HC Deb 12 August 1907 vol 180 cc927-41

Order for Second Reading read.

*The PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. JOHN BURNS, Battersea) moved the Second Reading of this Bill, the object of which, he said, was to remove the disqualification of women from sitting on public bodies for which they were entitled to vote. The Bill enabled women, who were otherwise qualified, to sit on county and borough councils, and, if selected, as chairman of those bodies. It, however, did not entitle them to be Justices of the Peace by virtue of any such office. The House knew that women could be members and chairmen of parish councils, urban councils, and rural district councils or boards of guardians, and they could also vote for those bodies. Outside London, single women could vote for but not sit upon county councils or borough councils; married women could not vote and consequently could not sit. With regard to London Borough Councils, single women could vote but not sit by virtue of the Local Government Act of 1899, and for the London County Council single women could also vote but not sit. This Bill proposed that women should have the right to sit on provincial borough councils, Metropolitan borough councils, and county councils. But in establishing their right to this, the Bill proposed that they should not be Justices of the Peace by virtue of their being chairmen of borough or county councils. In this the precedent of Section 22 of the Local Government Act of 1894 was followed. The House of Lords had altered the Bill so as to exclude women from being chairmen of county councils or mayors of boroughs. The Government proposed to disagree with the Lords' Amendment. This Bill raised no new question of franchise. If it did he ventured to say that the Bill would be most probably rejected for this session. It removed a disability that had recently been imposed upon women who were able to be elected for school boards. The Bill re-established that right which had been taken away. It removed doubts in one or two other matters, and he asked the House to give it a Second Reading. At this moment there were something like 2,000 women members of various urban, rural, and parish councils, and boards of guardians. There were 615 co-opted women members on education committees, and a few on distress committees, whilst others were members of governing bodies of polytechnics. As the law now stood, however, women could not be members of 320 town councils of provincial boroughs, of 29 Metropolitan borough councils, and of 62 county councils. The Bill, without approaching the question of a new franchise, without raising a number of questions which at that time of the session and that hour of the night could not be embarked upon, extended to women a useful sphere of local government for which they were thoroughly qualified, and in which many had done good service for their fellows, the community, and the State, and he appealed to the House to confine the Bill to its present provisions and to give it a Second Heading.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said he was himself in favour of the extension to women of privileges they already enjoyed in a small portion of our local government, and of their being enabled to take that part in local affairs which their knowledge qualified them to take with advantage to the community and to their own credit. But he was surprised to hear that the Government were not satisfied with the form in which the Bill had come down to this House, because he did not think they would seriously quarrel with a decision which only seemed to take a common-sense view of the situation, namely, that women should not be qualified to sit as mayors of boroughs or as chairmen of urban district councils.


Women can now be chairmen of parish, rural, or urban district councils, or boards of guardians.


said that in that case the only effect of the proposal would be to extend the right of women to act as chairmen of county councils. [Several HON. MEMBERS: And borough councils]. He was not aware that there had been a case of a woman being elected as chairman of an urban council or board of guardians, but he could not help thinking it was undesirable that that particular privilege should be extended to them. He thought they ought to be members of these local bodies, because in all local government their special knowledge and experience were of very great value. He was rather surprised that the Bill did not extend to Ireland, because in this particular respect the local authorities in Ireland differed in no way from the local authorities in the rest of the United Kingdom, and he hoped that when the Bill got into Committee Amendments might be proposed to extend whatever privileges the House decided to grant to women, whether they were members of English, Irish, or Welsh local bodies. Subject to revision in the way he had suggested, he would be prepared to support the passage of this Bill.

