HC Deb 24 January 1913 vol 47 cc878-948

(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, every male person shall be entitled to be registered as a Parliamentary elector for a constituency, if that person is qualified in accordance with this Act to be registered in that constituency, and while so registered shall be entitled to vote at an election of a Member to serve in Parliament for that constituency; but a person shall not be registered or vote for more than one constituency.

(2) For the purposes of this Act a person shall be qualified to be registered in a constituency as a Parliamentary elector if that person resides, or is an occupier of land or premises, in that constituency, and has so resided, or been an occupier, for a continuous period of at least six months last past, or during such a period has so resided for part of the period, and so been an, occupier for the remainder of the period.

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd George)

I want to raise a very important point of Order before you proceed, Mr. Whitley, with the consideration of Clause 1. The House yesterday passed a Resolution that at the commencement of the Committee stage the Chairman should give precedence to the Amendments mentioned in the Appendix, in the order therein shown. In the Appendix there are four Amendments indicated, two or three upon the question of the enfranchisement of women. What I want to ask Mr. Whitley is, first of all, whether those Amendments are in order? The second question I should like to put is this: assuming that they are in order, if any one or two of those Amendments are carried, and if other Amendments which are down in the Government's name, which are also indicated in the Order for the allocation of time, are also carried, whether the cumulative effect of those Amendment will be such as to constitute a totally new Bill; and whether, if that is the case, you would rule that the Committee could not proceed with the Bill? I should like to say a word or two upon both those points of Order. I shall submit, in the first instance, that the Amendments are in order, and that there are precedents for moving Amendments of this kind to a Franchise Bill.

The first precedent is that of the Bill of 1867, a Bill for the extension of the franchise to urban male householders. An Amendment was moved by John Stuart Mill almost in the terms of the Amendment which stands in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's (Mr. A. Lyttelton). It was not challenged. There was a Debate, and a Division upon it. In 1884 there was an Amendment to the Bill for extending the franchise to male householders in the rural areas. That Amendment was moved by Mr. Woodhall. It was moved as soon as the Chairman took the Chair. The late Lord Randolph Churchill challenged it on a point of Order, this point of Order being that there should be an Instruction from the Whole House to enable the Committee to discuss it. Mr. Woodhall then stated that he had consulted the Speaker upon the point, as well as the Chairman of Committees, and that they had both ruled that it was a matter which was perfectly germane to that Bill, and could be debated. It was debated for two days, and there was a Division taken upon it. Not merely on that point, but on a second point, the question of whether the inclusion of these Amendments would so transform the Bill in substance and in form —


On a point of Order, Mr. Whitley. The right hon. Gentleman has quite clearly dealt with one point which I think I understand the scope perfectly. He is now, as I understand him, approaching the submission of a second and a different point. If I understand the indication that he gave on the second point, it is this: He is inviting a ruling from you on a point of Order as to whether the cumulative effect of these Amendments, or any of them, that may be adopted may be such to transform the whole character of the Bill so as to make it a different Bill. On the second point, and the second point alone, I ask your ruling at once, before the right hon. Gentleman proceeds—as it might have consequences no one would desire if the view I am submitting to you is right—as to whether that matter falls within your competence to decide or whether it is not a matter for Mr. Speaker, and Mr. Speaker alone?


On that question I submit that the point which I am putting to you is entirely within your competence. The question which I am putting to you, Sir, is whether you will rule during the Committee stage that the Bill has been so transformed that you could not proceed with it during the Committee stage. I certainly am not in any sense challenging the opinion of Mr. Speaker, because Mr. Speaker has not given a ruling upon the point, and I am certain that if I did I would certainly not challenge it except with Mr. Speaker in the Chair. What I want a ruling upon is whether you in Committee may feel that the Bill has been so transformed as to be a totally different Bill that you could not allow any progress to be made with it. That is the only point.


I shall be glad to deal with the second point first and clear that out of the way—


May I— [HON. MEMBERS: "Order, order."] Well, I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is only now asking for a ruling upon the question of whether it is competent for you as Chairman to decide the question so far as the Committee stage is concerned, because I have an argument to address upon that point, if you rule that I can address the argument at all to you in the Chair.


My answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that, in my view, the only thing that concerns me as Chairman is whether each Amendment as it comes up in turn is in order—that is to say, within the scope of the Bill—and otherwise in order. I have nothing to do with the question which appears to be raised, the question of what the cumulative effect of Amendments may be with regard to future stages of the Bill. That does not fall in any way within my jurisdiction. I should certainly not have any power to stop the Bill in Committee, however many Amendments are proposed and carried, if each one individually was in order.


I must proceed with my argument upon the first point in regard to the question of their being in order. I think I have already quoted the precedents of 1867 and 1884. I am now merely on the question of their being in order. I quoted the precedents of 1867 and of 1884—


On a point of Order. Arising out of the question which I understand the right hon. Gentleman wishes to put to you, is it customary, and would it be in order that on the Committee stage of a Bill being called you should be asked to rule, not on a particular Amendment which you then called, but upon a whole series of Amendments upon the Paper as to whether they will or will not be in order when their turn comes?



I understand the point that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to put to me particularly concerns the first Amendment. If it is for the convenience of the Committee, it would save the right hon. Gentleman trouble, I think, if I say at once that, in my opinion, the first Amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of I State for Foreign Affairs is in order and is within the scope of the Bill. Perhaps it would also be for the convenience of I the House if I indicate now what my view is with regard to the effect of the Amendments on one another.


On a point of Order, and before you approach these Amendments, do I take it that you rule this first Amendment is within the scope of the Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am not asking hon. Members opposite; I am asking the Chair, whether the Amendment is within the scope of the Bill.


In my view this Bill as it comes to Committee is a Bill to alter the terms upon which the franchise is to be granted, and therefore, in my view, it comes within the scope of the Bill to propose that the franchise should be extended to women. With regard to the effect of this Amendment on subsequent Amendments, if the Committee desires it, I will indicate my opinion now. If the Amendment to leave out the word "male" is not carried, in my view that will dispose of the question entirely as far as the Committee is concerned; I could not take any other Amendment on the question of Women Suffrage. If, on the other hand, that Amendment is carried and the word "male" is struck out, that, in my view, will open the door for the consideration of the subsequent Amendments on the Paper. If the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Henderson) be carried after the word "person" to insert the words of either sex, then, of course, the two smaller Amendments will be out of order, as having already been covered by that decision. Similarly, if the second concrete Amendment, that in the name of the hon. Member for St. Pancras (Mr. Dickinson), which would come on after the preceding one was decided in the negative, that, in its turn, would, if carried, rule out the third concrete proposal standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square. If all these three concrete proposals, in turn, were decided in the negative, then, in my view, we should be back to the status quo ante, and the word "person" would hold the meaning hitherto given to it.


Does that mean that "person" would mean male person?


That is so in my view.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the word "male" ["Every male person shall be entitled"].

I regret this Amendment is not moved by the Foreign Secretary, but let me assure that right hon. Gentleman that everybody in the House fully understands the great pressure of his public engagements at the present time, and that so far as I can speak for everybody, they most cordially welcome his intention to speak on Monday before this Debate closes. The only title I can claim to speak upon this Bill with any weight is that I approach it my instinct and prejudices being rather against the proposal I am making that my reason and sense of fair play being rather for it. I claim therefore to be able to lay before the House, as far as my poor abilities enable me, the proposal of this Amendment coolly and from a basis not of passion or of prejudice or of instinct, but a basis of a love of fair play and a love of reason. I can well imagine an ideal world in which there would be more sharp division of the functions between men and women than there is even in ours. I can imagine an ideal world in which this difference might be emphasised rather than diminished. I agree with the Prime Minister that there are indelible differences of faculty and function between men and women and that these differences are the result of nature, and that these differences have added grace and diversity to human society. I say I can imagine such a world, but allow me to say it is not the world we live in, nor is it a world following the trend of the evolution of ours.

On the contrary, I say without hesitation the deliberate action of the State in this country and of the House of Commons has been to ignore this fundamental difference between men and women and to ask for and to obtain women's admission into the very numerous spheres in which fifty or a hundred years ago it was not presumed they would enter. I might give as an illustration the recent invitation of the State to women to assist them in some of the most thorny, possible occupations and subjects you can imagine. Take the three Royal Commissions that at once occur to me—the Poor Law Royal Corn-Commission, the Feeble-minded Royal Commission and the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce Laws which has just concluded its labour. These three great Commisions dealt with very difficult and very dry and dusty subjects, but, if a view antagonistic to mine was taken, they are not subjects upon which you would have invited the co-operation of women, but the State has deliberately done it, and I ask any of those who are familiar with the Reports of these three big Commissions whether the work of women upon them was the least considerable amongst those engaged. I do not mention the professions because that is voluntary work on the part of women, but quite recent, at the instigation of the State, all such public offices as guardians, county councillors, medical advisers, and inspectors, can be filled by women. May I ask the House to consider the trend of legislation in the last fifty years? Quite lately you had subjects like the hours of labour, the minimum wage, the question of public health, questions of housing, in which the State is deeply and profoundly concerned. These are all questions on which I venture to say no man who wishes to know them could afford to ignore in any way to consult women. No man who deals with the question of health in his own house, no man who deals with the question of housing, no man who had to deal with the question of the minimum wage, no man who had to deal with the question of the hours of labour, would do so without calling into council and without largely deferring to the opinion of women on these points in which they are vitally concerned.

It surely is a most amazing paradox that a lady like Mrs. Humphry Ward, of whom everyone who knows her would speak with the highest honour and respect, should embark on the extraordinary paradoxical inconsistency of urging on the one hand the extension of those spheres of influence in municipal and local concerns for women, and at the same time not press the matter to its inevitable conclusion, namely, the responsibility of voting upon subjects on which they are asked to come forward as protagonists and chief actors. Nobody who heard it will ever forget the story told some years ago in a Debate of this kind by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford of his experience in voting in the city of Oxford election. He described how he went down to the polling booth, and asked for his voting paper, marked it, and put it into the box, and how the moment after so doing he was seized with a strong nervous apprehension that he had inadvertently voted for the candidate he did not intend to support, and the conclusion come to by the Noble Lord was that he had never been engaged in a task "more serenely tranquil, more austerely refined, or more entirely ladylike" than to putting a cross upon a ballot paper. Yet people who are the strongest antagonists of this movement in all its forms deny in the name of all that is feminine this ladylike task to women, while at the same time they are guilty of the amazing inconsistency of pressing upon these very ladies the extremely onerous, difficult, and embarrassing work of local government.

If the case from the point of view of the State is in reason and fairness strong, if not overwhelming, what can Members of this House say as individuals in regard to it. For the last thirty or forty years there is scarcely a man among us here who has not invited in politics the assistance of women. It is not that they work in greatly subordinate and ministerial offices they are asked to canvass, to speak, to write, and to organise. I was speaking to a candidate, I must not mention upon which side he was, in the North of England, who said to me, "Without my women's organisation I should have practically no organisation." That is not a subordinate capacity. The women do all that. Rightly or wrongly, they are invited to assist us in the dust of political life. They have in many cases thrown themselves with the utmost assiduity and the greatest self-sacrifice into their work; they have gone out in all weathers, gone into the most squalid places, and they have done the utmost that human beings could do to assist with their influence, their persuasion, their intellectual resource the candidates who invite their assistance. I have said before that I really cannot understand the position of a man who has accepted, asked for, and availed himself of and has profited by those services, who can venture to say politics is not a sphere for women. He is stopped from saying that for all time. I do not say for the moment—and I should not be candid if I did not admit it—that personally I regret that such wide assistance should have been asked for and obtained from women. That is a counsel of perfection. Personally, and I speak with deep respect, it is only from my honour and respect for women that I would wish to have them further removed from those clamorous scenes. That is in the ideal world of which I spoke at the beginning, but we are now speaking of the real world as it is, and the world which all the evidence points to will be, if we believe the evidence of our senses. Before I leave this subject of the gross discord in the intellectual armoury, the intellectual equipment of anybody who asks for the assistance of women in politics, denies them the most elementary expression of their responsibilities, I beg to give a challenge to any hon. Member in this House to point to one word he has ever spoken in the discouragement of women working for him and when he has refused to profit by their exertions.

The Amendment which I move commits no one to anything but this, that this is a subject, as I have just indicated, which is worthy of discussion, and that is all. It leads on to three Amendments raising all the different features of this case, and it does nothing more than that. I move it without prejudice to the strenuous objections which have been raised only lately with such brilliancy by my right hon. and learned Friend who represents the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) to this Bill as a whole. I ask my right hon. Friend and those who think with him in this matter to assume that the House, of Commons has given its sanction in principle to a measure which puts 2,500,000 voters, many of them of uncertain continuous residence or occupation on the register, and then ask whether this Bill would not be improved by having added to that number some number of women. I put this in the most cautious way. I think I have now made it perfectly clear that no one will be prejudiced in regard to his view of this Bill as a whole by supporting my Amendment, and I merely ask the House to say with me that this Bill would be improved if it is passed by the addition of some women, in my opinion not so large a number as some hon. Members approve of. I want the House to consider the principles upon which we have accepted Amendments to the Franchise Bills. The objection to Amendments of the franchise in the past have been that the persons who are to be brought on to the register by reform proposals have not sufficient stake in the country, not sufficient education or wealth or property. Those have been, roughly, the main heads of objections which have been raised in times past. We are bound on the present occasion to take note that those objections have been rejected by majorities in this House, and the simple foundation, one which I think we should be ready to admit on both sides, is that the extensions of the franchise have been made on the principle that you cannot entrust one class to the uncontrolled guardianship of another. If I may put it in the way I have seen it well put, you cannot govern wisely without knowledge and you cannot be sure of knowledge without representation! Those are the two principles. I am not asking for their acceptance by anybody and I am not saying that I accept them myself. But, as a matter of history, those are the two principles upon which the reform movements have been based during the last seventy or eighty years.

I wish to guard myself particularly from being supposed to agree with those very intemperate advocates who believe that men have not done their best for women in the past. I agree that they have, and once you have made it clear to this House, once you have been successful in persuading this House that there is a feminine grievance, I think they render a remedy for that grievance more readily and chivalrously in the case of women than in the case of men. The fact that with every good will in the world this House has not the knowledge, and has not the opportunity of gaining the knowledge, which voices speaking with more weight on this matter would bring to them. I will summarise this part of my argument by saying consent is at the back and root of modern democracy, and in the present day amongst the sphere of their political and public activity already granted it seems to me a paradoxical reason to say that you can guard those privileges and not at the same time allow the consent of women to the form of government. Once firmly grasped, one is in a position to deal with that view of the leading objections which have been raised against this proposal. It is said that physical force is at the basis of government. Physical force, so far as it is required for the preservation of order within a community and for the defence of the community against foreign foes, so far as such order is necessary it is a necessary element in government. But it is not the sole nor indeed the ultimate function of the Government. Good government is that which ascertains the general wish, and avails itself of the general co-operation, which is willing to give a real share and a real voice in its affairs to the weak as well as to the strong.

