HC Deb 16 August 1907 vol 180 cc1885-96

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[Mr. EMMOTT, Oldham, in the Chair.]

Clause 1:—

Dr. SHIPMAN moved to amend Clause 1, by striking out the prohibition placed upon a woman from being elected as chairman of a county council or mayor of a borough.

Amendment proposed— In page 1, line 8, to leave out from the the word 'woman,' to end of line 9, and to insert the words, 'if elected as chairman of a county council or mayor of a borough, shall not, by virtue of holding or having held that office, be a justice of the peace.'"—(Dr. Shipman).

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


replied that the Government were willing to accept this Amendment, because its object was to restore the Bill to the form in which it was originally introduced.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

MR DUNN (Cornwall, Camborne)

moved the following clause— A married woman, although not entitled to be registered on the local government register of electors or the list of burgesses, shall nevertheless be entitled to be a councillor or alderman of any county or borough, if she has, for the whole of twelve months preceding the election resided in such county or borough. He said his object, in moving the clause, was to prevent a very serious anomaly which would exist if the Bill were passed in its present form. Under the Bill, while a married woman could sit on the County Council for London or upon any Metropolitan Borough Council, because she was a married woman she was excluded from sitting on any county or borough council outside the metropolitan area. That was never seriously intended, and it was to alter that state of things that he proposed this clause. His clause simply provided that, where a married woman resided, and had resided for twelve months within a borough or county, as the case might be, that residence should qualify her for a seat upon the borough or county council. He could hardly see what real objection there could be to such a proposal. He was confident that no one, for a moment, would desire to exclude a married woman from sitting upon a governing body of this sort. It had been said that this clause was, in a measure, one which would tamper with the registration laws, but it was nothing of the kind. Not a single vote would be given to a married woman, on account of its insertion, because it simply dealt with the right of sitting on these councils. The present Bill not only excluded from specified councils a married woman living at home with her husband, but excluded her if she was separated from him. Her husband might be at the other end of the world, and yet she was disqualified simply because she was a married woman. Might he point out how the law would work under the clause he proposed? A woman might be doing good municipal work upon some London borough council. She was married, and he would assume that she removed to a distance in the country. She would there be unable to carry on that good work she had been doing in London because she was not qualified to sit upon an exactly similar municipal body to that on which she had been working before. He would take a large urban district council in a town of some considerable size. Suppose a woman had been doing good work upon that body, and that district became so important that a charter of incorporation was given to it, and it became a municipal borough. Because of the municipal status given to that urban district council, this woman, who had done good service, must cease to be a member of it, and would be excluded from any further service for that locality in which she lived. It might be said that at present franchise was the basis of qualification, but that was not so. For these reasons he begged to move.

New clause— A married woman, although not entitled to be registered on the local government register of electors or the list of burgesses, shall nevertheless be entitled to be elected a councillor or alderman of any county or borough if she has for the whole of the twelve months preceding the election resided in such county or borough."—(Mr. Dunn.) Brought up, and read a first time.

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


said that this Bill had purposely been drawn very moderately, and raised none of those acute problems which had been disturbing Party politics recently. It did not raise the question of woman franchise at all. It simply provided that where a woman had the right to vote for the creation of a local authority, on that authority she should have the right to sit if she got elected. To have gone beyond that at the present juncture would have rendered their efforts abortive. At the present time women could sit on some 9,000 local authorities including urban and district councils, boards of guardians and parish councils. There were, however, about 500 county and town councils and metropolitan borough councils upon which women could not sit. To go beyond what they had now proposed at this stage of the session would, he was perfectly confident, endanger the passing of the whole Bill, and therefore, as a matter of irresistible expediency, they were bound to resist this Amendment. He thought, however, that it would only be courteous to his hon. friend to examine his Amendment upon its merits. The Amendment asked that, voter or no voter, a married woman should be eligible for election to county councils and borough councils for which she was not at the present time eligible. That was a new and a remarkable departure. Moreover, he did not think they could find in local government in this country many cases where a person, not being an elector, could seek to sit upon a local authority He was not quite sure whether the proposition that a person who did not possess the ordinary qualification should have the right of being elected to a public body was not anti-democratic.


said that that was the case at the present time with regard to boards of guardians, parish councils, district councils, and county councils upon which they proposed to put women.


said he was inclined to think that it was anti-democratic to proceed upon those lines.