MR. HARMOOD-BANNER moved the rejection of the Bill. He said that he did so for the very good reason that he had been ton years a mem- ber of a city council, and he considered that a more inappropriate proposal than that women should sit on such councils and take part in their deliberations was never brought before the House. It was quite possible that it should be appropriate in the case of small rural or parish councils, but where there were large councils like that in the City of Liverpool—with 120 members—quite as many as sat during many of the discussions in the House of Commons he did not think it was at all a proper thing to include women amongst the members. [An HON. MEMBER: Why?] For this reason: in the first place, the subjects discussed in a large council were with very few exceptions quite outside the scope of the work women could undertake. For instance, what had women to do with electric light, gas works, finance, the management of horses, tramways, and other similar work, which was essentially men's work? It was perfectly correct to say that the co-optation of women on certain committees bad been most valuable, and he would like to see the principle of co-optation extended. Women had done very good work for education. If they were co-opted on health committees and on bodies dealing with hospitals they would doubtless do work that would be very beneficial, but that they should take part in the work of large councils he could not consider right. If once they were admitted to city councils there was no doubt what would follow. They would come to Parliament. At once he would say he was in favour of women having the vote. The vote was a proper thing to give them. He had given every, assistance he could to support the cause of women's votes. He had no dislike to women's having votes, but only to their sitting and talking on a city council. Would it be nice, for instance, for women to sit there in Parliament and take part in that roar of laughter which had just been sent up? He would ask hon. Members to consider whether the empty benches in the House that night showed that there was any such demand for this concession to women as was indicated by the fulness of the benches when there was to be a discussion on the propriety of giving women the vote? When the question arose of giving women the vote the whole House was in a state of excitement; but the provision then before hon. Members was merely a sop to Cerberus, because women had kept guard in Cavendish Square outside the house of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because they had caused great rows and troubles in Downing Street, and because they had required the services of the police outside the Houses of Parliament when demanding votes. It was now supposed that this Bill was going to give to women that sop which would content them. He would have thought that the President of the Local Government Board would have given an option to large city councils like that of Liverpool to adopt the principle of the inclusion of women if they thought fit. All those who had sat in such councils would know the work there was oftentimes of keeping order. It did not matter whether the council was that of Liverpool or Manchester or anywhere else. It would be most inappropriate for women to take part in those yells of laughter which sometimes arose in the House of Commons, and which they would certainly hear in city councils. [An HON. MEMEBER: Only in Liverpool.] No, Liverpool showed an example of the best civic work. He did not think it was either right or proper to put women on city councils. He could not understand the President of the Local Government Board, with his experience of municipal councils, asking city councils to take this on their shoulders: and, added to that, the possibility of women becoming mayors or chairmen of county councils was a greater wonder to him still. Let them imagine a lady taking the position of a mayor of a city council! [An HON. MEMBER: Why not?] Because she could not enforce order there. It would be most inappropriate. It was absolutely inappropriate that women should take part in the various questions that came up at a city council meeting, and he regarded it as an insult to the big city councils that such a proposal should have been brought forward. He hoped that before the Bill got to Committee the right hon. Gentleman would give to big city councils the option of adopting the principle or not as they thought fit. By all means let them give women votes, but hon. Members would agree it was inappropriate that women should sit in the House alongside hon. Members. Equally women would certainly not be in their proper place in city councils. Let women be put on health committees and on hospital boards, but let them not enter city councils upon which neither their counsel, their advice, nor their assistance was sought.

MR. DUNN (Cornwall, Camborne)

wished to call attention to a provision in the Bill which he very much regretted. He thanked the President of the Local Government Board for the way in which he had introduced the measure, but he doubted whether the right hon. Gentleman realised how far the Bill would go, or rather how far it did not go. The objection which he had to the Bill was that it did not qualify married women to sit on councils. He would not like, at that late hour, to enter into an argument to show that this was so. Though he would support the Second Reading of the Bill he hoped an opportunity would be given to amend this defect in Committee. Of all classes of women it was the married woman with broad sympathies who could best help forward the municipal work of borough I and city councils. He cordially supported the Second Reading, and he hoped that the defect he had pointed out would be I remedied.

MR. HILLS (Durham)

asked whether, I if the Bill passed, a woman would be able to become Lord Mayor of London and could she sit on a county council.


