HC Deb 11 July 1910 vol 19 cc41-150

Order for Second Reading read.

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


My first words in moving the Second Reading of this Bill will be to convey my thanks to the Prime Minister for giving the supporters as well as the opponents of the Bill an opportunity of free discussion. I am sure that after forty years of effort this House ought at least to have a full opportunity, instead of having to depend on the four and a half hours of a Friday afternoon, to discuss this matter, and I hope that, as a result of the time given us by the Prime Minister, this House will to-morrow night come to a decision which will give encouragement to women for their long and arduous labours in favour of the enfranchisement of their class. I would like, first of all just to say what the Bill contains. The householders will amount to about 90 per cent. of those who come under this Bill. The occupier can vote if she inhabits a house, even a single room, and however low its value, provided that she has full control of that house or room. Then there are those who occupy premises valued at £10 per inhabitant. This will bring in a large number of small shopkeepers and typists and other people, who have offices of their own, and will also enable women living together to rank as joint occupiers, provided the house is worth £10 for each occupier. The last point is rather a new one to English Members, but I am informed that it has been in operation for years in Scotland and Ireland. Married women are not excluded altogether, though few will, in fact, be qualified, since husband and wife may not both be registered in respect of the same premises. There are cases like those of sailors, fishermen, or commercial travellers, who can rarely use it, and they may ask to have the wife made tenant of the house, so that the household vote may be left in her hands. That is not a departure which is absolutely new, as I have already said. It is an extension of a principle which only at present applies to Ireland and Scotland.

The first justification, I think, for this Bill is on the point of taxation. No democrat can refuse the claim that in principle taxation and representation should go together. This Bill, of course, does not enfranchise all women who are taxpayers, but it certainly does make a start to put women on an equality with men in regard to taxation and representation going together. A further point is that all adults are expected to obey the law, and surely the time has come when an extension should be given in the direction of the female adult having a voice in making the laws which she is expected to obey. As for their fitness, I think that the development of the labours undertaken by our women folk during the past twenty years in the public life of the country is sufficient answer to any point under this head. This point as to fitness was raised in 1867 and also in 1884, when the extension of the franchise for men in the boroughs, first, and then in the counties was introduced. I remember, as a young fellow, following very closely the agitation of 1884. The commonest argument I heard used against the proposal then made to extend the franchise in the counties was our unfitness for the vote. The answer then given was, "Give them a fair trial; let them prove their fitness." They had proved their fitness in the boroughs for a period of nearly twenty years, and we could not see any reason why workmen similarly situated, because they happened to live outside a Parliamentary borough, were unfit, while their brothers within the borough were fit. What was the reason of this delay of twenty years? Simply to try the experiment, so far as Parliamentary boroughs were concerned, and had it not been for that one reason there was no reason at all why the franchise should not have been extended in 1867 to the counties instead of being confined to the boroughs. But the House hesitated to grant the extension to the full extent, and they gave, first of all, the extended franchise in the boroughs. Our Bill goes on similar lines. We are not asking for an extension which would include the 5,000,000 women of this country. What we propose is that about 1,000,000 should be brought in as an experiment. Try it. I know I have been charged with having made some remarks on the First Reading about the thin edge of the wedge. I wonder what kind of a cheer I should get from that side if I tried the thick end of the wedge.

4.0 P.M.

First of all, I should be fitted for a lunatic asylum. My reason for trying the thin end of the wedge is that I believe in the principle, and, once you get in the thin end, experience justifies extension of it as years go by. I know we have to conciliate people who, believing in the principle, are yet afraid to go, as I would, the whole hog. I should like to see adult suffrage, and I cannot understand anyone who supports that principle opposing this Bill. It is not an undemocratic measure. We may differ in our opinions as to the number who will come under it. Particular places, a seaport town, or a pleasure resort, may show different percentages of working women as compared with other districts. I can speak for Lancashire, where, under this Bill, I believe, an overwhelming number of work women would be included, compared with the numbers in other districts. So much for the scope of the Bill. In recent years women have taken a very much greater part in the work of the country than ever before, and that has been duly recognised by the State in many ways. Take the professions. You cannot look at a bookstall, or go into a free library, without finding on the shelves thousands and thousands of books on all varieties of subjects, written by eminent women—a proof of fitness, which no one will question. I want to hear the Member of this House who will get up and say that their efforts in the literary world do not deserve recognition so far as the vote is concerned. Take the medical profession—there they are increasing in number. The nursing profession is practically all in their hands, and well they are doing the work. And the legal profession; there are a few qualified by ability and by legal knowledge to practice, and I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) is not opposing this Bill for the sake of protecting his own profession. Certainly, there are not a few women who by ability and learning are able to take their part in the law courts of the country. If you come to the teaching profession, one-half of the State teachers in this country are women, who are doing good work. You ask them to take part in the education of our children, and in the education of young people in our secondary schools, and even in our colleges, and I fail to see the logic of the position which recognises all these efforts on the part of women, yet at the same time denies them the right to express in an intelligent way their opinion on the issues which come before the country from time to time.

The result of women's work can be seen in our municipalities and among the guardians of the poor. Since they began to take part in that work I am sure that any public man in his locality has heard no word but of praise and commendation of the valuable help women have given to the guardians in dealing with particular cases. Anyone who has studied the work of the guardians must be aware that there are numbers of questions arising with which women are eminently fitted to deal. They have responded to our call and they have done the work satisfactorily. In dealing with the aged and infirm, with the sick and with children, they have done their duty admirably, and I repeat that it is time you recognised their usefulness in the community in another form. Take the late school boards and other walks of public life, and there you find the great part women have taken in the work of the country. If this House could but realise the heroism to be witnessed among the women of the working classes, their sympathies would be enlisted in support of a measure such as this. Many a poor widow left with children has to face the battle of life and provide shelter and food for her family. In her efforts she joins in the responsible work of the State and of her district, and yet she is debarred from exercising the vote which is given to the male occupier. Many widows are left with their families as the result of mining disasters and other accidents. Money may be found to tide them over present difficulties, but that does not meet the tremendous responsibility of bringing up three or four or more children with due parental care, with no father to give assistance. Surely these women are entitled to have a voice in settling the laws of this country along with the male kind. Has the Chancellor of the Exchequer ever recognised in his official capacity what it must mean to a widow who has to work and budget for the maintenance of the home and children? It is an easy matter for the right hon. Gentleman to make a Budget when he has the money to budget with. He would find it much more difficult to perform the duty if he had to budget with 15s., 18s., or £1 a week. I have seen these women struggling under their responsibilities, and I have always felt that it was a considerable hardship upon them that they should be debarred from taking their proper place in the affairs of the country. Indeed, one reason why I support this measure so strongly is that it will bring within its four corners just that class of women who have these responsibilities put upon them, and which they discharge with a due sense of their obligations. The Bill brings in only the responsible class—householders, ratepayers, and taxpayers. Another department of the State ought to be mentioned. If hon. Members read the admirable reports made from time to time by the Home Office inspectors, they will find that those of the lady inspectors are almost the best, if not the best, every year. The State has recognised their ability, influence, and usefulness, in this class of work. I do not see what reason can be found for saying that the lady inspector or her assistant-inspector, who is qualified for her work, is unqualified to express an opinion in the ballot-box along with the male inspector. I want the House to remember that the condition of working women throughout the country cannot be put, in all instances, on the level of that which pertains to the Lancashire cotton operatives. For the last fifty years, at least, the men have worked together with the women in regard to factory legislation and the conditions under which they work, and they have insisted that the same wage shall be paid to women as to men for the same work done. They have thus maintained the standard of living in the textile districts in a manner that has not been achieved in a large number of other industries in the country. The House has recognised the conditions under which women work in the sweated industries, and, in this direction again, you have recognised in regard to trade boards the particular qualification of women, who are being selected for their knowledge and influence in these matters.

Again, on the last Royal Commission which was appointed, and which is still sitting, women are taking their part because of their influence and knowledge of the subjects which that body is investigating. These Royal Commissions would not be perfect without them—everybody recognises that. The most recent was the Royal Commission on the Poor Law. Whether you take the Majority or the Minority Report, the work of Mrs. Sidney Webb and her lady friends on that Commission has been part of the best work it has done. Then there was the Royal Commission on the question of divorce. It has pained me to read some of the flippant remarks made before that Commission. There is no better justification for women being admitted to greater power in electoral matters than is to be found in the flippant way in which some of the wit- nesses—no doubt very honourable men—referred to the sacredness of home life. On that ground alone I would give women increased powers to deal with the laws and conditions under which they are called upon to live. Often some Member refers to the physical difficulty under which women are placed. The last time I heard such a reference to this physical difficulty was by an hon. Member who, strange to say, from the time he rose in the morning until going to bed at night had everything done for him by women. He could not get through the day without the aid of women, who had not mere ordinary work, but hard work to keep his house going. The physical argument is nonsense. The heroism which women exhibit at times is marvellous, and the question of the physical difficulty need not weigh with us for a moment. Comment has been made upon the fact that in the election of 1906 and in previous elections very few candidates included woman suffrage in their election addresses. We who have experience of elections know how questions come to be included in election addresses, and, if this Bill is passed, it will find its place in future election addresses. The ordinary experience of a contest is that pressure is brought to bear on a candidate, and the inclusion of a subject depends upon the vote that can be brought against him. In 1867 the election addresses did not contain the great social questions, nor did they in 1885 and in 1900 to the extent they appear now, and that is owing to the fact that the working classes can bring to bear the pressure of their votes in favour of particular questions. The same applies to woman suffrage. When she comes to have effective control over 20,000, 30,000 or 100,000 votes, hon. Members who are then candidates will include in their addresses questions affecting women. That is perfectly legitimate. Does the hon. Member for the Walton Division think that it is a good thing that a huge public question should be kept out? It is not in the interests of the country that it should be so. We are making a very slight departure in this Bill; it is a modest scheme that this House can pass without any estimates. What have our Colonies done? I find that in New Zealand they have had adult suffrage since 1893, in South Australia since 1894, West Australia since 1900, New South Wales since 1902, and Tasmania since 1904. In the Commonwealth of Australia, not only have they the vote, but they are eligible to sit in Parliament. We have been asked to copy our Colonies in many cases, and surely this is one in which we may safely go the first step when they have gone the whole road. In regard to this, there came into my hand the other day a copy of a postcard which was sent to a Blackburn woman who had lived in Australia for ten years. On one side of the post card we find this:— Common wealth of Australia, Western Australia, Electoral Division of Kalgoorlie. Yon are hereby informed your application for enrolment under the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Law has been received, and your name has been enrolled on the roll for the sub-division of Mount Martin, signed by the Electoral Registrar. Why should it not be possible for women in our own country, to the extent that this Bill would grant to them, be in a like position of being able to claim their full rights as citizens just as are the women in the Commonwealth of Australia? The postcard to which I have referred finishes up in exactly that strain. The man who wrote it wants to know how it is that his sister in Blackburn is not able to have a vote just as his, the writer's, wife, who used it in the last election there? These are the concluding words:— I was in the Bush on the Election day. I could not get in to vote, but I am glad to say my wife voted the full labour ticket and they were all elected. Another point that has been raised with regard to this matter, is how do women affect parties? That is not a question which I care to enter into. It is not a question which I ought to consider, or which this House ought to consider; the only point we must approve of is that the Bill is not an undemocratic one. I have already explained it, and I hold that it is not. Provided it is democratic, it ought to receive the full support of all democrats in this House, and I feel certain that those of our Friends who desire to go the whole way, will make a very serious mistake if they vote against this Bill on the ground that it does not go far enough. It will be misunderstood in the country, and certainly cannot be defended on the lines of our general English policy, namely, of going slowly by short steps to a large reform. I would appeal to those whom I have heard intend to oppose this Bill to reconsider whether they are doing the best thing in the interests of the case they represent, namely, adult suffrage, by jeopardising or lessening the weight this House may put in its Division in support of this Bill.

I also want to appeal to the Government. I assume, and I think I have good grounds for assuming, that this House to-morrow night will carry this Bill for Second Reading with a good majority. I have every confidence it will do so. In anticipation of that I want this Debate to be something more than a mere academic Debate. Academic discussions have been taken too long in this House on this subject, and no section of the community would stand it as they have stood it. If we had a subject before this House for forty years which ended every time in an academic discussion something would happen, and this House would have to treat seriously the subject we were interested in. I want the House to give us a good majority, and I believe if that majority is satisfactory that the House ought to go further. No attempt should be made to throttle this Bill by referring it to the Committee of the Whole House. Grand Committees are established. This Bill can fairly come before a Grand Committee for the purpose of discussion. We are short of work, and we may as well take this Bill up and do our best with it. The Report stage will give this House full opportunity of criticising, and amending further if they think fit. I do not want the position to be that the women can say that this has been a purely academic discussion, that there is no sincerity and no intention on the part of the House of proceeding to put it into law. If they once get that idea, then they will act as we should act, and they will resent a termination of that description. I claim that this afternoon we are beginning a serious discussion. I hope it will be taken up seriously, and that the end of it will be, if we get our Second Reading, as we shall to-morrow night, that the further consideration of the Bill will be referred to Grand Committee, and thus every opportunity be given for the further consideration of the Report stage in this House.


I beg to second the Motion. I am glad, for the second time, to support in this House a Bill which has for its object the removal of the disqualification of sex as regards Parliamentary franchise. On the various occasions on which this question has been introduced in this House, in varying ways in the past I believe it has obtained a certain amount of support front those who believed that the proposals could never be made effective, and I cannot think that such half-heartedness can enrich the support of this or any other cause. I hope that this Debate may have no such barren result. [...] that it may not prove to be like o[...]ners which have preceded it, a cup of Tantalus, constantly offered, never to be quaffed. On the contrary. I hope that the vote given on this Bill may be the accomplishment and the effective maturity of that for which the vote is given. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member, Mr. Shackleton, as regards the details of the Bill, but to deal rather with the principle. I can only say that to those who are supporters of the principle that sex should not be a disqualification for the Parliamentary franchise, it is a cause of great satisfaction that so much new, and young, and vigorous support, without regard to political party, has ranged itself on the side of this great reform. I believe it is complained that certain prejudices have been aroused against this movement by what are called the methods adopted by some of its female supporters, and that sympathy on that account has been alienated from it. That is not my opinion. Some may have been guilty of excess of zeal. In every pack there are some hounds that run riot, and they are not the worst either. I submit that it is the energy, and zeal, and self-sacrificing labours on the part of those female supporters, often in the face of humiliation and insult, that has raised this question to the position which it occupies in this country to-day, and which has earned for it, not the personal, but the general support of the Prime Minister, and which ensures its acceptance by a majority of the votes of the Members of this House.

I think that the methods adopted by women do not altogether compare unfavourably with those adopted by men. I can remember an old and honoured Member of this House, with whom I sat as a colleague, Mr. Broadhurst, who was a life-long opponent of giving the suffrage to women, and was proud of that opposition. There were other things he was proud of in the course of what, I am glad to think, has been a lengthy and a distinguished life. He told me that the proudest achievement of his life was when he helped with his own hands to pull down a mile or two of the railings that fenced in Hyde Park. Were those methods adopted by men received with execrations by the people because they had made that forcible protest against what was supposed to be a restriction on the liberty of the people? Not at all. As far as I can remember the park was opened immediately to public meetings, and the request so violently demanded was at once granted. I think that men who sometimes suffer themselves from excess of zeal might be a little more indulgent when they sneer at the methods of zealous, sincere, and in the face of all, patriotic women. A cause which can attract so much zeal and energy and so much resolute determination can only excite admiration for the qualities of its adherents, and bode well for its ultimate success.

Personally I do not regard the details of this Bill as anything like so important as the principle. It is the principle which has attracted to it so much attention. I cannot myself regard the property qualification as a scientific or final qualification. There are other qualifications which the hon. Member who moved this Motion mentioned which women have, and which give them a paramount interest in the welfare of the State. There is the qualification of labour. In many cases women are breadwinners, and in some cases the sole breadwinners of their family. In the vast complex machinery of our industrial life, depending so largely as it does on the labour of women as workers and wealth producers, I contend there is no class more than the women workers who have a greater interest in the stability, security, liberty, and peaceful prosperity of this country. Why, then, should those who can have such a great interest in the country's welfare be denied the privileges of democracy which men enjoy.

I do not wish to labour this part of the question. I can only say that in a movement which has on its side such zeal and energy, and has behind it such potential force, there is no sign of that mental or physical incapacity so often attributed to women. On the contrary, there is in it every sign of strength and resolute determination which are so often wanting in the causes of men. One of the objections to this Bill is that a Parliament elected in part by women would not maintain the respect of our Oriental Empire. That, I venture to say, is a theoretical and not a practical objection. Was it not the case that Queen Victoria in the West and the Empress of China in the East were two women who exercised the rights of sovereignty over one-half of the population of this planet, and who not only impelled the subjection of their own subjects but commanded the respect of the other half of the world over which their sovereignty did not extend? I cannot see why a Parliament elected partly by women should not be as good as or better than one elected only by men. I am sure there is no desire on the part of the women themselves, nor of those who support them, that a woman should ever be elected a Member of this House. That project is inconceivable, and, as far as I am aware, does not attract the sympathy of anyone who supports this movement. This is a country which has taken a leading part in the extension of the rights and liberties of those making their homes in it. Not long ago Jews and Roman Catholics were under disabilities which are now happily removed, and the result has been substantially to increase our material strength and prosperity. It seems to me a reproach that while we open our arms to the admission of aliens, largely the off-scourings of Europe, and in due course confer upon them the rights of citizenship, we still withhold those rights from millions of our own industrious population who are producing wealth and helping so largely to keep up the country as a going concern. I hope that before long these disabilities may be removed, and that our social system may be strengthened and further established by this extension of political power. Having in mind the lessons of the past, I have no fear about the future. I hope the Bill will pass through all its stages. I am sure that the effective admission of the principle that sex does not disqualify for the Parliamentary franchise will be accepted by the people, both of this and of other nations, as an evidence of our advancing civilisation and as a landmark in the march of progress in this country. I beg to second the Motion.

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd George)

I should like to put a point of Order, Sir, on a matter of considerable importance to those who are in favour of the principle of extending the suffrage to women, but who object to this particular Bill. I desire to ask whether, if this Bill receives a Second Reading, it will be competent for any Member of the House, either in Committee or on the Report stage, to move Amendments, either to omit the proviso in Clause 2, or to extend the franchise to women whose husbands possess the household qualification, whatever the value of the house may be?


The questions put to me by the Chancellor of the Exchequer place me in rather a difficult position, for this reason. It is not I who, in the first place, should be called upon to give an opinion upon them; it would be the Chairman of the Committee when the Bill is in Committee, either in this House or in a Standing Committee. Therefore, in anything I say, I cannot be taken as binding him. He may take a wholly different view from the view which I take. In the second place, I ought to say that it is rather anticipating the proper time at which these questions ought to be raised. I ought also to say that if I were Chairman of the Committee on this Bill I should like to hear the particular points argued before I gave a decision. With that preface, I shall be happy to give the right hon. Gentleman my opinion for what it is worth. As at present advised, my answer would be in the negative to both the questions put by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think this Bill is intended to apply to any except women occupiers. By women occupiers are meant those who are duly qualified now, who, if they were men, would appear on the register now, and this Bill simply does away, so far as they are concerned, with the disqualification of sex. That being so, I do not think it would be open to the House to go further than the House gave leave for, on the introduction of the Bill. Therefore, I repeat, as at present advised, and without having heard the arguments, I do not think the Amendments which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested would be permissible.


I beg to move as an Amendment to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."

I share the view stated by the Mover of the Second Reading (Mr. Shackleton) that the Government have acted wisely in allowing two days to this discussion. I cannot help thinking that the supporters of the proposal have had some little grievance in past years in the circumstances under which our discussions upon this subject have taken place; and the efforts which have been made both by the moderate supporters of the change, and, indeed, by its immoderate supporters, certainly appear to me to have entitled them at this stage of the controversy to a deliberate expression of the view of the House of Commons on the problem which they have put forward with so much persistency and determination. It is also an advantage from another point of view that this matter should be clearly discussed in the House of Commons with a fuller sense of responsibility than has perhaps sometimes prevailed in previous discussions, because if I may venture to say this to both sides—it may prevent the somewhat inconsiderate giving of pledges which are extremely inconvenient to deal with when the circumstances are modified. The present discussion of this subject is in many ways unique. My experience of Parliamentary life has been a short one, but I cannot recall a previous occasion in which time has been given by the Government of the day for the purpose of a Debate in which every Member on either side of the House enjoyed the refreshing opportunity of giving a vote free from all formal party pressure, and in conformity with his individual convictions. There is a qualification of that, however, supplied by the somewhat promiscuous giving of pledges to which I have made reference. One is struck in this matter by the variety of political opinion to be found among the sponsers of this Bill, whether one looks at the back of the measure, or at the party complexion of the two speakers who have brought it before the House, and this variety of party support is reflected in the whole House. The qualification in the Bill is the household or the £10 qualification. Like the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Shackleton), I do not pretend to express a clear opinion as to whether from a party point of view this Bill would benefit his party, or my party, or the Liberal party. Judging from the party Press, it appears to me that the Liberal supporters of the Bill are under the impression that they have deluded its Conservative supporters; the Conservative supporters are under the impression that they have a considerable advantage over the Liberal supporters; while the Labour party are convinced that they are getting an enormous advantage over both. How this may be I do not know; though I confess that my own observation, now extending over a considerable period of years, with regard to the operation of the franchise, has led me very strongly to the conclusion that the limited proposals of the present Bill would materially assist for the time being the prospects of the party to which I belong, and I confess, having regard to the momentous issues which may easily be presented to the decision of the country at the next election, I have been greatly tempted, holding the view I do as to the effect of this Bill, to make my opposition to it far less vocal than I have ultimately decided to do. I do not quite know what may be the view of my hon. Friend who seconded the Motion (Sir John Rolleston) as to the statement of the hon. Member for Clitheroe, both on the First Reading and again to-day, in which he disclosed his real object. As far as I have discovered, there is no real identity of view between those two hon. Members. The hon. Member for Clitheroe has stated in the plainest possible manner that this Bill is accepted as a start and that it is in that sense, and only in that sense, that he asks the House to support it. When he is reminded, or when he reminds himself, of his statement that this is the thin end of the wedge, he meets that criticism by asking whether we who oppose it would have supported it if it had been the thick end of the wedge. I do not think that his question is a very relevant answer to the criticism upon his attitude. He presents himself to the House as the champion of a Bill which he and others have called a Conciliation Bill. If this so-called conciliation means anything at all, it means that all parties who are supporting the cause of female suffrage have given up something in order that they may be able to recommend the House to adopt a less extreme proposal. It is perfectly clear that the hon. Gentleman, the champion in this House of the Conciliation Committee, has given up absolutely nothing, and does not propose to give up anything. He told us on the First Reading that he had generally found that inserting the thin edge of the wedge was the most successful way of achieving his object, while one of his colleagues, the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), has told us:— I recognise that for all practical purposes the granting of the vote to a few women means the enfranchisement of the whole sex. I think that statement is clearly true, and that if the fundamental distinction of sex is once abandoned the whole case of the opponents is gone for ever. That alone is why the promoters, many of whom profoundly dislike the provisions of this Bill, are concentrating their efforts to obtain its passage, because they know that once they get any Bill through, no matter what, their case is won, and won for all time. I should like to ask my hon. Friend (Sir J. Rolleston), with whom I have often acted in the past, and with whom I hope to act again in the future, whether on reflection it does not occur to him that he is being made something of a decoy duck in this matter? The hon. Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe explained with great explicitness what his object is. The hon. Gentleman's object is adult suffrage. That adult suffrage, of course, includes the vote for all adult women. I do not gather whether or not my hon. Friend is in favour of that. It would be very interesting indeed if he had told us. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe has reminded the House that the result of this adult suffrage, when it does come, will be a total electorate of 23,000,000 instead of 7,000,000. In that total electorate there will be a considerable majority of women, an important factor in the consideration of public questions.

