§ Order read for resuming adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [5th May], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Which Amendment was to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—[Mr. Arnold Ward.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question." Debate resumed.1888
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Sir J. COMPTON-RICKETT
When the business of the House was interrupted on the previous evening, I was pointing out how it was that both political parties and both Front Benches were hopelessly divided upon the question of Women Suffrage, while on almost every other conceivable subject they could secure party unanimity. The overwhelming necessity for that unanimity was self evident, that sex, like religion, was not bound by logic and exercised a divisive power, a forecast of difficulties to come if Women Suffrage ever became an accomplished fact. There are in this question two points. I should think that one is—is there a natural right for women to vote, and, as a consequence of the vote, to be represented in this House and in the Government of the country, and if there is not, is there any qualification or disqualification which makes it undesirable that they should be so entitled. When we talk about a natural right of representation wherever taxes are paid, are we quite clear that we mean what we say? Is anyone prepared to say that they would give a vote to every soul in India at the present time? Would an un-educated class of people endowed with the right of representation serve the cause of liberty or Government in any Constitution? Certainly not. Hardly anyone in this House will get up and say so. We have taken care in this country to prepare by privileges of education and otherwise those who have the vote. Does anyone suppose that the cause of liberty and the establishment of the Constitution would be served by the gift of the vote to the peasantry of Russia at the present time? It would not. It would simply mean that the peasantry as a whole would vote for the Czar, and it would establish a form of tyranny more terrible perhaps than any other that has ever existed. If there is this natural right on the part of women, how strange it is that for so many years they have not claimed it. Natural rights do not remain dormant or unargued for centuries. It is true that we have had Sovereigns belonging to the female sex. In constitutional countries they have been protected by their Ministers. Where they have acted as autocrats they have added to the picturesque, but not to the profit of the nations. The right to representation is not vested in the individual; it is derived from the community. It is the community that makes any form of representation necessary, and the rights of the 1889 community must be considered before the rights of the individual. The payment of taxes is really not a sufficient argument. The payment of taxes is on a limited scale in the case of women. Many of them pay-Imperial taxes from money that has been bequeathed to them from the labour of men. In the cases where they pay local taxation they are and should be represented in the administration of local government. But the administration of government is quite a different thing from the foundation of government—the rock on which legislation is built. We are told that experiments sufficient to convince us have already been made in the British Empire, and the case of Australia is quoted. But Australia has not to deal with the facts, problems, and responsibilities with which we are faced in this country. She is not a separate Empire; she has not to bear the weight of foreign affairs; she has not the development of the Empire to consider. To a very great extent the matters which affect her are local and parochial. Moreover, there is in the Colonies a scarcity of women, and merely to say that no harm has been done so far by their being given the vote, does not carry the argument very far. Nor does it help us to say that every extension of the franchise has been given to a class who were languid in their desire to secure it. The granting of the franchise to women is entirely different from granting it to any particular class perpendicularly, so to speak, going lower and lower. Sex is lateral; it belongs to all classes. In this case you have a large proportion of every class, who either are so careless about the franchise that they do not ask for it, or, in many cases, have given a majority against it. I am quite prepared to risk the case at the present time on a census of women. I do not say that that is a constitutional way of obtaining the opinion of the country, but it would be a very strong inducement for those who desire the extension of the franchise to devote themselves to missionary work for the purpose of convincing others of the necessity of the reform which they are so anxious to bring about. The other sex is not a class; it is half the nation living beside us. Therefore the whole question assumes quite a different character from any previous extension of the franchise.
I submit that it is not possible to limit the franchise to any particular class of women. If you grant it to one, you must practically grant it to all. And why 1890 should you not? I have a great deal more sympathy with proposals based upon an extension of the franchise on equal terms to men than with a proposal to give it to a limited class. If it is right, it is right for all, and the extension of the franchise to all is bound to come. If it is given in a limited form, you will immediately have agitation to widen its compass, and you will have no argument left to refuse the demand. Adult franchise, which will be the ultimate result of legislation of this kind in regard to men, applies also to women. I am not under any delusion that men will vote exclusively for men and women for women. They will vote crosswise. But they will vote effectively, and when women have the vote to the extent they are certain to have it, if at all, it will be absolutely beyond the powers of any man or Government to keep them out of this House. They will be justified in coming. If they are capable of giving a vote, they are capable of giving expression to their votes here. They will sit here with us on equal terms; they will be represented proportionately to their numbers. That means that the House of Commons would consist of both sexes in practically equal proportions. Nor could you keep them out of the Government. Why should you? Having got the power in the country and the vote in this House, they could quite easily demand their proper proportion in the making up of the Cabinet and of the government of the country. Therefore, we cannot deal with this question on the limited idea of giving the vote to a certain number of householders, to people who are qualified and educated to exercise the right. We must deal with it on the assumption that the vote is given to every woman, that they will use it to send their own sex here in proportionate numbers, and that they will have a proportionate share in the government of the country.
I contend that the vote is not a personal right. It must be treated as a matter affecting the community. Is it to the benefit of trio community that such a state of things as I have described should exist? There would be all the difference in the world between a House of Commons of both sexes and a House consisting of a single sex. Whatever may be the qualities of women, and they are great, in constructive intellectual power, they are not the equals of men; they never have been, and never will be. I do not mean by that that they have not capacities for 1891 administration, that they cannot go to Universities and pass examinations, that they have not the faculty to qualify themselves in the learning of the day. But they have not the intellectual constructive force which marks out the male from the female. If that were otherwise, where are they. Look down the centuries, go through the artists, authors, poets, musicians, and the great constructive leaders in business and government. These all require experience, patience, and imagination, which are the demands of legislation also. Through the past centuries educated women have had more leisure and opportunities than men. If they stood in this respect upon an intellectual equality, where are the women of genius who have made themselves famous in anywise approaching the other sex? The music of some far away singer, a few stars faintly scattered over the heavens of progress. Without the male contribution civilisation would be now thousands of years in arrear. Imagination is twin to the spiritual faculty—"the substance of things not seen." If the work of Parliament is largely constructive, as it should be, there would be a very great change in our relations with other nations if this House were constituted of both sexes, while other civilised States were still governed by men. Let nobody say in reply to this argument that women have not had chances. All through civilised life they have had their chance of work in various capacities, but it has had no great effect on the work that man has done. We are, therefore, going to lower the standard—I do not use the term in any objectionable or opprobrious sense—we are going to lower the standard to a very great extent if we make the change that it is now proposed to make. You may say that in every country women have done a good deal of the business of the country. Yes, but not as leaders; not as constructors of great concerns, not with those large views and that outlook that men with a dash of genius have shown in business as in every other department of life. You are going to put into the hands of the Government and of the House the disposition of foreign and Colonial affairs in relation to other countries when you have thus lowered the standard.
In relation to the speaking, we are certain to have some emotional developments in this House that we have not yet seen. 1892 I make no further reference to the militants than to say that they may be taken as an example, and in this House we shall see if the women are divided upon some issue which they consider of prime importance, there will be breaking of the laws, rules and regulations of this House and scandals such as we see outside. Some of these women who have committed themselves and have been committed, are the kind of women that will have some sort of a claim as leaders to enter the House, and why should they not be allowed to enter on the assumptions of those in favour of this measure? I have been long enough in this House to see what may happen. We saw what happened in relation to Ireland. What has been the result—I am not saying now whether hon. Members opposite were right or wrong in what they did—but what has been the result?
§ Sir J. COMPTON-RICKETT
Yes, but more than one result can follow. The result has been a curtailment of the liberty of this House. New rules have to be introduced by which all Members, law-abiding as well as the others, had been fettered owing to the breach of custom and of the rules and regulations that had the force of law.
A similar state of things would follow from any outbreak of militancy within this House. Why should not anyone who argues that force is a remedy, and that if the Constitution of the country such as we have does not suffice to remedy grievances, that people must not wait but break windows, if some great reform or some vital issue has to be decided—why, if they were thwarted should they not do something? They would do it as a matter of conscience. What would happen would be a contraction of our liberties, and a curtailment of constitutional government. The country must be run and society must be kept together, and when people will not agree in constitutional countries that the majority shall rule, and that the final decision must be given by them, then we know what always follows, because we know some nations are so emotional that they cannot accept such a contract, and as a matter of fact they have only a parade of a Constitution, and pass from one autocracy or military despotism to another. We here in this House express ourselves very strongly. Sometimes we have a mild kind of riot, but we do know 1893 that we conduct our affairs here on forensic lines. We have a strong reserve of common sense behind. What we say is said forensically, and not always seriously. We represent two sides, and we put our case partially, but we know that the country is the jury and has to decide. Finally, I want in all seriousness to refer to a danger that we shall run, because women will be justified in using those means and those arts that they possess just as men are justified in using what arts they possess in endeavouring to convince a constituency or endeavouring to impress this House. What are the arts of women? Charm of manner and beauty. Women, therefore, will be chosen by political associations because they are young and attractive. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Why not? Of course they will! A new influence will enter this House, and may deflect its judgment, and that is a point I commend to the consideration of the House.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I cannot congratulate the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down upon having introduced into this Debate any new argument or any new fact; neither can I congratulate him upon the way in which he has expressed the views with which we are quite familiar in the Debates which have taken place upon this question. I do not envy the hon. Gentleman his opinion of women. I owe too much to women for me ever to express my opinion of them in terms such as he has chosen. There is one thing upon which I can congratulate him, and that is upon the good conceit he has of himself and of his own abilities. He told us that not sentiment but reason governed in this House; then in his concluding observation he said that when women have got the vote political organisations would select good-looking women because of their greater attractiveness. He went on to say that the attractions of good-looking women would not be without effect even in this Chamber. Upon whom would they exercise their charms? Upon the men who are swayed by reason! If I am not mistaken some years ago the hon. Member wrote an autobiography, and in that autobiography he told us of a sainted mother——
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I am not altogether mistaken then that such a reference was made, but I will not pursue it. I will pass on to deal with some of the arguments which were repeated, and repeated by the hon. Member. It seems to me that there are three or four of what may be called fundamental objections to the enfranchisement of women, and three or four objections which have often appeared in the course of these Debates to what I may call the granting of political power to women in the way suggested in the Bill before us. The hon. Member who just sat down dealt at length with one of these fundamental objections. He maintained that there is no natural right to a vote. He supported that assertion with what I think is a very good Socialistic argument, namely, that the interests of the community are greater than those of the individual, and that the individual has no rights and cannot have any rights except such rights as are conferred upon him by the community. That contention I accept. I do not argue the case for the enfranchisement of women on the ground that each individual woman has a right. I do not think that the women themselves claim the vote on that ground. I quite accept the contention that the community ought to refuse to confer certain powers or privileges upon individuals unless it is convinced that the conferment of those privileges or powers will be for the good of the community. That is recognised, I think, by all parties at present. We do not claim, if I may use a phrase employed in a Women Suffrage Debate some years ago by an Irish Member, that every one of God's creatures ought to have the vote. There are certain classes of individuals who to-day are not given a vote because it is considered that it would not be for the good of the community that they should exercise the franchise, although they are members of a class which generally is entitled to exercise political power. Such, for instance, are minors, criminals, lunatics, and peers.
In this connection I pass to the argument for the enfranchisement of women upon this ground; that it would be good for the community that women should be given the vote, that it is bad for the community that women are now excluded from the exercise of political power. It is not good for any community that there should be any large class or section who have to 1895 be obedient to the laws of the country, yet who feel no responsibility for the kind of legislation which is enacted. I am quite sure I am expressing the views of every advocate of Women Suffrage among the women when I say that they want the vote not as a right, but in order to discharge a duty. They want the vote in order that they may, by the exercise of political power, be better able to serve their sex, and by serving their sex to serve the community at large. I pass on to deal with another of what I have described as among the fundamental objections to the enfranchisement of women. This figured very largely in the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat, namely, the inferiority, in some respects, of women. I have noticed in the course of this Debate that we have not heard this objection stated quite so offensively as years ago it used to be stated in this House. It is now admitted that in some respects women may be the equals of men, indeed, I believe there are some Members who have used this argument, who have been willing to admit that in some respects women may be the superiors of men.
But it is maintained, and this contention was urged by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, that however good women may be in certain respects, whatever their ability may be, whatever their capacity for service may be, however useful and necessary they may be in the economy of nature, yet by nature they have been denied the possession of those special gifts which are necessary for forming an intelligent opinion upon public and political questions. That is the familiar argument of the Prime Minister, and I have no doubt we shall hear it again in the course of the speech which, I believe, the Prime Minister will deliver to-day. Indeed, the burden of the last speech the Prime Minister made in this House upon the question of Women Suffrage was that there was something fundamental in the sex which made it a very great risk to give to women the same political powers which are exercised by men. When the right hon. Gentleman speaks I hope he will be more definite and a little more explicit. I hope he will explain a little more fully what is that fundamental difference between the two sexes which enables men to form intelligent opinions upon questions and denies that intelligence to women. And may I help him by putting further questions to him? Will he be good enough to say 1896 where women lack the capacity to form an intelligent opinion upon matters of national government, while at the same time possessing the ability and capacity to form intelligent opinions about the administration of the laws which are passed by Parliament? For instance, will he tell me wherein lies the difficulty, and what constitutes the difference between the mental capacity required to vote for a certain individual as member of the London County Council, which is entrusted with the administration of the affairs of this great City, and yet not able intelligently to vote for the same man to be returned as a Member of this House, which has to make the laws which have to be administered by the London County Council?
I want to know precisely what it is that women lack that enables them to be trusted with the administration of laws and yet disqualifies them from taking part in deciding what the laws shall be. And may I help the Prime Minister still further by asking him to explain why more than once during the last few years he has appointed women on Royal Commissions? He appointed women to the Royal Commission which inquired into the question of the Divorce Law. These women have reported; their Report is supposed to be a recommendation to this House as a basis of legislation. I would very much like to know how it is that women are considered by the Prime Minister to possess intelligence and the qualities necessary to advise this House as to what form this legislation should take, and that yet it would be a danger to the community if women were to be permitted to vote for the election of the men who have to pass these laws. All this talk about the mental inferiority of women is nothing but an example of the colossal conceit of men. You cannot argue with conceit, you can only pity it.
Another of the fundamental objections which is brought against the enfranchisement of women is this, that women do not need votes, that men are not only anxious, that they are ever ready, as well as able, to do everything for women better than women can do it for themselves. I am quite willing to admit that in recent years the House of Commons has shown a keener interest in women's questions than was formerly the case. It gives more attention to women's affairs. Why? Simply because of the strength of the women's movement outside. Who are the members of this House who are very anxious that the 1897 claims of women should receive the consideration of Members of this House? Notoriously the anti-suffragist Members, because they want to take away the force of the women's contention that women's claims cannot receive proper attention so long as women have not the vote. But I submit that women even now do not get proper consideration in the House of Commons. I could cite a number of measures passed during the last seven or eight years, all of which in many of their provisions are very unfair to women. I might cite the Old Age Pensions Act in the form in which it was introduced. I might cite many of the provisions of the Insurance Act, but I pass away from them, and I make this general statement, that even if this House of Commons, elected by men, did everything for the women that the women could do for themselves, and, if it did it better, that would not in the slightest degree lessen the need for women taking a direct part in the legislation of this country.
I pass on now to deal with one or two of what I may call the passing objections to Women Suffrage, not so much the fundamental objections as objections to confer the vote upon women now, and to do it in this particular form. We have been told very often in the course of these Debates that there is no mandate for this question. I think we could press this question of mandates too far, but I venture to submit that if there be a mandate to this House to pass any measure of legislation there is a mandate for Women Suffrage. The hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of this Bill (Mr. Arnold Ward) smiles. I will give him one or two facts, and not facts collected by the methods of the Anti-Suffrage League. Surely, in considering this question of a mandate for Women Suffrage, the fact that it has been before the House of Commons for forty years ought to carry some weight. Surely the fact that never since 1886 has there been a Parliament elected in which there was not a majority of Members pledged to Women Suffrage ought to carry some weight. I come much nearer. This question of votes for women was definitely before the electors at the last General Election. It was definitely before the electors at the last two General Elections on the statement of the Prime Minister himself. The Prime Minister said on the eve of the General Election of 1910 that an opportunity would be given in the coming Parliament to deal with this question of Women Suffrage. He said the Govern- 1898 ment would introduce a comprehensive Reform Bill, and it would be drafted in such a way as to permit an Amendment to be added to give the vote to women. Now what was the interpretation placed upon the Prime Minister's statement. I do not know that the "Times" newspaper is a friend of Women Suffrage, and the Anti-Suffrage League is certainly not a friend of Women Suffrage, and how did they interpret the Prime Minister's declaration. The "Times" said, on 24th November, 1910:—Women Suffrage and Women Suffrage on a democratic basis is an issue at the election.The "Times" said that on the eve of the General Election of 1910, and they added this:—If the election confirms the Government in power, the new Parliament will be considered to have received a mandate on the subject of Women Suffrage.How did the Anti-Suffrage League accept the Prime Minister's statement? Dr. John Massie, who was formerly a Member of this House, is a bright and shining light of the Anti-Suffrage League, and he said, speaking of the Prime Minister's declaration:—It is no use for the Liberals to protest that at the coming General Election there will be one issue and one issue only.And the "Anti-Suffrage Review" described the announcement of the Prime Minister as an addition to the new issues and problems of the General Election. Let me come now to the position of individual Members. It has often been stated, in the course of this and other Debates, that no Member has been returned to this House solely on the question of Women Suffrage. Apart from Members from Ireland, no Member ever is returned to this House upon one question. If any Member was returned to this House on the question of Women Suffrage, I venture to claim I am that Member. In every one of my election addresses I have given prominence to this question. I seldom made a speech without referring to it. No elector in my Constituency can be ignorant of my views upon this question, and at the election of January, 1910, on a bitterly cold winter's day, 7,000 men electors voluntarily walked into my committee room and signed a petition demanding that this Parliament should confer the Parliamentary vote upon women. Is there any Member of this House who can produce a mandate like that for any other question?
