HC Deb 15 June 1894 vol 25 cc1223-4
MR. BYLES (York, W.R., Shipley)

I beg to ask the First Commissioner of Works whether there is any Rule of the House, or any Rule whatever, which prevents women from using an order for admission to the Members' Gallery; and, if not, whether he will give instructions that Members' orders shall equally admit persons of either sex?


Although this matter does not come within the province of my Department, it has been thought advisable that I should answer it, and I am much obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for furnishing me with the necessary information. The exclusion of ladies from the Strangers' Galleries is based on a Rule enforced by successive Speakers that a woman cannot claim admission to the House as a stranger. [Cries of "Why"?] In former times, between the years 1675 and 1778, the occasional presence of women in the Gallery below the Bar was permitted. Notice having been taken during the Sitting of February 2, 1778, that strangers were present, the strangers who were men withdrew in obedience to the direction of the Serjeant-at-Arms. The ladies who filled the Gallery were, at first, permitted to remain; but an order that they also should withdraw having been obtained, their exclusion was effected, although not until they had exhibited such a persevering reluctance to obey the order that they interrupted the business of the House for nearly two hours. Since that day ladies have never been allowed to sit within the House. The authority for these statements will be found in the 2nd volume of Hatsell's Precedents, p. 181, and the 19th volume of the Parliamentary History, p. 672. My hon. Friend's suggestion that orders for the Members' Gallery should admit persons of either sex could not be adopted without the express sanction of the House.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at the present day there are many ladies who are active supporters of the present Government who positively refuse to accept tickets of admission to the Ladies' Gallery, declining to submit to be shut up in a cage?


Will this matter come under the consideration of the Committee that has been appointed to inquire into the subject of the accommodation of the House?

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

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that an incident somewhat similar to that which he has related occurred in the House of Lords, and that, nothwith-standing that fact, the House of Lords decided to re-admit ladies? Cannot a similar relaxation of the Rule for exclusion be made in the case of the House of Commons?


I have already said it is a question for the House, and if the House of Commons likes to follow the example of the House of Lords it can do so. The question does not fall within the Reference to the Committee. I have no knowledge of any ladies having refused to enter the Ladies' Gallery.


I will supply the right hon. Gentleman with the information.