In order that we may clearly understand whether the adult suffrage party in the House shares the views of the hon. Member for Clitheroe, I might ask this: "Is there one influential supporter of the Bill now before the House—apart from those who sit on the benches on which I sit—who can sincerely say that he sees a settlement of this question in the Bill which is now engaging the attention of the House?" There is no one in the House, apart from some of my Friends sitting here, who can say that. What is the position in which my hon. Friend and others on this side will find themselves in the future? We shall find ourselves in this position. We shall have evacuated every defensible position, and we shall have to approach future controversies bankrupt of any argument which is fixed upon principle; we shall be exposed, and not unjustly exposed, to the taunt that we supported this measure so long as we believed we could derive party advantage from it, and that we only began to oppose it when we became apprehensive that we might sustain party loss. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Shackleton), after the preface to his speech, will not complain if I examine, not what I may call recognisance in force by this Bill, but rather the real object which he quite readily explained was involved in this. I agree with what must have been the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he submitted a point of Order to you, Mr. Speaker, a moment or two ago. I believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is right in descrying, as I believe he did, a profoundly undemocratic quality in the provisions of this particular measure. If female suffrage is to come at all, I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said. I should agree too, with what the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman said in an earlier Debate in this House, and I dispose of this Bill by saying:— That it will enfranchise propertied ladies, but it will not touch the mass of working women, and particularly it will not touch the wives of working men. I would remind hon. Gentlemen of what was said only a year or two ago by the Prime Minister himself. In answer to a deputation in May, 1908, the. right hon. Gentleman said:— It is a distinct condition … that the change proposed must he on democratic lines. For the reasons I have given I do not think that this change is upon democratic lines. I conceive, in spite of what the hon. Gentleman who recommended this proposal to the House said, that every Liberal who holds those views is justified in opposing this Bill at its present stage. I wish, with the indulgence of the House, to make a few observations upon the larger policy of which, after all, this is only admittedly an instalment. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Clitheroe has spoken of these proposals as being a measure of justice. I find that in the charter which is put forward by the suffragist party that they invariably describe the claims they are putting forward in the formula, "The right of women to exercise the Parliamentary vote." It is stated that that is a claim founded upon justice. The other statement, very closely resembling it, "That women have a right to vote"—a question-begging phrase—is made the basis of a great part of the propaganda which is circulated in the country by way of leaflet by the suffragist party. It will perhaps be worth while to discuss for a moment or two what is the meaning of the saying that women have a right to the vote. For generations it has been recognised that no man has an abstract right to a vote. The theory that there is such a thing in existence as a right to vote is as dead as Rousseau. A vote is not a right. It never was a right. It is a capacity which is given on approved public grounds to such sections of citizens as in the opinion of the whole State are likely to exercise that quality with benefit to the community taken as a whole. That is the reason why, when the suffrage was removed in the case of the Irish freeholders—and on many other occasions—that no compensation was given. That is the reason, and almost the only reason, why it is recognised that it is criminal to traffic in votes, for the probable sufferer in that trafficing is the State which has given the capacity to vote. If women possess a natural right to vote, surely it must be clear that that right must become effective in every community in which the men vote. If it is a natural right it admits of no exception of any kind. It must apply in priest-ridden Italy, in all countries in which men are entitled to vote; and if our Indian fellow-subjects are ever enfranchised it must apply to the unilluminated zenanas of the East.

May I point out from that that the statement of the hon. Member for Clitheroe is based, as very many of those are who agree with him, upon the dogma that there should be "no taxation without representation." You can hardly examine the charter which is put forward by any one of the suffragist groups, or a speech made by the prominent advocate, without finding reliance placed upon that dogma: "No taxation without representation." Even so thoughtful an advocate of the cause as the hon. Gentleman himself repeated that argument to-day in this House. It really ought to be too late in the day and in this stage of political thought to point out that the phrase, "No taxation without representation," is either universally true, or else it is a mere catchword. If it is not universally true the argument as a whole is destitute of force. It can be shown almost in a sentence that it is not universally true. Do our Indian fellow-subjects vote? Do they pay taxes? It is, of course, common knowledge that they pay taxes, but that they do not vote. No one would be bold enough to contend—whether they ought or ought not to have the vote is another matter—but no one would be bold enough to contend that the mere fact that they pay taxes is a reason that they should be given the vote. Is it to be contended that every man who buys an ounce of tobacco or a quart of ale, and thereby contributes indirectly to taxation, is to be entitled to a vote? If the phrase "No taxation without representation" is not universally true, it is a catch-word, and has no force at all.

The real truth is that the payment of taxes is only one of several general presumptions in favour of conceding the suffrage. The consideration of the criterion is entitled to very great respect, but no one would be so foolish as to treat it as a decisive criterion. If, then, I am right in saying there is no natural right, that the payment of taxes does not in itself confer any right to vote, then one may perhaps make this further observation, that it surely argues an amazing degree of assurance to advocate the measure by the use of the argument, "No taxation without representation" in a Bill which deliberately excludes from the franchise the very class of owners who are the principal sufferers by the fact that they are taxed without having representation. If it be clear that there is no inherent right to vote, let me examine the argument by which the hon. Gentleman has attempted to show to the House that they ought to be given the vote. He has used the argument, though he did not lay such stress upon it to-day as he and others have laid upon it before, that women, after a painful struggle for years, have now arrived at the desire for the suffrage in numbers which are increasingly large and, at least, very considerable. May I on that point say that, in the first place, I am entirely unsatisfied by any evidence—I have attempted, even in a sympathetic spirit, to go into the matter—entirely unconvinced by any evidence which, in the face of the most explicit challenge has ever been produced by friends of the suffrage movement, that there is any strong or considerable volume of opinion in its favour amongst the women of this country? Let no one think I desire to open a somewhat sterile controversy as to the number of signatories to Petitions presented to this House for and against, for I think it is a most fallacious method of determining public sentiment. Still, for what it is worth, one finds that from 1890–1906 only 193,000 women signed Petitions to this House in favour of female suffrage, and that during the last eighteen months, a period in which a strong anti-suffrage association has been in existence, 300,000 women, some of them eminent women, have signed petitions against it, and to the effect that these proposals shall not be forced upon them. A rather interesting illustration was furnished by an inquiry which was instituted by "The Sheffield Independent," a newspaper which I think itself is sympathetic with these proposals. This inquiry was addressed to the women householders of Sheffield. Twenty-three thousand papers were sent out, and of the replies 9,000 were in favour of woman suffrage and 14,000 were against it. The representatives of this paper reported that in many cases their emissaries were chased with violence from the houses by the female inhabitants under the impression that they were collecting statistical matter as the emissaries of the suffragist party.

I would carry it even further. I would not ask this House in this matter to decide upon the evidence of signatories to Petitions, or upon the evidence of the provincial newspaper, but I would invite every Member of the House of Commons to use his own judgment of two criteria upon this point. The first is that of the women in his own constituency and the second is that of the women of his own acquaintance. Let me speak for myself. I can only say, representing as I do in this House a very large working-class Constituency, and having in the clearest possible manner indicated my views on this subject at each election, and having made the kind of inquiry which every Member of this House is in a position to make among the women of his acquaintance, I am satisfied that the claim which is put forward that the great majority of women, or that any majority of women, desire a vote, is one that cannot be substantiated. But, Sir, I confess that if I were satisfied that every woman in the world wanted the vote it would not influence me one bit. When we point out how many women there are who are opposed to female suffrage we are told that those who do not want to vote need not vote. We are told that it is not to be compulsory, and the woman to whom the opportunity to vote is given and who has not the desire to vote has no grievance if this ability is given to those who are anxious to use it.

5.0 P.M.

Such an unconvincing argument has never been brought forward. What would it have been to an intelligent negro of the Southern States who had believed, after careful reflection, that the possession of the suffrage would not be in the best interests of his fellow-countrymen as a whole? What answer would it have been to such a man to have said, "You are not bound to vote if you do not wish to vote. Your countrymen may vote, but you are not compelled to vote"? The whole objection of such a man would be as the whole objection of these women who do not want a vote—that they do not wish to be governed by other women. The real answer to the claim that is put forward that women want the vote, even if that claim could be abundantly substantiated, is that the mere fact of even a widespread desire on the part of women should not be decisive on the question. I agree that that circumstance will be one of which wise statesmanship will take careful notice, but which it will never treat as decisive of this controversy, always recognising that from whatever type of Bill one approaches the question one is brought back to this, that the whole issue is whether or not the larger policy is in the interests of the State as a whole; that is of the whole body of male citizens a[...]male citizens. When the position[...]nted in this way, the hon. Gen[...] opposite falls back upon another line [...]gument, and, let me say quite frankly, upon a very powerful argument, and one of which I recognise the force. It would answer no useful purpose for me or any other opponent of female suffrage to contest that the case has been supported, and can be supported, by powerful arguments; if it could not it could hardly have become a matter of high controversy. The whole issue, of course, in the computation of a political argument is on which side does the balance of national advantage fall.

I always have been struck in this controversy—and I was particularly struck when I heard the forcible presentment given to it by the hon. Gentleman—by the argument that it might ameliorate the conditions under which many working women live their lives. I feel there is great cogency in his arguments. But before I address myself to the point may I remind the hon. Gentleman of what I think he has overlooked, namely, of what, after centuries of man-made law, is the position of women. Considering the matter for a moment as the suffragists claim, I boldly affirm, taking in the first place the position of married women, that after centuries of man-made law, woman to-day occupies a position so preferential that no parallel can be discovered in any civilised country of the world. At the present moment every Member of this House who is married is under the obligation to provide for his wife, and I am not complaining of that. No Member of this House enjoys a right of compelling his wife to contribute to his support unless he becomes chargeable to the poor rates, however poor he may be and however rich she may be. In the second place, if I or any other Member of the House neglects to provide his wife with decent means of subsistence—and, be it observed, even if by her conduct the day after the wedding she has made it absolutely impossible for the most patient man ever born to live with her—he is in no way relieved from his obligation to maintain her. If she—I am taking an unfortunate illustration—slander or assault a neighbour we are liable. If we slander or assault a neighbour, under no circumstances, whatever her means may be, is she liable. She is protected, in consequence of some assumed fallibility of [...]gment, against any attempt on her p[...]t whilst she is married from anticipating her property and is confined to the income; and, in the second place, she is under no personal liability in respect of contracts. To carry to a conclusion the somewhat unhappy menage which I have suppose for the purposes of my argument, should [...]e ultimately bring divorce proceedings against the unhappy husband, then, however innocent and successful he may be, he will yet be called upon to pay both her costs and his own.

There is only one grievance that can be successfully alleged existing in the case of married women, and that is the difference between the grounds upon which divorce will be given in the case of the two sexes, and even that distinction does not exist in Scotland. Let me just make this observation on that. I have never been among those—and I have had some little experience of, and practice in, divorce courts—who have found themselves able to support this distinction, and, if women as a sex concentrated to assimilate the conditions under which divorce is given to the two sexes, I believe an overwhelming majority of the House of Commons would support them. In summarising this part of the case, may I ask whether anyone who has sat in this House of Commons for a long period knows of any one case when the advocate of a woman's grievance has come to the House of Commons, and has said, "I have established this grievance, and I ask the House of Commons for remedy," and has failed to meet with a sympathetic reply from all parts of the House? I would ask one further question in the same sense. Has there been one case within recent memory in the House of Commons where the issue of any question affecting women has shown the slightest partiality in favour of the male sex over the female sex? I do not believe that any speaker in this Debate can point to one illustration of such partiality within these twenty-five or thirty years.

Let me pass on to what is a far stronger point in the argument of the hon. Gentleman. He said with great force that unmarried women, and particularly working women, would benefit by, and ought to be given, the leverage of the vote. Let me not attempt to underrate, for the purpose of my argument, the troubles of those women who earn their own livelihood. I think it is incomparably the greatest and the saddest tragedy of the whole of our in- dustrial life. But the question to be asked is this. How far is the case exaggerated which says that the possession of a vote would be likely to remove the grievances under which they lie? The commonest argument of the militant suffragists, which you will hear on every platform which they address, is that if the factory girls of Lancashire, upon whose unanimity the hon. Gentleman prides himself so much, will support the cause of female suffrage, they will obtain larger wages than they obtain to-day. It is perfectly true that women obtain lower wages than men obtain. I am not sure—I speak under correction on this point—that any authorised leaders of male trade unions have ever been able to recommend to any large bodies of their supporters the proposition that all women workers should receive the same wages as men workers. I would add this further observation, that while it is true that women's wages are lower than men's wages, the reasons for that inferiority of wage are obviously, ultimately, physical and economic. I do not say that there may not be some balance left over when you have made those two allowances. But the hon. Gentleman and his supporters never make either of those allowances, which are obviously of the utmost importance. First of all, as everyone knows, women are physically weaker than men. This, of course, must be an enormous element in considering the wage they secure for exacting forms of toil. In the second place, men devote all their time, all their lives: women, in many cases, a part of their time and only for a period of their lives. And, in the third place, there is no such organisation, with very few exception in the north of England, in the case of female employment as exists in the case of men. I may be told by some that, after all, it was votes that enabled the working men of England to form their trade unions, and that a similar power should be given to women, but the answer to that is obvious, that the votes which have secured trade unions for them have equally secured trade unions for women. Every step which has been gained as the result of both long and painful years of controversy in the interests of male combination has equally been gained in the interests of female combination. If that is true, it gives away a large part of the female suffrage argument. Is it not plain that the whole power of legislation in raising wages has been grossly exaggerated by those who lay stress on the subject in this connection? Are votes to-day helping the operatives of Lancashire to maintain their wages? Are they helping the casual labourers at the Liverpool docks? Are they helping those of the unemployed who have votes? Have they helped agricultural labourers in the years in which they possessed votes? Surely consideration of these and similar questions and circumstances in our industrial life shows how predominant have been purely economic causes in the fixing of rates of wages. Take the case of domestic servants—housemaids or others. Their wages have appreciated 50 per cent., like many of the classes with which I have been dealing, and they have appreciated, of course, from a cause which is a purely economic cause, and has nothing whatever to do with the question of the suffrage. An argument which has been used by the hon. Gentleman to-day is the argument supplied to us in the case of our own Colonies. I do not think anyone who is discussing this subject with any pretence of completeness would be right to leave it without calling the attention of the House to the broad fact that we are asked, first—we, this great country, with all the complex systems which are dependent upon us—we are asked to take a step for which there is no example in any of the first-class countries of the world.


Is not Australia a first-class country?


If the hon. Gentleman will be patient I am going to deal with the case of Australia. But may I first of all take the case of Norway, which, so far as I know, is the only sovereign country cited in these Debates? We are asked to see in the circumstances of Norway some justification for the proposals recommended to us. The population of Norway is 2,358,000, distributed over a territory of 124,000 square miles. Is there anybody who will say that such an illustration as that of Norway supplies us with the slightest useful guidance in the decision we are asked to make now? Then we come to the case of Australia. When I spoke of first-class countries of course I meant, and I think everyone understood perfectly well that I meant, countries discharging in their entirety sovereign functions. What is the instance of Australia upon which the hon. Gentleman founded himself? The population of Australia is 4,200,000, distributed over 3,00[...] square miles, which is about one and a quarter inhabitants to the square mile, and we are asked to see in the fact that a lady who formerly lived in Blackburn and is now in Australia, where there is a population of one and a quarter people to the square mile, and is in the enjoyment of this special franchise, an overwhelming argument as to why the Blackburn lady's sister should enjoy the same privileges in this country. I am wholly unconvinced by that argument, and further, let me point out that the Blackburn lady would not obtain the suffrage under this Bill. Take the case of New Zealand. In New Zealand the population is little over 1,000,000, and the area of the country is 104,000 square miles. How can anyone suppose that these countries afford any arguments at all for this Bill? I am at a loss to know why the hon. Gentleman omitted the case of the Isle of Man. We might derive useful guidance of the same class from the circumstances of a small and enterprising place like the Isle of Man.

In previous Debates a large part was played by giving illustrations from the United States. I do not suppose that there is anyone who has followed the recent history of this question who will dispute that the case of female suffrage has undergone a very plain decline in the United States in the last fifteen years. Great reliance is sometimes placed upon the states which are in the enjoyment of female suffrage. I am sanguine enough to conceive that the mere recital of their names will make it unnecessary to pursue the argument any further. They are Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. I do not think anyone familiar with the government of Colorado will desire to lay great stress upon the guidance which this country will receive from the consideration of its circumstances, and I do not wish to deal at length with the case of Utah. There is an interesting circumstance not wholly unconnected with Parliamentary strategy in a new community that the same Bill which abolished polygamy contained a clause stipulating for female suffrage in Utah, and as a result of the first election, Mr. Bingham Roberts, the uneasy possessor of three wives, was presented to a satisfied Legislature as one of the earliest members. It is to these communities that we are left for these petty illustrations.

There is only one other case ever cited so far as I know, and that is the case of Finland. I desire to lay some facts and figures with regard to Finland before the House, and I confess that I take these facts and figures from "Whitaker's Almanac." Finland has 3,000,000 population, distributed over 144,000 square miles, and its circumstances are thus described in sequent sentences in "Whitaker":— There is universal suffrage for both sexes, women are likewise eligible for election to the Chamber; the Finnish troops only exist in name. Upon these illustrious precedents we are asked to mould an Empire of 450,000,000 inhabitants, with an Oriental population of 300,000,000 detesting government by women. With all the examples of the civilised world before us to guide us in this matter, we holding as we do the equipoise of Empire balanced on a democracy in the West and a bureaucracy in the East, we are asked to be the chief body upon whom this experiment is to be made on a large scale for the first time in the history of the world. The hon. Gentleman reinforces that modest claim by reminding us that women have served with advantage to the community upon town councils and boards of guardians. That is most fully conceded. Is not the fact that they do sit on these boards proof that there is no restriction in this sphere which opens up to them the whole question of housing and of education, the care of the poor and the young, and of the mentally afflicted, and the social mischiefs on the sexual side, and opens up to them immense finances of the rates, with which they are far more intimate than with the question of Imperial taxation? Is not the fact that all these areas of activity are open to them to-day an answer to those who come here and say they are entitled to enter upon wholly different and vaster areas of work?

If I choose to take another point which is clear to my mind I might point out to the House that the degree of interest taken by women, whether as candidates or voters, in our local elections supplies a very strong argument as to the desire or otherwise of women for these votes. I confess I am astonished when in these Debates one reads the arguments presented by those in favour of this case, and sees how they never make the slightest attempt to grapple with the arguments upon which we rightly rely. Our arguments may be bad or good, but we always put forward the same arguments, and they have never been attempted to answer. Let me remind the House of a common-place in one contention which has been put forward in every Debate upon female 'suffrage, and which has never received an adequate answer. Why is it that the majority in this country or in any other are allowed to live peaceably? Because in the last resort they can coerce the minority, and because it is known to the minority that in the last resort they can be coerced, and because it is more easy to vote than to fight. In other words, votes are to swords exactly what bank notes are to gold—the one is effective only because the other is believed to be behind it. It is the whole basis of the theory upon which political sovereignty rests. If the majority, in fact, cannot coerce because the tribunal of force is weaker the minority will only submit as long as the issues are unimportant or are minor issues.

Let me take another illustration which Professor Dicey has used. Let me take the case of the negro voters in the Southern States. In the Southern States you have free suffrage in which both the white man and the negro are entitled to participate. Supposing all the negroes voted on one side, or supposing they united with a set of white men which might easily happen, you would then have on one side a majority of negroes and white men, and on the other side a minority of white men. What happens in the Southern States in such circumstances? Not being prepared to revoke the form of the Constitution, which is impracticable in the circumstances, what is it that they do? They apply the most simple remedies. The stronger minority of white men say we do not propose to allow the majority to use their full legal power, and they institute an examination of knowledge of the Constitution and the questions addressed to the white men are not always identical with those addressed to the black men. The questions addressed to the white men are, for example, such as this: "Who was the last President of the United States of America, or who won the last pugilistic encounter?" The question addressed to the negroes is: "Discuss analytically the difference between the Canadian and Swiss Federalism." And it is astonishing how much more successful the white voters are than the black.

I am not, of course, advancing the proposition that the women of this country will ever vote together, but you may easily have women with a minority of men attempting to impose their views upon the actual majority of the men. Supposing this Bill passed—and I honestly believe it is a Conservative Bill in its policy— supposing it passed and enabled me and my hon. Friends who believe in national service in the first year of the new Parliament which would be called into existence to pass with the aid of the female vote against the majority of the male vote, and to carry through this House a proposal for compulsory national service. Would the Labour party be prepared to accept that from the majority of the women? I venture to doubt it. Take another illustration. Supposing as the result of a sinister alliance between Mrs. Pankhurst and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir Thomas Whittaker) that every public-house in the country were directed to be closed, and supposing that was done in opposition to the majority of the male and by the female vote. Do you suppose the men would ever acquiesce in that, or that they would dream of doing so? The result would be that you would be brought to the very verge of anarchy, inasmuch as that numerically the majority were unable to give effect to their decision.

Let me give another illustration. Supposing the powerful eloquence of the late Mr. Gladstone against the Bulgarian and Armenian atrocities found in women voters a fruitful and emotional soil, the result might have been that the women voters, or a majority of them, might have voted for war, and might have asked men who might have been totally unaffected by Mr. Gladstone's eloquence to fight in such a war. I am very little impressed by the statement which is made with so much sanguineness that women are against war and that the female vote would make for a pacific spirit. But even if that were true, it would be an additional reason that would disincline me to support this Bill, because as long as other countries are not taking a bias in the direction of peace I have no desire that we should, of all countries, be prepared to take such a step. The spectacle of a peaceful policy in this country finding no reflection in the policy of any other country gives additional cogency to my argument.

It is undoubtedly one of the arguments most frequently used in this question that man, actually or potentially, is a fighting animal. You make exception in the case of weaklings and old men; and the other argument is that women are, actually or potentially, against fighting. The significance of this point of view for this country must always be prodigious; and let this be noticed, that the differentiation of the sexes grows more acute, and not less, with every day of civilisation.

