the courtesy of men naturally has already done great things for them. We have given them a prescriptive title to the best places at lectures, reviews, and suppers; but an antiquated custom has conferred upon man a privilege to which I defy the most astute casuist to show he has any exclusive right. The hon. Member for Manchester is fortunately in such a position that he may agitate for the removal of this privilege without exposing himself to the suspicion of interested motives, and I can join him in such agitation with an equal claim for disinterestedness, for, unlike the majority, neither of us is in a position in which we are able to dispose of ourselves. I would ask him, if he sees any reason why a man should reserve to himself the sole right of putting the question upon which the happiness of a common future largely depends? I would ask him why women should not also be permitted to do what is popularly called "popping the question?" Why should she wait to be asked? The conventional restraint which prevents her from doing this, which compels her to wait to be asked, and to endure a suspense which, no doubt, is often most painful, is the only disability under which, so far as I know, women at present labour. Whether, in order to remove that disability, it is necessary to introduce a Bill for the purpose—whether it would be necessary to agitate for it, to hold public meetings, to form a great league, to produce pamphlets, and to issue circulars in order to prepare the youth of the United Kingdom for what certainly would be a novelty, I will not undertake to say; but in any case, whatever may be necessary to this extent at all events, I am prepared to give my hon. Friend my most ardent support.


Mr. Speaker, I have had the honour of being a supporter of this movement for a number of years, and I have been in this House some years, but I have never before joined in the discussion. It has not been from any lack of zeal; but I have been content to see better men taking part in the discussion of the principles of the measure, and in the advocacy of its reception by this House. I have determined to say a word or two, because last night, yesterday, and to-day I learned that there was forming a combined movement against this—one of the most interesting questions of the day. With all respect to those who are now recanting their opinions on the other side of the House, I will assume that the ship is in danger, and that some are leaving it. Therefore, it becomes a duty to thrust myself on the notice of the House. I cannot plead that I have anything new to bring to the discussion, but I can plead that I bring an earnest belief in the ultimate success of the measure. And I am not daunted by such speeches as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue), because even in the midst of that speech, given with his accustomed readiness of diction, and with a great deal of his accustomed point and antithesis, there was something accompanying it both in the speech and in the reception of it by this House that gave comfort for the future. I shall try to deal with that speech in one or two particulars. I am glad in some respects that the speech was delivered, although my hon. Friend will forgive me for saying that it verged closely upon a coarser exhibition than I should have thought him capable of, and it belonged to an old stage of this movement, for a very small number of hon. Members answered to it, and the number who danced to the hon. Member's piping were those from whom we should expect very strong prejudice in arguing the question. I am fond of a good joke myself, but I confess I could not compose my face to laughter at such well-known trifles and old jokes about "popping the question." This is an agitation which, however diverse may be the views held upon it, will not receive its quietus today, and it is not by suggestions that we may look to have Bills on cooking, the whipping of children, and what not, that it will be laughed away. The hon. Member might be reminded, by-the-way, that a large number of women have been extremely opposed to whipping at all, and he might have quoted that as a reason why women are likely to exercise a useful influence upon the Legislature. The hon. Member proceeded to ask the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright) various questions, and I should like to say to him, with all respect, that there was something slightly supercilious in his assuming to speak de haut en bas to a Gentleman who is at least his equal in intellectual attainments, and I venture to think his superior in this—that he has shown earnestness and zeal in every cause he has taken up, accompanied by a persistent use of a wealth of illustration and argument which I doubt if the hon. Member for Tralee has shown. I remember my hon. Friend some three years ago making a speech of great power on the Home Rule question, in which he advocated his views with a fertility of illustration and biting sarcasm which made us all feel that we were in the presence of a master of language. To-day he invited us to believe that he was in possession of special information on the designs of Providence as to the division of the sexes! Where do he and others get their special information? They seem to come to us and. say—"You have no right to argue this question. We have it direct from the Almighty, that these things are to be as they were in the time of the Patriarchs, and they are to continue so to the end." The opinion of the House can only be influenced by appeals to its reason, and is not to be swayed by something altogether ex cathedra which reason or judgment cannot be expected to receive. The hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Hanbury) has stated his case to the House with very great forbearance from his point of view. I am not thanking him for forbearance, for those whom we represent to-day do not require any forbearance which is not founded upon intellectual reasoning. The hon. Gentleman said that those who were advocating this measure and desiring it for themselves were to choose between privileges and rights. Now, what right have we to talk about privileges? Are we to sit in the form of lords of creation, who have given to women all that they possess? Whatever they possess is not derived from our benevolence, but is surely and certainly attained by their own intellectual excellence. It is not ours to give; it never has been ours to give; and to argue from the past, that because the right of voting had not been accorded to women they never ought to vote, was not satisfactory. When we talk of rights and privileges, we must remember that women have their rights; and one right is to be treated with the same courtesy that one gentleman accords to another. I do not suppose women want any more; and if you assume, when speaking of privileges, that women value it as a privilege that you set them up as dolls to be dressed, looked at, and for special reasons to be treated with special favour on special occasions, I do not think there is a woman of spirit who would not reject such a privilege. The hon. Member for Tam-worth (Mr. Hanbury) became gloomy in anticipation, and he talked upon safeguards of morality. Why should we not extend to women a political right which many of us thoughtlessly exercise, taking place as it does only once in three or four years? The suggestion that our countrywomen cannot bear the strain of exercising the franchise is one that refutes itself on the spot. The hon. Member suggests that from it would flow unnamed mischiefs which he cannot hint at, and that there is something nameless which has been advocated by women. He cannot understand why it is done. Let him seek information from those who do understand why it is done. There are women who feel that duty is paramount above every other consideration of personal feeling; there are women who are moved by the sufferings of others, and who repudiate Acts of Parliament as gross and abominable as were ever passed by a free Legislature. You have no right to sit in judgment upon them, unless you are able to enter into the depth of agony and feeling which they have endured, and which impels them to protest in the face of mankind, and such mankind as the honourable House of Commons is composed of. Is it strange that women should take an interest in the fallen, and should protest against Acts of Parliament which are not to put down vice, but to make its indulgence more safe? I say that women are right in taking that position, and there are men in this House who are ready to pay them their meed of admiration for having placed the call of duty far above every consideration. Women have been insulted and taunted for the position they have taken on this question. I am glad to see that as time progresses and men get educated to the responsibilities they have in this House, questions which were once thought better left alone are now discussed, and I hope that before long we shall find the proper way of dealing with this subject. Then, again, we are told that if you permit the meeting of men and women together you do not know what may happen. A neighbouring country