As a matter of fact, we are not delegates of those who send us here. We are their representatives; and they return us 1899 not because they agree with us upon every question that we put forward. I do not believe, nay, indeed, I am quite sure, there is not an elector of the 12,000 who sent me here, not one, who agrees with me in every one of the views I hold, but they trust me as they trust other Members, because they trust our judgment, and they are in general agreement with the views we hold upon political questions. It has been said the women of the country do not want the vote. The women have responded to every challenge that has been thrown down to them. They have given proof of the strength of their movement, which has never been demanded by the House of Commons before it has legislated upon any other question. But suppose the women do not want the vote; suppose even a majority of the women do not want the vote. That is no argument against giving the vote to those women who do want it. By conferring the Parliamentary vote upon women you are not compelling women to vote. They need not vote unless they want to vote. But because there are some women who are indifferent, or do not want the vote, that is no reason why this House should continue to deny the Parliamentary vote to those women who, by the intelligent exercise of their political knowledge, could render great services to the community. I now turn to another objection which was put forward by the hon. Gentleman who spoke before me, and often mentioned in the course of these Debates. He was referring to the hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill, and who used the phrase about the thin end of the wedge.
It is said that if we pass any measure of Women Suffrage we cannot stop there. Of course, that was said in 1832, and then thirty-five years elapsed before any further extension of the franchise was made. It was said in 1867, and it took seventeen years longer to assimilate the franchise in the boroughs and the counties. That is thirty years ago, and, notwithstanding that in the last enfranchisement in 1884 some of the most absurd anomalies were left standing, yet these thirty years have gone and nothing has been done. No man in this country need be afraid of a political movement going too fast. There are far too many drags upon it. I do not at all look with any apprehension or with any dismay upon the extension of the Parliamentary vote even to those women who 1900 would be excluded by the passing of this Bill. I am not appalled even by the prospect of the country being governed by women. If we accept the democratic principle, why should not the majority rule, whether that majority belong to one sex or the other? I know, of course, that that point of view and that contention do not harmonise with the views of those who believe in the heaven-born superiority of man. I do not accept that. Neither do I look with any apprehension upon the appearance of women in this House. I think it would be for the good of this House if they were here, just as it has been for the good of municipal bodies where women have been elected to serve upon those bodies. I am quite sure that if we had women here in effective numbers the business procedure of this House would speedily improve. But I think that is a danger which is not likely to happen soon. At any rate, they have had the vote in Australia for a good many years, and women have a right to be elected to the Legislative Chamber. A number of women have stood, but no one has been elected. Now I will just go back a little, seeing that the hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Compton-Rickett) has returned to his seat—he referred to the franchise in Australia. He was not prepared to state that it had been a failure there. It had done no harm, he believed. Well, surely the opinion of the Prime Minister of the Australian Commonwealth is worth quite as much as the opinion of the hon. Gentleman. What does the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth say in regard to the results of Women Suffrage? Does he say they have been merely negative?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
This is what the Prime Minister of Australia said. A resolution was sent to our own Prime Minister. It stated that Women Suffrage had the most beneficial results, that it had led to more orderly conduct at elections, and that in the last federal election the women's vote in the Australian States showed a greater proportionate increase than the votes of men, and it went on to recommend every country which has constitutional government to give the vote to women. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was in his place when I was dealing with the point and was asking the Prime Minister to tell us what is the difference between the kind of brain which 1901 is required to exercise an intelligent political judgment upon national questions and that which is required to exercise an intelligent judgment upon municipal affairs. I know nothing of such a difference. If women can take an intelligent part in municipal administration, I think they are entitled to have a say in the legislation which is passed by this House. But, said the hon. Gentleman, this House has to deal with problems that do not fall within the duties of our Colonial Governments, and he instanced foreign policy. May I ask what this House has to do with foreign policy? What control have we over foreign policy? Do we make peace or do we make war? This House has very little control over foreign policy. What is the control exercised over foreign policy by the individual elector in the country? Absolutely none. Now I come to the last of the objections which have been brought against the passing of this Bill. There are certain Members of this House sitting, I believe, mainly on this side, who in the past have supported Women Suffrage, and on this occasion are going to oppose the Bill because of the actions of certain women who are associated with the militant section of the movement. I find it very difficult to know what to say to these men, especially Liberals, who are afraid to do the right thing because it has been advocated by means Which they do not approve of. I deplore as deeply as any Member of this House the methods and deeds of the militant section of the movement, but am not going to hesitate to do what I believe to be right and just, and I am not going to punish the vast numbers of women who are working in the suffrage movement, and who, in spite of the fact that this House has treated this question in a way which has exasperated them almost beyond the point of human endurance, have continued to rely upon constitutional methods and upon appeals to reason for their support.
May I say, too, that I do not share the view which I have heard expressed in some quarters that because of those deeds women ought to be given the vote. No Parliament ought to make a concession to intimidation or violence. It is the duty of Governments and of Parliaments to remove grievances before a sense of injustice drives people to revolt. I understand that some Members who formerly supported Women Suffrage and are going to vote against it to-day say they are not going to be intimidated by violence. But 1902 in taking up that attitude they are allowing themselves to be intimidated by violence. They are allowing themselves to be intimidated from doing what they believe to be right because one woman in a thousand has done something they disapprove of. Why, surely, there never was such an absurd estimate of the relative strengths of the influences which ought to affect one's judgment as that estimate is! The right thing, the courageous thing, for these men to do is to say, "We will not be influenced by these actions. We will do what we believe to be right," and if they do that then they may depend upon it that rebellion and revolution will cease, because no revolution can continue unless it is based upon a justifiable sense of injustice. Five times in the last seven years I have seen a Women Suffrage Bill pass the Second Heading in this House by a large majority. There is, as I have already said, no other question to which the House of Commons is so pledged by its past votes as to the enfranchisement of women. Are we to go on for ever making to women those professions of sympathy but giving no practical concession? Tens of thousands of women are being compelled to devote their lives, their means, their energies, and their great abilities to this fight for the political vote, and all the time they are pining to be free in order that they might devote themselves to the work of constructive social reform. Every good cause is immeasurably poorer in service because we condemn women to devote themselves to this fight. They are compelled to do that because they realise that the vote is the primary need to them. Their hearts are sick at the painful and depressing monotony of it all. I do not appeal to the sympathy or the generosity of this House. I appeal to its sense of justice, and I do hope that a large majority of the Members of this House will declare by their votes to-night that in their belief the time has come when the self-respect of the British House of Commons demands that this question should be finally settled and should be settled in harmony with those principles of democratic self-government on which alone the greatness and stability of Parliament can be based.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
Although I do not agree with the conclusions of my hon. Friend who has just sat down, I hope he will allow me most sincerely to congratulate him upon the tone, the temper, and the argument of his speech. We all 1903 listened to it with interest, and we were all impressed by the sincerity of his opinions and the force with which he presented his case. I intervene in this Debate with a good deal of reluctance. I wish to make it clear at the outset that in what I have to say, in what I am saying, and shall say, I speak for myself and for myself alone, and that, so far as I am concerned, no kind of pressure, direct or indirect, has been or will be or can be exercised upon those who do me the honour to follow me in political matters to induce them either to vote or to abstain from voting in this sense or in that in the Division Lobby to-night. Any statement or suggestion to the contrary I can assure them is totally devoid of any kind of foundation. I may perhaps be permitted, although it is not strictly relevant to the question that you, Sir, have put from the Chair, to say one word as to the attitude of His Majesty's Government in regard to this question. We are divided, unhappily, in our opinion as to the merits or demerits of Women Suffrage, but in the course we have taken and the assurances we have given and the procedure we have followed we have been altogether united. On behalf of the Government very nearly five years ago I announced that when we carried out the intention then already conceived of bringing in a Bill for the extension of the suffrage, although women's franchise would form no part of that Bill, yet so far as we were concerned it would be framed in such a way that the House of Commons if they thought it right would be free to amend it in that direction, and that if it was the deliberate judgment of the House that the Bill should be so altered, we as a Government, whatever might be our individual opinions, would continue to give it our support and try to tarry it into law. That policy, which was announced five years ago, was carried into effect, as we thought and believed, in the measure which we introduced last Session. I quite admit that the attitude we took up as a Government was open to legitimate criticism; indeed, it is an attitude which can only be justified by regard to the special and indeed unique circumstances if this particular political issue, which, as I have said more than once, on both sides of the House, cuts athwart ordinary lines of party division. It would, I need hardly say, have been with very great reluctance that those who like myself are 1904 opposed to Women Suffrage, would have made themselves, in deference to the judgment of the House of Commons, parties to proceeding, with the authority of the Government, with a measure in which Women Suffrage had been incorporated. But it is only fair to say with regard to my right hon. Friends and colleagues who sit beside me on this bench and who are strong supporters of Women Suffrage, that it would have been with equal reluctance on their part that they would have assented to the introduction of a measure extending in a very large degree the existing male electorate which, in their view, by leaving the women's question untouched, would have aggravated the grievance and the sense of injustice from which women, in their view, were already suffering. We had to balance those two considerations, the one against the other, and looking back upon it, I do not think that we took a course which either in those who are in favour of Women Suffrage or those who are opposed to it was in any way inconsistent with the best traditions of British statesmanship. We brought in that Bill, as the House knows. I am not going back into the past, but, owing to circumstances which we certainly did not foresee and which we could not control, our intentions were frustrated, and we were obliged to withdraw it. I wish to say once more, with regard to the course which we then took, and the attitude which as a Government we are now assuming, that the suggestion which I have seen made in some quarters that one section of the Government sought to outwit and trick the other is an entirely unworthy suggestion, and I shall command the assent of all my hon. and right hon. Friends who sit on this bench when I say that the course which we did take and the course which we are now pursuing was one equally commended to and accepted by those amongst us who are stout opponents of Women Suffrage and those—and there are many in the Cabinet—who have been among its most loyal and most consistent supporters.
One word more, and only one word, in regard to what I may call the personal aspect of the matter. It has been to me, since I have had the honour of holding my present office, a matter of the most sincere regret that in regard to this particular question I have found myself at variance with a large number, perhaps with the majority, of those who ordinarily honour me in this House with their 1905 political support. I am not sure that I am at variance with the majority of those who sent me here. I agree that I have been at variance with them, and they have treated me with the utmost consideration. If it had been suggested, even in the most indirect way, that they regarded this as so important and dominating an issue that they did not feel themselves justified in following a Government the head of which was opposed to them on this particular matter, I need hardly say, great as would have been my regret in severing myself from the prosecution of other great causes, that I should have deferred to that opinion, and I should have entrusted to other hands the office which I hold. But they never intimated that to me. Perhaps I may say it illustrates in a peculiarly acute way the special circumstances in which we as a party stand, and I think the party opposite would stand if they took our place to-morrow, that the only Member on this bench who is going to take part in the Debate to-night and who is going to speak in an opposite sense to my own is my right horn. Friend and colleague, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir E. Grey). He and I have sat side by side in this House now for twenty-seven years—in various parts of the House, but always side by side. With the exception of this particular topic, I can say of him what I can say of no other Member in this House, that I cannot recall one single serious political issue upon which we have ever differed. He knows that I am speaking the truth when I say that if, as happily so rarely occurs, I find that his judgment and mine do not coincide, I begin to have serious doubts as to whether I am right. We are going to differ, almost for the first time in public, to-night, but of one thing I am sure: We shall differ without any loss of goodwill; and one thing I also hope, we shall differ without any loss of good manners. I am sorry to have said so much with regard to what are purely personal matters, but I shall confine my remarks within the briefest possible compass and state to the House my own personal view in regard to this Bill.
This is a Bill which by the avowed intentions of its authors, and, as is perfectly clear from its provisions, proposes to admit to the franchise no less than 6,000,000 new electors. That is by common consent the largest addition that has ever been made to the active electorate by a single Act by this or probably by any other Legislature. Neither in 1831 nor in 1867 nor in 1884 was any corresponding in- 1906 crease to the list of voters suggested or even contemplated. Let me note in that connection two circumstances, one of which I think will be universally admitted, and as to the other of which, notwithstanding what was said by my hon. Friend who has just sat down (Mr. Snowden), I am prepared to maintain the truth. The first, which is not a matter open to dispute, is that this Bill is not put forward by the responsible Government of the day, nor, if we changed places with the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, could or would it or any corresponding measure be put forward on the responsibility of the Government of the day. The same division of opinion reigns upon both Front Benches. As to that there is no dispute. Now I come to my second point, and here I am afraid I am rather at issue with my hon. Friend who has just sat down. I assert that this is a Bill which has never been, either in principle or in detail, approved by the existing electorate of the country. It is quite true that hon. Members in various quarters of the House have given pledges, sometimes very vague and very indefinite pledges, in favour of the principle of the enfranchisement of women. My hon. Friend says that when he went through his election he got, I think, 7,000 electors to sign a petition in favour of Women Suffrage. I have been looking at the figures of his electorate, and I find that there are 23,000, so that he obtained apparently—and I think it is a unique case—the signatories of one-third of the electorate in favour of that petition. Apart from my hon. Friend and perhaps one or two others who may be similarly circumstanced, I ask this question of hon. Gentlemen in every quarter of the House, whether they are friends or whether they are opponents of Women Suffrage? Can they honestly say that this particular issue determined, or even substantially helped to determine, the question whether they should or should not be elected to this House? There has been no response to that question on the part of any considerable number of honest and honourable Members.
Those are important considerations, because it is in these circumstances, which, as I believe, are absolutely unique, that the House of Commons is being asked to assent to a change larger in its scope and more far-reaching in its consequences and effects than any extension of the suffrage that has ever yet taken place. I am not, as the House knows, and never have been, 1907 one of the dogmatists of the theory of mandate. I am prepared to defer in the fullest sense of the term to the supreme and unchallengeable authority of Parliament. We know no distinction in this country, whatever may be the case elsewhere—and I go further and say that I hope we never shall know any distinction in this country—between the subjects which an omnipotent Parliament is or is not competent to determine. It is for that reason, among others, that I have always been ready, with reluctance so far as my own opinion is concerned, but with acquiescence if and when that opinion shall be overruled, to submit the decision of this question to the arbitrament of Parliament. I therefore put aside all questions of what are called "extra constitutional action" or of what, in a picturesque phrase, a Noble Friend and late colleague of mine called "constitutional outrage." The House of Commons, in my opinion, is perfectly competent to determine this question as it thinks fit, but that does not in the least degree preclude me or anybody from asking the House, if it is to preserve its authority, and if it is to retain the confidence of the country, to think twice, to think thrice, before it takes a step unprecedented in its extent without a full and assured conviction that it has behind it in taking that step the deliberate and considered sanction of the community. These are general considerations which are applicable, in greater or in less degree, to any constitutional change. They seem to me in themselves, before you touch the merits of this particular issue, to impose serious impediments in the way of this Bill, and, even if I were in favour of this principle, which I am not, they would at least give me pause before I assented to its Second Reading, but we cannot leave the matter.
The question I am going to submit to the House as relevant to this particular Bill—the question that all such proposals, whether great or small, raise, is this—Is the extension of the Parliamentary suffrage to women in the best interests of women and of the community? That is the real point the House has to consider. I am painfully aware there are few, if any, new arguments to be urged either on one side or on the other. The case is indeed threadbare, as the state of this House during the greater part of this Debate has shown. However ably presented, either on one side or on the other, 1908 only a handful of Members—those who intended themselves to take part in the Debate—have been able to listen to it. But for all that, and at the risk of repeating what I myself and others have said before, I must present those aspects of it which appear to me to be relevant and serious. I discard entirely, as I have always done, and as I think all reasonable people ought to do, the question of abstract or natural right. Whether we accept an absolute or what is called a utilitarian theory of ethics, there can be no such thing as a right conferred by nature, or even by universal expediency, to a purely artificial function to be exercised by individuals or by a class of Parliamentary voters. To over nine-tenths of the human race during at least nine-tenths of its history such a function was not only unknown, but absolutely inconceivable.
We are, therefore, brought in this matter to a purely empirical issue: Is it or is it not politic in this United Kingdom, living under democratic institutions—I lay great stress upon that, because it conditions the whole case—is it or is it not politic that, in such a community as ours, in these days, with our special political and economic circumstances, to give women, on the same or on similar terms as men, the right to elect Members of Parliament? Everybody, I think, will agree that that is the real point for consideration. We can brush aside all abstractions and metaphysical points. Let me here say, by way of parenthesis, that that question is not logically or completely raised by the Bill now before the House. If sex, as my hon. Friend who has just sat down asserts and has tried to demonstrate, is an irrelevant or negligible factor in ascertaining the qualifications of the electorate, then this Bill is absolutely self-condemned. It is not contended or pretended that it establishes equality, or anything approximately like it, between the sexes. If this Bill passed to-morrow, the male electors of Great Britain would have a substantial and indisputable superiority over the females at Parliamentary elections. It is discriminating, in a sense, in an aristocratic fashion. After this Bill has passed, a man will be able to vote when twenty-one years of age and a woman will not be allowed to vote until she is twenty-five. Why? A man can vote who possesses the lodger qualification; a woman cannot. Why? My hon. Friend who has just sat down mentioned sex as a totally 1909 irrelevant consideration. Can he justify a discrimination such as that?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Those who profess Liberal principles are not willing to apply those Liberal principles to women.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That gives away the whole case. The Bill does not really carry out the principles the hon. Member so eloquently enunciates. I will take his admission. I will go further, because I agree with him. The only logical, the only rational, defensible proposal, was that which I believe was favoured by the Labour party, which ignored sex altogether, and put men and women on the same basis. Why did the promoters of this Bill shrink from that? They are very wise in their generation. They are very prudent. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, who introduced the Bill yesterday, said avowedly, "We do this because it is what we call a workable compromise."
