§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *(12.20.) SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
The subject of the Bill of which I now move the Second Reading is no new one to the House of Commons. For upwards of a quarter of a century it has been debated upon Bills and Resolutions, and this gives the House the advantage of familiarity with the question; but it has some disadvantage for myself, since it forces upon me a conscious contrast with much more able men who have on previous occasions introduced this matter to the House of Commons, the advantage of whose assistance I am glad in many cases to have to-day. All I can hope to do is to contribute some municipal experience which may be useful, since the Bill is based on municipal precedents and example, which have been too much ignored in previous debates. One new aspect is given to the question by the letter which has been addressed to the hon. Member opposite (Mr. S. Smith) by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). I realise that such a communication is naturally very forcible, and I shall treat it with great respect; but if I may make one criticism upon it, it is that I think it does not discuss the proposal from the standpoint from which it is now made, but seems to be based rather upon communications of a similar character addressed to the newspapers, and also, I think, to a constituent by the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. S. Smith), and to be a reflection of his opinions rather than a discussion of the principles of the proposal we make. But, at any rate, that pamphlet has had one advantage. If this subject—which I cannot conceive—has not received sufficient public attention, the letter 1454 has secured it. There is another and even a greater benefit attaching to it, in that it invites and sets an example of a more serious discussion the subject, and I am quite sure the tone of the letter in this respect will not be lost sight of. I have said the subject is not new to the House of Commons, but I am glad to-day to be free from one reproach which has, on former occasions, been addressed to those who have stood in my present position—that the Bill has been brought before one and the same Parliament Session after Session. On this occasion it may be said that the measure has not been before this Parliament at all; and when I recall the fact that in the last Parliament the Bill had the advantage of the advocacy of the hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. Woodall), and passed the House without division, I think I am justified in bespeaking for it a statesmanlike consideration to-day. A further change in the position is that the Bill has quite a new form. I have carefully read the debates and the criticisms passed upon former measures; and, if I may venture to say so, I think those discussions and criticisms have generally been of a too high-pitched abstract character, and I do not recognise them as applicable to the proposal in its present practical shape. They seem to me—those criticisms—to have exaggerated and distorted both the subject of the proposal and the objections to it; and I repeat that, even in the case of the recent letter to which I have referred, that old ground seems to have been taken once again—that, in the words of the hon. Member opposite, this is a proposal "revolutionary in character," "a reversal of the order of nature," that it is "such a change as has never been made since the Creation," and now "put forward for the first time in the world's history." All these expressions are addressed to the proposal to confer upon women a vote for Parliamentary elections which they have long exercised, and exercised with advantage in relation to municipal government. Revolutionary! Why, Sir, this proposal is not even an innovation; for if I remember my history correctly, the franchise, both Parlia- 1455 mentary and municipal, was possessed by women in former times on the same lines as those I suggest to-day—at any rate it was exercised by women from time to time in the election of knights of the shire for Yorkshire and elsewhere. If I wanted to found myself on good constitutional ancient authority, I would remind the House that this was so in the days of the Plantagenets, and certainly of the Tudors, and that ought to be good enough for some hon. Gentlemen on this side. Then, on the other hand, to influence hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, I might say that this was put an end to by Judge-made law; and having in mind expressions of opinion upon Judge-made law during the recent Debate upon the Law of Conspiracy, I commend that fact to the consideration of such hon. Gentlemen. It is also a coincidence that may strike both sides of the House that, while this Judge-made law emanated from a Member for Liskeard (Coke), we to-day shall have the advantage of the aid of another Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) in favour of this proposal. And, if this privilege of voting by women was extinguished because of its disuse, I must remind the House that the cessation was due to the association of the vote with services in kind, and that those services have since been commuted, with the result that qualified women do just as much for the Army as most men—namely, help to pay for it. But these criticisms, however forcibly they may have applied to former measures, can have no application to this Bill, which aims, as I say, at a practical—and the only present practicable—solution of the question, and which is based distinctly on the natural, and ultimately inevitable, development of our principles of representative government. If I may quote a political authority for this, I should use the words of Sir Henry Maine, who, in his Early History of Institutions, says—The civilised societies of the West, in steadily enlarging the personal and proprietary independence of women, and even in granting to them political privilege, are only carrying out still further a law of development winch they have been obeying for many centuries.May I remind the House this is an 1456 age of successive and successful franchises, successful in securing attention to, and proper precedence in the consideration of, the interests of the classes on whom votes have been conferred? And so we hope this extension will secure proper regard for the interests of those who are now unrepresented among the electorate. It was once said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, speaking of a large class of men, "They have no votes, and so may be safely neglected." I heartily accept this expression as applicable to those with which this measure deals. Illustrations of such neglect are not wanting. The middle-class Parliament formed in 1832 did nothing for popular education, or very little; but the election of the Household Suffrage Parliament of 1867 was followed by the passing of the Education Act of 1870 and the Labour Statutes of 1875, which have materially improved the conditions of life of the labouring classes. So, too, the County Franchise Act has been quickly followed by the Allotments Acts and by the Bills which are at the present time before the House for discussion, one of which is to confer upon labourers in rural districts the advantage of acquiring small holdings. Again, enfranchisement has hitherto proceeded on two great main lines:—the possession of qualifying property and contributions to taxation. Time was when taxation without representation was spoken of as tyranny. That was then the tyranny of Kings, but the tyranny is not the less if it is the tyranny of the multitude; it is then a multiplied tyranny. On the ground of representation with taxation these votes are asked for. The principle upon which the franchise has been extended is the possession of evidence of citizenship; mere manhood is not sufficient; a man must have, even in the minor cases of the lodger and service votes, a house of some description and contribute to the payment of rates and taxes. Whether a different principle may be adopted in the future we cannot say. The basis of the franchise now is the household and contribution to the national burdens, and upon that basis we claim the extension of the 1457 franchise to qualified women. Manhood suffrage may or may not come; it is a matter, after all, only of opinion; speculations based upon it are irrelevant to the present question; we may leave that to future Parliaments. We must not, as I think the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. S. Smith) suggests, treat future Parliaments as automatic machines to carry out the behests of the Parliament of to-day. We must have sufficient faith in future Parliaments to know that they will act rightly and with the advantage of knowledge of the conditions of their time; that they will do what is just and expedient as we do what is just and expedient to-day. We cannot bind future Parliaments; we cannot prophecy what they may do; we must do our duty by giving the franchise where it is right and due, and we must rely on future Parliaments doing their duty in protecting that privilege, and in the establishment of good government, not carrying the principle to illogical and improper conclusions. We must not, therefore, on the faith of any such speculative assumptions, refuse to fulfil the franchise of citizenship by admitting to it qualified and capable women citizens; we must not decline to do right because others may seek to do wrong; we must do our duty in the conviction that our successors will do theirs and no more than theirs; and indeed, judging from the present state of electoral law, the fear is not that Parliaments will push matters to too logical conclusions, but that they may be only too well trusted to retain any number of illogicalities and anomalies. Now, we are told that this proposal to confer the franchise on qualified women is, to use the word of my hon. Friend, "revolutionary." We are asked when and where was such a change ever made; and the practice in former Debates has been to quote instances where such a franchise has been conferred. It has been asserted that there has been a partial exercise of such a franchise in Italy, and reference has also been made to Denmark, and to the existence of the female franchise in Wyoming and other places. I will not dwell on these instances, though I may mention that 1458 Wyoming is now a State, and the franchise has the approval of high official authority, and the right to vote there carries with it the right to hold any public office in the United States. But I pass to an illustration nearer home. I have a letter from a member of the States of Guernsey, and my correspondent mentions that a Bill has recently passed the island Parliament, and is now law, giving a vote to lady householders—who pay rates and taxes as householders—on the very lines of this Bill. Women, my correspondent adds, are not eligible for any office, nor can they be members of the States. There you have the principle in both respects upon which this Bill is based; but the right to vote carries with it no right to hold office or to sit in Parliament. The measure, I am informed, works very well in Guernsey. I might also refer to the case of the Isle of Man, where there is a similar franchise. The Colonial Confederation Scheme of Sir Harry Parkes contemplated such an extension of the franchise, and some colonies, including South Australia, have nearly passed such a measure. It is suggested to me that in New Zealand the proposal was only defeated by the votes of two Maoris. I mention this because my hon. Friend opposite has imaginatively pictured the battle of our eleven millions of women against our ten millions of men, and the defeat of the latter; and if that be possible, one may also imagine Macaulay's New Zealander contemplating from London Bridge not the last man—but the last woman. I do not rely, however, on these instances or on these illustrations as arguments; we have ample practical experience in the United Kingdom in our Municipal and County Council elections; and, looking at the development of our constitution, I would ask where should we look for such a completed franchise if not to our own country, the home of representative Institutions, from which, as such, this franchise is asked for qualified women, and for such and such only? Next, much has been said of the manner in which this proposal has been advocated, and I am not concerned to defend all these methods. But the arguments of our opponents 1459 are too often contradictions in terms. If women press for this extension, then "they are agitators, and their demand should not be complied with;" if they do not agitate, then "they are indifferent on the subject." If many Petitions are presented, then "they are got up by organisation;" if the Petitions are few, then "you see women do not want this extension." If the platform is occupied, then "there is reason to fear the invasion of Parliament by the advocates of female suffrage;" if the platform is not resorted to, then "there is no popular feeling in favour of the proposal." The allegation that it is not wanted has invariably been urged against the extension of the franchise to any class. It is based on the fallacy of universality. It is not true to say that women do not want the franchise though some may be indifferent or opposed to it; but the exercise of the franchise will be optional—there is no obligation to use the vote or to follow the example set by those who think it gives the proper protection of their own interests, and those who do desire it ought not to be debarred from it for the sake of those who need not exercise it. With regard to the methods by which the present proposal has been advocated, all I can say is I have taken no part in any agitation. I have attended no meetings on the subject; happily, not the one held last night, the proceedings of which I thoroughly disapprove. Very many Petitions have been presented—some, no doubt, open to the criticisms which can always be directed against this form of expression of opinion. These Petitions have emanated frequently from large bodies of people, and are signed by Presidents and other officers, who represent very large constituencies. The Petitions have been largely signed by those who belong to all classes, and very many of whom are obviously in humble positions. Resolutions have, at one time or another, been passed by the great political organisations of both Parties, at Leeds, at Birmingham, and elsewhere; and though it may be said that women should not take part in political campaigns, they have been urged to do so by the leashes of both Parties; their assistance has been welcome, and most of us are grateful 1460 for it. Petitions have been presented from some 160 branches of the Women's Liberal Federation, some of them this morning. The attitude of the Press towards the proposal has in London been critical but just, and not unfavourable in many cases; the Provincial Press has been eminently moral, especially in Scotland, and I do not hesitate to say that from the Provincial Press we get a good index of the public opinion of the country and of its probable development. This, therefore, is a constitutional concession constitutionally asked. Though I have incidentally referred to Parties, let me say as emphatically as possible that this is in no sense a Party matter, and the names attached to the Bill show that. The tendency of the influence of women voters will be to modify Party feeling, which, however necessary under our existing system, is, in my opinion, too often a disfigurement of our natural life; and I hope for the time when it will be more generally felt that he does best for his Party who does best for the State. On the other hand, woman must not be sacrificed to Party exigency; and I trust that they may be the hope of each Party, the prey of neither, and the sport of none. I gladly leave this part of my remarks for the moment to tell the House how the Bill carries out the principles under which it is introduced, for it appears there is much misapprehension in some minds as to what the Bill does and what it does not do. It enacts that—Every woman who in Great Britain is registered or entitled to be registered as an elector for a Town Council or County Council or who in Ireland is a ratepayer entitled, to vote in the election of Guardians of the Poor, shall be entitled to be registered as a Parliamentary elector, and when registered to vote at any Parliamentary election for the county, borough, or division wherein the qualifying property is situate.These words "qualifying property" follow the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882, and this is the basis of the existing female franchise. What will be the effect of accepting this? And what will be the results—not by mere prophecy, but by necessary inference? In England and Scotland, under the Municipal Corporations Electors Acts, every inhabitant occupier—that is, practically every householder who 1461 for twelve months has been rated and has paid rates—is qualified for, and entitled to, the franchise; and the effect will be to give just the same, no less and no more, to a woman who is similarly qualified, subject to two exceptions which I will deal with in a moment. In Ireland, where there is not yet a Local Government Act, but where we hope that under the auspices of one Party or the other there soon will be, there will then be an easy application of the same principle for conferring the franchise on women, and I think the Local Government Bill for Ireland contains that provision. Meanwhile, the closest analogous Statute, the Poor Law Act for Ireland, 1 and 2 Vic., c. 56, has been taken as giving the nearest approach to the franchise to be conferred on women in this country, and it will thus be conferred on all those who are duly qualified as ratepayers or as county cess payers to vote for the election of Guardians of the Poor. The Bill, if passed, would add about a million to the electorate, as against some 300,000 to 400,000 under previous Bills—a million of women who have had a long experience in the exercise of the franchise; and if it be said by my hon. Friend opposite that this will be a large number as opposed to men who are similarly qualified, let me tell the House that they will only be a seventh or an eighth of the constituencies, subject to a large deduction for those who are said not to wish for the franchise and who assumably will not vote, and in the event of such a pitched battle as he anticipates the forces will be pretty equally matched with all the advantage of his leadership on that side. A million will be added and no more. And now what will the Bill not do, for I have heard attributed to it a great deal which is not within its purview. It will not "disfranchise" a single person—it is an enabling, not a disabling Bill, accepts the existing Parliamentary lines, the lines of experience and usage under the Municipal, Educational, and other Franchise Acts. It leaves the Franchise Law exactly as it is, and follows those Parliamentary lines under which the franchise has hitherto been exercised. At present married women 1462 are not registered as voters for municipal elections, nor can they vote for School Boards. If, therefore, it be said there is an inconsistency and an anomaly in that this Bill does not confer the vote upon married women, it is an anomaly which is the creation of Parliament itself. If it be said, as it has been said by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), that this proposal is "halting and inconsistent," then I reply that the halting and inconsistency are the halting and inconsistency of Parliament, of the Governments of the right hon. Gentleman which conferred the municipal franchise in 1869 and 1882, creating and training a special class which is thus qualified for further similar privileges, any undue excess of which may well be left to future Parliaments, which will be governed, like ourselves, by practical considerations. May I also point out that the criticisms upon the non-inclusion of married women are generally put in a somewhat illogical way? It is said, first, that the principle of including women in the franchise is objectionable; but, again, it is said, "If you include married women a great objection to the measure will be removed." In fact, the argument is, first, that we should not include any