is well accustomed to such appeals as "danger to society," and over and over again you have seen that a plot against the Government has been successful, by suggesting that some murderer is to become the "saviour of society." It is not necessary to follow to their conclusions those undeveloped imaginative prognostications for the future, which we must treat with respect in so far as they are uttered by hon. Friends of ours, but so far as their effect upon our judgment is concerned, with utter contempt and disdain. The hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. W. C. Cartwright) has thrown himself into this contest, and he made a bold assertion. He assumed that the women who did real service to their sex had not indulged in the useless advocacy of political rights, and he mentioned the founders of Girton College. I can only say in answer to him that I know that of the distinguished women who have paid the greatest attention to Girton, and have desired to promote its intellectual power in every way as regards its staff of instructors or the general scope of the education, many are strongly in favour of this measure. If the hon. Gentleman had inquired, he might have been saved giving a vote against this measure on any such ground; instead of which, many men assume that which they want to believe, and the hon. Gentleman has been one of them. May I meet him with the counter assertion, that from the time Mr. Mill brought forward this measure, the whole status and position, as regards education, as regards avenues to fortune and employment, of women, have been vastly improved—and in great part by the strenuous advocacy of the very women who have been most persistent in this claim, refused and put off from time to time by this House of Parliament. I know that to be the case, and I say that even with regard to some women who may not have identified themselves with the suffrage question, that they were first stirred into activity by the friends of the suffrage question to exert themselves as they have done; and as you cannot bring a light into a chamber without illuminating every corner of it, so this great question introduced among thinking women has fermented all their thoughts, and if it has not effected entire conversion, it has drawn their attention to the grievances and disabilities under which their sex labours. I would allude to the agitation for the Bill as the strongest evidence of the immense gain likely to be derived, not merely from the continuance of it, but even from the passing of it, in the robustness of thought that it would give to many women, and the power with which it would turn their minds, not only to the interests of their own sex—because their devotion leads them to labour for both sexes—and even if they had not that natural devotion, they could not labour for one sex without producing unmixed benefit to both. I have looked upon this question as an extraordinary educator. I am glad to say that time has not falsified the prediction of many friends, and that it has gone on educating a vast number of women in defiance of restrictions and obstacles up to the standard which previously they had not attained. It is sometimes said to women—"If there be matters you complain of, why don't you remove them? You have influence enough." That is why they come to this House to enable them to do so. If you give them all other things, and deny them this, your giving them the other things is merely an expression of good feeling towards them, which is to be accompanied by no reality; you will not, in fact, give them. They have argued for admission to medical schools. I know some hon. Friends of mine think it hard that theirs should be the first Profession subjected to the strain of this first endeavour of women to get other employment. Remember the selfish reflection sometimes uttered when we are on another subject—that women are in their proper place in hospitals, where the most beautiful side of their character may be witnessed! We praise them for benefits conferred upon ourselves; but is that a reason why we should keep them in the subordinate position? You say that when we come to a question affecting the vices of the community, the women ought to keep out of it. Has the charge of indecency been applied to women who, under a sense of duty, have gone into the hospitals, putting aside the feelings of sex which might be disturbed, and which might interfere with their offering their services as the nurses of suffering humanity? And can the charge of indecency be applied when we are discussing political questions that may affect her sons and her brothers? It is called indecency, because woman gives up her native shrinking, and feels bound to come forward and express how remiss we men have been in performing our duty. I now come to matters affecting this vote of the House. We understand that there has been some sort of partnership or co-operation formed between the solid, immovable, material spirit of Conservatism and the versatile ever-active spirit of political progress. This is an extraordinary partnership. started upon an extraordinary basis, with very little in common between the parties. The question is, whether this thing is right or not. No one has ventured to question the intellectual capacity of women to exercise this vote. Some have got a notion of what some foolish women may do. I am surd if you deprive all the foolish men of the franchise who now possess it and substitute the capable women, there would be more than room enough for a large proportion of the sex you are trying to keep out. You admit that they are capable for the school board. The hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Hanbury) tells us that it is a clear gain to the community that women should be on school boards. Education is the power through which we all derive our pretended knowledge to judge of State affairs. What is any one of us stripped of his knowledge? We consider ourselves very superior, but we have admitted that women are not inferior to ourselves in that respect. Is there, then, any reason why women should have the franchise? There are many things in which women remain at a disadvantage at law, owing to laws made by men. If woman is admitted to have great influence, why cannot she give her vote, feeling, and influence upon many questions of the day? Nobody pretends that there are not many questions upon which women might be heard with very great benefit. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) singled out a woman who, to his honour be it said, did a large amount of service of a very valuable kind for one of the public Departments. Such instances should be quoted to hon. Members to show that it is not to be denied that women are perfectly capable of exercising the franchise. Will any man who knows anything of the question pretend that the state of the law in regard to women's property is right as it stands? I say that it is not. Are your laws of marriage such as recommend themselves entirely to the women of the Three Kingdoms. I trow not; but, at all events, before you mend them, you should get the reflections of the most capable among them. There are Professions to enter. Are women to enter them? are women to have avenues to fortune? and is the expression of their intellectual energy to be only dependent upon the almsgiving. of men? They ask it as a right. It is urged as a reason against female suffrage that women are indirectly represented by their husbands and brothers. From this side of the House it is monstrous to hear such an argument. It is feared that we should submit to the mortification of finding female suffrage disadvantageous to the Liberal Party. That which was no argument when it came from the other side of the House is now employed against the admission of a class. ["No!"] "No," says an hon. Member. Let us call it sex, or category, or whatever you will, the injustice remains the same. It is said that if these women were admitted, there is an end to Liberal Governments for a long time to come. When that potent voice which is now speaking against us demanded the extension of the suffrage, the answer from that side of the House was—"They are not fit for it." They dreaded that it would give strength to the Liberal ranks. We trampled upon and disdained that argument then. Are my hon. Friends to be pressed by powerful interest to abstain from recording their votes, because the measure will give strength to the Conservative ranks? I should have done with the Liberal creed for ever if I thought it depended upon, not whether the measures which we are able to pass are measures of justice, but whether they are likely to return us to power and keep us there when we are there. I trust the leading men on this side of the House will take a nobler view of this question, and that it will not have to be recorded of the Liberal Party that it was guided by any such consideration. It will cease to be the Liberal Party when it ceases to welcome every fresh accession to the Constitution created by attending to the just claims of those outside, and to remedy the evils affecting those already included within it.