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I did not use that argument; I said we did it because it was a step in the direction of the full enfranchisement of women.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Now we are getting, by this process of interruption, to the essence of the matter. It is a step; it is an instalment.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Yes, but if your principle is that sex is an irrelevant factor and not a ground for discrimination, now that we have levelled up the male franchise to the point which it at present stands, why should these poor women have to go through all these successive steps? If there is no disqualification in regard to sex, why should they have to climb up the ladder in order that, a generation hence, they may reach the heights which my hon. Friend and the male electors have already reached? The fact, of course, is quite obvious. It involves an admission which I do not think my hon. Friend is indisposed to make and which may be interpreted in one or other of two ways, and the admission is either that sex, though not an absolute barrier, is a relevant or contingent factor in regard to the franchise, or, what is nearer the point, 1910 that public opinion in this country, though it may be brought, and perhaps, has been brought, in the view of my hon. Friend, to tolerate a moderate, a limited, and a diluted infusion of the feminine element into the electorate, has not been, and, until it is further educated, will not, be brought to recognise, as regards the exercise of political rights, that men and women stand exactly on the same footing. That is admitted. I will add one more parenthetical observation before I go back to the question of principle. If the selected and favoured women who are enfranchised by this Bill are capable of exercising the franchise, why are they not to be eligible for election to this House? This Bill does not snake them so. If they are fit to elect, why are they not fit, if the constituencies choose them, probably in competition with men or other women, to be elected? If I were in support of the principle of Women Suffrage, I would say, "Of course they are, and ought to be." It is ridiculous, illogical, and half-hearted paltering with the question to make them ineligible. I see the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil), in his place. We know that he made an eloquent speech on the subject, but he shrank back with horror and repugnance, from the logical development of the principle on which all this legislation is founded, namely, that if women had the franchise, if it is an appropriate function for women to elect Members of Parliament, how can you possibly disqualify them from being elected.
These really are criticisms which are pertinent to the precise method that this Bill pursues, rather than to the general principles to which, if the House will allow me, I will now for a moment go back. Let me point out here what I think is a truism. The full burden of proof is on those who assert that the distinction of sex in regard to this matter of the exercise of political rights which has hitherto, with very few exceptions, and those I think not very relevant to our own social or economic conditions—is universally recognised in most democratic communities is in this country, under this Bill, going to be practically ignored. Here I come to closer quarters with the argument of my hon. Friend who has just sat down. If he will allow me to say so, it is not a question of the inferiority of one sex or the superiority of another, either in intellect, or in character, or in temperament, or in anything else. It is a question 1911 of appropriateness or otherwise for the particular function, which is a totally different thing. I say again, in regard to another argument which he used, it is not, in my view, a question of the application or exclusion of democratic principles, and I will tell you why. Democracy, as I think I have said before, aims at the obliteration of arbitrary and artificial distinctions. Democracy has no quarrel whatever with distinctions which nature has created and which experience has sanctioned. If I may put in one sentence which seems to me to be the gist and core of the real question the House has to answer to-night, it is this: Would our political fabric be strengthened, would our legislation be more respected, would our social and domestic life be enriched, would our standard of manners—and in manners I include the old-fashioned virtues of chivalry, courtesy, and all the reciprocal dependence and reliance of the two sexes—would that standard be raised and refined if women were politically enfranchised? That is the real question the House has to ask itself.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am not talking about Australia; I am talking about Great Britain, the country in which we live and which we know. I want an answer to that composite question. Will it or will it not be the case?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
My hon. Friend thinks it would. Every man must answer that question, which is the real question, as his judgment and as his experience teaches. I answer it, to the best of my knowledge, in the negative, and I believe such a negative answer to be in no sense derogatory, to be the contrary of derogatory, to the honour and dignity of the other sex. I should agree that these general considerations would lose much of their force; indeed, they might be substantially undermined for the purposes of practical politics if the two conditions which have hitherto attended and been satisfied in all our enlargements of the franchise were fulfilled in this case. I repeat, What are these two conditions? The first is one about which there can be no dispute—that there was a clear proof of a settled demand for the change by an overwhelming majority of the excluded class. I say demand, and 1912 by demand I do not mean desire, or a mere wish to get or possess something which one at the present has not, like the desire of a poor man to be rich, or I would say of a short man to be tall. I mean by demand, and by settled demand, something more than that. I mean a demand which proceeds from a real, deep-seated and widely diffused sense of grievance and discontent. I do not think that my hon. Friends will dispute that that is a fair statement of the case. Of course, I do not deny for one moment—who could?—that there are women, and many women in this country, including some of the most gifted, most accomplished, most high-minded of their sex, who do feel in that way. It would be absurd and ridiculous to disguise the facts of the case. So, again, and this is a very serious consideration, it is clear from the phenomena of what is called militancy, to which I am not going to make any further reference, that there are women whose temperaments are such that this same sense of wrong, twisted, perverted, inflamed, as I think in their case it is, the same sense of wrong leads to anti-social courses which men and even women find it difficult to conceive. I make all that admission. But, as I said before, and as I say again, we must deal here, as we have dealt in all cases where it has been a question of the extension of the suffrage, not with individuals but with the mass. I can only state my own opinion, an opinion which has been formed after the most careful consideration of all the relevant facts that have been brought to my notice, that to this day I see no evidence worthy of the name that the mass of women in England, Scotland, and Ireland in that sense demand the franchise. That is one condition. There is another, and perhaps in some senses a still more important condition. I think the general argument which I have presented in very brief outline to the House might be displaced, and probably would be displaced, if it could be shown that the absence of direct representation in this House has caused, and is causing, a neglect by Parliament of the special interests and needs of the excluded class. Is that so?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
There are those who cry "Yes," but anyone who listened to the Debate yesterday and to the previous Debates would have heard from some of the most ardent supporters 1913 of Women Suffrage the most absolute denial that there was any case of the kind. The Noble Lord (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck), who seconded the Bill, and made a most interesting—in some ways a most moving speech, a speech in which he called himself an "Old Tory," although I never heard anything more promising—told us, with great force and much eloquence, speaking of his own large industrial constituency, of the women living in their homes often under very adverse conditions with regard to the necessaries and comforts of life, and who are working in the factories, and he said, "It is a shameful thing that they should not be allowed to have some voice in the regulation of the industry and the social life in which they play such a splendid and heroic part." I quite agree, but the Noble Lord did not condescend to any specific instances. I am and always have been a very strong supporter of the development of that system of protective law—which I might call a corollary to Free Trade, but I do not wish to introduce another disputable topic—by which the life and health of our factory and working population have been safeguarded during the last seventy years. In my first official experience, when I was at the Home Office, I took the deepest interest in these matters, and I hope I may say, if some day or other I climb up the back stairs or get through the back door into the suffragists' paradise, that I was the first person who appointed women to take an active part in the administration of our factory laws, and I have welcomed every extension and development of that experiment from that day to this. When I look not only upon our factory and workshop legislation, but upon all that has been done, even within my own Parliamentary life, to protect married women and to establish both for women and children, in whom women are particularly interested, better conditions of social and industrial life; when I compare what has been done by this Parliament and what has been done by the other Legislatures in the world, I can honestly say, without any undue complacency, and with a full sense of the many shortcomings that still have to be overtaken and overcome, that I do not believe there is any Legislature in the world that has ever done so much for the women as this man-elected Legislature.
I have listened to the Debate when I have had the opportunity of being present, 1914 and I have read the Debate, but I have not heard or seen in any speech of any supporter of this Bill any concrete case in which they can allege either that the conscience of Parliament would have been more rapidly quickened, or the action of Parliament been more effectually and remedially directed, if women had been represented here than it has been during the last twenty-five years. Therefore, so far as the case of practical grievance is concerned—I am not an optimist, I am not saying that things are as they ought to be, and my hon. Friends know that very well. I think both in regard to our factory law, and in regard to many other departments, housing and elsewhere, we ought to make great steps in advance which have not yet been taken, and I am prepared to go forward as far as anyone in these directions; but I do say the case, which has been presented, showing that in these matters the Parliament of this country has been unduly negligent of or oblivious to the interests of women, is a case totally destitute of foundation, and wholly incapable of proof. Those are the two conditions, both of which I have said were capable of proof in the case of every previous extension of the franchise—an overwhelming demand on the part of the excluded class, and proved neglect of their special interests and necessities. If those two conditions are not satisfied, and I am quite sure they are not satisfied here, my general argument remains and is unassailable. I have never thought or said that if the Parliament of this country should choose to enfranchise women, whether upon a small or upon a large scale—for myself I see no possible, logical halting place, if you once accept the principle, between the complete assimilation for all political purposes both of the right to elect and the right to be elected—I have never said that if Parliament deliberately adopted that principle, and with the sanction of the country adopted that principle, we were going to come to the end of civilisation, or that the foundations of society and the integrity of the Empire would be loosened. I do not believe anything of the kind.
There are very few issues in politics upon which more exaggerated language is used both upon the one side and the other. I am sometimes tempted to think, as one listens to the arguments of the supporters of Women Suffrage, that there is nothing to be said for it. I sometimes am tempted to think, when I listen to the 1915 arguments of the opponents of Women Suffrage, that there is nothing to be said against it. There is a great deal of exaggeration both upon the one side and upon the other. The question I have endeavoured to put, I hope without undue passion or prejudice, is a serious practical question: Would it, or would it not inure to the benefit first of women as a class, next to the community as a whole, to make this great change, for which, I repeat once more, you have no producible evidence of the authority and declaration of the electorate. In the best interests of the State and of society, I shall record my vote against the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The right hon. Gentleman began his observations by pointing out that the difficulties of this question had resulted in a very serious Parliamentary difficulty for the Government, and he said that the difficulty was really inevitable. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that until some solution of this question is found every Government will find that it constantly presents insoluble difficulties, and every Government will lose in prestige and in reputation, in the same way that the present Government have lost, in dealing with this question. That is one of the main reasons why I am prepared to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. It is not the solution that I should myself have selected. I think those of us who believe that the proper course was to proceed by way of the Conciliation Bill have a very just ground, I will not say a grievance or complaint, but of regret at the course that it is thought necessary to pursue. Fifteen or eighteen months ago the conciliationists had brought their cause to such a position that victory seemed practically certain. Then, by a very untoward combination of Ministers and militants, that Bill, on the very verge of success, was torpedoed. That was a very unfortunate thing, and when the Government had tried their plan, and their plan had failed, I think the proper course would have been to allow the Conciliation Bill again to proceed to the position which it had occupied before. But I quite recognise that there were great difficulties about that course, and the result has been this. We who are in favour of conciliation are placed in this position, either that we must vote in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill and endeavour to amend it afterwards in 1916 Committee, or else we must once again explain to the women outside that, in spite of our great affection and sympathy for their cause, there is an inevitable reason why we must decline to vote for the only possible Bill that is before Parliament. That is a position which I decline to take up.
The right hon. Gentleman made a great number of criticisms as to this Bill. He said it was a very large extension of the franchise and ought not therefore to be undertaken except with the assent of the Government of the day. Then he went on to say that it was founded on no principle, and that if it was founded on a principle the extension of the franchise ought to be much larger than it was even proposed to be by this Bill. That is a kind of Parliamentary criticism which sounds very well in the House of Commons, but I doubt whether it convinces anyone, either in the House of Commons or out of it. There is no Bill that has ever been drafted which the right hon. Gentleman, with his great ability, could not point out was defective, either in principle or in detail. We have to take these things practically in this world, and particularly in Parliament. We have to consider whether on the whole we wish to do something, whether we desire to enfranchise women, and if we do I do not think we ought to be deterred from doing it by criticism of that character, however ably and however authoritatively expressed. Therefore I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. I was a good deal confirmed in that decision by a letter which I received last night from a woman who lives in my Constituency. She says:—We women wish to regain the faith and pride in our Parliament of which we were brought up.That is a sentiment which I commend to every Member of this House of Commons, and I hope that now, when they have a practical means of advancing the cause of Women Suffrage, they will not allow any slight cause to divert them from giving effect to that which many of them have been advised to do and that which they have constantly expressed their willingness to perform when they get a convenient opportunity.
The right hon. Gentleman made a great deal of the point of no mandate. I do not wish to degrade this Debate into a party question, but really I could scarcely believe my ears when I heard him solemnly say it was very improper to promote a great constitutional change unless you 1917 were sure you had a majority of the people of this country at your back. This from a Minister who is attempting to force through Home Rule with all the powers of the Parliament Act! I think it really surpasses the ordinary robustness of Parliamentary faith. I want to deal with this question of no mandate, because I know it is one which affects a good many of my hon. Friends. What does it actually mean? It means this. You are not to vote for the Second Reading of a Bill—say a Bill involving large change—unless you have some ground for believing that the majority of the electors have already approved of it. How on earth are we ever to obtain such certainty? Under our existing Constitution the thing is impossible. I have always said I wish to see a change in the Constitution, not to prevent this House from passing the Second Reading of a Bill, but to secure that a Bill should not become law unless it had the approval of the majority of the electors. That I think would be a very reasonable and proper change, and I should be very glad to see it brought into the Constitution of this country and applied to Women Suffrage as to anything else. But for the right hon. Gentleman to say that Members of the House of Commons ought not to vote for the Second Reading of a Bill until it has been already approved by the electors, is really not the Referendum but the initiative. It is a doctrine which cannot be supported for a moment. The true view of the Constitution is surely this. When any proposition is put before us by any Member of the House, we have to vote upon it according to the best of our judgment, taking into consideration, I agree, party and other considerations in forming our conclusion. When we have voted upon it there is room for difference of opinion as to whether we ought to pass it into law without the consent of the people. But to say that you are not to vote for it until the consent of the people has been obtained, is an entirely novel doctrine, and a doctrine of an extremely dangerous character, and one which I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, on his authority as Prime Minister, should have approved in any degree.
I know there are several of my hon. Friends who say, "What about the Parliament Act? Suppose this Bill is passed now and rejected by the Second Chamber, and passed again by the House of Commons, are you not, by voting for it 1918 now, giving some sanction to the use of the Parliament Act to override the Second Chamber?" I have not heard that said in this House, but it has been stated frequently outside this House. It seems to me to be the merest absurdity. I shall vote for this Bill, and I hope the Second Chamber may accept it. I hope, if they are not prepared to accept it in exactly the form it is sent up to them, if it is sent up, they will accept it subject to modifications, and I shall be very glad to consider those modifications. If, contrary to my hope, they do not accept it, and the Bill is reintroduced next Session with a view of overriding the Second Chamber by the use of the Parliament Act, I shall vote against it, as I shall vote against any use of the Parliament Act, which I regard as a most iniquitous measure. Surely that is a perfectly plain, simple, and clear position for any Conservative to take up. Then we were told by the Prime Minister that we ought not to vote for this because of militancy.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I am very glad to have drawn that repudiation from the right hon. Gentleman, because the doctrine is really an absurdity. After all, what is the position of the militant now? We were told by the Home Secretary the other day that there were only some forty or fifty women of a really determined character among them, and many of those are now in gaol. Is it really to be said that because of forty or fifty women the House of Commons is to be deterred from taking any course that it thinks right in the interests of the country and in the interests of the general body of the people? I know it is said, you must not think it is only those who are guilty of militant action who are part of the militant party. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill accused the constitutional suffragists of sympathy with militancy. I think it would be much more rational to accuse the anti-suffragists of sympathy with militancy. I say very deliberately that nothing has done the militant section of the suffragists more good than the perpetual exaggeration of their performances by the anti-suffragists. The 1919 anti-suffragist Press and the anti-suffragist Members of Parliament who, by trying to make out that these people represent a vast number of women, by perpetually saying we ought to rule our conduct by their action, have done the very thing which the militant woman most desires. She lives by notoriety. If notoriety were taken from her, she could not go on at all, and the hon. Member's (Mr. A. Ward) speech was very little better than a gigantic advertisement for the Social and Political Union. I object altogether to the argument about militancy. If you find a woman engaged in a general attempt to destroy good government, and if there was a real, serious danger of social disturbance, it might well be a good argument to say that until that social disturbance had been put an end to you must not do anything to change the law in the direction of granting their demands. The ludicrous extent to which the argument has been pressed in this Debate appears not worthy of the House of Commons.
There is only one other preliminary point I want to deal with and that is the thin edge of the wedge, because that also is an argument which appeals very much to hon. Members around me. It is an argument that is very dangerous for any political party to use. Is any politician really prepared to say this: "I will not propose what I think just because the logical development of that proposal will be something undesirable"? We all hope shortly to see a Unionist Government in power, and that that Government will carry a very considerable alteration in the fiscal system of this country, but we know quite well the kind of accusations that are made. It is said, "You cannot stop with any moderate change." Is that really to be accepted by my hon. Friends and myself? I certainly do not accept it. I think that a moderate change in that respect may well be made, and may usefully be made. I think also that a moderate change as to Women Suffrage may well be made, and may usefully be made. These three preliminary arguments that we have no mandate, that we ought not to act because of the militants, and that we must not act because of some logical dilemma in which we might be placed in future if we pass this Bill, are arguments which may be put aside. After all, what is the case for this Bill? I admit from the 1920 Conservative point of view, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, that there is no right to the suffrage, but I say where you have two sets of citizens equally qualified except in respect of the question of sex—I put that aside for the moment—where you have as here two sets of citizens equally qualified so far as property is concerned, and so far as education is concerned, is it not clear that, whether you are Liberals or Conservatives, you are bound to give the vote to all citizens who are equally qualified? That appears to me quite elementary. Of course, it is elementary for every Liberal politician, and it seems to me equally elementary to every Conservative politician. Politicians very often have been reluctant to enfranchise classes which they did not think were sufficiently responsible or sufficiently educated to exercise the vote wisely, but they have always been ready to extend the franchise to every class equally qualified and educated in exactly the same way.