Consider an observation made by a very fascinating writer, Mr. H. G. Wells, who is a somewhat embarrassing ally of hon. Gentlemen opposite on this point. He says:— The trend of evolutionary forces through long centuries of human development has been on the whole towards differentiation. An adult white woman differs far more from a white man than a negress or pigmy woman from her equivalent male. The education, the mental disposition of a white or Asiatic woman reeks of sex; her modesty, her decorum, is not to ignore sex but to refine and put a point to it; her costume is clamorous with the distinctive elements of her form. The white woman in the materially prosperous nations is more of a sexual specialist than her sister of the poor and austere peoples, of the prosperous classes more so than the peasant woman. This fundamental limitation is not confined to the Army; it extends equally to police, governors of gaols, coastguards, and to every person by whom the coercive power of the State is directly exercised. The most characteristic quality in the conception of law is its sanction, or the means by which it is made effective. In making it effective no woman can play the slightest part. That argument is one of the most decisive. It is an elemental disqualification, and one which is periodical in its source of weakness, even before maternity, and during and after maternity it can generally be pronounced chronic. May I ask whether there is any supporter of this Bill who agreed with the child like sanguineness of my hon. Friend when he said he did not believe for a single moment women would ever sit in the House of Commons? It was unthinkable. May I ask whether that is the view of those who in other parts of the House are convinced supporters of the principle of female suffrage? It is, of course, a commonplace, and no one who has studied the suffragist literature is unaware that the ideal of those to whose energies the cause of woman suffrage owes everything, and whom we have to thank for the Government even giving us this two days' Debate is complete political equality between the sexes. I will ask my hon. Friend who waives it away with what I believe a wholly unfounded spirit of optimism, if these proposals are brought forward, as assuredly they will, with what arguments is he going to meet them? If the fundamental disqualification of sex is once obliterated how is either my hon. Friend or myself to reply to the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Shackleton) when he comes down to the House of Commons and asks the Government for two days, and w[...] that Bill should go upstairs to a Committee in order to discuss the proposal, as to whether women shall sit in the House of Commons? I can almost hear the speech which the hon. Gentleman would deliver. He would say: "I agree it does not go so far as I would like. I would like to see women in the Cabinet, but, after all, I have always believed in getting the thin end of the wedge in, and therefore I will be satisfied on this occasion of the House will allow women to sit in the House of Commons." There is not one argument which can be used in favour of giving women the vote which cannot be used in favour of their being allowed to sit in Parliament. I commend this reflection to the House. How about those ladies to whose eloquent advocacy in many cases of the cause of female suffrage its conspicuous position in politics to-day is mainly due? With what argument will those who believe in female suffrage meet their claim: "We who in the country have supported the heat and burden of the day; we, whose fitness to elect Members of Parliament you have recognised by your votes, claim the right to sit by you and discuss the laws which you have admitted we are entitled to vote upon in the country"? I know not by what argument that distinction will be maintained. They never deceived the clear and strenuous mind of Mr. Gladstone. He said:— The woman's vote carries with it, whether by the same Bill or by a consequential Bill, the woman's seat in Parliament. I agree with that view. Hon. Gentlemen opposite in their hearts agree with it too, and I would venture most solemnly to urge my hon. Friends who, some of them, are in favour of this Bill, not to give a vote for its Second Reading to-morrow night unless they are prepared to face this logical consequence. The matter may be carried to a point which will cause even more poignant anguish to my hon. Friend below the Gangway. Mr. Gladstone anticipated with prescience an even further development. He said:— A capacity to sit in the House of Commons, logically and practically draws in its train capacity to fill every office in the State. We are therefore face to face with this, that the vote to-morrow carries with it as a logical corollary not merely the presence of women in this House, but the right of women to occupy the great executive offices in the State. If that be recognised, and none vote for this Bill who are not prepared to face the consequences, then I have no apprehension as to the result of the Division. I do not believe a majority in this House are prepared to face these results.

The most appalling sign of all to those who believe this will be a prodigious misfortune is the levity with which the substance of everything womanhood enjoys to-day and has enjoyed for centuries is to be sacrificed to the shadow. I saw a short time ago a statement made by a leading advocate of the suffrage cause that all she ever got from the respect paid to her sex by the male sex was that a man who met her would raise his hat, and she did not attach very high political or monetary value to it. The same paper, four days later, contained the record of a shipwreck, in which, with the most admirable heroism and discipline, every man of the crew obeyed the order of the captain that women and children should go first to the boats. I am far from suggesting that would go; I do not believe it would go; but I do believe that all that has been regarded in the past as being most characteristic and of the greatest value to the country in true womanly character would be degraded, if not destroyed, by the proposals of this Bill. We are the legatees of the most nicely adjusted political fabric which the world has ever known. We are asked to-day to make this final commitment without the slightest knowledge of how these votes will be given by women when enfranchised. We are told it is no answer to say women voters may be ignorant, and that men voters are ignorant too. That is the most crude application of the doctrine of political homœopathy to which I have listened. I do not assent to the gloomy view held of the capacity of male voters. During centuries in schools, in shops, the mill, the street, in clubs, in alehouses—in all those places men are continually rubbing shoulders with their fellows and discussing public affairs, acquiring that extraordinary adaptability to the exercise of the vote which has long been the pride of this country in its democratic institutions. No such opportunities are open to women. If those specific discussions in the Conference which are taking place to-day should unhappily prove unsuccessful, we are threatened with the risk of being governed not by a bi-cameral, but by a uni-cameral system, and this is the moment chosen when we are asked to add two million electors as to whose bearing and trend on the polls no living man can pronounce with the slightest confidence. The hon. Gentleman has spoken of many illustrious women writers and those of whom the whole sex, and, indeed, the whole community, irrespective of sex, are proud. I do not wish to decry the claim of women to intellectual distinction. I have never in the course of my observations here or elsewhere founded myself on some assumed intellectual inferiority of women. I do not believe it, but I venture to say that the sum total of human happiness, knowledge, and achievement would have been almost unaffected if Sappho had never sung, if Joan of Arc had never fought, if Siddons had never played, and if George Eliot had never written. At the same time, without the true functions of womanhood faithfully discharged throughout the ages the very existence of the race and the tenderest and most sacred influences which animate mankind would have disappeared. Profoundly believing, as I do, that these influences are greviously menaced by the intrusion of women into the field of politics, I move the Amendment which I have on the Paper.


I rise with some diffidence to second the Motion of the hon. Member. I cannot hope to emulate the brilliance of expression with which he has adorned his arguments. I am afraid I cannot hope to have the sympathy of my hon. Friends on this side of the House in my action. I may say that I take the course I do at considerable sacrifice, because not only have I against me my whole household, but I am acting against the wishes of many of my most valued supporters, both men and women, in my Constituency. Some of the latter sank their views on this particular question in order to give me their very best support at the General Election. Like the hon. Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) I am not going to discuss the Bill which is before the House. The hon. Member who introduced it frankly said it is only, in his view, the thin edge of the wedge. The baby was, in fact, such a little one that he asked us to dandle it on our knees, but I say it is the first step that costs, and if we admit the principle, we shall soon have in our arms the largest baby we have ever seen. It is, I maintain, contrary to what the hon. Member said, quite possible to support adult suffrage and at the same time to vote against the principle of woman suffrage for the reasons which have been so ably put forward by the [...] Member for the Walton Division. We are dealing here, not with a small Bill, and not with a Bill which is going to enfranchise a small number of women, but with a Bill which, as an eventual and certain corollary, will carry with it the transfer of the whole balance of power to women. Mr. Gladstone and Sir William Harcourt in 1897 saw that any admission of the principle of woman suffrage, however limited, would carry with it the admission of the principle of adult woman suffrage. I deny that there is any abstract right to the vote, but, whether there is or not, I maintain that a question of political machinery, such as this is, must be argued not on the ground of abstract right or justice, but on the ground of what is for the political good of the State and of its members. I suppose everyone will admit that the exercise of the franchise demands the existence of certain capacities and the performance of certain duties. Does woman possess those capacities—mental, moral, temperamental, and physical—which will enable her to perform those duties? Of course, there are exceptional women—of whom we speak as women of masculine understanding or character—but leaving aside these women, what are the capacities of the average woman? Are they effective capacities for the exercise of the vote? I frankly admit I consider that the average woman is in some ways mentally superior to the average man. She may not be capable of the same thorough and patient investigation of a question, but her quicker comprehension, her more lively imagination, her intuitive power of judging character, would make her, on the whole, a more intelligent voter than the average man. Considering the conditions under which ninety-nine out of every 100 electors exercise the vote, I think the possession of this greater quickness of intelligence will enable the vote to be better given by the woman.

What about the temperamental characteristic of woman? She has one quality which, however admirable in itself, is in the sphere of political action a very serious defect, and, in my mind, it outweighs the advantages of any intellectual superiority which she may possess. Having drawn her conclusions as to the rights and wrongs of a question she is resolute to give effect to her determination in practice. In other words, she is indisposed to compromise. In her own proper sphere that is an attitude beyond all [...]; but I believe woman's moral mission is to keep burning the flame of the ideal in life and conduct—to keep burning those ideals of right for which we are all striving in political as in other matters. It has been well said that, in politics, the ideal statesman is the man who knows what is right but does not force it unless it is expedient, and who knows what is expedient but does not force it unless it is right. It must be so, so long as human nature continues. We here in Parliament breathe here a continual atmosphere of compromise as little favourable to our ideals as is the ideally ventilated air of this chamber to our physical health. The intervention of woman in politics will tend either to make impossible the business of Government or to extinguish woman in those ideals which are her most precious possession. I must say that in any case it will tend to have the latter result. It is perfectly clear, from the history of the agitation which we have seen during the last few years, that women must make up their minds either to sacrifice not only their ideals but the chivalrous indulgence which has been the protection of their weakness. They cannot have it both ways. If they descend into the political arena they must be content to be soiled with its dust and to endure, without a murmur, the rough usage to which the male gladiator is accustomed.

There is another feature of woman suffrage, which may prove a serious danger to politics. By their constitution they are more liable to be affected by gusts and waves of sentiment. In all conscience we have seen in the last few years that men are quite sufficiently liable to such waves of sentiment; but who can doubt that their ebb and flow would be enormously and indefinitely increased if women had the vote? Their very emotional nature makes women an easier prey to showy argument, to the influence of an attractive personality, and to the allurements of a ceremonial church. It is said that in New Zealand—and the hon. Member for Orkney will correct me if I am wrong—since the introduction of the female vote the influence of clap-trap and cant has become much more pronounced. No doubt in many parts of this kingdom the power of the clergyman will be enormously increased. The hon. Member for Walton has discussed with great ability the question of the great advantage which it is supposed women will gain if they have the vote. I will not follow his criti- cism of those supposed advantages in detail. I will only say that in the Australasian Colonies I believe the tendency is for the women to vote with their men, and the result is a great strengthening of the influence of the vote of the poorer classes. If the same result followed here we might find some additional impetus given to our so-called social movements, movements in the direction of temperance, of greater purity of life, and in various other directions; and it is possible, looking at it from a party point of view, that the strength of the Liberal and Labour movement might thereby be greatly increased.

But what are the evils which, to my mind, far outweigh any possible benefit from women having the vote? It would immensely increase the size of the electorate, and consequently would immensely increase the cost of organisation, of registration, and of elections; it would also increase the difficulty of instructing this vastly increased body of electors in their political duties, and incidentally it would enormously enhance the labours of the candidate. In the case of a General Election, it would add greatly to the disturbance of business even in comparison with that caused at the present time. But such considerations fade into insignificance compared with the result of the transfer of the balance of power to women, the effects of which, to my mind, are absolutely incalculable. The hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division referred to the case of the Australasian Colonies and the American States. I agree with him that in this matter these constitute no guide. I do not propose to follow him into the various questions which arise on a discussion of this particular point. I would only ask what kind of authority would a Government have which depended on a majority given by women. What kind of authority would the Government of Egypt have in such a case? What kind of authority would the Government of India have under such circumstances? I lived in India for many years, and I say unhesitatingly that if the natives of India knew that the Government at home was controlled by a majority given by women the authority of the Government of India would be enormously decreased. Mill was so apprehensive of the result of an alteration in the circumstances of the Government of India that he strongly opposed the transfer of the control of India from the Board of Directors to Parliament. What would he have said if he had known it was proposed that that control should be vested in the hands of a Parliament controlled by women? Then take the question of the control of the finances and commerce, which form so large a part of the business of this House. Under the conditions of nature women could never hope to be able to pronounce an opinion upon most of these questions. Let us turn next to purely domestic questions. The hon. Member for the Walton Division raised a difficult point as to the powers of the suffragettes in a case where the interests of women are at variance with those of men. Suppose their majority enabled them to carry their views into law. In order to enforce those views they must possess physical force, otherwise the law will be disobeyed or civil war ensue. At this moment, when all our powers are needed to resolve a constitutional problem of the first importance, why should we be dragged into a revolution the result of which none can foretell? Is not the question the relations of Lords and Commons fundamentally less serious than the question of woman suffrage? I think it is so, because we can calculate to some extent the result which a particular arrangement proposed may involve, whereas in the case of the introduction of woman suffrage, who can have the faintest notion where it will lead to? Surely it is enough to consider this question of woman suffrage when women have shown that they want it. Of that there is no proof.

6.0 P.M.

The clamour and din of a stage army, however picturesque the mise en scene may be, are no proof. The membership of the suffragist societies must rise from thousands, as they are at present, to millions, before any proof is given of a real desire on the part of women for the suffrage. They have no real backing in the country. I have told my Constituency that if they produce to me a petition signed by the majority of the electors, genuinely verified, I will then forbear to oppose any further the introduction of female suffrage. One of the principal advocates of woman suffrage there, and I may also say one of my most able supporters, said at the meeting at which I made that announcement, "Ah, Mr. Bryce only makes that promise because he knows there is no chance of its ever being fulfilled.


Do you say the same about the House of Lords?


There is a very large majority of my Constituency in favour of taking action against the House of Lords, but I am perfectly certain that neither in my Constituency nor in any other constituency is there a majority of electors in favour of this course. The only danger is that judgment should go by default. One hears it constantly said, "Of course, it is a bad thing, but it is bound to come." I say that attitude is cowardly, and that it is the business of this House to resist it. I myself beseech hon. Members not to vote for this Bill on any such idea, but to vote against it, because if they vote for it in slackness and in apathy, it may mean that before they know where they are we shall have female suffrage, whereas if they vote against it, they will not prevent the introduction of another Bill. It is our business to defeat every Bill. I am perfectly certain that if we take a resolute attitude, and if the electors of this country make it clear by their representatives that they are in a majority against it, and that they will not have it, I am perfectly certain we shall never have it. And of one thing more I am certain, and that is that no man who values either his peace of mind or the real interests of women, or the general interests of the country, will ever consent to sit in a House of Commons which is elected by female suffrage.

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Haldane)

Before I speak—and I will do so very shortly—on the substance of the question which has been discussed by my hon. Friend who has just sat down, I wish to say something on the situation in which the House finds itself. That situation is not without precedent, but it is very unusual. Here, with a question of absolutely first-rate importance before the House, it is quite impossble for the Government to give the usual guidance, and not only is that the case of the Government of the day occupying these benches, but it is equally true of the Front Opposition Bench opposite. We are divided in opinion, and the division is of such a character that I believe it to be impossible under any conditions which are likely to occur soon for any Government to give a lead on this question. However, that does not preclude the Government of the day from recognising the magnitude of the question and the increasing amount of attention it is receiving, and there is this new feature in the situation at this moment, that the Government has given time for the discussion of this question, so that this House of Commons may, for the first time, express itself, and that some judgment may be passed by it as to what the opinion of this House really is. No doubt it is a very important concession that is made, because if this House of Commons expresses itself very strongly for the principle then it is reasonable that effective opportunity should be given at some time for that House to translate its feelings into a concrete form. Having said so much, I wish to point out the consequence of this action. The House is without the usual guidance, and therefore it behoves it to act very carefully and cautiously in what it does. For my part, supporter as I have always been of the cause of woman suffrage, I should be very sorry to be a party to sending this Bill to be discussed in a Committee upstairs, where it might be passed through without the alteration of a comma, and we might be deprived in this House of an opportunity of discussing it on Report. Such a consequence would probably be disastrous to the Bill in another place, and if progress is to be made, then I most emphatically think that this House of Commons would do well to proceed upon the footing of treating this question with the utmost fairness and giving the utmost fulness of discussion. That does not involve necessarily that the question should be delayed in becoming law, but it does involve that if a question of this kind is to be passed through without the guidance of those who are responsible for the government of the country and by the sense of the House of Commons, that sense should be fully and adequately ascertained.

Having said that, I pass briefly to the merits of the question before us. I listened to the eloquent speech—one of the most admirable of the eloquent speeches which he has made in this House—delivered by the hon. Member for the Walton Division (Mr. F. E. Smith). No one who listened to him could fail to appreciate the earnestness with which he spoke. But there was one objection which went through my mind during the whole of his speech. These arguments, however eloquent, admirable, and important they would have been at an earlier stage in the history of this question, come too late. The hon. Member spoke of this question as though it were an open one which we were discussing on its merits without a history behind it. It is true he said that the consessions which had been made about local and educational franchise do not force you to go further, and he claimed deliberately to free himself from those precedents by discussing the large question of what should take place in a country which discharges sovereign functions. I think that was the gist of his argument; he told us with great eloquence that the Sovereign reigned over, I think he said, between 300,000,000 and 400,000,000 of coloured subjects, who would resent the domination of government by women, but I think it might with touching force have been retorted upon him at that moment that those British subjects not only endured but accepted and welcomed the reign of a woman on the Throne, and if there is one thing that stands out prominently in this great country it is that its Throne can be occupied and has been occupied by women who have imparted to the supreme position in the State and in the Empire a distinction and an influence such as has not been outdone by any man. But it is not on that particular point alone that the argument turns. If you look at the whole history of this question you will see that there has been a steady growth and development in the position which women have taken. Our common law has been the subject of great change. There was a time when women practically had no separate personalty from that of their husbands, and when they could not get any position in the State at all, and when they had none of those local or educational franchises of which the hon. Member spoke; when they were excluded from the universities, shut out from the professions, and from all power of moulding public opinion. But what is the state of things to-day? Step by step and foot by foot that position has been modified, and in many cases altogether changed. Nobody can deny that there has been a vast change in the development of women, not only in this, but in other countries. But the phenomenon with which you have to deal is not one which is without precedent. In old times you had something which was very much analogous to the point raised in connection with women's franchise to-day. In the time of Pericles the citizens of Athens would have been surprised and almost horrified if it had been said that slaves should be put upon the same footing as free-born citizens. In the time of Tiberius the Roman citizen would have retorted with arguments even more powerful than those which have been addressed to the House by the hon. Member for Walton against voting to enfranchise the great masses of the population at that time. It would have been said that the Roman Empire and civilisation were in peril. Whoever thought that slavery would be looked upon as a thing of the past, and that slaves should enjoy the franchise and come into the category of Roman citizens? Still, with the march of time, these things became inevitable, and rapidly inevitable, and to-day we are face to face with a condition of things in which the emancipation of women by means of the franchise is demanded. You have all these changes not only in the legal incidents of which I have spoken, but in the public opinion of the whole country. Who are those who are objecting to bringing women into Imperial politics—into the politics of the country which are sovereign politics? I use and accept the phrase of the hon. and learned Member. Why, it is the very men who are welcoming the advent of women to take a larger part in these Imperial questions. I observe an hon. Gentleman who represents one of the Divisions of Worcestershire, and who, I think, holds very strong opinions upon this subject, but if I mistake not he associated himself the other day with a gathering of distinguished ladies supporting Tariff Reform.

Then, again, we invoke the assistance of the Women's Liberal Association in the cause of Free Trade, and I observe that the members of the Victoria League, a non-political body of ladies who associate themselves explicitly with the cause of Empire, have recently been receiving a very considerable ovation for the great part they have taken in bringing the affairs of the Empire prominently before the attention of the nation. How is it possible to say that this question is in the position it was? Therefore it is that I say that these arguments which we have heard, and other arguments which we shall undoubtedly hear in this Debate come too late. You might have argued these things if you had not conceded all in the nature of change that has taken place. But to-day, when you see women taking an increasing part in public life year after year, and taking that part as much in the affairs of Empire as in affairs at home, when you have on every hand the manifestation of an intention that that part should not only be not restricted, but that it should be increased, how is it possible to come forward to-day and use arguments which would have been applicable if you were dealing with a state of things in which the soil was un-built upon and the edifice of the emancipation of women had not risen to heights which have become very considerable? Of course I know that there are a great number of very superior persons who write in the newspapers on abstract grounds for and against the emancipation of women. I do not think these are matters which can be decided upon abstract grounds. I agree that such phrases as that of taxation and representation going together are not good arguments. I think the real argument to-day is in the concrete, and that is why I do not find myself in sympathy with the line of argument which is pursued by the very aristocracy of thought, who, nothwithstanding their great eminence—and they are represented by those of both sexes—seem to me not to be aware of what is going on. Matthew Arnold was fond of saying that the attitude of the British aristocracy to what he called the great spiritual movement of the time—the democratic movement—reminded him very much of the attitude of Pontius Pilate in the presence of the phenomenon of Christianity. To-day you have the very illustration of people who will discuss things upon abstract grounds and upon the footing of the supposed wishes of women on the subject, of the supposed finding of a large and increasing body of women who are opposed to the concession of this thing putting forward the kind of arguments with which we are familiar and the manifestations with which we have been flooded and which have appeared in the newspapers.

What one looks to is what is going on in the country at this time and what is likely to be still more going on next year. Every month brings forward some new phase of this great social question upon which the interest of women is so intense. The practical problems of to-day are problems which are bringing women more and more into contact with them. There is hardly one phase of legislation which is not followed by an organisation on which women are more and more represented, and in which women handle these questions on what I will call the concrete side. Just because of that the interest of women in these things is getting more close, and when we turn to other questions do we not all invoke the views of women on the one hand to tell us what is to be the effect of taxation upon the home in controversies about Free Trade, and do we not again invoke women on the other side to tell us what ought to be the duty of the men towards the Empire? If that is going on more and more year by year, have we not reached a stage at which it is quite impossible to deal with these questions on the footing you could do ten or twenty years ago? It seems to me that this question is becoming almost an urgent one. I do not mean urgent on the ground of agitation—I do not believe agitation really carries these things further—I mean urgent because of the character of the problems with which we are dealing. Everyone knows that the position of women in point of remuneration, of their wages, is not as good as is the case with men, and I cannot dispute what was said by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. F. E. Smith) that that is to some extent due to the fact that women cannot associate themselves together with that force and with that authority which is given by the fact that people possess a certain political footing in the State. If for that reason alone I should like to see that happen.