Every free man believes that it is weakness which requires representation, and that the weak, the miserable, will be patient and more ready to forgive, even if you make mistakes, provided that they have had a chance of influencing you before you make those mistakes. Order is a great deal, but you cannot obtain order permanently unless you satisfy, or try to satisfy, the material at your disposal and the aspirations of every section of the community. Those are the doctrines—I do not say they are mine—which lie at the basis of the extension of the franchise for women. I cannot help remarking that they were doctrines which were believed in by the last four leaders of the party to which I belong, Lord Beaconsfield, Lord Salisbury, my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour), and my right hon. Friend the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Bonar Law). One other objection is the supposed preponderance of women in the community, and the idea that they will combine and form a combination against men. I wish to speak with respect of my opponents, but I find it impossible not to say that I think that proposition is ridiculous. We all know something of women, and would they be disposed, if a lady were a candidate, would the other ladies be disposed to vote for her? Do ladies in large numbers attend or call in lady doctors? No; the disposition—I am not saying that it is other than a healthy one—of one woman is not to agree with another woman. It is said that it is easier to obtain assent to an argument if it is put by a person of the opposite sex, and I think that is true.

It has been said that sex is not a party or a class, because a party or a class acts in the common interests, but the members of a sex are generally much more interested in the opposite sex than they are in each other. That, as an hon. Member below the Gangway suggested, speaking of some at all events, is more conspicuously true of men even than of women. I therefore dismiss as wholly ridiculous and contrary to human nature the idea that women are going to band themselves together against men; it is an idea which has absolutely no foundation or basis and no experience behind it. It is contrary to everything everyone of us knows to be the truth and the fact. I just glance only to dismiss it at the idea that this proposal will bring us into trouble and contempt in the Empire and among those who, not of our race or of our colour, are subjects of the Crown. Those who speak with knowledge on this subject say the vast majority of these coloured subjects of the Crown have not the slightest notion of your or my existence in Parliament here at all. They pay no attention to our proceedings, and they scarcely know we exist; their obedience and allegiance is to the Crown. But it is enough for me to say their allegiance to the Great White Queen in the days of Queen Victoria disposes, and disposes in the most summary possible way, of the notion, which perhaps had some validity before it was tested by experience, that the idea of women having some share in the government of the country would be repugnant and contemptible in the eyes of the dark subjects of the Crown.

I have only one other topic, and I apologise to the Committee for having detained it so long. I would rather have passed it over, and I am fully aware that what I am going to say will give great opportunity for misrepresentation, but it would not be courageous or right to omit reference to it. There has been an agitation, it is called militancy, the incidents and the events of which have, I confess, filled me with absolute horror. I do not know at which I have felt the greater horror: first, the incidents of the agitation, or, secondly, I must say the brutal and cruel spirit, the utterly unchivalrous spirit, which it has been supposed to justify. Perhaps, after all, I must not speak too strongly of these things, because human nature is human nature. Still, the treatment some women have received, however criminal and how- ever wrongful in their acts, from some men in certain crowds can only be spoken of in one way. I say, and I wish it to be distinctly understood, that in my humble opinion no statesman ought to yield to crime, and no statesman ought to make concessions to threats. I wish that to be remembered and to colour what I now say. On the other hand, I say that every statesman is entitled, nay he is bound, to weigh any policy which has caused such an agitation, and to remember, however misguided, indeed, however criminal the acts of some of these women have been, that women of hitherto blameless lives and high aspirations, have faced in this cause the greatest ignominy and the greatest suffering. It is, in fact, quite impossible to believe that ignominy and suffering has been faced except under the inspiration of what they believe to be the loftiest motive. I wish to say no more on that except to commend that to every ruler of this country and to bid him, if I may and if my voice should reach him, to think what an infinite public disaster it would be to range those who are naturally pacific, naturally gentle, and naturally the friends of all of us among the numerous dangerous forces of disorder, that at present exist. I trust I have given sufficient reason to justify my request to the Committee to vote for this in itself extremely modest Amendment. I have only tried to prove it is at least worthy of discussion. Surely every man who knows his own history upon this matter and who knows the history of the last forty years, can really say, and say with truth, the House of Commons would be exposing itself to the just contempt of those to whom it has given so many pledges if here and now it was to say this subject on which it has pronounced favourably so often is not even worthy of discussion at the present moment.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Harcourt)

I will not trespass at any undue length upon the attention of the Committee, partly because I have hardly a voice left to-day, and partly because our time on this matter is limited, and there are a large number of people who desire to speak upon it. I do not think our time is unduly limited, because I believe in the three days allotted to this subject all the arguments will be produced which are germane either to the advocacy of, or the opposition to, this tremendous and as I think revolutionary alteration in our electoral constitution. I am, of course, myself opposed to any form of Female Suffrage for Parliamentary elections, and I shall therefore vote against all the Amendments which appear upon the Paper. The omission of the word "male" has been commended to us on the ground that it is tire necessary preliminary to the consideration of the other proposals, and some of its protagonists I know assert that it can and will have no other effect, and that, if all the other Amendments are defeated, its omission would produce no effect upon our existing franchise. I know there are others who believe that the omission of the word "male" from a Bill in which it has been deliberately inserted would be an indication of the intention of Parliament to remove some of the present limitations on our electoral laws. Certainly, if the Courts of Law ever attempted to interpret the intentions of Parliament instead of looking merely at the words of the Act, they would be driven to the conclusion that the House had intended by omitting the word "male" and making no other qualification to enfranchise all women on the same terms as men.

I cannot admit with all respect that any obiter dictaof any Members of this House or even of the Chairman of Committees could be treated as instructions to the Courts as to how they were to interpret our Acts. If they were to attempt to interpret our meaning they would take no more notice of the expression of your preliminary opinion than they would of possibly equal authoritative opinions which might be given at a later stage. I, of course, am bound to notice in passing that there has been some sort of promise, I believe made by the Movers of this Amendment, that they would reinstate the word "male" if it were omitted, at some subsequent stage; but it is always possible they may lack the power, and, indeed, some of them may lack the will. For myself I treat this Amendment as one of the various forms of Adult Suffrage, and for that and other reasons I shall vote against them. I am not myself an admirer or supporter of the theory of mandates, believing that Members of this House ought to be representatives and not delegates, but I can say I have a quite clear and definite mandate on this matter. My Constituency knows that from the first time I stood for Parliament I have been wholly and resolutely opposed to Female Suffrage. My mandate goes further than that. At the election of January, 1910, when I was opposed by the hon. Member who now sits for the Altrincham Division (Mr. Kebty-Fletcher), who was then, and I am glad to say is still, as strong an opponent of Female Suffrage as myself—in fact, it was the only point on which we agreed—we had the advantage of a third candidate who stood specially and avowedly in the interest of Women Suffrage. The hon. Member for Altrincham and I, both being opposed to the women's vote, between us polled 11,800 and our suffragette opponent, who had the advantage of some Socialist support, polled exactly 639. I do not myself believe the result would be very different if any supporters of this Amendment were to seek the verdict of their constituents now upon this question alone. We saw what happened a few weeks ago to one of our colleagues, a modern Don Quixote, who tried a tourney with this windmill. I know how difficult it is to confine an election under modern conditions to a single issue, but after his defeat Mr. Lansbury, in an interview with the Press, quite frankly said, "But for votes for women I should have walked over my opponent."

I say I am not greatly attracted or attached to the theory of mandates, but I do think the enactment of Female Suffrage under the condition and by the machinery of the Parliament Act would be a grave blow to the future stability of that new, and, as I regard it, admirable Amendment to our constitutional procedure. The provisions of this Franchise Bill as it stands to-day—a single and simplified franchise, a shortened period of qualification with the abolition of the plural vote—have been the avowed and public policy of the Liberal party for the last twenty years, ever since the Newcastle programme, which in its time acquired some notoriety and popularity. The policy of this Bill has received the imprimaturof three successive General Elections, at which, I am sure, few, if any, of my Friends omitted it from their election addresses, and none of them I should think from their platform speeches. It seems to me in its present form a measure admirably fitted to the operation of the Parliament Act. But if this House were, without any public discussion, without any electoral authority, suddenly to introduce into this Bill a policy which few people believe commands any considerable amount of popular assent, I think they will be taking a course of action such as was never contemplated by the authors or supporters of the Parliament Act. Though I have as little affection for the Referendum as hon. Gentlemen opposite have to-day I am not sure that in the peculiar position of Female Suffrage, cutting as it does across the lines of ordinary party cleavage, it might not form the best and perhaps the only method by which the opinions of the electorate might be obtained on this policy. I do not suggest, no doubt I should be out of order if I attempted to do so, anything of the kind at this stage, nor do I think the advocates of Female Suffrage are much inclined to that method, and probably with good reason, for probably they have a shrewd suspicion, which I share, of what would be the result.

In 1907, during that Parliament in which there were a far larger number of people committed to Female Suffrage than there are in this House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer received a deputation which pressed this policy upon him, and in reply to them he said:— No Government could deal with such a gigantic question until it had been before the country in a definite and concrete form. My right hon. Friend has never attempted to give it that concrete form. His argument, strong as it was then, surely has redoubled force to-day after the introduction and passage of the Parliament Act. My right hon. Friend added: He could not conceive of a revolution of this character being introduced into our Constitution without the opinion of the country being asked upon it definitely. I hope that by his vote upon this Amendment he will assist in carrying out this constitutional conviction. About a year ago, he said:— There is only one way to get a mandate —each Member should get it from his own constituency. As I said just now, only one Member has tried it, and his example and experience afford no encouragement to others. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has used these words:— It can hardly be said that the Members of Parliament pledged to Female Suffrage had really consulted their constituents about it because it has never really been discussed by the electors in the way that previous extensions of the franchise had been debated. That is an admission by one of the leading advocates of Female Suffrage, that neither he nor his Friends have any mandate from the constituencies which would justify the addition of this proposal, under present circumstances, to the Bill which is before the Committee. As I said just now, I am against any form of Parliamentary Suffrage for women, both on the ground that it is bad for the State and bad for the women themselves. The foundation of this belief was admirably and moderately stated, many years ago, in a letter from Herbert Spencer to John Stuart Mill, in which the former said:— I hold the minds of men and women to be unlike, both quantitively and qualitatively. I believe the difference to result from a physiological necessity and that no amount of culture can obliterate it. And I believe, further, that the relative deficiency of the female mind is in just those most complex faculties, intellectual and moral, which have political action for their sphere. If this be true, and I believe it is, then it would be good neither for man nor for woman, nor for the State, to dilute the electorate with a possible majority of this element. A former distinguished Member of this House, Sir Edward Clarke, said:— Female Suffrage would lower the intellectual quality of the whole electorate; the new electorate would be less educated, more passionate and sentimental, and therefore less stable. I believe that would be the effect. Whilst I am opposed to Parliamentary Suffrage for women, I should like to add that I have always felt—and I see in it none of the inconsistency of which the right hon. Gentleman opposite spoke—that many of them are admirably fitted for the work of local administration, in which they share by the municipal vote that they enjoy; and I hope this House within the lifetime of the present Parliament will see its way to extend the numbers and powers of women in these affairs. I think it is a pity that they do not make more use of the local government votes which they now possess. I do not know why they do not stand oftener for local bodies, and why they are so seldom elected when they do so. It seems to me to indicate that the opinion of even a mixed electorate does not find them well qualified even for that amount of public life. The proposal before us really is one to enfranchise all women, the result of which has been roughly and accurately estimated to be an addition of 11,000,000 women to the register which by that time might possibly contain only 10,000,000 men. That is not denied.


That is not so.

2.0 P.M.


I quite understand what is in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, but the Amendment which is before the Committee must be read with the next proposal on the Paper. I regard it as a necessary part of that proposal, and I am dealing, of course, with the proposal as a whole, as I understood that we were to be allowed to treat this rather broadly. Adult Suffrage is in effect and in practice what the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary aims at, though he may for tactical reasons not think it wise at this moment to show his whole hand. He believes in the equality of the sexes; he admits no deficiency in the female mind. He is much too honest, therefore, really to disguise the end at which he aims. He has said:— He can see nothing but gain in the full participation of women in the franchise, but he admitted that Adult Suffrage at one stroke— These are his words— was more than the country would at present accept. And so, I dare say, we shall find the right hon. Gentleman opposite and himself clinging to the business end of the wedge, which is so dear to the heart of every timid reformer. Why these counsels of fear? The Foreign Secretary need not worry. He is not proposing to consult the country on this Amendment; he intends to use the Parliament Act in order to pass this proposal, which has never been before the electors. Here is his chance for the exhibition of real virtue and of giving a vote according to his conscience. A year ago he read with approval at a public meeting a letter of Lord Haldane's, in which the Lord Chancellor said:— How can we insist any longer upon a supposed natural disqualification of women For government? That seems to me to carry us to the logical corollary of their presence in this House and in this Debate. The Foreign Secretary said he "would not speak of that to-day." No, probably very wisely not, but he knows it is the essential proposal of to-morrow. I believe in Sweden its inevitability has been accepted. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Yes, why not? The Foreign Secretary has been for more than seven years in absolute control of the Foreign Office. Why, holding the views he does, has he not tried some experiments to convince us in the domain in which he reigns supreme? Why have we no women as ambassadors, as consuls, or even as Foreign Office clerks? They might have added to the gaiety of nations, but his courage seems to have failed when he came to the sticking point. Believing as I do that Women Suffrage is an evil, I must vote against it on all the Amendments which are designed to enact it, but I am bound to say that of the three methods now suggested, this and its supplement which follows next and couples it with Adult Suffrage, seems to be the only ones that combine justice and logic. The Chancellor of the Exchequer lately announced that he would only support the so-called Norwegian system. He wants in his own words, "a broad, democratic franchise for millions of women," but he proposes Adult Suffrage to men, and something much less than Adult Suffrage to women. This Amendment would enfranchise 11,000,000 of women. The Norwegian system would enfranchise only 7,000,000. The Chancellor of the Exchequer wants us to disenfranchise or to keep unenfranchised four or five millions of women. Why? Who are they? On the day on which the Insurance Bill became an Act of Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman made an eloquent speech upon this subject. He said:— Sickness and invalidity had been lifted into the sphere of law. Why should women cease to be interested in them when they go there? He said the Insurance Act affected 7,000,000 married women and 4,000,000 women workers. He professed his anxiety to consult the opinion of the 4,000,000 of working women, but he favours this proposal, which will give the opinion of only 7,000,000 out of the 11,000,000. Why does he exclude the remaining 4,000,000 of women workers? Surely not because they are mainly female domestic servants. He recently received a deputation of female domestic servants, and he said afterwards that— their observations were relevant, emphatic and sound. Why, then, does he wish to deprive them of the vote? Their interests have been "lifted into the sphere of law." He has not hesitated to take their three-pences. Does he fear to take their opinion? What becomes, then, of all this eloquence on the equality of the sexes? It reminds me of an old epigram, slightly altered, that if there is one thing worse than the cant of equality, it is the recant of equality. I desire to say, at this stage, for my own protection and justification, that if, during its passage, any lesser form of Female Suffrage be engrafted on this Bill, I shall feel that the whole principle has been surrendered, that the pass which my Friends and I are defending has been sold, and I shall hold myself free, and probably feel myself compelled, at some later stage, to recur to the proposal of Adult Suffrage and to the endeavour to enact that which, after the principle has been adopted, seems to me to be the only policy consistent with political honesty or public justice. It is no use hon. Members cringing and shrinking from the logical result of their actions; they have got now to face the music and accept the effect of their principles.

