HC Deb 26 May 1891 vol 353 cc1134-63
(9.0.) MR. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

I rise, Sir, for the purpose of moving the following Resolution:— That, in the opinion of this House, the law ought to be so altered as to enable women to be elected to, and to serve on, County Councils. The object of the Motion is to permit women to be elected for, and when elected to serve on, County Councils, whether elected by the ratepayers directly or chosen by the County Councils themselves in accordance with the Act. When the Local Government Act of 1888 was passed it was understood that women were enabled to sit on County Councils. In consequence of that view two ladies contested seats for the London County Council, and at the poll were elected by substantial majorities in the constituencies of Brixton and Bow. The members of the County Council were not only favourable to the idea of women being elected to serve on County Councils, but were also confident that the Act permitted them to sit and act, and in this belief the Council, in selecting certain additional County Councillors as aldermen, selected Miss Cons, whose fitness for dealing with many questions was in no way second to the qualifications of the ladies who had been elected directly by the ratepayers. Mr. Beresford-Hope claimed the seat at Brixton, and the question being taken to the Law Courts it was declared that Lady Sandhurst had not a right to sit because she was a woman, and she was, therefore, unseated in favour of the unsuccessful candidate. But the other lady candidates remained members of the County Council. A year afterwards the ladies again took their seats, but a member of the County Council brought an action against them. The question was debated in the Law Courts, and the Court of Appeal decided last April that the ladies had no right to be elected. Unless an Act is passed, therefore, women are not eligible to sit or serve on County Councils. The question was raised on the Scotch Local Government Bill in 1889; and one of the arguments used by the Government to prevent the election of woman was that unless the contingency was specifically provided for, there might be the same difficulty in Scotland as had been created in England. But women now sit on School Boards, on Boards of Guardians, and their work as representatives on these Bodies has met with the approval and appreciation of the general public. On Boards of Guardians the number of ladies elected is much larger than it was 10 years ago; and with regard to the School Boards, the facts are these—that whereas in the first year of the School Board elections there were only eight women elected, there are now no fewer than 80. In making this proposal, I am, in addition to the arguments already used, supported by the fact that I am asking for a reform which is not altogether new, because the ladies I have named have not only served on the London County Council for a period of about six months, but in the case of Miss Cons and Miss Cobden they have served under the restrictions of a severe penalty for nearly three years. Not only have they served on the County Council, but on many of the Committees. So much so, that when the last election of Committees took place in the London County Council Miss Cons was elected to no fewer than six of those Committees, besides being appointed to 11 sub-Committees. In the work of County Councils there is a great deal by which those Bodies and the public generally must be benefited by being enabled to have the assistance of women. Take the case of the pauper lunatics. The London County Council has charge of an enormous multitude of these people, among whom the women number no fewer than 4,500. Surely, the presence on the Asylums Committee of ladies accustomed to deal with such matters must be of great advantage to the community at large; and the very men who at present form these Committees are those who have petitioned this House by enormous majorities to allow them the assistance which female County Councillors can render, feeling" as they do their own inefficiency, and knowing the great value attaching to the experience and co-operation of ladies such as I have mentioned. The same observation is applicable to the case of the industrial Schools, which are also under the County Councils. Every one who has had practically to do with these Schools must know how advantageous it must be to have the aid of ladies, not only in dealing with the girls, who come specially within their province, but also with the boys. Take, again, the case of the Infant Life Protection Act, the County Council has the licensing of persons and places under this Act and the selection of persons competent to nurse children. At present these duties are relegated to committees consisting entirely of men; whereas, the assistance of ladies would necessarily prove to be a distinct advantage to the public. Take, again, the housing of the poor, in reference to which there are to be great reconstructions such as those about to take place at Bethnal Green. This is a matter in which also the assistance of women would be of practical utility. In London we have the advantage of such ladies as Miss Octavia Hill and Miss Cons, and the experience of such persons ought to be available to the State in dealing with such questions as I have indicated. From considerable personal experience I have no hesitation in asserting that in the matter of technical education for girls the assistance to be rendered by experienced ladies is a thing which the State ought to encourage rather than to discourage and disallow. The argument against women, founded on the magnitude of the financial operations of the County Councils, is of the most flimsy character, and such as it is it is thrown to the winds by their presence on the School Board and the Boards of Guardians, whose work involves an expenditure equally important. I have brought before the House several important duties of the County Councils, and upon which the services of women would be peculiarly useful to the State, but I place the argument for my Motion' upon wider ground than this. It has been constantly reiterated by the President of the Local Government Board, and it is the truth, that there is a difficulty in finding the due supply of fit persons, if I may use the phrase, for constituting Local Boards, and we on this side of the House have always argued that you must not minimise the duties, and not too much curb these Local Bodies, because to do so would restrain able men from coming forward to take seats on these Boards. We must avail ourselves of the best material we can afford for the purpose, and we cannot afford to neglect any talent for this object which the State might utilise—we cannot afford to shut out and disfranchise any group of capable persons such as are found among those women who have education, competence, and leisure for such work. There are two or three arguments brought against us, and one of these is that women will become involved in politics. I quite admit that. We have always urged that County Council elections should be conducted on political lines, and no doubt women will, if they stand as candidates for election to County Councils, be constantly brought into contact with politics. But it ill becomes either side of this House to pretend to a desire to keep women free from politics. Why, it is only to-night to-morrow, and the following day that Women's National Federation meet, and women are encouraged to take part in political discussion; and upon the other side of the House, as the solitary occupant of the Government Bench and his few Friends behind him know, women form a very active section of the Primrose League, a powerful and excellent organisation in the interest of hon. Members on the other side of the House. On either side of politics positions of influence in relation to politics have been delegated to women; and yet when we propose that this position shall be suitably recognised, then we find objections started and fears expressed lest women should follow lines that may lead them into political controversy. Why, the argument is ridiculous. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knows that, for he is as willing as anyone to encourage women to take part in the proceedings of the Primrose League as we are to encourage the National Women's Federation. Then there is another favourite argument used, that if we allow women to sit as County Councillors then we must allow them to have seats in this House. That is the most extraordinary argument I ever heard. You might as well say that because you allow women to vote for members of a County Council therefore you must allow women to vote in Parliamentary elections; the two arguments are identically on the same lines. The advocates of woman's suffrage have been endeavouring from time to time to impress upon their friends that because women vote for municipalities therefore they ought to vote for Members of Parliament, and remarkably unsuccessful they have been. The fact is, the English nation is no more influenced than is the House of Commons by this argument by analogy. There is the greatest difference in the functions of a County Council and this House. In the former we have a wholly Administrative Body, and in the latter a Legislative Body, and we have passed the Rubicon of admitting women to Administrative Bodies. We have them on the School Board and Boards of Guardians, and on those two Bodies, especially the former, performing functions of the utmost value and importance, and we cannot argue that because they have a place on those Bodies therefore women should have a right to sit in this House. But there are a number of politicians, more especially on the Liberal side of the House, who are in terror of anything that may for a moment look like coming near the fringe of allowing women a vote for this House, that they at once up with this bogey, and run away like children from a turnip lantern, when anything is proposed that will place women in a position of greater responsibility, or secure to the State the advantages of women's ability and experience. These are theoretical politicians, these are the gentlemen who will not for a moment be guided by practical experience. We who urge today the placing of women upon County Councils do so wholly without consideration, wholly without endeavour to argue out the question of Women's Suffrage upon this. The question of Women's Suffrage is not arguable on this basis. We see the advantages of women being allowed seats on similar Bodies, we see there is work for them to do on County Councils, and we see that they have shown on the London County Council that they can do that work successfully, and we therefore ask the House to permit the State to get the advantage of these services. There is an idea that the moment you permit women to sit on any Body you are practically compelling them to sit on that Body. The answer we get is that because there are 1,000 women who have no wish or desire for such a position, therefore we are bound to exclude the 10 women who may have that desire. It seems to be imagined that if the legislative change I advocate were carried out, a crowd of women would be seen taking possession of local institutions, and even invading the sacred precincts of this Chamber; but it is forgotten that women could only so enter the service of the State or the locality because constituencies are willing they should do so. That constituencies do wish to avail themselves of the services of women on Local Boards is evident from the facts I have given in relation to the increase of the number of lady members of School Boards. Not only for the sake of the County Councils and of the discharge of those duties for which women are specially fitted, but on behalf of those constituencies which desire to be represented by women, I urge this Motion on the House, and hope that it will be accepted. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.