I own that I do not very much like the form in which this Bill has been presented, but, speaking for myself, I would rather have the Bill than no Bill at all. I should certainly vote for it in all its stages rather than go without the principle. I used, some years ago, to bring in a Bill simply for the removal of the legal disabilities of women, leaving it to nature to do the rest. I never believed women would become warriors, nor commanders-in-chief, nor that men would take to nursing children on any large scale. I have the conviction that these things would adjust themselves according to what is fit, and that is why I am not moved by the argument that you are going to enfranchise a great number of women who will probably be in a majority over the men to whom you have given the franchise. We do not count heads in estimating the importance of communities in the State. The social whole is not determined in its character merely by the numerical elements which enter into it. The general will is to be determined by something much more, and it is the natural fitness of things and the natural capacity of the citizens who compose the State that really make it what it is. I, for my part, should look upon the advent of women to political life with no misgiving, and with the certainty that in many respects it would make very little difference indeed. I do not believe the life of the State would be altered. I do not believe the continuity of its traditions, of its history, of the instincts of its people, would vary in the least. But I believe there are questions which would receive attention and classes who would come to the front in a way that has never happened before and in a fashion which would preserve their continuity with the race to which they belong, and which would make them as representative of that race and of that nation as any who had come before.

Therefore, while I should have preferred to see this Bill simply aim at brushing away legal fetters without reserve, and leaving it to nature to prescribe the rest, I accept the Bill as the embodiment of a principle which I would gladly have carried in any reasonable form. It is better that we should have a step forward than that we should be left without any step forward in a time when the inadequacy of the law and the Constitution to the spirit of the period which we have reached produces a more and more varied sense of injustice, and a kind of agitation with which we were only too familiar last year. I believe the time will come when people will look back on the state of things in which we have drawn this political distinction between men and women with as much amazement as they look back upon the period when slavery was a recognised institution, and held to be of the very foundation and of the essence of the well-being of the State. I believe the time will come when people will feel that our doubts were the outcome of a great superstition, and will marvel that humanity had not emancipated itself earlier. We who are in this time know how difficult these things are, and know how plausible and formidable the arguments appear. No one who has listened to this discussion can doubt the sincerity of those who oppose the cause of woman suffrage, or the fact that they believe that their position is based on the best interests of the State. It is only when you are close to these things that they seem to be perplexing. But taking the wider view, and recognising the tendencies of our times, I believe there is only one line which it is possible to take for anyone who at once is genuinely in favour of the real progress of the State and at the same time does not condemn the concessions which have been made to women in the past, because I cannot find any logical footing of any other sort, and it is because I believe that in course of time people will come to see that this Bill only represents a very natural step forward that I, for one, shall give my vote, and give it very firmly, for the Second Reading.


The right hon. Gentleman has certainly conferred a very great boon on the House of Commons, because, speaking, as he was careful to tell us, only for himself, he has made the frank admission—a very serious one as it seems to me—that he, at all events, is prepared not only to see the complete enfranchisement of women as the only logical conclusion of his remarks, but see women take their places on the benches in this House, and become Ministers of the Crown, and doing the work which is now reserved for the other sex. When I heard this announcement from the right hon. Gentleman I thought that the differences and the difficulties which occurred between colleagues over this question must have been grave indeed. The right hon. Gentleman not only made this announcement, but he told us that he is prepared to vote for the Bill although it would do very little towards securing the result he has in view, and he appeared to express his regret that the Bill itself is not complete enough to admit to the franchise all those whom he would like to see admitted. He told us that the objection of my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. F. E. Smith) came too late, and that he himself would rather take a short step forward than no step at all, even though the step might be taken at a time when it would lead to disaster, and would not have the beneficial effect which the right hon. Gentleman appeared to anticipate from it. He went on, having made this portentous announcement, as some of us regard it, to say that he is prepared to see women occupying places in this House in order that legislation may be properly conceived and properly carried through, and he went on to say that he does not think that very much will come of the passing of this Bill, or the enfranchisement of women, and, to me the most startling conclusion of all, he went on to say that although, as he admitted by his language, the facts are somewhat against him, although he is going to enfranchise a million of people here and twelve or fourteen millions hereafter, he is going to trust to hope that circumstances will so arrange themselves that, by some accident, these women will not exercise the right which he says they now claim, and are entitled to have, and that although he proposes to enfranchise them they will not give their vote, and, therefore, nothing very serious will happen. I submit that a lamer conclusion to come to after the great beginning of the right hon. Gentleman's speech I have seldom heard from anyone in this House, and I am not sure that I can congratulate the promoters of the measure on the support they received from the right hon. Gentleman any more than I congratulate them on the support they received from my hon. Friend (Sir J. Rolleston) who seconded the Second Reading. I am glad at all events that there is no doubt at all as to what it is we are really debating. The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Shackleton) moved the Second Reading in a speech of great moderation and clearness, and he told us with remarkable frankness that this is the thin end of the wedge, and that this is the first step which he is asking Parliament and the country to take. He went on to say that this is only an experiment. I do not think that "experiment" is a word that can possibly be used in this connection. Surely an experiment involves this, that you are doing something as a tentative measure which, if you find afterwards that it is not successful, you can undo and withdraw, and thereby avoid the mischief which otherwise might follow. If I am right in interpreting the word experiment in that way, this is no experiment at all. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Clitheroe would suggest that, if this measure passed into law, and if by some means, which I confess are not very apparent to me, people were to be convinced that it did not work well, once having enfranchised a million women, it would be possible to revert to the present state of things. It is not an experiment and almost every speaker has admitted it. They have frankly admitted that they are only proposing this measure as a small dose because, as the hon. Member for Clitheroe said, the country and the House would refuse to swallow a greater dose. Therefore we are, as the hon. Member for the Walton Division (Mr. F. E. Smith) told us, face to face with a great question. We have got to ask ourselves before giving our vote to-morrow night, whether we are prepared, in the light of what we know, in the light of our experience in this House and outside, and of our experience of other countries to give a vote which, if it means anything, means that we have made up our minds that the governing power of this country shall be transferred from one sex to another.

The hon. Member for Clitheroe told us that it would be impossible to contest the suggestion that women are intellectually fit for the exercise of the franchise. For my own part I am only addressing the House to-day because one is bound in these days if one holds strong views not to shrink from expressing them. I have never opposed the extension of the franchise to women on the ground that they are not intellectually as capable as men if you compare one woman with a man. It would be ridiculous to hold an argument of that kind. The hon. Member reminded us that women have played, and are playing as great a part in the country as men. I agree with the hon. Member that it is not only of the great women of the age like Mrs. Fawcett, or that most distinguished opponent of the suffrage movement, Mrs. Humphrey Ward, it may be said that they are able to exercise the franchise. I agree that if you go into the towns and villages and talk to working women you will find that, so far as intellectual capacity goes, they have minds as powerful and that they are as able to form a judgment as we are. It is not on the basis of intellectual capacity that we are bound to consider, discuss, and vote upon this question. Let me say another word in regard to the attitude we take up in opposing woman suffrage. I have not, and, indeed, I do not think that any of my hon. Friends who agree with me have, any prejudice against admitting women to the franchise. I have no desire from any purely selfish reasons that the sex to which I belong should continue to enjoy a monopoly of the Parliamentary franchise. I do claim what has not been freely admitted in these controversies, that those who have been opposed to this measure, and who are opposed to it still, shall be given the same credit for honest conviction and for having as sincere a desire to do what is right, not by a section of the community, but by the whole country, as we give to those who advocate the cause of woman suffrage. I notice in the controversies conducted in the Press there is an undoubted tendency to give to those who are in favour of woman suffrage credit for the highest and noblest sentiments, and to attribute to those who are opposed to it sentiments of a very different character. I think that is unjust, and altogether unworthy of those protagonists who are well able to judge justly of their opponents. They not only do an injustice to us in that way, but do a great deal to injure their own cause when they suggest that we are actuated by some selfish and sordid motives, and not by a desire to do what is right for the country.

The hon. Member for Clitheroe believes—I have my doubts whether it can be proved—that women suffer in their position by the fact that they have not got the vote. I do not believe that a great deal can be made of that. I believe on the contrary that it can be shown that, taking it altogether, the position of women has improved more rapidly and more thoroughly than the position of men in this country in recent years, even though they have not had the advantage of the vote. If you put it upon that ground—and that is the one which moves most of us most deeply—I believe you are far more likely to put back the cause of women and their requirements than to advance it. I believe that in this House and in the country generally the fact that women look to men to work and legislate for them is an additional incentive to the ordinary Member of Parliament to do his duty fully, and to see that women are treated with the utmost fairness, and even with generosity. I think there is no solid ground for the argument that women have suffered through exclusion from the franchise. That is the only argument which, if it could be proved, would have any force with me; but even if it were proved up to the hilt, I would still hold on general grounds that we ought to offer opposition to this proposal. I would still regard it as wrong to accept the principle of this Bill. When I say this Bill I do not mean the particular Bill under discussion. I mean a Bill which we would soon have if this one were passed into law. We are told that we ought to receive this Bill with great favour because it contains a moderate proposal which has brought conflicting parties together. May I point out that the only people who have been brought together are people who are in favour of woman suffrage, and some of whom want to go the whole hog? They are, therefore, taking this step only in the hope they will be able to take a longer one. They are acting with the avowed determination that they are only doing this because it is all that is possible at present, and that they mean to follow it up immediately by taking a longer step. If that is not the meaning, what is the meaning of the speeches which have been made to-day? The Secretary of State for War admitted that this Bill would not do more than a fraction of what they want. There are 7,000,000 electors on the register at present, and this Bill proposes to enfranchise 1,000,000 women. I think that we who are opposed to the Bill have reason for complaining that the information we have on this very grave and important point when we are dealing with the franchise question is so inadequate. It is not incorrect to say that we are entirely dependent for information as to the number of women who would be enfranchised on partisan organisations. We were told by the hon. Member for Clitheroe—and I am sure he has good ground for the statement—that it will add 1,000,000 to the electorate, but I have seen letters in the Press, and I have heard statements outside, to the effect that it will add 2,000,000 or 2,500,000. We may assume that it is 1,500,000.


There is a Parliamentary Return which gives the figures.


I am aware there is a Return which gives the number as something over 1,000,000. The Secretary of State for War supported this Bill on the main ground that those great social questions which we have to discuss cannot be properly settled without the aid of women. Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that the addition of 1,000,000 or 1,200,000 voters scattered over the whole country is going to have such a tremendous effect as to secure the results which he desires? Surely we all know perfectly well that this Bill would have to be followed up by another. The first argument which would be used in the country would be, "We have enfranchised 1,000,000 women, but this has not enabled them to have proper control over legislation, and we must have a full measure of enfranchisement." In other words, it would be argued we must abolish the political difference between the sexes. That is, I venture to say, the precedent we are discussing this afternoon. I think it will be admitted that we are discussing a Bill which involves the greatest reform which this House has ever been asked to consider. We should not be discussing it under circumstances such as those I have described.

Apart from the argument used by the hon. Member for Clitheroe, my hon. and learned Friend behind me dealt with the demand which has found expression in petitions and in a great procession which I witnessed myself, and which I am bound to say I do not think, wonderful though it was, contributed to the cause from the women's point of view. As one of the component parts of that procession, I observed that there were a great many ladies with most beautiful academic hoods on, and there was also a small collection of men, apparently undergraduates. Their appearance in the procession led one to think that it was prophetic of what would happen when women had got the power, and that these men were there representing the victims of the future. And as I watched the procession myself, magnificent though it was, it did not have any very enduring effect on me as an argument in favour of women's franchise. Then we have these petitions and memorials. As my hon. and learned Friend pointed out, I have done my best to ascertain how the balance of opinion lies so far as it is represented by petitions and memorials, and it seems to me that the evidence—and I do not bring it forward as being very reliable—goes to show that there is certainly no very great predominant opinion among the women of this country in favour of this change. I am not sure whether the balance of opinion is not on the other side. But when it comes to petitions, I am bound to say, from my own experience, that I do not attach very much importance to these petitions got up in times of great excitement. Perhaps I have, more than anybody else in this House, special justification for taking this view, because I believe I am the only Minister in whose case it ever occurred that a petition, signed by many thousands of people, was presented to the then Prime Minister, that he might be removed from office. That great compliment was paid to me, and that petition was got up almost exclusively by women when I was engaged in the operation of muzzling dogs. Many people told me afterwards that they felt they had done an unfriendly act to me when they signed the petition, but they said, "What can you do when you are asked to sign a petition by a charming lady, who presents it to you from a dogs' show?"

For these reasons, among others, I do not attach very much importance to the view that these petitions indicate any very strong feeling, and although the anti-suffrage movement has started very late in the day, and the suffrage movement had got very far ahead before the other movements had started in opposition to it, yet I think it remarkable that that second movement has gone on as rapidly as it has, and that already it has got a considerable hold on the country, and is able to show that it represents a very large number of women, who are just as anxious that it should not be conferred as those who ask for the franchise are that it should be conferred; and their reason is that they are most anxious that they should not be governed by other women. That shows that it cannot be maintained that there is any strong demand on the part of the women of the country that this change should be carried into effect. The suggestion has been made in letters in the papers that this extension of the suffrage ought to be granted to women in order to prevent adult suffrage. Nothing has amazed me more than this suggestion that by extending the suffrage we would delay the ultimate extension of the franchise to all adults. I believe, on the contrary, that you would make that reform almost inevitable. This Bill proposes to add a million people to the register in such an extraordinary way that it would make the register for Parliamentary purposes ten times more confused and puzzling than it is at the present time, and if for no other reason I believe that the passage of this Bill would make the demand for a far more wide-reaching reform unanswerable and immediate. Therefore I submit that adult suffrage is no argument for those who are prepared to vote for this as a moderate measure, which they believe by its passage would advert the coming of a very much more drastic legislation. Then we have the argument that we ought to do this because it is done in certain countries, and I am rather surprised when we are told, as we have frequently been told, that we ought to do it because it exists in Australia and New Zealand. Is it not a strange act of omission on the part of those who desire to point to what has been done in our Colonies that When they quote Australia and New Zealand, they altogether ignore Canada, one of the oldest of our Colonies, and the first of our Dominion Colonies, and also South Africa, the last of our Federated Colonies?

I believe that in the case of Canada at the present time there is not even woman's franchise for municipal purposes, and certainly no suggestion has been made so far as I know for the introduction of women's franchise for Parliamentary purposes. In South Africa I do not believe that the subject has ever been mentioned. Therefore, if we are told to look at New Zealand and Australia, and, above all, if we are told to look at two or three foreign countries which I venture to say cannot by any possibility be compared with ourselves either in regard to their position and power or to what they have to do, we may point to these two great colonies, Canada the older, and South Africa the younger, and say whatever argument you may get from the experience of two colonies loses completely its weight when you consider the experience of Canada and South Africa, while, so far as foreign countries go, I am bound to say that they do not appeal except to those who are prepared to admit that women are not only to have votes, but are to sit here in Parliament. This has happened in one of the foreign countries, I think in Finland, where there are 660,000 women voters and 600,000 men voters, and already in that Parliament there are twenty-five women members. I am told that the affairs of that Parliament are of an extremely domestic character. Therefore, I venture to say that that is not an example which can be held up to us as one we ought to copy in this Parliament of ours, where we have to administer the vast affairs of our great Empire, and where not only have we to administer great affairs, but where what we do will, I hope, continue to be in the future as it has been in the past, frequently the example for other countries and other peoples to follow. This being so, I venture to say how almost absurd it is to suggest that we ought to do this because a foreign country utterly unlike ourselves in every principle and detail has adopted it, and, so far as I know, has not found it of any great advantage.

It is not because I am hostile to the introduction of women into public life, that I desire to oppose this Bill. It is not because I do not recognise, and because I am not grateful for, the splendid part which they have played in our national life and are playing to-day. It is not because I am afraid they are unworthy of the trust. It is because I believe that for reasons which have been given in this Debate we ought not to make a change so vast and far-reaching as this without much more information than we possess, without much stronger proof, first of all, that it is needed, and, secondly, that if adopted it will be beneficial to the country. I believe we ought to take no step of this kind except on much stronger evidence than is before us, and I oppose it also because I believe that in the interests of women themselves it is desirable that they should not be called upon to accept the responsi- bility which some of them are asking for. Even if I thought that making such a change might benefit the State, if I thought also at the same time that to thrust these responsibilities on women would not be to make it far more difficult, if not impossible, for them to play the great part in our life in the future which they have played in the past, I would still be inclined to ask Parliament to hold its hand and not to take a step which would do so much injury to our social life. It is because I believe this change has never yet been submitted to the electorate of this country fully and frankly in such a way as to obtain their opinion upon it, and because I believe also that the introduction of the change would be fraught with great danger to the State and would do great harm to women themselves by forcing them into a position which many of them, I believe the majority of them, are most unwilling to occupy, that I oppose this Bill in its present stage, and that I shall oppose any attempt to introduce into the franchise system those women who at present justly and rightly take part in our local life, and who, I believe, at present find a wider field and greater scope for their energy and abilities in the work which they are doing now than would be the case if they were forced to occupy positions which many of them do not desire.


The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down claimed for himself, I think with perfect justice, and the good temper and moderation of the speech showed, that he approached this question entirely without prejudice or passion. I wish I could make a similar claim on my own behalf. My prejudices are all against the view which my reason has compelled me to take upon this occasion. Many of my instincts and all my prejudices are in favour of the speech which has just been delivered; but, though I have never spoken on this subject in public, I have for a considerable number of years convinced myself that reason and justice really lie at the bottom of the principles of this Bill. I must make one or two admissions before I endeavour to prove, and the proof will be very brief, that certainly this is not the biggest or the most important issue of the hour.

7.0 P.M.

I cannot, therefore, blame the Prime Minister for not breaking up his party by making this a Government measure. I admit also that I do not think it has been established that the majority of women are in favour of this proposal. Indeed, the most powerful and one of the most representative of the woman suffrage movement (Mrs. Fawcett) has brought forward some statistics which certainly do not, to my mind, prove the case which she advocates. She brings forward two towns—one in the North, Glasgow; the other in the South, Reading. She has ascertained by plebiscite in those places the opinion of those women who are on the municipal register on this question. Speaking roughly, two-thirds only in Glasgow and two-thirds only in Reading express their approval of this measure, while the other third are either indifferent or a majority of that one-third is hostile. Mrs. Fawcett quite truly deduces from these figures that the majority of women on the municipal register are in favour of the Bill, but I must say, in fairness, that it is very remarkable that one-third are apparently indifferent or hostile to a boon which so greatly affects them. If you had 100 men on the verge of starvation, and invited them to dinner, it would surprise you very much if thirty of them passed the door without accepting the hospitality. The very fact that one-third voted against the Bill is one on which I lay great stress, because it bears on a large part of the argument of my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. F. E. Smith). No fact can be more conclusive that on no given subject, even where the argument appears to be all one way, would women vote solid at the next election. That argument, therefore, falls absolutely to the ground, and I do not think it necessary to press it any further than that. Here in this Bill is a case in which we will say the argument is all one way so far as women are concerned, yet if you select a town, and if they differ upon it to the extent of one-third to two-thirds, how can it possibly be said, or how ridiculous it is to suppose, that the mass of men and women in this country are going to be governed on the belief and hypothesis that women will give a solid vote? We have heard enough, I think, about the candour of my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe. I should like to dwell rather, if permitted, on his indiscretion in the way he admitted, in building up his case for the Bill, that it is merely one step to a desired end. I am unalterably against, and I can imagine no circumstances in which I could be for, adult suffrage. If the hon. Member anticipates, or if he attempts going even one step further in that direction, he must count on my opposition.

To my mind reason and justice, I might almost say honour, make one favour this Bill. I myself for years, and I believe every Member sitting behind me, as well as a vast number of Members opposite, have asked for the assistance of women in political contests, and have accepted their services not merely as mere followers, but as active principals in political affairs. Take the instance that was given by the Secretary for War in the field of economics. No one can claim that in the field of economics women have any particular advantage. I should have said the contrary. I should have said that in the field of commerce and economics their experience was much less than that of men. What was the attitude of the right hon. Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) with regard to a subject which is near to his heart as it is to mine, that of Tariff Reform? Why, he engaged himself to speak to 4,000 women.


I did not keep the engagement.


My right hon. Friend says he did not keep the engagement at all. I will not suggest for a single moment that his absence was due either to vacillation or a failure of courage. No, there were other reasons. My right hon. Friend did what we have all done in these matters, and what the Prime Minister himself has done quite recently in regard to that side of the fiscal question of which he is so eloquent an exponent. He has not merely recruited women as followers, but has treated them as wielding political influence and as advocates of the principles of the cause in question. This may be right or it may be wrong. If it is wrong, then I say there is scarcely a man in this House who is not at fault. One thing is perfectly certain, it cannot be right with one voice to gratefully accept from women political assistance and to charge them and to commission them authoritatively to advocate political causes, and with another voice to deprecate their political existence, and to refuse them their most elementary political functions. We have the illustration of a sergeant being entrusted with the drilling of recruits and instructing them in shooting with the rifle. Would anybody who entrusted such a task to a sergeant say he was not even fit to carry a rifle himself? I say such a position cannot be right. I go even a little further, and I think to ask these services with one voice and deprive them of political existence with another is going dangerously near to sacrificing the standard of personal honour. It may well be said perhaps, that this is a personal question which ought not to influence us largely in regard to the State and its great future, but I respectfully submit to the House that the position which I am taking up is stronger when you look at it from the point of view of the State than it is from the point of view of the individual. Opinions may differ very widely and very materially as to the wisdom of the recent trend of events. No one can possibly deny—indeed, it is absolutely true—that the State and the municipality have, rightly or wrongly, been constantly enlarging their spheres of activity by encroaching on spheres which were originally occupied by individuals or by other parties. It is only necessary to mention education, the care of the poor, sanitation, public health, housing, effective legislation on the hours of labour, trade union legislation as affecting women, to see that every one of these subjects exhibit, as they do, the very centre and core of our domestic legislation.