It is, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite reminded us, impossible, in considering the question at this time, to divorce our judgment entirely from the methods which have recently been adopted by those who are most clamorous for the vote. The attempt to burn my home—or, rather, the children's wing of my home—has not, I need not say, affected my mind or altered my opinion on the subject. The assumption, indeed, that arson is a substitute for argument is a poor proof of the judgment of those by whom it is made. I do not think that I have ever in my political life allowed the ill-judged violence of those with whom I may have been associated to deflect my support from causes in which I sincerely believed. But the adoption, and still more the approval, of methods of violence and crime by those who are demanding what they consider to be their rights, is at least an indication of the' type of mental balance we may expect from them if they are to become our electors. If it were a fact, or if it were generally believed that the attainment of the vote had been secured by these methods, then there would be a great temptation and encouragement to women in the future, even after they had obtained the vote, but found themselves in a minority on any public question, to revert to those methods which would seem to them to have been efficacious on a former occasion. Mr. Frederic Harrison has said that the recent manifestations of those who demand the vote testifies to an inherent unfitness of women to exercise political power. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary I know at one time took a very serious view of these manifestations. He has stated publicly that the basis of his support for the policy is that— the introduction of women's votes into politics will act as a humanising and civilising influence on public life. No wonder, then, that he stands aghast at broken windows, damaged letters, false fire alarms, cut telegraph wires, obstructed railway signals, at incendiarism and hatchets. These do not represent his idea of "humanity" or "civilisation." He has, indeed, frankly stated that the use of violent methods must paralyse the argument that, when women have votes, they will be an orderly and wholesome influence. He said more than that. He has said that he— cannot successfully advocate the vote when its demand is accompanied by acts of violence. And he added— it was repugnant to his feelings and waste of time to give active support to Female Suffrage. under these circumstances. The appetite seems to grow with eating. These acts have continued, and have increased in violence in the fourteen months which have elapsed since he uttered these lofty sentiments. On 30th November, 1911, he wrote:— It cannot be expected that people like myself, who are colleagues and friends of the Prime Minister, can give active support to any movement while some of its supporters make him the object of their demonstrations. They have never ceased to make him the object of their insults, but my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, having failed to quell the violence he deplored, will, I suppose, come here on Monday to palliate its commission by assisting its perpetrators. As I have already said, I am not inclined, myself, to put too high the argument founded upon the folly or criminality of their methods, though I do think it is germane to the wider consideration of the fitness of the sex for the new functions it is proposed to confer upon it, and of the mental and physiological effect upon them of a closer participation in political propaganda. Women have strong impulses and quick emotions, leading not infrequently to a want of proportion in judgment. It is not an uncommon experience that a generous impulse towards the redress of a supposed grievance creates a cruel wrong. Women are physically incapable of contributing to the naval, military or police defence of law and order. They are ill-suited, in my opinion, by temperament, by training or life, to the conduct of diplomacy or the solution of Imperial problems. I believe, therefore, that in a Sovereign State like this they would be a weakness rather than a strength as a governing factor in its administation. It is said by some that if women want the vote they must have it. I do not believe it is true that the majority of women want the vote. Even if they did, that would be a counsel of cowardice. There are many things, too, which men may want, but if we believe them to be bad for the State we do not give them merely because the man breaks our windows or our heads. If you are convinced that the claim is just, that the reward will be adequate, that the result will be beneficial, you will have a right to vote for it, if you think you have a mandate. But how many of you think all or any of these things? There are too many, I am afraid, in this House who think themselves tied by pledges which were extorted, not by reason, but by cajolery. Then I will put it those pledges were an expression of civility rather than of conviction. You wish, some of you, to make woman man's master rather than his mate. You may be right, but I am profoundly convinced that you are wrong, and I am sure that if you attain this end you will contribute neither to the happiness of the home nor to the safety of the country.


Those representatives of the London papers who have an admirable opportunity to know the feeling of Members of the House generally, tell us that the embarrassment of individual Members of Parliament at the present juncture is of a most serious kind. It is described as "chaos in the Commons." It is said that private Members are in a condition of "bewilderment," that the Government is "on the verge of disaster" and the country on the eve of a dissolution, and that the dilemma in which private Members are now placed is one unparalleled in the history of Parliament. The dilemma is that, probably for the first time within the Parliamentary lifetime of anyone here, we are called upon to give I our votes in respect of a measure of first class constitutional and political importance deprived of the accustomed guidance of the party whips—free to record outvote in accordance with our convictions or in accordance with any individual pledges which we may have given to our constituents. Long disuse of the exercise of free judgment has the result that when on this exceptional occasion we are called upon to exercise it we find that our faculties of free judgment are atrophied. At last our lips are unsealed, at last we may speak the truth, and we find that our powers of truthful utterance are paralysed by long disuse. Yet though there is no one to guide our faltering footsteps, it cannot be said that we lack unofficial advisers. Wherever one or two suffragist Members have been gathered together for the last three or four weeks, an anti-suffragist has been found in the midst of them, and while I profoundly respect the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Harcourt), much as I differ from, his conclusion, all that I would say for the moment about his arguments is that they are not the arguments which are addressed to hon. Members by the unofficial advisers who are endeavouring to make up our minds on this perplexing question. I hope before the Debate is over some Members on the Front Bench may answer these unofficial arguments and not confine their observations to discussions about the general merits of Women Suffrage.

What are the unofficial arguments which are addressed to us? In the first place, we were told, if you vote for these suffrage Amendments and they are carried, there are going to be resignations in the Ministry. Names were bandied about, and that story had a vogue that lasted for weeks and, I think, for months. It was finally set at rest by the explicit statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday that there was no truth whatever in that argument, which had been pressed upon us as a reason why we should record our votes in a particular way on this Division. Then when that was dropped, or when it was dying, before the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave it the final coup de grace,came up a fresh argument addressed to Liberal Members of the House of Commons. They said, "You know we have no mandate for Women Suffrage." I never in my short Parliamentary history have been able to discover a measure which, in the opinion of the Opposition, ever had a mandate. We know that the great election of 1906 was fought purely on Chinese slavery, according to the views of the Opposition, and gave Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Government no mandate to do anything whatever except possibly to remove the last of the Chinese, and when in this Session we have been dealing with measures like Home Rule and Welsh Disestablishment, it does not matter what the measure is, we always have the same observation from the Opposition—no mandate. Whatever may be the position about other Government measures, there can be no doubt that Women Suffrage stands in a better position, or in at least as good a position as any other Government measure with regard to this question of mandate. In the first place, it was so far back as 28th May, 1909, that the Prime Minister, in answer to a deputation of Liberal suffragists, informed them of the then intention of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Government to bring in an Electoral Reform Bill, and gave them a pledge that when the Bill was introduced it would be in such a form as to enable the House of Commons to freely decide this question of Women Suffrage upon merits. But in January, 1910, we had a General Election. Surely, if the doctrine of mandate applies to anything it applies to matters which are explicitly admitted by the leader of a party to be the intention of the party, if returned to power, to proceed with in the forthcoming Parliament. On the eve of the January election, 1910, speaking at the Albert Hall, the Prime Minister said:— Nearly two years ago I declared on behalf of the present Government that in the event, which we then contemplated, of our bringing in a Reform Bill, we should make the insertion of a suffragist Amendment an open question for the House of Commons to decide. Through no intention and no fault of ours that opportunity for raising the matter has been taken away. Our friends and fellow workers of the Women's Liberal Federation has asked me to say that my declaration given in the expiring Parliament will hold good in its successor, and that their cause, so far as the Government is concerned, shall be no worse off in the next Parliament than it would have been In the old one. I have no hesitation in acceding to that request. That was a declaration in the face of the country, made on the eve of a General Election, that if a Liberal Government were returned to power we were going to introduce a Franchise Bill upon such conditions and such terms as would enable the enfranchisement of the women of this country if the Members of the House of Commons were returned to the House at that period. But it does not stop there. The Parliament of 1910 came to an untimely conclusion, and in December, 1910, we again appealed to the country and again, upon the eve of an appeal to the country, the Prime Minister made a further public announcement with regard to this question. It was said by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Harcourt) that there had been very little evidence of public demand for this measure. In November, 1911, a committee waited upon the Prime Minister and presented to him a memorial showing, among other things, that in the last four months over 4,000 meetings had been held in the country upon this question, and on 22nd November, 1910, on the eve of the General Election, the Prime Minister said in this House:— The Government will, if they are still in power, give facilities in the next Parliament for effectively proceeding with a Bill, if so framed, as to permit of free Amendment. Let us be fair on this matter. Let us, at any rate, confess that if the Government has got a mandate for any measure, surely the argument that it has a mandate for a Franchise Bill which will enable women to be enfranchised in this Parliament stands, at least, in as strong a position as that in regard to any other measure. Let us further admit that it is quite clear that if we have no mandate for Women Suffrage, we have no mandate to bring in a Franchise Bill at all, because the Prime Minister has twice explicitly explained the kind of Franchise Bill for which he asked the approval of the electors of this country. It has recently been discovered by a Suffragist whose vacillations on this subject are somewhat puzzling—I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford—that, at any rate, the measure ought not to be brought within the provisions of the Parliament Act. I would like Liberals to consider what the meaning of that suggestion was. I thought the object of the Parliament Act was that a measure which had been initiated or adopted by a Liberal Government should, after two years' delay—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or proposed by a private Member."] It is sufficient for my purpose to say that measures of a Liberal Government after two years' delay should have the same opportunity as measures of a Conservative Government of passing through another House and being placed on the Statute Book. I do not know what limitation is now desired on that Statute. This is a measure for which we have the Prime-Minister's pledge that in the form it leaves the House of Commons it will be adopted as a Government measure. Therefore on those who argue that the Parliament Act is not to apply lies the duty of framing some distinction to show that not all Government measures are to be in the same position as Conservative measures, and that there is some undefined class of measures which a Liberal Government has no right to send up to the steps of the Throne at all.

I was rather surprised that at this hour of the controversy the Secretary for the Colonies should have brought up the old question of militancy. Really, whatever may be said about militancy, it does not become Members of this House to talk too much about it. I could not help looking to the sections opposite to which the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be addressing himself. We cannot conceive that the Nationalist party would refrain from casting their votes on behalf of any great measure of political enfranchisement they thought to be just because somebody had been breaking windows. That does not seem to be in accordance with the traditions of that party. On the other hand, what about the Gentlemen who are importing arms and ammunition wholesale across the Channel, and threatening civil war if they cannot have their own way in regard to a measure of political enfranchisement to be given to Ireland? Is it for them, while importing arms and ammunition, drilling, and threatening civil war, to say that the same thing does not apply to window-breaking; and that because some women break windows, women should have their whole political ambitions brought to nought? It has been hammered upon us that there would be great danger to Home Rule if Women Suffrage were allowed to become part of the Government programme. I do not myself understand—I never have understood — how the passing of this Franchise Bill, whatever it may contain, and destined as it is to pass into the cold storage of another Chamber for the next two years, can make much difference to anybody here for the two years in question. I will only say this to Members of the Nationalist party: I took my first interest in politics in 1885–6, and I have never varied in my unswerving support of the cause of Home Rule. I have the honour of representing a constituency where, when the great Liberal Unionist split took place, it was found impossible to make an impression on the Liberalism of Northampton.

Those who, like myself, have been consistent supporters of Home Rule for a quarter of a century, must inevitably look at Home Rule, as we look at other questions of policy, in the light of new political problems and new political principles which thrust themselves upon our attention. The denial of a measure of Women Suffrage does to my mind raise a doubt with regard to the policy of Home Rule. I have become accustomed, though with some surprise, to recognise the fact that there are a number of Members sitting on this side of the House, and sharing my views on many subjects, who on one great Liberal principle—the principle that we ought not to have taxation without representation—take an entirely different view from me when that is applied to women. They say "No, that only applies to men; you must not tax men without being represented, but by immemorial right and by considerations of utility we are quite prepared to deny to women representation while retaining the right of taxing them." On this ground the grant of Home Rule to Ireland without any grant of representation to women is going to carry my Liberal Friends a surprising stage further. What are you claiming to do under the Home Rule Bill? You are not merely claiming, for you have already claimed, that you are entitled to make penal laws, to imprison, to punish, and to forcibly feed, a million Irish women without their being represented in Parliament at all. That, to my mind, is a very large claim and one to which I cannot assent. Now you are claiming something much more. You are claiming the right to transfer a million Irish women, as though they were chattels, to the governance and dominion of another body of men to be taxed, imprisoned, and forcibly fed, without representation in this new body. I want to know where, in the history of Liberalism, or where, in the speeches of the great leaders of Liberalism, you get your warrant and right for handing over a million of unrepresented fellow citizens in that way?


The hon. Member askes what is the warrant for doing this. I think he will find in a Debate on the Home Rule Bill on the question of conferring the franchise on women, I pointed out—certainly it was pointed out—that on the establishment of all the free Parliaments throughout the Empire, in the first instance, the franchise was left to the people of the State where Parliaments were to be started. In Australia and so on the Parliament was established, and a short time afterwards it took the opportunity of conferring the franchise upon women. It was because I believe that that would happen that I approve of the action taken with regard to the Home Rule Bill. We believe in that case the course which I have described will be very probably followed by us.


I am obliged to the hon. Member, who knows that I do not make these observations with the slightest hostility to Home Rule. No doubt he has a full warrant by precedent, but I would ask my hon. Friend where do they find their warrant on principle? Another argument which is pressed before us is that we will embarrass the Government. We are told by the newspapers that it does not matter in the least what way our votes go. If this Resolution is lost, we are told by Government organs, that the Bill will be abandoned by the Government. With what truth or untruth that is said I know not. We are told that if one of the substantive Amendments is carried the position of the Prime Minister will become intolerable, and we ought not, as loyal supporters of the Prime Minister, allow him to be placed in a position of the kind. We are told that if the Grey Amendment is carried, and all the rest are lost, then, again, the Bill will be dropped. These are the darkening and dubious counsels showered on Members of this House to assist and guide us to exercise a free vote on this occasion. I recognise that the Prime Minister's pledge to the suffragists of this country, both in this House and outside it, has been fulfilled both in the letter and in the spirit. We are given precisely the opportunity which we were promised, a Franchise Bill capable of free amendment, and an opportunity to pronounce a free and unfettered judgment upon it. What I want to know is, Is the House going to take advantage of the opportunity which has been afforded by the Prime Minister of giving an honest opinion on the merits of this subject, or are we going to vote with regard to all the multifarious considerations which have been poured into our ears by opponents of the Bill?