women; and, secondly, that we should include more. This is too often the reasoning not of sincere friends, but of enemies—sowing tares and tempting us to go further in the hope that we may fare worse. There is no inconsistency on our part; we accept the position as Parliament has made it, and we are quite willing, if Parliament thinks fit hereafter to assimilate the municipal and Parliamentary franchise, we are content to leave that open for future Parliamentary consideration. By an historical accident the municipal and Parliamentary registers slightly differ in some few respects. Among these, the municipal register does not include married women or lodgers, and the municipal register is taken as the basis of this Bill, because of the experience of its working, which offers a strong argument in our support, for we can say the class who have had the municipal franchise have exercised it with such advantage that they are en- 1463 titled also to the Parliamentary suffrage. We accept the present law and existing experience as a basis, and it has at least this advantage, in that it enables us to avoid the rocks on which previous measures have struck, to escape such differences as these as to the duplication of votes, or differences and discord in the home, the creation of faggot votes, and the like, by accepting the law just as it is, and by not touching such matters of controversy. In Scotland the law gives the vote to married women who are living, as the expression is, "not in family with their husbands," and we take the law of Scotland as it is as indicating that it is in accordance with the general opinion in Scotland, and a similar observation may be made in regard to the enfranchisement of the female trader under the custom of the City of London. As I have said, the underlying principle of the Bill is that it accepts and utilises the law as it stands for a still further development of the franchise. That being so, we are able to say the Bill goes past the differences which have hitherto divided the House, and we escape criticisms which are not applicable to the present measure, however they may have applied to previous proposals. We also claim that we proceed on the old constitutional principle of advancing step by step so often resorted to in the legislation of this country, and which no doubt has produced many anomalies. What Parliament may hereafter do is a wholly different matter; but if we look at the manifold complexities and illogicalities in Acts conferring local franchises, it cannot fairly be said that the apparent anomaly here presents an obstacle to this measure. Similarly, in relation to women lodgers the Bill follows the lines of experience and of least resistance; it does what is at present practicable and possible; and though, as in the case of married women, we concede that much, very much may be said on each side, and that many arguments which have been used are based on mere assumptions, still the fact remains and justifies us that the municipal and other registers on which we are proceeding do not include married women or lodgers, that the Bill enfranchises largo numbers of 1464 women, that it gives additional security for the consideration of the interests of all women, from the woman's own point of view, and that other points may well await what would be a public advantage—namely, the unification of the municipal and Parliamentary registers. In former Debates local experience of a parochial character was chiefly resorted to in support of the claims of women, the right to vote for overseers, and better, the right to vote for Local Bodies, and still better, the right to vote for School Boards and to serve on School Boards. I mention the Boards of Guardians and School Boards to point out that when Parliament intended to confer the right to sit and serve, as well as to vote in elections, Parliament has had the courage to give that sanction by Statute, but when that right is not thus given the inference is that there has been no such intention. The Statute of 1869, passed under the Government of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), gave the right to women to vote at municipal, elections, or I should rather say it was revived, for it had previously existed, and was ignored by the Corporations Act of 1835. In previous Debates it has been said that this right of women to vote at municipal elections was given by accident—"by a slip"—at three o'clock in the morning, and, said a former Member for Huddersfield, "You will not catch us napping a second time." This means, if anything, that the opponents of the Parliamentary suffrage for women would, if they had the opportunity, oppose municipal suffrage for women, and would on the same grounds—grounds of prophecy which have been falsified by experience—deprive the country of the advantage which that Act of 1869 is admitted to have conceded. In 1882, notwithstanding all that has been said about slumberous legislation, the Municipal Corporations Act adopted the provision without any opposition. It was, in fact, discussed in the Lords in 1869, and had the able advocacy of Lord Cairns, and, I think, the Home Secretary. Lord Aberdare spoke for it even in the Commons, and it was heartily accepted. The Municipal Corporations Act adopted the proposal, the principle has been conceded, and if there can be any 1465 debate now it should be as to the application of the principle, not to the principle, of the right of women to vote. Experience, now for a quarter of a century, completely supports the way in which that franchise has been exercised, and municipal elections have been generally conducted in a manner highly creditable to all concerned, including women. If there had been any objection to women's votes in Municipalities certainly my connection, as President, with the Municipal Corporations Association would have brought such arguments to my knowledge. But experience rebuts nearly every one of the speculative assumptions of my hon. Friend opposite. The proportion of women voters in municipal elections is from 15 to 17 per cent., made up of women of all classes, duly qualified, and two-thirds or three-fourths of whom are women occupying houses rated below £20. Let me refer to a letter I have received from the neighbourhood of Huddersfield. My correspondent says—Many women in this neighbourhood would be enfranchised by such an Act as you propose, and especially widows of respectable working men, who have made such provision for them that they continue to rent the houses they occupied during their husbands' lifetime.This is important testimony to the fact that this proposal will not enfranchise an exclusive class; it will include a large body of working women. I have many other similar letters. Then much has been said as to the desire or otherwise of women to exercise this franchise, and the answer is, from practice and statistics, that women do exercise the franchise now at municipal elections in the same proportion as men, and that the exercise of the vote by women is increasing, especially in Scotland. Women do not vote in that solid mass which has been suggested, but, on the contrary, the votes are very materially divided. The recent County Council elections, for instance, show that such is the case. And the reason is that women are associated with all the relations of life, and that with this extension there would be no transfer of voting power from one class to another, such as has accompanied previous enlargements of the franchise. Then there is the argument 1466 from disaster and from the sup3 posed difficulty in women recording their votes at Parliamentary elections; but where can be the difficulty in women once in some four or five years doing that which, in municipal elections, they do annually—placing a voting paper in the ballot box? Municipal elections have, in fact, been conducted very much on political lines; political considerations enter largely into them, and if there is question, of disorder, I should look for that disorder in those small boroughs where strong Party and personal feeling frequently reigns, and yet where women are able to record their franchise without any difficulty whatever. But the fact is that, so far from having an unfeminine tendency, this Bill will enable the quiet and unassuming women to vote, as distinguished from the more active aspirants to the platform. I refer to the exercise of the municipal franchise for one purpose more, and only for one purpose—that is to say, that the municipal vote has not been followed by any general or practical demand for seats in Councils or claims to the Mayoralty. I should be far from endorsing any such claims, and have declined to present them to this House. There is a distinct and permanent difference between the right to vote and the right to sit in a deliberative assembly; the disqualification for the latter has been decided to exist as to women, and it has long subsisted in the case of the clergy and the Civil Service, so I deny the inference that because the right to vote is accorded it must be followed by the right to sit or to hold office. With regard to the right to vote, I may point out to the House that it is one that has been exercised under the conditions I have mentioned without difficulty; and I do not know that there has been any real complaint as to the manner in which their constitutional privilege of the municipal franchise has been exercised by women. I believe the late Mr. Beresford Hope and the Member for Huddersfield said "it has not been a success," and one said that it had been "a mistake." But I quote the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), who said "they have exercised the franchise 1467 without detriment and with great advantage." And yet it has now beer, said by the same right hon. Gentleman that this municipal experience to which I have referred is, after all, but a "plausible shadow"! It is coupled by him subordinately with the right to enter the Universities, with the right to intellectual culture; and yet the fact is ignored that women have taken an active and useful and unpretentious part in the public affairs of the country and in the localities, and have earned the appreciative expressions of the right hon. Gentleman himself. There is just one other subject to which I should like to refer, and that is this: that there has been an actual neglect of the interests of women in dealing with the subjects in which they are interested. I notice that one statesman (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), has said, and I think he has said with great truth, that—Men have often been the most unfaithful guardians of women's rights to social and moral equality.But it is said that these grievances have been remedied, and no doubt a great deal has been done for the protection of women; for instance, in regard to the conditions of their labour in mines and at the loom. Nevertheless, a former advocate of women's suffrage, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler), said at Wolverhampton only the other night what is certainly true, that—The need for reform is as great to-day as ever, and every day develops new claims,and I should like to call attention to one or two matters in which this concession on the part of Parliament is eminently necessary for the benefit and improvement of the position of women. In relation to their property, the right to which is absolute even in such a country as Russia, much has been done; but it took a quarter of a century's fighting to do it, and there are anomalies which still remain to be removed. No doubt Parliament has been rather generous; in some respects even too gallant, for it has given women their property and left men their debts. Perhaps a little prudent administration in this 1468 House—perhaps the expression of the wishes of women from their own point of view—may lead us to be a little more cautious in relation to legislation of that description. In regard to the guardianship of children and the protection of homes something has been done; but the Bill in relation to the former was greatly modified in its passage through the House, and there is still room for much improvement. In education men have taken the endowments in a very great measure, and have left little for women. There, again, there have been improvements, but there is still much to do in opening the older Universities, in establishing new ones—as in London—in the work of University extension, in supplying the dearth of teachers, and in technical and industrial training for the army of women who have to earn their own livings and fight their own battle in life. Yet women, despite difficulty and disability, have shown themselves highly capable in all the records of human thought and achievement. The percentage of rejections at the first examination of the University of London, which is close and severe, shows that women fulfil the test quite as well as men competitors; and therefore I need no longer, seeing what has been accomplished, point to those great exceptional cases, which have been sneered at, but which have been the triumphs of the few for the benefit of the many, and which have opened the door for the vast numbers that have followed in their wake. Then the Laws of Divorce, which were discussed here only last night, are still unequal, and women's views could well be expressed upon them with advantage. There is the perennial question of the deceased wife's sister, and intermingled with her the deceased husband's brother. We hear much of the one, but little of the other. Breach of promise of marriage has been proposed to be abolished, but women's Petitions have been presented against it. Surely one of their direct Representatives might be allowed to express his views upon that subject. In relation to the great question of the land, the House, perhaps, hardly realises how many landlords are in the unfortunate position of having lost their 1469 husbands, and yet are carrying on their farms, employing numbers of labourers who have votes, while they, though more qualified in every respect, have none, simply and only because they are women! Few know how many women are farmers and graziers—some 20,000—and few, perhaps, realise that the agricultural interest loses through this cause something like 140,000 votes. On questions of the home from which springs the nation; of the sanitation of the house and workshop; of the improvement of the social condition of the people in relation to vaccination, sanitary matters, the Poor Law, the status of women in relation to industry and trade, as to the hours of work in factories and shops, and the legislation which must follow the result of the Royal Commission on Labour, in which women are very deeply interested; of the question of payment of Members of Parliament to which they will have to contribute, but upon which they are not to be heard; women have not, but ought to have a voice through their Representatives in Parliament. Surely these are considerations which would appeal strongly to this House to confer the vote which we ask it to confer upon women. It may be said, finally, as has been said by my hon. Friend opposite, that this vote is beyond the sphere of women's intelligence and knowledge of politics. It is not necessary that women should know—it is not possible that they—or we—or anyone—can know the whole range of politics at the present time. It is not required that women should know all the details of every political subject: what we ask is only that they should be permitted to choose some representative who would be able to consider these matters, and record their views on their behalf. Yet my hon. Friend opposite seriously proposes to apply to women a fancy franchise test which is above even that applied to mankind He says, "What do they know about Fair Trade?" Of course, they are 'fair'-traders if they are in trade at all. He says, "What do they know about proportional representation?" Why, who knows anything about proportional representation?—except the right hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney). How, he asks, can women understand the 1470 mysteries of bi-metallism? Why, that is a subject no man can understand. And that is the sort of test the hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith) proposes by his letters to apply to women! I think that is carrying the argument much too far. What women can, and do, understand better than men can understand for them is their own interests, which is the only justification of a wide suffrage. There are some subjects to which they can contribute, perhaps, more than any others—namely, a practical view of those social questions, mostly the subjects of the day, in which their experience would be most useful, while without it Parliament is not fully competent to solve such problems. I am sure I have trespassed far too long upon the attention of the House; but I feel that this is a very proper and safe development of the principle of the franchise, and I ask it on behalf of qualified women, for reasons which may be stated finally in a very few words. They are: That it will be an advantage for women themselves by securing the expression of their views from their own standpoint, and through those who may be entrusted with the safeguarding of their interests, for political influence is the only guarantee of legislative justice. It will raise, as we believe, the general moral and intellectual tone of society, and even conduce to a more advanced position than that which women, by their own efforts, have already occupied. We believe, too, that it will be of advantage to Parliament, because it is undesirable that Parliament should fail in the expression of the views of any large portion of the community, or of the thought and industry of any part of the population. And, lastly, we acknowledge that, after all, the object of legislation should be—as we believe would be the achievement of this Bill—good government. We believe that if we give the vote to women it will contribute to that good government; and at least that it will save them from misgovernment. And that being so, we say that this Bill will, as a whole, be of advantage to the community; and though it may not do all that may be desired by some, it would undoubtedly accom- 1471 plish much for many, and we confidently ask Parliament to sanction that which we believe to be justified by considerations of justice, experience, and expediency.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now road a second time."—(Sir A. Rollit.)
§ *(4.15.) MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)
In rising to move the rejection of this Bill, I wish to pay my tribute of respect to my hon. Colleague. I have listened with great interest to his speech, and I think I may say with truth that I never heard the case of women put forward in a more fair and reasonable manner. I wish also to say that I entertain a very deep respect for the purity of the motives of those who are the leaders in this movement. I believe they have a deep and earnest desire to raise the position of women, and that they believe the franchise to be the most potent instrument for so doing. This movement represents a great amount of genuine philanthropy, and has secured the support of many of the best men and women of the country. It deserves to be treated with great respect not only from the purity of their motives, but for the great ability of its advocates; and I hope that I shall use no arguments against it which are not both honest and respectful to my opponents. I conceive that no issue of equal importance has been submitted to Parliament in our time. This measure, if passed, will carry consequences far-reaching and momentous—consequences which none here can adequately realise. I readily admit there is weight in the arguments in favour of the measure; but I hope to convince the House that there is still greater weight in the arguments against it. I will make the admission that the Bill now before us gives the irreducible minimum of women's demands; it professes only to give the Parliamentary franchise to those women who already possess it for Municipal and County Councils. It excludes lodgers and the service franchise. The hon. Gentleman says that it will enfranchise one million voters. I thought, from such investigation as I have been able to make, that the 1472 number it would enfranchise would lie between 800,000 and 900,000.