Sir, the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) has told us that women are in a subordinate position. I entirely deny that. There was another point on which he touched, and I certainly should have thought that after his remarks upon the speech of the hon. Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue), no references to the Contagious Diseases Acts would have been made by him; because, whatever his opinion may be, and whatever he may think of ladies who advocate the repeal of those provisions, I will only say this much, and I believe I am speaking the opinion of almost all in this House, as well as of the educated portion of the ladies of the country—that they had better leave to men any agitation in regard to such cases. Let us look how the case stands. It has been before the country now for some time, and the question is, has it made progress, or has it gone back? I appeal to the House, as I would appeal to the country, when I say that, notwithstanding all that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth) has said, and notwithstanding the meetings that he has talked of, this movement has not made progress in the country. It has not made progress in the House; and why, the speech of the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Hanbury) will show. He has thought about this matter; he has seen what the logical consequences must be of passing such a Bill as this. Does the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright) tell me that having passed such a Bill as this he is prepared to stop there? No; everyone knows that the movement will go on. It would be absurd to say that women who have property of their own should lese the right of voting by marriage, and the enfranchisement of married women will come by-and-by. Then will come the question of a seat in this House. I shall not go into that matter; but those who have thought over it, have re-considered the opinions they formerly held, and the division to-day will present a very different complexion from hitherto. Far be it from me to say that women are not useful in regard to education; far more so than men. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, in their own position; but the great question is whether, if you have 50 men and three or four women mixed up together—as is the case at any rate on the great School Board—women may not say what they please; and whether, when the gallantry of men is called into account, women have not a very great advantage. In cases of that kind, I would venture to say that the more you try to introduce such changes, the worse it will be, not only for them, but for this country. Now let me go further. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone has said that one-seventh of the land of this country above one acre is held by women. I should like him to have gone more closely into that calculation, for I deny it entirely, and some statistics might be brought to show that it has no foundation in fact. Notwithstanding all that he has said about the increase of interest on this question throughout the country, I say for myself, as a humble individual, that I have asked women of every position in life, from the highest to the lowest—I may have been unfortunate in the selection of those I asked—but I have never found one individual woman who has a wish to possess this franchise, and that is the main point. Until you can show that the majority of our fellow-countrywomen want the franchise, you may come here as often as you like with a Bill like that of the hon. Member for Manchester, but you will never carry that Bill in this House. Notwithstanding all that, the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone has said, I believe, that not even in another Parliament will a Bill of this kind have a better chance than it has in the present Parliament. Here is the mistake which many hon. Members of Parliament make. They go down to their constituency and hear a most respectable, and no doubt, perhaps, a highly-educated few demand that woman suffrage shall be granted, and some are foolish enough to comply in the request that they should support the Bill. But your constituents as a body look to you who represent them not to be guided by any small section or clique. If it be true that the large majority of women in this country do not desire the franchise, I say that it will be a very distant day before the franchise is granted in this country. I see the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) in his place. He is one of those who advocate most strongly the education of children in rural districts. I should like to ask him whether he thinks a woman, the mother of a family, ought to bear the same burden as men, and should go out into the fields to earn money in support of these children; or whether he is not one of those who, knowing the value of woman in her sphere and in her own house, would rather that she stayed at home to do that which is absolutely necessary for the well-being, contentment, and happiness of her husband and her children, rather than earn money in the fields? My hon. Friend will not dispute that argument; and will see that for every purpose she is far better at home, than in the fields. So it is at a General Election. It is said that landlords take away their farms from those widows who have not got votes. I overheard a friend of mine, who is most highly respected, and who knows the details of this matter as well as any man in the House, say that in an adjoining parish to him, there were five widows, and not one of them had been turned out of their farms on account of not having votes. I would venture to ask why, if these women and such as these are allowed to remain on their farms for the benefit of their children, you should enfranchise women? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Marylebone touched lightly upon the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) last year. I recollect perfectly well looking at that clock last year, when there was ample time to have answered that speech, had he then been so inclined. But he said, as they were inclined to go to a division, he would not answer that speech. Why, it was a very difficult speech to answer. I am glad to say that in regard to a subject so vital to the interests of the country, we have that Egyptian repose which we are said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) to exemplify on this side of the House. I always thought that the right hon. Gentleman was a very gallant man; but I believe he has only once voted on this question, and then he voted against the ladies. Thus we have two distinguished Liberals who are Egyptians, and favour repose in this matter, rather than Grecian progress. Well, that is a great point to be gained. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham in his speech dealt conclusively with the interests of women, and with a generosity which I hope he will extend to the much-abused class called country gentlemen, when he speaks of them out of the House. We listened in rapt attention to his well-considered, well-delivered arguments—always so much to the point, and never was he more to the point than when he dwelt upon the duties of women to their country, and showed that it was impossible to neglect them without detriment to themselves—and when he called up those feelings that every man has experienced when he has been in difficulty and trouble, and has looked back to the words spoken by mother, wife, sister, or daughter, we could not but feel that it was not for them to be mixed up in the tumult of popular elections, and that the great majority of the women of this country look to us to protect them in those rights and privileges they now enjoy, and not to force upon them that which they do not desire.


said, he should not have risen to address the House, but for the fact that the hon Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue) had stated that few public meetings had been held in favour of the Bill, and also for a remark made by the hon. and gallant Baronet who had just sat down (Sir Walter Barttelot), that he never knew any woman who desired the franchise. The hon. and gallant Baronet said he had spoken to women in all ranks of life, from the highest to the lowest, and never met one who desired to have the franchise. His (Mr. M'Laren's) experience being distinctly contrary, he thought it his duty to inform the House that there were two views of that question. He had presented a number of Petitions to the House on the subject, among them several from women householders in the city he had the honour to represent, numbering in all 900. He had observed also that a Petition had been presented from Aberdeen, signed by 600 women householders in favour of the measure. One of those Petitions he had presented to-day. Having heard of the high position of the ladies who had signed it, he thought he would send it to the surveyor of the local rates to have it verified, in order that he might see the real position of the parties signing it. He thought it would interest some hon. Members of the House to know the facts. About 100 names were appended to that Petition, which was now on the Table of the House; but of these about 12 lived beyond the ratepaying circle of the burgh, or were married ladies. These were struck out, and the surveyor sent back the Petition with the rental of each house affixed to the margin. All the houses were occupied by widows or unmarried ladies. The result of the surveyor's report, founded on the rateable value of each house, was that from houses of £20 to £30 in value there were eight signatures, from £30 to £60 a-year 20, from £60 to £100 a-year 23, from £100 to £150 a-year 22, from £150 to £200 a-year 5, and above £200 a-year 1. Hon. Members would bear in mind that he was not dealing with the high-rented houses in London. The figures must be compared by those who know them with the rental of houses in the large provincial towns, and when they found that ladies occupying houses of the kind indicated by his figures had signed a Petition in favour of female suffrage, he thought it would remove the impression which existed in the minds of some hon. Members, that because they had not met with ladies who desire the franchise, no such ladies existed. The position of those ladies showed that they must have large incomes, or they could not occupy houses of that kind. Other Petitions had been presented by himself and his Colleagues, from Edinburgh, signed by 52 medical men, 14 barristers, 39 ministers of religion, and 139 persons engaged in education. Within the last few years numerous public meetings had been held on the subject in the city; and within the last year a different class of meetings had been brought about. Ladies of the class to which he had referred had called meetings of ladies in their drawing-rooms, and 19 of those meetings had been held, from which Petitions had been sent up. He thought those facts showed that a great interest existed in certain quarters in favour of the movement, and the facts by which he had verified one of the Petitions indicated that the interest existed also among ladies of the highest class. He might mention a fact concerning the ladies who had been interested in getting up Petitions. It was stated by a leading newspaper in Edinburgh that several names had been added to a Petition by an indiscreet canvasser, in the absence from home of the persons who purported to have signed. The secretary of the Ladies' Committee investigated the matter, and it turned out to be so; and though 3,000 names had been collected, including perhaps 150 or 160 spurious names, the Ladies' Committee resolved that the Petition should be destroyed. They were indignant at the idea of spurious names being appended to their Petition. It would be quite against their ideas, and in their view discreditable, that they should be the means of sending up Petitions which were not in every respect genuine. He believed few instances had occurred in petitioning the House during the last 20 or 30 years in which any hon. Member could say that a Petition of 3,000 signatures was destroyed because, by the indiscretion of one canvasser, 150 or 160 spurious names had been appended to it. He did not wish to argue the main question. His object in rising was merely to state these few facts, and leave them to make their own impression upon the minds of hon. Members.