I will tell you what we have a right to expect in this Debate. The last time the question of Women Suffrage came before the House was upon the proposed Women Suffrage Amendment of the Home Rule Bill. On that occasion the Chief Secretary for Ireland asked us not to press the question then because an opportunity quite free from any entanglement of Home Rule or from the crack of the party Whip would be given for us to decide one way or the other on the floor of the House of Commons questions connected with Women Suffrage. That statement was amplified by other speakers. The hon. Member for West Clare said that we shall have a free, full, and unfettered opportunity of getting the decision of the House of this question. The Leader of the Irish party had no hesitation in saying it would be a free vote, not in the sense that we are all free to argue on every kind of collateral reason, but a free vote on the merits of the general question. I am bound to say that to my mind the House of Commons is placed in a very difficult and embarrassing position to-day, because not only is it a fact that from the moment that this measure, on approaching Debate, began to be freely discussed in private and in the columns of the Press, every effort has been made to turn the minds of Members away from the merits of the general question to all these collateral questions, but now at the eleventh hour we have had a suggestion thrown out from the august authority of Mr. Speaker which in my judgment makes it impossible to suggest that the vote given in circumstances in which we are now discussing the matter is going to be a free and unfettered vote, as the Chief Secretary for Ireland said, free from any entanglement of Home Rule or anything else. We are asked now to vote upon this measure upon this footing, that if the Amendments are passed there is at least a possibility that it may lead to the necessity of losing the whole of the Franchise Bill and seriously interfering with the arrangements of the Government.

It is putting a very great strain upon party allegiance on this side of the House to ask Members to vote with a single eye on the merits of Women Suffrage upon this measure when they have it upon the august authority of Mr. Speaker that there is a doubt whether the vote so given might not produce a result entirely different from what hon. Members think. Therefore, even at this eleventh hour, I must say frankly what is in my mind with regard to this. I do not know whether it would be possible, but I could wish that at this eleventh hour it would be possible for the Mover of this Amendment to withdraw it on the understanding that a subsequent opportunity be given to raise this question of Women Suffrage in a manner in which a free and unfettered discussion would be possible. I emphatically say that that is not possible to-day. It is, is my judgment, doing a great injury to the cause of Women Suffrage that is should be discussed as it was discussed by the hon. and learned Member who moved this Amendment, and by the Secretary for the Colonies, upon the footing that what we are discussing is the merits of the general question, when everyone of us knows that the merits of the general question are the very last thing that will exercise and perplex the minds of hon. Members. The effect must be, whatever the result of this discussion may be, that a false impression will go out to the world at large as to the views of this House upon the question which we are supposed to discuss. It is unfortunate that there is no one in this House, or as I understand outside it, who has even a shred of authority to represent the views of the women in this matter. I speak, therefore, for myself alone when I say I believe that the women of this country would regard themselves as being fairly dealt with and would be satisfied if, having regard to the difficulty in which the pronouncement of Mr. Speaker has placed us, these Amendments would now be dropped, and we should be given an opportunity for full discussion on a subsequent Bill, even though that Bill could not be got through all its stages in time to take advantage of the Parliament Act.

It is not the immediate enfranchisement of women that women are asking for; what they ask for is some recognition of the principle that they ought to have representation in this House. I do not think, therefore, that it is a question of whether enfranchisement might be dealt with only after another election, or whether enfranchisement comes within this year or the next. That matter is not half so serious as is the question that the women of this country should be able to think that at least on one occasion their calls would be threshed out on the floor of the House of Commons, and a decision come to upon the merits of the question, and not upon any consideration of tactics. The late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, in the election of 1906, said, "the country is sick of tactics." I am quite sure that the women of the country are sicker of all the tactics, of which the newspapers have been so full during the last week, than were the people in 1906. It does seem to me that in this Debate Women Suffrage is a course nominally the question at issue, but the real questions that are at issue in this Debate are much more important and much more vital than the question of Women Suffrage. The first question that is at issue in this Debate is as to the reality of our representative Government at all. Our representative Government is based upon the supposition that the vote of a Member of Parliament means that, in the first place, he expresses his own conviction; and, in the second place, by our Constitution, that he represents the opinion of his constituents.

Here you have a measure which has commanded undeviating majorities in the House of Commons for the last twenty-five years, and women are waiting to see, now that at last an opportunity has come to give effect to the continuous vote of Members of the House of Commons, whether there is any meaning in this vote at all. The whole basis of the Parliament Act, the whole basis of the constitutional straggle in which we were engaged for two years, was this, that what the majority of this House of Commons decided, and decided on repeated occasions, after due intervals of time and reflection, must be taken to represent the deliberate opinion of this House, and should not be overruled. We have had this question of Women Suffrage affirmed by majorities no less than seven times within the last twenty-five years, and in the last four years by larger majorities than have attended any great measures of the Government. I say nothing about the general merits of the question, but I submit that the honour of Members of Parliament, and the reputation of Parliament itself, are at stake in regard to this question of Women Suffrage. If I am asked why I say that it is because throughout the length and breadth of this country it is repeated on every hand that Members are not going to give their vote according to their true belief and conviction on this subject, but that they are influenced by other and ulterior considerations. Unless we can persuade the women of this country that this matter has been decided on its merits, that they have had a fair and unprejudiced hearing, free from any entanglement, they will be justified in thinking that they have not been treated as they ought to be treated by the English House of Commons.


I do not propose to argue this question with any detail, as everyone who has taken the slightest interest in this question of Women "Suffrage must be tolerably familiar with ever}' argument used for and against. If I do not follow the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in the speech he has made, it is not from any discourtesy. I listened to his observations with great interest, an interest which was heightened because I was not quite sure what it was he really wanted. He said, "Let us have a clear-cut issue on which we are to vote." He will never get a clearer cut issue than that which is submitted to-day; he will never have a clearer cut issue than that which will be provided in the course of the Debate on the Women Franchise Amendments moved to this Bill. As a matter of fact, I suppose one's part in these Debates is almost unnecessary unless it be by argument to confirm oneself in one's own opinion, for I take it that every Member of the House has already settled what he is going to do when the question is put on Monday next. I agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, that to some of us the decision as to the course we shall take is difficult. He pointed out that it is not a party question, but a question in regard to which each Member has to settle for himself what he is going to do, and settle for himself the reasons which prompt him to do it. Anybody who is a staunch partisan can answer in one direction or the other, but I am bound to say, speaking for myself, that it seems especially difficult, because I find myself driven by force of circumstances, and because of the position I have long occupied, to take up a new course, sorely against my will.

For more than twenty years, and ever since I first came into this House, I have advocated the extension of the franchise to a certain section of women; I have advocated the principle of Women Suffrage; I have advocated the extension of the franchise to a limited number of women—what we call the Local Government Board franchise. I did that because I thought it was absurd to deny to educated women the power which you give to uneducated men. It seemed to me ridiculous to deny to the owner of property the vote that you give to those whom she employs. It seemed to me that at any rate that class of women had a claim to the vote which it was difficult to refuse. I believed that if you could draw a line where I wished to draw it, it could be drawn with tolerable finality. But I have been driven out of that position. The Debate that took place in 1910 upon the Conciliation Bill convinced me that it was absolutely impossible to draw the line where I had hoped it would be possible to draw it. I found that the intentions of those who supported that Bill as I did, differed very widely from my own. I found that they were only starting at the point where I had finished. In those circumstances I realised that the vote I gave for that Bill was the last vote I shall be able to give for the policy which I had hitherto advocated. I was convinced then, and I am convinced now, if you once set out upon a policy of giving votes to any women, you have got to face the ultimate extension of the franchise to all women. The speech which the Colonial Secretary delivered only confirmed me in the view I hold. He said:— I do not want to give the vote to any women; I am entirely opposed to extend the franchise to women at all; but if you once open the door, and if you once break down the wall that now excludes women from the franchise— then he, the strongest, bitterest opponent of women's franchise, says— I must, under those circumstances, reconsider the position, and then I shall advocate the extension of the franchise to all women. We may argue this way or that or search for means of escape here or there on the question, but every man who is going to vote upon this question has got to put to himself and has got to answer this: Are you prepared to see the franchise extended to all persons on terms of absolute equality without distinction of sex? say at once I am not; I never have been, and I am not now. I say that in justice to myself, though I do not suppose that anyone attaches undue importance to my opinion, but I have been reluctant to give a silent vote when I felt constrained to alter my opinion. I am told, why bother? Why not let the future look after itself? Why not merely be content to open the door, and give votes to a particular class of women? Why trouble about the future, let the future look after itself. That would be taking a leap in the dark, which I, for one, am not prepared to take. I do not believe, however narrow the franchise that may be introduced in consequence of the passage of the Amendment of my right hon. Friend, I do not believe, however narrow it may be at the start, that it is possible for you to restrict it within those limits. I suppose the Amendment which my right hon. Friend has moved is trembling in the balance. A vote here or a vote there may decide the issue this way or that. If that be so, I think a heavy responsibility rests upon those who, like myself, have felt themselves compelled to reconsider their attitude towards this question in the light of its ultimate development as well as in regard to its immediate consequences. No one likes responsibility of that kind; no one will undertake it lightly. Holding the opinions I do hold, feeling certain that the extension of the franchise to any women now must inevitably lead to the extension of the Franchise to all women at some future time, and, believing as I do that that would be bad for the women themselves, and bad for the State, I am driven, although I confess I shall do so with reluctance, to vote against the Amendment which has been moved.


This Debate has been a very interesting one, and I occupy, I think, a position not at all uncommon in the country at large, but really uncommon among those who take part in these Debates. I do not approach the subject with that intensity of feeling and almost frenzied zeal which marks the utterances of many speakers on one side or the other. There was, for instance, the Colonial Secretary who spoke just now about this matter with a feeling and bitterness which must have been trying to those who feel very strongly on the other side, but which, I confess, filled me with quite unspeakable amusement. I felt, indeed, that the Colonial Secretary was an apostle gone wrong, and if all this warmth of feeling were turned into happier channels it would have made him a great propagandist of religion, and that he might indeed have been a Peter the Hermit. Peter the Hermit might have been very much like the right hon. Gentleman except in costume and cleanliness of person. My feelings of joy in listening to the right hon. Gentleman were largely caused by the fact that he was making the most damaging speech to the Government which I suppose has ever been delivered by a Member of the Government. There is no public or constitutional question in regard to which similar statements have not been said with less bitterness but with equal conviction by right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. I felt quite at home with all he said about the Referendum and the improper use of the Parliament Act, and it was delicious to listen to.

The most amazing part of his speech was the extraordinary quarrel he appears to have with the female sex in general. He might have been recently spanked, and he feels so deeply and bitterly as never to have got over the indignity of having been born of woman. The indignation under which he laboured led him to make some very odd statements. He regarded this Amendment as virtually involving the question of Adult Suffrage, and he went on to say if Adult Suffrage were not carried, but some smaller form of Women Suffrage, he himself would be disposed to vote for Adult Suffrage. Is it credible that a right hon. Gentleman of his ability and position, if he were not almost out of his mind, should have used such an argument as that? Does he really suppose, or does anybody who knows anything about politics suppose, that a Minister in his position, a Member of the Government, could in a fit of temper force the House of Commons and the two Houses of Parliament to take Adult Suffrage, which neither the majority of this House nor of the other House wishes to take on its merits, and that he should force them to do it against their better judgment? Such threats as that are unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman and tend to lower the level of the discussion. It is certainly true that this is a matter involving a great deal of feeling, but it is also a matter which is susceptible of reasoning which need not be either of an irritating or passionate character. One could not help feeling what fun they must have had in the Cabinet lately, and the acidity of the right hon. Gentleman's references to the Foreign Secretary and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer must have made it quite necessary for the Prime Minister to arrange that they should sit on opposite sides of the table.

3.0 P.M.

I noticed, personally, that the right hon. Gentleman read out most of the elaborate epigrams which he uttered and which no doubt had been privately heard by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary, who, feeling that once was quite enough, retired to luncheon. For my part, I do not believe that this question involves the general relations of men and women. I do not understand what the right hon. Gentleman means when he tries to affirm that you must believe in the equality of the sexes or in any such vague general proposition before you can support Amendments such as we are likely to consider if this Amendment is carried. He quoted Herbert Spencer, who seems to have said that woman is qualitatively and quantitatively inferior to man. I never had a very high opinion of Herbert Spencer's writings, but a more meaningless or silly phrase if would be difficult to imagine. If it be true, to what ludicrous consequences you are reduced. You have to believe that Queen Elizabeth, for example, was qualitatively and quantitatively deficient in political ability. Does the Colonial Secretary really think that? Does he realy think that Queen Elizabeth was inferior in ability to some of the men whose ability he does not rate very highly—such, for instance, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Foreign Secretary? He would probably put Queen Elizabeth decidedly above either of them. It is perfectly clear that in a country where we allow women to ascend the throne, where only the other day we preferred that a woman should be Regent rather than any of the Princes of the Royal House, where we give to women the full right of serving upon municipal bodies and of voting at municipal elections, we cannot reasonably say that, they are half-sane people, incapable of political decision. That is really stating the argument in a form which does not do the anti-suffragist cause the credit that it deserves.

There is this general observation to be made about equality, whether it is equality of the sexes or equality of men. Equality is a sound political principle if you mean equality of treatment of various persons, that everybody should be equally treated by the law. It is a vital and essential principle so stated. But if you mean by equality, whether of men or of men and women, that all people are equally capable, you are manifestly talking nonsense. Such a principle is an absurdity. No two human beings are equal in capacity. Therefore to argue the question on the basis of absolute equality is not to take a serious or a philosophic line. I conceive that the true way to look at the right to vote is to look at it as a political function from which every one has a right to claim that he shall not be capriciously or maliciously excluded, but which fundamentally depends upon his being able to perform the function thrown upon him. I do not think you can say, as some 'suffragists say, that all persons have an inherent right to vote. If every human being has an inherent right to vote, by what right do we withhold it from the people of India, or of Africa, or of any other great Dependency? I think you must say that those have the right to vote who are capable of voting in the interests of the community and whose possession of the vote is in the public interest. People are only entitled to complain of being excluded from a right which they ought to enjoy if they are excluded capriciously or unreasonably. The question arises, are we excluding women from a public function which they might with advantage to the public exercise? It seems to me that you cannot really determine that unless you first decide in what the functions of-voting consists.

