HC Deb 31 May 1911 vol 26 cc1164-6

I want, if possible, to elicit from the Government some further information in regard to the statement made a few days ago as to the future of the Women's Suffrage Bill now before the House. The promoters of the Bill are not satisfied with the decision of the Government to give no further time for the Bill during this Session of Parliament, but looking closely, at the terms of the Government's answer, we are encouraged to hope that it may be possible in certain circumstances to induce them to reconsider that decision. It appears that the reason why, as at present advised, they cannot afford further time during this Session is because of the pressure of other business to which the Government is committed, therefore the promoters of this Bill hope that, should it happen that some of the important measures now before the House are not to be proceeded with, we may have an opportunity of pressing upon the Government the question of reconsidering their present view in regard to this Women's Suffrage Bill. But if we are driven to abandon the hope of further facilities being given during the present Session, we want to know a little more clearly what is the idea of the Government in regard to the facilities promised for next year. So far as we understand the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it is the intention of the Government to grant only a week for the Committee stage, the Report stage, and the Third Reading next year. That is based upon information which the Government was said to have received from those responsible for the promotion of the Bill. I have been very closely associated with the promoters, but I am not aware that we have ever given the Government any reason to believe that we considered a week of Parliamentary time sufficient for all the stages of Committee, Report, and Third Reading. We might under certain circumstances have thought a week for the Committee stage would be sufficient, but I want to know in the first place what the Government mean by a week. Do they mean a week for the Committee stage or a week for all the stages of the Bill beyond the Second Reading?

I want to know also if the Government are prepared to give any assistance to those who have charge of the Bill for accelerating its passage through its various stages. With the facilities that there are for obstruction it would be quite impossible to get a highly contentious Bill like this through the Committee stage in four or five days, and I cannot imagine what reason the Government can have for offering a week of time next year unless they are convinced that that time is going to be sufficient to put the Bill through all its stages. It will certainly be tantalising to give them that further chance when there is no possibility of its succeeding. The women have been tantalised now for many years, and it is time that came to an end. I want to ask therefore if, by their concession with regard to next year, the Government mean that they will help the promoters of the Bill to accelerate its progress through Committee. Will they, for instance, allow a Minister of the Crown to move, if necessary, the suspension of the eleven o'clock rule, and will they also if necessary give the promoters of the Bill an opportunity to move a Resolution for the allocation of time? I should also like to raise this point. If the Bill passes through Committee will they give time for the Third Reading at such an early day in the Session as will enable it to be presented to the House of Lords during that Session? As we understand the Ministerial statement made on Monday, the Government are not prepared to give all the time necessary in this Parliament for passing the Bill, but they are quite prepared in this Parliament to give effective facilities for considering the Bill. We are not satisfied with that. The life-time of any Government is very precarious, and the lifetime of this Government is especially precarious, because they have not a majority of their own. They depend upon a combination, which may be dissolved at any time, and therefore I am speaking, not only for the promoters of the Bill, but for all the women in the country who are interested in this question when I say that it is not satisfactory to have to look beyond next Session for the carrying out of the Prime Minister's promise of full facilities to carry the Bill. I ask the representative of the Government to give those interested in the Bill some information on the point I have respectfully submitted.

The CHANCELLOR of the DUCHY of LANCASTER (Mr. Joseph Pease)

The hon. Member has put a series of questions to the Government which I think ought to be addressed to the Prime Minister himself. Representations were made to the Government, not very recently, but some little time ago, that those interested in the Bill thought a week would be a reasonable time to devote to the various stages of the Bill after the Second Reading stage, and the Government acted upon that representation. We ourselves thought that four days and a-half of Parliamentary time with this Parliamentary week should be ample to indicate whether this House is prepared to proceed with the Bill to a satisfactory conclusion. If the hon. Gentleman and his Friends are not satisfied with the promise that has already been given on behalf of the Government, I think a question had better be put on the Paper, and the Prime Minister will reply either before the adjournment for the holidays or immediately afterwards.


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.

Question, "That this House, at its rising, on Friday next, do adjourn until Tuesday, the 13th June," put, and agreed to.