A woman may sit on a county council under this Bill I doubt very much whether a woman will ever be Lord Mayor of London.


said he would like to support his hon. friend in objecting to the Bill. One of his reasons was that he very strongly opposed the Parliamentary franchise or anything approaching it being given to women. This, he considered, would be one of the first steps on the downward path to female suffrage. As women had the vote already for borough and county councils the time had come when they would be qualified to sit on them. He could not help thinking that it was a great mistake to qualify women in this way. He agreed that women could give-very useful service in certain local matters. No doubt the service which they had rendered to the school boards was of very great value, and the service they rendered on education committees at the present time was equally good. They might do good work respecting lunatic asylums, the Midwives' Act, and other matters, and he could not see why a Bill should not be introduced to extend power to co-opt women instead of allowing them to sit on councils. To do so was to put men and women in an unfair position, respectively: they might be placed face to face as contestants in an election. It was all very well to say that women already served on boards of guardians and parish councils. Everyone knew that the larger the body to which an election was being made, the greater the keenness and the rivalry that attached to the election. Very often elections to county councils were fought with great vigour, and he thought in some parts of the country it would be an unfair thing to ask women to stand for those bodies, whereas a man would not care to do things he might otherwise do in opposing a woman for the position. The suggestion in the Bill had the double disadvantage of putting women in a sphere for which they were not fitted, and of causing men to oppose women in a conflict which was not suitable. He believed it was not the function of women to take part in the rough and tumble of politics. It was inevitable, if they were to be allowed to sit on borough and city councils, that the time would come when they would be not only qualified to vote for Parliament but to sit in the House itself. The proposition that they should sit in the House seemed to be a reductio ad absurdum. It was a ridiculous and degrading proposal that women should sit in that Assembly; to no one more degrading than to the women themselves. Surely it was for men to govern the country of which they were citizens. The proposal that women should sit on borough and county councils seemed to him to divide the sexes into two hostile camps. It would not restore prestige to the House of Commons as the Prime Minister said so frankly he was going to do. That the Bill should be introduced for a Second Reading at that time of the year, and at that hour of the morning, he thought indicated a want of courtesy to the House.

MR. S. T. EVANS Glamorganshire, (Mid.)

said that at that late hour it was quite obvious they could not adequately discuss the Second Reading of a measure of that character, without trespassing, as they had no right to do, on the patience of hon. Members. He regarded the Bill as a great step in the direction of giving women the vote. A great many Members I of the House would probably vote for the Bill in the hope of hedging on the question of woman suffrage. With regard to the general question, he thought that in giving women the right of election and by placing on them the duty of becoming candidates for big bodies like the county councils, they were going much beyond all they had already done. It was quite true that women had done useful work as members of boards of guardians and of education committees—work properly within their sphere—but the House was now proceeding to give them the right to be elected. They could not be elected without coming down into the arena of conflict. The great local bodies wore, after all, the nearest approach to Parliament, and he could not understand what argument his hon. friends would be able to bring forward to prevent women coming into Parliament afterwards, if they were given the right to sit upon these bodies. The work of the county councils was very important; to a very large extent it was administrative, but it was also largely legislative in its character, as they framed by-laws in various directions, and it was well-known that these large public bodies were being intrusted with greater and greater powers every year by Parliament. Whenever anything had to be done, the county councils and the borough councils had to do it. Holding views that he did in regard to women taking part in public affairs, he regretted that the Government were asking the House, to give a Second Reading to this Bill at 1.30 in the morning on August 13th. He did not think it was treating the supporters of the Government properly to waste time on this Bill, when they might be doing something much more important. The Government had not the courage of their convictions in the matter. He could not understand why women should not be Justices of the Peace. There was no heated conflict in such work, and they would be there simply as Judges, if they were fitted by nature and training in every other way, either to be lady mayors or mayoresses, or chairmen or chairwomen—whatever they would be called—of county councils, what reason was there for saying that they were not fitted to be Justices of the Peace? The right hon. Gentleman gave as his reason for this the precedent under some Act of 1894, but he had never heard such a reason from a man of the robust intellect of the right hon. Gentleman. Someone had said that old precedents were made to be trampled on. The reason which lay at the bottom of the Bill was that there had been an agitation for the Parliamentary franchise. The Government said they would not let women sit in the House, but they would go as far as they could, and admit women to sit on the next biggest public body in the country, the county council. He saw no distinction at all, except in degree, between the cases. Therefore, holding the views he did, if this Bill proceeded to a division, he would certainly have the courage of his conviction, and vote against the Second Reading.