A great many people speak of the vote as if it were something tremendous, something which goes to the very bottom of political authority. That is a mistake. The function of voting is really a very simple and limited one. The voter has to choose between two or three names—three at the outside, generally two. Those two or three names are selected for him by those who are active politicians in the district. It may be said that as people generally are either Liberal or Conservative, the voter has all the choice he wants. But that is not theoretically or even actually true. The Labour party often point out, or I have seen it so stated, that it constantly happens that a Labour voter has to choose between two capitalist candidates. The fact that the voter has to choose, merely between two candidates immensely diminishes the real importance of -the act of voting. Anyone could see that if we were dealing with perfectly fresh ground. For example, if we were entering upon the question of Church Reform, and it was proposed to elect a bishop, if two candidates were elected by the clergy and the function of the laity was confined to choosing between those two candidates, everyone can see that the clergy would have a dominant voice in the election, and the laity only a subordinate voice. Yet that is the true relation between the party organisation and the active politicians on the one side and the voters at large on the other. The voters at large have a very simple task; everything it cut and dried ready for them; they have only to choose whether they would have Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones, who are submitted to them by the two parties contending at the election.

Therefore I find it difficult to believe that anyone who thinks that women are capable of any political function should really think that they are incapable of this political function. I can quite understand—though I do not myself quite hold the view—people saying that women ought not to have anything to do with politics at all. But surely we have gone far beyond the possibility of erecting such a barrier as that. My right hon. Friend dealt with that point, and I need not repeat what he said. It is manifest that women are already politicians. Those who are the least likely to be politicians are politicians, and whether they have the vote or not they are likely to go on being politicians. Women of great ability, like Mrs. Fawcett on the one side, and Mrs. Humphry Ward on the other, already exercise distinct political functions beside which the act of voting is insignificant. They are able to address great audiences and to move them to a degree compared with which the vote is unimportant. Therefore I cannot honestly think that it is possible to maintain the position that women should not take part in politics at all. At any rate, that is decided. I may be asked, "Why, if you think the vote relatively unimportant, do you think it worth while to agitate that women should have the vote?" For my part, I have never agitated for it in any vehement terms. I have always believed that the extreme suffragists both talk nonsense and do themselves harm by the extravagant language that they use on the subject. I include in that, not only the militant section, of whose actions we all disapprove, but even the more extreme of those who take the constitutional point of view. I am sure they overstate their case, and offend people by so doing, in representing that some tremendous change is going to be made by their having the vote. But when I am told that this is the beginning—this was the view taken by my hon. Friend (Mr. Forster)—that if you admit any class of women, even by the narrowest of these three Amendments, you must go on to enfranchise every woman, and perhaps—I do not think he said this, but it very often is said—you must also admit them to this House, I am obliged to ask how that fits in with the view, quite honestly and very strongly contended by many anti-suffragists, that the majority of women disapprove even of the most moderate extension of the franchise? It is surely plain that if a particular class of electors disapprove of a particular way of thinking, you do not make that way of thinking likely to prevail by enfranchising that particular class of electors. If they are against the emancipationist position, as it is called, if they disapprove of the militant position—and I have not the least doubt that the overwhelming majority of women do disapprove of it quite as strongly as, and perhaps more strongly than, men—what encouragement can you possibly give to an extreme position of that kind by enfranchising those who disapprove of it? Surely it is clear, so far from making it more likely that you will enlarge the political functions of women by enfranchising a certain number of women you will make it less likely. Certainly, if women are really opposed to their own enfranchisement, it would certainly do so. I think I hold a position rather between the two opinions. I think women think about the enfranchisement of women very much as men think about it. Some take one view, and some take another view. It is almost impossible to say on which side at any particular time the majority would go, but I am quite sure, however, it is equally as easy, as the phrase goes, to draw the line at any one point as the other. It may be—really I am not a judge—that the forces making for women's enfranchisement are so strong that you will be carried from point to point until the complete enfranchisement of women is carried. I really do not know, but I am quite sure if it is done it will be done by forces that will carry the first, as the subsequent stages. I am sure that the "thin end of the wedge argument" does not apply. It does not follow that you will have to give all the franchise; still less that you will have to give them membership of this House.

I do not myself object to their being members of this House on the ground that they are incapable of being members, or of not in any measure being capable of performing the functions of membership, which perhaps grow less important as time goes on. My objection to admitting women to this House has nothing whatever to do with arguments relating to the suffrage. I object to making this Assembly a mixed Assembly. I am sure it would alter its character. I am a Conservative, and as such I like the House of Commons as it is. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I wish it had a larger measure of self-respect than it has, and would resist indignities to which, in my view, it is exposed by the Government. Nevertheless, "with all its faults I love it still," and I shall be sorry to see its tone and atmosphere changed. All that, however, has nothing to do with the political capacity of women or the capacity of women to perform the very humble function of giving a vote. It merely depends upon the fact, which no one denies, that a mixed assembly of the sexes is always different from an assembly compounded of one sex. I very much regret that the political franchise has not been considered in the same spirit and determined in the same way as the municipal franchise was. I have never been able to follow those who say, as some very distinguished anti-suffragists say, that the municipal franchise stands in altogether a different position to the political franchise. It is quite true, of course, that municipal questions are much less important than Parliamentary questions—that matters, like whether the trams should be run by means of overhead wires or studs, or other way, are different to whether you should have Home Rule or Welsh Disestablishment. But in the matter of the capacity or fitness of the voter it is not really the importance of the issue that matters; it is a much more complicated and difficult thing. If a person is qualified to solve a complicated problem of minor importance he is also qualified to solve an equally complicated or perhaps simpler problem of much greater importance. The consequence is that the position does not make any difference to his fitness in coming to a decision.

I am afraid I have always found that municipal politics were at least as difficult to understand as Parliamentary politics. Sometimes it was the duty of a Member of Parliament to take part in London County Council elections. When it has been my duty to take part in such an election I have always found considerable difficulty in mastering the issues as between Moderate and Progressive. I am quite sure that any person, whether man or woman, who is competent to give an intelligent vote in a London County Council election on a municipal issue is also competent to give a vote in a Parliamentary election. It is quite true that it matters a great deal more whether or not the voter makes a mistake in a Parliamentary issue than in a municipal, but so far as the competence of the voter goes I cannot see that there is any difference in the one case to the other. I think that the question really of the municipalities is decided very reasonably and very quietly. I cannot help regretting that the Conservative Government of those days, when the late Lord Salisbury was Prime Minister and a supporter of Women Suffrage, and my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London was Leader of this House and also a supporter of Women Suffrage, that before passion arose some Bill, like the Conciliation Bill, was not passed into law. I believe people would have hardly noticed that it had passed into law. I believe it would have allayed bitterness, now unhappily with us, and so painfully displayed on the Treasury Bench to-day. We should have had a quieter House of Commons, and I dare say a quieter Cabinet at the present time.

Is it too late to resume that calm frame of mind and look on this question as being merely no very great change that will alter—the absurdity is too great for comment—the general relations of the sexes; as though the great forces of human passion, which religion and civilisation have struggled against for centuries, can be affected one way or another because women once in three or four years enter the polling booth and mark a voting paper? How can a position that is on the very surface penetrate into the very resources and sanctities of human beings? Let us rather discuss the matter merely as a political change. As such it seems to me reasonable, and in the true sense of the word, a conservative change; a change, that is to say, that will conciliate a body of opinion which is now uneasy, which will expose the country to no great risks, which will not alter the face—I do not say the face of social reform—that is obvious—but the face of our political life to any unreasonable degree. If you carry it, it will make the representation on an extended basis, but on substantially the same lines as heretofore, and such as to ensure in all its aspects a moderate conservative reform. As such I shall support it.


In making my maiden speech, may I say I believe I am the only Member in the House that has ever fought an election in which this question was the issue? That issue was not chosen by myself, but by my opponent, who left this House for the express purpose of asking the views of his constituency on the question of Women Suffrage. Let me read to the Committee the concluding paragraph of my opponent's address to the electors. He said:— If you agree with me, come and help me in what will be one of the historic fights of our time, and which, when we have won it, as win it we shall, will give each of us the satisfaction of knowing that we at least have done our part towards raising and ennobling womanhood and motherhood in our land. He advocated that policy on every platform, with the result which everybody knows. I, of course, am not prepared to say that I was content to narrow the issue to that particular question. I made my appeal to the electors on a variety of topics, and this I know, that since the election my opponent has slated, what the Colonial Secretary stated this afternoon, that had it not been for the question of the women vote he would have walked over me. I do not entirely endorse that view. I do not think the Committee will readily ask me to endorse that view, but I am persuaded that if Mr. Lansbury had made his appeal on some other ground he would certainly have had a better chance of success. Among the women of Bow and Bromley the cry of "Votes for Women," heard so often and known so well, brought no enthusiasm at all, and the men cared little or nothing about it. In one factory at Bow and Bromley, where between two and three hundred working girls were employed, they passed a reso- lution unanimously protesting against the vote for women. I do not attach much value to resolutions, but I mention this to the Committee this afternoon because the next resolution that was put to these young women, namely, that I was a fit and proper person to represent them in Parliament, was by no means carried unanimously. I may say that the emphatic result of that election made me modify the views I once held on this subject. I was at one time of opinion that the franchise might be granted to a limited number of women provided that the great majority of the women of the country desired and demanded it, but the uncompromising opposition which the advocate of that cause received on all sides in an ordinary working-class constituency made me clearly of opinion that the voice of women was absolutely against this proposal.

I desire to advance a few arguments against this Amendment. In the first place I ask, by whose authority is this great and momentous constitutional change to be made? The fact that the Cabinet is divided shows, to my mind, that there is absolutely no mandate for this proposal. I have not been long enough in this House to be accustomed to its forms and usages, but I have always been taught that before the House of Commons could make a Bill an Act of Parliament they must be sure that their proposal reflects the will of the people. We have obtained our power it is quite true with the vote of men, and with the modest exception to which I have alluded, there is no man on either side who has fought an election in which this was the dominant issue, and I go further and say, that in most cases in the election of December, 1910, this subject was never mentioned at all in election addresses. I think in these circumstances he would be a bold man who would get tip and say that this subject was prominently before the electors. In my opinion there are two grave reasons why the House should pause before it accepts this Amendment. The first has been mentioned this afternoon. This Amendment may have the effect of giving votes to women and by virtue of the Parliament Act it may become law before the electors have any chance of pronouncing against it. But there is a second and graver issue in my opinion, and that is that if we pass this legislation giving votes to women we are taking an irretrievable step. Hitherto it is always possible for those who make the laws to repeal them again, and to unmake them, provided the electors remain the same or substantially the same. The errors of one Parliament may be made right by another Parliament provided Parliament receives power from the same authority, but if you give votes to women you have closed that way of escape for ever, because after you have done so you are not going to appeal to the same electorate, but you are going to appeal to a different electorate, to a new electorate, and I say that women, once they get the vote and realise that they have the power, they would not give up that right and it might involve great danger to the Empire.

We have heard a great deal of the rights of women. They claim to be put on equal terms with men and recently they claimed admission to the legal profession. I have some sympathy with the argument generally adduced in favour of their claim to be admitted to the professions. That argument is generally put this way. If women are capable of the practice of a profession for the benefit of the public the public should not decline to use their services. If they are not so capable, there will be no demand for their services, and no harm can be done, because the public will not employ them. But that argument does not apply here at all. Once women have the vote, they can exercise it, and nothing will stop them from using it. There is another argument. Assuming that women want the vote, I ask what are they going to gain by it. I say absolutely nothing. The argument that they put forward is this: It is the only effective way to protect their own interests and that of the children. I submit that, having regard to the legislation which this House has passed during the last ten years, there is ample proof that this House has looked after the interests of the women and also of the children. I submit that Acts have been passed exclusively for women and other Acts have been passed in the interests of the children, and I submit that women and children alike have had the benefit of all Acts passed for the amelioration of the working classes.

I should like to summarise briefly the arguments I have endeavoured to put forward. The first is that this House, as at present constituted, has no absolute right to deal with this question at all; and the second is that there is no sufficient proof that the vast majority of women or any majority at all of the women of this country desires such a change. And, finally, I submit that having regard to the legislation which has been placed on Statute Book during the last ten years for the benefit of women and children, there is every reason to believe that they are and will be amply looked after, not only by Parliament but by the electorate from whom the House of Commons derives its powers and authority.


I am only going to intervene very briefly in this Debate. I do not propose to try and overcome the arguments which have been adduced by the supporters of this Amendment. I can only say that if anything I say has no more effect upon them than their arguments have upon me, it is not worth while attempting to convince them. I am opposed to this Amendment because it opens the door to the enfranchisement of women, which I think is a fundamental mistake, and which must inevitably lead to the two consequences of women sitting in this House and of women becoming members of the Government. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University referred to the point of women having no vote in this House. He said that he was against it, but that fear is in direct contradiction to the statement that the majority of women are against women having the vote. Does he mean by that reasoning that when Mr. Bradlaugh was returned for Northampton he represented a majority of the inhabitants of this country? Is that the basis of his reasoning? Does he mean to tell us that no individual can be returned for a constituency if there is not a majority in the country in favour of his views? I think it is perfectly possible that although the vast majority of women may object to be represented by their own sex, there may still be a few benighted constituencies where the male candidate is so unattractive to the electors that they would in desperation have recourse to choosing a woman representative.

The point I wish to deal with, however, is the question of there being a mandate for this Bill. The hon. Member for Northampton insisted that the Government had a mandate, and in the course of that contention he stated that the Prime Minister had told a deputation, in 1910 or 1911, that the extension of the franchise to women meant disaster to this country. How can the hon. Member contend that anything which the Prime Minister has said about giving facilities for introducing an Amendment of this kind was asking the country for a mandate to introduce it? I have had some personal experience of what the electors think of Women's Enfranchisement. At the last election, when I stood for my present Constituency, I was opposed by a very distinguished advocate of Women Suffrage. My majority was a small one of about 200 at the previous election, and I have no doubts as I had already voted against Women Suffrage in this House, that the advocates of that cause felt that if they could reduce my majority, which did not seem a very difficult thing to do, they would be able to claim some success for their cause. The Noble Lord who was my opponent was assisted by bands of his noble relatives. I do not include the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil), because I do not think he took any part in it, but my opponent was assisted by various relatives on this particular point, and he was also assisted by a band of women from the political organisation which exists solely to support this cause. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that these women held as many meetings as my opponent and myself put together. Their arguments did not influence the electorate in the least, and I was returned in spite of their opposition. I remember one of their arguments was what was the good of voting for me, because I did not know the difference between one end of a baby and the other. [An HON. MEMBER: "Was it true?"] I could not expect to rival my noble opponent in that knowledge, but fortunately my constituents did not think that anatomical knowledge was necessary.