Therefore, I dispute altogether the right hon. Gentleman's criticism that the burden of proof rests upon us. I say that the burden of proof rests entirely upon those who say that those particular citizens by reason of their sex are not qualified to exercise the franchise. That is the whole question. They have got to show it. We have shown that here are citizens qualified in every other respect. They must show that the mere fact of their being women is sufficient to disqualify them. I am not going to attempt at this hour to go through all the arguments used for that purpose, for, in my judgment, there is only one argument. I would like to mention one that is constantly used by hon. Friends of mine. They say, "We quite agree that for domestic questions women are fully qualified to give a vote, but we do feel that in matters affecting Imperial and foreign affairs the sphere of women is so outside such considerations that they are really not capable of forming a useful judgment on these questions." I know that is the view largely held by hon. Friends of mine. It happened to be my fortune last week to attend the annual meeting of the Primrose League. It was a large and enthusiastic meeting held in the Albert Hall, and about two-thirds of the audience were women. My Noble Friend, Lord Curzon, was the chairman, and he made an eloquent, admirable, and instructive speech. How did he speak to these 5,000 or 6,000 women? Did he speak to them on domestic affairs? I would remind the House that Lord 1921 Curzon is a strong opponent of the enfranchisement of women. Did he speak to them upon housing, education, sewage, lighting, or the other subjects which, I gather, are peculiarly feminine in their character? Not at all. He made a speech of the ordinary political character, and two-thirds of it were occupied with questions of foreign policy and defence, and a very powerful speech it was. I must say that I believe my right hon. Friend the Member for the Strand Division (Mr. Long), who is to speak later on in this Debate, was, if he will allow me to say so without offence, slightly failing in his duty to the anti-suffrage cause, for, in moving a vote of thanks to Lord Curzon, he did not say how very improper it was to talk to women about subjects of this kind. Surely, the very least he ought to have done would have been to point out that that part of the address was not intended for them, that they had no interest in the safety of the Empire, and that, indeed, they had better not have listened, because the whole meeting was to instruct them how to persuade the voters, and that they might mislead the voters rather than lead them aright. I hear that view with a great deal of impatience.
My view of history is quite different. You can find in every country, over and over again, occasions when the men of the country have despaired, and when some heroic woman has roused them. From the days of Deborah to Queen Louise of Prussia there have been a succession of women who have shown a high Imperial spirit and a high patriotism which any man might envy. After all, the real proposition is this: Those who are opposed to the suffrage have, I will not say a sex prejudice, but a sex preconception. They are convinced in their own minds that women are incapable of exercising this vote. That opinion rests upon no reason, and upon no instance, but merely on an inward conviction which is incapable of argument. I have the greatest possible respect for the intellectual capacity of the Prime Minister, but I noticed when he came to that point he did not give one single reason. He did not suggest any reason why the giving of votes to women would be against the stability, the prosperity, or the social development of this country. He said that, in his opinion, it would, and there he left it. The real truth of the matter was expressed by my hon. Friend (Sir J. D. Rees). He read certain extracts from a book by a gentleman who 1922 afterwards, I understand, went and committed suicide.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The final extract which he read may be summed up in the words, "Away with the women's movement." That is the real basis of your position. It is not the vote only that they would take away from women if they could, but they would take away all the privileges they have gained in nineteen centuries of Christianity. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, people like my hon. Friend would. I do not for a moment suggest that in their more sober moments—[Laughter.] What I wish to say is that I do not for a moment suggest that the moderate advocates of the anti-suffrage cause would go as far as that, yet really, if they could look into their minds, they would find the same opinion on these matters as they have in their opposition to this Bill. It is merely because they cannot tolerate the idea that women should be put politically on an equality with men. I quite agree that view is not argument. I see no reason for it in the character of women. I see no reason for it in the facts of political history. On the contrary, my view is that the facts are all one way. I venture to ask this question of anyone who is going to follow in the Debate against the Bill. Can they point to a single instance in which women have been entrusted with political or quasi-political power where they have used it worse than men? There are a large number of instances to choose from. Women have been given a large number of public functions. In this country they have been given the vote in local government in all its branches. They have been given a voice in boards of guardians, and in every kind of smaller office. They have been given in many foreign countries the Parliamentary franchise. I have been handed a petition which has been sent to this House from Australia, signed by the presidents and secretaries of women's organisations there. After setting out the same kind of arguments that are used here, this sentence occurs:—Experience has falsified them all, and at every election women cast their votes with an intelligence and discrimination not surpassed by the men in the electorate.I say that is true of every public function with which they have been entrusted. You may say that they have not been entrusted with certain high duties. There have been 1923 queens, and taking monarch for monarch queens have been quite as successful as kings. They have been selected by no special process, but merely by the accident of birth. No one can give a reason that women would not exercise the franchise properly if it was entrusted to them. That being so, and having in view the claim made, I will not say by the overwhelming mass of women as the Prime Minister demanded it should be made—a demand which has never been fulfilled in the case of any extension of the franchise to any body of electors previously in this country—in face of the demand from a large number of public bodies, from every organisation of women that has voted on the subject, from a large number of the best women all of us know—in the face of strong reasons for supposing that women's interests are not fairly dealt with in this House in the absence of the vote, and in face of the fact that wherever they have been entrusted with public functions they have exercised them as well as men, I say that it is merely prejudice to resist this final reform, this final step in the emancipation of women.
§ Sir FREDERICK LOW
I listened to the speech of the Noble Lord with interest, but I fear that we gather from it what we so often gather from his speeches, that those who do not agree with him can only be actuated by prejudice. He has told us, and told us truly, that queens have been great queens, as great as kings, but surely he has forgotten to tell us in that connection that as a rule the queens who have come down in history as great queens have had very wise men to advise them.
§ Sir F. LOW
The Noble Lord interrupts me, but surely he will allow even one who differs from him to express his opinion without interruption. The Noble Lord did not tell us that when kings have been advised by women they have made exceptionally bad kings. Also the Noble Lord advances the arguments derived from various matters which I do not go into, because we have heard them so often before that they are all familiar; and indeed anyone speaking upon this subject, must receive the credit that it is almost impossible to advance a new argument either for or against the proposals which 1924 are made. My one objection in intervening in this Debate is because I have not always held the view upon this subject that I do now. At one time I did think that it was possible, consistently with what was good for the country at large, what was good for the men and also for the women, that this alteration in the law might be brought about. But surely this House thinks none the worse of anybody who, when he has altered his opinion upon a subject, gets up in this House and says so; and I am bound to admit that the opinion that I did formerly come to was formed, as I think now, upon insufficient consideration and insufficient reflection. I have felt bound to ask myself the question which the Prime Minister told us in his speech he has asked himself, and I felt bound to give myself the answer that he said he had given himself, and applying the best judgment that I can to the matter, not, I think, as was suggested by the Noble Lord, actuated at all by prejudice, but actuated, if he will believe it, as much by a desire, not only for the good of the women, but the good of the whole community as he could be himself, I have come to the conclusion that it is neither good for this community at large, neither for the men in it, nor good even for the women in it, that the women should be admitted to the Parliamentary franchise, and I wish to add—because I do not want any misunderstanding upon the point to exist—that it is not because of the vagaries of the people who are called militants that I have come to this conclusion.
Of course, when one is considering the question, and when one considers the absurd lengths to which they have seen fit to go, and, above all, when one reads the literature which they circulate in support of the movement, it is a little difficult not to be influenced against it both by their actions and by their literature. But I think that I can say honestly that I have been brought to the opinion that I now hold apart altogether from the destructive tactics upon which these ladies have seen fit to embark. I was glad to hear from the Noble Lord that he agreed with the Prime Minister and with other speakers who take the view which I venture to take, that the franchise could not be regarded as a right. Of course it is inconceivable that any person who has really studied history, not to speak of any person who has really studied laws, could come to the conclusion that the franchise 1925 in this country or any other country was a right. What has happened with regard to the franchise is that from time to time it has been extended by those who held it to those, or some class of those, who for the time being did not hold it. It has been extended to them as a privilege, and there is no instance in which such extension has taken place in which there was not a well-proved popular opinion that the extension is right. If one goes back over all the extensions of the franchise that have taken place I do not think there is any case in which men could say that at the time the franchise was extended there was not a very strong popular feeling in favour of the extension. If we apply that to the present case, putting aside altogether all questions of mandate or anything of the sort, is it not clear to everybody who considers this matter candidly, and without the prejudice upon which the Noble Lord is continually dwelling in this case, that in this United Kingdom, so far from there being any evidence that there is a strong general desire for this alteration in the law, there is, on the contrary, very strong evidence that no such desire exists at all?
I do venture to suggest to the consideration of all hon. Members who have to consider this matter to-night this question: Is there in this country—I except for the moment the constituency of the hon. Member for Blackburn, because he has given us certain figures, in which he says that one-third, or less than one-third, of the voters in his constituency, were in agreement with him on the subject—but excepting that constituency, is there a single constituency in the United Kingdom to which you could go and submit to them this question, and this question only, in which anybody supporting it would have a dog's chance of being returned? When one is considering a change which means practically to double the electorate of this country, or very nearly so, it is a matter which we are all bound to consider—that all of us know in our hearts that if we went down to any constituency in England, Scotland, Ireland, or Wales, as an advocate only of this alteration in the law, we would inevitably meet with condign defeat. That is my view. It may be wrong, of course. If it is correct, what justification can we have for passing a measure which not a single constituency in the United Kingdom would look at for a moment? We are sent here to represent the views of the people who have sent us, and we have to admit 1926 that if we pass this measure it is a measure that would not receive support from any single constituency in the United Kingdom sufficient to return the person advocating it upon that question and that question alone.
§ Sir F. LOW
I can state lots of questions. If I may be allowed, I would entirely traverse the statement of the Noble Lord with regard to Home Rule. I say that there are a number of constituencies, even in England, where if you were to go to them on the question of Home Rule, and Home Rule alone, you would be certain of being returned, and among those constituencies is the constituency which I have the honour to represent. There is another question that I venture to say you could be certain of being returned upon in an enormously preponderating number of constituencies—that is, the question of one man one vote—the question of plural voting. The Noble Lord, in his speech, talked as if the majority of people in this country were not in favour of Home Rule. I do not want to deal with that, because it struck me as singularly irrelevant to the issue which we have before us to-night, but if one had to deal with it I should say this: I am perfectly certain that the majority of the people of Scotland, the people of Wales, and the people of Ireland are in favour of Home Rule, and all this in spite of the plural vote, and I am equally certain that the majority of the people of England are also in favour of it if you could only eliminate the plural vote. I have been drawn off to that question by the argument of the Noble Lord and the interruption that came from below the Gangway, but as to the question that we are dealing with to-night at all events there can be no sort of doubt about it, and I would challenge the Noble Lord—or anybody who advocates this question—to go down to any constituency in this United Kingdom and put before it this issue and this issue alone, and I prophesy for him as certain a defeat as met him when he was an advocate of another measure in another constituency to which I need not refer. That is the position that I take up. I am not basing it upon mandate or anything of the sort, but what I say is that there is in this case a total absence of any evidence of any demand for this measure either by the men or by the women of this country, 1927 and, that being so, we, the House of Commons, cannot take upon ourselves, in the absence of any proof that this measure is really desired by the people of this country, the responsibility of proposing it. That being so, I shall with the greatest pleasure vote against the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Edward Grey)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has spoken of what he considered to be the want of evidence that there is any demand for this Bill. I wonder how, without the vote, women are to give more evidence than they have given of their desire to obtain it, in the fact that there are very large associations of women entirely distinct from the militant section altogether who have restricted themselves entirely to constitutional action, and who have in every way which is possible within the limits of constitutional action, expressed their opinion, not only strongly, but with a direct sense of their injustice at being deprived of what they consider as a right of citizenship. I will deal later with a few of the arguments advanced, but I must say a word about the opening of the Prime Minister's speech. Let me say that I endorse entirely everything which he said with reference to the attitude of the Government. The course which the Government has pursued hitherto on this question, the attitude which they have adopted, has been one which has been accepted equally by those in the Government who are in favour of the Women Franchise, and those who are opposed to it, and for which both are jointly responsible. I would add that without exception all of us who are colleagues of my right hon. Friend and who serve under him are bound to admit, and do most gladly recognise, that his own personal attitude throughout the whole of this matter has been scrupulously fair, and he has shown great consideration to those whose views differ from his own. He has reaffirmed to-night to the House that we are absolutely free, and we know that he himself neither directly nor indirectly has done anything but do his utmost to convince people that that is really the case, and as far as he and Members of the Government who are opposed to Women Suffrage are concerned, they do not desire, except by mere force of argument, to influence the 1928 vote of the House by any party or personal consideration.
My right hon. Friend also made a personal reference to myself on which I must say a few words. He recalled the fact that he and I have been associated in Parliament for twenty-seven years, and that during the whole of that time, except on this question, there has been an agreement, co-operation, a similarity of views on political questions between us, which is rare, even among those sitting on the same side of the House, and even amongst colleagues, which has extended over so many questions and over so long a period of years. That is quite true. One of the things I prize most is that this acquaintanceship and intimacy of political co-operation through many years have long been merged in much more intimate and warm feelings of personal friendship. I prize that friendship as one of the things I prize most. It is of such long standing, and I believe he will agree with me, it is so secure, that, even if this question of Women Suffrage which divides us to-day, were coming before the House for the first time, and the differences of our opinions were coming before us for the first time, we should have no fear that that friendship would be affected. But considering that this difference has been known to us for at least twenty-five years—it must be about that length of time since I first put my name on the back of a Bill for Women Suffrage in this House, and since I first heard my right hon. Friend on some occasions express his views against Women Suffrage—I do not think that he or I have the least apprehension that the renewed expression of it is going to affect our political co-operation or our personal feelings. I will go further than that and say that during all those years in which our opinions have differed, neither of us has been on the fence. I have been always strongly in favour of Women Suffrage, and I will go further and say—especially as my right hon. Friend has stated to-night that there are no new arguments to be addressed—that were I to say at this time of day, after so many years, on a question so important and on which one's feeling are so strong, that my view has been changed by arguments which are so familiar, even if so ably expressed as they have been by him to-night, I think, knowing what the course of my feelings and opinions have been for so many years, I should have forfeited respect if I changed, or even if I did not 1929 avail myself of the opportunity to express and recommend my views as strongly as I can to the House, and to the best of my ability.
What new circumstances—if there are no new arguments—are there to change our views? Of course, militancy, though it has played a very small part in the speech of my right hon. Friend, has played a part in the speeches of others who are opposing the Bill now before the House. If militancy is to affect one's view of the merits of the question of the vote for women, it must be because one regards the militant manifestations as really representing the women, and proceeding from a sufficient number to influence the opinion, not of individuals, but of the mass, and to change one's whole view, not merely of the fitness of women to have the vote for Parliament, but of the position they ought to occupy in the State as regards education, social life, and everything else in which they have hitherto played so large and so increasing a part in our civilisation. We know that militant action is the action of a certain number of individuals who are not representative of the great mass of women who have asked, and worked for the vote, and who have kept themselves within constitutional action. I join with the Mover of the Bill, and others in condemning militant action in the strongest possible way. Everybody condemns it. It is we who support Women Suffrage who have most reason to deplore it. Of course, people who are opposed to Women Suffrage make every use of the argument which crime and outrage have placed in their hands. The people who really suffer by it are the great numbers of women, many of whom have rendered signal service to the State in high capacities, in industrial and social and political work, many of whom resent being deprived of the vote, and feel the injustice of it, who have protested against militancy and denounced crime and outrage as strongly as anyone in the country, and whose aims and aspirations are being impeded by the unconsidered and criminal conduct of merely a small minority of women. That is why I put militancy on one side. I do not underrate its importance, I do not underrate the embarrassment which it causes.
Because a certain number of individuals have embarked on crime and outrage, that does not affect my view of the fitness of women generally to exercise the vote, nor do I think it right that because a certain 1930 number of people, a few individuals, have committed crimes and outrages with which the law deals and ought to deal severely, therefore that thousands of innocent women, who have refrained from anything but constitutional action, should be punished by having their cause set on one side. I will proceed to ask the House to look at its own record in this matter. This Bill has passed its Second Reading in this House seven times. On each occasion, if the Bill went no further, it was for want of time, because it was not, and could not be a Government Bill, and few but Government Bills have any chance. Is the House, at this time of day, to go back on opinions expressed so often? It is a very serious matter for Parliament to do that. Every time they passed the Second Reading of the Women's Suffrage Bill they were dealing with a subject of great importance, and about which feeling is very keen and strong.
If, when the time comes, we have an opportunity of really carrying the thing into effect they are to go back upon the opinions they have expressed, then Parliament is going to lay itself open to the very grave charge of having trifled with a very important subject. Parliament can give no greater provocation to any part of the community than to lay itself open to a charge such as that. I believe, as I think somebody has stated in debate already, that the root matter, if you really analyse it and get behind the expression of the actual arguments which are used, and see what it is that prompted the thought of the man or the decision of the man using those arguments to oppose Women Suffrage, you find really that it is what I should call the anti-democratic feeling. Many of the arguments to which we have listened against the vote would have been very appropriate in the days when the vote was being opposed for men as well. But at this time of day, when we call ourselves a democracy, what do we mean by it? I mean, at any rate, something like the extension of responsibility, of the right to exercise influence by the vote given to every responsible part of the community. I ask, Are women responsible? If you answer, "No," of course there is an end of it, but unless you answer "No," you have got to find some other reason for not giving them the vote. If you do not say woman are irresponsible, you have got to find some other reason for not giving them the vote at this time of day.