(9.30.) SIR R. TEMPLE (Worcester, Evesham)

As this is not a Party question, I rise to second the Motion.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,

(9.33.) SIR R. TEMPLE

As this is not a Party question, and will not, I hope, be made a Government matter, I will briefly second the Motion. I trust that the House will kindly dissociate the question from domestic, Imperial, or Parliamentary politics, and to look at it merely as a question of municipal administration. After the allusions made to me by the hon. Mover, indeed, I could hardly give a silent vote. As rightly stated by him, my experience on the London School Board has impressed upon me the value of the services rendered by women as members of that Board, and the great advantage of the attention and experience which they contribute to its affairs. I regard the County Council as a Body of exactly the same character and status as the School Board. They are, indeed, sister institutions. The question whether ladies should sit on such Boards is not a question of to-day. It was decided 20 years ago, in the days of Mr. Forster, that ladies should be eligible as members of School Boards, and why should they not be equally eligible as members of County Councils, which are bodies of a similar character? As they serve with advantage in the one, it is difficult to deny their claim to serve on the other. It is said that the work of the County Councils is extensive and arduous, but so is that of the School Boards. The financial and administrative work of some of the School Boards is enormous. For instance, in the London Board ladies sit on the School Management Committee, which controls some 9,500 teachers drawing salaries of nearly £1,000,000 sterling annually. There are matters which come before the County Councils in which women are specially interested, such as reformatories and the dwellings of the poor, the care of pauper lunatics, the protection of infant life. And it should be borne in mind that the ladies who come forward as candidates are few; but those few who do present themselves are persons who have special qualifications and predilections in these matters. They direct their energies to the work with an assiduity, a constancy, and a sympathy not to be surpassed and seldom equalled by men. As regards public opinion, a man would be rash to say what is the opinion of the majority of the ratepayers of this vast Metropolitan area; but a large section of the ratepayers is in favour of this proposal. I do not know whether that section is the majority, I suspect it is. Certainly a section of the ratepayers desire to be partly represented by women where suitable ladies present themselves as candidates. And if the law were altered so as to allow of ladies being elected to County Councils several constituencies in the Metropolis would, I believe, be found to avail themselves of the opportunity thus afforded. I earnestly hope that the House will give a favourable reception to this Resolution, which, with great pleasure I second.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, the Law ought to be so altered as to enable women to be elected to, and to serve on, County Councils."—(Mr. James Stuart.)