Sir, whether the hon. Member for Tralee (the O'Donoghue) was right or not in taking the somewhat jocose line he did, I shall not determine; I shall only address myself to the reason of the House. But, before coming to the subject in hand, I must make a remark upon the line of argument taken by the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth) when he commented upon the speech of the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Hanbury). He accused my hon. Friend of inconsistency, because no new arguments had been brought forward; and seemed to think it absurd that a man, after being made acquainted with an argument, should alter his opinion as to the value of that argument. My hon. Friend was no doubt acquainted with these opinions when he was in favour of the Bill; and the change is not owing to his having discovered new arguments, but simply because he has altered his estimate of the value of these arguments in determining this question. I think that the Bill introduces a great change in our Constitutional system. There is no country in the world that has adopted woman suffrage. In those parts of America where it has been adopted it has not been an unqualified success. Nobody can believe that there will be any danger to the State from a rising of women; but we have to consider whether the machinery of representation will be improved by this alteration or not. We have to consider whether the somewhat cumbrous and difficult machine called popular government will work more smoothly and with better results if we make this alteration, than if we do not make it. Now, I appeal to the House, whether adding women to the electoral roll in any large numbers would render a General Election a less disgraceful and dangerous scene than it is at present. What would be the result when passions run high, and when almost everything but Party considerations are left out of account? What would be the condition of ordinary women? How many would go to the poll, except those whose political ardour is such as to make them brave the dangers which are sufficiently deterrent to men? And I think many women will see that politics are not a very desirable field of exertion for them. One of the greatest evils we have to contend with is the bitter feeling that rises between friends and neighbours who take opposite sides on political questions. Everybody who has had to do with districts where political passions run high will know how often old friendships are dissolved in consequence. These bitter feelings would, if this Bill passed, be introduced into the home. Contests would not be so much between neighbour and neighbour, and between friend and friend, as between husband and wife. I think I am justified in treating with contempt all ideas of remedying this evil by limitations of the woman suffrage. I need not suppose the exclusion of married women, and I say that if you include them, you introduce into the homes of England new and most dangerous elements of discord and strife. There is one argument which ought always to be weighed when we are considering whether any new class should be admitted to the suffrage of the country—the statement that there are questions deeply affecting the unenfranchised class which the enfranchised class refuse to settle. If such a statement is true, it supplies, no doubt, an argument for the admission of the unenfranchised class. This argument may be used with special effect against myself, because I have always supported Bills in favour of women, and on one occasion I brought forward a Bill for the benefit of women. I have always advocated the abolition of any restrictions on their medical education, and the other day I brought forward a measure for giving to women educational advantages which are now confined to men. I feel, therefore, that some may say—"You brought forward this measure; you think therefore women are deprived of some advantages by the action of men, and you are bound to give women that voice in the country which may result in the redress of those par- ticular grievances." I think I have two answers to that—the subjects of the grievances are not of such magnitude and weight that it is worth while or even justifiable to alter the Constitution of the country in order that such measures may pass. The salvation of the country or the happiness of women does not depend upon their medical degrees for instance. There is a second argument that weighs with me more than that. In bringing forward such measures we who hold those views meet with considerable opposition, and our opponents are as fertile in jokes as in arguments. But the opposition which is encountered in this House by those who favour women suffrage is as nothing to the opposition given by ordinary women on the subject. Talk to any woman of your own acquaintance chosen at haphazard, and you will get a far more violent attack upon this measure than you have ever heard in this House. On that ground alone I should be disposed to consider with suspicion any effort to give this privilege to women. Then what are the particular questions in which women have shown interest? There was never a more violent or unscrupulous agitation than that to which the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Hanbury) referred. Well, it was entirely originated by women, who advocated on humanitarian principles a course against the judgment, commonsense, and the best interests of mankind. When we consider that such questions as these would be likely to be brought before a woman-suffrage Parliament, I think the House will agree that there is not sufficient reason for making this great change in the law of the country.


I wish to explain here that I shall give my vote in favour of this Bill. It is too much the habit in our debates to discuss not the Bill immediately before us, but that particular condition of things which each individual speaker prognosticates will be brought about if such Bill becomes law. In this case it has been said that it necessarily means the enfranchisement of married women. Now, nothing has been more clearly denied by those who introduced the Bill and those who have supported it than that there is any such intention. But if there be anything in the Bill which is in the least degree doubtful in its terms, it could be easily remedied in Committee. I, for one, would not support the Bill if I believed it would introduce the possible occurrence of a divided vote between husband and wife at Parliamentary elections. I simply understand that the vote which would be conceded by this Bill would be quite analogous to the franchise now enjoyed in respect to municipal elections, and which has not been followed by a demand to assume municipal offices. The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter Barttelot) has made some remarks in reply to an observation from this side of the House, denying that female tenant-farmers were turned out of their farms and replaced by male tenants. He says he knows one case in which a gentleman has informed him that he had no less than five widows as tenants. I ask him whether he thinks that these five widows should be placed in such a position—as I presume he meant to imply that they were important and valuable tenants—and why should the territory of which they were the occupants, they having a large number of persons under them, only have Parliamentary representation at the will of the owner? If you do not descend to manhood suffrage, for which I will not ask, I do not see why you should not give a property suffrage, and give it to women as well as to men, except in the case where the woman has entered with her eyes open into a contract which transfers her rights to her husband. I cannot conceive that this Bill necessarily leads one step further than to enable a woman to vote. Nobody has heard of an alderwoman as a consequence of women voting in municipal elections, or a proposal that a woman should be elected mayor. Why, then, should it be a dangerous principle to apply to the Parliamentary franchise? Why will it follow from the Bill that women will be returned to Parliament? I may certainly testify to the fact that the majority of the women of my acquaintance are against this Bill, and why? Because they are fortunately situated; they feel themselves tolerably well represented by men in whom they have confidence. But with respect to the struggling class of women who are thrown upon the world, and who are struggling in some kind of business, why should not they have a franchise conferred upon them which would make them an important element in our poli- tical community? Therefore, on the ground that the Bill proposes a cautious step I shall support it. But if we enfranchise those women who are now entitled to the municipal franchise, and if after a year or two it is proved to be an infelicitous change, I would turn round and vote for the repeal of the Bill. I should be quite prepared to change my opinion if I saw good ground; but since the subject was introduced by Mr. Mill, I have seen no occasion to alter the favourable views I then entertained.