It may be that Women Suffrage was not the issue at my election. We have heard a great deal about mandates, and upon every big Bill which has been introduced we have heard a most caustic and able speech from the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University and his Friends on the question of mandate, and I was really astonished that on a Bill of this character the Noble Lord should have forgotten to make any reference to that fact. My belief is that hon. Members who discuss mandate approach it from a totally wrong point of view. An elector may say that he likes speeches on subjects which please him the most, but what the elector votes upon will be those which interest him. You may talk about Armenia or Bulgaria, but if the electors know the candidate is a Free Trader and they are Free Traders, they will vote for him in preference to his opponent. The fact that the electors in my Division did not choose to make this question an issue at the last election shows in what contempt they held this subject. I do not mean that in an offensive way, but as regards its possibility in practical politics. I think that shows that they have not considered it as within the range of practical politics, and they did not consider it of pressing and urgent necessity. I maintain that if these Amendments are introduced you will not only be introducing a new element into the Constitution without consulting the electorate, but you will be doing what is worse, you will be destroying the vested interest of the present elector. There is a phrase used in the City called "watering a company's stock." In the City they occasionally consult the shareholders, but here you are proposing to diminish the value of the present vote by, it may be, 25 per cent, or 50 per cent., whichever this Committee chooses to adopt. You propose to diminish the value of their votes without consulting them. I believe, in spite of what is sometimes said, that the vote is really valued by the man who possesses it. That is the only time in the course of four or five years when the ordinary working man has any articulate voice in the management of his country. I think it would be a crime to deliberately weaken the powers of the present male electorate or to deprive them of the present value of their vote without even condescending to consult them.


I wish to support the Amendment which has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square (Mr. Alfred Lyttelton), because I believe that the present condition of the electoral franchise of this country is entirely indefensible. Out of 22,000,000 adult people in this country there are only 7,000,000 who have any voice in the government, and that is something which is entirely unjust and indefensible. Personally, I hope no Franchise Bill will be passed enfranchising a larger number of men unless it also includes women. To my mind there is no question whatever that the average woman, both mentally and morally, is as well qualified to exercise the right of voting as the average male elector. We know that at least in recent years we have done more justice to women in this House than was the habit in bygone generations. After all, there are questions in which women are keenly interested and which do not appeal equally to men, and that they therefore ought to have representation. I cannot understand Liberals going back upon the principle of taxation and representation going hand in hand. Women have to pay taxation equally with men, and they have to obey the laws equally with men. How can we, in justice, deny them the right to have an equal voice in the levying of the taxation and in the making of the laws? I believe it would raise the standard of public life in England were women admitted to the franchise.

I was amazed to listen to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary. I was surprised that any note of bitterness should creep into that speech, especially in his references to his colleagues in the Cabinet. I consider some of those remarks were unworthy of the Colonial Secretary. This subject ought to be approached on the ground of what is just to the women of England, and we should not be called upon to decide it in a fog, as it were. An hon. Member considered he was in an embarrassed position. I do not feel in an embarrassed position. The Bill is a Franchise Bill, and any extension or diminution in the number of Parliamentary electors that we choose to make, whether of men or women, is well within the scope of the Preamble. How on earth it comes to pass that Members of an all-powerful House of Commons have not the power and the right, within the scope of the Preamble, to mould and fashion the Bill either in the direction of extension or diminution I cannot conceive. Personally, I hope no Member will be led away to give his vote on this occasion by any fear of a political crisis. We are assured that no political crisis in the Cabinet will arise, whatever the decision of the House may be. But I do share the view of my hon. Friend that there is a grave doubt whether the decision given on Monday night will be a true reflection of the real opinion of the Members of this House. Personally, I could not for one moment decline to give women an equal right to vote with men. I do not believe in any sex inequality whatsoever. I am always delighted in my elections to have women to work for me, to canvass for me, and to address meetings for me. I get all the forces from their ranks I possibly can. How could I bring myself to insult them by saying they who do such magnificent work in furthering my political interests in an election are unworthy to have the right to vote?

We have given women the right to vote in local elections and the right to sit on various bodies of local administration. How can we consistently deny them the further right of having a voice in the government of their country, in the levying of the taxation they have to pay, and in the making of the laws they have to obey? I am amazed there should be the slightest doubt as to what will be the result of the Division on this question of at last admitting women to some fair and just share in the government of their country. I do not believe women would ever seek to return women as Members of the House of Commons. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I believe they have got too much sound judgment to think it would add to the dignity of women to be mixed up with such an assembly as the House of Commons. Women are entitled to have the Parliamentary franchise conferred upon them. I support it strongly, and my Division is at my back in supporting it. I presented in this House a petition signed by 7,600 men in the Barnsley Division in favour of Women Suffrage, and I believe the majority of women in the Division also desire it. It would be the greatest possible boon if the working women of England, the wife of every householder, had a voice in the government of the country. We are to have a great deal of social legislation in the near future, legislation, I hope, closely affecting the lives and the happiness and the well-being of the women and children of the country, and it is high time the women of England had a greater opportunity of exercising their influence through the ballot-box in moulding that legislation and shaping the destinies of their country. I cordially support the Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square.


I cannot rival the heroism with which the hon. Member who has just sat down has faced the abstract issue as to whether women should or should not have the vote. I propose to speak of that which affects my personal position, which, in a sense, is typical in a matter where we are all of us bound to think and vote for ourselves. I am going to vote for this Amendment and for every one of the Amendments which I think will I give effect to it, and I wish to explain and to justify the course I am taking. I do not think there is a popular demand for this proposal at all, and I am not sure there is a mandate, but I think there is a strong, a very strong, reason why we should vote in the sense in which I am going to vote myself, and, in saying that, I say a thing which is of extreme gravity to the party to which I belong. It is a party peculiarly closely bound in its discipline, and it is a party specially definite in the purpose for which it was returned to this House. We were all of us returned here to vote for Home Rule and to do everything we could in the interests of Home Rule, and nothing that could make against the interests of Home Rule; and, in a matter which, in my opinion, affects Home Rule, I am going, as I know, to vote against the majority of my party. If the party to which I belong had chosen to decide to treat this as so many other questions are decided, from a party point of view, we should all have voted together and have used our influence within that party to give effect to our own views. That course was not taken, and therefore I find myself left to use the best judgment that I have upon this matter, but I can hardly overstate to the House how grave it seems to me to separate myself in this matter from the majority of my colleagues and to oppose my individual judgment to the sagacity and experience of men whose sagacity and experience have been proved a hundred times, even during my brief experience of political life in this House.

If the question presented itself to me simply and solely as one of tactics, I should not venture to set my judgment against theirs. I cannot be surprised at the action of any one of my colleagues who, after a general support of votes for women, refuse to set his judgment against theirs, and, if it were only a matter of tactics I should not venture to do so, although I think upon the ground of tactics I can defend the course I am taking. I think if this Amendment and any one of the other Amendments go into the Bill, and go up to the House of Lords under the Parliament Act, every woman who is interested in politics throughout this country would be interested for the next two years and will be bound to work to keep the Government in office for these two years, and, on the other hand, if they are defeated, every politically-minded woman will be bound to work against the Government. That is a serious factor, and it weighs to some extent with me, but it is not, to my mind, seriously a matter of tactics. I am going to vote upon a conviction of justice, and that conviction does not concern itself solely with the abstract question whether women should have a vote or not. I hold a view upon that, and I do not know whether it is exactly the same view which is held by other Members of the House. I hold that it means a recognition of the change in the relative status of men and women. I am of opinion that that change has come and it ought to be recognised. It is not for the affirmation of that principle that I am going to vote. What I ask myself is: is it just, in these circumstances as they exist and in the face of the circumstances as they have been created by the action of the House of Commons to refuse to give votes to women now on the one and only practical opportunity which is open to us. What has been the record of this question? I believe that seven times this House of Commons has affirmed the principle that women ought to have votes, but whenever an opportunity came for putting that principle into practice they have refused to do it. What has been the consequence? The consequence has been, and is now, that we see violence and mob law taking the place of argument, and I say to myself and to my colleagues, is there not an analogy between the case of this movement and of our movement? Is there not, first of all, a tremendous claim for justice? Ireland, I think, has never thought that any consideration of expediency outweighs a claim for justice. Consider some other analogies. We have known, and when I say "we" how much more deeply have the men who have given their whole life to this movement known, what it is to be offered abstract support and the denial of abstract justice or real redress of grievances with expressions of sympathy. We in Ireland know what it is to find ourselves driven from argument to use violence when argument had fallen on deaf ears. We know what it is to be accused of hysteria, self-advertisement, and many other mean vices. We know what it is even now to dread that the refusal of redress may lead to some further violence which will do irretrievable damage to our cause. These surely are circumstances of sympathy, and I ask myself and I ask my fellow countrymen how should we in Ireland feel if we were treated as these women have been treated? I am going to vote in support of my own view that the cause of Ireland is the cause of justice, and I do not believe that any vote which is given on an assured and clear conviction of honour and justice will ever damage that cause.

4.0 P.M.


I confess that I was anxious to address a few remarks to the House on this most difficult question, from a point of view which, like that of the last speaker, is an individual one, but one which I personally feel very strongly. I am not one of those who are able to go the whole way with the Colonial Secretary on the one side or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, on the other. I am not one of those who believe that Women Suffrage is an axiom of political righteousness or that it will spell ruin to the modern State. I think, indeed, it is one of those questions, as indeed many great political questions are, in which the arguments on both sides are real and weighty and on which a man may very well hesitate to take up a position of absolute dogmatism, not from timidity or carelessness, but through a desire to be on certain ground and to be sure that what he will do will be for the benefit of the country. What are the facts behind this Bill? We have had a movement for thirty or forty years in favour of Women Suffrage, conducted largely by women of the highest character, of unselfish aim, and of real public spirit. Their interest in it has been intensified by the economic development of the last two generations, and no one who perceives that can speak in any other terms save those of honour and almost of reverence of that side of the movement. But we see that there are other women sharing those qualities to the full who are just as much opposed to this movement as the former are in favour of it. Unlike any other alteration of the franchise, those to "whom it is proposed to give the franchise are divided among themselves as to whether they want it or not. I remember when we were working to extend the franchise to the counties there was opposition to that, the sincere opposition of many classes, but I never heard of a meeting of agricultural labourers for the purpose of refusing it, or any meetings of artisans outside the towns in opposition to the franchise. You have this example of the division of opinion which marks this question of Women Suffrage, and while you have valuable light thrown upon it by the practice of some American States and still more by the practice of our own Colonies, these precedents cannot be held to be conclusive. If this proposal is adopted and is followed by the other Amendments, and the Bill is passed into law, you will for the first time in modern history found the Legislature of one of those great nations upon whom the peace of the world depends upon a different electoral basis from that which has been uniform up to the present. Why do I mention these obvious facts? Not because they lead me to say that therefore this proposal is on principle wrong, but because they lead me to ask a further question. When you have a proposal of this kind, with really strong, powerful arguments on both sides, does it not lead us, who are Members of the Legislature of a democracy, at once to ask the further question, Do the people of the country wish it? Are we not bound to ask whether the country itself is really behind this demand? Is anyone here really satisfied that the country is behind this demand, in the way in which it has been behind the great changes, for good or evil, that have been worked out in this House during the last century? My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. M'Curdy) referred to his own election. I am one of his constituents, and I think I proposed him on one of his nomination papers, and, if he will permit me, I shall do so as long as he stands for the constituency. I can assure him that his election had no connection with this question. He was returned, and he will be returned again if he stands, on his general political attitude with regard to the issues which are before the country. The same was true with regard to myself. I believe it is true wherever I have been able to test it. However anxious you are to get a pronouncement from the electorate either in favour of Women Suffrage or against it, it is impossible to do it at an ordinary General Election, when other issues are before the electorate. What does that mean? It means one of two things. First, that there must be a body of men in this House prepared to take the responsibility of Government, and who are prepared unitedly to stand or fall on the promotion or the rejection of a change of this kind, or you must have some other means of ascertaining the mind of the public. If you had such a body of men, they, being representatives and not delegates, would carry it out because it would be implied in the confidence which they received from the electors. It is notorious that on this question you have no such body of men, and that no Government can be formed in this country for which this would be the touchstone.

What is the position of one like myself who has not taken up an acutely dogmatic position on either side, who believes that before this movement can be justified it must have real support from the democracy, shown either in the shape of initiation by a Government which possesses the confidence of the House, or in some other way. What are we to do? The word "Referendum" has become somewhat threadbare in use in this House of late years, largely because it has been used oftenest as a method of getting rid of something which its advocate disliked, and often because it has been applied to measures and matters to which a Referendum cannot be applied. If you have a question that fulfils these three conditions; first, a matter of real importance and interest for the whole country; secondly, a matter upon which no Government can be formed in this House to support or reject; and, thirdly, the one basis of which admits of a perfectly clear, short answer to one question, then, and then only, as it appears to me, can the method of Referendum be appropriate to seek that knowledge of the public mind without which we shall all be misleading ourselves. I wish it were possible to have the opinion of adult men and women in this country on the one point as to whether the Parliamentary franchise should be restricted to men to the exclusion of women or not, for if the opinion of the country on that were ascertained without doubt, the degree to which the principle would be applied would be dealt with in this House according to those deep-seated differences of conviction and temperament which correspond roughly with the differences between the political parties. We should have the Noble Lord (Lord Hugh Cecil) minimising for all he was worth and we should have Members on this side, myself amongst them, determined to have a large measure of Women Suffrage if we had any at all. But in a position in which a subject of singular complexity, unique in its position, divides parties and men in the extraordinary way this does, and without any accurate knowledge of the real trend of opinion in the country, are we not justified in asking for some such method as that before we take so momentous a decision. Of course we all know to-day no such help can come. We have to vote upon this Amendment one way or other in the absence of that guidance. How then are we to vote? I should feel great hesitation in taking the responsibility for this great change without that help if it stood alone, but you cannot detach a vote on this Amendment and those that follow from the Parliamentary situation. You may wish to—I wish we could—but it is impossible to do it. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. Lyttelton) seemed to suggest once that some of us might vote for this Amendment, at any rate, all of us who did not take the view of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Harcourt) and not vote on the others. That would not be fair to the women who have led this agitation. It would be like the gentleman in George Eliot's novel who professed a general acquaintance with the Latin language but had insuperable difficulties about each particular word.