(9.40.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I am afraid I shall not be speaking to a very appre- ciative audience this evening. It seems to me that I, and I trust the Chancellor of the Exchequer and one or two others, are the only persons here at present who are prepared to defend the cause of man. I confess that for my part I do not regard this question as within the arena of practical politics, and the best proof of that is the state of the House at the present time. I took the liberty, Sir, of calling your attention to the fact that not 40 Members were present to listen to the eloquence of the hon. Baronet opposite, and I am sure that on any other occasion Members would have hurried to hear what the hon. Baronet might have to say. I am not sorry, however, that this should be the case; I am not sorry that we are going to have a Division under such circumstances, for I think we may fairly hold that every Member who does not vote in favour of this Motion is opposed to it, for a very strong Whip has been sent out by the advocates of the proposition of my hon. Friend, but no Whip to summon opponents; and hon. Gentlemen have stayed away because they do not think the subject is worth the trouble of their attendance here, and because this evening with the coming event of to-morrow casting its shadow before, it was expected our proceedings would end in a count-out. This Motion proposes to enable women to sit on County Councils, and reference is made to the fact that women at present sit on Boards of Guardians and School Boards. But there is a great distinction between the limited duties of these latter Boards and the functions of County Councils, which are local Parliaments, and which we Radicals hope will more and more become Parliaments of each county with enlarged powers. Now, my hon. Friend has laid great stress on the fact of women being elected to Boards of Guardians and School Boards, and I can understand that. I will not say that if a Motion were now before the House to make women eligible as members of these Boards, that I should be strongly in favour of it; but still, I can recognise the difference between the limited duties of a School Board or Guardians of the Poor, and the large and widening duties of a County Council. My hon. Friend has pointed to the fact that women have been elected to the County Council of London. My hon. Friend is an Alderman of the Council, and, of course, exhalts his office and his Council, but there are many County Councils, and it is to be observed that not one lady has been elected throughout the rest of the Kingdom. Therefore, we have the experience throughout the entire country, with the exception of London, to show that the country does not hold that ladies ought to be eligible or are desirable as members of the County Councils. Although I think my hon. Friend will admit the wide distinction between the position of Guardians of the Poor and School Boards and members of a Parliament, local or Imperial, I cannot understand how anyone could oppose, if he votes in favour of this Resolution, the entrance of women into these sacred precincts. You give them the rights of man; this is our old friend the thin end of the wedge, and if you induce the House to assent to the principle that women may be members of County Councils, it will be easy to carry the principle one step further and point out how well women had conducted themselves, how useful they had been, &c., &c., and go on to claim their admission to seats in this House. I put the whole thing together—female franchise and the election of ladies either to the Imperial Parliament or to the Local Parliaments; and I am opposed root and branch to the whole thing. I consider, if you allow women to elect, you must allow them to be elected, it seems to be a logical consequence. We are sometimes told that only women of property and an independent position will be elected, but we know what that means. It is against the Radical principle that such a right should be accompanied with a property qualification; and once break down the barrier between the sexes in this way, and you are bound to give the franchise to all, and it will be out of your power to prevent women coming into this House. Women will be in a majority, and men may thank Heaven if they are allowed to sit in this House. We may have a kingdom of the Amazons and all that sort of nonsense. There are some advantages peculiar to the male sex and others peculiar to the female sex, but on the whole, I think the women have the best of it in this world. We place them on a social pedestal, and I object to bring them down into the sordid arena of politics. We should, thereby, destroy all the amenities of existence. The domestic angel would become a very undomesticated I will not say what, but the reverse of the angel. For 6,000 or 7,000 years every intelligent man has held the views which I entertain, but now my hon. Friend, with 40 or 50 followers, comes down to the House to change what has been the rule for ages. I do not believe the majority of women are in favour of this proposal I believe that 99,999 out of every 100,000 do not desire the franchise.


I may remind my hon. Friend that they have the County Council franchise.


I am sorry for it, and I am sure they do not want it. The demand for this is part of the "woman's rights" idea, which means "man's wrongs" and the cry is entirely fictitious. There are certain ladies of very great intellect, no doubt they are women by accident, and they want to assume the position of men. Now, I object to legislating for what, with all respect to the ladies, I may call freaks of nature. It might be said in favour of allowing women to enlist, that some women have the muscular strength of the average man, and there are such, but they are exceptions. Women are the exceptions who have the intellectual mind and nature to enable them to take a prominent part in politics. Some children are precocious, and you may find lads of 15 or 16 capable of thought beyond the average man; but would you legislate for such exceptions? Each sex must accept the position nature has assigned to it. It is as absurd for women to whimper because they cannot be Members of Parliament as it would be for Members of Parliament to whimper because they cannot suckle children. Women, by entering into politics, will lose the charm of their own sex without acquiring the qualities of the other. For my own part, I shall oppose all attempts, direct or indirect, to break down the barrier which nature has placed between men and women; and I believe that in taking this view I am supported by the vast majority of the women in this country.