§ * MR. S. SMITH
I am glad of that explanation. It professes to give the Parliamentary franchise to 800,000 or 900,000 female householders in the United Kingdom, who are nearly all spinsters or widows; and I will allow that, if this concession would finally settle the question, there is much to be said for it. No doubt it seems rather illogical to give the franchise for Local Government and not for Imperial purposes, but I remind those who think this to be conclusive that the admission of women to local franchises was very much the result of an accident. It was never properly discussed in this House, and no one foresaw at the time how it would be used as a lever to obtain Parliamentary franchise. Had this been foreseen I doubt whether this women's local franchise would have been given, or this agitation have attained its present proportions. There is, however, an enormous difference between the two franchises. The local franchise is a very limited one, and for objects strictly defined by Act of Parliament; then, the local franchise may be altered or cancelled as Parliament thinks right. Besides, Local Bodies possess merely administrative and no law-making powers, but the Imperial Parliament possesses absolute authority over the lives and property of all within the realm, and indirectly governs 300 millions of people outside the United Kingdom. No Legislative Body that I know of possesses such unlimited powers as the British Parliament. The Legislature in the United States is bound and limited by the written Constitution; and if it act ultra vires can be called to account by the Supreme Court, and its decisions nullified. All the Legislatures in the British Colonies are more or less restrained by statutory obligations, but the British Parliament is as absolute as the Czar of all the Russias, and nothing but the practical good sense of the people prevents it becoming an instrument of tyranny. But the electors are the makers of Parliament; therefore, in the last resort they wield this tremendous power, and no nation 1473 was ever so dependent upon a practised and trained electorate. The case for Parliamentary franchise is, therefore, altogether different from that of a local one, and must be justified by far more weighty arguments. The attention of the House should be called to the fad that the previous Female Franchise Bills introduced were altogether different to this one; they claimed that—For all purposes of, and incidental to, the voting for Members to serve in Parliament, women shall have the same rights as men, and all enactments relating to or concerned in such elections shall be construed accordingly.Another Bill goes even further. It claims that—No person shall be disqualified from being elected to, or from filling or holding, any office or position merely by reason that such person is a woman, or being a woman is under coverture.That is to say, women are to be eligible to sit in Parliament, to hold office under the Crown as Ministers of State, to become Judges, Bishops, or even Commanders of the Forces. Now, I want to know whether the advocates of female suffrage, in this House or out of it, have abandoned these claims in favour of the more moderate proposals of the Bill now before us? I believe that, with one voice, all the leaders of this agitation will claim absolute equality as between men and women; this is the goal at which they are aiming, and nothing less will satisfy them. Most of those who will vote for this Bill intend at the first opportunity to widen it so as to equalise the franchise as between men and women; and should Parliament pass this Bill, what will be our position at the first General Election at which women vote? The country will be overrun with female orators inciting women to remove the stigma placed on their sex; the 800,000 or 900,000 female electors will be urged to vote only for those candidates who will promise to put men and women on an equal footing; they will be told that we make marriage a disqualification, and so insult all married women; and it will be found that hardly a candidate will refuse the pledge, for in almost every constituency the large female vote will turn the scale. There is not one trained politician in this 1474 House who does not know that the grant of the franchise claimed by this Bill will necessitate in the following Parliament the further grant of absolute political equality as between men and women. That must mean before very long universal suffrage of both men and women. Those who read the signs of the times know well that manhood suffrage must arrive here as it has done everywhere else. I do not wish to see it. I believe that most Members here do not wish to see it; yet it will come by the force of the Zeitgeist—that spirit of the age which carries all before it; and as sure as it comes will womanhood suffrage come along with it; and the world will see the first instance in history of a great Empire ruled by women, for, as everyone knows, women largely preponderate in number. It may be estimated that when allowance is made for the far larger number of men who are from home—as soldiers, sailors, and in other capacities—the available woman vote under universal suffrage will exceed that of men by about one million, or ten per cent. No one who has watched this agitation can doubt that women will then claim and enforce their right to sit in Parliament, and we shall then see not only the Mrs. Fawcetts and the Miss Cobdens of the future, but the Mrs. Besants and the Miss Helen Taylors sitting on these Benches. I cannot comprehend the mental altitude of those who say we should only look at the first step we take, and shut our eyes to its inevitable consequences; as well might a man drive a coach down a steep incline with a precipice at the bottom, and say that he had no business to consider the precipice. I insist that the House should view this question as a whole, and not be deceived into swallowing in separate doses what it would reject if given as a single draught. Consider the vastness of the change that is proposed. Our electorate at present consists of about six millions of men, nearly all householders and heads of families; it will ultimately become, if this Bill passes into law, twenty millions of persons, of which increased numbers between nine and ten millions will be men and between ten and eleven millions women. What will be the qualifications of this 1475 large mass? When were such responsible duties entrusted to such an incompetent body? Never since the world began. Many of the men are ignorant enough, and the risks run from nine or ten millions of male electors would not be small; but if you add ten or eleven millions of women, it would be overwhelming. Men, as a rule, gain a rough experience of the world; they mix in workshops and clubs, and discuss the politics of the day, and in a rough sort of way make up their minds on the current topics. Nearly all of them read newspapers and attend public meetings, but how few women have either the taste or opportunity of doing this? How few women take an interest in politics, or read speeches, or attend meetings? It is doubtful whether out of the ten or eleven millions of adult women even one million ever read a political speech, or care the least about politics. What are the vast majority of these women? Several millions of them are wives and mothers; the great majority of them are wives of working men, struggling with families of small children from early morning till late at night, utterly unable to study the complicated questions which come before Parliament. What they do read is mostly the religious serial, or the cheap novel, and it is impossible for them to frequent clubs and public meetings without ruin to their children. Of the women who are not married the vast majority are domestic servants shop girls, factory girls, sempstresses, barmaids, &c., and I ask this House what knowledge of politics do they possess? If a census could be taken of their reading, I verily believe that not one in ten would be found ever to read a speech or care a rush about politics. The clever political women who really study politics are a mere handful, perhaps not one per cent. of the whole women of this country, and for then sakes we are asked to revolutionise our Government. In arguing this question we have to deal with women in the mass, as with men in the mass. It is no valid argument to say that it is a shame to deny the franchise to a clever intelligent lady, and give it to her coachman or her butler. That is not the question before us. The real question is whether women as a whole are 1476 as fit to exercise the franchise as men as a whole, and I deny that they are, or can ever be. But we are told that political education follows the gift of the franchise, and that just as the agricultural labourer is learning politics because he now can vote, so his wife and daughters will equally learn as soon as they get the vote. I hold that this is one of those half truths more dangerous than whole errors. Men as a class naturally take to politics when they get a chance; but women will not, because the bent of their minds is different. They live—that is, the great bulk of them do—by the heart more than the head, and the enfranchised servant girl will continue to prefer the novelette to the Times or the Daily News. There are certain professions and occupations that women can never fill so well as men. They never will make soldiers, or sailors, or policemen, or Judges, or clergymen, though there are occasionally women who can do all those things; and they will never become politicians, because their minds recoil from it. I claim in support of my views the great father of modern Radicalism, Jeremy Bentham. That illustrious philosopher, whose writings have coloured the entire legislation of this century, decides against giving the franchise to women. The House would probably like to hear his acute estimate of the relative capacity of the sexes; a more just estimate could not be given of their respective characteristics—The sensibility of women seems to be greater than that of men. Their health is more delicate. They are generally inferior in strength of body, knowledge, the intellectual faculties, and firmness of soul. Their moral and religious sensibility is more lively; sympathies and antipathies have a greater empire over them. The religion of a woman more easily deviates towards superstition—that is, towards minute observances. Her affections for her own children are stronger during their whole life, and especially during their early youth. Women are more compassionate for the sufferings of those they see; and the very pains they take to relieve them form a new bond of attachment. But their benevolence is locked up in a narrower circle, and is less governed by the principle of utility. It is rare that they embrace in their affections the well-being of their country much less that of mankind; and the interest which they take in a Party depends almost always upon some private sympathy. There enters into all their attachments and antipathies more of caprice and imagination; while men have more regard 1477 to personal interests or public utility. Their habitual amusements are more quiet and sedentary. On the whole, woman is better fitted for the family, and man for matters out of doors. The domestic economy is best placed in the hands of the women; the principal management of affairs in those of the men.What is this but an expansion of Milton's well-known lines—For contemplation he and valour form'd;For softness she, and sweet attractive grace;He for God only, she for God in him"?Our opponents do us the great injustice of thinking that we underrate women's powers, and disparage their character. So far from that, I freely admit that women possess a finer organisation than men—they are more affectionate and unselfish, and, generally speaking, more moral and religious; but I hold that if we wish to preserve these beautiful traits of character, we must not unsex them. We must not force them into an unnatural competition with men, and endanger the real virtues they possess in pursuit of Utopias. Let me remind the House that this agitation in its essence contemplates not merely political equality, but absolute equality between the sexes in all the relations of life. Some of the leaders of this movement take strong objections to the existing Marriage Law and the relation of the sexes as laid down in Scripture and upheld by all branches of the Church. Mrs. Fawcett, in a manifesto she has recently issued, repudiates the authority of St. Paul on this question. She says—Much, therefore, of St. Paul's teaching about the position of women and other social matters is not accepted by any Christian Church as a practical guide for conduct at the present time.Many of the leaders of this movement resent the Marriage Service of the Church of England where the woman responds in the affirmative to the following question:—Wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?This form of service is based upon the most express statements of Holy Scripture. From beginning to end the 1478 Bible teaches in the most explicit form the subordination of woman to man, especially in the marriage state.The husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the Head of the ChurchIs the uniform language of Scripture, repeated in one form or another hundreds of times. Could a greater calamity befall the human race than to undermine this sacred institution? I much doubt that with female franchise will arise an agitation for substituting perfect equality as between husband and wife, and, should that be successful, a time of social chaos would ensue. Since the time of John Stuart Mill, who repudiated the marriage law of the New Testament, an agitation has arisen for what is called the emancipation of women. I look with dread upon this movement. It is at bottom directed against those organic laws for the guidance of the sexes which the Creator has laid down. Europe has had one instance of the effects of the emancipation of women from those natural restraints which God and Nature have placed upon them. In the most corrupt times of the Roman Empire there was a movement for absolute equality between the sexes, and all laws were repealed which recognised any superiority on the part of man. Will the House allow me to quote an extract from the great historian Gibbon, showing the effects of this legislation?When the Roman matrons became the equal and voluntary companions of their lords, a new jurisprudence was introduced that marriage, like other partnerships, might be dissolved by the abdication of one of the associates. In three centuries of prosperity and corruption this principle was enlarged to frequent practice and pernicious abuse. Passion, interest, or caprice suggested daily motives for the dissolution of a marriage: a word, a sign, a message, a letter, the mandate of a freedman declared the separation; the most tender of human connections was degraded to a transient society of profit or pleasure.Under this state of things it was not unusual for a wife to have 20 husbands in succession, and a husband as many wives. I must express my deepest conviction that it is perilous in the last degree to tamper with those Divine laws which govern the relations of the sexes. Out of this movement for absolute political equality between 1479 men and women may develop at a later date another movement to replace the marriage law of Christianity by one giving absolute equality to the wife; and I much fear that experiments may be tried which will not tend to the welfare of mankind. No one can doubt that John Stuart Mill aimed at something of this kind, and he may be said to be the father of this movement for women's suffrage. It may be granted that the great majority of those who are moving in this matter have not at present the slightest wish for such changes, but my argument is that they are feeding a movement which contains them in its bosom, and out of which they will ultimately grow. Another argument to be considered is this, and I appeal to hon. Gentlemen in this House who are historians. I see the Leader of the House in his place, and as I know he is one who studies human nature very closely, I wish to lay before the right hon. Gentleman the circumstance that universal history is opposed to the movement; no free country in the world has ever tried the experiment. I am not one of those who decry the formula quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus. They take a tremendous responsibility who deride the universal experience of mankind. The Mover of this Bill faintly shadowed some attempt in the historical past in which women were allowed to vote. I have never come across it, and I imagine it never assumed importance. My hon. Friend (Sir A. Rollit) has made a great deal of one little experiment tried in that remote territory called Wyoming. As regards Wyoming, I admit the testimony is conflicting, and I quite admit that there are some who give a good account of its operation. But I am going to ask the House to listen to the opinion of the hon. Member for Aberdeen. This newly formed State on the outskirts of civilisation does duty at every women's franchise meeting. It got female franchise by an accident when its population—now 60,000, or about one-thousandth part the population of the United States—was a few thousands, yet none of the other 43 States in the Union have followed its example, or seem likely to do so. It stands alone. As to its working there 1480 my hon. Friend (Mr. Bryce), in his standard book on the American Commonwealth, the best and ablest ever written, says—As regards Wyoming alone the experiment has been longest at work both as regards full suffrage and jury service. The balance of such evidence as I could collect seems to be unfavourable.He quotes from one of his most trustworthy authorities as follows:—After the first excitement is over it is impossible to get respectable women out to vote except every two or three years on some purely emotional question, like prohibition or other temperance legislation. The effect on family life seem to be nil, certainly not bad, but after a year or two it is found that the women of the worst classes are those that most regularly go to the polls.As to the general feeling of the United States on the subject, Mr. Bryce writes—There is a widespread apprehension that to bring women into polities might lower their social position, diminish men's deference for them, harden and roughen them, and, as it is expressed, 'brush the bloom off the flowers.' This feeling is at least as strong among women as among men. Of the many American ladies whose opinion I inquired, the enormous majority expressed themselves hostile.The House will allow that the United States is the most Democratic Republic in existence; the one where human rights are most fully acknowledged; yet it is undoubted that its judgment is quite against women's suffrage; and the same is true of all other existing Republics—such, for instance, as France and Switzerland. Yet in all those countries the problems of life are far simpler than with us. They could make experiments with much less danger. No country ever had so complicated a system of government as ours, with such prodigious duties and responsibilities cast upon it; and surely commonsense would indicate that we should not be the first to turn upside down the experience of humanity for thousand of years. If this revolutionary change is to take place let it be tried by some other countries first, and let us profit by their experience. One strange feature of this movement is that it is most favoured by the Conservative Party. ("No.") My hon. Friend says "No," but I think the voting to day will show that I am right. The Conservative Party once made what was 1481 called "a leap in the dark," but that leap is nothing compared to this. One would think that all their traditions were opposed to such leaps in the dark. The motive which probably influences them is the belief that women are more Conservative than men. This may be true as regards the upper classes, and perhaps as regards the majority of the women householders; but let me ask hon. Gentlemen opposite if by their means the upper tier of women, if I may use the expression, are enfranchised and add to the strength of their Party, how long would it be till the Liberal Party sought a counterpoise by emancipating a lower stratum? My own belief is that neither of our great historical Parties will derive strength from the enfranchisement of women. If I might venture a prediction, there are two movements which will be powerfully re-inforced by female suffrage, the one is Clericalism and the other Socialism. In Roman Catholic countries womanhood suffrage would mean the undisputed sway of the priests. In France, Italy, and I think I may say the Catholic part of Ireland, the women would vote as their Father Confessors directed them, and the Pope's supremacy would be made absolute, not merely in the realm of religion, but in that of politics as well. Is that a result which Members of this House, even of the Roman Catholic Communion, would regard with satisfaction? In Ireland you would give undisputed control to the priests.
§ * MR. S. SMITH
I would ask the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell), whether three-quarters of Ireland would not be completely under the sway of the Roman Catholic priests?