Is there anyone on this side of the House so besotted with personal vanity as to say that on these subjects great assistance has not been obtained from the counsel and influence of women? If I may respectfully say so, any man who took that view would be an ass. On the question of the education of young children, the proper housing of the people, questions of public health, of factory legislation, of the hours of labour of women, I say that any man would be an ass who rejected the special skill and special knowledge of women upon these particular matters. At any rate, whatever may be the case, the State has not rejected their help. By giving the municipal vote, by putting them on the municipal council, by making them medical officers, by making them guardians of the poor, by making them Royal Commissioners the State has deliberately recognised women as advisers and commissioned them as authorities in matters of high political interest. Is it right or is it just—I will go further, and ask is it honourable—when you requisition the services of women in such circumstances, when you ask them to give immense labour to these tasks, to deny them the small privilege which is enjoyed by seven millions of men? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Walton Division attributed to those who are in favour of this Bill a good many opinions which they do not hold. I believe it is not a sound argument to look to small countries and ask this country to follow in their wake. In regard to the argument which my hon. and learned Friend put forward as to the men of the East, I may say that nobody had more to do than I had when I was at the Colonial Office with the natives of the East. They were quite unaware of the existence of the Prime Minister or of the gentlemen who sit on these benches or on the benches opposite; yet, though many millions of them were ignorant of the existence of this House, they showed a passionate loyalty to the Great White Queen. There is this further observation to be made. If it is supposed by allowing women some influence in affairs, not a preponderating but a very small influence, that there will be a lack of virility, that is not the evidence we can gain from our experience in our Colonies. The Boer women were the most bitter and most implacable supporters of the war, they kept their mankind up to the war when their mankind would themselves have given up. In New Zealand and in Australia we have had, since the vote to women was granted there, measures passed for universal service. I would conclude by introducing one observation which was made a good many years ago by the Prime Minister, because I think he summed up in a most extraordinarily felicitous and terse way what I consider the principal objection to this course. He was dealing with the inequalities which democratic opinion had swept away by various suffrage measures dealing with men. He finished his speech, which was made eighteen years ago, as follows:— The inequalities which democracies require we should fight against and remove are the unearned privileges and the artificial distinctions which men have made and which men can unmake. They are not themselves indelible differences of faculty and function by which nature herself has given diversity and richness to human society. I do not think that the case could be possibly put with greater felicity and at the same time in so small a compass. I should agree with such an opinion if the world in which we live were a perfect one. If there was an ideal organisation of human forces, I daresay an exact division of labour might be made over the two sexes which are infinitely different in function and organisation. I myself, if my own ideals or my own opinions were to be con- sulted, would far rather women had not been invited into many of the things into which they have been invited by politicians of all parties. But we cannot look upon this world as if it were a perfect world, we have to deal with its society as we find it, and in this society of this country of ours we find men and women indiscriminately mixed in innumerable places—their paths interlace, coincide and cross each other. Here, happily, they co-operate, but in many other cases in this country they compete. I have regretfully and reluctantly arrived at the conclusion that in this state of society it is unfair and unjust that the weaker should go altogether without representation, that the men should be armed so far as the suffrage is concerned up to the hilt, that we should sit here, with the power in our hands, and should refuse even this single small weapon to those who are weaker than the privileged sex.


Unlike a good many speakers who joined in this Debate, I shall take the liberty of talking upon the Bill, and only upon the Bill. When it comes to a general discussion upon adult suffrage I can only say I regard that discussion as a discussion which we are bound to have. That is not a discussion, as some pretend, which is coming immediately, or which is right here. This Bill is a live issue because it represents the claim of women in a particular class of society. It is the educated women, the wealthy women, the middle-class women, who have property, who will benefit by this Bill. If I am told that there is no intention of passing this Bill into law, that it is merely an academic Debate, I reply that I still have the right to intervene, because three-fourths of the things we discuss in this House are academic discussions. If I am told that this is only flying a signal to find out what the two Front Benches will do I make the same reply. Since most of our work could be done without speaking, and since usually speaking is on matters which will not end in legislation, I beg the House to excuse my short intervention. I may say on a number of points I do not agree with those whom I shall support with my vote. No one, I notice, has remarked, and that is to the honour of human nature, and even of the nature of politicians, that women are excluded from public action of this kind by a lack of intelligence. I have never met but one category of men who had of women the opinion that their intelligence was inferior to men. That category is only to be found amongst the very young unmarried men. As their experience of life increases the judgment of men with regard to the intelligence of women passes from reverence to stupor, and from stupor to terror. When the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Shackleton) proposed that we should recognise the intelligence of women from the fact that they wrote books. I confess it turned me cold. There is perhaps nothing which an educated man or a woman can do which requires less intelligence than the writing of a book. When the hon. Member for Clitheroe asks himself how he has been persuaded to a certain course which before thirty he would have undertaken, but which, after forty, he never would have undertaken, then I think he will get a view of the intelligence of women on a far better basis and with a better argument behind it than that of the merely trivial function, nearly always done for money or notoriety, of writing a book.

I think, though there I should differ far more from my colleagues, that the argument drawn from physical force is equally baseless. When I was in the soldiers I never heard it used. I first heard it used when I came amongst dons. The idea that a State ultimately reposes in physical force is the uttermost nonsense. The fate of countries and of empires has been decided in the general run by the common sense and traditional and continuous will of the community. It has in certain details and particulars been decided on a field of battle. On a field of battle what wins is not physical force; what wins is 90 per cent. chance and 10 per cent. skill, allowing for equality. The ultimate sanction of physical force is not the ultimate sanction of society. It is not the ultimate sanction of men, or even of a small group of men, deciding what way they shall pass a few moments of their lives. Something much more complex, much more deep, and much more worthy of our natures is at the basis of our society. Even if physical force were the basis of our society, I am not so sure that you could turn to the population of our great towns and say that the males would rule or come out always best, even on that point as against their women kind. There was another argument which seems to me most unreal. We are told what the effect would be upon political life. I ask the House to consider how there could be any effect on political life. What is political life to-day? One side says you will have the advantage of women's experience, knowledge of human nature, and so on. The other side say we shall be governed by women. What happens? One of the caucuses will nominate the "Hon. Jinks," and the other side will nominate the "Hon. Smith," and the women will have the choice, just as the men have, of voting for one or other of those political nominees. There is no more danger—I do not say by adult suffrage, for that would come from very great social changes indeed, but there is no more danger by adding this million women, I do not say danger, but I am sorry to say there is no more hope of changing the nature of English politics by that than there is by the anger, satire, and indignation which have been used for generations. They will go on precisely as before.

Therefore I cannot understand the late Colonial Secretary twitting the late Chancellor of the Exchequer with having addressed 4,000 women. Politicians all do that. It is part of the custom whether they have the suffrage or not. No, there is a much better reason than any of those for opposition. I regret to have to introduce reality into a Debate which should be of a more academic and genial kind. There underlies the whole of this discussion a reality much greater even than the reality of property, a reality even more fundamental, even more ancient, even more tenacious than patriotism. The reality is real, and some say older than the family, and that is the reality of sex. It is very difficult to deal with, especially in a public speech, and it is on that account the whole of this discussion becomes so false and so unreal, but there, instinctively and with great strength, is the healthy and wholesome opposition that the mass of the populace have taken on this point. It is not true that in that very difficult, most dangerous, and also most salutary of human relations, the relations between the two sexes, that there is tyranny by the man over the woman. I do not think anyone, with a knowledge of the world or even a knowledge of the literature of the world, except a man without a touch of humour or sense, could live under that illusion. It is for our own good and by the providence of God, a little the other way.

If the House will look at society as it is now organised, and see what we do and what we refrain from doing, they will find that it is the view of the wife and the mother, acting sporadically and not collectively, which, on the whole, determines the complexion and the nature of the society in which we live. You see it in every detail of social life. If I may give an illustration, when a man with a profound knowledge of human nature was told, in a time of the greatest possible indifference to religion that religion would go by the board, he said, "you will never lose religion in society, or even change it, until the loss or the change is apparent amongst the women." That is permanently true. It is true of almost every other aspect of human life. What kind of woman is it who moulds the State, and to whom we who know anything at all of human life would very gladly give some of its governance? The mothers of families and the wives; not the disappointed women, not the women who have not borne or cannot or will not bear children. But under this Bill you will bring in every woman who has quarrelled with her husband and is keeping a separate establishment; every woman who wishes to live her own life, whatever that may mean; every one of that sex who has a grievance against her Creator; and you will bring in a large body of that other class who number many thousands in every large city, to whom without the slightest doubt no civic influence whatever should be given; while these others whom, if any, we would gladly admit, are excluded. If this were long years hence, when the great revolutionary fight was on in other more democratic countries, and the wave of it had come to us, and we were discussing adult suffrage, I should speak in a very different tone and in a very different manner, knowing what lies behind that vast movement for the changing of European society, and knowing with what of it I agreed and with what I disagreed. But in all this Bill I cannot find a line with which I can say the mass of my fellow citizens are in the least agreement. Let me use what to me as a democrat is the most powerful argument of all.

I know that the great weight of popular opinion is utterly against this proposal. Members must know it. In the songs of the populace, in their caricatures, in their jokes, in their whole attitude towards the movement, the populace dislike it. Though it may be tolerable to us to play with the fringe of the national life, to interfere with men taking a glass of ale, to see whether they are putting too much money on horses, whether they do it in the street or elsewhere—and I shall always be opposed to these things, as I regard them as bad—they are as nothing compared with the symbolic change suggested by this measure. I, personally, am convinced that the mass of popular opinion and the great majority of women are utterly opposed to this proposal, and it ought not to be initiated until we have much clearer proof that the view I have put forward is false and that there is a demand for this great change. Since previous speakers have made allusions to their election experiences, may I say that in my Constituency a very strong set was made against me by the suffragist societies. The voting took place on party lines, from which I have constantly dissociated myself. In vain did I tell the electors that I was not connected with either party. On the whole, the Liberals voted for me, the other side against me, and, as usual, there was a very slight difference between them, but it happened to be on my side. Right through the election I said, with reference to this question of woman suffrage, that it was not a question of convenience or discussion: I was against it root and branch. I am sorry to say that that did not bring over even the Tories; it did not make the difference of a single vote. I do not believe that any man who takes that line in a popular artisan constituency loses a single vote, or that he loses the esteem of the wives, mothers, and sisters of the men whom he represents in Parliament.


The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Belloc) has told us that he did not lose a single vote at the last election by opposing woman suffrage. I am sure there are many other Members here who would assure us that they did not lose a single vote by supporting it. It appears, therefore, that a large part of the electors at any rate does not think that it very much matters, for good or for evil, whether women are enfranchised or not; and I confess that on the whole that is my own view. I am a supporter of this Bill because I understand a large number of women want the vote, and they seem to be quite competent to exercise it; and I cannot see why persons who are competent and who want the vote should not have it. What is the vote about which there is so much discussion? I have a vote myself. I exercise that vote in the City of Oxford in support of my Noble Friend (Viscount Valentia). But when I go to Oxford to exercise my vote I am not at all conscious of performing a function either difficult or sensational or particularly masculine. When I go through the streets, where my education as a voter begins, I see many posters, none of which seem to me very convincing, some of which tell me that Tariff Reform will greatly lesson unemployment, and others that it will reduce the working classes to black bread and horseflesh, with neither of which anticipations I am able to agree. When I come finally to my rooms I find more literature, more temperately expressed perhaps than the posters, but still not exactly corresponding with my own opinions. I have no particular choice in the matter; I have to vote for one candidate or the other. I then go, in a mood not very joyful, to the polling booth. One of the previous speakers spoke about going down to the arena, and I gathered that when he went to the polling booth he felt rather like a gladiator. Nothing could be more serenely tranquil than the polling booth in which I recorded my vote. There were the usual party representatives outside, and the usual officials inside. I went in and asked for my paper and marked it. I then put it into the box, and the moment after so doing was seized with a strong nervous apprehension that I had inadvertently voted for the candidate whom I did not intend to support. I did not come forth from the polling booth reeling, mopping my brow, and crying "This is no woman's work." The higher faculties of my brain were not required. I feel quite unable to understand why that process of voting is one which any intelligent woman could not exercise quite as well as I can. It is a serenely tranquil, an austerely refined, and from beginning to end a thoroughly ladylike occupation.

It may be said that voting is a simple matter, that anybody can make a mark on a piece of paper and drop it into a box, but that there is all the mental preparation that goes before, and all the powers of decision that are bound up in the political influence which the vote implies. But all that women have already. It is only this actual technical process of giving a vote that they have not got. A woman may speak, and does speak sometimes very well; she may canvass and exert great influence in a constituency. We have lately had a very distinguished lady almost impeached here for exercising undue influence in the constituency of East Dorset. If a woman can do all that, she has three-fourths, or at any rate by far the greater portion of the administration of representative government already in her hands. It is only the actual voting itself, the very simple, easy and limited process which I have tried to describe to the House, from which she is excluded. Let any Member ask himself of which he would rather be deprived, his actual vote or the whole of his political influence? Would anyone hesitate for a moment to say that he would rather lose his vote than lose the power of speaking, of canvassing, of influencing a constituency in one way or another, of writing to the newspapers or the magazines—all of which powers women can now exercise as well as men? I contend, therefore, that the actual power of giving a vote is a very small matter, and that there is an intrinsic absurdity in refusing it to women when they have already powers far more considerable and more important to the community.

Let me ask, then, why it is that there is such a very strong and vehement opposition to this measure. I think it arises from the great history that attaches to the Parliamentary vote. Almost everyone takes a juster view of the municipal vote. My impression is that the municipal vote was given to women without any great trouble or fuss, and that no one thought the matter of very far-reaching importance. People think differently of the Parliamentary vote. They look back into the history of the extensions of the franchise, and they observe how very considerable has been the difference made in the position of the classes which have been successively enfranchised. The Act of 1867 placed the working classes in the towns in quite a different position. Immediately the great political parties began to consider the interests and desires of the working classes in the towns. When the agricultural labourers were enfranchised in 1885, in like manner both parties contended one against the other to do the most in the interests, and to conform to the desires of, the agricultural labourers. People, I think, suppose that when you enfranchise women, or any considerable body of women, there will be a similar deference to the political energy and interests of women to what has occurred in the case of the working men and the agricultural labourers. I am sure that is a mistake. I believe the whole controversy turns upon that fact, and that it is a mistake. The sex is not a class. There will be no such sight whether we enfranchise a million, or a larger number of women, in our political life. A class is in its very idea a separate thing with common interests. Sex is just opposite. Sex is a body whose members are essentially interested in the members of the other sex. The characterestic of man as man is that he is interested in woman; and the characteristic of woman as woman is that she is interested in man. The conception that either sex will combine to any considerable extent against the other is a contradiction, not of terms, but of ideas. If that were once realised and admitted a good many arguments against this Bill fall to the ground at once. For example, the argument of physical force, I think, comes to the ground at once. What we are dealing with is not really a sex, but a heterogeneous crowd of individuals of various miscellaneous opinions. We are not proposing to enfranchise a sex at all, but a number of persons. No one will, I suppose, suggest that physical force is a consideration which ought to be allowed to have any bearing in your dealing with individuals. For example, I think I could find a good many women who could knock me down quite easily. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool would not therefore, I suppose, propose that I should be disenfranchised, and that Eugene Sandow should become a plural voter on a great scale? I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Salford. You cannot say any single thing is the ultimate basis of society. It is true to say that if you have a constitutional system which is based on central power being in the hands of a number of persons, that not having control of the preponderating physical force, sooner or later the system would probably work very badly. But it is perfectly true to say that in a particular issue the stronger physical force constantly yields its opinions to the weaker force. If women do not act at all in a body, if they are scattered about and are merely individuals among other individuals, there will never be that extreme discrepancy that it is supposed there will be by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Walton, and all those who think his way. There will be a tolerable equilibrium of forces just as there is now. There will be a tolerable equilibrium of force on the one side or the other, and that consequently the majority of votes will still be helping both. It is an incredible bogey to say that in the future people will reckon up and say, "There are so many thousand women on this side, and if we bring up so many thousand men on the other side we shall just about be able to defeat the women." These are incredible hypotheses, and they depend upon the conception that the sexes would act in bodies one against the other.

I do not think either that there is much weight in the argument that there are a number of women against the suffrage, and that therefore it ought not to be granted. That is not a real argument, and, except from that point of view, it has no bearing upon the controversy at all. The mere statement that because a woman does not want a vote that therefore another woman be excluded from it is not sound. They should be judged as individuals. It is true that there are classes of women who will work as classes when they have the vote precisely as men work. That, I think, we are all agreed is desirable. Even opponents of the Bill recognise that certain classes of women workers, that certain classes of women philanthropists, should have their interests represented if it can be done. Women when they are ranged in classes will, of course, work just as men do for the interests of that class, but women as a sex will never work together. The danger that they will work together is visionary, and we need not be afraid to give the advantages of the franchise to a particular class of women for fear a whole body will work together.

Finally, it may be said that I am assuming too much in all this. It may be said, "By your account the whole of this thing is trivial, and we know it is not so." We know we are in what is called the sex movement for good or evil, and to argue that the whole thing is of no importance may be very ingenious, but it cannot carry conviction to our mind. I quite admit that woman suffrage is a part of a great movement. I go further, and say there are things in that great movement which I do not very much like any more than do the opponents of this Bill. But woman suffrage is one of the effects of the movement. It does not and never will be made the cause. The status of women and their social position has greatly changed in the last fifty years. That has not happened merely through the opinion of women, or principally through the opinion of women, but through the opinion of men as well. The movement which has carried women into a different position in many relations has undoubtedly at the back of it the feeling that they should also have the vote. If they get the vote it would not be as the hon. Gentleman seems to suggest, a starting point for a new set of claims which are to be made on the strength of having the vote, and by the machinery of having the vote. It will be just one point gained in the course of the movement. The movement will go on whether the vote is given or not. If the vote is not gained, perhaps something else will be. The movement will go on until it has completed its work. The vote itself would not be—I go so far as to say it cannot be—made an instrument in carrying the woman movement further than it has already gone. But suppose that it would be. It is quite certain that when women are enfranchised that a great number of women will give their votes against the further extension of the rights of women. Therefore, I fear no alarm on that ground. Nor do I feel alarm on the ground that this is the thin end of the wedge of which we have heard so much. I am indeed myself strongly opposed to women sitting in this House. I myself am most strongly opposed to adult suffrage. I confess that I heard with great amusement my hon. and learned Friend on this side say that it is grossly illogical to say that you can be in favour of the enfranchisement of the women who are proposed should be enfranchised by this Bill, and not be in favour of adult suffrage, and not even in favour of women sitting in this House. It does not seem to me to be either inconsistent or illogical. Quite different arguments apply in that case. I am against adult suffrage, not because I think there is an important distinction for the purpose of voting between men and women, but because I do not want manhood suffrage or womanhood suffrage. My view may be sound or unsound, but it is quite an intelligible position. I am against women sitting in this House because it is a wholly different thing to marking a voting paper and it requires quite different qualities. It might be said that there are some quite exceptional women who have these qualities, but what really is of practical importance is that it would be changing the character of this House. Everyone knows that a mixed assembly of the two sexes is always a different thing to an assembly confined to one sex. That is well known in school. It is well known at dinner parties. The whole character of this House would be changed, and I object to it because a mixed assembly would change the whole atmosphere of the House and spoil the whole of its traditions of which I am proud. The position seems to me to be a wholly different one to that of giving women the vote, and it is no reason that you should stay what is called the thin end of the wedge because you are afraid that the thick end of the wedge itself shall be forced into the plank. Sitting in Parliament is quite a different thing from voting: one does not necessarily lead to the other.

It follows from what I have said, not only that I shall vote for the Bill, but also that I shall support it going upstairs to Grand Committee. I do not think it is an important measure, and I think it will be rightly dealt with by Grand Committee. I do not, however, understand the attitude that the Government has adopted as suggested in part of his speech on behalf of the Government by the Secretary for War. I think the Government are taking a very grave responsibility as a Government if they oppose the Bill being sent upstairs. That certainly will place them in a position of responsibility in respect of subsequent stages of the Bill which otherwise they might escape. Certainly, if they take upon themselves the responsibility of using their influence as a Government to prevent the Bill going upstairs they may very rightly be asked to see that the Bill does not suffer by their action and that proper time is given for discussion in Committee of the Whole House. I cannot believe that the Government really intend as a Government to oppose sending this Bill upstairs. In doing so they will depart altogether from that attitude of neutrality that they have quite wisely adopted and will expose themselves to severe and deserved criticism. For my part, I shall support that the Bill be read a second time, and be advanced in stages, as far as it can be, which are necessary for its passing into law. I do not apprehend that it will be a great disaster or an overwhelming grievance if it is not passed into law. I do not share the opinions of the extreme advocates and extreme enthusiasts that it is a gross injustice if they do not get the vote, nor do I agree in the extreme methods that they have taken to advertise their grievances.

8.0 P.M.

I do not believe that women are enslaved, nor do I believe there is any question of their emancipation. My views on women's rights are, I believe, thoroughly conservative, for I quite accept the teaching of St. Paul, that "wives are subject to their husbands, and man is the head of the woman." These are, I know, old-fashioned views, but they do not seem to me to conflict with any reasonable proposal that women who are perfectly competent to vote should be allowed to vote; that they should be encouraged to do what is well within their powers, and should go through the dignified, the serene, and the emphatically womanly function of putting a mark on a piece of paper, and dropping it into a ballot box.


The whole situation as regards what is called the "feminist movement" has assumed an entirely new complexion in the course of the present year. The Noble Lord who last spoke said something as to for which side the women enfranchised under this Bill might or might not vote as regards political parties in this country. In that matter I am entirely indifferent, but what I think the Members of this House should pay very serious attention to is that at the beginning of this year those who are leading the cause of this Bill authoritatively put on the Notice Book of this House a whole series of Bills radically altering the law as between husband and wife, as between parent and child, sounding the most complex depths of the relationships between men on the one hand and women on the other. They called it "The Women's Charter," and one of the ablest of them, Lady Maclaren, spread broadcast an extremely able pamphlet in which she pleaded the cause of those Bills. I might not have risen to-night as an Irish Nationalist, and knowing that some of my friends are in favour of this Bill. if I had not noticed that parts of "The Women's Charter," as it was called, applied to Ire land. There was one provision, for instance, for extending in the widest way the separation laws of this country to Ireland. There was a clause in that Bill providing that if a woman were to separate from her husband for cruelty she was not only entitled to a maintenance order but to the sole custody of the children, even though it were proved in open court that she had been an immoral woman and an unfaithful wife, and, perhaps, guilty of the cruelty for which a separation was obtained. I would like to know whether any Members of this House coming from Ireland, whether Unionist or Nationalist, would wish to see a law of that character introduced into Ireland. There were other laws about which I cannot argue now. What I want to point out most earnestly is that here you have a declaration in black and white of what these ladies would do if they had the franchise to-morrow morning; of the use they would make of the power conferred upon them. These different schemes may be right or wrong, but it is extremely significant that those Bills should be brought forth simultaneously with a Bill which proposes to add one million voters to the electorate, of whom the overwhelming majority will be unmarried girls and women. You propose to trust such questions as illegitimacy, divorce, separation, and so forth to be decided in many thousands of constituencies by a majority obtained by means of votes of unmarried girls and women. It is contrary to natural law and to common sense, and it would be a moral disaster if brought about.