said, he desired to briefly state the reasons which induced him to give support to the principle of the Bill. It was not long since the Legislature entrusted or imposed the municipal franchise upon the women of England. That was done, so far as he recollected, almost mero motu by the Legislature, without any great amount of pressure from without. What was their experience of that change? Had any of those events occurred which the prolific brains of hon. Members who had spoken on the other side suggested as a consequence of the admission of women to the lower franchise? He thought not. And yet it should be remembered that not only did political feeling enter into all municipal contests as much as it did in Parliamentary elections, but with the former there were also mixed up local and personal considerations of the strongest kind. If, then, the exercise of the franchise was to take women out of what the opponents of the Bill chose to call their sphere, if they were to be disturbed in all their relations of life, in all those good qualities which they possessed, and in the benefits which they conferred on mankind by the exercise of the franchise, why was not some proof offered that the granting of the municipal franchise had had this effect? He had heard no attempt to prove anything of the kind. He confessed he was more weighed by facts than by opinions. When he had seen for several years the operation of the municipal extension to women, and when he remembered that they had already chosen by Legislative action to disturb the quiet waters and to bring women into all the turmoil of life in these municipal elections, which were annual, and he saw no proof in any single detail of the opinion that the extension of the same privilege to the Parliamentary franchise would be attended with consequences at all inconvenient, he was induced to support the principle of the present Bill. He would not commit himself to the approval of any of its details, but if the principle was once settled, the details might be easily arranged, and amended, if necessary, in Committtee.


began by expressing his satisfaction at seeing the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) once more in his place; but he was sorry to say he could not agree with him in his arguments in support of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had appealed to some short experience of the municipal franchise as a test of how the Parliamentary franchise would be used by women; but, in the first place, the sort of business which came before municipal bodies was generally only administrative. But, in the second place, the giving of the municipal franchise to women was accidental, not deliberate, and the circumstances attending it did not constitute any precedent for taking further steps in the same direction. At the time when the Bill which gave women the municipal franchise was brought in, hon. Members were not so vigilant at late hours of the night as they were now. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright) came down like a wolf on the fold, and pushed it through in the small hours when no one knew what it really contained. But even had it been proved to work well, that would have little bearing on the question. He did not think it had done good, and the right hon. Gentleman did not think it had done harm; but, in fact, it had been tried for so short a time that they could not be said to know much about it yet. Municipal success might be Parliamentary dead-lock. If by any convulsion the present Members were turned out of that House and those benches filled with the members of the municipal bodies of England, he did not think that it would be a good change for the country. The duties of such bodies, respectable as they might be, were not legislative, but administrative; the Legislature laid various duties upon them, which they fulfilled according to their ability; but such petty business in making bye-laws, as might come within their competence, was very different indeed from the binding legislation for which Par- liament existed. Again, he must observe that it was just about the series of questions bearing on moral and social policy which naturally came within the province of the House that women's minds were most excitable, and on which women therefore might not be the best qualified to act or speak judicially. Therefore, even if it was proved that the character and action of these municipal bodies were improved by the admission of women to the lower franchise, it would prove nothing as to admitting them to the higher one. He did not set much value on the support of the Bill by the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood), who seemed surprised at what he called the increased bitterness of the opposition. The hon. and learned Gentleman talked of forms of argument suited to the infancy of a measure, but inappropriate to its maturity. Had he, however, never heard of a measure reaching its second childhood? As for the hon. Member for Youghal (Sir Joseph M'Kenna), he showed that he little understood what he was doing. He said that the Bill was intended primarily for the relief and protection of wives of the struggling classes. He (Mr. B. Hope) would like to know how humble and industrious wives of the struggling classes were to be benefited by giving the franchise to the prosperous unmarried owner of the villa and brougham? But the hon. Gentleman said—"Try the experiment, and if it fails you can take away the vote again." Unconsciously the hon. Gentleman showed with how little serious respect he treated his clients. Who ever breathed a suggestion of taking away the suffrage from any class of voters whom he really respected, and in whose enfranchisement he had taken a part? Who would dare make such a proposal when the voters were men, and stand the howl of indignation at such reactionary sentiments? And yet the hon. Gentleman, in the lightness of his heart, proposed so to treat lovely woman, whom he would enfranchise one Session and degrade in another. This movement had been artificial from the beginning; it had worn two faces—one turned to the Conservatives and the other to the Radicals. It was the old legend of Una and Duessa. On the one side, appeals were made as to the folly of excluding ladies of property and intelligence from the suffrage, and prophecies were hazarded as to the stability and tranquillity which such votes would contribute to public affairs. On the other, it was plainly put forward as part of a movement by which mere numbers were to be made everything, and which deliberately proposed to trample down all differences in society, all which could qualify or modify the mere process of ruling by counting heads. Why did the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone give up the charge of the Bill? Of course, plausible reasons had been assigned; but he was sure it was that his hon. and learned Friend could no longer stand the competing elements within the movement. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone was a squire of dames, but he was also a sound constitutional lawyer, and he found his position untenable. But they had direct evidence as to what the women suffrage would end in. He was aware that the advance guard, in Parliament, of the movement were not yet professed agitators for universal suffrage; but he was sure that the hon. Member for Manchester would never refuse to go down any incline, however steep, which he saw open before him. They all knew and respected the name of Mr. Hare, who had produced several beautiful theoretic schemes of representation, which somehow or other had never commended themselves in practice. Almost the only region where a part of his scheme had been attempted to be carried out was Denmark, and there, during some recent debates, the Speaker of the Chamber would not allow the Chancellor of the Exchequer to open his own Budget! Well, about two years ago a deputation from the Adult Suffrage League waited upon Mr. Hare. The names of the deputation were not among those who had hitherto been much known in public life, but he had no doubt, for all that, that they were entitled to carry weight. One was a Mr. Shipton, and the other bore the remarkable name of Smith—Mr. Smith. Now, Mr. Hare was a supporter of women's suffrage, and he stated to Mr. Shipton and Mr. Smith that he was glad to see that they did not call themselves the Manhood Suffrage League, but the Adult Suffrage League, because he thought that every woman was entitled to a vote as much as every man. Mr. Hare stated this on behalf of the Women's Suffrage League, and, so far as he was the mouthpiece of that body, he combined, in concert with Mr. Shipton and Mr. Smith, to commit the movement to a doctrine of suffrage infinitely more extreme than had ever been breathed in France or in America, for it would not be manhood suffrage, but human race suffrage. ["No, no!"] Very well, they could settle accounts with Mr. Hare themselves. If he had not a sincere respect for Mr. Hare, he would have used more uncomplimentary language about the project. How was the House of Commons to stand this Janus-like appeal to property and intelligence on the one hand, to the dead weight of mere numbers on the other? No doubt when Mr. Hare expressed the opinion he did as to adult suffrage, he qualified it with some conditions as to education; but some of his own friends expressed a doubt as to whether such limitations could be carried out. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone said that the admission of women to vote would not be followed by their admission to a seat in that House; but the precedent of the school boards disproved that comforting assurance. As long as there were no school boards and no women members on them, there might have been some plausibility about the assertion. But the precedent of the little Parliament on the Thames Embankment settled that question. The Act of the hon. Member for Manchester gave the precedent for the vote; the Education Act supplied a similar precedent for the seat, and the two went logically together, and could not now be separated by those who appealed to the municipal franchise. If the House passed the fragment of women's right expressed in this Bill, it would only land itself in the difficulties which always attended being brisk in giving promises which they were afraid of, and grudged the conclusion. The other side grew more and more bold every year; and if the hon. Member for Manchester really professed to believe they would be satisfied with his Bill, he was either innocent beyond his age and appearance, or crafty with a craftiness that could be easily seen through.