1931 Here you have got on one side the vote extended, and extended so enormously and widely that one class after another have been brought in until every class is included. Therefore, you have what the hon. Member for Scarborough called two nations in this country, men and women. He spoke of them as two nations—one nation in which every class and every section is represented because we are a democracy, whilst the other nation alongside it is in subjection. You must find some very grave reasons for that. The Prime Minister based a great deal of his arguments upon the fact that there was not a strong enough case for giving women the vote. It seems to me that what you have to do is to find an exceedingly strong case for not giving them the vote. I can suggest some argument. If you say politics do not concern women, then there may be some case against giving them the vote. But who can say that at the present day? Legislation at the present day vitally affects the conditions of women in their lives. Somebody said last night, arguing against the Bill, that there might be a case for giving women the vote if you separate the social from the political side of legislation. You cannot separate them. I am not sure that I can commit myself to the statement that there is a political side entirely separate from the social side, but, if there be, it is very much smaller than the vast field which the social and the industrial side covers. Industrial and social questions, taxation and insurance, all affect women deeply.
When we are told in these days that there are 5,000,000 women earning wages or salaries in employments as essential to the life and well-being of the State as those employments in which men are earning their livelihood, what answer have you got to give to the question why they should be deprived of all influence, as far as votes are concerned, in politics, when the greater part of our politics, as far as this House is concerned, deals with those questions which affect the conditions of women's work? I wish every Member of this House in his constituency could have the opportunity of receiving a deputation composed entirely of women who have to snake their own livelihood in factories, in schools, in industrial and social work, and hear the case put by them and realise what the difficulty is of answering them. I admit one possible answer to a case put forward like that. If you could show that 1932 for these 5,000,000 women who have to earn their livelihood in factories and schools and by salaries the task was easier than for men, you could say, "Ah, but it is so much easier for you to do this, and it is more difficult for men, and therefore men must have the vote and you must not." The argument is just the other way. Everyone knows that the conditions are harder, and wages are lower for women, and the struggle for a livelihood greater. It may be said that Parliament does not ignore that, and various Acts are quoted, some of them quite recent, in which Parliament has paid special attention to the conditions of women's labour or women's lives, and has dealt with them considerately and thoughtfully. I do not for a moment deny or wish to deprive Parliament of the credit of having dealt with those things, nor do I wish to urge that the mere giving of a vote is going directly to raise the wages of women, nor do I hold out any hope of that kind. Let me transfer the analogy for a moment to the vote given to the wage-earning class. It is said now we need not give the vote to women, as Parliament does all that can be done for them. Are we quite sure? My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), in making a speech, with which I was in entire agreement, and which I admired both for its argument and tone, said that at the present time women deprived of the vote had to devote all their attention, especially women who have taken an interest in politics and know the difficulty, to organising and attempting to get the vote. I think that is very true, but when they have got the vote, then we shall find out for the first time, and they themselves will begin to find out, many of them for the first time, some of the things in which women's lives and the conditions of women's labour in this country most need attention.
Up to 1867 the wage-earning class practically had not got a vote and political power was in the hands of other classes. I can imagine people saying then, "Why should they have the vote, the present electorate and Parliament does not neglect the wage-earning class, has it not passed the Factory Acts and other Acts dealing with the conditions of labour, and is it to be supposed that the vote is going to raise wages?" Nobody would listen to that argument for a moment. It may have been used in those days, because we realise perfectly well that the influence of a vote, the indirect influence is much greater than 1933 the direct influence. I do not believe when the vote is extended to any particular class, be that class women or men, that you are going to have a vast crop of legislation of which you can say definitely "this thing would not have been done if the vote was not there," but I am perfectly certain that in the last twenty-five years there has been a great deal of legislation which would not have been passed had the wage-earning classes not got the vote. It is exceedingly difficult to prove of any particular measure that that is so when you have got the instance of the Factory Acts passed without the vote. The indirect influence of the vote is very great. An argument which has been entirely omitted as far as I have heard in this Debate is also as to the influence of the vote not direct or indirect on legislation, but on the people who have the vote, and the sense of responsibility. As a matter of fact there is force in the contention that it is only by the vote that women can make their influence felt in industrial and social administration. They have the municipal vote for that purpose which is important, but less important so far as industrial and social questions are concerned, than the Parliamentary vote.
There is one more argument I would like to give to the House. Supposing my case was admitted that because Parliament deals with industrial and social matters, and they cover the greater part of the field of politics, that that was a reason why women should have votes, it might still be urged that in the comparatively small field which remains outside there are questions of such importance on which women are not fitted to express an opinion that they ought not to have the vote. The question of foreign policy is the one which, I think, is generally instanced in this case. Foreign policy, as a matter of fact, though I am not going to lay much stress on it, since 1885 has been very little the deciding issue as regards the casting of votes at General Elections. In the election of 1892 I remember Mr. Gladstone, as far as he was concerned, ruled it out as a deciding influence in the election at all. He said he had no fault to find with the foreign policy of Lord Salisbury, and that so far as he could do it, which was a very great way, he ruled it out; and since then it has not been a great deciding issue as regards the casting of votes at a General Election. It might become so. It may be that you may have a Government which so misconducts foreign affairs in 1934 the opinion of a number of people, or embarks on a policy which they think reckless or morally wrong, that it might become an issue to be decided by the casting of votes which would be very important. Supposing it were so, what is there to make one say that there is some special quality of intelligence needed to make up your mind about foreign policy different from the quality of intelligence needed to make up your mind about the usually much more abstruse and much more scientific matters of economics?
We have had the picture drawn of the wife of a man earning comparatively low wages who is bringing up a family of children with difficulty in a poor home, and it is said, how is she to know anything about foreign politics? How is her husband to know anything about economics? If you are going to use that argument, and to rule women out because of foreign politics, you are applying a standard to women with regard to votes that you do not think of applying to men. I say, as far as I am concerned at any rate, whether you are talking about foreign politics or about economics, or any other matter in politics, the woman who makes the home is in no way inferior in studying politics to the man who labours to support the home. There is one more argument I must deal with, though I think there is very little in it, but it is so frequently used, and that is that women cannot employ force, that they cannot bear arms and fight, and that they cannot enforce the law, and that therefore they ought to have no share in making the laws. Hardly any of us do enforce the laws, and I understand if we tried to do so ourselves we would probably get into great trouble. We employ selected persons who are paid and directed to enforce the laws by force when they need to be enforced. Surely the true qualification of people to have a share in the making of the laws, assuming they are responsible people, is not whether they are to be called upon physically to enforce the laws, but whether they have got to obey the laws. As to the enforcement of the law, the municipal authorities have, to a very great extent, the direction of the police. Surely with them rests the initiative in deciding whether the military should be called on in particular cases, and you let women have votes for those bodies, and they can even sit on them.
As to fighting, it is said women cannot become soldiers and that in an emergency they cannot fight and risk their lives in 1935 fighting for their country, and therefore, it is urged, they are not to have votes as they will not have to be shot at themselves, and, as far as I understand the argument, they must not vote on a policy which may lead to men being shot. I do not think anybody really believes, if women had the vote, they are going to embark on a policy which would lead recklessly to war. Surely the most pathetic thing in war is the suffering and grief which is brought to the women in the homes, even more than the suffering of men in the field. Does anybody say, for instance, taking an analogy from industry, that because women are not suited to go down the pit and hew the coal that they ought not to have votes on industrial questions at all? The industry of coal mining is as essential in this country as an army or a navy. You cannot say that one thing which is essential is more essential than another, but the industry of coal mining is as essential as anything else to the existence of this country. Women take no part in that, and would you therefore deprive them of voting on industrial questions, factory questions, and so forth? I do not believe anybody would use that argument. The argument about women not being fit to have votes because they cannot use force themselves and perform those functions in the State which require force is really based on the assumption that unless a person or a class can fulfil all the functions necessary to the welfare of the State they must have no vote.
Are we going to apply that test or not? If we are, we begin by the disqualification of men. I maintain more and more should it be recognised, and I think more and more it is recognised, that the character of the home, the condition of the home, the standard of the home, the nurture and rearing of children, is as essential a thing in the State as anything else. That is women's business, the business which cannot be done by anyone else, and that that should be done, and well done, is at least as essential for the life of the State as the condition or use, say, of armed forces. One is complementary to the other. My argument is not that women's function in the State is the same as men. Even in the factory and the school, and still more in the home things which women and men share together, the aspect of women's part is not quite the same as mans, but it is precisely because women and men have each a place in the life of the State equally 1936 essential but not the same. Some representation of the point of view of women in elections is, I believe, essential to a just political perspective on the part of either side or any party in the House. Does anybody really believe that that is going to lead to a contest of men versus women? Of course not. Women will be divided on general questions as men are divided. I think it will do a great deal to raise the level of attention which is given, not in one party alone, but in both parties, to the questions which most concern women. Can you be sure that these questions are not hustled, jostled, and crowded out at the present time? Look at the competition there is in political life amongst the various questions needing attention, the comparatively small number of questions with which time permits us to deal, and the enormous number of questions which at a contested election we are asked to promise to bring forward. Can it really be maintained that we are sure that any question will have a fair chance of getting itself a really good hearing in that competition unless there is some body of votes behind it? I do not believe for a moment that this extension of the franchise for women is going, as some people suppose, to degrade women or impair the relations between women and men. That chivalry of the physically strong towards the physically weak is far more deeply rooted in human nature than to be affected by any political change. As to the argument that women are going to lose some superiority by having votes, that does not correspond to the facts of life. On both sides now women take part in much that is really dusty and exciting in contested elections. To give a vote is the most quiet, unobtrusive, and unobjectionable form of political activity. You may argue as you like about women having a special position which is going to be impaired by their being given the vote; but, in practice, does anybody suppose that either now or in any time to come the being deprived of a vote is going to be regarded by the mass of people in this country as a badge of superiority?
We have not much to guide us in the way of experience, but what little we have is all in our favour. I admit that Australia is not entirely the same as this country. The conditions are different. But we must take experience where we find it. On this particular point of what the effect would be on the status of women and the relations between men and women in the home I 1937 think there is only one feeling in Australia, so far as I have been able to learn. I am talking now of the opinion expressed in private by both men and women in Australia. The effect has been wholly good. Nowhere where the vote has been given is it regretted, and no one wishes it undone. The effect upon the home life and the relations between men and women has been good. The whole tendency of modern life and education, it seems to me, is towards the suffrage for women. Generations ago the things which we associate with political life and work were assumed to be outside the sphere, not only of women's work, but of women's thought. All that has been changed. Everything is done to encourage and widen the interests of women in literature, science, history, poetry, and politics. Is it simply done to make women more companionable with men or is to give them a real understanding and interests of their own in the realms of human thought? It gives them interests that should make their outlook wider and equip them for playing a part in the national life.
You cannot encourage all this and maintain the sex barrier in the matter of the vote. Look at the questions of to-day and of the future—labour questions, housing, land, temperance, taxation, education, every question which deals with the efficiency and the standard of home life and of human life. As long as no women have votes, your democracy on all these questions, I consider, will be hopelessly incomplete. The stake of the women in the country's welfare, prosperity, happiness, and success, is at least as great as that of the men. If mistakes are made, if national misfortunes come, the suffering and distress come home as much to women as they do to men. As far as I am concerned, I am prepared to begin with the smallest instalment. I have very little patience with the dilemma that if all women are given votes the change is too tremendous, and that if only a few are given votes, then you are not logical. Personally, I should be prepared to vote for the Conciliation Bill alone, although I resent the idea that when women marry and have the care of the home they should then lose the vote. But if people say that they want to have a little experience to go upon before they make so great a change, and if that is the decision of the House in Committee, I will vote for whatever Bill emerges from 1938 Committee. Personally, however, I am prepared to vote for the Bill as it stands, but I think it is so important that at any rate a beginning should be made in this matter, that I will not withold my vote from even a smaller measure. I cannot understand on what ground of justice, logic, reason, or even expediency, whether in the interests of women or in the interests of the community as a whole, we can at this time of day maintain that all women are to be excluded from any direct participation in the Parliamentary franchise.
§ Mr. WALTER LONG
Whatever our views may be, we have listened to the profoundly interesting speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary with the admiration which we always feel for his speeches in this House. Indeed, we have listened with special admiration to-day, when he has devoted all his great qualities to the support of a question in which he is so deeply interested. Before I deal with some of his remarks, I should like to say that so far as I am concerned, as a consistent opponent of these proposals, I should be quite content to leave the presentment of the case where it was left by the Prime Minister in the extremely powerful speech which he delivered earlier this evening. It would be ridiculous for me to attempt to add to the arguments which he so convincingly put before us. May I associate myself with the eloquent tribute which my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Arnold Ward) yesterday, in the wholly admirable speech in which he moved the rejection of the Bill, paid to the Prime Minister in regard to the violent opposition to which he has been exposed in the country? In all quarters of the House, and in the country, there can be but one opinion. The fine courage and unruffled dignity with which the right hon. Gentleman has faced a position, which it is difficult to describe in ordinary language, calls for the admiration of every honest, thoughtful person. Nobody can be more opposed to the Prime Minister in politics than I am. Nobody would be better pleased than I to see the place which he ornaments taken by somebody holding different political views. But that the Prime Minister of this great country should be exposed to the treatment which he has been forced to meet on many occasions, is a discredit and a disgrace to our country as a whole. It is a matter of 1939 pride to all of us, whatever our politics, that one holding his high position should have borne himself as he has done during these trying times.
During all my political life I have held but one opinion with regard to the extension of the Parliamentary franchise to women. Nothing I have heard, not even the powerful and moving speech of the Foreign Secretary, or the other interesting speeches to which we have listened, and nothing I have read, has shaken me in my view. The recent outbreak of violence and crime has impressed me with a further conviction. It is not the particular offence or the special kind of outrage that attracts my notice at the moment. It is the particular time in our history which has been selected for some of the greatest of these acts of violence. What has been the case during recent weeks as between the main warring parties in this House in politics? The Prime Minister has borne eloquent and kindly tribute to it himself. Everybody knows that we on this side have done our best to hold our peace and to avoid saying anything which might tend in any way to interfere with the Government in the discharge of the difficult duties with which they were charged for the protection of our national honour and position. Yet this very moment, when the ordinary Opposition, the ordinary political soldiers, have been content to a large extent to keep silent, has been selected to make the position of the Prime Minister and of some of his colleagues almost intolerable, and to render their task in conducting these difficult negotiations more difficult than it would have otherwise been. Therefore, while I agree that these outbreaks ought not of themselves to change the minds of men who had determined that they would vote for some Bill of this kind, yet I say with the Prime Minister that they make one pause once, twice, and thrice, when one realises that an agitation of this kind can be carried on at such a moment as I have described.
The Foreign Secretary and others have told us that this is the action of only a very few women. My Noble Friend the Member for the Newton Division (Viscount Wolmer) spoke about a handful of women. I do not know where those who speak in this way get their figures. I do not know what authority they have for saying that the agitators who adopt these violent 1940 methods constitute only a small and ridiculous minority of those who advocate the extension of the franchise to women. All the evidence which reaches me goes to show that they are far more numerous than hon. Members are willing to allow here. I am told that they get a great deal more money for the advancement of the cause than they got before. I can only say that if I were an advocate of Women Suffrage, as convinced, sincere, and wholehearted as is the Foreign Secretary, what we have recently endured would lead me to say that I would never vote for any practical proposal of the kind until these abominable outrages had been brought to an end. I do not suggest for a moment that anybody who takes a different view is in the smallest degree showing even a kind of approval of these unfortunate and deplorable outrages; but, speaking for myself, if I were the most firmly convinced supporter in the country of the suffrage for women I would not accord my vote for it until these occurrences were put an end to. Hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have told us that they have no sympathy with this later development. I am afraid that the vote in this House will be taken by those outside of it, to whichever branch of the movement they belong, as being the result and consequence of what they have been doing on each side, and will take to themselves credit for securing support from hon. Members on both sides of the House for this particular movement.
The Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin, whom I regret did so, suggested that it was prejudice and hostility to women and a desire to exclude them from the many advantages that men enjoy which leads those of us opposed to this measure to take the line we do take. There is not one shadow of foundation for any suggestion of the kind, and I am sorry that my Noble Friend thought fit to make it. I do not believe that in the ranks of those opposed to Women Suffrage there is one whit less admiration, respect for, or devotion to women, and for all that they do or have done, to that which obtains amongst the ranks of those who for various reasons desire to give them the franchise. To suggest that we are animated by any feeling of hostility whatever is something quite without foundation and very unfair. The right hon. Gentleman who preceded me admitted at the end of his powerful speech that he was in favour of the whole policy of the enfranchisement of women, and of enabling them to sit in this House. 1941 That is also the policy of the hon. Member for Blackburn. The Foreign Secretary began his speech by asking the House whether they were going back on their past history, whether, having passed Bills, I think he said seven times, we were now going to adopt a different attitude and not give a Second Reading to this Bill. I ask anybody who has been in the House, as the Foreign Secretary and I have been all these years, how many of those who voted for previous Franchise Bills did so believing that there was the remotest intention or possibility of the women, not only receiving the vote, but of being admitted to take part in our Debates in this House as Members of this House? I make no charge of bad faith against those in this House, or who have been in this House, in relation to this matter, but I suspect that a great many of those who voted for these measures in days gone by did so because they knew full well that they were not likely to pass into law. Thus they got rid for the moment of a troublesome question that might be and had been used to the annoyance of candidates and Members when they had to experience the tactics that the Foreign Secretary described to us.