I think it is somewhat unfortunate that this Bill should have been called a Conciliation Bill. To begin with, even those who have supported it have not met with particular enthusiasm, whilst those who have announced their intention of criticising it have been treated with very great discourtesy. I noticed, for instance, that on the 4th of this month, speaking in the Queen's Hall, one of the most responsible leaders of the Women's Social and Political Union said: "Their enemies in the House must be silenced on the day of the Second Reading. They would be asked to stay away for the good of their health." I call that an extremely uncommon expression of conciliation. If it is the language of conciliation, I would like to know what the language of bullying and of insult can be. For my part, I do not think a threat of that character will sway any Member of this House or prevent him from exercising his free and untrammelled opinion. In spite of such ill-judged language, I do not think we should forget the splendid and able arguments in speech and writing which have been advanced in favour of woman suffrage by women whose very names were household words long before they were hustled aside, I think rather summarily, from the leadership of the movement by other women of far less ability and discretion in the cause. My one fear, indeed, in the passing of this Bill will be that it will be claimed as a victory for the women who deal in moral cowardice as against the women who have appealed so successfully to the hearts and minds of Members of this House, irrespective of party. The cry that because a man cannot conscientiously support a certain Bill promoted by women he is therefore a narrow-minded advocate of the tyrannous domination of men over women is a cry of rank injustice which fearless men can well afford to despise. I have no hesitation in asserting that this Bill is one of the very worst of its kind ever introduced into this House. One right hon. Gentleman opposite said that this Bill embodies a principle. I think that it embodies a vicious principle of the worst order. It has been called a Conciliation Bill, and I think it could not possibly have been labelled with a greater disdescription. It is drafted in such a way that a lifelong advocate of female suffrage could quite consistently vote against it; a moderate advocate might be frightened off female suffrage by the bare reading of it; and as for an opponent of female suffrage, if he were desirous of taking things easy and having a holiday to-morrow, this is just the Bill that would cause him to go to considerable inconvenience to be in his place to vote against the Second Reading.

I am not an opponent of female suffrage. I shall always be prepared to give the most respectful consideration to any careful and well-balanced scheme for the Parliamentary representation of women as part and parcel of a general scheme of electoral form introduced by a responsible Government, but such a scheme as this is one I cannot possibly see my way to support or to refrain from opposing throughout. I have been ten years in this House, and I have never seen a Bill so absolutely condemned by the memorandum issued by its promoters in its support as the Bill before us. This memorandum says that the Bill provides against the enfranchisement of married women with their husbands, whilst the Bill itself introduces a particularly objectionable feature.

[Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members being found present—]

The second Clause of the Bill provides that the joint occupiers being man and wife shall be entitled to settle between themselves which of them shall have the vote. A worse apple of discord I can hardly imagine being thrown on to the domestic hearth. Give the vote to the husband or to the wife, but to leave it for them to fight out as to which is to have it and to exercise it is an extremely ridiculous provision. The memorandum goes further and says that this Bill would confer the Parliamentary franchise upon about 1,000,000 new electors, and that it should be noted that though married women are not excluded altogether, few of them would, in fact, be qualified, so that this Bill means a new electorate of 1,000,000 women, the overwhelming majority of them unmarried, and they would be put upon the register to decide elections in which Bills of the character to which I have alluded may be proposed and pressed upon a particular candidate, and he may succeed or be beaten according to his attitude upon that particular Bill.


I wish to draw your attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the fact that there are not forty Members present.


No count of the House can be taken between 8.15 and 9.15, and, apart from that, the House has just been counted. and forty Members were declared present.


I hold very strongly that a respectable, intelligent, artisan wife is better qualified to vote upon any subject of political or social importance than the fine young lady just come into her property in her own right when she is twenty-one years of age, or the unmarried young lady who comes fresh from college with her academic honours heaped upon her. It stands to reason that in all the vast social problems that the leaders of the so-called new women in England are forcing upon this House and declaring their intention of forcing upon the country that the married woman, whether peeress or artisan's wife, is ipso facto better entitled to vote than the spinster electorate such as is to be forced upon the country under this Bill.

I think many lady enthusiasts have vastly mistaken the position taken up by men like myself who oppose some of their schemes, and notably this Bill very strongly. It is not from any wish to see women kept in a lower political plane than men; it is not from any wish to see one sex in a position of dominance as against the other. On the contrary, it is my belief that most of the legislation which is now being advocated by the leaders of this movement would injure and lower women far more than help or raise them up. I do not for an instant think that they will find their cause differ from the women of the United States or France if they get cheap and easy and quick divorce for which so many of them are clamour in now. I think they will find at every step for relaxing the marriage ties in this country it will be worse for women all along the line. I may be wrong in that. Men have not been idle during the last hundred years in redressing the wrongs of women. Even in my lifetime I have seen great reforms passed, great protections secured, great advances made in the administration of justice for the sake of women by men, by this House of Parliament, not under any pressure of women, or being afraid of being insulted, or from any agitation by women, and certainly not dreaming of any votes that could be cast by women against them, but from the fact that these matters have been gradually forced upon the consciences and the honour and the intellect of this House.

In a pamphlet issued by one of the advanced women, I saw it stated that she recollected certain infamous laws that had been put upon the Statute Book against women in certain garrison towns, putting them upon the Continental model. She alluded to that as the instance of the weakness of man, although she admits that man removed them from the Statute Book. But what she forgot when she wrote that, and she is a very talented and level-headed thinking woman, was to say that man after man in this House had agitated for the abolition of these laws. Man after man sacrificed his career and lost his seat and remained permanently outside politics in giving up his life and ability to the removal of what was undoubtedly a foul blot upon the Statute Book. I do not think that women can justly maintain that they have not reade progress within the last fifty years, socially, industrially, and, indirectly, politically as well, as much as men themselves. I cannot call to mind that one-hundredth part of the energy or money spent upon the agitation in favour of this unfortunate Bill was ever spent by the women of this country for any struggle for their own emancipation from injustice alone. It has been left to the men practically to do the good work that has been done for the sex wherever they have been found to be downtrodden.

It is the fashion for some lady orators to sneer at what they call the chivalry of men. When they do that I think they are sneering at a sentiment that for centuries has been the only sentiment that has stood between them and the brute force of man—the one sentiment which has appealed to everything that was good and brave in the man to stand up for the insulted and wronged woman. That is the sentiment that some of the lady orators are publicly jeering at in Hyde Park and elsewhere. I hope the time will never come when these ladies may be taken at their word. I hope the time will never come when men reading their new literature, or at any rate a great deal of it, will say: "You sneer at our chivalry, you do not want it, you want force instead. Very well; take your vote and equality before the letter of the law and let chivalry go by the board." One writer of one of their pamphlets claimed that woman was being dragged from her pedestal. I am afraid serious efforts are being made to drag woman from her pedestal, but they are not made by the hands of men, they are made by the hands of women, who are trying to destroy our old ideal of what a woman should be—a staunch friend, a good wife and mother, able to exercise a widespread influence upon our home, an influence far greater than any she can attain by trapesing the streets with banners or by striking public men who cannot hit her back, but who would hit a rough back who put the same insult upon them. There has been a great talk of admiration for that sort of courage displayed by a woman who strikes a man well knowing he dare not and cannot strike her back. Courage it may be, but I am old-fashioned enough to prefer the courage of the women who fought alongside the men on the walls of Limerick and of those other women generations later who served the wounded under fire in the shattered defences of Lucknow. Those women were more our ideal, and will always he our ideal. We believe this Bill will not only be a danger to the State, but would be an injury to the rank and file of women themselves.


I do not often trouble this House with speeches, but I confess I was anxious not to give a silent vote in connection with this important subject. I have been engaged in a good many organisations for a fairly long period, and in the course of that work I have done something to remove the sex disqualification, and I am bound to say in two very important bodies nothing but good has come from that withdrawal of the sex disqualification. In the course of some seven Parliamentary contests I have always advocated giving the franchise to women, and it does seem to me this Bill is, after all, the natural sequence of the movements of the last forty years. During that time we have seen the whole position of woman altered. Her educa- tion, secondary, higher, medical, and even to the granting by some universities of degrees has widened her outlook and has placed her educationally in a position perfectly different from what she occupied forty years ago. If we look at her legal position—at the Acts which have been placed on the Statute Book in connection with factory legislation for the protection of women, marriage laws, giving her far more independent powers, the Married Woman's Property Act, the protection of the wife's eanings, and the placing at their own disposal of the wages of women—one cannot help realising what a perfectly different position they have legally, socially, and industrially from what they had forty years ago.

During the same period we have placed them in a different position as electors. We have given them the vote for guardians; we gave them, from 1870 to 1902, the vote for the school boards, and we have given them the vote for parish councils, urban councils, and for municipal and county councils; so that as electors we have placed them on a perfectly different plane from that which they used to occupy. We have also raised their position as administrators. In 1870 we gave them the opportunity of being elected on the school boards, and they did uncommonly good service on many of the school boards of this country. We have enabled them to act as Poor Law guardians; we have enabled them to be elected on parish councils, and we have put them on Royal Commissions. We have enabled them to act as members of vestries, as town councillors, as county councillors, and recently as aldermen and mayors. With this general advancement in education and in their powers as electors and as administrators has come the growing demand for the removal of the sex disqualification in connection with the franchise. The movement in respect to the franchise has gone along on lines parallel to these other advances. In 1870, just forty years ago, Mr. Jacob Wright carried the Second Reading of his Female Suffrage Bill by a majority of thirty-three, and I think I am right in saying that since that time some seven other Bills have been introduced. In the meantime the principle of female suffrage has been accepted by some parts of the British Empire. Whilst I quite agree that comparison between this country and other nations may not be legitimate, I do think it is fair to refer to the fact that this principle has been adopted in some parts of the British Empire.

The present Bill is acknowledged to be a compromise. It removes the sex disqualifications from householders and £10 occupiers. If one is correctly informed, it means that about 80 per cent. of those who will be enfranchised under this Bill will belong to the industrial classes. Some of my Friends tell me that in a constituency like mine—Central Hackney—it will not affect the industrial classes so much as the class immediately above. It may therefore not be especially in my interests, but I am looking at the question as a whole, and not simply as it will affect either my Constituency or that of anybody else. It appears to me this Bill and the claim of the women is, after all, a simple demand for the rights of citizenship on the part of those who are bearing their share of the responsibilities. Why is it necessary they should have the vote? Surely it is fair to say it will bring them the political status which will be in harmony with their industrial and educational position. It will give her the direct means of obtaining influence in legislation on questions in which women are specially interested. It will secure for women, as for men, the attention of Parliament to their wants and wishes. It is said they can obtain those today. I put it to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, when they are in the middle of an election contest, do they not pay far more attention to the claims and desires of those who have votes than to those who have not? We try to be as polite as we can, but, after all, the things in which we are really interested at the time of a political contest are the wishes and desires of those who have votes, and, with the growing increase of women in the professions and industries, it does seem to me they are entitled to the vote.

We are told that the woman's sphere is the home. It is perfectly true, but has not Parliament a great deal to say in its legislation for home—about temperance, housing, and cheap food? Must we not remember that there is an increasing number of women who must come out of their homes to work in order that they may keep a home together? It is said that this question is an economic one and that it is only necessary to have trade unions amongst women to improve their condition. I ask you how very limited the power of a trade union would be if there was no vote behind the individual members of those trade unions. I am very glad that the argument with regard to physical force has been made. I am utterly out of sympathy with it. After all, men and women have each their part in life to play, and one part is as influential and as necessary as the other. When we think of their work in the home, the hospitals, the factories, and every other branch of industrial labour, I think it will be admitted that they do take a fair share in the work of this life. Look at their indirect work. They bear their share and proportion of the burdens of the day. They are to be found in the schools and the hospitals, they are shareholders in our great commercial enterprises, and they are exercising very important interests; they are, in fact, taking their full share in the national life and prosperity of this Kingdom. I think we have come to the time when there is need for a prompt settlement of this question. We cannot long, I believe, tolerate the present condition of affairs, especially as women have a political position in one part of the Empire and yet when they come here they find it taken away from them.

In watching the discussion and Debates which took place in connection with the recent Act affecting the Deceased Wife's Sister Act, I am bound to say that I believe the fact that a woman might be a married woman in one part of the Empire and yet when she came here was not married in the eyes of the law—directly that came to be appreciated a great deal of the opposition dropped. I believe it is the case that on one occasion a Colonial statesman who had married his deceased wife's sister brought her to this country. but she could not be presented at Court because in the legal view of this country she was not the statesman's wife. That led to the decision that was come to. It was felt that what was law in one part of the Empire should be the law in another part. We are trying to bring the Empire closer together, and it soon came to be felt that the legal privileges which obtained in one part must also be legal privileges in another part. There is growing up a deep feeling of resentment on the part of a large number of people that there is a danger of a certain feeling of separation growing up between the sexes on this question. We do not want this powerful question to become a nationalised sex question. This present Bill is a compromise. I believe it is a compromise worth accepting, and I have therefore great pleasure in supporting it, and I shall do everything I can to bring it into law.


The hon. Baronet began his speech with a catalogue of cases in which the grievances of women have in the last few years been removed, and he showed that wherever women had a genuine claim for the redress of grievances it has been generously recognised. I do not think we could have a better argument against this Bill. It is not going to enfranchise women who have the greatest difficulty in making their opinions felt at the present time. It will not enfranchise working women. It will enfranchise to a large extent women in the possession of property. The hon. Baronet made reference to the anomaly of women having votes in Australia and not in this country, and he went on to say that what is the law in one portion of the Empire must be the law in another. I believe that that is an absolutely impossible theory, and quite at variance with the system of self-government which we have initiated in the British Colonies. The whole series of problems with which the Colonies and the Mother Country deal are entirely different, and it is quite impossible to expect a system of legislation satisfactory for this country, which has to deal with complex questions in foreign countries, to be equally satisfactory to a country whose legislative activities are far more comparable with the local legislation of this country and with the work of the local authorities here. I am very glad to be allowed to say a few words in this Debate, because I happen to be one Member, who, like many others, rather precipitately committed himself to the granting of woman suffrage six or seven years ago on what, I believe now, to have been rather insufficient, rather doctrinaire, arguments.

I think there are a great many Members of this House who, when this matter was first brought to public prominence, considered a narrow group of theories, but left out of account the less obvious but still important practical consideration. In the last few years the methods of the suffragists have brought home to us that enfranchisement will be followed by a very far-reaching and disastrous change in the political habits of the people. One cannot dogmatise about the right to vote, one can only say in extending the franchise you must have regard to the principle of securing the greatest good to the greatest number. It is not for the good of the greatest number that you are going to give a large number of people a vote which they do not care to use, and in discussing this question the first consideration which occurs to me is that the suffragette. societies having so confidently claimed to have the support of a majority of the women of this country have very little evidence to go upon.

In the London County Council election which I fought a few years ago I took a good deal of trouble to get into touch with the female electors. One imagined that as in a great many cases they were small shopkeepers who were very much hit by the rates that they would take a very great interest in local questions. But the experience which I had, and which most people have in elections where women have the vote and where you expect them to use it, is that you find an extraordinary amount of indifference, and great reluctance to come to the poll. I do not know whether hon. Members have noticed the literature which has been circulated by both sides, both for and against the reform. They have in some cases canvassed the same districts, and we are told that they have obtained diametrically opposite results. What does that show? Why, that women take so little interest in having votes that they will agree with either side to avoid arguing with a canvasser and to get rid of an unwelcome visitor. In no case has the franchise been extended to any class except on the clearest evidence that the class wish for the change. How was the great Reform Bill passed? It was forced through Parliament by monster meetings all over the country. You have not had the same in regard to this Bill either in the Metropolis or other towns in the country. I think hon. Members opposite attach a different sense to the words monster meeting to that which I should. I think that at meetings where you would have expected millions of women to agitate throughout the country you have only had tens of thousands. Again, if you take the evidence of the petitions presented to the House, it is by no means certain that even one-half of the women of this country are in favour of the change. If you want further evidence of the fact that this Bill has not been brought forward in response to a general demand on behalf of women you will find it in the way in which it is drawn, because it leaves out of account married women, who I think everybody must agree from the point of view of the State are the cream of their sex. If this Bill was being brought forward to satisfy a general demand of the women of this country it surely would not have left out the most important class.

Mr. W. F. ROCH

They are not excluded from the Bill.


They are not excluded from the Bill, but in the vast majority of cases they will not have votes. It is very rarely indeed that a married woman is qualified for a local vote. Hon. Members will know as well as I do the figures, but it is an extremely small proportion, and most men, where they are qualified by occupation are not going to hand over that qualification to their wives, because I do not believe that the men in this country are willing to give up their votes to women. There would be a great deal more justice in this Bill if it gave votes to married women. I see in the apathy among women a great danger in the change. I agree that the small number enfranchised obviously would make very little difference, but it is a far smaller change to extend the franchise from one class of woman to another than it is in the first instance to break down the barrier of sex, and that shows that in a very few years the franchise will be extended to all women. Wise legislation can only be secured by most of the sane electors going to the poll and neutralising the votes of those faddists who are unable to make the best of things and are willing to break any amount of china through making wild snatches at intangible shadows. The danger of enfranchising women who will not use the vote is that you will give an enormous power to a fanatical minority who will take the trouble to go and vote. I say nothing about the fitness of the women. I say that from education and experience a large number of women are better qualified to vote than a considerable number of men, but if it is forced upon them and they do not use it, I believe the danger will be a very real one. The majority of women are, I believe, satisfied with the present system; they realise that the man voter naturally exercises his privilege, as a man, a husband, and father, and they realise that their interests are looked after by their male relations. I believe that those who are trying to advance this cause have very much underestimated the sympathy between the sexes in this country, and for this reason, that the bitter sex feeling which they have stirred up has poisoned instead of advancing the cause which they intended to further. Even those who are satisfied as to the advisability of eventually giving the vote must hesitate as to choosing this moment for doing it. I remember being very much struck by the words used by the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) on a different subject. He said:— One of the most fatal characteristics of English concessions to Ireland in the past was that they have nearly always been given, he would not say in consequence of, but would say following periods of unrest and of violence. That has been disastrous on what I believe to be a naturally crimeless population, and after seeing the disastrous results of always buying off violence by legislative bribes, surely it ought to be a warning to this House not to repeat this performance in the case of woman suffrage. There is no reason to believe that there is a greater feeling in favour of woman suffrage to-day than there was forty years ago, when the first Bill was brought forward. If you choose this moment for passing it you will be condoning and justifying the crimes of those who try to overawe Parliament in carrying out its duties and giving effect to its opinions. The result would not only be to encourage women to have resort to the same tactics in the future, but would be a clear indication to any agitation which was not able to obtain adequate support in the constituencies to march to Parliament Square and try and overawe the House of Commons, and not to make use of the machinery of legislative government, but to put it out of gear. For this reason I think it would be disastrous to take this moment, directly after the tactics of the suffragettes, to grant a change which for so many years has been withheld, and whatever the House may do in the future, when the country has carefully considered this question, which it certainly has not done up to now, I hope they will not pass it at present, because if they do this House will be laying itself open to the reproach which has been justly levelled at one of the most effete Oriental Governments, that it yields nothing to reason and everything to force.

9.0 P.M.


I desire to say only a few words, because on several occasions I have by both my voice and my vote endorsed the claim which has been made by women for the franchise. I might in this regard be allowed to express my surprise at the speech of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Guinness). He first of all told us that there had been no very general demand for the franchise on the part of women, and even went so far as to deny that very large meetings were held throughout the country in support of the claim. Then he went on to say that if this Bill were passed it would be as a result of the unlawful and dreadful agitation which had been carried on by women, and which was so bad that it reminded him of the agitations which from time to time we have carried on in Ireland. Both of these statements cannot be true. I think the truth really is that there has been a very widespread demand throughout the length and breadth of the country on the part of women for the franchise, and I am perfectly certain that if there were not such a demand, and if it were not widespread, two days of this short Session of Parliament would not be given by the Government for the discussion of the matter. I am going to vote for the Second Reading, though it is not a measure that I admire at all, and I should not support it even upon the Second Reading but for the fact, which I recognise, that it is an attempt which may prove successful once and for all to break down the barrier which prevents the women of this country and Ireland from taking a legitimate part in the government of the country. I infinitely prefer the Bill which was last introduced, and which was carried by a very large majority on the Second Reading to grant the franchise to women upon the same terms as men exercise it, and I am perfectly certain that had a measure proposing to give the franchise to women upon the same terms as men been proposed, it would have aroused, not only more enthusiam throughout the country, but would, I am certain, have commanded far larger support than the present Bill One cannot fail to recognise the fact that some of the strongest arguments which we have heard, not only in this Debate, but in the Lobbies and corridors of this House, against the Bill, are that it is of too restricted a character, that it is too conservative, and does not do what those of us who are in favour of the claims of women consider ought to be done as speedily as possible—give them perfect equality with men in respect of the franchise.

I am bound to say, further, that I fear very much that if this Bill becomes law—and I hope it will—it will postpone almost indefinitely the realisation of the full claim of women to the franchise. Hon. Gentlemen who oppose the measure say that if the Bill be passed it must certainly follow, as night follows day, that further rights and privileges will be conferred upon women, and that in the near future their entire claim will be recognised and granted. I am sorry to say I cannot take that view. I believe if the Bill be passed into law the result will be that it will be almost impossible to get any Government or any party in this House to go further in the matter of the franchise for women, because they will argue, and there will be a great deal of reason and strength in the argument, that it is only fair to see how this experiment may turn out, and how the women, who have already received the franchise will exercise it before granting it generally to the whole sex. I may be wrong, but I greatly fear that that will be the result of this measure should it become law. I do not believe that there is at this time of day any reason at all to argue the justice and the fairness of the claim that is made on behalf of women. Hon. Gentlemen who have opposed the Bill have done so, not upon the ground at all, as far as I can gather, that women are not quite as capable of wisely and well exercising the franchise in the interests of the general community as men. The argument upon which this has been opposed has been, I am sorry to say, an unworthy argument; it has been argued from one side and the other that the political effects of the enfranchisement of women may be bad. I have heard Liberal Members strongly contending, not so much on the floor of the House as elsewhere, that the result certainly of this Bill would be not to improve their position, but to give more strength to the Conservative party. On the other hand, I have heard Conservatives say that the enfranchisement of women generally would give an enormous impetus to the Labour movement and to the movement for social reform. I do not think either of these contentions is true.

I have been a good deal in Australia both before the establishment of the Commonwealth and afterwards, and I have seen the effect of the enfranchisement of women in the various Australian States, and I have watched it in the Commonwealth at large, having been there at an election. The result was not to immensely strengthen one party out of proportion. It is true the vast majority of the people of Australia are working people, and their womenkind naturally are in sympathy with them and vote for them. A great many of the women of Australia voted and worked very strongly and strenuously against the Labour party, and I believe in this country it would be the same. It is absurd to assume that women would act entirely together and would strengthen one party or the other. They would take sides just as men take sides, and some of them would be Liberals and some Conservatives, some would be strong supporters of the Labour party, and I believe a great many women would be in favour of doing justice to the Irish people. But, in any case, it is an unworthy thing to speculate as to the result which the enfranchisement of women would have. Although it is my business in this House to do everything I can to strengthen the national demand which I am sent here with my colleagues to support on behalf of Ireland, still I say that, so far as this country is concerned, strongly as I am in favour of the claims and interests of the Labour party in this House and the country, strongly as my sympathies are in most questions, but not all questions, with the Government of the day, I would vote for the enfranchisement of women. I would recognise their right to equal treatment with men, even though I were persuaded that their votes would be given for a political cause which I could not myself support, and in which I did not believe.