said that the House in voting for this measure would be practically voting for female suffrage. The Bill was only introduced with the object of attempting to delay for some time the agitation that had been gradually gathering against the Government on the part of the suffragettes. If he might follow a distinguished example, he would like to put certain questions to the Government. First question: Are you in favour of female suffrage? Second: Would you introduce that suffrage on the same footing and basis as male suffrage? Third: Will you introduce it next session? And fourth, Will you allow women a seat in this House? All these questions were Very germane to the agitation on this Bill, and if they were to read it a second time that night they ought to know what the Government's intentions were, not only as regarded women's status on local bodies, but as regarded Imperial Parliament also. It was ludicious to contend that the Bill could be considered apart from female suffrage and the question of women sitting in the House. It was very undesirable that such a Bill should be discussed at that late hour, and at that advanced period of the session. He Would have thought that this Government would have been the last to introduce such a Bill at this time, having regard to the statements made by the Prime Minister and others at the general election, and in the country, to the effect that they were going to restore be Parliament the dignity which it formerly possessed. Was it treating Parliament properly to introduce at that period of the Session a Bill of this sweeping character, which they knew very well would not be passed, and was only, as had been said earlier in the evening, a sop to Cerberus, and would only prevent, for a very short time, the agitation of the suffragettes from being carried on?


Is that why the House of Lords passed the Bill?


replied that he did not know. He could not speak for the House of Lords. He was, however, well aware that the House of Lords passed the Bill, and he would have thought that that would be just the reason why the Government would not pass it at that hour of the morning. He did not know why they should sit till 1.30 o'clock in the morning on August 13th to register the decrees of the House of Lords. Hon Gentlemen below the gangway had found themselves wrong in their calculations on several occasions during the last few months, but they had never been more wrong than now, when they were hoping by this Bill to propitiate the suffragettes. To make some slight protest against the way the Government had treated the House, he moved that the debate be now adjourned.


said he rather welcomed the introduction of the measure, and he would welcome it more strongly were he convinced that it was going to do that which it first conveyed to the mind of the House. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, if the Bill passed as it had been introduced, one married woman outside of London would be able to sit on either a county or borough council?



Mr. MARKHAM (Nottinghamshire, Mansfield)

said the hon. Member for Liverpool seemed entirely to lose sight of the fact that he was sent to the House by his constituents, and also to the city council. If these constituents chose to send women to sit on the council, it was not the Liverpool City Council who would decide the question, but the electors of Liverpool city themselves. He therefore hoped the Government would keep a stiff back, and that his right hon. friend would not only pass the Bill, but that they would give full privileges to all married women.

* DR. SHIPMAN (Northampton)