§ * MR. S. SMITH
As to that, I do not agree with my hon. Friend at all. In Protestant countries, like Great Britain, clerical, influence would be less, still it would be considerable. This cannot recommend female suffrage to the Liberal and Radical sections of the House; but it may not dismay the Conservative Party. Let 1482 me, however, point out that in England at least womanhood suffrage would emancipate masses of women utterly impervious to clerical influences, but very amenable to the politics of John Burns, Ben Tillett, and Mrs. Besant. The programme of the Fabian Society would have immense charms for millions of sempstresses, factory girls, domestic servants, and working men's wives. It is entirely a matter of speculation; but I cannot help thinking that we should see Representatives of the strongest opinions sent to this House under such a suffrage. A Socialist party led by Ben Tillett and Mrs. Besant would not add to the dignity of this House, or make the government of our vast Empire an easy matter. In many political questions the truth may be said to lie at the bottom of a well. The superficial fallacy is far more atttractive than the sound deductions of experience. Long controversies, like Free Trade, have been settled by hard and close argument protracted for a generation. How do you know that those settlements may not be reversed when submitted again to the verdict of a preponderating female vote, intensely and hopelessly ignorant of the issues involved. No one could be certain that a single result of centuries of experience, whether political, financial, or commercial, could stand the test of so entire a revolution of political power. Everything would be thrown afresh into the melting pot, and no human being could predict what would emerge from the chaldron. But my main objection to this and all similar Bills is my dread of its effects on the home life of the nation. I hope the House will weigh well the pregnant words of the right hon. Member for Midlothian—I am not without the fear lest, beginning with the State, we should eventually be found to have intruded into what is yet more fundamental and move sacred, the precinct of the family, and should dislocate or injuriously modify the relations of domestic life.I believe those words are perfectly true, and they weigh more with me than all other objections combined. A peaceful and pure home life is the true foundation of all national well-being. That happy home life can only be found when wives and mothers make the family the centre of their being. All 1483 that tends to draw them from this is pernicious. The outside attractions are already too strong in this restless age. Why add to them enormously by pushing women into the maelstrom of politics? Already there is a dangerous disinclination to marriage among young men. The decline in the marriage rate is an ominous feature of the times. For the decade ending 1860 it was 16.9 per thousand annually, for the decade ending 1890 it was only 14.9, being a decline of twelve and a-half per cent. I much fear that under womanhood suffrage a still further decline will occur. Most men hate a noisy, turbulent, home life; they do not wish wives that claim equality, and fight for their rights. A silent distaste for marriage might be one of the results of what is falsely called the emancipation of women. I say that it is falsely so called, for it is really a diversion of women from their natural sphere of wifehood and motherhood. I believe the ultimate effect of pushing them in the maelstrom of politics will be to produce an increasing silent distaste for married life, with all the enormous evils accompanying it. I must apologise for having detained the House so long, and wish to say, in conclusion, that the vast majority of the women of this country do not want the franchise or care one pin about it; the active spirits of this movement are a mere handful; and it would be a strange thing, as Mr. Gladstone well shows in his weighty letter on this subject, were we to confer a franchise which most of the recipients did not value. Those women who care for politics are already free to exercise their gifts in every way they choose, except going to the poll. In no country are women accorded greater liberty than here, nowhere do they use the Press and the platform more freely. Some of them have splendid gifts; and no one grudges them a sphere for their use; but why should they insist on forcing the franchise on their unwilling sisters? A clever woman can wield a thousand times more influence by speech and writings than by a vote. Remember, that when once given it will be difficult for any woman to abstain; she will be canvassed incessantly, and get no peace till she pledges her- 1484 self. And elections will be far more frequent in the future than in the past. In the United States they are, and it will be the same here as Democracy progresses. Fancy a wife receiving a crowd of canvassers in her husband's absence, and probably going, with her political associates to one meeting, and her husband to another. How long would domestic life stand such a strain? I ask the House to pause before taking this terrible leap in the dark. It is the most revolutionary proposal of our time. If it prove a mistake it will be irretrievable; once given it cannot be reversed. In my judgment, it will be the commencement of national decline. In any case, it is a desperate experiment. We have too much at stake to make rash experiments. We are trustees for the greatest Empire the world ever saw, and we cannot afford to sap its foundations by reckless innovations. I beg to move the Bill be read this day six months.
§ * SIR W. B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, North West)
, in seconding the Amendment, said: Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a few remarks upon perhaps the most important question that could possibly be brought before the House of Commons. I give all those who may advocate this measure every credit for the feelings which they may possess, believing, as they do, that they are simply going to do justice to the women of this country. But I must point out, and point out most distinctly, that before even those who are most anxious for the passing of this measure can arrive at a satisfactory conclusion, far more trouble should be taken to find out what the views and opinions of women are with regard to this question. My hon. Friend the Member for South Islington (Sir A. Rollit) introduced this Bill in a most moderate and fair speech, bringing forward all those arguments which lay within his reach, and stating many things which are no doubt absolutely correct, but at the came time leaving out a great number of things that he should have introduced. I will ask the House whether, supposing this Bill, which is called a moderate measure, is passed into law, they think they are going to stop there; and whether, having started the ball rolling, they will not find it increases 1485 its pace; and whether, before very long, we shall not only have all the widows and spinsters with votes, but whether we shall not find married women asking to have votes also, especially, those with property? And when we get there, what will be the next thing? We have a right to look ahead, and not be guided by present circumstances alone. Our bounden duty is to see what the eventual consequences of a measure of this kind will be. Manhood suffrage may, and very likely will, be given at some future time, and we shall then find, in the case of this Bill being passed, that womanhood suffrage cannot be neglected. The result would be more women voters than men voters, and I should like to ask the House what the position of this great country would be if placed in that peculiar position? Well, Sir, I, for one, feel strongly on this question. I have talked to many ladies about it. I may also say I have taken part in nearly every Division upon the question. I am sorry to see that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury (Sir H. James) has gone out, because I was going to say that I have never listened to speeches that have impressed me more than the speeches of my right hon. and learned Friend. He has clearly pointed out that there is something far beyond what is contained in this small Bill now before us, and the difficulties and responsibilities of citizenship which a woman will acquire if she gets the franchise. What I should like to ask the House is, How can she perform all the duties and bear all the responsibilities men are called upon to undertake? I will venture to say that such can never be the case. Another thing I should like to point out is that those who feel that woman, having got the franchise, would not advocate coming into this House, are miserably mistaken, and even you, Mr. Speaker, I might have an opponent in a lady, supposing women were admitted to this House. And I will venture to say that we should infinitely prefer to have one with your sound judgment and unbiased mind, and one whom we can most thoroughly trust. Although there may be some women masculine in all their ways, yet the majority of women—those loving and sympathetic women 1486 whom we all so much respect and admire—we have to protect, and I, for one, will not place upon them a burden they are unfit and unable to bear. I have said that womanhood suffrage will be asked for if manhood suffrage is given. Look at the meeting held last night. A Resolution was put forward there calling what is proposed to be granted by the Bill now before the House class legislation, and asking that it should be extended and that every woman should have a vote. Well, so long as I feel I am in the right, and that I am acting in the best interests of the country, I will never pander to these views from whomsoever they may come, and whatever form the Bill introducing them may take. I am afraid I am speaking strongly upon this question, but my excuse is that I feel strongly upon it. I am not going to detain the House at any great length, but I may say that I read with the greatest interest the letter of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), and I will take the liberty of reading one particular paragraph of that letter, because I think it is one we should bear in mind in considering this great question. The right hon. Gentleman says—There are very special reasons for circumspection in this particular case. There has never, within my knowledge, been a case in which the franchise has been extended to a large body of persons generally indifferent about receiving it. But here, in addition to a widespread indifference, there is on the part of large numbers of women who have considered the matter for themselves the most positive objection and strong disapprobation. Is it not clear to every unbiassed mind that before forcing on them what they conceive to be a fundamental change in their whole social function, that is to say, in their Providential calling, at least it should be ascertained that the womanly mind of the country, at present so largely strange to the subject, is in overwhelming proportion, and with deliberate purpose, set upon securing it?I will venture to say that my hon. Friend (Mr. S. Smith) who moved the rejection of this Bill was absolutely correct in stating that a large proportion of the women of this country are against receiving the franchise. Well, let us look for a moment at one point which has never been mentioned, but which I hope will be carefully considered. You are going to put women in antagonism with men. That is a 1487 very serious question to be borne in mind. You are going to put them in a relation of life which we have been taught should never exist. They are going to be put in the position of men, and very likely, if the wife is of a different opinion from her husband, the most unpleasant consequences may ensue in that particular family. In this House you shut the ladies up with a grill before them, and do not allow them to look at you if it can be helped, in order that your attention should not be distracted. Do you suppose for a moment that if the ladies got the vote they would not claim to be in the other Gallery, and indeed in every part of the House where strangers are now allowed to sit? These are small considerations for the moment, but they are considerations that deserve serious thought. But, Sir, there is something much more important than this. I should like to ask the House whether they think women would be the most fitting persons to manage this great Empire in times of danger, of anxiety, of panic, and of trouble of all sorts. Well, I will only say that, as far as I can judge, it would be most unwise, and a terrible thing to place them in that position. The real question before us does not require to be elaborated by me. It has been well elaborated by my hon. Friend who moved the rejection of this Bill. It will be unfair of me to go too much into this question, as there are many who wish to speak upon it, but there are three considerations which I think I might mention. The first is the social question, and I will venture to say this is the most important matter for every Member of this House to consider. Whether it will be for the happiness of women to have all the privileges some are asking for is not for me to say. But this much I will say: What would you think of a woman—and we all know there are women of that class—who would leave their families and all they hold most dear and sacred and go into the public arena, and make speeches, and take part in questions about which, perhaps, they know little or nothing? The second consideration is the Parliamentary question. That I certainly need not go into; but, believe me, 1488 they will never be satisfied if they do not have all the privileges we men now enjoy as Members of this House. But there is something beyond that, and that is the great constitutional question; and looking at that question as a whole, I say what can be more unwise than to place the future destinies of this country in their hands? The hon. Member (Mr. S. Smith) has said that with womanhood suffrage and manhood suffrage there would be 10,500,000 women with votes, as against only 9,500,000 of men voters. I will ask the House to consider what position this country would be in if at any great crisis, with, perhaps, peace and war trembling in the balance, we had to depend upon the vote of the women of this country. Well, Sir, I will not go any further into this question. I should like, however, to say that, taking women as a whole, we all know and acknowledge the useful work they are doing from one end of England to the other. Talking of that useful work, I am reminded, of a story which I think I may mention, the lady being in favour of the Bill. A very pretty widow lady wrote to a Member of this House, and she said—I cannot sit down and knit, and I do not like visiting the poor. I must do something, and, I think, therefore, your Bill will be a great help to me; and I should like to enter into that sort of life if this Bill will give me the opportunity.That, I believe, is not the view of the large majority of the women of this country. They have other duties to perform, and they know it, and they perform them to the satisfaction of those to whom they are united. All I can say is that if you pass this Bill you will place women in a position for which they are unfitted, and I believe the effect would be most mischievous to women themselves.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. S. Smith.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ *(3.1.) MR. WOODALL (Hanley)
Those who, like myself, have had any responsibility for the Parliamentary con- 1489 duct of this question must feel that great service has been rendered to it to-day by the very admirable manner in which it has been presented to the House by the hon. Member for South Islington (Sir A. Rollit). I offer him that acknowledgment the more readily, because, as he knows perfectly well, I have myself felt that after the disastrous defeat last Session, and because of the fact that this moribund Parliament is on the eve of Dissolution, the raising of the question at the present moment is so inopportune that I declined to take the responsibility of it. But as the question has been raised I shall have no hesitation in following my hon. Friend into the Lobby in support of the Second Reading. We are confronted by an extraordinary combination of forces against this Bill, and I cannot but feel that this is an acknowledgment of the meritorious position which has been reached, and as a testimony for which, perhaps, we ought to be most grateful that we have passed out of the region of abstract discussion, and that the question is now recognised by all parties concerned as a measure of practical politics. We have been reminded to-day of divisions and dissensions in the ranks of the supporters of woman suffrage, and reference has been more than once made to a particular meeting last night. I regret exceedingly that anything should have occurred to give force to the argument of dissension; but if we recollect previous movements for the enfranchisement of the people, I think it will be remembered that they have all been accompanied by trouble of a similar kind. Those of us who can remember the struggles for household suffrage know how we were then hampered, and our task made infinitely more difficult by the more extreme advocates of universal suffrage. I regard the Bill now before the House as excellently devised, amongst other reasons, from the fact that it is another step towards a universal register. In the making up of an ordinary register women are left on for local purposes, and subsequently eliminated from the register for Parliamentary purposes; and I say that in that respect, as in many others my hon. Friend has been happy in the form in which he 1490 has drafted this Bill. We have listened to an extremely interesting speech from the hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith), in the course of which he protested that it was unwise to prophesy; but surely no speech has ever been delivered in this House which was so full of prophecy and of dolorous prediction, and three times he warned us against taking a leap in the dark. As I listened to him it appeared as if he had been living for some time past upon the literature of the discussions on former measures of enfranchisement. The measure conferring the franchise upon the working men in the boroughs was opposed on both sides of the House. It was opposed on one side by the extreme friends of manhood suffrage because it did not go far enough; and by those who feared the measure and disliked it, it was opposed in the same sense in which my hon. Friend has spoken to-day as an indication of the danger of the thin edge of the wedge, as a step in the direction of manhood suffrage, from which I think we are as far off to-day as we were then. In the speech of the hon. Baronet who preceded me the arguments against this measure were stated with great force; but I am bound to say, with all respect, that none of these arguments are new. We are told, for instance, that many women would protest against a measure which would expose them to some inconvenience. My hon. Friend reminded the House that in the discussion with regard to the abolition of slavery it was contended that the negroes themselves did not desire the liberty which it was proposed to give them; and I think I can recollect the fact that when the proposals were made to confer the franchise upon the agricultural labourers we were assured over and over again that the franchise was undesirable and undesired by them. But we say that there are a large number of women who do desire it, who have petitioned for it, and have given every conceivable testimony of the earnestness of their desire; and why should they be denied that which we insist is right, because a certain number of others, to whom the privilege will be given, are indifferent or hostile? The women in whose interests we are speaking to-day might very well plead 1491 that they are not excused from any of the obligations of citizenship which they are capable of performing. We are warned not to intrude upon the delicacy and purity and refinement of women's lives. But when these arguments are used, it should be remembered how very large a proportion of women citizens have to struggle for their maintenance, to work for their livelihood, to labour under conditions of extreme hardship; they work even in factories, and they are forming associations and combinations very much as men do for the bettering of their condition and improvement of their remuneration. I was astonished to hear the terms in which my hon. Friend spoke in his reference to Mrs. Fawcett, who combated the assertion that what St. Paul wrote in his own day is of equal force now, and whose chief contention was against the apparent preference of the Apostle for celibacy as more honourable than marriage. I wish it were not inconvenient to submit some of the passages Mrs. Fawcett wrote; but perhaps it is sufficient that attention has been called to one of the most admirable and able arguments ever put forward on this question, and I venture to think that Mrs. Fawcett's contention is much stronger and much more practical than that of my hon. Friend. Amongst other things, St. Paul would not suffer women to teach. We have a large army of women workers who are invaluable in our educational work. We find that women are handicapped in every form of industry, in the matter of wages and remuneration. We find their access to the professions impeded by unfair conditions. They have been deprived and defrauded of their fair share of educational privileges and emoluments; and, in truth, what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) said twenty years ago is nearly as true today, that Parliament has dealt with women with less than justice. One of the advantages of the Motion now before the House is that it proposes to confer the franchise upon a class of electors who have gone through an apprenticeship. They certainly cannot be considered inexperienced, and yet I may recall the fact to the House that when we extended the 1492 franchise to the Irish cottiers and the agricultural labourers we gave the vote to a class who had had no experience at all in local voting. But here, on the other hand, we have the advantage of a trained electorate who have been in the habit for a number of years of going steadily, even annually, to the poll, and who probably know the way of marking their paper as well as any of their male friends. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, in a speech he made in 1870 or 1871, admitted that if the Ballot should be adopted by Parliament it would remove one of the most serious difficulties in the way of women taking part in popular elections. I venture to think that our experience of the Ballot Act is that it has introduced a quieter method of taking votes, and that it has fulfilled the expectations which were formed of it. The irony of the situation is that while so many hon. Members hesitate to confer the vote upon women they are willing to have them associated with them in the rough work of political contests, acting on electoral committees, undertaking the work of canvassing, and persuading men how they are to vote, and in the course of which women have displayed the very highest kind of political acumen, almost amounting to that of professional experts. I shall be very sorry to find, in such a Division as that we shall take to-day, the Members of my own political Party less strong in support of this measure than those who sit on the other side of the House. It has always been to the great honour of the Liberal Party to have initiated measures of enfranchisement; and recalling as we do the enormous advances which have been made in that direction, I confess it is a great disappointment that we have not the advantage of the concurrence and vote of the Member for Midlothian. Some of my friends seem to be alarmed at the zeal with which certain hon. Gentlemen opposite are supporting this particular measure of enfranchisement. I can only say, however, that I cannot reproach hon. Gentlemen opposite who may not be in the abstract in favour of the measure for supporting what they think may give them a tactical advantage, any 1493 more than I can approve hon. Members behind me who believe in the justice of the claim, but hesitate to grant it because it may possibly work against them. We admit that a considerable number of the women who would be enfranchised under this Bill have not yet been trained in practical politics; they are still in that respect only the equals of a very large number of the early voters, and in a large degree also of those who have been most recently enfranchised. I should like to ask those hon. Members who say that women do not desire a vote what has been the experience of the use made by women of the vote in municipal affairs? We find that they vote in something like the same proportion as the male voters. Some of my friends fear that the votes of women would be given against them; but cases can be quoted in many parts of the country where the Parliamentary Representative, for whom the women do not vote, is Conservative, whilst the Local Councils are largely Liberal. When one comes to analyse the great programme of Liberal measures on which the Liberal Party is now addressing itself to the country, I cannot but feel that many of those measures of social reform, such as the improvement of the dwellings of the poor, temperance reform, education, and the incidence of taxation are questions which appeal directly to women; and we shall have in them, when the time comes, invaluable allies in forwarding the progress of these measures. We are asking for this Bill for women themselves, not only in order that they may profit by it as the industrial classes and the agricultural labourers have done by the redressing of their grievances through possessing the franchise, but also we claim it for them because it would be an advantage to the whole community and to the best interests of humanity.