The Australian example is a good example. I do not care whether you poll the ministers or representatives of one Church or another in Australia—I do not care in what light the matter may be looked at—it is conceded all round that the enfranchisement of women in the Commonwealth of Australia has done much for the public welfare, and has served the community immensely. It is absurd for the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division (Mr. Smith) to get up in this House and say that no first-class country has ever tried this experiment. He talked disparagingly of Norway and Finland. He may say what he likes about Norway and Finland, but I say it is a monstrous thing for any man, much less a man who claims to be an Imperialist, to stand up and decry the example of the Australian people, and to decry Australia as if it were not a first-class country, but a hole-and-corner community. On other occasions Australia is spoken of with greater politeness. When its services are required in time of war it is spoken of in terms of great politeness, but here, when it gives an example which the hon. and learned Gentleman does not approve of, he speaks of it in a way highly disparaging, and in a way that is surprising in the case of an Imperialist. I know that there is in Ireland a strong division of opinion on this question. A great many of my colleagues here will either oppose this measure or abstain from supporting it, but it is equally true that a great number of us are enthusiastically in favour of it, and have always been so, and I voice that section of the Irish people, and with some of my colleagues feel no misgiving whatever as to the result of this so-called experiment. We see in Ireland as you see here in the local life of the country most wonderful service given to the general community by women in matters of local government and everything appertaining to the interests of the people, such as education, health, and other things affecting their daily lives. In Ireland, as in this country, women do an incalculably great work, and render great service, and under these circumstances it is perfectly absurd in my opinion for hon. Members in this House—many of whom are here by chance, and will never get here again—to get up and speak in this lordly way of women, as if they were really inferior beings. How different it is during the time of an election. There is not an hon. Member—not excepting the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division, who has so strongly spoken against this measure—who did not, metaphorically speaking, go down on his knees and beg their help, but when it comes to a Bill of this kind they refuse to grant to women what is their just right. I strongly support this Bill, because I believe, apart from politics altogether, it is in the best interests of the general community, and in the best interests of the poorest and most deserving people in the country. I think it is a monstrously unjust and unfair state of things that whereas some of the most worthless outcasts of the population—men who have disgraced the name of manhood in every way—are allowed at an election time to use the vote, and to raise their voice as to how this country is to be governed; ladies, at the same time, of the highest attainments, who give their services from morning to night to strengthen the nation, to make the lives of the people happy, and to train the youth of the country have not even the same privilege and the same voice as the outcasts. That seems to me to be something which ought not to prevail in a country boasting of civilisation.


I would have thought that the two days of Parliamentary time given for the discussion of this Bill might have been devoted to some measure of far greater urgency and importance. There is one Bill which I think would have benefited women far more than this one, namely, the Shops Bill, which was introduced by the Home Secretary last week. If there is one sphere of legislation to which I should have thought the Government would not have given any time, and on which it would have prevented any discussion during the life of this Parliament, at least until the relations of the two Houses were settled on a satisfactory basis, it is legislation proposing any change in our electoral system. We cannot have forgotten the futile expenditure of time and energy which took place in previous attempts to deal with electoral reform. I certainly think the Government have been the victims of an agitation which I can only condemn as one in which those who took part in it showed a great want of self-respect. I would like to deal with this measure as it is framed, and the great exception I take to it is that in Clause 2 it states distinctly that marriage shall be no disqualification. Although other speakers have maintained that married women will not be enfranchised to any extent under the Bill, I believe it will have the effect of enfranchising married women far more than they suppose. I consider the main object underlying the Bill is to give an extension of independence to married women. It is for that reason I mainly object to the Bill. If it were formed on true democratic lines, and if it were going to give the Parliamentary vote to the widow, the spinster, and the woman who is not represented by her husband through his vote, then I might be inclined to consider it, but to give a vote to a woman who is already directly represented by her husband will place the husband in a very invidious position. He will be in the position of having it asserted that he is not qualified to represent his wife by casting a Parliamentary vote.

According to the law of the land the husband is called upon to protect and support his wife. I want to ask my hon. Friends who are supporting this measure what the position would be if the husband and wife, each of whom has a vote, differ on one of the great political questions before the country, say as to our fiscal question? The husband might think, in the interest of his household and for the support of his wife, that Tariff Reform would be desirable, and the wife might take a different view, and I do not say that she would not show a better discretion. But under those circumstances, if the wife acts in direct opposition to what her husband considers is right, what about the performance of the law of the land that he is to protect and support his wife? For that reason I consider that a married woman should not be allowed to exercise the vote. Certainly I will say, and I do not think it will be contradicted, that this Parliament has no mandate to deal with this question. I will go further and say that in the last Parliament there was a far larger body of Members committed to this measure than in the present Parliament, and if there is a majority in favour of this Bill as a result of to-morrow's vote—about which I am not so sure—I shall be very much surprised if it is at all comparable to the majority registered when the Bill was last before the House. I consider that this Bill represents plural voting in its very worst form, and those Members of the Government who supported the Bill to abolish plural voting, I believe in 1907, will find it very hard to justify themselves if they record a vote in favour of the measure now under discussion. I object to this Bill because I consider that marriage should be a disqualification to a woman exercising a vote. The husband is able, or should be able, to represent his wife in Parliament. If this Bill passed it would render abortive the marriage vow and bring discord into family life, and certainly will not have the effect—the true democratic effect—which I understood was one of the objects of my hon. Friend below the Gangway in bringing forward this measure. It will not enfranchise that part of the community who I consider have a right to cast a vote at Parliamentary elections, and I believe I am correct in saying that a large body will oppose any measure giving the franchise to women so long especially as in that measure the franchise is extended to married women.


No one on either side of the House who is taking part in this Debate has contended for one moment that the interest of women in political affairs is abating. On the contrary, they all bear testimony to the fact that everywhere, through many and manifold influences, their interest in accentuating, and with their increased interest their influence in the government of the country has also increased. Nor has anyone during the Debate maintained to-night that marriage alone is woman's call or that domestic duty is the limit of her ambition. These things are essentially changed. Woman is a teacher in our schools; she is an inspector in our factories; she is also an effective employé of the Government. Parliament itself from time to time derogates year by year more and more responsible duties to local authorities, and we would gladly avail ourselves of woman's assistance to discharge that work to the great advantage of the community. But it is not only here that woman's influence and work are being exercised. For years woman has acted as a lay patron in this country, and she has exercised that patronage with quite as much judicial ability as any of the men. She has also, as a member of chartered foundations, of the East India Company, exercised her vote and done all she could do were she a man. There have been women in this country who not only exercise but practically dominate the authority of great undertakings, and women to-day also vote as we vote for all our great commercial undertakings, whether those commercial undertakings are of first class importance as railways or ordinary humble commercial businesses. Yet, in spite of this, women are denied votes. Why? I have always been led to believe—and nothing that has been said to-day has shaken my belief in it—that our Parliamentary franchise in this country is based upon property, and in spite of all theories that taxation and representation go together, and that representation is part of the ownership connected with property. No amount of capacity, no amount of intelligence, no amount of education will do one whit to confer on an individual a vote. He must have that property, or without that property he has no means of getting upon the register. What has Parliament been doing for some time past? It has taken every single opportunity of further recognising woman's qualifications in the exercise and control of property, and removing those shackles which prevent the full development of her ownership of property. We give her the property and yet we deny to her the rights which we give to males in connection with property, and she has to obey laws, man-made laws, and to bear taxes and burdens equally with the men who pass those laws. No doubt Parliament is controlled by man, and man, with the very best intentions, endeavours to try to legislate to meet the requirements of woman. But I think I will be able to show, without very much difficulty, that Parliament has failed entirely to meet the requirements of woman in the past.

Our Acts in regard to factory matters have been passed with a view to meeting the requirements of men rather than of removing the grievances of women. It is for that reason I hold that women's votes will be the only means by which a radical change can be effected in regard to their grievances. The Government of this country is a large employer of male and female labour, but what an extraordinary difference there is in the treatment by the Government of male and female labour. In the Pimlico factory you are content to pay an average wage of 15s. a week to women, while for the same work that is done by women you have decreed that the minimum wage for men shall be 23s. a week. Is there a single Member who will not agree with me in saying that this minimum wage of the men has been secured owing to their possessing votes? Only this Session the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) moved an Amendment in regard to the employés of the Pimlico factory. What happened? We had the Secretary for War so perturbed about the treatment of males in that factory that he again and again violated the rules of the House, and tried to save his own skin and that of the Government by endeavouring to make terms with those who brought forward the Amendment, and thus save the Government from defeat. But this differentiation in the treatment of male and female workers is not confined to the War Office alone. In the Post Office you have male and female sorters. No matter how ingenious you may be, you cannot make much difference in the work of sorting letters. What is the treatment meted out by the Government to the men and women who do this work? The male sorters, on going into the Post Office, start at a weekly wage of 20s., going up to 60s. a week, and the female sorters start at 14s. a week, with a maximum of 30s. a week. The treatment of the clerks, male and female, in the Post Office, is exactly the same. In the second class of the lower division you have male and female clerks. There is no distinction in the work they do, yet what happens? The male clerk starts at a minimum of £70 a year, with a possible maximum of £250 a year, while the female clerk starts with a minimum of £65 a year, and goes to a maximum of £110 a year. Does anyone for one moment contend that if women in the past had had votes, and had been able to come to their representatives in this House asking them to enforce their claims upon the Government, whether Radical or Conservative, female employés in either one class or the other would have been left in the disparaging position in which they are to-day?

But it does not rest there alone. I maintain that this wretched wage of 15s. a week to women paid by the Government is the standard set up for hundreds of thousands of employés throughout the length and breadth of the country. Only the other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer was boasting of the prosperity of this country and of the proud position of our industries. The right hon. Gentleman must know full well that many of those industries are to-day alone maintained against competition by the payment of this rate of 15s. a week, as in those factories where the work is being done on a wage on which the women workers cannot possibly subsist. It is not, however, confined to Government employment or to Government wages. I grant that as regards cotton operatives they have made an improvement, but they unfortunately in the past have done every single thing in their power again and again to prevent women from learning the trade in order to prevent possible competition against themselves. Take the case of the Bookbinders' Union. In regard to that union there is a special clause providing that no women can be made apprentices or members of that trade. There are thousands of women in this country who are bookbinders; I believe there are 10,000 in London alone. By the Technical Education Act passed by this House some years ago technical classes were established with a view to improving the skill of the individuals following that particular trade. Yet in one Clause of that measure no woman can be admitted to any one of those classes unless she technically and actually belongs to the trade. While women are paying their share of the burden of the education in this country the door is absolutely shut against them, and they cannot attend those technical classes, while men, and men alone, get all the advantages of having their skill increased in order to enable them to earn better wages. It is exactly the same as regards the tailoring trade. The technical classes are closed absolutely to those who are not members of the particular trade for which those classes are formed. As far as I can see, there is no reason whatever why women should not be in every way as well qualified as men, without detriment to their health, to become excellent bookbinders or excellent tailors. But by reason of women not having got votes to enable them to secure fair play for themselves in both these trades, the men have all the advantage of getting a better education, and, most of all, of being enabled to get a far better wage.


There is nothing in the Technical Instruction Act to prevent women being members of those classes.


I state again explicitly as regards bookbinding that women cannot attend those classes because they are not members of the trade. The door is shut against those who are not members of the particular trade from attending those classes. In regard to several of these trades, by reason of these laws and regulations, women are practically precluded from participating in the benefits to be derived from those classes, while those of us who were in the House last Session all know that the worst paid and sweated industries were open to them. I take another legal disability from which women suffer. I was very glad to hear the hon. and learned Member for Walton in his most excellent speech to-day say that he recognised some of the hardships connected with the divorce law in regard to women, and that for himself he would be perfectly prepared to set them right. What is the law as regards that specific case? As we all know the divorce courts are practically precluded from the poor of this country. The Matrimonial Causes Act was passed to enable women to get relief which they could not by being unable to enter the divorce courts. What is the law in regard to that to-day? A man can prove unfaithful to his wife; he can go so far as to insult his wife by bringing another woman into his house, but so long as he gives his wife food and sustenance and commits no actual cruelty to her she has no remedy whatsoever against him. Even if the woman does get a separation order, so far are the laws hedged round to protect the man that the woman is to have four weeks' arrears of the weekly allowance before she can get judgment against the man. Those Members of the House who are acquainted with the lives of the very poor know what it means for the woman to go four weeks in arrears before she can receive a single penny. There is the further case in regard to women equally connected with their lives. Take the working woman who marries and ceases to follow any calling of her own by which she could earn her own livelihood. From the share of the earnings which her husband gives her she saves up by her thrift and good housework. Not one farthing of that saving is hers. Whether she spends it in the purchase of furniture or in the decoration of the home in which she lives with her husband, every penny and every article of those things can be scattered at a moment's notice. I venture to say without fear of contradiction that those of us who know the conditions of some of those very poor people that live in our great towns know that this economic dependence of women is a tragedy in some of our poor people's lives.

There is also the law as to bastardy. There was a case before an eminent magistrate of this city in which a man had lived with a woman and had five children in perfect agreement. For reasons which I need not enter into, the man eventually married the woman. The woman became ill, went into the infirmary, and while there, died. Although there is no contention as to who is the father of the children, although the parentage is not disputed by the parent, it is out of the power of the magistrate, or of anyone, to make any order that that man shall maintain those children because it has not been done in the lifetime of the mother. By the Army Act of 1888 all proceedings against a soldier ordered abroad are null and void. There was a young girl here in London who had a child by a soldier who was stationed at Aldershot. The magistrate gave a bastardy order, and an order for maintenance, and it was served at Aldershot. It was not issued because the young man was under orders for abroad in spite of the fact that for three months that battalion was not going abroad. Will any single Member say that women should be so placed in that position. The hon. Member for Walton alluded to the position of Norway, but what has happened there. One of the very first things that was done when Norway got woman suffrage was to make the responsibility for children begotten out of wedlock more equally distributed, and to make the man bear more of his share of the burden. Take the vaccination law. I am one of those who strongly believe in the advisability of vaccination, and I vote in this House for compulsory vaccination for all, but the law and this House decided that orders of exemption might be issued, but how does Parliament deal with it? The mother with whom the child lives has no power what- soever to get an order of exemption, and the only individual who can get the order of exemption is the father. The father may live in Yorkshire and the mother at Reading, a case I know, and the mother has no power whatever to stir until the father is brought into action. Every one of those proposals have been made because Parliament at the time was ignorant of how they affected women. Man passed them with the very best intentions, but none can say wholly irrespective of the merits of the two cases.

Let us take another question. The case of education. There are some people in this country who think that secular education in the whole elementary schools of this country may be a way out of our difficulty in regard to the education question. Why, to my mind, it is unthinkable that we can settle the elementary education of the children of this country without consulting the mothers of this land. It is unthinkable to me that where the children are in their younger days under the care more strictly of the mother, that the mother should have no say whatsoever as to what kind of instruction is to be given to her child. I vote for this suffrage because I believe that by giving this vote to women, besides benefiting and improving the condition of the poorer of the women in this country. you will also secure the priceless heritage to the children of this land, and the women of England will see that every child shall have the opportunity of having knowledge imparted to him from the greatest Book the world has ever produced. I think this House would do well to recall what happened recently in France. I believe if in t he Parliament of France women had been represented we should never have witnessed what we have witnessed just recently in France of churches desecrated, religious houses broken up, inoffensive people thrown out on the streets. Why, half the population of France, the women of France, were supporters of the faith in which those institutions were conducted. I believe there are a great number of Members who are frightened on this question, because they think it is the thin end of the wedge, and that if it is once passed greater difficulties will arise. I have never come across anyone but the weak man with a weak mind that relied upon the thin end of the wedge argument. From start to finish with the Tariff Reform question it has always been said that if we put on a shilling we must necessarily put on 10s. It is the weakest possible argument. I have great confidence in the sagacity of the people of this country if they will only do that which their common sense tells them is desirable, and will be to the advantage of the country.

Members seem entirely to forget that we have voters who by Statute are precluded from sitting in this House, and from whom we never have petitions protesting against their exclusion. It is well known that none of the beneficed clergy of the Church of England have a right to sit in this House. It is equally well known that none of the Members of the Civil Service, while on the active list, are eligible for Membership to the House of Commons. It is equally possible that women should be excluded from sitting in this House, and I do not believe that any but an infinitesimal portion of them wish to come here. I believe it will be a very long time before we are likely to see women sitting in this House. I have been told that if women have the vote they are sure to exercise tyranny. and to join the happy band of "killjoys." This, however, is what Mr. Deakin, the late Premier of the Commonwealth tells me—that on no single occasion have the women, in Parliament or out of Parliament, voted in a body on any political question. I challenge any opponent of woman suffrage to name a single political subject on which they would be likely to gather all the women in the one Lobby. Then we are told that our experience with regard to woman suffrage has not been good. I do not know what better experience Imperialists want than that which can be gathered from what has been done by women in New Zealand. The very first result of the vote being given to women in New Zealand was the adoption of universal military training for the defence of the country and for creating a manly spirit amongst the people. One of the earliest gifts by the Colony of New Zealand after the granting of woman suffrage was the first "Dreadnought" given by any State. Therefore, while I know that it will not please the enemies of Empire to hear of these feelings of gratitude which are deep down in the hearts of the people of the Colonies, we who are Imperialists rejoice that the earliest results of the accession of women to the voting strength of New Zealand were these admissions of the great cause of Imperialism. Lastly, speaking only last December in the Common-wealth Parliament, Mr. Deakin stated that sixteen years' experience of woman suffrage in Australia, in the several Colonies, and nine years' experience of their votes in the Dominion, had resulted in all the hopes that had been held out being realised, while none of the pessimistic wailings had been fulfilled. Women had brought their brains to the service of the State, and Parliament had been forced more and more to forget party politics, to consider those social questions affecting the lives of the people, to do what they could to make their lives better, and to make them more proud of the Empire of which they form a part.


The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Goulding) has enumerated several grievances, some of which have been remedied altogether, some of which are totally incapable of being remedied by legislative action, and some of which are now in process of being remedied. He referred to the bookbinders' union, and told us that it was impossible for individuals who were not members of the bookbinders' union to attend the technical classes. There are a large number of individuals who are members of the bookbinding trade but are not members of the bookbinders' union, and the bookbinders' union may have adopted the selfish policy of saying that they will admit no women within their ranks. I know a large bookbinding establishment run entirely by women; therefore they are members of the bookbinding trade, although they may not be members of the bookbinders' union, and any apprentice or pupil of theirs is perfectly free to attend these technical classes.


I have the exact words here:— Although there are practically many thousands of women working in the bookbinding trade, the union will not allow them to be apprenticed. Therefore they are not theoretically or technically in the trade, and are shut out from the classes.


I understand that this is a question not of the union, but of the trade. These women are members of the trade, and they do actually attend the technical classes. On the question of divorce, to which the hon. Member also referred, there are very substantial grievances, which are now being considered by a Royal Commission. In that matter I believe every Member of the House will be perfectly ready to alter the law and to remove every shadow of grievance which may exist south of the Tweed. The hon. Member for Clare (Mr. W. Redmond) poured a great deal of scorn upon Members who, in giving their votes upon this question, take into consideration what political effect it is likely to have. That is all very well, if one is convinced of the justice or injustice of the matter. The first thing we have to ask ourselves is, Is there a question of right or wrong in it? Has it a moral aspect? Is it right or wrong that women should have votes? If we can answer that question definitely, so much the better; our path is at once lighted. If we can decide by the application of certain principles that it is right that women should have votes, then, unless there is an absolutely overwhelming mass of considerations of expediency against it, votes ought to be given. If, on the other hand, we come to the conclusion that it is absolutely wrong that women should have votes, no other consideration ought to weigh with us. But it is quite possible that we may be unable to answer that question at all. We may come to the conclusion that all the arguments drawn from principle on either side have no real foundation. I am bound to say that that is the conclusion I have come to myself. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last reviewed the principle of "no taxation without representation." That old principle has received a good deal of rather rough handling to-day. Speaker after speaker, earlier in the Debate, speaking either for or against this Bill, said he did not think very much of this old watchword. Hon. Gentlemen who are relying upon this watchword for supporting this particular Bill are relying upon what is historically a false analogy. When the authors of this watchword first proclaimed it it meant representation of localities, representation of provinces and of the communities that inhabited those provinces. The authors of that watchword did not for one moment mean the representation of individuals. They could not have been induced to take this Bill seriously. They would have laughed at the idea that a Franchise Bill or the enfranchisement of women had anything whatever to do with that particular watchword for which they were ready to shed their blood. As regards the question of representation, at the present moment the Post Office in the Lobby is packed high, I believe, with postcards that are waiting for delivery to hon. Members. Those postcards are meant to indicate to us the opinions and desires of individuals residing in our constituencies. I have yet to learn that they are all from registered male electors, or even from adult males. It is clear that in a sense we represent these individuals. But if we are to accept as a principle the later interpretation of the watchword we shall be compelled to lay down two other principles—first of all, that nobody is represented who has not got a direct voice in the choice of a representative, and, secondly, that there shall be no taxation without representation. We are at once led to a denial of the right of the State to tax, for instance, say, the property of a minor, who can have no direct voice in the choice of a representative.

Take the other argument of principle which has been adduced by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Walton, the argument that the ultimate sanction of all law is physical force. I am bound to admit that I do not think very much of that argument either. I think if you apply that argument you will immediately find yourself in a perfectly impossible position, because you have to refuse everybody a vote who has failed to pass the test of physical fitness. You would thus take the vote away from all cripples, weaklings, old men, and men over a certain age. One can possibly conceive that such a position would be supported by an aggressive military democracy in a primitive state of society. It is perfectly clear that that argument will not hold water under present conditions, and I do not think it is an argument which ought to commend itself to hon. Members.

If we fail absolutely—and I have tried honestly—to find a principle of guidance in this matter we are driven to take the point of view of the expediency of the thing. If we cannot find an answer in principle as to whether it is right or wrong for women to have the vote, we are forced to ask whether it is a good or bad thing and try to decide the question upon that ground. Well, I think there are a great many rather poor arguments used both ways in this matter too. There is the argument that this will break up family life. Unfortunately we all know instances of this sort—I do not think they are very common—where there has been a breaking of the family life owing to political opinions under present circumstances. I do not think myself that the giving of the vote to married women would necessarily increase this; I do not think it would at all. On the other hand, there is the argument that women's conditions of employment would be improved by the vote. I do not think that is so.