MR J. WARD (Stoke-on-Trent)

Certainly not.


said that this Amendment would create a new anomaly, and they had quite enough anomalies already. Under the Amendment a widow or spinster having no qualification would not be eligible for election to a local body, but a married woman would. His last objection to the Amendment was that it might render a married woman eligible for election whilst her husband was not, and that would create a preference against the man which was not desirable. Supposing a married couple came into lodgings twelve months before an election for a local authority, and those lodgings were under the control of the landlord, in that case under the Amendment the wife could be elected on the council, but, as the Amendment would not extend to the husband, and as he would have no other qualification, he could not be elected. He admitted that the whole question of the local government franchise required overhauling, but that could not be done now, and he suggested to his hon. friend that he should allow them to get what they could on this question.

MR. ARTHUR HENDERSON (Durham, Barnard Castle)

said the hon. Gentleman had pretty well admitted the position which had been taken up by the supporters of the Amendment, especially with reference to the necessity for overhauling the whole of the local government franchises. He would like to know whether, in the event of the Amendment being withdrawn, the overhauling to which the hon. Gentleman referred was likely to take place within a reasonable time. If he was not prepared to give a promise on that matter, would his Department be prepared to give sympathetic consideration to a private Member's Bill next session to carry out the object which the Amendment had in view? He held that the language of the Bill was misleading, and that it did not carry out the statement contained in the first line that women should not be disqualified by sex or marriage.

MR HOLT (Northumberland, Hexham)

hoped some favourable reply would be given to the question of the hon. Member for Barnard Castle. He fully shared the disappointment which had been expressed by his hon. friend. He could not understand the objection to accepting the Amendment. He did not wish to imperil the passage of the Bill, but he thought they were entitled to get a sympathetic assurance from the Secretary to the Local Government Board that the disqualification of which they complained would be removed at an early date.


said he believed that it was on the lines suggested in the new clause that they should move in recognising the rights of women. In his opinion married women were more entitled to consideration than any other sort or condition of women. He did not like the suggestion that they were likely to lose the Bill if they gave married women an opportunity of sitting on these bodies and taking a share in the administration of municipal affairs. He did not think such a thing was likely to occur in any circumstances, and the House should not abstain from giving this moderate privilege to married women through the fear that the institution at the, other end of the building might put itself up against them. The House of Lords would think twice before they opposed the Commons on a moderate suggestion of this kind. He deprecated the idea that the mere possibility of its being rejected in the other House should prevent Members doing what they considered to be their duty to married women, who were the mothers of the race. He trusted that the President of the Local Government Board would give the House some hope that he would do something in the direction of the Amendment. If the hon. Member for the Camborne Division took the matter to the division, he would support him, because he thought it would be lowering the flag altogether to abstain from doing a thing through fear of what the Lords might do. He was convinced that the common sense of the country was in favour of the passing of the Amendment, and he hoped that the House would do its duty on that occasion.

* MR. LEIF JONES (Westmoreland, Appleby)

expressed the hope that the Government would accept the Amendment. It had been said that it raised acutely controversial issues. He submitted that it did not raise such issues. The franchise question could not arise on this Amendment unless it was dragged in. The Amendment was not controversial from the point of view of supporters of the Bill, for almost everybody who was in favour of the Bill at all was in favour of the Amendment in principle. He thought the Government were resisting the Amendment from a fanciful fear of what might happen somewhere else for which he could see no justification. His impression was that if any women ought to sit on these bodies married women from their experience of life were probably the best fitted to serve. Not to take the opportunity of the passing of the Bill to make married women eligible was, in his opinion, to waste an opportunity which was ready to the hand of the Government. The Government had not told the House why it should not be done or given any evidence that there would be any danger in accepting the Amendment. A residential qualification was already in force in respect of district and parish councils. At present married women might sit on these and other boards, and it was only rational, obvious, straightforward and not in the least dangerous in extending the privilege to make it applicable to married and unmarried women alike. He trusted that the Government would reconsider the matter and accept the Amendment.