I feel that those, who with myself, share the views of the hon. Member who has just sat down are in a minority at the moment; but I quite agree with the hon. Member that the state of the House, and the fact that Members have not come down in large numbers to listen to the discussion, encourages rather than discourages those who are opposed to the proposal that women should be admitted as members of County Councils. The hon. Member for Shoreditch apparently has at present on his side a certain number of dumb supporters. On the other side we have a limited number of supporters, whether dumb or not remains to be seen. At all events, the hon. Member cannot boast that the interest taken in this question has been sufficiently great to bring down a large proportion of Members to the House. Whereas at present the government of London rests in the hands of men, it is proposed that it should be shared equally by men and women. Those who are opposed to the proposal think it is better that men should retain the power which they at present possess. The Mover of the Resolution has told the House that the matter was never discussed while the English Local Government Bill was under consideration. Well, that is practically the fact; but I can bear testimony to the fact that, although the question was not raised in this House, it was frequently mentioned in the discussions which took place in the Lobby in connection with the Bill, and the view always held was that women would not be eligible under the English Local Government Bill. It is very remarkable that during the long discussion on that Bill nobody thought it necessary to move an Amendment to carry out the present proposal. In the case of the Scotch Local Government Bill the circumstances were still more peculiar, for an Amendment was introduced to make it clear that women should not be eligible. Then the Front Opposition Bench took part in the discussion through the person of the late Secretary of State for War, and the right hon. Gentleman made this strong remark— The true analogy to the County Council is the Town Council. Has any public desire been expressed that ladies should become members of the Town Council? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Campbell Bannerman) made a strong speech and voted against the proposal. I am sorry he is not here to-night. Allusion has been made to the somewhat sparse attendance on this Government Bench, but it is equal in numbers—I do not presume to say in quality—to the attendance on the Front Bench opposite. I do not know whether either of the occupants of that Bench intend to favour us with their view; but so far as there has been an expression of opinion from that Bench, it has been against this proposal. After all, as a matter of common sense, why is it that the hon. Gentleman asks the House to legislate on this question. The hon. Member says that the County Council has work to do in which women would be useful, and he instanced the care of pauper lunatics. That is perfectly true, and no one is more anxious than I am myself that pauper lunatics should be cared for in the best possible way. But the London County Council is not the only body which has the care of pauper lunatics, and they have not discovered that they cannot fulfil that duty without the assistance of woman. The hon. Gentleman throws an unnecessary slur on his own sex when he says that County Councils cannot take care of pauper lunatics unless they have women on their Councils. But suppose that the position of pauper lunatics would be better if there were women to look after them, has my hon. friend opposite any charge to make against the boroughs which are charged with the care of those lunatics? My hon. Friend behind me has said that it would be an advantage to have women take part in the management of industrial schools. But is there any allegation that the lads in those schools are not properly cared for? The fact is that both hon. Members think that women should have a share in the government of this country, and should rank with men up to a certain stage.


I am prepared to say that, as a matter of fact, I did not.


No; I did not say the hon. Gentleman said it; he gave certain reasons for his Resolution; but beyond these is the motive he now admits that women should share with men in the Government of the country. The hon. Gentleman now asks only that women should be admitted to the County Council. But does any hon. Member believe in his heart that, if this House endorses this Motion, it will not be followed by a demand that women should be admitted to this House? The hon. Member has based his contention on the fact that many subjects come before the County Council in which women are particularly interested, and upon which they ought to be allowed to express an opinion. I fully admit that; but is it not equally the case that there are scores of subjects the House has to discuss and decide, in which the interests of women are as closely associated, as any subject which may engage the attention of a County Council? The hon. Member referred to a remark of my right hon. Friend as to the difficulty of finding fit representatives for these Local Bodies, and, therefore, he said we should not discourage the influence of women. Nor have we any such desire, but we believe that that influence can be usefully exercised, and more usefully exercised than by making women members of County Councils. I am bound to say I heard one remark from the hon. Gentleman with unfeigned satisfaction, and perhaps it was a sort of apology from the Party of which he is a distinguished representative. For years hon. Gentlemen opposite have never restrained the energy of their language in abuse of the Primrose League, and Primrose Dames, a name of which I think I am not saying too much when I say it has "stunk in the nostrils" of hon. Gentlemen opposite. But to-night the hon. Member has told the House that the Primrose League is not only a useful and active organisation, but that it is a most excellent organisation.


Most seriously dangerous opponents.


That I know, but I think the hon. Gentleman said it is a most "excellent organisation"?