Therefore, what have we to face? We have first of all the conditions I have pub forward, and then we have further the Parliamentary situation at present. This is a proposed Amendment to a Bill which deals with other matters. I wish it did not. I wish even now the Government would see their way to proceed merely with matters dealing with plural voting and leave the rest aside. I am in favour of registration reform and an approach to Manhood Suffrage, but as long as there is any reasonable chance of getting the opinion of the country on the question of Women Suffrage I think Manhood Suffrage might reasonably wait until we have ascertained one way or the other. But in the position we are in we have to vote on this as an Amendment to a Bill which deals with other matters. We have also to vote upon it under the Parliament Act. The hon. Member (Mr. M'Curdy) seemed to think this coming under the Parliament Act was a most natural and obvious proceeding. I disagree. I supported the Parliament Bill in all its stages. No Member of the House was a stronger supporter of it than I was. But I understand the Parliament Act to be a necessary-means, in the view of its supporters, of passing into law measures which the majority of the House, under the guidance of the Government of the day, were prepared to put forward, and which were known by the electorate to be likely to be put forward at an election. That is not so here. We have had interminable Debates as to whether this or that matter were in the mind of the electorate, but who can say the question of deciding Women Suffrage in that way, and under the restrictions and conditions of that Act, was ever before the electorate in the way in which other matters were? Accordingly dealing with this issue as it arises to-day, dealing with it in this Parliamentary position, I cannot see my way to take the responsibility of making so great a change. What are we asked to do? We are asked to vote for this Amendment on Monday, and on Tuesday to vote for some of the others. We are asked to do many things. Those who ask us to make this momentous decision on a matter in regard to which those most affected hold divided views ask us to do it when there is no Government behind it, and when the country has not declared its mind. They ask us to do it on a Bill which raises other issues and discloses other lines of cleavage. They ask us to do it under cover of the Parliamentary Act, which hon. Members on neither side of the House, when it was passed, expected to be used for this purpose. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am only speaking my own opinion. I therefore decline, under these circumstances, to take so great a responsibility. If I interpret aright my duty to my Constituents and to the principles of procedure and constitutional Government in this House, I am not free to support this. I retain my absolute freedom on any future occasion, but here and now on this issue I shall vote against the Amendment. I believe the defeat of the Amendment on Monday will involve the least evils to this country, and will best advance the proper treatment of the most difficult of modern questions.


I should like to support the Amendment. The purpose of this Bill has not yet been explained. I submit that there is no desire for it in the constituencies so far as it relates to the extension of the franchise of males. I myself have passed through seven contested elections, and I have never once been asked a question about the extension of the franchise to men, but I have been appealed to strenuously in favour of supporting some measure of Female Suffrage. My conclusion therefore is that there is no desire on the part of the people for an extension of the franchise to males, while we all know there is a genuine desire for its being given to females. It seems to me that without this Amendment there is no justification for this measure. In the scheme of creation there were fashioned male and female, and this is but a continuation of that scheme. The Amendment adopts the broad principle that the female portion of the community ought not to be disqualified from the full rights of citizenship. Males have already been chosen to exercise those rights, and it is now suggested that a female vote should be fashioned to be a helpmeet, and to share the labours, and the pleasures, if any, of democracy. The Bill adopts the view of those who are opposed to the enfranchisement of women, and who think that all men are qualified, but that in no circumstances could a woman be allowed to exercise the vote without the risk of grave disaster to the State. In some places it is still held that neither men nor women should take any share in the administration of affairs, or in the selection of those by whom they are administered. That is perfectly reasonable, because in those countries there is not, on the part of those governed, a desire to take any share in the government.

In countries described by the adjective "western" and which implies progressive races, whose development during the last 300 years has been rapid and continuous, government is carried on by representatives elected by the people, and in most cases only male persons are called upon to select the representatives of the State. This Bill implies that the general progress of this country has now arrived at a point at which all males are fit to take part in that selection; but there are many who think that women also have arrived at that point. Those who object to this view appear to think that in that evolution, in that development of education, of thought, and of culture which has marked the career of men, women have not shared, and that they have not arrived at that degree of perfection, as men have, which fits them to take a minor part in administration by having a voice in the selection of those who represent them. This view is challenged by those who support this Amendment. Their contention is that some women are as fit, and more fit than men, or some men, to take a useful interest in the selection of those who are called upon to legislate for the welfare of their homes and families, and that the sisters and mothers of men, upon whom the character both mentally and physically and the development of men into useful citizens so largely depends, are fit to take an intelligent interest in selecting those who are to represent them. This Amendment adopts that view without details on the question of degree.

The advance of women is real and assured, and the contention that at this stage in the history of our country that no woman is fit to give a vote for a Parliamentary candidate is a slur upon that much vaunted progress which is at the same time the pride of our race and the wonder and envy of the civilised world. I think this dislike to the principles contained in this Bill is somewhat due to prejudice, and that prejudice has been engendered and increased by recent features of this controversy. I can only say that that is not a substantial prejudice. Certain actions of enthusiasts who have suffered much and long may have increased this prejudice, but those actions will only be a temporary feature. They will pass away. They cannot be adduced as a permanent argument that sex is a disqualification for the franchise. If this principle is a right one, no action of a few people could or should condemn them. There is no instance in history where a general desire for a vote in a civilised country has been expressed and where it has been refused. It has been said that the theory of democracy is a constitution which rests on the broadest basis, and that every vote given is for safety. There is ample evidence that in this country there is a desire on the part of a great number of the people, who have not got it, to have the vote and some of them are sufficiently organised and strong enough and able enough and in possession of enough funds to keep up a permanent state of dissatisfaction with the Government if what they demand is year after year denied them.

I submit that this desire is known, and that you ought not to ignore it, but to yield in some degree to a force, the strength and intensity of which is clearly to be seen and must be recognised. The advance of women physically as well as mentally is well known. To take one in-instance, I read in the newspapers of a contest between rifle teams, one male team and one female team; and I only mention that as against the argument that women do not fight, and therefore they ought not to vote. On the same argument it might be contended that no man ought to vote unless in some way he is eligible to fight under the colours. Look at the advance of women in the hunting field. Formerly an occasional woman was to be seen ambling along in her flowing skirt through rides and gates with a groom behind, but now she has dropped the skirt and rides astride, and to the disgust of a great many men, who would keep them from hunting as well as from voting, an army of them, compete with the thrusters for the foremost places. The trend of civilisation is to bring the sexes nearer together, and not to keep them asunder, and I submit that the desire to have some share in affairs by means of the vote, is a natural desire.

One of the strongest arguments against women voting that I have ever heard is that it is unnatural that women should vote, that it is against nature that they should take this small part in public affairs as we do. It is said that if you drive out nature with a pitchfork that it always returns, and I admit that if it were proved to be against nature that women should vote, that that would be a strong reason against their doing so; but, on the contrary, in nature, in the whole arrangement of living things on this planet, no account is taken of any difference between male and female having regard to the part which each has to take, whether in freedom or servitude. In the animal kingdom, or that part of it which helps to conduct commerce and industry; that part of it which helps to supply the food we eat, the houses we live in, and the means of moving about men and things, no question of sex is allowed to stand in the way of a full call upon the labour which the beast of burden is made to supply. The horse, the camel, the world over, all are mercilessly called upon, down to the humble jackass and the jenny, to take a full and equal share in bearing the burden of the world's hard toil. The same with those animals which contribute to the sports and the pleasures of mankind. I have in mind a famous pack of foxhounds, reverently known as the Quorn ladies, which under the guidance of a celebrated huntsman of blessed memory—


The hon. Gentleman is travelling rather far from the subject.


I was only endeavouring to show that in nature there is no difference between male and female in regard to the part which they are called upon to play in the world, and there is no difference between them in conducting the business of this country, and in providing for the needs and pleasures of men. That is my argument. The prejudices of one generation are often the accepted beliefs of the next. I may remind the House of the prejudice there was against the Grant of the vote to Roman Catholics, while any opposition to a proposal of that kind now would be inconceivable. I am inclined to think that in a very short time the opposition to votes for women will be regarded as in the same category as votes for Roman Catholics. If it is accepted now, we shall no doubt in the future wonder how we were ever so intolerant as to have ever opposed it. It has been said that if the principle of this Amendment were accepted, that we should be the only one of the old countries in the world to have adopted it. I do not think that that can be used as a substantial argument against the proposition. There are many other systems, some of vast fiscal importance, which this country is the only country in the world to adopt. Besides I believe it is held, and rightly held, that our system of government is taken as the model of all new and progressive countries, and that this Parliament is the parent of free institutions, all over the world. I can only hope, and I feel that in this hope I shall have the sympathy of the House, that as in the past this country may continue to b3 the pioneer in the direction of tolerance and progress, and that to lead, and not to follow, may be the part of England still.


I do not propose to follow my hon. Friend into the field of animated nature. We are discussing a political question and political institutions, and I do not think we shall derive great aid from the analogies he sought to draw. I confess, for my part, there is no question which comes before us for Parliamentary debate in which I am so reluctant to take a part as in this question of Women Suffrage. It is not that my views are not perfectly clear and distinct. I do not know that it is a great virtue to be consistent. I think that often too much is made of mere consistency when a man has entered politics young and lived to serve long in this House or in the political world. From the first I have been of the same view on this question, and there is some comfort in that because, as hon. Members know, once you have made up your own mind you are very much less troubled by your constituents than when they think you are still in doubt. Such further experience as I have gained, and such further thought as I have given to the subject, has only tended to confirm the view with which I originally started on my political life. It is not then because of lack of a clearness of my convictions that I find a difficulty in speaking on this question, but because there is, and I think there must always be, at the back of the minds of all of us a good deal which is very hard to speak of at all in public, and a good deal which goes so deep down into the roots of our dearest feelings, that we are reluctant to make it the subject of public discussion, argument, and dispute. I admit, further, that the circumstances of the present agitation add to my difficulty I find it difficult to choose language which without unnecessarily irritating the supporters of the movement shall condemn the manifestations to which it has given rise, and which, as it seems to me, are not an unnatural result of women being thrust too prominently into the arena of politics and into all the responsibilities and excitement to which they are there exposed. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Lyttelton) expressly deplored the outrages to which the movement has given rise. I need scarcely say, and I am sure he and those who agree with him will believe me, that I and others who are opposed to Women Suffrage are as much outraged and revolted by the brutality which in some instances it has called forth in men as by the outrages of which the women themselves have been guilty. Indeed, as I think must always be the ease, if we are perhaps more shocked when women take to violence, we are more outraged in our own dignity as men when men forget their manhood and consent to any form of brutal retaliation. I deplore these outrages on either side; no words can be strong enough to condemn them. But I confess I should have liked to have heard in this Debate from supporters of the Women Suffrage movement something more than condemnation of the outrages. I think we all owe some testimony of our sympathy to Members of the Government who have been exposed, not in their own person alone, but in the person of those who are dearer to them than themselves, to persecution and even to outrage because of their attitude on a great public question. Happily, there never has been a time, and I think there never will be, in this country, when men will not be found to do their duty as they see it, fearless of the consequences to themselves. For my part, at any rate, I desire to express publicly to the Ministers who have been the victims of this persecution my sympathy with them in all that they have had to undergo, and my admiration for the firmness and constancy of purpose which they have shown.

I turn from that unpleasant aspect of the question to consider the reasons which are alleged for the change now proposed. No one can have listened to the Debate without having observed how diverse are those reasons and how very different are the objects which the different speakers supporting the Amendment have in view. To the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) this is the most trifling and the most finicking of matters. He feels that the giving of a vote is of so little consequence, and has so little consequence either for the voter himself or for anyone else, that he is amazed at any of the opponents feeling so strongly about the question. I cannot take his humble view about the matter we are considering. Nor is it taken by the majority of those who support the Amendment. Contrast the announcement of the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Gwynn) with that of the Noble Lord. The Noble Lord says that it is inconceivable that anyone should suppose that this proposal can bring about any great social change. The hon. Member for Galway supports it because he believes it will bring about a revolution in the social status of women. So discordant are the objects, so contradictory the beliefs of those who are gathered together under the single umbrella of my right hon. Friend! I believe with the hon. Member for Galway that this is no less than a social revolution—a political revolution in the first place, and a social revolution in the second. A political revolution is not a thing lightly to be undertaken; a social revolution is a thing to be even more materially considered. The effects of a mere political change it is often difficult to anticipate; the effects of a social revolution it is far more difficult to foresee. A reversal of a great political change is never easy: a reversal of a great social change is never possible. If there be doubt in the mind of any man as to the distance to travel and as to the extent of the change involved in this movement, surely it is a part of wisdom and a part of caution for such a man to act as Mr. Speaker acts, when he gives a casting vote, to give his vote in such a way as will not now settle the question, but will leave it open for more mature and more careful reflection in the future?

It is urged that women already, not merely with the assent of men, but at the invitation of men, take so large a part in our public life that it is wholly illogical to refuse them the vote. That argument does not appear to me to be convincing. It is quite true that picked ladies have been asked to serve upon Commissions— [An HON. MEMBER: "Picked men, too."] I admit that I used an adjective that was perhaps natural, but let me begin my sentence again. It is quite true that ladies have been asked to serve upon Royal Commissions. It is quite true that they have served, and do serve with admirable results—when they are the right Ladies! not always—on local bodies. It is quite true that in a great deal of our legislation that we are anxious to consult well-informed women, and that we are largely guided by the information that we receive from them and by the views that they take. I hope that that state of things may long continue. But from that ground to the Parliamentary franchise and all it involves is a step that it seems to me no argument from the supporters of this measure can bridge. There is great scope for the activities of women in local administration. I regret that they have not taken more advantage of the opportunities afforded them of the great work which in many other spheres cannot be done satisfactorily except by women, and cannot be attempted by men, or only by a few exceptional men, with anything like the success which attend the efforts of women. That docs not mean to say that because there is this administrative work in local assemblies which requires the assistance of women or because all of us are glad to have the advice and to hear the opinion of women upon so many social questions that therefore it is desirable that women should be admitted on the same footing as men to all public rights; that they ought to vote in our elections to the Imperial Parliament; that they should decide the course of our Imperial policy. There has been constant reference to the word "equality" in these Debates on one side or the other, but generally on the side of the advocates of the extension of the suffrage to women. To my mind this is not a question of equality. We may dispute as to the equality of men and women forever. In some things they are equal; in some things they are unequal; in some things woman is superior; in some things man is superior. For political functions it is not a question of the equality of men or women, but it is the question of the suitability of the peculiar quality of the two sexes for the exercise of special and particular functions, and in my opinion, if I can put it without unnecessary offence, the qualities of women and some of the greatest qualities of women are great political virtues; they are not qualities by which we desire to be governed. They are not the qualities which lead to the establishment and maintenance of good government. I heard a statement in the course of the Debate that the admission of women to the Parliamentary franchise would raise the character of our whole public life. There is much dispute as to the exact effect which the admission of women has had in other countries.


Where1? Is it in New Zealand or Australia or Sweden?