said he would like, as one who had charge of a similar measure in the last Parliament, to correct one or two misapprehensions. One speaker on the Opposition side seemed to think that this subject was inextricably mixed up with the franchise question. It was absolutely distinct from it. Those who supported this Bill supported it because they believed it was for the benefit of the country that women should undertake administrative work. There were many who voted for the last Bill in the last Parliament who were quite as strongly opposed as the noble Lord to women having the franchise, and he had almost as many supporters from the Unionist side as from the Liberal side. Again, those who were working up, if he might use the term, the enthusiasm in the country necessary to carry this Bill had nothing whatever to do with those who were working on what were called suffrage lines. The reason was that this Bill represented an older form of thought than that which would give the vote to women at Parliamentary elections. A body of women had been working to achieve that which this Bill proposed. They had seen the absolute necessity of enlisting the interest of women in local government work. Notwithstanding that they had been urged to take extreme steps, they had worked to this end with patience and confidence. Objection had been made to the Bill because it did not allow married women to sit on the councils. It did allow, as had been pointed out, married women to sit on the London County Council and on the metropolitan borough councils; but there was a Bill on the stocks, so to speak, to remedy the defect complained of. The reason there had been no provision to allow married women to sit on the county councils had been the difficulty of getting this Bill through the other House. Some of them thought they would like a Bill which would establish the great principle that women should be directly elected to serve on the county councils, and that they should not suffer from the patronising condescension of men to co-opt them. That was one of the two principles they wanted to establish, and they congratulated the Government on having had the good sense and good taste to bring the matter before Pailiament this session even though it was rather late. They had established the principle, and they were determined that married women should be brought within it, but not necessarily in this Bill. [Several HON. MEMBERS: Why not?] It could be done by another Bill, on the same lines as the Bill of 1900, which enabled married women to serve on the London County Council. That was logical and created no anomaly whatever, and he would say to the hon. Member who described this as a leap in the dark that hon. Members knew perfectly well that ladies though, as it happened, without legal rights sat on the London County Council and did most excellent work on sixteen committees, and for years the London County Council had petitioned Parliament to give thorn the legal right. The Government intended to amend the Bill so that women could be lord mayors or mayors, and chairmen of county councils Women had done magnificent work. They had in every field of intellectual activity held their own with men, and in many cases beaten them. He thought an hon. Member opposite rather suggested in speaking of the electric light that in the dry field of mathematics or science they would not be able to hold their own. They knew, however, that a man had had to give way to a lady as Senior Wrangler. In every possible direction, women would be found holding their own, and they would be a restraining influence on the disorderly meetings such as the hon. Member opposite pictured in the Liverpool council chamber.


said he was rather disappointed at the attitude of the President of the Local Government Board on this question. So far as he understood the answer the right hon. Gentleman gave to the question addressed to him by the hon. Member for Barnard Castle, it was that the Bill would not allow any married woman to sit on any county council or borough council outside London. That took away in his view a great deal of the attraction of the Bill. Certainly it was a great disappointment to him, and he could not understand how the Government could make a point of altering the Bill in order to allow women to become mayors and chairmen of councils, and yet refuse to allow them to be elected to county councils all over the country. It seemed to him that if the Bill was to go on in that form it was hardly worth supporting, and he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman, and he believed that a large number of Members agreed with him, to alter the Bill in the direction he had mentioned.


thought the right hon. Gentleman might give some explanation on the point raised by his hon. friend, whether it was the intention of the Government to delete the proviso that women should not be elected as chairmen of county councils or mayors of boroughs. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that the Government proposed to delete it because women were now eligible to become chairmen of boards of guardians and district councils, but he had not given one instance in which that prerogative had been exercised. Under this Bill a woman might become mayor of a town and ex-officio she would be the chief magistrate of that town, [An HON. MEMBER: Why not?"]


said there was a proviso against that.


said he was glad to have that announcement from the Government, but he still wished

Acland, Francis Dyke Cecil, Lord R. (Marylebone, E.) Edwards, Clement (Denbigh)
Adkins, W. Ryland D. Chance, Frederick William Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor)
Ainsworth, John Stirling Cherry, Rt. Hon. R. R. Everett, R. Lacey
Alden, Percy Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S. Fenwick, Charles
Allen, A. Acland (Christchurch) Cleland, J. W. Ferens, T. R.
Asquith, Rt. Hn. Herbert Henry Clough, William Fuller, John Michael F.
Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight) Cobbold, Felix Thornley Fullerton, Hugh
Beauchamp, E. Collins, Stephen (Lambeth) Goddard, Daniel Ford
Beaumont, Hon. Hubert Collins, Sir W. J. (S. Pancras, W. Grant, Corrie
Beck, A. Cecil Cooper, G. J. Hall, Frederick
Benn, W. (T'w'r Hamlets, S. Geo. Corbett, CH (Sussex, E. Grinst'd Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Worc'r)
Bowerman, C. W. Corbett, T. L. (Down, North) Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)
Brace, William Courthope, G. Loyd Haworth, Arthur A.
Bramsdon, T. A. Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth Hedges, A. Paget
Bridgeman, W. Clive Davies, W. Howell (Bristol, S.) Henderson, Arthur (Durham)
Burns, Rt. Hon. John Dickinson, W. H. (St. Pancras, N. Henry, Charles S.
Byles, William Pollard Duncan, C (Barrow-in-Furness) Higham, John Sharp
Carr-Gomm, H. W. Dunn, A. Edward (Camborne) Hills, J. W.