Well, we have had tonight from the lips of the hon. Member an acknowledgment that the Primrose League is a most excellent Body, and we are prepared to forget hard words used on previous occasions. The right hon. Gentleman says it is ridiculous to compare the admission of women to the County Council with their admission to Parliament, and that the people do not like argument by analogy. But the whole of the hon. Gentleman's speech was an argument from analogy, and he began by saying that what had been done in School Boards and Boards of Guardians ought to be done in County Councils. So also the speech of my hon. Friend (Sir R. Temple) was an argument by analogy. He spoke of the County Council and the School Board being sister institutions. But the London School Board is as different in its character and constitution from the London County Council as one body can be from another. I am addressing Members of the House who are also distinguished members of County Councils. Are they prepared to admit there is an analogy in the functions of these Councils to those of the School Board? Surely not; for the School Board has but one function—the education of the children of the district. I have no hesitation in saying that that is a subject on which women can give the benefit of their experience and knowledge, but it is a totally different thing to the municipal government of a large town. The hon. Gentleman said that it is ridiculous to compare the admission of women to the County Council with their admission to Parliament. After all, what is the London County Council? It has the control of the health and the daily comfort, and in many respects the daily existence, of 5,000,000 out of the 30,000,000 of the population of this country. What is the distinction between allowing women to sit on the London County Council and allowing them to sit in this House? When anybody is extremely anxious to carry a proposal they no doubt believe that the matter will go no further than they desire it to go, but how are they going to prevent people saying in the future, "Women have been allowed to sit on your great County Councils; why not admit them to Parliament?" Many hon. Members on both sides of the House are in favour of the powers of County Councils being largely increased. One of their solutions for the delay of business in this House is a great delegation of work from this House to the County Councils. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have denounced the Government time after time because they were not prepared when the Local Government Act was passed to hand over to the London County Council the control of the London Police. If hon. Gentlemen are going so to extend the powers of County Councils as to give them far greater influence than they have at the present moment, they will make them in time Bodies only second in importance and in their power to do good or evil to the House itself. I ask hon. Gentlemen whether it would not be thought well to allow women to do that for the country which they had already been allowed to do for their own district or county. If this proposal for the extension of the right of women to sit on County Councils be agreed to, hon. Gentlemen opposite will be justified in saying to Her Majesty's Government, "Parliament has affirmed the principle that women shall be allowed to sit on County Councils, and therefore you ought to legislate to enable them to do so." So far as my experience goes, it shows me that on Tuesdays and Fridays many Resolutions of this kind are brought forward, and when by some accident a Member carries his fad by a Division taken in a House like the present, he proceeds to denounce the Government if they do not follow it up by legislation. If this Resolution is carried to-night the hon. Member will no doubt denounce the Government if they do not bring in legislation. Yet we all know that this Motion has been brought forward because three ladies—Lady Sandhurst, Miss Cobden, and Miss Cons—were elected to the London County Council, but have been proved by the Courts not to be entitled to sit there. It would be absolutely impossible for the Government to transact their own business if they were to take up all the various proposals which come from hon. Gentlemen opposite. [Mr. J. STUART: What proposals?] I think the hon. Gentleman himself has tried to secure the passing of a measure dealing with rates. [Mr. J. STUART: That was not passed.] That was not the fault of the hon. Member. If the hon. Baronet the Member for Cockermouth (Sir W. Lawson) had his way, he would have us bring in a measure in regard to temperance. We know there are other hon. Gentlemen opposite who, if they could, would have various proposals carried into law. If the Government were to attempt to carry out one-half or one-tenth part of all the proposals made, it would be impossible to get through the work. The hon. Gentleman talked as if all County Councils have to do is to manage industrial schools and pauper lunatic asylums. There are a vast number of subjects which come under the control of the various County Councils. There is, for instance, assessment and the levying of rates, the management of police, the management of main roads, the repair of bridges, and a score of other matters. I think it would puzzle even the most earnest advocate of women's rights to prove that women could with great advantage be brought in to aid in the transaction of this business. The whole argument in defence of this proposal is based upon the experience of the London County Council. The London County Council is almost the youngest of the great municipal Corporations in the country. The great Corporations of Birmingham, Liverpool, and other places have carried on the work of their various towns with the utmost credit to themselves and benefit to the community, and they have never suggested that they could do their work better if there were women on the Councils. The Local Government Act, which created the London County Council and the other County Councils in England and Wales, was passed only as far back as 1888. The Scotch Local Government Act was passed a year later. During the passing of the English Act no suggestion was made that this privilege should be conferred on women. During the passing of the Scotch Act the suggestion was made and negatived, and by a most remarkable accident the champion of this right of the ladies did not even take the trouble to vote in the Division. Why should we be asked now, without any fresh circumstances having arisen, without any fresh evidence having been adduced why the persons of women on the County Councils would be advantageous, to go back on the legislation of 1888 and 1889 and give to women power they have never yet possessed and alter altogether the conditions under which our County Councils are elected? I sincerely hope the House will reject the proposal of the hon. Gentleman. I do not consider he has made out his case, and the condition of the House shows that if there is apathy amongst the opponents of the proposal, it excites very little interest amongst those who support it.

(10.30.) MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)

(who was received with cries of "Divide"): I cannot help saying that that those who cry "Divide" seem to have entered into a conspiracy of silence. I supposed that when Members come down to the House to make a Motion which they regard of great importance, they wished that all the arguments in favour of it should be stated. What do we find on this occasion? The Mover of this Motion made a speech, and he was seconded at no great length by my hon. Friend (Sir R. Temple). I see hon. Gentleman who take great interest in the question of the rights of women with notes of speeches in their hands. Why do not we hear those speeches? Why do not we have this question put forward in a manner worthy of its importance? Why this conspiracy of silence? The reason is quite obvious. It is that they find that the hon. Members who are opposed to the alteration of the law proposed, in the belief that the distinguished men who are in favour of the Motion would be ready with some arguments in support of it, and that the discussion would occupy some time, have not as yet come down to the House in large numbers. Now, the hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution did not even touch upon the principle which is involved. It appears to me that the first point we ought to consider is what are the limits within which the position of women ought to be altered, if their position is changed at all. But instead of dealing with that point the hon. Member told us that the London County Council have to deal with certain matters, in dealing with which the assistance and advice of women would be of great advantage. The hon. Gentleman told us, for instance, that the Council had the management of lunatic asylums and technical schools. Surely every possible advice and assistance that women can give in regard to such institutions can be obtained without having women members of the Council. Have hon. members realised what it is they propose? I do not know much about the work of the London County Council. I can speak as to Lancashire. The County Council for Lancashire meets at Preston. Some of the members come long distances, as long as 30 miles. They have to leave their homes early and to return late. They sit for hours transacting the business of the county, and have to adjourn for refreshment in the middle of the day to the railway station, and frequently to return to their work. Day after day they are required to attend committees. They have not only to do this in fine summer weather, but all through the stormy and cold months of the winter. These facts seem to me to create a practical difficulty in the way of laying on women work which ought properly to belong to men. It is said women do good work on School Boards. I am not prepared to deny that; but, at the same time, I doubt whether the experience of those who are practically acquainted with School Boards is that they can get from women the same assistance that they derive from a similar number of competent men. I challenge some of the hon. Members opposite who have not yet addressed the House to get up and grapple with the real principle. Unless they do so, the question will certainly not stand well before the country. I should also like to know to what this Motion is to lead. Is it to be an end or a step? Are women to continue to be excluded from Parliament after being admitted to County Councils? The question of female suffrage is in a chaotic condition at present. Some persons support it only to a limited extent: they will only grant it to certain women. Others would grant it to the sex generally; and in that case the limits of the question are boundless. Is the admission of women to County Councils to be limited, or is it to extend to all women whatever their legal status? I have spoken generally of County Councils; but I happen to represent a borough which is a county borough. It is a borough with a very ancient constitution. Is it desired to alter that constitution? I am satisfied of this, that there is hardly a single one of my constituents who desires to have the ancient constitution altered in the way proposed. I shall have no hesitation in giving the most strenuous opposition to the Motion.