I can answer for it—this statement of mine is not based upon mere imagination—that I have often been told by hon. Members when I have said perhaps to one of them, "Are you in favour of Women Suffrage?" that the reply would be, "Oh, well, I was asked by an association in my constituency whether I would not vote for it in some sort of modified form, and I replied 'Yes,' and I must keep my word!" Are we to be told now that because a man, either in a moment of weakness or carelessness, when he believed that the question was not likely to become a question of practical politics—are we to be told, as we were just now by the Foreign Secretary, that in those circumstances we are not justified in changing our attitude? Many of those who believed in and voted for Women Suffrage did so, I always, I confess, thought, in a most illogical way, but did so only so long as the suffrage was to be extended to a very limited class. Now they find that this Bill is to enfranchise 6,500,000. Previous proposals never went beyond a million. How many supporters would the Foreign Secretary get in this House or in the country for his complete policy of the enfranchisement of women; for the entire removal of the difference between the sexes for political purposes and for an entire removal of the barriers which prevent women from taking 1942 the same share in public life as men? What support would there be fur it in the country? What support, I am entitled to ask, is there for it in this House to-day? How many of those who are going to vote for the Second Reading of this measure are going to give their vote with the deliberate intention of extending to women all the political privileges which are now possessed only by men? The Foreign Secretary demurred to the criticism that if you are in favour of the whole you are doing something illogical by voting only for a portion of it; but what is the meaning of those statements? The Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin, in his peroration, called upon us to vote for this final measure of justice. How can there be any finality in it if we are told by the most powerful advocates of the measure that they want, not this small measure, but something of a very much larger kind?
We are told that this agitation will continue, and probably be extended, if this Bill is rejected to-day. I venture to say that I never felt so certain of anything in my life than of this: that whether we reject it or not the agitation will not stop. Many of those who are agitating, both peacefully and in the militant section, have declared quite openly already now, to-day, that this Bill is not the fulfilment of their hopes and wishes; they have declared that this Bill does not go anything like far enough. If this House gives effect to this Bill, an agitation will then begin for an extended franchise. Somebody said in one of the speeches that this argument was a feeble one. It is not a feeble one. It is an unanswerable argument. Those who are consoling themselves with the comforting idea that this is only a small proposal, that it may be reduced in Committee, and will be brought back with something like the dimensions of the Conciliation Bill, are living in a fool's paradise. Any Bill for the enfranchisement of the few should be a Bill for the enfranchisement of the many. Any less measure than that will, from that point of view, be a gross injustice. If there be any justification for the extending of the franchise to women—and I believe there is not—then it is to the poorest women that that extension should be made. Every argument the Foreign Secretary used was an argument in favour of giving every woman the vote such as men have the vote. He told us that if we passed this Bill we will put an end to agitation. If we pass this Bill, he said, we are dealing with a final 1943 measure so far as women are concerned. But there is not the smallest prospect, when the time comes, of this being realised. Therefore, we should vote to-day for this Bill, not, if the Foreign Secretary will forgive me for saying so, as he appeared to me rather to indicate, as if it were an abstract question whether or not women should be enfranchised: we must vote upon it in the full knowledge that this Bill may be passed into law if this House gives it a Second Reading, and that the passage of this Bill will not mean a cessation of agitation, will not mean putting an end to this demand for the further enfranchisement of women, but will prove to be the first steps in what will be the most gigantic change that has ever been made in the Constitution of this or any other country in the world.
In his speech, the Foreign Secretary dwelt for a short time on a line of argument which I think very few adopt who are opposed to this measure. He asks us the question: "Do you contend that women are inferior to men, and therefore are unable in fact to take their share in public affairs?" I do not believe, so far as I know, that the great mass of those who are opposed to this measure hold that view at all. I do not believe there is any suggestion from our side that women are inferior to men either in intelligence or in power of viewing questions. I believe, in nine cases out of ten, that their intelligence is as high, if not higher, than that of men. It is not from any belief that they are inferior to men that we are opposed to this proposal. The Foreign Secretary used the argument that women wished, and others wished for them, enfranchisement in order that they might get the same benefits that men get. How is it that speaker after speaker, advocating the cause of the enfranchisement of women, seemed to get up to the very point of the answer to the question we have so often put, and there he stops? Speaker after speaker has said that until you get women enfranchised they will not get the advantage that men get in the world; then when we are hoping that at last our curiosity is going to be satisfied, and that we are going to be shown how it is that women differ from men in these cases, and what that difference is, that advocate after advocate of Women Suffrage stops short, leaving us to be content with the statement that women get less wages than men, while they suggest 1944 that by enfranchisement they will get more. We are told that if we pass this Bill it will affect the wages of women in the different trades of the country. I do not believe it for a moment.
§ Mr. LONG
How many other countries has it been tried in which are comparable in any sense to our own country, and to our own people? The right hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well. The Foreign Secretary himself, after looking over the precedents, admitted that he had found very few places where the conditions were similar to those in this country. On this point, as to what the effect has been in other countries of the vote, the evidence is very difficult to get at. You are dependent upon personal statements of people, some of whom are opposed to Women Suffrage and some of whom are in favour of it. I have taken the trouble during the last few months to ascertain the views of many men who have experience of women franchise in Australia, and the information given to me is directly opposed to the information that the Foreign Secretary stated he had received. Therefore, the argument that it has had this or that effect in other countries is one which ought not to be listened to in this Debate, having regard to the kind of experience upon which we have to rely. For my part, I do not believe that if you give women the vote to-morrow the disadvantages under which they suffer will be removed. I believe at the present moment women exercise a far greater influence in political affairs, and over the actions and conduct of men, than those who advocate their cause here to-day seem to appreciate. Here let me say that if you do enfranchise women, you want a Bill, not with the curious phraseology of this one, but you simply want to say—I am not a lawyer and I do not know how to draw these things—but I should say simply that whatever privileges men have got, women should have them, and so have done with it. You simply then remove the barriers. You want a Bill which will simply remove these differences and put women on an absolute equality with men. Supposing you do that. Are we going to do for the women what you tell us ought to be done for them—what the Foreign Secretary described to us in such fervent language ought to be done for them—namely, effect an improvement? I, for one, do not believe it. I do 1945 not believe it would have any effect at all in the direction indicated. For this reason, not because I regard them inferior, or that I desire to do them an injury, not because I do not believe them to be perfectly capable of exercising the vote—I do not charge them with any incapacity—but because I believe, with the Prime Minister, that it would be neither in the interests of women nor of the State, because I believe women, if they get the vote, would lose the powerful position they occupy now, which enables them, as we all know, to influence legislation. It is for these reasons I oppose this Bill.
Everyone knows the influence of women in moulding legislation. I agree with the Foreign Secretary in this. I do not believe that in giving women the vote men would be justified in knocking them down. I do not say the age of chivalry is gone, but you will alter the relations between men and women. Hitherto it has been the duty of man to stand up for women, to shelter them, to stand by them, because they have not been admitted to all the privileges we enjoy; but to put them on an equality with men, although I believe the chivalry of men will remain, would mean a vast change and one for the worse. Let me say a word about the extraordinary position of this Bill from the point of view of the country. That part of the subject was treated as of comparatively no importance, except by the Prime Minister. Let me give the House one or two small figures. The Foreign Secretary said, "Where is your evidence that this Bill is not supported by the country." I think we are entitled to ask those who support it to give us their evidence that it is supported by the country. We can go further, and we can say there is evidence to the contrary and evidence of the absence of support. What are the facts? In the elections of 1910 there were 1,188 candidates for Parliament. How many of these mentioned the suffrage question? It was mentioned by 103 out of 1,188, and in only ninety-eight constituencies out of 644 was the question mentioned at all. In two constituencies, North St. Pancras, for which the hon. Member sits who introduced the Bill, and Worcester, represented by my hon. Friend, who is a strong supporter of this Bill, a canvass was taken of the Parliamentary and municipal electors, and with what result? In North St. Pancras 3,387 voted against and only 1,119 voted for. Then a canvass of the women was taken, and 378 voted 1946 against and only 200 for. In Worcester 4,070 voted against and 1,204 voted for. Of the women, 588 voted against and 307 for. And what did the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Keir Hardie), who is a warm advocate of Women Suffrage, as everybody knows, say? Speaking at the Independent Labour Conference in Manchester, he said:—The trouble is you are up against the same thing as we are. You have not the women of the nation behind you any more than we have the working men behind us.That evidence is not drawn from opponents of this measure. It comes from one of the warmest supporters of the measure. I venture to say there is no wide or general support for any measure of this kind in the country. My Noble Friend twitted the Prime Minister for raising this very argument, and I am bound to say I share my Noble Friend's view. But may I say, with all respect to my hon. Friends who belong to the party to which I belong, it seems to me that their position is different from that of the Prime Minister. We are constantly attacking the Government on the ground that they have never submitted their measures to the country. We are constantly charging them with trying to pass measures upon which they have not consulted the country and upon which its opinion was never expressed. I confess I am not clever enough to find an argument which might be consistent with forcing this Bill through the House of Commons without consulting the country and at the same time charging the Government that their conduct is reprehensible in regard to other measures. Many of those who have taken part in the Debate have shown that it is the principle of Women Suffrage, and not this particular Bill, that they are in favour of.
If this were an ordinary Resolution we should be in a very different position. We are opposed to this measure by conviction as honestly and as sincerely as actuates those who are in favour of it. And if this were only a Resolution I would not feel so profoundly impressed as I do. I say this Bill has never been before the country, and I say the general question of Women Suffrage has never been properly before the country, and I say there is no evidence of any general support for it. There is abundant evidence of the reverse, and this House ought not to be asked in face of these facts to make a change so sweeping and so revolutionary as this one would be. The country ought to be asked by responsible people whether it proposes to make 1947 so great a change as this, and until it has been asked that question and given its reply, I venture to say that this House ought not to be asked to pass, behind the backs of the people, and with wholly insufficient information at its disposal, a measure of this kind. I for one shall vote against it not only because I disapprove and do not believe in the principle of the extension of the suffrage to women, but because even if I did I would vote against this Bill, involving as it does a great principle which has never been put in whole or in detail before the electors of this country who are entitled to be consulted before this change is made.
§ Mr. ATHERLEY-JONES
I feel very little hope of this Bill being passed into law, or indeed of getting a Second Reading, because again to-night I do not believe that there will be a fair or a free expression of opinion. My hon. Friends who sit upon the Nationalists bench opposite are very naturally apprehensive that by voting for this Bill they will wreck the prospects of Home Rule, and from the Constitution point of view there is, no doubt, some good ground on their part for believing that if it was carried it would involve a Dissolution of Parliament. Of course, the passage of this Bill would have to take place during the present Session, and if there was a great change in the quality of the electorate, it would probably or possibly, at any rate, eventuate in a Dissolution of Parliament. I do not think necessarily from the constitutional point of view that a Bill having received the assent of the House on Second Reading it is essential that a Dissolution of Parliament should follow. I hope that during the course of this evening we shall have some expression of opinion on that very important question from the Front Bench, because undoubtedly if the Dissolution was to follow the immediate result of that knowledge would cause a great many of our hon. Friends—I do not say myself—to shrink from supporting the Bill. We are certainly entitled to some statement on that matter. I do not think, after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary that there is very much further that can be usefully said in support of this measure, because I think his speech was very exhaustive and covered every point, and dealt with every objection both on the ground of principle and of detail, which has been raised during the long time this controversy has been 1948 on. I have taken part for as long in that controversy I am sure as my right hon. Friend. I am not sure that my name was on the back of the Bill he introduced more than twenty years ago, but certainly I have been a very hearty supporter of Women Suffrage, and I have seen no reason to change my views, and I think he will concur with me when I say that, in my judgment, there has been very great intellectual progress made in this country in reference to the concession of Women Suffrage.
We hear no longer, not even from the Prime Minister, arguments of the intellectual inferiority of women. When I first took part in these Debates in this House the intellectual inferiority of women was the most salient and the most prominent ground of opposition to the concession of the suffrage. I heard it gravely argued in this House—it seems ridiculous to look back upon it now—that inasmuch as the weight of a woman's brain was on the average less than the weight of the brain of men, that that should settle the question. A retort was made then from the Radical Benches that the brain of a bee was less weight than the brain of a sheep, yet the bee was the more intelligent animal. What are the arguments against this Bill? The first is that there is no mandate. It is perfectly true there is no mandate, and I should be uncandid if I endeavoured to insist, as somewhat ingeniously one of my hon. Friends did insist, that the British public had expressed their opinion upon it. There is just as much mandate upon the question of Women Suffrage as there has been during my long Parliamentary career upon any question. I think there was a mandate on the question of the Disestablishment of the Irish Church. Possibly there was a mandate for the continuance of the Conservative Government in power pending the conclusion of the Boer war. To say there was no mandate for Home Rule would be just as strong an argument against Home Rule as it would be against the concession of the suffrage. What the Prime Minister said is perfectly true. There is no determining question which at any General Election covers the opinion of all the electors. The questions submitted to them are so many; there are so many Protean shapes in which questions come before the electorate that it is impossible in this highly organised State of ours to secure an absolute mandate. The second objection is that there is no 1949 demand for the vote for women. I should like my hon. Friend who insisted upon that to point out any instance—I have conjured my brain in the endeavour to discover one—where there has ever been what you may term a real overt demand by the people. There have been demands by the proletariat when hunger was concerned. We had that in the Revolution in France and in the various riots almost approaching revolution which from time to time took place in rural England. But there was no demand of that description by the working classes for the franchise. It is true that they gave a pious expression of opinion in its favour, but that was largely through the efforts of middle-class people who were leaders of Radicalism or democracy. The middle classes had a strong influence upon them through its active efforts of propaganda and organisation, and in that way the working classes were sufficiently organised or, so to speak, inspired into making a demand for the suffrage. We are told about Hyde Park railings being knocked down, and about that having brought about the concession of the suffrage. Everyone who knows anything about that question knows that the Hyde Park railings fell through accident and not through design.
I think you have this clearly established, so far as all great political changes are concerned in this country, that there never has been what you may call a definite demand by the people. There have been movements in favour of reforms; there has been public discussion in the Press; symptoms have appeared of which statesmen could take advantage, but there has never been any single reform, including the Reform Bill of 1832, for which there has been anything approaching a vigorous, popular demand. Then the third objection to the concession is based upon the improvement of industrial conditions. We have carried out great industrial changes and alterations in the regulations of factories, and it is said that no effort on the part of women would have secured them without the co-operation of men; but does anyone doubt this, that the accretion of the gravity of political power has always been found, not only in this country but in other countries, to coincide with the development of the industrial contentment and prosperity of the country? Side by side with the enjoyment of political power has been the reform of the industrial conditions and the improvement of social conditions. There are undoubtedly a very large number of women who do not 1950 take employment along with men, but monopolise certain employments. May I mention such employments as millinery and the work of seamstresses, and various other trades connected with the manufacture of clothing? That is almost wholly a feminine pursuit, and is not to any extent a male pursuit. These people are not looked after by Parliament as much as they ought to be. They have no voice or control whatever over the making of the laws, and they do not get the improvement that they might have. If they had this voice, I am sure that class of people would distinctly benefit. I do not, however, base my opinion upon that narrow ground.
I am in favour of the suffrage for women because I believe that undoubtedly there are many great social questions in which the co-operation of men and women would be helpful. I am not an extreme temperance reformer, but I am bound to say—and my experience of what exists in New Zealand confirms that view—that the admission to the suffrage of women would tend greatly in favour of temperance legislation on sensible grounds and rational lines. Then I think the housing question has been sadly neglected. The reform of the housing of the working classes, I thoroughly believe, would proceed more rapidly if women had the vote, because they are more actually in touch with the bad housing accommodation. If they possessed the franchise they would make their voice heard in the Council Chamber of the State, and would compel legislation in this direction. I deplore the violence which has been associated with the later stages of this movement. I know a great many of the people who have been associated with it, and I know that a great many of the members of the Women Suffrage societies are wholly opposed to it. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walter Long) is right in saying that the women who are in favour of the suffrage are generally tainted with this violence. That is a mistake. I think they are comparatively a small portion. But really, is it not pharisaical to take up that attitude when we know, as Mr. Gladstone once pointed out in words which at the time caused a great outburst of indignation or simulated indignation on the part of his political opponents, that almost every political change has been associated with violence or a threat of violence, and when many of us extenuated and condoned and exculpated the crimes which 1951 were committed in Ireland during the efforts to obtain a change in the land laws and in the government of Ireland. Mr. Gladstone once said you cannot indict a whole nation. How can we indict a whole sex? If you attempt that you are not imposing a disability upon a particular section who commit this violence—you condemn a whole sex because some of them have been unfortunately led away into acts of violence. The very fact that they have not committed violence was one upon which they were taunted from that Front Bench. They were taunted that they had not resorted to the extreme methods of men. I do not condone or exculpate or extenuate any of this violence, but with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who made a strong and in many respects a forcible speech in opposition of this Bill, I would urge upon him not to allow his vote on this question to be determined by a mere handful of people who commit acts of violence of this description. The whole world would be stagnant, there would never be any change, if Parliament adopted that policy and said that where there was violence no reforms should be considered.