to have some definite reason why ladies should become chairmen of city or borough councils at all. He could not imagine anything more inappropriate than that a woman should be asked to preside over a meeting of a great county council, city council, or borough council. His hon. friend below him had given a harrowing picture of what went on in the Liverpool council chamber, and he left the House to imagine what would be the position of a woman who had to preside over such a council. He thought the Government might give some better reason for their decision regarding the; proviso, and unless they did so he would support his hon. friend.


asked whether by deleting the proviso a woman would be eligible as a county magistrate?




asked the Government whether they considered it was right to bring such a Bill, which at its best was of a piecemeal character, before the House. They knew now that it was engineered with the intention of carrying it by degrees further and further. That was bad enough when confined to a private Member, but when the Government took up a Bill of this kind it was not the right way to deal with a question.

Question put, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

The House divided:—Ayes, 132; Noes, 13. (Division List No. 409.)

Holt, Richard Durning Markham, Arthur Basil Shipman, Dr. John G.
Horniman, Emslie John Marnham, F. J. Simon, John Allsebrook
Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Micklem, Nathaniel Sinclair, Rt. Hon. John
Hudson, Walter Morrell, Philip Stanger, H. Y.
Hunt, Rowland Nicholls, George Stanley, Hn. A. Lyulph (Chesh.
Hyde, Clarendon Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncast'r Strachey, Sir Edward
Isaacs, Rufus Daniel Norton, Capt. Cecil William Strauss, E. A. (Abingdon)
Johnson, John (Gateshead) O'Donnell, C. J. (Walworth) Summerbell, T.
Jones, Leif (Appleby) Paulton, James Mellor Sutherland, J. E.
Jones, William (Carnarvonshire Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek) Taylor, John W. (Durham)
Jowett, F. W. Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlingon Ure, Alexander
Kelley, George Philipps, Owen C. (Pembroke) Walters, John Tudor
King, Alfred John (Knutsford) Pollard, Dr. Waterlow, D. S.
Laidlaw, Robert Radford, G. H. Wedgwood, Josiah C.
Lamont, Norman Rendall, Athelstan Weir, James Galloway
Lane-Fox, G. R. Richards, Thomas (W. Monm'th White, George (Norfolk)
Lea, Hugh Cecil (St. Pancras, E. Richards, T. F. (Wolverh'mpt'n White, Luke (York, E. R.)
Levy, Sir Maurice Ridsdale, E. A. Whitley, John Henry (Halifax)
Lewis, John Herbert Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln) Wiles, Thomas
Lupton, Arnold Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradf'rd Wills, Arthur Walters
Lyell, Charles Henry Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside) Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)
Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester) Rogers, F. E. Newman Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Mackarness, Frederic C. Rowlands, J.
Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J. Runciman, Walter TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. Whiteley and Mr. J. A. Pease.
M'Killop, W. Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland)
Maddison, Frederick Scott, A. H. (Ashton under Lyne
Manfield, Harry (Northants) Seely, Colonel
Mansfield, H. Rendall (Lincoln) Sherwell, Arthur James
Acland-Hood. Rt. Hn Sir Alex. F. Gordon, J. Turnour, Viscount
Beach, Hn. Michael Hugh Hicks Gretton, John
Castlereagh, Viscount MacVeagh,. Jeremiah (Down, S.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr. Harmood-Banner and Viscount Holmsley.
Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel
Evans, Samuel T. Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)
Gibbs, G. A. (Bristol, West) Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)

Bill read a second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for to-morrow (Tuesday)."—(Mr. John Burns.)