§ (3.20.) MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
I am very reluctant to address the House, but the question is one of so much gravity that I feel bound to state the reasons for the opinions that I hold. Those opinions are far from being hostile to the claims of women to the fullest social equality and the freest 1494 entrance into all professions and occupations. Perhaps the House will permit me, in order to justify my own position, to say that it is more than 25 years since I began to work in the cause of women's education. I laboured for some years on behalf of the Married Women's Property Act; I had charge for three years of the Bill which ultimately became an Act for extending the rights of women to the guardianship of their children, and I have always advocated the claims of women to a much larger share of educational endowment in connection with schools and Universities. I should like to say that I do not at all associate myself with a good many of the arguments which are used against this measure, and I will say that I think the question whether the same number of women attain to as high intellectual excellence as men has nothing to do with the matter. I believe the intellectual capabilities of women are amply sufficient to put them for purposes of elections on a level with men. I am far from denying that there are many women fit for the franchise. Again, I desire altogether to repudiate the notion that this question cannot be viewed apart from Party consequences. If women have the franchise it must be given them as a measure of justice, irrespective of whether they will vote for Liberals or Tories. We must deal with this question rather more from the political than from the social point of view. It is the political interests of the country that we have to study. My first objection to the proposal is that women do not want the franchise. I am well aware that there are a good many ladies, active politicians, who do desire it. Some of them desire it because they think it will further political or social objects they have at heart—the cause of temperance for instance. Others go further, and look upon it as a step towards complete equality in all things. One lady went so far in conversation with a friend of mine as to say that what we want is to get rid of the English idea of a home. That is a very extreme expression, and I have no doubt goes far beyond the ideas of the advocates of this measure. But, as far as our own observation goes, I think the 1495 women who desire the franchise are a very small minority of the women of the country. We know that Petitions have been presented in favour of this measure, but how many women would be entitled to the franchise? We are dealing now with the enfranchisement of all the women of England, which is more than is contemplated by this measure. At present I suppose there are about eleven millions of women of mature age in this country who would be entitled to the franchise if we came down to womanhood suffrage. What proportion of these have petitioned this House? The percentage could hardly be expressed without going into decimal fractions. Let us take our own personal knowledge, because that is, after all, the only test we can apply to the matter. Let any hon. Member ask himself, out of those ladies whom he knows, how many are in favour of receiving the franchise, and I do not think he will find the number to be more than one in five; and I appeal in aid of my argument to the very remarkable protest published a few years ago in one of the monthly magazines, in which there appeared a number of names of women eminently intellectual, which, I think, far outweighs the authority, high as it is, of the intellectual women brought to bear on behalf of the proposition. Why did these women object to it? Because they thought it would injure their own position. No proof has been given that it will either benefit women or benefit the State. It is not for us to prove that the measure would work ill; it is for the supporters of the measure to prove that it would work some good; and that, I contend, they have utterly failed to do. I have listened to the arguments that have been used in support of the measure, and I find no sufficient ground except the appeal to the fact that women have already exercised the franchise in local affairs without injury to the community. But it is not alleged by my hon. Friend that they have exercised the franchise either with any benefit to the community or to themselves. What are the grounds upon which the franchise has usually been extended? They are mainly two. One was that the Constitution would be 1496 stronger and the Government more stable if we included the largest possible number of citizens within the boundaries of the Constitution. Nobody argues now that our policy will be any more firmly based if women were admitted to the Parliamentary franchise, or that there is any substantial discontent in connection with an existing; disability on the part of women. Therefore, we may dismiss that at once. The other argument is that the interests, of no class will be properly enforced and secured by legislation unless that class is represented. I take it, on the whole, that this is the strongest fact which is advanced by those who are in favour of the change; but my objection is that it rests upon the fallacy of assuming that women are a class. Women are not a class. Who are the women of this country? They are our mothers, our sisters, and our wives. They are not a class, but are members, of the class to which their husbands, brothers, and sons belong, and their interests are the same. I think there has been some confusion in this matter. My hon. Friend referred just now to the agricultural labourers; they are a class indeed. They had interests which were not the same, and were generally supposed to be opposed to the interests of the farmers and the interests of the landlords; and no one can doubt that the interests of the agricultural labourers have been more carefully regarded by this Parliament than by any previous Parliament, because the labourers now have votes. But the wives and daughters and sisters of agricultural labourers do not form a distinct class, but are part of the same class. Whatever class you take, you will find that the interests of the women belonging to that class are substantially the same as the interests of the men. There is no such antagonism between men and women in this or any other country as makes women a distinct class. I may be told that there is some unjust legislation applied to women in which, their interests being divergent, the interests of women would be better looked after if they had the franchise. How much unjust legislation is there conceived in the interests of men as against the interests of women? There was a Bill before the House last night for 1497 making the English Law of Divorce the same as that of Scotland by establishing equality between the offences of men and women. I voted for that Bill, and I hope it will be passed. I conceive that some people will represent that as a case where the interests of men are opposed to those of women. I do not think it raises that issue. Questions of divorce are of the utmost possible difficulty, and are questions in which the interests of the whole community are involved, and they must not be considered as questions between men and women, and I do not believe Parliament looked upon them in that light. In Scotland that law has existed for 300 years, because the people believed it to be the fairest and most just law. Doubtless there is much to be said against the Divorce Law of the United States, but they have equality between men and women; and in no part of the United States, except Wyoming, do women enjoy the franchise. Therefore, it is not necessary for women to have the franchise to enjoy equal laws. There are other cognate questions, but when they are looked into as a whole they will be found to depend not on the antagonism of men and women, but on social questions of great difficulty on which the most ardent friends of women may hold very different opinions. Then there are some restrictions on the labour of women which do not apply to men, and some hon. Members complain bitterly of the restrictions imposed by legislation on the labour of women, and that they have no voice in determining these restrictions. But these restrictions are not imposed in the interests of men as against women, but in the interests of women themselves, and the feeling of women is divided upon them. So on that point you are not entitled to say that women are a class who require special representation. It is said that in some industrial matters women are exposed to greater disadvantages than men; they get lower wages in some trades and the men's Trade Unions have shown themselves hostile to and have oppressed the women's Trade Unions. I sincerely regret that, but these are matters which legislation cannot deal with; they depend upon the supply of labour and the amount of competition there is. I doubt, Mr. 1498 Speaker, if any considerable grievance is left which can be pointed to as a grievance between men and women which the political power of women is required to remedy. Those who rest their case on this point entirely ignore what has been done for women during the last 25 years. We have had the Married Women's Property Act, the Guardianship of Infants Act—not in so complete a form as I should like, being a believer in the absolute equality of the rights of father and mother—yet in a form to remove four-fifths of the grievances under which they suffered. They have a large share of endowments; they have been admitted to the teaching at the Universities; they are making their way in the professions, and their Trade Unions are making good their position in another direction. When reviewing what has been done in 25 years without the suffrage, I have great confidence that women will get the further privileges and advantages they desire without legislative power, and that the good feeling, justice, and sympathy which has helped them before will in the future have their perfect work. It is said that women would be socially elevated if engaged in political work with men. That is the opinion of my hon. Friend, but others hold a different opinion, and neither he nor I can prove it. So far from believing that women will benefit by politics, or politics be benefited by them, I believe politics will do them more harm than good. Political work is exposed to serious temptations, and there are certain things in the constitution of women which make them more liable to succumb to those temptations than men. I do not lay stress on that part of the argument; but if I am asked to state my opinion, I believe that the participation of women in voting, and that which must follow voting—sitting in this House, and the participation in all the active work of governing—will ultimately lead to a revolution in the social relations of the two sexes which will be not only momentous, but, so far as we can see, disastrous. I come now to the last ground on which I object to this Bill. It is a very bold experiment. It is recommended by certain abstract theories, by certain shadowy notions of 1499 benefits to be conferred on women politically, morally, and socially, by giving them a share in the political work of men. I notice that the common argument used is, Why not? We want something better than a "Why not" in this matter; we want a positive reason. All reforms in the franchise have been introduced to remedy or cure some existing defect in our system, and we have been able to apportion the change we made to the cure we desired to effect. Here we are asked to make this great change on pure abstract theory. There is nothing more pernicious in politics than abstract doctrine, and no worse habit can a country contract than that of yielding to abstract doctrine. Why should we make such an experiment, which can have no other effect than to double our constituencies? This little Bill only proposes to admit about a million women, but we know perfectly well the matter cannot stop there. Many ladies object to the Bill because it refuses the franchise to married women. Why should marriage be made a reason for not granting it? The enfranchisement of all women was supported by strong and even physical arguments at St. James's Hall last night. Shall we not be asked in any future extension of the franchise to men to extend it in like manner to women? We are within measurable distance of manhood suffrage, and I say that for this reason neither Party in the State is much concerned to oppose it; nobody can tell which Party may be benefited by it, and it is as likely as not to come from the Party opposite as from the Party to which I belong. I ask the House to assume that we are within measurable distance of manhood suffrage, and I submit that if you concede that you cannot refuse womanhood suffrage also. The distinction between the suffrage of men as men and the suffrage of women as women is a clear and well-marked distinction, and rests on rational grounds. If we once admit the principle of woman suffrage at all, we put ourselves on an inclined plane on which there is no stopping until we are landed in universal suffrage—manhood and womanhood alike. If I were asked whether I think woman suffrage would work well, and whether the 1500 eleven million adult women in this country—including, of course, domestic servants, who in some London constituencies would form the majority of the voters—are fitted for the franchise, I should reply to the question with an unqualified negative. I should say, that in every class of the community women know less about politics than men do; and whatever class of the community my hon. Friend looks to, he will find that the women are immeasurably behind the men in political knowledge and interest. This is no disparagement of women; it results from the circumstances of their lives, in which circumstances the interests of their lives are profoundly bound up. How many of the ladies in our own circles are in the habit of reading the political intelligence in the newspapers, or of going to public meetings? We can in this way see the difference between the political capacity of men in any given class and the present political capacity of women in the same class. I may be told that the franchise will be an education, and that women will rise to the functions given to them. I think that argument has been pushed too far, and I could show instances in which it has completely broken down. Let that education make some progress before we try the experiment. The arguments I have put forward must have some weight, because they are found to prevail in all democratic parts of the world. There are other countries more democratic than ourselves; there is Switzerland, why does she not try it? Why does not democratic France try it? Our Colonies are democratic in the highest degree: why do they not try it? In any of the 44 States of America where there is the most unlimited facility for trying experiments—why has not somebody been trying the experiment? I shall probably be reminded of Wyoming. That is a very interesting little State; it has a population of 60,000 spread over an area nearly double that of England, and the biggest town has only 9,000 inhabitants. Wyoming has adopted woman suffrage, but I do not think that example—which may be compared with Ross and Cromartie—will have much weight with the House. There is another case more in point. 1501 The State of Washington had woman suffrage for about four years, but when it enacted its Constitution in 1889 it rejected woman suffrage by 35,000 to 16,000. Washington is a wealthy and flourishing State with a population of 350,000, and I think that example will have more weight on one side than Wyoming will have on the other. I feel some little doubt as to prediction in this matter; I do not associate myself with the predictions of my hon. Friend, for the results in changes of this kind are often totally unlike those we expect. I think every Member of the House will admit that as this experiment may probably result in the addition of eleven millions to the electorate it is a very large experiment, from which great results may be expected, and which nobody can say would not affect the government of the country. This is an experiment so large and bold hat it ought to be tried by some other country first. I am bound to say we have made changes enough of late in the franchise. We enlarged it in 1867, and again in 1885; let us wait a little while before we make another change. There is, I believe, a very large and momentous change, which is dictated to us by the highest considerations of public policy, which we shall have to enter on in the next Parliament, and which will affect the Constitution of the three Kingdoms. We have the prospect of a period of passionate controversy over these proposals of change; and I cannot think, with this prospect before us, that this is a very happy time to embark on so bold an experiment. I will appeal even to those who are in favour of the proposal to let us wait until the weather is a little more settled before they ask us to launch out into an unknown sea.