Even the reforms which the right hon. Gentleman himself initiated and successfully passed would have not been conceded—I refer to his tenure of office as Chief Secretary of Ireland and to the valuable reforms of that time—had it not been for the pressure which was put upon the Parliament of this country and upon the Government for the time being through the lawlessness which was displayed in support of the Irish agrarian movement. One of the strongest attributes of Home Rule as he knows it was the policy of the Land League which was inaugurated by John Devoy and others. It is idle to put forward against this measure a weak argument of that kind. Much as I admired the rhetorical display, and indeed, the oratorical power of the Prime Minister I must confess I was disappointed. He said it was not a question of intellectuality. He said, if I remember right, it was a question of fitness of function. I waited in vain to hear from him some statement of the function, the political function of the kind demanded in this Bill which could not be exercised with equal ability and equal advantage to the State by men and by women. We had no proof, no detail in support of this alleged 1952 functional incapacity. I have voted steadily in favour of Women Suffrage over a long number of years. I see no reason to change the view which I formed in the early days of my Parliamentary career, now nearly thirty years ago. I think that the concession of the suffrage to women would do something more than serve the mere convenience of the State. I look upon it as remote from all questions of party. I think the relationships of men and women for mutual information and mutual action upon political, social, and economic questions which would arise from their admission to the franchise would not only be a gain to them and a gain to posterity but a gain to the State as a whole. That would be an immediate gain, but I also believe that the cheerful participation of women in the affairs of our public life, which have done so much in what we call local government would in a realm hitherto unexplored, but although unexplored of which our knowledge is large already, and even in international relations, in which it has been already pointed out, we ourselves only exercise a very cribbed, cabined, and confined part, their participation in the whole field of the operations in which we are engaged would be conducive to the interests of the State and would be an immeasurable advantage to the general standard of humanity.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HAROLD CAWLEY
I want to say a word to-night from the point of view of a convinced suffragist who has grave doubts as to the wisdom of passing this Bill at this time. I have the gravest doubts as to the wisdom of passing a measure of this kind immediately after—not because of—an outbreak of crime such as we have recently witnessed. I do not think that our position—those who think like myself, and there are several in the House and very many more in the country—has been entirely justly dealt with by those who have referred to us in this Debate. It is not correct to say that we are acting for fear of what people will say or that we are not going to vote for what we believe to be right. If the passing of the measure now does more harm than good, although we believe that by itself a measure of Women Suffrage is good, then we are voting for what we believe to be right, and I believe that to be an absolutely consistent and logical course to take. We have heard arguments to-day against that course. We have had cited 1953 to us all the cases in the past in which the Government have yielded to violence, and in which the Government have proved to be right. I will say that the citation of those cases now by the advocates of Women Suffrage and by the militants themselves does show that, right or wrong, the yielding to force in the past has had a bad effect, and I very much doubt, if there were not those instances of yielding to force in the past, whether we should have any militant movement at the present time. I do not think those cases are analogous to the present case. The Noble Lord who seconded the Second Reading of this Bill (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) cited an eloquent passage from Macaulay against people who think like I do; but if he had began his quotation two or three sentences before he did he would have found that it was completely inapplicable, because Macaulay, speaking of the evils done by delay, says:—Is there no harm in delay? Is there no harm in the hearts of people rendered sick by deferred hope?Is the heart of people rendered sick by deferred hope in regard to this question? I do not believe so. That fallacy runs through all those cases in which the Government apparently gave way to violence—it was only apparently—all those in which they gave way to the will of the great majority of the people. I do not believe that the great majority of the people are in favour of Women Suffrage at all, and I am perfectly certain that they are not anxious for it. There is another reason why the case of 1832 bears no relation to the case at the present time. There you had a few spasmodic outbreaks of violence. It was not to those outbreaks of violence that the Government of the day gave way. It was not the Government of the day but the governing classes or the House of Lords which gave way. The governing classes gave way to that demand because they knew from their observation and from report that at heart the people of the country were really anxious for the Reform Bill. They gave way because the people were anxious and savagely demanded it to the point of rebellion. They gave way to the overpowering will of the people and not to those few temporary outbreaks upon the surface. Those outbreaks were only the small surface manifestation of a real deep, general feeling underneath. They were spasmodic, they were spontaneous, they welled up from beneath. These outbreaks are carefully 1954 calculated, stage managed, cold-blooded crimes committed by a very few members of the public and directed by a few well-paid and highly advertised leaders. It may be right to yield to the violence of the many, but I am perfectly certain that it is bad policy to yield to the violence of the very few.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) is very fond of putting the argument in this way. If you have violence, you will never put an end to that violence unless you give way to it. That is in effect his argument. The only thing to do is to give way to the violence and to put an end to the cause of the violence and then the violence of the people will cease. That may be right when the violence is a spontaneous outbreak showing the wish of the great majority of the people. It is no argument at all when it is only a minority. Look where it would lead to. You might have two minorities of opposing views, both violent. People who believe that violence should always be yielded to would then be in a position of extreme difficulty, because they could not give way to both and they would not be able to carry their principles to their logical conclusion. Apart from this being the violence of the few, I think that it differs from other manifestations in previous cases in another important respect. I believe that it is really the meanest and most contemptible of the whole lot. I am not one of those who think that it has got worse from the moral point of view. Nothing could be worse than the early exploits of the militant suffragists. I can imagine nothing more utterly contemptible than the effort to go into the private lives of their political opponents and endeavour to make those private lives so uncomfortable that men will do something which they do not believe to be for the good of the country. To attempt to attack the Prime Minister in his private life and to make his life unbearable so that he will bring in a Bill which he believes to be disastrous to the country, I believe is to reach the lowest depths of degradation and contempt that have ever been reached in the history of this country. If you give way to this agitation you give way to the agitation of the minority, and I believe it is the most disgraceful agitation that has ever been.
The idea apparently now is to attack private individuals, and by making their lives uncomfortable make them support 1955 measures which the perpetrators of the outrages desire. That is equally futile and stupid, but I doubt whether it is worse than their early manifestation, though it is certainly more lawless. Put shortly, that is the reason why I think every suffragist must hesitate before he yields to even the appearance of violence in this case. The militant suffragist believes that violence pays, and I think it is desirable that in the future as few people as possible should hold that view. I, for one, am not anxious to increase the number of those who do hold the view. If it only went so far I should have no doubt whatever and vote against this Bill with a light heart. I may say that at one time I had almost persuaded myself to do so, but it does not end there. You have to look at the future. This militant agitation will go on as long as you have a considerable number of unemployed women, hysterical women, ill-balanced women, who are willing to devote themselves to what they believe to be a great cause. As long as you have any of those, and still more, as long as you have many who combine all those qualities, you will have a militant movement. Therefore, if we are going to vote against this measure now and vote against it until militant operations cease, we are going to condemn ourselves to vote against it for ever. The question is, Are we prepared to go on doing that? For my part I am not. Therefore, we have got to look forward sooner or later to having to vote for a Suffragist Bill immediately following militant outrages. We cannot get away from that, which I believe to be the prime evil.
The only thing you can do is to register a protest by holding this measure up for the time. The question I have put to myself is this: Is it worth registering that protest, a protest which may be made ineffective in the future by having to vote for the measure in a time of great violence? Is it worth doing that, and for the sake of doing that voting against a Bill which I desire eventually to see carried into law? It is not only that, because not only will the militant movement go on, but the constitutional movement will also go on. Constitutional suffragists—and I hope I shall be amongst them—will be doing their best, and will succeed gradually in removing the prejudice and the unreason of what is stated to be the view of those who are now 1956 opposed to the measure. I am perfectly certain that in time they will succeed, and that we shall have a majority of the people of this country in favour of Women Suffrage. If we go on voting against this in perpetuity, we shall therefore eventually be voting against the majority of the people of the country. We shall eventually have to give way, and we might probably give way in a manner which would seem quite as much yielding to violence as anything we could do at the present time. It is that feeling of doubt whether the protest which can be registered in this way is worth it, and whether it would be really effectual, which has prevented me deciding to vote against this measure to-night. I have sat through this Debate and have heard speech after speech against the Bill with which I disagree and speech after speech for the Bill with which I entirely agree, and I have felt that I very much doubt whether I shall be able to vote against the Bill to-night, but I did want to express what I think ought to be expressed: the very grave doubts which all suffragists ought to, feel as to whether this Bill should be carried at the present time. I must apologise for the rather personal note which I have introduced into my speech, but I do not see how else I could honestly and fully state the doubt which I have felt ought to animate suffragists in this matter.
§ Mr. RENDALL
I desire to say that I feel able to support this Bill in spite of the present condition of public opinion. I will deal, in the first place, with one or two of the objections I have heard expressed during the Debate. I understood the Prime Minister to express the view that, though he declined to adopt the argument of lack of mandate, yet, in his opinion, there was no evidence that the country, as a whole, was in favour of Women Suffrage or of this Bill. In regard to that matter it is desirable to look at the condition of the House of Commons. It is not denied on either side that the majority of Members of the present House are pledged to support Women Suffrage. Having regard to that fact, and having regard also to the fact that they were elected only about two years ago, I do not quite see that anyone has a right to go behind the mandate which they undoubtedly have. They were returned with the full knowledge on the part of the electors that they were in favour of Women Suffrage, and the Prime Minister has no right to go behind the backs of these 1957 individual Members who are pledged to support the principle, at any rate, of this Bill. The arguments to be used in regard to their position are twofold, and neither of them would, in my opinion, justify a Member in not carrying out his pledge. He might say that he pledged himself not knowing much about Women Suffrage and without understanding the business. That would be rather to suggest he was a fool. Or he might go so far as to say that he only pledged himself to a few persons, that he had no serious intention of carrying out his pledge, and that he does not feel bound by it. That is to suggest he is a knave, and I do not think that any hon. Member would like to place himself in a position to be described by either of these two appellations. Yet I fail to understand how, if he breaks his pledge, he can have applied to him any other than one of the two appellations.
If it be the fact that a majority in this House have a mandate for Women Suffrage, it seems to me it is not unimportant to consider whether the women of this country want the suffrage or not. We are constantly told that we must be bound by the existing class of the electorate, and if they have sent men to the House, a majority of whom are in favour of Women Suffrage, we have no right to go behind that position. In regard to the question whether or not women want the suffrage, it is worth while going a little more deeply into the evidence. In respect of all reforms which have been carried in this country in any Parliament, it may be said there are three classes of voters; those who are strong supporters of the reform, those who oppose it, and a third, a much larger class, which is entirely indifferent to it. I very much doubt, and those who have watched politics for a much longer time than I have done will share the doubt, whether there has been any reform passed in our lifetime in which absolutely it can be definitely said that the majority of the whole number of voters were evidently in favour and keenly in support of it. Reforms are carried, not by a majority of the whole electorate, but because the active supporters, the people who keenly believe in the reform, altogether outnumber those who are against it. If you look at nearly all recent legislation, even technical legislation, and legislation dealing with labour questions, it cannot be argued that the majority of the electors have shown a very strong desire to obtain a particular reform. But 1958 it can always be argued that the majority of the electors, who care about the reform, are more in favour of it than the minority are against it. If we are to judge matters by that test, we have to look at what women have done to show that they are either in favour of or against Women Suffrage. What do we find? We find that every women's trade union in the country has spoken in favour of the suffrage. We find that associations, like the Association of Headmistresses of Schools, university women, teachers of secondary schools, and others, have declared in favour of it. In regard to women doctors, out of 563 now in this country, as many as 538 have declared their adhesion to it. A vast majority of women graduates of universities hold the same opinion, and as many as 600 women members of local government bodies have declared in favour of the suffrage. In fact, we find that trained and educated women workers of all classes have spoken almost unanimously in favour of Women Suffrage.
But if we look at the manner in which women who are against it have spoken, we find a very poor and parlous sort of opinion. Until anti-suffrage societies came into existence two or three years ago, financed by all sorts of persons not mostly women, there was no expression of opinion of any sort or kind by women in this country against the suffrage; and when we look at the sort of statistics put forward by anti-suffragists we find that they have gone to large bodies of electors in one place or another, and either men or women have canvassed from house to house. They say that, as a result of a strong anti-suffrage canvassers' canvass, there is a majority against the suffrage. But, though they may have got a majority among those who express their opinions against when requested, I would point out that if they were to exclude those who are utterly indifferent to the question, and only include those who are workers either for or against, and who have been thinkers on the question, they would never have obtained a majority against the suffrage. Further, if they only applied to educated persons, persons who have given time to look into this particular question, again I say they would not have found a majority against.
In regard to militancy, my hon. Friend, who has just made an extremely thoughtful and carefully reasoned speech, left me in considerable doubt whether the existence of militancy was going to disturb his 1959 mind and make him absent himself from the Division to-night or induce him actually to vote against the Bill. I am not wholly aware, from the conclusion of his speech, what course he is going to take, but I cannot think that one who has devoted so much time and attention and work to this reform is going to desert us on this night of all nights. I shall look to see him with me in the Division Lobby later on, and I trust the smile I now see on his face is an indication that I am right in my anticipation. I agree with the view expressed this afternoon by the hon. Member for Blackburn, among others, that to refuse to pass the Bill because of the militancy is to pay the militants a compliment altogether over and above what is their due. It is ridiculous to allow this tiny section of well-organised, highly paid, and very hysterical opinion to weigh with us. It is unworthy of this House to pay the smallest attention to it, and it will be a discredit to any individual Member in this House if he allows the action of such a small body to alter his, perhaps, life-long view and the action he may have made up his mind to take on this question. We know that in all reforms the party which works for reform has its camp followers at one end, and its entirely unbalanced extremists at the other. If we look back on the reforms men have tried to get we see Peterloo's and fights in Trafalgar Square of a far more dreadful kind than took place last Sunday. We see the history of men's movements bestrewn with dark episodes of that kind. We also see that the Governments of those days had the courage, which men of to-day also ought to have, not to be led astray or to allow small incidents of that kind to prevent them going along the straight path they had marked out for themselves.
If we look at the question of militancy from another point of view, I think we can see not a defence for it—I am the last person in the world to defend it, but I honestly think that if there is ever a defence for unconstitutional methods, and I freely admit and affirm that there never is a defence—but if there is even a partial or bad defence for unconstitutional methods it is offered by a class who are not given constitutional rights. The men of this country have practically throughout their lives understood that they have constitutional rights, and a representative body to which they could return the person they elected. Those persons have had 1960 from almost earliest childhood, certainly from the time when they began to think about these questions, the knowledge that they had a way of expressing their view in a constitutional Assembly. To educated women that power has been denied, and it is not altogether surprising that there should be, among the 20,000,000 or more of women in this country, an odd thousand or two who fail to have regard to the decencies of civilisation and who commit crime to try and further a cause, which I think they are now realising that so far from furthering by their conduct they are very much retarding. I cannot believe that we shall allow the excesses of a few persons to alter the view we have held as suffragists and have come to hold because of our respect for the women whom we have watched in public and philanthropic work for so many years. I remember speaking to some of my religious and evangelical supporters in my Division, who reflect that militancy is so terrible an evil that they have felt bound to alter their views on the subject. I could not help asking one of my friends who held these evangelical views whether in the Middle Ages, at the moment when the orthodox churches were exterminating their enemies by fire, sword, the inquisition and all sorts of dreadful means, he would have felt bound to entirely deny the whole of the dogmas of the Christian Faith because of the misconduct of many thousands of highly-placed Christians of one kind or another. He was somewhat shocked by my question. It seems to me that is the question to put now. I cannot think that there can be persons who claim an intelligence who will deny by their vote to-night the opinion they have held for so long, simply because of the misconduct of a few persons. I have been much struck by the arguments used by people who describe themselves as Liberals on the platforms, where I have often met them. I have been struck with what seems to be the extraordinary illiberal doctrine they have been preaching from these benches the last day or two. I always thought that the best and last thing on this question was said some years ago, when the late Leader of the Opposition, in a Debate in this House upon Women Suffrage, said:—Nowadays we have democratic Government, and democratic Government means Government by consent of the governed.That small phrase seems to contain what real democracy means. We cannot claim that we have democratic Government, or 1961 that we have Government by consent of the governed while half the adults who are governed have no voice or say in the Government of their country. There is another tag often used on our platform:—Government of the people, by the people, for the people.That cannot be analysed by any democrat without his realising at once that what he has always said has never been true, and that what he always said meant government of the people by the men and for the men, and sometimes for the women as well, but certainly never by men and women; in other words, that government of the people, by the people, for the people, has been an untrue phrase. Those who hold democratic doctrines ought to endeavour to make those doctrines good when they have the chance. I need not enlarge upon the other expression of taxation and representation going together. That is practically admitted now on both sides of the House. There is another phrase, not used on Liberal platforms, but heard in the more respectable atmosphere of Tory platforms:—Property has its duties as well as its rights.Up to now one of the rights connected with property, if it has been the property of a man, has been the right to a vote for that property. When we are trying to do away with that right, it is still an argument which ought to appeal to all those who are Conservatives. Touching for a moment upon another question, there has been a point raised by the Prime Minister and others whether the existing laws are favourable or unfavourable to women, and whether men have done their duty by women in the laws they have passed. In reflecting on the laws of this country, it seems to me that they fall into three classes; the laws that include the vast majority, and which have to be obeyed by both men and women equally, the laws which seem to treat women rather better than men, and the laws which seem to treat women rather worse than men. If we want an example of those which are supposed to treat women worse than men, and which, I think, do treat them worse, we have the Divorce laws, which undoubtedly are unfair to women, which make an act of hers the sole and sufficient ground for divorce, and do not make it the sole and sufficient ground for divorce in the case of men similarly acting. Other laws which are more unfair to women than to men are of course the franchise laws, so far as Parliamentary representation is 1962 concerned, which entirely exclude her from them. Our judges, proud as we are of them, occasionally vent their personal opinions on the bench. I noticed only a week or two ago some judge pointing out, in his remarks to the jury or the prisoner, that a particular woman who was before him was being released on the ground that the laws of England favoured a woman as against a man in particular circumstances.