10.0 P.M.

I think that the reason why women's wages are lower than men's is twofold. First of all, because of women's physical inferiority. Women have not got the endurance of men. Because their labour, therefore, is on the whole less valuable than that of men it is less paid. The second reason is a psychological one. Women have again and again shown far less power of trade combination, and of collective bargaining for the fruits of their labour. As soon as that power of combination is developed amongst women, their wages will rise to their true and proper economic level. But as regards the matter of employment and conditions of labour of women, an immense amount has been done already in the remedying of grievances by man-made laws, by this man-elected Parliament, and more is in process of being done. The argument that the vote is going to take away these grievances as a whole is vitiated by the argument that the vote is demanded by a very large number of women not for the purpose of improving conditions of employment, but for doing away with many of the restrictions which they say prevent them from competing with men. These two arguments, I submit, cancel one another, and ought to be disregarded. Whether the matter of giving votes to women as a whole is a good thing or a bad thing, I do not think any of us can be in any doubt as to the magnitude of the proposition. I do not think that women realise the magnitude of it, or otherwise we should not have these lighthearted proposals to send this Bill upstairs to Grand Committee. You cannot give women the vote without profoundly altering their status, whether for good or evil. That alteration of status will apply to all women, whether they exercise the vote or whether they do not. The argument used by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University that it is no grievance to any woman if another has the vote, seeing that no one need use it who does not so desire, does not apply. All women will suffer the same alteration of status whether or not they exercise the vote. I am not prepared to say that that alteration will lead to a better or a worse state of things, but it is a very important matter, and will affect all women considerably. I think that we are entitled to ask that before this great change is made some satisfactory evidence should be brought forward that on the whole a majority of women assent to that change. We are quite satisfied that that change is not merely assented to, but is passionately desired by a large number of women. How many desire it at present we cannot say. They are numbered by tens of thousands. Even so they are relatively a mere drop in the bucket compared with the millions of women whom this legislation would affect. I submit that the undoubted fact that this change is passionately desired by this comparatively small number of women is no substitute for evidence that it is even assented to by a majority of women in this country. It is some evidence of that sort we desire. The hon. Gentlemen may have their own opinions as to whether it is good or bad to enfranchise women. I cannot understand how any friend of democracy can vote for the Bill before the House. Somebody talked just now about the "whole hog." I am not particularly anxious to have any "hog" in this matter, but if I am going to have a "hog" at all, I am going to have the whole animal. I do not want the Conservative forequarter. I disagree from the hon. Gentleman who said that there is no possibility of stopping upon this slope; that the moment you give a small number the vote there is no possible halting place between that and adult suffrage. The class of women who are going to be enfranchised by this Bill are propertied women. The whole basis of our voting qualification is at the present moment a property qualification, and therefore the one and a quarter million who will receive the vote will receive it upon a property qualification. The wife of the working man is deliberately excluded. As to what the result might be in great towns, I am quite prepared to admit that the experience of Labour Members, and their knowledge of the population of great towns, is very thorough, but what will be the effect in the country districts? I maintain that I am perfectly entitled to look and see how it is going to affect political parties and the reforms for which we stand and the ideals which we cherish. Look at the county constituency. You give by this Bill a vote to the wife of the squire, of the parson, and of the farmer. You deny the vote to the wife of the agricultural labourer and the working man. How the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Shackleton) can have been caught in the net which has been spread for him in this particular matter I am quite unable to understand.

They say this Bill is the result of a Conciliatory Committee. Who has been conciliated? That is what we want to know. They say this Bill is a compromise. A compromise between whom? Are the friends of democracy any party to that compromise? I doubt it very much. There is one result of the fact that this Bill is a compromise and that is that hon. Members who vote for it vote for it including the whole of its details. They cannot justify their votes to their own consciences and say, "Oh, I vote for the matter on principle. I vote merely for the principle of the women getting votes without committing myself to the details of the Bill." The details of the Bill are the compromise. It is a "take-it-or-leave-it" Bill. Therefore the idea that they can vote for the Second Reading on a matter of principle, with full mental reservation about all detail, is not applicable in this case. Under these circumstances I am going to appeal to everybody who does cherish the ideals of democracy and who does desire to see the wife of the working man enfranchised to ask himself whether he thinks the class of women who are going to be enfranchised by this Bill are going to be so enthusiastically in favour of giving votes to their cooks and their kitchenmaids and to the wives of their gardeners and dependents of all sorts. So far from this Bill being a step along the democratic path, it will be erecting a barrier against which many friends of democracy will labour in vain for a great number of years. I venture to appeal to hon. Members sitting on these benches not to vote for this Bill.


I wish respectfully to say that it is perfectly obvious from the tone of the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that he has not read the Bill which the House is discussing. May I just say in regard to the point raised in regard to women bookbinders that if there be any disqualification under which women labour in regard to technical classes the responsibility for that does not rest with the bookbinders' trade union. To my own personal knowledge twenty-three years ago the bookbinders of this country were sending women delegates to represent them at the Trade Union Congress. At this stage of the Debate and of the controversy it would not, I think, be wise to spend much time in arguing the general question. Most people have made up their minds one way of another in regard to the general proposition as to whether women should or should not have the vote. The subject we are now discussing is the advisability of the Bill now before the House becoming law this Session. We have had a very persuasive and a very elusive, and, because of its ability, a very misleading speech from the hon. Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith). The whole of that speech was based upon the fallacious assumption that if this Bill became law, adult suffrage, giving a majority of votes to women electors, would necessarily be required to follow. So far as I understood the argument of the hon. Gentleman—and I am willing to bear my tribute to the extraordinary ability of his speech—it was to the effect that woman, because of sexual and constitutional differences, is unfit to take part in political work. I wonder if he would carry that argument to its logical conclusion. As has been frequently pointed out, the names of two of the great Sovereigns of this country are the names of women—Elizabeth in the middle ages and Victoria in the nineteenth century. At the present moment there is before the House of Commons a Bill creating a Regency in the event of certain circumstances which we all hope will never arise, and the Regent proposed to be established is a woman. Will the hon. Member for the Walton Division carry his argument to its logical conclusion by opposing that measure?

A good deal has been said about taxation and representation. Several Members have denied that representation logically follows taxation, and the hon. Member for the Walton Division said the theory that taxation and representation went together was as dead as Rousseau. In this connection it is an indisputable historical fact that Parliament was first convened because the nobles refused to pay taxes without having a voice in the levying, and that in those days the women who had to pay taxes were equally entitled to be represented with the men who had to pay taxes. That is a point on which there is no longer any dispute amongst those who take the trouble to make themselves acquainted with the facts.


From what date?


From the first Parliament down to the Restoration. If the Noble Lord will take the trouble to look at Dugdale's summons to Parliament of that period he will find ample proofs, of the statement I have made. Besides, there is much further evidence which is now being disinterred in connection with the agitation which is going on outside. It was only in 1832 when the word "male" was introduced into the Reform Bill that women were disfranchised in this country. Not only were women electors to Parliament itself, and not only did the lady of the manor have the right to nominate her representative in Parliament and to exercise that right, but in the City of London and all the big cities women were eligible and were elected Freemen of the various guilds. So far as can be made out the disfranchisement of women and the disqualification of women is a thing of comparatively recent growth. When it is remembered that the women taxpayers of the country pay £25,000,000 yearly in the form of taxes their demand to have a say in the levying and spending of these taxes is one that should not be lightly passed over.

It has been said by the hon. Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool, and repeated in substance by the hon. Member who has just sat down, that there is no strong or considerable volume of opinion among the women of this country in favour of their enfranchisement. I would ask what evidence is to be accepted on this point if the evidence which is available is not sufficient. There is not a body of organised women in the country, no matter what their political or social status, that does not demand the franchise, and that does not support the present Bill. The Women's Liberal Federation supports it, the Women's Unionist Association supports it, the Women's Co-operative Guild, representing nearly 26,000 married women, and the Women's trade unions, representing 180,000 women, support this Bill, and if that be not evidence of the opinion of the women of the country upon the point I do not know what the word "evidence" means. It is quite true that the great mass of the women have given no expression of opinion, for the reason, perhaps, that they have no ordinary channels through which to express it. I leave aside the franchise societies, because it may be said they are small minorities of the whole, but so far as the organisations through which the expression of women's opinions find vent can be taken as a guide every one of these, without a single exception, has supported the Bill before the House. I respectfully submit that with that evidence behind it we have no right to assume that the women do not want the vote, and we have every right to assume that they accept this Bill, and that the women of the country are behind it and give it their support.

The hon. Member for South Edinburgh said this Bill is not democratic. He pointed out how the wife of the squire might be enfranchised, whilst the wife of the agricultural labourer would not be. It was that statement which led to my remark that he evidently had not read the Bill. We know exactly what this Bill proposes to do, and we know exactly to a unit the number of women whom it would enfranchise, and approximately we know the class of women who would be enfranchised. I have taken the trouble, as I wish every other Member had done, to make investigations in regard to my own Constituency. Naturally, the class of women who will be enfranchised is according to the class of constituency. My Constituency is composed almost exclusively of working people, but so are the bulk of the constituencies in the country. The number of constituencies in which the middle classes and the wealthy people predominate is very very small. There are in my Constituency 2,686 women municipal electors. These would be mainly enfranchised if this Bill became law, and the highest estimate which has been made on an examination of the register of the middle-class women—I do not speak of them disparagingly at all—does not exceed 10 per cent. Therefore over 2,000 of the 2,600 who would get the vote are working women, widows for the most part whose husbands have been killed at their work or whose husbands have died comparatively young—widows, working spinsters, and others of that type who have the franchise now. It is these who would come on the Parliamentary register if this Bill were to become law.

May I just be allowed to give the facts with regard to London as a whole, based upon the investigations of Charles Booth? I am sure hon. Gentlemen, both for and against the Bill, will accept Mr. Booth's testimony affecting the poor of London as being unbiassed. In volume 4 of his great work on "Life and Labour in London," he points out that in the whole of London there are 186,982 women occupiers and of that number, 94,940 are women who do other than domestic work; that is to say, women who have to work for a livelihood at some occupation or other. Who are these women whom the hon. Member for South Edinburgh says are not democratic? Mr. Booth's figures are: 30,334 charwomen—not a very aristocratic profession; 14,361 dressmakers and milliners actually working at the trade; 6,525 shirt and blouse makers and seamstresses—the worst in the whole range of the sweated industries; 5,595 waitresses, matrons of institutions, and so on; over 4,000 tailoresses; 4,000 lodging-house keepers; 3,971 medical women, nurses, and midwives; and 2,198 teachers. And so the list goes on until we come down to literary workers and Civil servants, of whom there are 144 and 140 respectively. These women would come on the register under this Bill. They are for the most part municipal voters now, and will become Parliamentary voters when this Bill is passed. Therefore if anyone opposes this Bill on the ground that it is not democratic it shows he understands neither the question nor the terms of the Bill.

The Noble Lord, who represents Oxford University, said this was not a sex question. All the evidence we have goes to show that under a Bill of this kind while you increase the number of electors you do not materially change the result of the elections. He went on to give expert evidence on that question, and he quoted a book dealing with the enfranchisement of women in New Zealand to show that while the number of voters was doubled parties remained in practically the same position. While it is not sex question now the prolongation of this dispute involves the danger of making it a sex issue. At the present moment women are barred being voters solely and exclusively because of sex, and so long as the struggle continues on its present lines, so long is the sex issue bound to be predominant. Therefore, hon. Gentlemen, who do not wish the sex issue to be raised to an acute point up and down the country, will do well to vote for this Bill. It has been said further by more than one speaker, as an argument against this Bill, that it would weaken our power over Oriental races, especially if the people of India knew that this House was partly elected by the votes of women. May I remind hon. Members that the women of India are already in possession of the vote, and that under the Councils Act passed two years ago by this House women who have the necessary qualification are entitled to vote for the election or members of these councils? Therefore, though the suggestion is that the enfranchisement of women in this country would weaken our standing in the opinion of our Indian subjects, the fact that the women already have votes should tend to discount any theory of that kind. There is a bigger proportion of women voters in India in proportion to the total number than would be created in this country if this Bill became law. The hon. Member for the Walton Division commented on the fact that if a woman broke the law her husband was responsible for the payment of the fine, and he pointed out that this showed women's superior position under the existing law.

It did not seem to occur to him that the same thing is true of a man's dog. If it breaks the law the dog does not bear the punishment: it is his master. It is that very fact that women are protesting against, being relegated in the eye of the law to a position of inferiority. They are asking for equality in the eye of the law, and this Bill is one way of achieving it. As for chivalry, it has been considered that the day for speaking of that in regard to women has gone by. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I will tell the hon. Member why. When we remember that the mill-owners of Lancashire compelled women to work until they were stopped by law right down to the approach of their confinement, and that as soon as the law allows them, they are dragged out once more to begin work, surely, in their case at least, the less we hear of chivalry towards women the better for all concerned.

It is a fact that at the pit-top the number of women tends to increase. It is the fact that women's position of weakness is taken advantage of to unduly sweat their labour, because of their defenceless position. For hon. Members to come here and talk of chivalry to women in face of these facts is toying with a great subject. Women do not want chivalry; they do not want to be treated on the old chivalric form as being half angel and half idiot. They ask to be allowed to defend themselves and protect themselves, not by the chivalry of man, who is their oppressor, in the industrial relation at least, but by the strength of their own vote. The Secretary for War, in his interesting speech, seemed to imply that the Government is opposed to this Bill being sent upstairs to be considered by a Grand Committee. Why he should adopt that attitude it is difficult for me to comprehend. The hon. Member for the Walton Division (Mr. F. E. Smith) very skilfully, I thought, sought to arouse prejudice in this quarter of the House against the Bill, so as to ensure its defeat, or at least its delay, over the next General Election. I can well understand a Member of the Opposition wanting to see this question kept open over the next election, but I cannot understand why a supporter of the Government should lend himself to these tactics. The women's movement has got to this stage, that it is bound to oppose whichever party is in office until its demand has been considered. At the present time the whole strength of the movement is concentrated upon Members of the Government, not because they are Liberal, but because they are Members of a Government which does not concede this claim. If this great and growing power can be kept in the position it now is over the next election it will certainly be an ally on the side of those who are seeking to oust the present Government from office. Surely the Government is not going to play into the hands of those who are pursuing these Machiavellian tactics, but will send the Bill upstairs to the Grand Committee, where it can be examined, can be discussed in detail, can be sent down to this House and become law before the present Session comes to a close, and preferably before the adjournment. By laying it up and keeping it on the floor of the House it may drag on its way for months, and continue to play the part it should not play of an apple of discord amongst the advanced forces of the country.

I desire now to ask a specific question. The Secretary for War himself was not very clear on the point. He said the fact that this Bill was not going to be sent upstairs would not necessarily delay the final stages of the measure. Does that mean that the Government is going to give the necessary time for the Committee stage, the Report stage, and Third Reading if the Bill is kept on the floor of the House? That is a point upon which we are entitled to a clear and definite answer from the Government before the Division is taken. My own preference would be to have the Bill sent upstairs and then come back for Report and Third Reading, and thus not only settle a long vexed question, but remove a thorny subject of discussion from the arena of politics and allow us to concentrate upon other matters of great moment which must necessarily be delayed so long as this problem remains unsolved. Mr. Disraeli pointed out many years ago that so long as we allowed a woman to occupy the Throne of the country we had no right to deny to women a vote in the election of a Member of Parliament for the country. The late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman two years before his death informed the women of the country that they had made out an irrefutable case. These two opinions from great leaders, one on each side of the House, as to the growing and clamorous demand on the part of women for their advancement, with the moderation of the claim that is being put forward in this Bill, which is having the support of all sections of those who believe in the enfranchisement of women, shows that this is a golden opportunity which should not be allowed to pass, which the Government should concede, and by conceding this long overdue reform remove from the sphere of party strife a subject which is bound to grow in intensity as the years go by.


The hon. Member told us a few minutes ago that we had all the facts and all the statistics which ought to determine our decision of this question. There has never been a great question for the extension of the franchise put before the House with so little knowledge as to what the opinion of the country is Hon. Members on both sides are of course aware that in the last General Election this whole question was hardly heard of. At meeting after meeting one attended there was hardly a single question put on the subject at all, and if Members have somehow or other become entangled and committed themselves on the question, it certainly was not owing to any interest which was shown at the last General Election. It seems to me that it is just one of the very few questions on which one would like to get a referendum both of the men and the women of the country. It is one of the few issues you could put before the country in all its simplicity. You do not want a Bill or all those complications which arise out of a Bill. You want simply the question whether the people are in favour of the franchise being extended to women. I confess that the result of such an inquiry would have considerable influence on me. I do not know whether it would affect my vote, but it would certainly affect my attitude on the question. There is another question which is also in the dark, although some hon. Members speak as if they knew the answer, and that is, What would be the effect on parties of granting the franchise to women under this Bill or another Bill? Personally, I wish to discard from my mind entirely any question as to the possible effect of the measure on the party on this side or the party on the other side. I do not believe it has any real relevance to this subject whatever. Moreover, I believe that nobody can forecast the effect. I do not believe that the experience of Australia, or New Zealand, or Wyoming, or Utah, or any other place can tell you anything regarding the effect of the measure in a country where the conditions of society are different, and where we are in the dark absolutely as to the relative number of men and women who would have the vote.

I lately talked with a gentleman from Finland, which is one of the model countries in the eyes of the female suffrage party. He was very much in favour both of woman franchise and of all it carried with it. He was also a Socialist. He told me that the predictions before the franchise was given were two—firstly, that woman's vote would be a very steady influence in the State and that it would be exercised on the whole in a conservative sense; and, secondly, that although women were given by the law the right to sit in the Parliament or the Diet, as it is called, they would not exercise that right. What has happened? The Diet of Finland is a single Chamber now. There were formerly no less than four Chambers, but they were always at a deadlock, and the thing was solved by sweeping away three of them. In this way they got all the favourable conditions for carrying out an experiment of this kind. The Diet consists of 200 members, and already there are no less than thirty women in the chamber. These thirty women are highly Socialistic, and also highly moral in their legislative efforts. I understand that married ladies do not take a very great part in politics. It is the discontented spinster who does. It is she who is in favour of carrying out the ideas of Socialism and enforcing morality by legislation. My friend was very much in favour of their action. It was through their efforts mainly that the sale of liquor has been made entirely prohibitory, and he went on to tell me, with great satisfaction, that the women having dealt with one of the two great poisons of the State hoped to proceed to deal with the other and to make the sale of tobacco also illegal.

I mention this not for the merits of the case, but as showing how any forecast of the result of extending the franchise is exceedingly unsound. On our own side of the House I have heard, not in this Parliament, but in the last Parliament, an hon. Friend of my own support the franchise on the ground that he believed that it would increase not only the influence of the Tory party, but the influence of the Church, and that that would be the general effect of the extension of the suffrage to woman in the country. I have heard the very opposite opinion expressed by other Members, and I have heard this afternoon the opinion of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford (Lord Hugh Cecil), if I understood him rightly, that it would make no difference at all, and that the whole thing as regards its effects would be trivial. I do not prophesy what the effect would be, but I really feel certain that the effect would not be trivial. There might be cases where the women's votes were divided up equally among the men, but I feel certain that the effect upon the whole State, upon the whole government of the country, the whole social life, and the whole Imperial idea, whatever might be the distribution of the votes, would be enormous and enduring. The hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Keir Hardie) reminded us that what the women asked for was equality with men. I feel no doubt whatever that what has given this movement its driving power outside, what has imparted to it an intense, an almost fanatical quality, has been that notion of abstract equality. It is that which has given those who have joined in this crusade the same sort of almost religious energy which the men felt who started the French Revolution. But this is my point as regards that equality. Surely we ought at this time of day to give up the notion of this abstract right to political equality. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I will explain what I think. In the case of private and civil rights I submit that women have already got equality with men, and the only equality which the individual can claim is the equality in respect of private and civil rights. Political equality I regard as simply an obsolete survival, and I believe most hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree with me in that. What, then, are the considerations which ought to determine us in giving the franchise? Is it the question whether this individual is equal, morally or intellectually, to that individual, or whether the lady with property is morally or intellectually equal or superior to her gardener? I say it has nothing whatever to do with the question. The sole question which we have to ask is: Is it on the whole advisable in the interests of the State and of the Empire that the franchise should be extended? That is the sole question. It is the question of the interests of the community as a whole and the political claim of abstract equality for the individual is an exploded and obsolete doctrine.

I was astonished to hear the hon. Member who has just sat down come back to the old question of taxation and representation, which I hold has been threshed out two or three times in this Debate. Those who glibly repeat that phrase seem to forget, first of all, that if it is true it must mean adult suffrage. You cannot fall short of adult suffrage, or the suffrage of every human being who pays indirect taxation, as every child and everybody does. As a specific instance of the absurdity of it, how about the peers, who are taxed and have no representation? In reference to the merits of the Bill, it starts with the idea of getting rid of sex disability, and it proceeds to emphasise the existing inequality while establishing a new and glaring inequality. On the one hand you have the man lodger, and on the other the woman lodger, and in most cases, as the Bill works out in the different constituencies, you will have inequality between them. You have also a very much worse inequality than between men and women—you have inequality between women and women. The married woman has no vote unless she happens to have property or is well off. The working married woman is not enfranchised under this Bill, and yet the strongest argument used in favour of this Bill was as to the interests of working married women. [Mr. SHACKLETON: No married woman has a vote.] You have not only an inequality between married women and single women, but between married women and married women. In the Bill of a year ago there was a similar inequality. It seems to me that the inherent defect of woman suffrage and of any restricted franchise is that you attach the penalty of disability to marriage. That is intolerable. Numbers of those who are against the female suffrage when they found that their wives were not enfranchised while women around them had the vote, would say that this was reducing the thing to an absurdity. If any class is qualified to exercise the franchise it is the mother of the family, and you have this disability attaching to them. Therefore—and I think this is the most vital point—you start from a principle of equality and you bring about inequality. The thing is absurd, and you cannot get rid of it except by having recourse to adult suffrage. There has been no answer to that to-day. There have been several who said that adult suffrage will not follow, but it must follow to avoid not only absurdity, but inequity. Yet we are asked to believe that this Bill is a barrier against adult suffrage.

There is also the other question, which is one of vital moment. I do not think it can be denied that the right to vote must carry with it the right to a seat in this House. If you give full citizenship, which is the demand, how can you hold back that which is the highest privilege of full citizenship? We have attempted to give admission to the franchise without admission to the House, and the thing has broken down. I observe that there is a special reason here why it should break down. What has been one of the great arguments of the women? They say man may be sympathetic, that they may do their best to understand the case of women, but that they cannot plead women's case, and that only women can be mouthpieces of women. To man, they say, they explained what they could, but he has proved himself incompetent. Does it not follow at once that the right to vote leads direct to a seat in this House, for otherwise the grievance is not redressed? I have heard it said, to my astonishment, by several that the right to a seat in the House would not ever be claimed by women. Of course it will be claimed. It is at this moment the highest ambition of many of the leaders of the women to be able to speak in this House. The argument used by my Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) seems to me really not adequate at all. He says he is against a seat in this House, but he is for the vote, because he says it will alter the character of this House. Of course it will. We do not deny it. Women would not deny it, but they would say it would alter it for the better. In a dinner party or mixed assembly of men the atmosphere is better owing to the mixture, and the argument that by that reply you can set up a barrier to stem the tide of women who are making an incursion to this House by saying that the atmosphere will be changed is perfectly ridiculous. I look upon it as a proved fact that these two necessary results must follow. The Bill must carry with it—

And it being Eleven o'clock the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Tuesday).