In other countries. I do not confine myself to New Zealand or Australia. I do not know anything about Sweden, but taking certain States of the United States, or taking Australia or New Zealand, there is much dispute as to what exactly is being achieved or what has been the result of the admission of women; but I do not believe that anywhere it is claimed that there has been any marked improvement in public life in consequence of their admission, or any marked change in the character of the representation, or any such exclusion of undesirable persons from the public life as the hon. Member who used that argument seemed to anticipate. And I do not believe it would follow here. What I do feel is that, as I say, the quality which women would bring to their political actions as to every other are not those which are most required at any time in any country, and are especially not those most required at this time in this country by the State in order to render its Government a good and satisfactory Government. Women have great capacity for self-sacrifice, sometimes too great a capacity for self-sacrifice. They are, taken as a whole, more sentimental than men. They are more rigid in decision and less willing to accept compromise. Half the wisdom of quality lies in judicial compromise. It is in the readiness to make a compromise and to judge, not only in the abstract, but in view of the immediate circumstances of the moment that true political wisdom lies, and that kind of wisdom is more readily and widely found among men than among women. In making a comparison of that kind we are asked by the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University, as he asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies, whether he really thought that Queen Elizabeth was less fitted to judge of these political questions than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What is the good of a personal comparison of that kind? I might reply without wishing to be disrespectful, that I think Lord Burleigh's judgment was better than the Queen's, and I would sooner have trusted Lord Burleigh, without Queen Elizabeth, than Queen Elizabeth without Lord Burleigh. We are not going to decide a question of this kind by picking out one of the great figures in one sex and contrasting it on the other side with one of the rank and file or similar figures on the other side. That does not help any one. You have got to treat this question on broad lines, and in my opinion, mentally, physiologically, and physically, there is a real differentiation of function in these matters between men and women which the law did not create, which the law cannot remedy, and which we have got to reckon with. It is not a question with me of a little more or a little less. I am an opponent of the admission of women to the franchise, and it does not reconcile my opposition in the least to be told that this Amendment is such a little one. My right hon. Friend, the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, with less than his usual candour, said that all he asked by his Amendment was that the House should declare that the question was worthy of discussion. If that is all my right hon. Friend asks it is not all that the Committee would do by passing this Amendment. We have discussed this question before this Session, and we can discuss it again, but if any hon. Member is tempted to support this Amendment to prolong the discussion in the hope that we shall reach the different Amendments in turn and defeat Women Suffrage in the end then I ask even my right hon. Friend himself whether he does not think that that is a course which would be most provocative to the advocates of Women Suffrage. I want the Committee to consider what we are going to do next? There are some who are tempted to see in the conciliation Amendment some new property vote, but do they think that any solution of that kind would remain for a moment. There are a good many hon. Members who are prepared to support the 6,000,000 or 7,000,000 Amendment, but who are not prepared to support Adult Suffrage. On what ground do they or my hon. Friends draw the distinction? As I understand it, the claim of women to the vote is based upon this: the male voters do not represent them and cannot represent them; they have not the knowledge of woman's mind, of woman's need, and of woman's necessities, and therefore you must admit women to the vote. If that is so, you must admit all women at least on the terms on which you admit all men. That argument is good, not for the conciliation Amendment, but for the Adult Suffrage Bill. It goes further, because, if a male voter cannot represent a woman, how can a male representative in Parliament represent women? If women must be present to put in their own way their own views and to represent their own interests, if as the hon. Member for Barnsley (Sir J. Walton) said just now women are to be called upon to mould social legislation which does indeed affect them, and our children so intimately, they cannot do so by putting a vote in the ballot-box; they must come here to mould legislation. They can settle the great principle one way or the other. They can declare, for instance, they will have Home Rule, or that they will not have Home Rule, and they can declare they will have Tariff Reform or that they will not have Tariff Reform. They cannot, however, mould either a Home Rule, or a Tariff Reform Bill by voting; they can only do that by being represented here, and, if they cannot be represented by men in the polling station, they cannot be represented by men here in this House.

My right hon. Friend (Mr. A. Lyttelton) put a challenge to those of us who are opposed to Women Suffrage. I am going to put a challenge to him and those who speak in support of Women Suffrage. Perhaps, first, I ought to answer his challenge. My right hon. Friend alluded to the part which ladies have played in the election of nearly every man who sits in this House. He asked us to say whether any of us had discouraged it. If he means, "Have we refused the help of women when it was offered," speaking at least for myself, "Certainly not." They have given me most valuable assistance. They have given it, I hope, fully understanding—it is not my fault if they did not—what my views on this question were. But I still say, like my right hon. Friend, I regret women have been already drawn so far into our political strife. I would have much preferred it, had it been possible by common consent of both sides, to leave their interest as it used to be, a very keen intellectual interest, and a very effective influence upon politics, without calling upon them to take part in the work of canvassing or of organising or of speech making. That is not possible. It is not possible for any of us. When, on the one side, a large body of women are banded together to use their influence with women, and through these women with the men voters, the other side is forced to have recourse to the same organisation, and I think it would be ungrateful if, recognising that, we said anything to discourage those to whom we are indebted for that help. Now I put my challenge to the other side. There are very many men on both sides of the House who say they are in favour of a moderate extension of the suffrage to women, but not of an extension of the suffrage to women on the same lines as those upon which they will extend the suffrage to men. There are other men who say they are in favour of some extension of the suffrage to women, but are not in favour of allowing women to sit in this House or in the Cabinet or to take part in the Government. I asked this question once before in these Debates, and I got no answer, and I ask it again. Is there any argument which supports them in going so far as they are going which is not equally good for those who wish to go further? Is there any argument which differentiates between the right to sit and the right to vote? Is there any argument which, granting the basis on which the suffrage now exists, or on the new basis on which the Bill proposes to place it, which is good for the admission of a million women which is not good for the admission of eleven million women?


Would not the same argument apply to giving a limited franchise to men?


No, I do not think it would. For the present you are enfranchising so many men and under such circumstances, as the Conciliation Bill, for instance, you propose to enfranchise women, and it might be perfectly logical for a supporter of that Bill to say, "We want to put women in exactly the same position as men, and we do not intend to give a vote to another man beyond those already on the register." If you break down the barrier of sex, which the hon. Member who preceded me says is the object of the Amendment, are you then going to raise a somewhat artificial barrier, and to say that women are not disqualified from voting, but they are not to be qualified on the same terms as men? Why, if you give a vote to a million, shall you say that six million shall not have a vote? My argument is that you may refuse votes to women altogether, because you do not think they should be admitted, but you cannot pick out a small body of women and create a franchise specially for them and maintain that against a claim that once you have admitted women to the suffrage they shall have the same rights as men, and have them on equal terms.

5.0 P.M.

I desire to make an appeal, and especially to the Members of my own party, but not to them alone. I must say that I think the circumstances under which we are called upon to discuss this question are singularly unfortunate to everybody, and singularly unfair alike to the supporters and opponents of the cause of Women Suffrage. It is brought in at the very fag-end of a Session in connection with another Bill of enormous magnitude, and no one can divest his mind of thoughts as to the effect of this Bill upon the general policy of the Government and the effect of a vote which he may give one way or the other upon the women's question. It seems to me that the question of Women Suffrage is too big, too vital, that the convictions on both sides are too profound, too strongly held, to admit of any question of tactics entering into the votes of Members. I urgently appeal without knowing what the result is going to be, generally, to Members to vote upon this question on the merits and not from tactical considerations. In the merits I do include the question whether, even if it be right to extend the suffrage to women, it is right to do it in the way and under the conditions which are now proposed. It is raised on a Bill subjected to a severe guillotine, in order that the Bill may have the advantage of the Parliament Act. I first ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, who have in mind the declarations of the Prime Minister when he passed the Parliament Act, is it consistent with their honour—for those declarations were made in their name, and not one of them protested against them—that they should take advantage of the Parliament Act, which, in the words of the Prime Minister, was only to be used to carry measures clearly demanded by the public, supported by a stable public opinion, and on which the mind of the country is absolutely made up; is it consistent with their honour to take advantage of the Parliament Act to pass a Bill on which no man can pretend that the country has ever pronounced a clear verdict? I say to my own Friends on this side of the Committee that we have again and again this Session attacked the Government for carrying Bills for which they have no mandate, and we have, above all, attacked them for using the Parliament Act to force those measures through. We did, indeed, warn the House that that would be the use which would be made of the Parliament Act. Are we now going to help to make true our own worst forebodings; and if we know there are some of us who, because this particular proposal is one of which we approve, are ready to forward it by all the means we denounce when employed by hon. Gentlemen opposite for measures of which we do not approve, with what face shall we carry on our campaign, with what consistency shall we go to the electors?

I hold that the passage of Women Suffrage would be a great misfortune for women, and a great misfortune for the State. I hold that to pass it in the utter absence of any indication—and I speak with moderation when I merely say in the absence of any indication—that the country approves of it, when not more than three elections in our history have ever had a candidate who stood upon that question to the exclusion of all others, and when not one of those candidates has been returned—to pass the measure in these circumstances, to pass it by means of the Parliament Act, to pass it at the fag-end of a Session which has lasted more than a year, is really to bring the House of Commons to the last stage of contempt, to destroy all its title to be considered a representative body, and, I think, to destroy its title to be called a deliberative Assembly. I appeal to hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee, whatever their views. This is a big question. We all know it. It is not a question of a little step which will go no further. People very often laugh at what they call the thin end of the wedge argument. But those who use it are generally right. Once you have driven the wedge in, subsequent legislation drives it further. It may be that the forebodings that opponents have are not fulfilled. It may be that they are wrong in that respect, but they are generally right, that the first step leads to taking one step, that the second step is bigger than the first, and the third is bigger than the second. It is a real and solemn responsibility which we have upon us now, though I, no more than the right hon. Gentleman opposite, am a stickler for the doctrine of mandate, though I would not push that doctrine to excess, and though I value the distinction which makes us representatives and not delegates, though there are limits to the powers that we have a right to exercise under the name of representatives, and though we have no right whatever to make a momentous change of this kind, when not one man, whatever his views, in any part of the House can pretend that the opinion of the country has ever been taken, or is now at all clear as to the results of what the Bill would be.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman will acquit me, at any rate, of any likelihood of sympathising with the outrageous outbursts of criminality directed at individual Ministers, which have gone so far perhaps as to threaten the lives of close relations of my own. I regard them with horror and disgust, but though my right hon. Friend (Mr. L. Harcourt) is well entitled to draw a different conclusion, the earliest recollection of my life, on my fourth birthday, was the Phoenix Park murders, and I intend to vote for this Amendment as I have voted for Home Rule. I intend to do that, I hope, in all seriousness, firstly, because as an individual expressing a personal judgment, that is the only way in which I can consistently record my vote; and, secondly, because, as an atom in this House, whose Parliamentary life it has been for the last four years to watch one crisis shading into another, I have been led to believe that the main character of apparent insolubility is to hasten solution, and that an irresistible force meeting an immovable body, shall I say the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, will sooner or later propose that they should go into the conference room. I think I may say that the whole recent history of the suffrage agitation positively reeks with compromise. Suffragists, more particularly suffragists who make the fullest theoretical claim of absolute sex equality, are untiringly ingenious in devising compromise. But I feel bound to declare my opinion, even if it tell against my argument, that the mere attainment of a modus vivendiamongst individual suffragists, an ingenious log-rolling agreement, by which Conservative suffragists and Liberal suffragists, and even Irish suffragists, will vote together in the same Lobby is not in the true sense of the word a compromise at all. Compromise in this matter in my view is not to be confined exclusively to those who accept the principle. Compromise, if it is to be of any practical service surely means compromise between those who desire and those who do not desire the extension of the Parliamentary franchise to women.

Real compromise is to be sought, and I think it can be attained by endeavouring to find an agreement as to the class of subjects which women should vote upon. On one point we have reached an agreement which is absolutely universal. There is no anti-suffragist who does not agree that women should vote. That sounds a paradox, but it is, of course, a platitude. The anti-suffragist is a sincere, perhaps his opponents are inclined to think rather a self-conscious advocate of the existing female vote for the local government bodies. From a historic anti-suffrage point of view that appears to me to represent a genuine concession. In the rather ineffectual and superficial Debate on Mr. John Stuart Mill's amendment in 1867, you will find a gentleman laying down as an absolutely self-evident proposition that a woman could not without sacrifice of her dignity and modesty enter a polling booth and rub shoulders with men, and that it would be necessary in their view to provide separate booths or to take her vote in the safe seclusion of her kitchen or drawing-room. That position has been captured and that defence has fallen. Women vote. They do not vote by proxy. They do not vote by post or slip into compartments tastefully upholstered in Liberty silk and presided over by a woman. At the forthcoming county council elections women will vote on the same subjects and in the same manner, though not in the same numbers, as qualified men. With regard to the subject matter of elections which is the point to which I desire to address myself. Is it seriously maintained that persons who are capable of deciding on the principle of Poor Law relief, as carried out in actual administration, are not to be held capable of voting on Bills providing that the principle shall be changed or the administrative body reconstituted? Is it suggested that the purely administrative functions of children's care committees, of juvenile advisory committees and school-feeding centres are inferior to questions relating to Labour Exchanges or even to Education Bills?

I say that you cannot admit, as you have admitted, the local administrative vote and refuse the local legislative vote. Of course, you may say there is no such thing as the local legislative vote. The vote surveys mankind, not merely from St. George's, Hanover Square to Rossendale, but "surveys mankind from China to Peru." It might check the advance of Bulgaria and hasten changes in Persia. It may choose four "Dreadnoughts" or it may choose eight "Dreadnoughts." It may decide the annexation of Burma. You may say that the vote is one and indivisible; that Parliament is sovereign, Imperial, all sufficient, where we discuss the Federated Malay States before tea or Little Pedlington during the dinner hour. That was a valid argument in 1905, but I do submit that it is not a valid argument now. Indeed, anti-suffragists themselves take careful note of the fact that a new factor in the situation has arisen. I remember that in one of the ablest speeches delivered in the Debate in March last year my hon. Friend, the Member for Accrington (Mr. Harold Baker), after reciting all the anti-suffrage arguments said we were embarking on a large scheme of devolution of legislative power which would largely modify his present objections. And so if we analyse the anti-suffragists' position lovingly and logically we find first of all that they approve of women voters; they admit that woman is not damaged by the action of voting, that her vote does not damage the body for which she votes, if it is an administrative body; and that even if it is a legislative body, so long as it is confined to purely domestic and subordinate affairs, a woman's vote is less easily opposed. There, I am quite prepared to agree, the anti-suffragists stop. There is where, I humbly suggest, compromise might come in. We might admit this concession. There are classes of subjects affecting men alone upon which a woman's vote is inappropriate and inadmissible. We may think that if a woman pays taxes for the Navy she might claim to vote about the Navy, but we might admit in the spirit of compromise, that a vote of a woman about conscription when in the nature of things she cannot be conscribed is less easily defensible. I repeat, in conclusion, my individual view that the area of compromise does seem to be the local legislative vote. The answer has been made that that is all a mirage, that Home Rule all round has served its purpose, and has disappeared into the limbo of preambular tactics. That might be the answer of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division (Mr. F. E. Smith), but it could not be the answer of the Prime Minister, because that is part of the declared policy of the Government. If I were given a pledge that federalism would be completed during the lifetime of the present Government I might vote against the Amendment, so that a compromise could be effected by giving votes in a local Legislature. But in the absence of such a pledge the only possible way in which the suffragist can get the vote is to vote for these Amendments. But I hope I may be allowed to express the opinion that it is infinitely regrettable that the completion of federalism should not be proceeded with concurrently with this BUI. I believe that that was the only way you could remove this question finally from the atmosphere of bargain and intrigue into the healthy, if more controversial, environment of democracy and devolution.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next, 27th January.

The Orders for the remaining Government business were read and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of 14th October, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty minutes after Five o'clock till Monday next, 27th January, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 14th October, 1912.