LORD R. CECIL (Marylebone, E.)

said he was a very strong supporter of the Bill, and he entirely agreed with the general proposition that it would be the greatest possible pity to exclude women merely because they were married. He admitted that he had a little difficulty about the form of the Amendment as it stood. He felt there was a great deal of force in what was said by the Secretary to the Local Government Board that it would not do to put married women in a better position than their husbands or single women. He suggested that the clause should be amended so as to provide that "if but for her marriage she would be entitled to be on such register." He thought that marriage in itself should be no longer a disqualification for being elected a councillor or alderman of any county or borough. As he understood, the object of the Amendment was to put women outside London in the same position as those in London. There might be difficulties in putting married women on the register, but there should be no greater difficulty than in putting unmarried women upon it.


hoped that married women would soon be able to sit on borough or county councils but if the Amendment were carried by removing one anomaly another would be created. In the case of District Councils, the alternative qualification of residence was open to all, whether women or men. Here it was proposed to confine it to married women alone. That would be unfair to spinsters and widows as well as to all the men, and would, therefore create a fresh and worse anomaly. He hoped the Amendment would be withdrawn, in order to ensure the passage of the Bill through the other House. The Amendment would touch the whole electoral law of the country, and that could not be faced at this period of the session. He represented the largest body of women interested in this subject—the Women's Local Government Society. Some of them were the ablest women in the country, and had given the greatest thought to the question. They had come to the conclusion that the great value of the Bill was that it recognised the principle of direct representation as against co-optation. They felt that it was better to get this Bill now and leave other anomalies to be removed by another measure. He promised that he would bring in a Bill himself if the Government did not care to do so to remove all those anomalies, so that there should be no difficulty in married women in the future being able to sit on county and borough councils.

MR. SILCOCK (Somersetshire, Wells)

joined in the appeal that the Amendment should be withdrawn. A quest on had been asked as to what was the difficulty in accepting the Amendment, but the short debate upon it had shown that it was not so simple as it seeemed to be. The women interested in the question had issued a special appeal asking that they should give their support to the Bill as introduced by the Government and that hon. Members should put on one side their prejudices in order to secure the passage of the Bill as it stood.


said that the Government were always brandishing in this House what might be done in another place. It had been stated that if this Amendment were accepted the Bill would be rejected by the House of Lords. But there was no reason to believe that the House of Lords were anxious to take on spinsters and widows and not married women. The Government, with its record majority, had had no scruple in keeping hon. Members up all night to pass other Bills, and he did not see why they should not grapple with this question as a whole instead of pushing an imperfect and piecemeal Bill. To be perfectly frank, he did not pretend to be a great friend of the Bill, but he did not intend to vote against it, and would probably vote for it. If the Bill was to be passed, he would be glad of married women being treated equally with spinsters and widows. It was an invidious matter to talk about giving offence to married women. To his mind, married women might be more competent than unmarried women. He saw no advantage in passing a Bill which was supposed to remove disabilities and yet left in existence a disability so glaring and unjust as was contained in the Bill. He complained that the Government were always trying to get imperfect legislation accepted by expressing fears of what might happen in another place.


said that the noble Lord accused the Government of some inconsistency in complaining of the action of another place and illogically of their not bringing in a complete Bill in this particular session of Parliament. He could not recognise any inconsistency except on the part of the noble Lord who complained that Parliament was overworked and had sat longer this session than it should have done. The noble Lord was evidently favourable to the compromise and had gone the length of saying that he would probably vote for the Bill although he did not particularly like it. What was the position of the Government? Here they were on 16th August endeavouring to redeem a pledge which they had given at the general election, and they were within four or five days, or at the outside a week of the rising of Parliament. They could not better celebrate what they all desired than by uniting in this compromise, especially when he told hon. Members that if this Bill were amended in the direction suggested by the hon. Member for Appleby it would be lost. The Bill had been already mutilated in another place, which could not be taken as a sign that its passage would be facilitated if it were amplified. He could assure the hon. Member for Appleby that if he was in favour of a bigger Bill for reforming the municipal and Parliamentary franchise, as he himself was, he was setting to work the wrong way by asking the Government to accept this Amendment at such a time of the year and in raising questions which introduced large controversial points. The Women's Local Government Society, composed of representative women of all classes and conditions, had issued a circular to Members asking them to give their support to the Bill so that its passage should not be imperilled by any Amendment. He thought that these women, both married and single, were very sensible, and he would say to the hon. Member that sufficient for the day was the goodness thereof. The Government considered that the goodness of the Bill, even as it stood, was sufficient without subjecting it to the danger of further mutilation, or absolute defeat in another place. The Bill, if passed, would probably give 1,000 women during the next twelve months an opportunity of dignifying themselves and in assisting by service for the community through their election on public bodies, in the elevation of their neighbours. If projects with those objects were submitted to the House the Government would look at them sympathetically and endeavour to grapple with the problems raised in a satisfactory manner. They wished, however, to get this Bill through the House with the sympathy of hon. Members, and he would appeal to the hon. Member to withdraw his Amendment and enable the Government to pass the measure through the House without an Amendment of this sort, which would seriously imperil its passage. The Government could not accept the Amendment as it would be fatal to the passing of the Bill this session.