(10.40.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

At the risk of being considered by some of my Friends a reactionary, I shall vote against the Motion of my hon. Colleague. The chief argument in favour of the Motion appears to be that women already sit on School Boards, where, according to the hon. Baronet the Member for Evesham, they exercise a very beneficial influence. There have been other Members of the School Board for London quite as distinguished as the men now sitting on that Board. In the early years of the Board's existence, when it had to struggle with very many more difficulties than it has now to contend with, and when its policy was being shaped, there were giants on the Board who were most self-sacrificing in their efforts in the cause of popular education in the Metropolis. It was my privilege to be acquainted with some of these men, and I know that the prayer they sent up was—"Do not send us any more female members of the Board, but rid us as speedily as possible of those we now have." I prefer the opinion of the gentlemen to whom I allude to the opinion of the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Temple), however distinguished a member of the School Board he may be. It is a moot point then as to whether women have rendered such distinguished services to the cause of education as the hon. Baronet has described. What will be the effect of this Motion? In a very short time it will be urged on the House that because women have been admitted to County Councils, they must necessarily be qualified for seats in the House of Commons, and it would be only natural and consistent in those who support this proposal to vote for the admission of women to the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Tomlinson) has asked whether this is to be a step, or to be an end of the subject. I think those who have watched the movement on behalf of female suffrage for years past must be well qualified to answer that question for themselves. It is not an end. It is simply the means to an end. It is another step, not forward but backward, and I am not prepared to join my hon. Friends in taking that step. I am perfectly certain that every step taken in the direction my hon. Friends desire would be used as an argument for taking another step, and this process would be continued until all the females in the United Kingdom would find themselves enfranchised and some of them sitting in this House. According to the last Census, there are at least half a million more adult women than men in the United Kingdom. The country is now within measurable distance of manhood suffrage, and if women were enfranchised it would mean adult suffrage, and the handing over of the government of the country to women. Are we, then, prepared to allow the manhood of the country to be swamped by women, a majority of whom neither toil nor spin? ["Oh, oh!"] That is the fact, for women are not the great breadwinners of the family. ["Hear, hear," and dissent.] A few women may be, but I am not on that account prepared to jeopardise the Constitution of the country —to hand over its destinies to a class the vast majority of whom have no political thought, or aspiration, and the great bulk of whom it would be found, if they were polled to-morrow, are perfectly indifferent to the possession of the suffrage. There is apathy and indifference enough on great public questions in the country and in this House already, and I do not wish to see it increased by introducing into our political life an element such as is sought to be introduced by the somewhat artful proposal now before the House; and if I had a hundred votes I should cheerfully record them against the Motion.

(10.49.) MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)

I do not know that I should have spoken on the question but for what appears to me to be a conspiracy of silence on the part of hon. Members on this side of the House. In my candidature I went so far as to say that I thought women who are householders and pay rates and taxes ought to have some direct voice in the election of Members of Parliament. In consequence of making that admission I have been pestered to vote for this Motion, and for what is called equal right between men and women. I promised to attend the Debate to hear what could be said in favour of the Motion.

An hon. MEMBER

You did not come.