§ (3.50.) MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
The hon. Gentleman has dissociated himself from the gloomy prophecies uttered by those who have preceded him in the Debate, and he does not join in the sheer terror with which the hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith) views the possibility of the destinies of this country being governed by ladies who prefer reading serious novels rather than the works of Jeremy Bentham, Juvenal, and John Stuart Mill, the rather strangely-assorted 1502 library which we are led to infer now guides the agricultural labourer in giving his vote. But at the end of his speech he was unable to refrain from adding a third to the gloomy prognostications to which we have been treated this afternoon. If he does not fear to be governed by women he is desperately afraid of any further move in the direction of reform. We have been much interested in watching the faces of some of his Colleagues while he preached the gospel of caution in sentences which, had the word peasant been substituted for the word woman, might well have been delivered in this House in 1832. The third argument was one of caution against any advance until somebody else had had the courage of their convictions. But I will leave that part of his speech. I do not see why on this occasion we should depart from the invariable usage of this House, and endeavour to frighten ourselves with the possible yet remote consequences of an action the immediate results of which we can gauge by reading this Bill. The second argument of the hon. Gentleman was that the franchise would rather do harm than good to the women who receive it. That he delivered, I believe, as a pious opinion. Other speakers had told us that, though women may take the active interest they do in politics, for them to have the privilege of bringing their opinions to bear on candidates would in some strange way degrade them and do away with that refinement and purity which we are glad to think they now possess. That is a pious opinion, and a pious opinion it must always remain. In other spheres of life—in hospital wards, for instance—women have shown a higher power than men to transcend the brutalities and degradations of their surroundings. I cannot, therefore, doubt that conferring the franchise on women may tend more to sweeten and elevate the atmosphere of political life than to work any degradation to the women who wield that power. The first argument, on which I wish more particularly to dwell, is that for this reform no such case of urgency or need has been made out as for every other reform which has receded it. It is said 1503 that the fallacy under which we are labouring is that women are a class. We are told that in past times the franchise has always been extended to a class to add stability to the State, or to defend the recipients from injury, but that since women are not a class they will add no stability to the State, and do not need any special protection. In connection with that I noted one sentence about the home. The hon. Gentleman said it would imperil home life as understood in England, and quoted as a sentiment that some ladies wished to see that home life materially altered. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that a great many women have no home, and can have no home; that the whole status of women—whether we like it or not—is altered; that the daughters, as well as the sons, have to seek employment and to be independent of the protection of their male relatives, which 60 or 100 years ago was doubtless extended to them in every case. It is for these women we appeal. We believe they constitute a class, and will continue to do so, until the same political privileges are extended to women as men now enjoy. Why are they a class? Because the last Reform Act gave a vote to every householder; that was substantially the object of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), who introduced the Bill. But from these householders a class was excluded, and thereby constituted the class of women householders. What we wish to do is to complete the right hon. Gentleman's measure; to approach nearer to that ideal which was his ideal, for in the speech in which he introduced the Bill he said—"If we endeavour to attain an ideal franchise we may be led to giving women suffrage or minority representation." And the right hon. Gentleman, when he contemplated an ideal franchise in 1884, a franchise providing in a certain sense for women suffrage and for the representation of minorities—why did he not then include women householders, as well as men householders? For a very good reason. He objected to what he called "deck-loading" his Bill. He declared that to admit that reform then would but imperil the measure; but does any- 1504 body say now when the ship has been sailing safely for eight years, when the cargo has been safely stowed all that time, there is any danger in our rounding off and completing the scheme of franchise by removing the disabilities which now lie upon women householders and upon women householders alone? What led the right hon. Gentleman to select householders as, broadly speaking, the political unit in this country? He did that because he laid it down that every citizen capable of using the vote for his own benefit and for the benefit of the country was entitled to have the vote; and he said that the class of householders although they might exclude some persons who had that capacity at any rate would include very few who had not that capacity. Therefore, if women householders are to be excluded and other householders are to be maintained, it can only be because they are incapable of exercising the vote for their own benefit, and for the benefit of the country. Why are they incapable? Why, we have had some argument advanced to prove that because women as the last resource, are possessed of less physical force than men, therefore they are not entitled to the vote. But physical force is not everything, even in the more ordinary and more obvious pursuits of life, and in such an elaborate and complicated example of society as the exercise of the franchise, physical force is nothing at all. Physical force, unless propelled by the emotions and directed by the mind, achieves nothing in politics; and even supposing the whole fabric of society were to crumble about our ears, physical force never will achieve any good unless it is impelled by the emotions and directed by the mind. And, therefore, if we do not find that women stand on a lower level in moral and intellectual capacity we are not entitled to reject their claim on the ground that physically they are weaker than men. There is another argument or another assertion of the incapacity of women—namely, that, they lack judgment, that they are not such good judges of political questions as men are. Surely, when we use such an argument we exaggerate not only the ability but the demands made upon the ability of our fellow voters in this 1505 country. It needs no Solon to vote for one man or the other when only two are presented for choice; and even if a great quality of judgment were required, and even if women possessed less judgment than men that would not invalidate their claim to the vote, for the argument for every reform has been not so much to increase the power of discernment, and to obtain a more accurate view from one standpoint, as to multiply the points of view. Then we have only to consider whether the point of view of these women who are independently earning their livelihood is a point of view which we can afford to ignore. That is the sole question left for us to answer; and in reply to that it has been argued that a great deal of legislation has been passed for their benefit in recent years, and that they are pretty well off as they are. All these arguments were familiar in the mouths of those who were opposed to the extension of the franchise to the agricultural labourers. It was pointed out that the peasants of England lived in happy palaces; and yet now we are told that without allotments, small holdings, and free education, their lives will be no better than those of slaves. I think we must, on both sides, attribute this opening of our eyes in England to the fact that the labourer has been given a vote. Is it not only possible but probable, if women householders had a vote and obtained a voice for their sisters who are not householders, that we should find, even in the legislation which we so kindly introduced and passed on their behalf, that we had wounded their feelings, missed their true welfare, and lost in an evil day the guidance which we might have received at their hands? I concede that no doubt the old ideal was a good one in its day. Undoubtedly the position of women in the home was not only tolerable but necessary at a time when the persons and property of women were not safe in England; just as the position of the serf was not only tolerable but perhaps necessary in the days of feudal anarchy when his life could only be protected by service to his lord. But now that is changed in the case of women, as in the case of the peasant. Just as the abolition of feudalism in the relation of 1506 the lord to his vassal led inevitably, led at last, to the enfranchisement of the labourers of England, so the abolition of feudalism, which we see in the relation of man and woman, must inevitably lead to the enfranchisement of women in this country.
§ *(4.7.) MR. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
The House always listens with, pleasure and instruction to the Iron. Member for Dover, and I think I may congratulate him on the present occasion upon having contributed in a very difficult case new arguments to a well-worn discussion. In the first place, the hon. Gentleman informs us of what I for one certainly never imagined before, that his new zeal and that of many hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House who are going to support this Bill is due to the very disinterested desire to "round off" the system of enfranchisement introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian in 1884. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his friends will not allow their logical enthusiasm for the development of Liberal policy to evaporate at this point, but that when we present to the House some other consequences which, in our opinion, are much more legitimate deductions from the principles of that measure of 1884—for instance, when a measure is introduced providing for "One Man One Vote" we shall be able to count on the hon. Gentleman's support. The other argument which the hon. Gentleman used, and which, so far as I know, has not been anticipated, is that there are a very large number of women in this country who are without homes—clerks, servants, and persons of that description—who therefore cannot be regarded as represented by the male relatives under whose protection they live, and for whom, and in whose interest, it is desirable to provide separate representation. But has the hon. Gentleman read the Bill, in support of which the speech which we have just heard has been delivered? If he has, he has no need to be reminded that, so far as the class he has mentioned are concerned, this Bill will not produce the least effect in the world. This Bill excludes from its operation every lodger; and I suppose that persons without homes 1507 who are pursuing their occupation, whether as clerks or servants, would certainly in 99 cases out of 100 fall within the category of lodgers. Therefore, whatever force there may be in that argument it is entirely irrelevant to the measure now before the House. I confess I think both the House and the country ought to be congratulated that they have at last got an opportunity for determining with precision, as the Division to-day will enable us to do, whether this movement for the so-called enfranchisement of women has advanced or receded within the last ten years. Among all the social and political agitations of our time, it is a movement which has enjoyed, and does enjoy, exceptional advantages. It has been recommended to the country by names of great and just authority. It has been engineered and advertised with a skill and a pertinacity which show, to my mind at any rate, that we have among us at the present day women who, even without the vote, can in that department of political activity teach us many lessons, and whom we can teach very little. And while I do not wish in the least to disparage the genuine enthusiasm which is felt in some quarters for this Bill and for kindred schemes, I am bound to add that, so far as I can form a judgment, it has been very largely accepted not from conviction, but without mature examination or inquiry; in that spirit of flaccid fatalism by which people persuade themselves that a thing must come if only it is shouted for loud enough, if only it drapes and clothes itself in a democratic disguise. I trust that, after this afternoon, we shall examine this question on its merits. I observe in the Press and in speeches which have been made by outside supporters of this movement that they are approaching the Division to-day with unusual heaviness of heart. They are lamenting, and lamenting somewhat publicly, the backslidings and fallings-away of emiment persons who in bygone times used to vote for their Bill, and even advocated actively their cause. They know their own tactics best; but I confess I should not have thought that that was the best way of recommending their claims to the attention of the House 1508 and the country. But I suppose, when you have got no proselytes to boast of, the only thing you can do is to denounce the perverts whom you have lost—I say, when you have no proselytes to boast of. I must admit that I rather agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, that some of the arguments both for and against this measure were pitched in rather too high a key. So far from thinking that it will lead to the political millennium which has been described in such graceful and elaborate language by the hon. Member for Dover, I regard it, for reasons which I shall shortly state to the House, as upon the whole a mischievous and injurious scheme; but, on the other hand, I cannot associate myself with all the gloomy predictions which we hear from the hon. Member for Flintshire and others, who seem to imagine that we are passing a measure which will lead to a complete and speedy disintegration of the social fabric. I believe that for some years its consequences would be slight and almost imperceptible. But we have got to consider and to deal, not with its immediate results, but its ultimate tendency. It is admitted that we have in this matter no relevant experience to guide us. There is no civilised country in the world, living under conditions similar or even approximating to those which prevail in Great Britain, which has ever made the experiment of giving women the vote. As to the case dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, the solitary case of Wyoming in the western part of America, I need not repeat what has been already said by my hon. Friend. It will be sufficient to point out that it is impossible to argue seriously from the experience of a rudimentary community, with a sparse population thinly scattered over what they call in America "magnificent distances," to the case of an ancient, complex, and highly organised society such as our own. Nor is more light to be gained from our experience of municipal elections. The women's vote there may have done good or harm. There is no evidence upon which to pronounce an opinion one way or the other; and the reason for that is that the result has been infinitesimal, either for good or for harm. 1509 No doubt there is a great and growing interest in these municipal contests; but we should be shutting our eyes to facts not to recognise that they are for the most part determined by local and personal considerations. The position of women voters in such contests is fundamentally different from what it would be if, through their instrumentality, an immense addition were made to the Parliamentary register, and if, when a great election was coming on, where every vote was a matter of almost national importance, this large body of untried and susceptible opinion were to be exposed to the influences, solicitation and pressure which cannot be withdrawn from a Parliamentary election. As we have no experience to guide us one way or the other, this change must be recommended on purely abstract grounds; and I do not think I am doing any injustice to the argument of the promoters of this Bill when I say that the main weight of their case rests on the assumption that in a democratic community such as ours, to exclude from the franchise any class of persons—especially persons who pay rates and possess property—is an indefensible anomaly, and a negation of the principle of popular representation. In other words, this Bill is recommended, as the hon. Member for Dover has said, as the logical development and completion of previous extensions of the suffrage. That is a position which, in its length and breadth, I entirely traverse. I assert that, in many essential particulars, the present proposal differs from all other previous enlargements of the franchise. In the first place, there has been no case hitherto in our constitutional experience where the franchise has been extended to a class without clear proof to demonstration being given that that class was, if not unanimously, at least in immensely preponderating numbers, and by an emphatic and clear voice demanding the boon that was to be offered. Now, what is the case in relation to women? It is true that there are some of the best women who are strongly in favour of women's suffrage. It is also true that there are some—I will not say a majority—of the best women who are strongly opposed to it. 1510 But as to the great mass of the sex, the only thing that can be asserted with truth is that they are watching with languid and imperturbable indifference the struggle for their own emancipation. Again, there has been no previous extension of the suffrage except where it has been capable of proof, and where it has been proved, that the class excluded, and whom it was sought to admit, are persons capable of performing, and actually performing, the duties, bearing the burdens, and liable to the calls of active citizenship. That was the case with the £10 occupier, and with the urban and rural householder. They were all men liable to be called upon in the last resort for the defence of their country. They were men to whom, before they got the franchise, most positions of public emolument and trust were already open. They were men for whom the duty and the burden of carrying out, and being actively responsible for, the policy and legislation of the country, existed, and who had no voice in directing or deciding that policy. The hon. Gentleman opposite has spoken with contempt of the argument derived from physical force. But in the last resort, not living in an ideal state of things, the sanction of the law is force; and the law which rests on the opinion of a majority of voices, but which cannot summon to its aid, in case of difficulty and danger, the active assistance of the physical force of the country—that is a law which is made to be broken, and for the performance of which there is no practical or adequate security. I say, therefore, that you are asking for the first time for the introduction into the Constitution of a new and a privileged class. You are asking the House to give women a vote and the power to count head for head with men in the making of laws, in the determining of policy, in the supervision of national administration; and yet, at the same time, you are not casting upon them—because nature does not allow it—the burden which is cast upon every male citizen. I go now to a further point. I say that there is no case in which the franchise has been enlarged where it has not been shown that there was an actual grievance of which the excluded class had a right to complain. One of the worst effects 1511 of a limited suffrage has been its tendency to produce class legislation; and it can be shown to demonstration that every extension of the suffrage has led directly, as an almost immediate consequence, to the remedying of grievances and the redress of injustice, or to the opening out of new opportunities, in respect of the class which was then for the first time admitted to electoral rights. It was so in 1832, when the £10 occupier was admitted. That led to the opening of the Municipal Corporations and to Free Trade. It was so in 1867, when the urban householder was admitted. That led to the scheme of national education. It has been still more conspicuous in the case of the last enlargement. For there is no doubt that, but for the enfranchisement of the rural labourer, the country would never have heard of allotments or small holdings, or any part of that large and varied programme of social land agrarian reform which is to be "spread before the eyes of the country voter at the next General Election. I have taken these instances for the purpose of challenging any hon. Member who may follow me to show that, in respect of sex, there is, or there has been for the last 30 years, a case of provable injustice in the legislation of the Imperial Parliament. The hon. Member for Aberdeen has dealt with the efforts of Parliament to put married and single women on the same footing in relation to contract and property, and to deal fairly between men and women with regard to the care of children. Is there any case now where the law weighs unfairly on women, and to which the attention of Parliament is not just as likely to be invoked successfully under the present suffrage as under a suffrage which would include women? I do not believe that any such case can be cited. It is the framers of this half-hearted and illogical Bill who are going to introduce distinctions between women and women, and between men and women. They are creating distinctions between women and women because, whereas a Parliament of men have removed every distinction and disability with respect to contract and ownership of property as between married and single women, the Movers of this Bill ask the House to affirm 1512 that a woman is perfectly qualified and competent by intelligence and experience to exercise a vote; but that the moment she approaches the altar she constructs for herself a disability which Parliament ought to recognise as thenceforward disqualifying her for a vote. That is not the only distinction; for while it is sought to enfranchise women for the particular and limited purpose of giving a Parliamentary vote, the Movers of this Bill at the same time refuse to take the next step—a step which, if their premises are right, would logically follow—and give them the capacity to sit in Parliament and hold important offices in the State. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian has pointed out, there is to be a new class of voters, privileged in one sense, as taking no part in the execution of the law, but in another sense disabled, because, while they may vote, they may not sit in the House of Commons or hold any public office. Now, that is a state of anomalies and inequalities which no Legislative Body, in which male opinion predominates, would ever be guilty of putting on the Statute Book. The question has been asked with considerable force, or at any rate with great superficial plausibility, whether the opponents of the Bill are prepared to assert that there are no women fit for the exercise of the franchise. They have been asked, by way of illustration, whether they will assert that a woman of genius like "George Eliot" was unfit for the vote which was given to her butler and her footman. But legislation must be framed to deal not with exceptions and portents, but with average cases and normal conditions; and when this question of fitness is raised it is incumbent to realise oneself, and to remind others, that fitness is a relative term. We have not only to ask whether the average woman is fit for the franchise, but, if I may use such an expression, whether the franchise is fit for her. I demur to the doctrine that women are unrepresented, or that they contribute nothing to our political life at the present moment. They contribute through their own appropriate agencies quite as much as men do. They contribute to it imagination, insight, sympathy, a host of moral and in- 1513 tellectual qualities, which are impossible to analyse and difficult to classify, but all of which have this common property—that they operate by personal influence, and not by associated or representative action, and that their natural sphere is not the turmoil and dust of politics, but the circle of social and domestic life. I do not say that if this measure were passed women would cease to exercise that influence; on the contrary, I believe they would still exercise it. But exactly to the extent to which the temptations offered by this measure were operative, in that degree they would tend to draw women from the sphere in which they are really powerful, and transplant them to another, where they would play a subordinate, a secondary, and an inappropriate part. I have heard this measure recommended in the name of democracy. But it is not a democratic measure. The doctrine of democracy demands that we should equalise where inequality exists among things fundamentally alike, but not that we should identify where things are fundamentally unlike. The inequalities which democracy requires that we should fight against and remove are the unearned privileges and the artificial distinction which man has made, and which man can unmake. They are not those indelible differences of faculty and function by which Nature herself has given diversity and richness to human society.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Asquith) has made such a very powerful speech that I feel considerable diffidence in rising to follow him; and especially so, as I am aware there are others who desire to join in the Debate. I will, however, briefly deal with one or two arguments he has advanced. My hon. Friend has said this will be an occasion for taking the measure of the progress of opinion on the subject dealt with by the Bill, and he seemed already to congratulate himself that the Division would show a dwindling force into its support. I do not inquire what result to the Bill the immediate decision may be. Whether it be for or against the Second Reading I shall receive the result with an equally unmoved temper, because I am persuaded 1514 that this measure, small as it is, is a part of the great movement which, in spite of all the rallying of the opposition, is bound to persevere, bound to go on, and must very soon prevail. The hon. Member for Fife (Mr. Asquith), referring to the extremely able speech of the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham), said that the hon. Member advanced a new argument against the Bill. The hon. Member for Dover referred to a large section of the women population of this country who, in consequence of the alteration of economic and social conditions, are now themselves forced to earn their own living and are more or less self-dependent, and he argued that was a class whose interests at least deserved consideration, and were liable to be forgotten by this Imperial Parliament so long as women were not represented by this Parliament. "But," says the hon. Member for Fife, "this Bill does not enfranchise women of that character." It is, however, a Bill which will undoubtedly enfranchise something like eight or nine hundred thousand women, most of them closely associated with the working women of whom I have spoken, and who will share their hopes, their fortunes, and know the particular wants of women, and the particular wants which require attention. It may be possible that not many of these working women who are self-dependent will get the franchise under this Bill, although I think there are more than the hon. Member for Fife suspects; but this Bill if passed will establish the great principle that women not only economically and socially but politically must be regarded as persons who are more or less capable of self-defence. And the influence which already operates to a large extent will, from the political operation of the vote, still more be strengthened and affirmed, so that woman in the future working out her own position and dependent upon her own exertions would fortify the Legislature and render it more responsible to her wants. It is said that women have no particular claim to protection at the hands of the Legislature. And it is curious to note that the class proposed to be enfranchised has always already received careful and full attention from 1515 the Legislature, but when it becomes enfranchised it is found that they have a considerable right to ask attention which up to that time has been neglected. During the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, and his argument about women, and still more during the speech of the hon. Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith), who fears the terrors of what will happen if eleven million women are admitted to the franchise, I was reminded of an incident which occurred in this House during the Debate on the Household Suffrage Bill. Some Member on the Conservative side dilated on the frightful consequences which would come if the working classes were admitted to the franchise en masse, and the right hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), animated by a just resentment of that kind of argument, said—You talk of these persons as if they were wholly removed from us; as if they were persons who would vote against us. Are they not also flesh and blood?I venture to say of women—"Are they not flesh and blood?" Have not they got some sort of interest in what we do, in the laws we proclaim; are they not interested as the men are interested; and, from that point of view, are we to assume with the hon. Member for Flintshire that the final effect of this movement, if now adopted, will be to enfranchise eleven million enemies? It is said that women have no special merits, no special needs. But I would recommend the consideration of the action of women in connection with the representative institutions they could influence. Why, Sir, experience of the action of women as electors in representative assemblies has shown that women are very keenly interested in the character and the conduct of the persons they choose, and they are very keenly interested, too, in the kind of social legislation which affects the happiness of the home, and affects the relations of the wage earner of the home. And who can doubt that if women do get the vote, even under the limited form of this Bill, there will be a considerable addition to the strength of the demand for temperance legislation. As to the needs of women, I have had some small experience as a Member 1516 of the Labour Commission, which at least shows there are some wants of women which have not been hitherto attended to, and which I think would receive ampler attention, and more immediate attention, if women had an active voice in the Legislature. There is, for example, such a small matter as the inspection of factories. The mass of workers in the textile factories are women, not men; and they are universally agreed in their demand for women Inspectors, and yet they do not get women Inspectors to help them in any degree. I think if the Home Secretary had women voters at his back he would soon have to come to the House of Commons to ask for an increased inspectorate, and to allow women to inspect the conditions of work in our factories as well as men. Then there is the matter of educational endowment, which has also been referred to, and under which women have not had their fair share. There is also the question of the divorce laws, and the subject of the custody of children still remains in a most incomplete form, inflicting great injury and injustice on the mother. For example, a husband may treat his wife so badly that it is impossible for her to live with him, and yet if the wife separates from the husband the latter has complete control of the children. This Bill is a very narrow and simple Bill. It proposes to declare this—that a woman already entitled to the municipal vote or County Council vote should also be entitled to the Parliamentary vote. "Oh," said the hon. and learned Member for Fife (Mr. Asquith), "You are creating a new class with exemptions; you do not give the vote to the married women." We, however, take the situation as we find it. We do not cut out the married women at all. To the women who have a vote we give a vote; and if the hon. Member for Fife is so anxious to remove the disability of coverture there is no reason why he should not endeavour to do so. It is not we who have created the disability; we accept the disability simply as it stands, and we propose to extend the Parliamentary franchise in accordance with the conditions regulating the municipal franchise. I have said this is a very small measure in 1517 itself, but it is part of a great movement, which may be pregnant with important consequences. If adopted it will initiate this principle—that woman is a citizen as well as man, and that woman, self-dependent, has the same right to be represented in this House as man. And in that respect—aye, small as the matter is—I accept it as one dictated by common-sense and the plain principles of justice, and supported by the experience we have had; and whatever may be the ultimate consequences to which we are moving—I am not bold enough to prophecy—I am satisfied with the movement itself. No doubt we have gone through an age of the emancipation of women. From the time when men, in the plenitude of their strength, put to death the surplus female infants who were not wanted, because they were drags upon their action and limitation to their power, from that time to the present we have made great advances, and no doubt there are greater advances yet to be made. What may be the ultimate position of men and women in the society of two or three centuries hence I do not pretend to know. I am satisfied with this one step. This step is a simple one, and it is a just one. This one step is dictated to us by experience. This one step is recommended by the past. The future may take care of itself. This one step we are emboldened to take, because we see in it a step onward in the progress which has been made in the development of woman as a factor in our social system. I am, therefore, induced to give this Bill my support, and I hope the House will give it their support also when it goes to a Division.
§ *(4.48.) SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
It is some 21 years ago since I first took part in the discussion of a Bill somewhat similar to the one now before the House. Since then I have so often expressed my views upon the subject, that perhaps those who have followed the discussions on this question will feel I am unduly intruding myself upon their attention. But the sound of my right hon. Friend's voice has aroused me. He has recalled some struggles he and I have had on this subject before. Well, Sir, I admit the skill of his rhetoric and his power in 1518 debate have not afforded me many opportunities for answering him this evening. Yet, at the same time, there are some topics upon which an answer should be given. Mr. Speaker, my view is that my right hon. Friend has misconceived the nature of this Bill. I did not enjoy the opportunity of hearing the hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Rollit), who introduced this Bill, explain the strange and fantastic character of it, and the circumstances under which he felt justified in presenting it to this House. I have always understood that one of the principal grounds upon which this measure is based is that women shall be placed upon an equality with men. Some have said they support the Bill because men have been hostile to women. Both the grounds I believe to be untenable. If the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill is asking for the political equality of women with men, will he, in his reply, state why he shrank from approaching that subject? My right hon. Friend says he supports the Bill in order that redress for women's grievances may be obtained. If so, why does he shrink from Parliamentary equality? The attempted explanation of my right hon. Friend is one entirely devoid of logic. By this Bill it is sought to give to Parliamentary women—if I may use the term—a municipal franchise, while we retain to men the Parliamentary franchise. The municipal franchise proceeds on certain grounds. In dealing with municipal matters you have to deal essentially with the imposition of rates, and the application of those rates. Therefore, in the municipal franchise you have to deal wholly with a rateable franchise. You will not extend it beyond the rateable franchise. You will not allow the 40s. freeholder to vote in the municipality, nor will you allow the lodger franchise to be extended to the municipal voter, nor will you allow the service voter to vote for one and the same reason—that is, because they are not rated. Thus, when in 1888 the House had to deal with this question in the Local Government Bill, they always kept the distinction clear between the Parliamentary voter and the municipal voter with a rating franchise. The promoters of this Bill, whilst extending 1519 the Parliamentary franchise to women, yet keep her within the municipal rating area, and refuse to give her the 40s. freehold vote, the lodger vote, or the service vote. You are thus erring exactly in the wrong direction. I listened just now to the eloquent language of the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham), who drew a picture of a lonely woman, with no one to guide her, without a husband to protect her, and with no paternal roof to cover her. So she wandered into—where? Lodgings, I presume. That homeless lady, the particular friend of the hon. Member, is thus shut out from the franchise of this Bill. You refuse to give Parliamentary equality to that homeless person who needs a vote to redress her grievances, for the simple reason that you are endeavouring, as a matter of tactics, to say that what you are going to give is to be given because it has been given before without any consideration of the reasonableness or the unreasonableness of the different qualifications now existing. Now, Sir, one word more with regard to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney). He says that although this is but a partial measure, he accepts it, and does not care to what it will lead. Should that be the view of any man who desires to take part in public life—that he will look only to the immediate effect of a particular Bill, without considering whether its natural result must be for good or for evil? I say the man who sets the stone rolling at the summit of the hill is bound to see what effect will be produced in the valley. And, Sir, as has been pointed out in the course of this Debate, the House is bound to contemplate the time when, in consequence of the spread of education and the increase of intelligence and political knowledge, which must be factors in the progress of this country, we shall put on one side those evidences of fitness by property qualifications, and ask that every man shall have a vote. I do not contemplate whether the time will be sooner or later when that condition of affairs is reached; but it is in that direction the political forces of the time are drifting. When that day is reached, no one will hear of this 1520 timid shrinking from political equality. If you give universal suffrage to men, with the admission by this Bill that you are seeking to obtain Parliamentary equality, then you must give it also to women. Well, Sir, we have 900,000 more females than males in the United Kingdom. That is the proportion of the two sexes, I do not say of adults, and we should, consequently, have a large majority of female voters over male voters. What I ask is, are you prepared to say that the destinies of this country shall be governed and controlled by that preponderating majority? Are you prepared to say that this majority shall have the power of directing a policy which, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife (Mr. Asquith) has pointed out, they never can be called upon to carry out? Mr. Speaker, there is also one practical view of this question. What do our politics consist of? Men may be eloquent upon subjects, especially Imperial subjects, from an abstract or theoretical point of view; but in the main our politics are composed of practical subjects, and they must depend for their decision upon practical knowledge. We hear discussed here questions affecting the control of the Army, and we listen to military men on the subject. Naval questions are also discussed, and we have the opinions of naval men to guide us. Commercial life is represented by commercial men, and even legal matters are represented by lawyers. Now, upon none of these subjects can we receive practical assistance from any woman, she not being a member of any of these professions. Yet it is proposed to give the preponderating influence to women, who are unskilled from lack of practical knowledge, while at the polling booth, as well as in Parliament, women will be allowed to take the same share as men in deliberating on and determining questions of which they are totally ignorant. The House must look to the consequences of such a proposal as this. Logically hon. Members must accept the proposition that if women had equal power of voting with men they should also have a seat in Parliament, and should have the privilege of filling many offices. That is the view of the supporters of this Bill. The 1521 hon. and learned Member for Haddington (Mr. Haldane) has introduced a Bill in which he proposes to make it almost a duty of the State to appoint a woman as Archbishop of Canterbury, Prime Minister, and Commander-in-Chief, whether she be competent or not. If the principle of Parliamentary equality is established, all the positions of this House must be open for women, even that of being a "Whip," and I have no doubt she would administer that office against us with great efficiency. The result is that we should be regarded as a nation of women instead of a nation of men. Sir, there is one argument I should have shrunk from if it had not been for some remarks that fell from my right hon. Friend, (Mr. Courtney), and that is as to the fitness of women for this measure. It has been said that one becomes personal if he states that a woman is more unfit than a man to exercise the franchise; but I confess, if I were not afraid of the consequences, I should be disposed to express that view strongly. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Courtney) on one occasion made a statement on which I may rely in confirmation of my opinion that women are not so fit as men to exercise the franchise. This is the opinion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin, who, in moving the introduction of a Bill, said:—The narrowness of women's range of ideas is absolutely deleterious in its effects.My right hon. Friend went on—Our earliest lessons are received from them. Are they not often lessons that we have afterwards to unlearn with great difficulty? We often find a difficulty in freeing ourselves from them, and in emancipating ourselves from the errors of our earliest days.My right hon. Friend has passed on from the days of infancy to what I hope are happier days.