There is one part of the somewhat jocular speech of the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) which interested me. He told us that if the House were to pass this Bill, and the franchise were once given, it would be utterly impossible it could be taken back. That seems to me to be an admission that, if women do not now strongly desire the franchise, when they have got it they will very soon be educated to appreciate its advantages. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) made one of his sagacious speeches in defence of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman is in perfect consistency with his own past conduct. He was one of the first men in this House—I do not say the first—but he was the very first man on the other side of the House who advocated household suffrage years ago. He has experienced no disappointment with regard to the results of household suffrage, and therefore he desires to have a real household suffrage which will admit all householders to the franchise. The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter Barttelot) spoke of this as an expiring question; he gave us the idea that he thought the movement would come to an end; but, earnest as he usually is, there was in his speech a degree of earnestness unusual even for him; and I could not help thinking as he spoke, that if this movement were coming to so sudden a termination, such earnestness was absolutely unnecessary. Another curious reflection suggested by the debate is this—it seems difficult for any hon. Member to take an active part against this Bill, and to be at the same time in harmony with his constituency. I am told that the hon. and gallant Baronet represents a perfect paradise of a constituency, in which there has not been a contest for generations. It is very likely that in such a place a question of this kind, being comparatively new, has not been much talked of. Last year I had to deal with my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham), and I remember showing how completely his constituency was opposed to him; and I might do the same with regard to the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) and the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Hanbury). I received yesterday a letter from Tamworth, from a gentleman I do not know, telling me that the Town Council of Tamworth had, within the last week, sent up a Petition to the hon. Member, signed by 14 out of the 16 members of the Town Council; and the writer stated there was considerable evidence in the borough of Tamworth that, although the hon. Member represented the constituency in almost every other particular, yet in this particular matter he did not represent them. We have all heard before probably every argument that has been urged to-day against this Bill; the same arguments, or, if not the same, very similar arguments, have been urged again and again in opposition to every measure of enfranchisement; but, when public opinion became ripe for those measures, when there was more and more pressure out-of-doors, those arguments disappeared like vapour, and they who employed them had forgotten that they ever made use of them. I undertake to say the day will come when we shall hear no more of such arguments here, and when justice will be done to those whose cause I to-day advocate. I wish to refer to a few of the arguments used to-day. We have been told that women do not care for this matter. I do not mean to assert that this question is now ripe for legislation—that there is that kind of pressure in the country which would induce the House at once to pass a measure like this. I take no unreasonable view with regard to it. But let us look at the indications of opinion in favour of this measure. In the first place, almost every woman, who by accident has been placed on the register—and in various parts of the country women have been placed upon it—have voted as eagerly as men. Some have voted for hon. Members on that side of the House, and some for hon. Members on this side. Further, they have asserted, in very large numbers, their claim to be put upon the register, making those claims in the belief that they had a right to vote, and defending them before the Courts as men have defended theirs. Judgment was given against them in those Courts, and what did they do next? They took their case to the Court of Common Pleas, not capriciously, but because they believed that women had the right to vote if the law were fairly construed. In the Reform Act of 1867 the term "male person" did not occur; the term used was "man;" and as we understand that, it is a comprehensive term including the species. But an Act was passed in 1850 which stated that words in an Act of Parliament importing the masculine gender included females, unless the contrary were distinctly stated. Taking these two Acts of Parliament together, it was no wonder women should think they had a right to vote. But further, the word "man" in the Act of 1867 was used not only in giving privileges, but in imposing burdens. The House will remember that in 1867, when the vote was given, the local taxation of houses was altered, and the alteration produced great irritation throughout the country. The Act was construed as extending those burdens to women, and it was not surprising they should have thought that its privileges extended to them also. It is well-known that the Court of Common Pleas decided against them; but, if there had been an appeal, it is very likely the decision of the Court below would have been upset in this particular case. I am endeavouring to show that there is a great desire on the part of a large proportion of women in this country for the franchise. With regard to the municipal vote, I do not accede at all to the history which was given of it by the hon. Member for Cambridge University; I believe his statement to be extremely inaccurate. However, the vote was given, and women availed themselves of it in large numbers; and in many places they voted in equal proportions to men. Something has been said about Petitions and public meetings. There is not a Member of this House who has any cause in hand who would not consider it a great thing if he got Petitions with something like 500,000 signatures every year in favour of that cause; yet that is the case as regards the present question, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M 'Laren) has shown with what care those Petitions are produced. There is another kind of evidence of the growth of this question out-of-doors, and I will refer to it, because it is peculiarly interesting—it is the action taken by many in this House in regard to it. As a rule, a Member who is interested in a question is satisfied with the effect produced by debate, and he reminds his friends by a "Whip" that a division is to be taken. But further efforts have been thought necessary on this occasion. I am told that this House has been canvassed as much as any small borough has been canvassed at the time of an election, and with the same passionate activity, in opposition to the Bill. I dare say my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Taunton could give the House some information on this matter. It seems curious that this fear of representation should have its chief seat on the front Opposition bench, where we are accustomed to look for the initiation of a generous and Liberal policy. But I have some hopes even of my hon. and learned Friend, as he is open to conviction on the largest scale, and I should not be surprised to see him in a little while supporting this Bill. A very short time ago, judging from his speeches in the country, he was greatly hostile to the County Franchise Bill; but I am told—I heard it on undoubted authority —that the hon. and learned Gentleman is converted upon this question, and is willing to admit 1,500,000 persons within the pale of the Constitution, irrespective of their ignorance or poverty. I have endeavoured to show that there is a large demand, and I do not see how that can be denied. How is it there is this demand on the part of women for some degree of political influence? Does anybody suppose that that which is so intensely prized by men can be looked at by women with absolute indifference? There are few things in life that men prize more than political influence. Only let a Bill for the redistribution of seats come before this House, and see how town will set itself against county and county against town, and the Liberal Party will contend against the Conservative Party with the utmost jealousy on the part of each, lest a little political power should escape it. Again, one-half the oratory of our time, and some of the finest oratory probably that Englismen ever heard, has been expended in teaching people the great advantage of representation. Women have been learners just as men have been learners; this lesson has been taught them; and far from being surprised at it, I should have been greatly surprised if they had not learned it. Look at what has occurred in the change of the character of this House since the passing of the Act of 1867. How differently now we approach any question which working men may bring before us. We approach it in a totally different spirit, because we [...] the great advantage of being [...] to those for whom we legislate; and therefore we come to this House with a degree of knowledge which we should not otherwise possess. Look at the change that was made in the Labour Laws. Look at the sudden disappearance of a mass of prejudice that was not creditable to this House, and consider that no harm whatever has followed, but on the contrary much good. Let the truth be spoken—women want to feel that any questions in which they are interested will be considered in this House in the same serious manner and in the same earnest spirit that are now exhibited whenever questions affecting working men are introduced. Women want to be in this position—not that any question they care about shall be settled exactly as they believe it ought to be—but that hon. Members of the House of Commons shall look at it from