Yes; I have been here during most of the discussion I came down to hear what was to be said, but I have found that there is no disposition on the part of many Members on this side of the House to fully and fairly deal with the subject. It opens up much larger considerations than any that have been put forward in support of the Motion, and I cannot conceal from myself that those considerations are looming in the distance. The proposition is that women should sit on County Councils. The Courts of Law have decided that under the present law they are not eligible to do so, and therefore the onus of proof rests on those who support the Motion to show that there is a necessity for the change, especially having regard to the much larger considerations behind. The duties of County Councils are largely municipal, and have always been regarded as such as men can more satisfactorily transact than women. The London County Council has much more important matters to deal with than those to which the Mover of the proposal has alluded. There are, for example, the questions of the main drainage of London, the gas and water supply, the public improvements, and the great financial affairs of the Metro-polis. The London County Council is only second to the Government and to the Treasury as a great financial body. It raises loans and undertakes large financial matters; in fact, grants loans to all the Local Authorities of the Metropolis, and I ask whether those are subjects which would ordinarily be relegated or entrusted to women to manage? It is true we have had three women on the London County Council who were discreet enough to give their attention to matters which women can well attend to, but you might have women on the Council who would insist on interfering in all the larger concerns to which I have referred, and we should not be able to prevent it, if this Motion were passed and carried into effect. Once on the Council women could take an active part in all its work, and exercise by their votes a direct influence in all its proceedings. I say that unless you are prepared to carry out this proposed enfranchisement very much further than the proposal of the hon. Member for Shoreditch, you cannot vote for the Motion. In the country also the County Councils have large duties to perform, nearly all of a municipal and financial character; including control over the police. Town Councils are in many cases County Councils, and if women are admitted to County Councils, they must be admitted to Corporations also, and to take part in all municipal work. Is this suggested or contemplated? Is it desirable that we should make this great change without more consideration than has been given to the question? It is contended that there should be a great devolution of work from this House to the County Councils, and that the County Councils should be created small legislative as well as administrative Bodies. Are you prepared to have women on the Councils to take part in discharging duties of this character? I can understand your voting for this proposition if you are prepared to go so far as that, and if you are prepared to go so far as that you must go still further, even to the extent of admitting women to this House. I agree with the hon. Member who spoke from the Treasury Bench that this is a question which ought not to be decided until it has received the very fullest consideration and the very fullest argument, and it is because I believe that the advocates for this large change have not yet made out a sufficiently satisfactory case that I shall vote against the proposal. I did not come here to-night to speak, but the circumstances of to-night are such that I should be wanting in courage if I did not say what I think, even at the risk of offending some of my friends who I know take a very strong view as to the claims of women to participate in public work. I feel bound to support the view presented by the hon. Member for Haggerston, and to vote against the proposition.

(10.56.) MR. LEES KNOWLES (Salford, W.)

I wish, if he will allow me, to congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken, on the pluck and spirit which he has exhibited. I, too, came here to-night without the slightest intention of saying a word. I try, as a rule, to do my duty in Parliament by working outside rather than inside the House, and my anxiety always is to save the time of the House; but I feel that it is the duty of some of us to speak out now, because, unless we do—unless some of us who are in the habit of holding our tongues do take part in this Debate—a snatch vote will be taken and the country will be deceived, and will think that the Division reflects the true opinion of the House. The hon. Member for St. Pancras justly complains that there has been a conspiracy of silence on the part of the friends of this Motion, and I think that an explanation is due from them to some of us who are opposed to the proposal. Hon. Gentlemen who have supported the Motion have spoken for the briefest possible time, in order, I presume, to take an early Division, and to carry the Motion with as large a majority as possible, before hon. Members are able to return to the House. On this occasion, and perhaps on this occasion only, I agree generally with the views of the hon. Member for Northhampton. The hon. Member who introduced the Motion contended that the London County Council was an administrative, and not a legislative Body. Well, I hold that Women's Suffrage is not a domestic and administrative, but a political and legislative question. I should like the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Motion to say whether or not he considers the County Council of London merely an administrative Body? If he replies in the affirmative, I ask him what he says to the fact that the London County Council have dealt with numerous political and legislative questions? They have, for example, discussed abstract Resolutions dealing with the liquor question, the taxation of ground rents, &c. Then, if it is really desirable that women should be elected to County Councils, their election should be made compulsory—so many women should be elected to each Council. But, in my opinion, it is not desirable. It is possible that women may be able to look after children, and the inmates of workhouses, and after the interests of pauper lunatics: but, we must view the duties of County Councillors as a whole. The hon. Member for Hoxton said that there are 23 baby farms in London. But, in London there is a population of more than 5,000,000 persons. Women may be able to deal with babies and children: are they able to deal as effectively as men with grown-up men and women, and with all the questions that come before County Councils? Would a woman elected to a County Council be able to do as much work as a man? If not, then I say this Motion ought certainly not to be carried. We must not look so much to the individual duties as to the general work—to the duties as a whole. Let us remember that for every woman elected, a man, with greater working power, must be kept out. If the duties are such as a man can do, a loss would occur on the election of a woman On that account alone it would be a disadvantage to have women elected. A Motion of this kind was, if I remember aright, rejected during the consideration of the Scotch Local Government Bill. The Scotch are a hard-headed and longsighted people, and if they were opposed, so lately as in 1889, to allowing women to have seats on County Councils, and if the Law Courts have determined that, according to the interpretation of the Local Government Act, 1888, women have no right to sit on County Councils, I hold that we ought not now to reverse a decision at which the House has on two occasions recently arrived. The proposal contained in this Motion appears to me to be the insertion of the thin end of the wedge. If we were to grant women the right of election to County Councils, we should inevitably be compelled to take a further step and to give them the right of election to Parliament. Then all kinds of difficulties and complications would arise. If women were elected to Parliament, we might at no distant future have, instead of a Minister, a "Ministress" of War, and I can imagine, on the occasion of some nice international question arising, the Leader of the House apologising for the absence of the lady Minister for War, who at that particular moment was much more interested in a domestic than in a political question. The hon. Member for Northampton, who in so warm and enthusiastic a manner opposed this Motion, alluded to the subject of the property qualification. He, as a Radical, is opposed to property being the basis of qualification for election. I know that there are hon. Members of this House who are in favour of widows and spinsters, who are ratepayers, having votes. It seems to me, however, that if you give widows and spinsters votes you must go a step further, because surely it is unjust that when a woman has obtained the honourable estate of matrimony she should not have equal privileges with, if not greater privileges than, other women. The Motion to-night is the insertion of the thin end of the wedge. I do not see that the County Councils would be improved by the election of women, in fact, I can conceive that such elections would be a disadvantage. For these and other reasons, I certainly shall record my vote most heartily in opposition to the Motion which is now before the House.