§ * SIR H. JAMES
Certainly. I am about to follow my right hon. Friend into his later life. Again, he says—Of those who enter into the married relation of life, how constantly does it happen that the man's freedom of intellect is hampered, and he is incapable of imparting to the woman with whom so much of his life is spent any conception of his thoughts.1522 It is true my right hon. Friend uttered these words many years ago, but he goes on to say—He does not find in her any companionship, but, on the contrary, a drag upon his aspirations.My right hon. Friend, referring to women individually, declared that, speaking on behalf of his country, he is willing to give to such women, who have taught us these evil lessons in our youth, the franchise. But at what expense? What time of probation is a woman to go through, and what price are we to pay for this school of treatment? It is at the expense of the Government of this country that this instruction will be given: the nursery will be the polling booth, and the schoolroom this House of Commons. But does it occur to him that there are men who take a different view of the subject, and who believe that those first lessons have not been deleterious to us. There are men who believe that such instincts for good as they have they received from their mother's teaching. It may be that teaching was not always logical, but to that teaching of the child could, oftentimes, be traced all the lessons for good that were applied in manhood. And these women who gave these lessons are the women who never had the vote, and who did not spend their time on the platforms of the country. Upon the second subject on which my right hon. Friend touched, the subject of married life, it certainly is a strange anomaly that whilst my right hon. Friend wishes to teach the mother and make her a better mother he would not extend the benefit of the lesson to the wife. He will allow the drag to continue on an imaginary husband; he will still allow the deleterious effect of the narrow range of ideas to affect a learned husband. If it is the intention of my right hon. Friend to give married women the vote let him say so; let the Mover of this Bill say so. Do not let them take advantage of us by saying that this is a simple and harmless measure, and then say that they are willing to give the vote to married women. If this Bill passes, the natural consequence must be that the married women must have a vote as well as the unmarried women. It is an absurdity otherwise. Whilst 1523 men have their professions women have only one, and that is marriage, and yet we are asked to impose a disability upon her as soon as she is successful. The last time I referred to this subject there was great dissent from the view that a woman's destiny in life was controlled by the profession of marriage, and I believe an echo of that dissent was heard from a source which is invisible, though it may be audible (the Ladies Gallery). But my foundation for the statement is that when Lord Herschell brought a Bill into this House to abolish actions for breach of promise of marriage the women of England, under the handwriting of Miss Lydia Becker, protested against the measure, because they said that women's profession, in which she alone could succeed, was marriage, and they objected that the right to bring an action for breach of promise of marriage should be taken away from them. What is the absurdity of this proposition? The timid supporters of this measure would allow a woman, who has been unsuccessful in her profession, to retain the vote; but the one who has gifts and qualities of mind to attract, and becomes successful in that which those ladies termed their profession, the moment she attains the crown she is to be deprived, by her success, of the vote, and disfranchisement is to follow. These are, indeed, strange arguments upon which to found a Bill which is to appeal to the intelligence and logic of men. We are no enemies of women who seek to prevent their inroads into public life. It was a gifted woman who said that the woman who rocks the cradle rules the world, and she who has the power in the homes of England, she who can influence men, she who can, notwithstanding my right hon. Friend's view, enter into the thoughts and guide the actions of men, is a power irresistible in its force. But if she seeks for another mode of action, if she is asking through her advocates for a different power, she must pay the cost of it by losing those influences which proceed from her very inability to enter into the contentions and rough struggles of public life. Whenever she does this she will yield up real forces and influences for good, she will 1524 fail to maintain her higher power when she struggles against man, but she will not fail in producing influences which will be destructive and disastrous to the very best hopes and interests of this country.
§ (5.10.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
I should not have thought it necessary or entirely for the convenience of the Debate to have intervened if it were not that I find myself in opposition to the greater number of friends of mine who sit on these Benches, and with whom I am in the habit of acting in the closest agreement on all political matters; and knowing, also, that the opinions I am about to express are not shared by a large number of gentlemen who sit on this side of the House, I am unwilling to give a vote without very briefly stating some of the reasons which influence me in taking that course. The Debate has been an extremely able and interesting one, and the burden of the attack upon the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for South Islington has been borne by two Gentlemen sitting on the other side of the House, the light hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, and the hon. Member for Fife. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury, though he made a very able and interesting speech, laboured under two or three disadvantages. He laboured, amongst other things, under the disadvantage of having replied to a speech which he had not heard, and he attacked my hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading of this Bill on grounds which he never advanced at all. He supposed that this Bill was introduced in order to produce absolute equality and symmetry in the position of men and women in regard to politics. My hon. Friend would have been guilty of the greatest absurdity if he had advanced arguments of that kind in support of a Bill which, on the very face of it, does not profess to produce that equality. And many of those who are going to support this Bill do not support it on any ground of abstract right or equality, or on any abstract right at all. We support it for practical reasons which I will endeavour shortly to state to the House. Another argument put forward by the 1525 Member for Bury was, if he will permit me to say so, fundamentally inconsistent with the arguments advanced by the Member for Fife. The right hon. Gentleman drew a picture of what the condition of England would be when eleven million women had a vote, and only ten million men had a vote. He said—You will then be under the subjection of women. Women will control the policy of this country, and we shall be a nation of women and children.That implies that the women are all going to vote on one side and the men on the other, and that women would outvote the men. In other words, it pre-supposes that there is a class distinction and cleavage between women and men in matters political which would put all the women on one side and all the men on the other. That is altogether and wholly inconsistent with the argument of the Member for Fife, who told us that to consider this question as one of class distinction was altogether to misconceive the conditions of modern society. Turning from the right hon. Gentleman to the learned Gentleman behind him (Mr. Asquith), he gave us a very good Tory speech of the old tune upon the question of Reform Bills in general, and, in fact, there has been an unexpected vein of Toryism, or, at all events, what is described as Toryism by Liberal critics, in the speeches of gentlemen who sit on the opposite Benches on this question. As the Member for Dover (Mr. Wyndham) has pointed out, had the words "agricultural labourer" been substituted for "women," some of those speeches were such as might have been heard from the small knot of gentlemen who were opposed to the Reform Bill of 1885, and precisely the same arguments have been used with respect to the incompetence of the class to be admitted, and as to the interests of that class having been hitherto fully considered. These are arguments with which we are all familiar, and have been familiar from time immemorial, the only difference being that they have much less justification in the present case than, I think, they had on previous Reform Bills. The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned three points in which this particular altera 1526 tion of the franchise differed from any previous alteration of the franchise that had ever been proposed. He said that in every previous case the class to be enfranchised had shown their very great anxiety to obtain the franchise, and that in this case no such anxiety had been shown. I differ from the hon. and learned Gentleman. I think those who wished to be enfranchised have used the only methods they could use in the matter. That is to say, they have expressed their desire to obtain the vote on platforms and by public meetings, and by whatever other means were open to them. The hon. Gentleman appears to think that there was a widespread desire on the part of agricultural labourers to claim the franchise in 1885. I do not believe the desire existed, and I am sure it was never demonstrated. I am sure it could not be demonstrated; there were no means of demonstrating it except the means which have been used in the present case—platform speeches, public meetings, petitions, votes, and resolutions. Then, Sir, the second point on which the hon. Gentleman says this Reform Bill differs from every other Reform Bill is that the class to be enfranchised on this occasion are not capable of performing the duties of active citizenship as the classes which were previously enfranchised had been. What duties? So far as I know, the main one to which the hon. Gentleman alluded is that of fighting for their country. That duty cannot be performed with efficiency by gentlemen over 60 years of age. At all events, I am not aware that the severest conscription in any country requires any person over 60 years of age to serve under any contingency whatever, and yet I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman desires to disfranchise them. The posse comitatus does not go out and fight the enemy; the enemy is fought by the disciplined Forces of the country, and the chief duty of the ordinary citizen consists not in shouldering a rifle and going off to the frontier; it consists in paying the bill. That is a duty which the people desired to be enfranchised by this Bill can perform; it is a duty they are obliged to perform; and the mere fact that they cannot enrol 1527 themselves in Volunteer Corps does not appear to be an adequate reason for refusing them some control over the policy by which the foreign relations of our country are conducted and means of defence are to be secured. The third argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman was that in the case of every previous Reform Bill there had been a grievance of the class to be enfranchised which required to be redressed, and which could not, and would not, be redressed until the franchise was given to them, and he pointed out with great force that in connection with each of the great Reform Bills the grievances of the enfranchised class came to the front. But when did they come to the front? Did they come to the front before the enfranchised class received the vote or after it? The hon. and learned Gentleman has only to consider the list of cases he has himself given, and he will discover that it was only after the vote was conferred that it was discovered that this House really had a function to perform in modifying legislation in this country in the interests of the new class of voters. Now, Sir, leaving the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and referring to the general course of the Debate, there is one argument which has been used which I desire directly to traverse. We have been told that to encourage women to take an active part in politics is degrading to the sex, and that received the assent of an hon. Friend of mine below the Gangway. It has received the assent of almost every speaker today. I should think myself grossly inconsistent and most ungrateful if I supported that argument in this House, for I have myself taken the chair at Primrose League meetings, and urged to the best of my ability the women of this country to take a share in politics, and to do their best in their various localities to support the principles which I believe to be sound in the interests of the country. After that, to come down to the House and say I have asked these women to do that which degrades them appears to me to be most absurd. I do not know much about these matters, but I understand that there are other Associations of the kind of which women are members, and I 1528 have heard of a Liberal-Unionist Women's Association; I do not know if it has given my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bury (Sir H. James) that valuable assistance they are always ready to give. There is also, I think, a Women's Liberal Federation. I daresay the learned Member for Fife (Mr. Asquith) has taken part in its meetings.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The House will understand that I do not wish to introduce personal questions at all, but I think I may take it that every section in this House is only too glad to use the services of women when they think they can profit by them, and it does not lie in the mouths of any of us to say that taking a part in framing the policy of the Empire is degrading to the sex. In any other department of human thought than politics such an argument would be described by no milder word than "cant." Cant it undoubtedly is. The argument which appealed most, I am convinced, to those who oppose this Bill is not an objection of this character, but the conviction—the ill-founded conviction, I think—that it must necessarily carry with it, as what they call a logical consequence, the result that women must have a seat in this House, in the Cabinet, and should in all respects, so far as public offices are concerned, be placed on an equality with men. I do not believe a word of that argument. I can quite agree that it is very difficult to stop in such a course—to fix an arbitrary point and say there you will stop—if the arguments for going further are precisely those which made you travel thus far. The point, therefore, for us to consider is, Can the arguments that are brought forward in favour of this Bill be also brought forward in favour of women having a seat in this House? No, Sir; they cannot. There is no fundamental distinction between giving women the right to vote in municipal affairs and giving them the right to vote in Imperial affairs, and yet, though there is no distinction, you have resisted the change for 20 years, and, according to the hon. Member for Fife, you are going to resist it for 20 1529 years more. How easy it would be to resist a change which involved a new departure—a new principle! Everybody must assent to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Flintshire (Mr. S. Smith) that women cannot engage on an equality with men in a large number of professions. They cannot; and I quite agree that the profession of politics is one of these. In my opinion women could not with advantage to themselves, or to the community, take part in the labours of a great deliberative Assembly like this. That is a reason for not giving them a seat in this House, but is it a reason for not giving them an opportunity of expressing an opinion and giving a vote every four or five years? I do not know what the average duration of Parliament has been during the last 100 years, but I think in the future it will probably not be so long. If you want to prevent further progress you ought to stop at a point where defence is possible, but at the present point logical defence is not possible. Therefore, those who are greatly moved by logical consistency should, I think, move on till they come to a point where further change could be successfully resisted. The Debate has now almost reached its natural termination, and all I will say is that the matter which surprises me in this Debate is the position taken up by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I understand that part of their programme is a great alteration of the franchise, in spite of what fell from the hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Bryce). I understand one plank of the Newcastle platform was One Man One Vote. When that is brought forward I believe we shall have all the old flesh-and-blood arguments urged again, all the old arguments for political liberty, and the whole train of commonplaces again thrust before us for our acceptance, by which each successive change in the franchise has been accepted, and yet the very gentlemen who say they are going to bring forward that programme at this moment absolutely refuse to admit the validity of a single one of these arguments when they are directed towards enfranchising not the least worthy class of the community, but what I believe to be one of the worthiest classes. You will give 1530 a vote to a man who contributes nothing to taxation but what he pays on his beer, while you refuse enfranchisement to a woman because she is a woman, whatever her contribution to the State may be. She has sufficient ability to look after lighting and paving, but is not so fitted to look after the interests of the Empire as a man who cannot point out on the map the parts of the world of which that Empire is composed. I think from all I can hear that this Bill is not likely to be successful on this occasion; but, depend upon it, if any further alteration of the franchise is brought forward as a practical measure, this question will again arise, menacing and ripe for solution, and it will not be possible for this House to set it aside as a mere speculative plan advocated by a body of faddists. Then you will have to deal with the problem of woman suffrage, and to deal with it in a complete fashion.
§ Question put.
§ (5.30.) The House divided:—Ayes 152; Noes 175.—(Div. List, No. 86.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.