said that in response to the appeal which had been made to him he wished to withdraw the Amendment, as he realised the difficulties which were before him. He wished to say, however, that he did not do that because of any fear of what might happen in another place. They had already that morning entered into controversy with that other place in regard to mayors of large municipalities and chairmen of county councils. He had no particular love for the other Assembly, but still he did not think for one moment that if they amended this Bill in this particular there would be any objection there to its principle. Besides, supposing the Amendment were now adopted, the Lords could say that they did not agree with the Commons in the said Amendment, and then they could consider whether they would insist upon it. It was not, therefore, from any fear of the House of Lords that he did not insist upon the Amendment, but because an appeal had been made to him by the Government and because he knew that he could not carry the Amendment against the Government. He therefore asked leave to withdraw.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

MR HARMOOD-BANNER (Liverpool, Everton)

said he wished to move a clause to the effect that this Act should not apply unless the Local Government Board had on the application of any county or borough, by order in such a manner as the Local Government Board directed, declared that the Act should be enforced in the district of the county or borough. The hon. Member said that in moving this clause he did so for the purpose of giving the various local authorities the opportunity of adopting the Act in the shape in which it now stood, and the form he had used followed that of the Public Health Act. There was no doubt that there were various Members of the House acting in favour of the Bill who did not understand that the country did not care a bit about it. There had not been a petition in its favour, and notwithstanding the fact that the other night he had ventured to oppose the Bill he had not received a single remonstrance about his action, but had received communications from many of his municipal friends quite approving with the step which he had adopted. It appeared to him that hon. Members took the circumstances of small localities and applied them to such large centres of population as Manchester, Birmingham, and Liverpool, knowing nothing about the circumstances of those cities. They compared them with district and parish councils and considered that the same set of provisions were applicable to both. Those great cities, however, were as important in their administration and in the funds with which they dealt as many countries in the world, and they should not have measures of this kind forced upon them. Therefore, he moved the Amendment to make the Act adoptive and he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to consider this question and not to force this Act on the municipalities. Of course it was said that they would not be forced, but still it was a shame to put them in a position which they had never asked for. He yielded to no one in his admiration of women in the various departments of life, but he objected to their being brought in to the rough and tumble and turmoil of political and municipal life. There were spheres in which they could do good work and in which one was willing to welcome them. But while on the one hand there was a tendency to take women away from many of the duties which for many years they had carried out, say, at pit brows and so forth, on the other hand there seemed to be a tendency to create them managers of those works in which they refused them the opportunity of being participants. That seemed to him to be an entirely improper method of dealing with the question, and he thought municipalities should be given the option of adoption. If they liked, under his Amendment they could adopt this Act or they could leave it alone. He thought, however, those who honoured women should have the choice of allowing them to remain as they were and of being above the rough and tumble and turmoil of human life in regard to these bodies.

New clause— That this Act shall not apply unless the Local Government Board has, on the application of any county or borough, by an Order to be published in such a manner as the Local Government Board may direct, declared this Act to be in force in the county or borough."—(Mr Fell.) Bought up and read a first time.

Motion made, and question proposed, "That the clause be read a second time."


said he was sorry that the Government could not accept the clause, because they did not think that this matter should be dependent upon the transient mood of a local authority. He declined to subject women to the passing caprice of unstable mankind.


said that his amendment was drawn upon the lines of the Public Health Act in regard to its adoptive principle.


said that did not affect his argument. They had no experience of the adoptive principle such as this. The hon. Member did him the honour of passing the Amendment to him and the moment he looked at it he saw that he could not accept it. Moreover, he did not think that any woman would accept public life under the conditions which the clause laid down, and therefore he could not accept the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported as amended, to be considered upon Monday next.