I should very much like to know from the hon. Members who are promoting this reform whether they regard it as a mere farce or whether they regard it as a great constitutional change, which it really would be? I am prompted to ask the question because, from the conduct of the supporters of the Motion this evening, one would really imagine that they were engaged in some light and trivial, almost farcical, matter. Very important and weighty speeches have been made against this proposal. [Cries of "No."] Hon. Gentlemen do not think so, but we have a right to our own opinion of the speeches that have been made. Very important speeches have been made against the Motion, one by the colleague of the Mover of the Motion, and another by the Secretary to the Local Government Board, and not one word in reply to them has been vouchsafed. If a Division in favour of the Motion were to be the result of to-night's debate it would be absolutely worthless, having regard to the tactics encouraged by hon. Members opposite; it would be a Division which could not possibly carry with it the smallest weight. Are hon. Members really desirous of treating this subject seriously, and of promoting the reform which they advocate in a constitutional way? If they are, they are certainly not taking the proper means to further their object. This Resolution possesses in more than the ordinary degree all the vices and faults of abstract Resolutions; because hon. Gentlemen opposite have had at least two occasions within the last three years, on which they might have given legislative effect to the principles they now advocate. They made no attempt to do so during the passage of the Local Government Act, 1888. Again, in 1889, the hon. Member for Shoreditch, who now poses as the champion of women as County Councillors, did not favour the House with any proposal on the subject in connection with the Scotch Local Government Bill. Did any one ever hear of a great constitutional change such as is now proposed being brought forward with less public opinion behind it? There has not been a single woman returned as a County Councillor except in London, which is, of all places the one in which it is least desirable to have women on the County Council, because the County Councils in other parts of the country are of a rural character, and are charged with duties of a more or less rural character, whereas the duties of the London County Council are more like those of a great borough. Let us understand the position of hon. Gentlemen who support this Motion? Are they prepared to extend the principle to Municipal Boroughs? If not, why not? In the Debate on the Scotch Local Government Bill the right hon. Member for Stirling, who admittedly is a man of very broad views, took up the position that if women were to be County Councillors they ought first to be Town Councillors. No doubt, this question has arisen solely out of the fact that certain ladies, in defiance of what was stated to be the law, put up as candidates for the London County Council, and were elected. I am bound to say I do not think that that is a sufficient reason why we should alter the law. Something has been said as to the nature of the duties with which County Councils are entrusted. But may I point out that many City and Borough Councils are entrusted with the same duties, as also are Justices of the Peace in rural districts; and, I may ask, is that a reason why ladies should be elected on County Councils, or appointed as Justices of the Peace? No argument has been brought forward to show that the questions in which women are interested are not properly discussed by County Councils, consisting of men. This Motion is an endeavour to forward the cause of woman suffrage, but this attempt to connect woman suffrage with representation will do incalculable injury to the cause its advocates have at heart. May I also point out that there is nothing to prevent County Councils appointing ladies on Committee which have to deal with matters in which women are especially interested. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are endeavouring to snatch a Division upon a question with regard to which the House and the country are profoundly indifferent, and I trust that the House will not come to a Resolution winch would be absolutely valueless for all practical purposes.

(11.23.) MR. W. M'LAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)

We are charged with not having taken any part in the Debate. I deny that there has been any desire on our part to snatch a Division. We were anxious to know what arguments could be brought forward against this Motion, and I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that the speech of the hon. Member who moved the Resolution has not been answered. We have been told that speeches of great weight and importance have been delivered in opposition to it, but it seems to me that every speech has been but a repetition of its predecessors, and hon. Members who have spoken have candidly admitted that when they entered the House they either had not made up their minds, or had had no intention of speaking. Therefore, I think we need not attach much importance to their speeches. And when we are taunted with not having raised this question when the English Local Government Bill was under consideration, I can only say that a great number of us believed that the law would enable women to sit as County Councillors. We have been told it was declared again and again that the law would not do so, but one of my colleagues says—and I agree with him— that the point was never raised. We are now endeavouring to reverse the position under the Scotch Local Government Bill, because experience has proved, in the case of the London County Council, that lady members have achieved conspicuous success. Take the case of Miss Cons, who, although only elected by a narrow majority, has since been chosen to serve on various Committees by an overwhelming majority. The hon. Member for North St. Pancras has been moved to indignation by requests sent to him to support this Motion. But he did not disdain the help of women in his own election. He was willing to send them into the slums for canvassing purposes, and why, I should like to know, does he object to their services on the County Council. We are confronted with the argument that women would replace good men on the County Council. Now we know that the Brixton constituency elected Captain Verney and Lady Sandhurst. Would it have been a loss if Lady Sandhurst had occupied the seat to which Captain Verney was chosen? We believe that the majority of the people would prefer to see women elected on the County Councils; and if the electors of Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, or other large towns choses to elect women on the Town Councils there could be no objection to it. As to the argument that the acceptance of this Motion means the thin end of the wedge being inserted and the ultimate election of women to this House, I deny that it is well founded. While I am in favour of women suffrage, I deny that a vote in support of this Motion would mean such an extension of the principle, and I ask the House to set aside that argument altogether.

(11.30.) The House divided:—Ayes 2; Noes 78.