the women's point of view as well as from their own, being assured that if this were the case justice would undoubtedly be done. A few nights ago my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) introduced in this House an educational question affecting women in connection with the Universities Bill. The question of educational advantages is a very serious one for women, for they have to depend so much upon their teaching power; and it was a serious question for the nation, because we, as a nation, are so much in the hands of women with regard to the education of our children. I do not know whether I shall be told I was mistaken, but I thought the House was rather disposed to make merry on that question than to treat it seriously; and on referring to the morning papers of the day after, I found that that was the view taken by the writers for the Press. Another question affecting women was brought before the House by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson). He introduced a Bill dealing with the property of married women in Scotland. It was looked upon as something rather wild and extreme, although it was simply an honest Bill, which did nothing more than say that a woman should have what was her own; that was all it said. In the short conversation to which it gave rise, both the Scotch Representative of the Government and other hon. Members on [...] of the House insisted that the [...] Act of 1870 should be the pattern for this Act; and they spoke of the English Act of 1870 as if it were the paragon of perfection. If we had been responsible to a certain number of women in our constituencies, I believe the hon. Members who discussed that question would have understood it better. That Act of 1870 conferred great advantages; yet even lawyers would admit that it is full of pitfalls, difficulties, and obscurities. Under that Act, if a man bequeathes his married daughter the sum of £200, the money becomes hers; but if he bequeathes her something more, say 200 guineas, that goes to her husband. If, however, she inherit by intestacy, however large the sum, that sum is hers. Only consider the confusion produced by an Act which allows property to be left under such conditions. The chief aim of that Act was to give working women their earnings, and it provided that their earnings should be theirs if they were invested in one way, but another's if they were invested in another way. Therefore, the difficulties placed in the way of working women in dealing with their money were very great. I am not going to deal with the grievances which women complain of; I am not going to enter into a long catalogue of what they conceive to be the differences between the legislation for women and that for men. It may be said—and I suspect it would be said both by opponents and supporters of this Bill—that differences of legislation in regard to men and women are inevitable, and that for all time, probably, we shall have to make one law for one and one for the other. I am not now concerned to contest the point; but if it be so, and if we have always to pass laws which do not affect ourselves, that seems to me one of the strongest arguments which can be used in favour of this Bill, because those for whom we make laws should have some control over us, especially in the case of laws which will not affect us. It has been said in the course of this debate that legislation in regard to women has lately been more just, and that whatever anomalies are complained of will gradually disappear. That may be, and I hope it will be; but, if it should take place to the fullest extent, I deny that it would suppress the demand for this Bill. The demand for this Bill rests mainly upon the simple ground of justice, and I affirm that no amount of ar- gument, however able, and enforced though it be by the eloquence and rhetoric which are at the command of our opponents, can shake the firm conviction in a woman's mind that to pass what is called a Household Suffrage Bill, and to leave her house out as though it had no existence, is a wrong and an injustice. The marriage argument has been referred to by the hon. Member for Tamworth, and it is always referred to very vivaciously by the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge. This Bill does not touch upon marriage at all. It simply says, let a woman have a vote if she have the qualification. In what I say I am not catering for a few votes; that is not my object; it is to promote as far as I can a candid discussion of this question. I admit that if I found a woman in possession of the qualification to vote, I should not ask her whether she were married or not. I do not believe the foundations of society are going to be disturbed, because here and there a married woman in the possession of property may have a vote. On the other hand, I am sure this Bill would not enfranchise married women. We are assailed on one side because many say it would; and, on the other, infinite ridicule is poured upon us by those who say, you are going to pass a Bill to enfranchise women, and yet you will exclude married women. But what has Parliament done again and again? It has passed Bills, without dissent, which followed these very lines. The Municipal Franchise Bill and the School Board Bill give votes to women, and yet exclude those who are married; and if our opponents were consistent they would have opposed those Bills on this ground, especially the School Board Bill, because it may surely be urged that if anyone has a right to control a school board in the education of children, it is the married woman whose children attend the board school. I take a practical view of this question; I believe it is a practical question. I would not ask for the enfranchisment of women-householders if I did not believe they were capable of taking a part, and an intelligent part, in public affairs, and if I did not know that they had the necessary experience. Let me mention the capacities in which we find women-householders at present. We find them acting as overseers of the poor; and is there an hon. Member can doubt the usefulness of women in that capacity? We find them appointed as Poor Law Guardians by those who know the value of their services. We have them on school boards, holding their own against some of the ablest and most eminent men of this country. We find them qualified as physicians, to the great advantage, as we know, of their own sex. Look at the amount of patient labour that is necessary to obtain that qualification. To say to a woman who has obtained it that she shall not have a vote if she is a householder seems to me an unreasonable thing. The hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for West Sussex expressed some doubt as to the statement of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone about the ownership of land by women. I believe the hon. and gallant Baronet has since satisfied himself by reference to public documents that that statement can be confirmed. I find that of the owners of land of one acre and upwards in this country 14 per cent are women. We are now face to face with a County Franchise Bill. I have never been in favour of enfranchising the well-to-do and leaving out the humble people of this country; but on the other hand, I am not in favour of enfranchising the humble and more dependent and leaving out the well-to-do. It seems to me that if this 14 per cent of women who are landowners are never to have votes, while those who till the soil may have them, we shall be taking such a course. Let me ask a question of those who are engaged in the agitation for the county franchise. Ten per cent of the farmers of England are women. Will you enfranchise the labourers, and will you leave the farmers without any political influence whatever? I think that question ought to be answered, for it is an important one. We find women in other positions. They are patronesses of livings, and 5 per cent of the lay patronage of the Church of England is in the hands of women. We find women with the right to appoint clergymen who shall be the spiritual instructors of large parishes, and yet we prevent them taking part in the election of Members of this House. I have noticed the report of the interview which a deputation had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday. I had understood that both that right hon. Gentleman and the late Prime Minister were in favour of this Bill, with some modifications, always considering the question of time. When the Leader on the other side of the House and the most popular man on this side of the House are in favour of the Bill, I do not think any adverse division—and I am told we are to have one —will have much effect. The great influence of those who support us in the House, and the large and growing support the measure is receiving in the country, will not be diminished by such a division. I must admit, in conclusion, that there is a fundamental difference of opinion between those who support and those who oppose this Bill. Those who oppose it have the view that women should always be held more or less in tutelage, and that others should be in the main responsible for them. It appears to me that this view is opposed to the great facts of our existence, so far as we know them by experience, so far as Christianity teaches them. Women have the same origin as ourselves. They have and must have—I do not speak of the favoured few, but of the great majority as we find them in every land—the same chequered and difficult path through life. They have the same final destiny; if, as men have believed, there be a tribunal hereafter before which all must appear, women will stand there on the same terms as men, unsheltered and unaided they will be responsible for every act of their lives. A being of whom this can be said will, in the nature of things, gradually obtain a larger equality, and therefore exercise a wider influence. I believe such a result is necessary for the real progress of the race, and therefore whatever legislation may tend in any degree to bring about this result shall have at all times my humble support.


Sir, everyone in this House will be agreed that this is a very grave question. It introduces a great change into our Constitution, and it does more—it strikes a blow at those social relations between the sexes which have existed since the Creation, and which have entered largely into the foundation of all society. Another remark which I may assume will not provoke dissent is, that there never was a change in our political and social Constitution which would produce a larger effect on the character of the female sex than the change we are asked to make. These considerations have led to the changes of opinion which we have seen, and probably to more that will appear on the division. This matter has been dealt with too lightly. I believe the conviction has been forced on the minds of many that it is no longer to be treated as the political plaything of some able and energetic ladies to whose importunities for a vote on this Bill we have all been subjected. I believe we all feel that it is a question now that vitally affects the social condition of the whole United Kingdom. Now, it is no light matter to say you strike a blow at the relations that have hitherto existed in every country in relation to sexes. There is no instance I can remember in the history of the world in which women have been permitted to take a direct part in the political affairs of the country. If you pass this Bill you are establishing the principle that women have a right to be placed on a level with man, and you must accept all the consequences of adopting such a principle—the most serious consequences — which will affect all the relations of society if you once establish it. This is not a Bill for the enfranchisement of women; it is a Bill for the enfranchisement of spinsters and widows. I heard the hon. Member for Tamworth (Mr. Hanbury) say doubts had been expressed whether the Bill did not enfranchise married women. Some, undoubtedly, would be enfranchised—namely, those whom, for many reasons, we would not wish to enfranchise, the women who are living apart from their husbands in lodgings and as householders. It might be contended that, wherever a "man" is mentioned in the Franchise Acts, if a husband and wife were to be treated as joint occupiers, the wife would be entitled to be registered. I hardly think the language would be open to that construction; but, certainly, this Bill would enfranchise the woman living apart from her husband, and I think it would enfranchise the woman having property of her own. But if you are to enfranchise spinsters and widows, why not married women? It seems to me that they are the people of all others whom, on the argument adduced for the Bill, you ought to enfranchise. Married women are the very persons whom the wives of England would entrust with their protection against injustice rather than spinsters and widows. And yet you say it is married women above all others whom you want to protect against their husbands, and against unjust legislation, which gives the husband what you consider an undue control over the property of the wife. Every woman whom you want to protect, but about whom you say you are not to legislate, these are the very women to whom you give no franchise at all. Married women would fare much better with the male sex than with the disappointed persons of their own sex. What would be the effect of this Bill on the character of the relation of the sex? You enfranchise unmarried ladies—I use the phrase "ladies" advisedly, because it would extend to very few of the poor—and you tell them they are to take a part in politics. If a woman is to have a vote—a meeting is called for the electors to decide who is to be the chosen party, whether it be Liberal or Conservative—will the woman to whom you have given the franchise, if she is a strong - minded woman, abstain from going to that meeting, at which she has as much right to be present as you have? She may go there and make a violent speech—for we have had a little experience of that kind of speechifying. She may indulge in very strong language towards a man, and is that man to observe the chivalry with which he now treats a woman, or is he to treat her as an equal, and is the sacred guardianship with which a woman is now fenced round, and which makes man submit to an insult rather than reply to her, to be observed when she is dragged into public conflicts? It was explained by the hon. and learned Member for Stockport (Mr. Hopwood) that a woman asks for no more courtesy than man shows to man. I say God forbid that a man should give and a woman should receive no more courtesy than one man gives to another. And it is exactly because this Bill will destroy that sacred halo which now surrounds her, will drag her into the turmoil of a canvass and a contested election, and place her on terms of equality with man, for the sake of woman generally, I trust no Bill of this kind will ever pass. Allusion has been made, and I am sorry for it, to some questions which have been discussed by ladies, and will again be discussed if the Legislature declares they ought to discuss all political questions. I am sure ladies speak on these questions with the best and purest intentions; but let any man bring to his mind the woman he reverences and loves, would he not rather desire that she should be in her grave than hear her use some of the phrases which have been used at these meetings? Reference has been made to the example of municipal elections. That only proves the immense danger of establishing a principle even in respect to matters comparatively unimportant. We are told now that you must go on, and when the franchise is established for spinsters and widows, you will be told you must establish it for married women, and then you will be pointed out the example of America, where the women serve on juries. The fact is that in one sense women are equal with men. They are entitled to all the same privileges as men, and the argument is, then, why should not they have the same obligations, and why not serve on juries? Where is the argument to stop? You must end in admitting woman in every case. Why should Lady Burdett Coutts be excluded from the House of Lords? Why should not any strong-minded woman enter this House? As soon as you break down the good old principle that woman was made to be a companion and helpmate for man, and not to be his master, you must give way in everything else, and admit them wherever they wish to enter. By the ordinance of Providence woman was never intended for those things. By the arrangements of God man was intended for the busy walks of life, woman for the sanctuary of home, and for those offices far higher than man can perform in the busy scenes of life, and which make home and life holy. That is her place. Surely we may judge from all history, from everything we have seen of her strength and of her physical powers, that woman was not intended to be a soldier. I have as great an abhorrence of political Amazons as I have of the Amazons of Dahomey. Woman was made for other and higher things, and she cannot do both. No legislation you ever pass can make a woman a man in finish for the work of life; but you may go the length of making a woman not a woman in the sacred sense in which we use the word, but something wholly different from the woman that is the glory and honour of the homes of England, aye, and of Ireland, as well in the homely cottage of the peasant as in the palace of the rich. The woman that confines herself to domestic life, who thinks her honour lies in doing her duty to her husband, and bringing up his children, and sharing all his labours and cares, may be turned into something different. Let her come to make speeches such as have been made, and never again would you restore her purity of thought, her innocence of heart, her affection for home, husband, and children. All these would be ruthlessly destroyed. These are the reasons why I was anxious to say a few words, because I have put my opposition to the Bill on grounds higher than some of my Predecessors who have spoken. I object to the Bill in the name of the Constitution; first, because it would introduce a power which has been already described as a hysterical power; I object to it in the name of society, because it shakes the relations on which society depends, and you cannot disturb these relations with impunity; and I object to it in the name of woman—and I speak now not for Irishwomen, for it would not be accepted by 99 out of every 100 women in my country, but for women generally—and, on their behalf, I ask you to leave them in disfranchisement, by which they are honoured, and to the chivalry of men, which they have always hitherto enjoyed.


, who spoke amid continued interruption, said, that he could not but feel the force of the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick, and the responsibility which he himself incurred in rising to meet his arguments. He would not, however, shrink from the task. The hon. Member was understood to ask whether there were not any drawbacks to the position which he admitted was now assigned to woman in this country? Even if her emancipation were accompanied by the risk of degradation, which had been anticipated, he would face it in consideration of the advantages to be gained. He contended that, under any circumstances, there was no fear that less courtesy would be shown from strong men to weak women than now, and that all the teaching of history was against the apprehensions of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick. He contrasted the position of woman in Turkey with her position in this country, and urged that her emancipation in the West by the advance of Christianity had been a gradual process, so that oven in this country her position now was far better than it had been. The arguments urged against her emancipation were formerly urged against her education, and the "blue stocking" was formerly exposed to the odium which was now reserved for the lady candidate for the suffrage. We were no longer afraid of educating women, and we found the more we educated them the higher became the standard of their character. He based his support of the Bill precisely on the ground on which the hon. and learned Member for Limerick had opposed it, and contended that, so far from injuring the character and position of women, it would improve them, and at the same time necessarily improve the character and position of men. The hon. Member was proceeding, when—

It being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.

House adjourned at ten minutes before Six of the clock.