What are the cases where the law of the land favours the woman as against the man? In regard to our commercial laws certainly the bankruptcy law has hitherto favoured the woman as against the man, but we have just passed through the Committee stage of a Bill which is to place women almost in the same category as men. It is to draw into the bankruptcy net, in fact, a very large number of women who up to now have been excluded from that net. But of course the illustration which is usually used in this matter is that in regard to felony. If a husband and wife commit a felony, if the wife commits it, she is held to have committed it legally by coercion of her husband, and as the law holds that she committed it by compulsion of her husband she is relieved of responsibility, and the husband is punished and the wife is not. These are the only cases in which the woman has any undue privilege over the man, and, in so far as the woman is relieved of her felony, it is an extremely undesirable state of the law. We have no reason to suppose that in the majority of cases where husband and wife live together the husband is more often the commanding will of the two than the wife. There is no reason in common sense or experience why you should throw the burden of guilt more on the husband in that case than the wife. The law is a bad and an unfair law, and the law itself, which comes down to us from bygone ages, only came into existence when women were untrained and uneducated, and where the man was treated as the sole legal entity in the house. Nowadays, when husband and wife are both likely to have equally good education, there can be no reason whatever for a law of that kind, and if we look at the genesis of that law it is by no means flattering to women. For what does a fair interpretation of that law mean? It means that the State has held the woman's mind and character in such supreme contempt that it has held that she practically was not a human being, that she was 1963 not an adult, that she was a person of such supreme unimportance that she had to do, as a slave, anything which her husband told her. The law existing to-day is not only unfair to women, but is bad for the community, for it may let off, to the great danger of the public, a very wicked criminal, and may inflict severe injury upon a person who is not a criminal.
It seems to me, then, that if these are the only cases in which women have got a superior position to men under the law of this land they have very little to be thankful for, and, in fact, the one small privilege given to them under the criminal law of this country is in itself a most severe insult to them. Therefore those who have used this argument have used what is a very unfair argument and one to which I attach extremely little weight. What women demand is that the law shall be equal as between men and women. They do not want a preference; they want equality, and, what is more, what they want is that the laws which they have to obey they should be allowed to take a part in passing. That seems to be a right which women, equally with men, have a right to demand, and I cannot think that those Gentlemen who sit on these benches, and many on the others, who understand by democracy equal rights for all adult human beings, will be able to vote against this Bill. I am perfectly certain that the nation requires women. It already uses them in almost every department of human life, and I am perfectly certain the nation is all the poorer because we have not got the value of woman's mind and woman's energy put into the enormous number of questions with which politicians have to deal in this country. The ordinary man, the man we are accustomed to call the man in the street, is still, I am afraid, in the somewhat elementary condition of holding that the proper sphere for woman is the home, and that argument I am quite sure, though it may be relegated to the dustbin in this House, still does a great deal of duty amongst a very large number of people in this country, and to that class of mind it is necessary to point out continually that the woman in the home is prejudiced or is advantaged by almost every law which we pass in this House. Questions like taxation, questions like the present food taxes, or proposed further food taxes, affect the family budget and affect the persons who have to make that family budget and to make the money 1964 which she receives for it go as far as possible every week.
Then almost every line of the evidence in the Report of the Commission on the divorce laws shows that the existence of the various offences which lead to divorce cast a far heavier burden on the women of this country than on the men. The need of women in this House, certainly the need of women voting in this country, seems to be admitted by the Government and by the Prime Minister, who appoints women on the Commission to deal with that very serious and highly important question. Practically all labour legislation of every kind affects women closely, and we must never forget that in regard to Women Suffrage, and in regard to all women's questions, legislation in this House year after year is continually dealing with matters which in time past have lain wholly in the women's province inside the home, and these matters are day after day and year after year being taken out of her province and being taken into this House, and this House is controlling her more and more year by year. That quotation which was used by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Edward Grey) the other day, in which he quoted from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is one which deals with this question in a way which is always worth repeating. Speaking at Bath, a year or two ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:Government to-day has annexed an interest in the very questions which in the old days were allowed to be solved by the individual man and woman in their own way for themselves. What are the questions? Look at the great subjects of legislation in the last few years—education, the training of children. That used to be left entirely to the individual in those days—not to the individual man, but to man and woman consulting together, taking counsel together. The housing problem, sanitation of houses, feeding of children, provision for old age and sickness, sobriety and temperance, the treatment, cure, nursing, and prevention of disease—formerly these were questions which men and women helped each other individually to deal with. Now they have been lifted into the sphere of law. Why should women cease to be interested in them when they go there?That is the question I ask now. This Bill goes further than some people want, and less far than I wish it to go. It is a Bill which will do much to give to this House the benefit of the trained advice and the expert intelligence of millions of women in this country which we now lose, and I am perfectly certain that whether this Bill is passed to-night or not—if it is not passed I think the failure will lie at the door of those who have made pledges to support Women Suffrage and broken them—I feel certain, and I think the opponents of the measure also feel certain, that 1965 Women Suffrage is inevitable, and that before many years have gone by it will be the law of the land.
§ Sir WILFRID LAWSON
I am sure everything possible and impossible both for and against the principle of Women Suffrage has already been said in the course of this Debate. Therefore I certainly cannot expect to say anything new, or anything of particular interest to any human being. At all events, I am in no doubt as to how I shall act in this matter when the Division bell rings. I should like to give one or two of the reasons why I am going to vote for the Bill. It is a non-party measure, and I dare say it is no worse and perhaps no better on that account. Personally I am perhaps rather an anachronism, but I must confess that I am not ashamed to say that one of the main reasons why I am going to support it is because I am a Liberal, and by that I mean one who believes in equality of opportunity, and most especially when that equality of opportunity is wanted on behalf of the weak and defenceless rather than on behalf of the powerful and strong. What is proposed by this measure? It is proposed that about 6,000,000 women shall enjoy the franchise which men already have. What are the arguments against that course of action? The Prime Minister said this evening that one reason why this Bill should not be supported is that women's interests are already sufficiently safeguarded in this House? By whom? By our noble selves. As to that, I would simply make these two remarks. In the first place, I am not at all sure that, after all, we are the best or the most impartial judges of that; and in the second place, even if we were, I agree with the famous saying of the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman that "good government at its best is no substitute for self-government." We are told by some, with whom I think the wish is father to the thought, that women do not want the vote. I suppose they feel like the poet that—Man wants but little here below,and that women want a little less. If that is so, all I can say is that since the days of the Garden of Eden it is one of the few things that woman has not wanted. But even if it is true, I am reminded of a saying of the late Mr. Gladstone:—The question is not, after all, does woman want it but does she need it?You are giving votes to women in matters of local administration, and surely no one will deny that in matters of legislation 1966 there are many questions—economic, political, moral, and social—which affect women deeply, if not more than men, and as to which women have an equal, if not a greater, right to have a say. I heard the hon. Member for Egremont (Mr. Grant) use the argument quite frankly yesterday that might is right in this matter. It is an old and selfish argument. The hon. Member came out I think in his true Tory colours, if I may say so, which are at the bottom, in my humble opinion, of much of the opposition to this Bill. It is only the opponents of the Bill who have the courage to confess it. The hon. Member quite frankly stated the doctrine in which he believed in this matter. It is the old doctrine:—The good old ruleSufficeth them, the simple plan,That they should take who have the power,And they should keep who can.He said, "For heaven's sake let us men, now that we have got the voting power, keep it, for I have been controlled and tormented by women quite long enough." In any case, I am very sorry that his experience in this matter seems to have been so unfortunate. If he were present I would have ventured to ask him a question which I think perhaps not wholly irrelevant, and which I believe was once asked of another anti-suffragist, Lord Cromer. I believe that a lady once wrote to him to ask what he would have done if he had never had a mother. Whatever the hon. Member would have done, I venture, with great respect, to differ from him, and to say that in my humble opinion we should be much freer, more generous, and more chivalrous also, and that men would be better advised both in their own interests and in the interests of women if they would welcome rather than repel, in that somewhat brutal fashion, the co-operation of women in public, just as they do in private affairs. The hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) said yesterday that those who support this Bill were either red republicans or sickly sentimentalists. I hope that he will acquit me of being either. I speak with all sincerity when I say that I believe that in practice this would be a better and a brighter world if women had a freer and fuller share in the duties and responsibilities which are or ought to be the common heritage of both men and women.
This is no new movement. I think that it began many years ago in a demand by women for increased educational facilities. That demand was opposed then just as 1967 bitterly as the demand for the vote is opposed now. I have heard that there is at present in the British Museum an old pamphlet, in which it is stated that if you teach woman how to read you will never know where she will stop. She has not stopped yet, and I do not think that she is going to. I think we might say that she is having a non-stop run. Therefore I cannot hold out any prospects to the hon. Member for Egremont, either now or in the remote future, of a heaven where the women shall cease from troubling and the suffragist shall be at rest, a place where he and his Friends who think with him may enjoy an honoured old age and pass the time together, careless of women-kind. All the signs of the times and all the evidence seem to point to the contrary. We are told that the spheres of men and women never can commingle. Slowly but surely the barriers of sex are being broken down. I have read that a very clever professor, I think from Liverpool, tried certain scientific experiments. What he tried to do was to abolish, if possible, the difference of characteristics between cocks and hens. After a great deal of labour, he found it quite impossible to change the personality of cocks, but I believe that he succeeded in making hens crow. Surely, if so much can be accomplished in the poultry world, it may be accomplished in the political world also. Speaking quite seriously, I certainly hope that it will. I believe that there should be no such thing as sex in citizenship, and, in spite of his speech this evening, I believe in a sentence used by the Prime Minister in a speech, I think about a year ago, when he said:—Great is the magic of free institution.It is because I believe that this Bill is based upon those principles of justice and equality, which alone can form the foundation of all wise and sound legislation, and because I believe that the proposals contained in it will be in the best interests, not only of women but of the State, that I shall give it this evening my hearty support.
§ Mr. CATOR
Although those in favour of this measure have argued that, owing to the doctrine of evolution and for other reasons, it is right that women should now have a vote, I cannot myself see that it is or could be right to carry such a gigantic scheme as this without the sanction of the 1968 electorate. I do not think that anybody can doubt at the moment that if the public were consulted at the present time, and asked their view with regard to Women Suffrage, there would be any but a negative answer given. Many reasons might be urged by advocates of a Bill such as the Conciliation Bill, only that we are not discussing that Bill at the present moment. It is perfectly obvious that a great number of women in this country are just as well fit as men may be to exercise the political franchise. It is not, indeed, a question of fitness at all in my opinion, but it is really the far wider question of sex, and I do not think that we wish to feel that the two sexes should fall into a rivalry with each other. In my opinion their functions are more complementary than those of rivals. The Conciliation Bill, after all, is a small matter which would only enfranchise 1,000,000 women in the country. This is a very much larger question, for the Bill would enfranchise no less than 6,000,000 women in this country, while there is very little hope, indeed not the smallest chance, of its being final. It would obviously only lead to pressure being brought for a further extension of the franchise. The argument has been used that it is surely illogical to say that women are unfitted for the vote, because there are so many men who are already in possession of the franchise who certainly are not more fitted to exercise the vote than are women, if they had one. That argument was even used by the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. But the answer seems to be that if—and I am afraid it is the case—there are some electors in this country who are not in any way fitted to exercise the franchise surely that is no reason for increasing their number by giving the vote to a great number of women who might not, many of them, be more fitted to exercise the franchise than some men.
But whether it is wise or unwise, it seems to me to strike at the very bed-rock of the Constitution to pass such a measure as this without the sanction of the electorate. It appears to me that, situated as we are, and being called upon to govern a great number of Dependencies containing coloured races, action of this kind would surely be very much misunderstood, and I feel that it is particularly inexpedient at the present time to grant the franchise to women, because it could only be construed as a surrender to militancy. I know that there are many Members who have spoken 1969 this afternoon who do not take that view, but I cannot myself feel that it would be right or expedient to grant the vote at the present time at any rate, because I think it would be misconstrued, firstly, by the militants themselves, and, secondly, by the world at large. I cannot help feeling that it would be regarded as a concession to anarchy and to that line of action which we have all deplored so much during the last few weeks. I do not consider that any adequate or nearly adequate reason has been made out for so colossal a revolution. There are many suffragists who argue that women, if they were given the vote would improve our public life. I regret that recent events have shown that this is not the case, and I think that politics would spoil the women more than women would improve politics. Another reason which is constantly urged is that women engaged in industries in Northern towns would use the vote in order to obtain an increase of wages. If we take the figures and statistics, I think we must all come to the conclusion that, whether they have the vote or whether they have not, the wages of women and of men are rising and have been rising for some years past.
I believe it could be proved that the rise in women's wages has been more rapid than the rise in men's wages. I feel that it would be very difficult to point to any specific grievance under which women have been suffering the redress of which has been refused when it has been laid before Parliament. I do not think it is fair that women should complain that their grievances do not receive the consideration they deserve. I think, if you compared the action of the Parliament of this country with that of any other country, it would be easy enough to find that women have received advantages in this country which have been denied in many other countries. Another argument which is contantly used is that militancy is excusable because men have used it in the past. The Hyde Park riots which took place in the Chartist days have been brought forward constantly as an illustration, but in that instance the case was entirely different. The Chartists had public opinion to a very great extent in their favour. Although we do read of Hyde Park riots taking place to-day, I confess it is impossible to resist the conclusion that public opinion is not on the side of the suffragists, but is distinctly and very strongly against them. Another argument which has been used again and 1970 again when this subject has been discussed is based by way of illustration on the attitude in Ulster. I feel very chary about mentioning that question, which apparently is outside the present subject of discussion, but I only mention it to show that the question in Ulster is entirely different from that which we are now engaged in considering.
There it is not a change which is asked for; it is merely that a homogeneous people are anxious to remain as they are, and are, at any rate, perfectly open to take any risks which may be necessary against what may overtake them. How different is their action from the horrible action taken by these women in those secret burnings and the various methods which they have adopted. Open rebellion has always been a thing that could be used by a dissatisfied minority, and if people choose that course then they must take the consequences. Another example would be the kind of action which has been taken by the Balkan States and Turkey, and there again the methods have been entirely different from those employed by the militant section. Although I am quite ready to admit that it is a very small section, a very small minority, yet it is excessively prominent, and I do not think that this is at all an opportune moment to grant Women Suffrage. There seems to me also to be a domestic side to this subject. It has been stated more than once quite recently that the laws in regard to men and women are very uneven. They are indeed. For the husband, in law at any rate, as the head of the house, has many obligations falling upon him from which his wife is exempt. The State, after all, expects him in his capacity as head of the house, first, to feed the family; secondly, to finance the family; and, as a last resort, the State expects him to fight for the family. He is liable, moreover, for damages for slander or libel, or trespass committed by his wife. She is not liable for her action, and yet she is to have exactly the same rights, but not the same responsibilities, as her husband. I feet that the effect of such a proposal as this would lead to a domestic revolution, which we should all seek to avoid.
After all is said and done, there is a very unsatisfactory feature in these Debates. It is that we get very little further, and that whatever the results of the Division may be this evening, we have not got to the end of this very difficult question of the women's franchise. I can- 1971 not but feel that before we go the whole road of granting the franchise to women there is a good deal of ground we might make up in rendering more uniform the local government franchise, which presses so unevenly on women in different parts of the country. There is an enormous field for women's work. There is education; there is housing; the protection of children, and many other questions, which open an enormous field to women, yet which is not half as open to them as it might be. I wish very much that the field could be extended. I should like to see some sort of either formal or informal method for discovering what is really the opinion of the people of the country on this question. We hear a great deal about a mandate, and some say a mandate has been given on this question and others say it has not. I feel myself that the question, although of course it is an old one, has assumed a far greater importance during the last two or three years than it ever did before, but I do not think it is possible to argue that the question has been properly submitted to the people of the country as a whole. I feel that we shall betray a trust if we do not give the people, either by Referendum or some other means, the opportunity to let us know what their views on this question are. More than anything else, I feel it would be wrong to pass a measure of this kind, or to agree in its passing, because by doing that we would be doing what many of us on the Unionist side have declared we never will do, namely, to take any share in any action under the Parliament Act. I feel, until we can consult the electorate of this country, we shall be aiding and abetting the action of the Parliament Act, and in my opinion that is one, if not the strongest reason, why I feel that we should hesitate before we pass a measure of this kind.
§ Mr. TOUCHE
I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Cator) displayed nearly such a full understanding of the heart of woman as the hon. Baronet the Member for Cockermouth (Sir W. Lawson). The hon. Member for Huntingdon said that to give the women the vote would be to spoil women without improving politics. He apparently shares the views of women expressed by the Persian, who said, "When woman begins to interfere in politics, then is the time to put your trust in Allah." The hon. Member for Huntingdon also argued that men are in a privileged position because 1972 the man has to feed the family, but he entirely overlooked the large number of women in industrial occupations who have to make their own livelihood. He argued also that to give the franchise to women at the present time would be to surrender to militancy. In that respect he apparently had considerable sympathy with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Heywood (Mr. Cawley), who told us he was a wobbler. I think he made one of the most honest and straightforward speeches which we have heard on this subject. He said he is in favour of the suffrage, but he was afraid of granting it at the present time, and he thought it was desirable to withhold it by way of protest. I think he himself answered his doubts by pointing out that there will never be a time when there is not militancy, and, therefore, the time must come when the franchise will be granted to women when there will be militancy, as undoubtedly some day it will be granted. For my part, while I have sympathy with those doubts, I cannot help feeling it would not be fair to those who have been agitating for the franchise on a constitutional basis if we were to withhold it because of the behaviour of a comparatively small number of women. Nor do I think it would be fair to the House of Commons itself.
We must consider the dignity and position of Parliament in this matter. It is perfectly obvious that the present position cannot be indefinitely prolonged. In a sense, Parliament itself is on trial. The House of Commons has ratified the principle time after time. It has declared, after long debates, that the objections to the extension of the franchise to women are negligible, and yet the question is delayed, we get no further, and it never reaches the Statute Book. Can we wonder, then, that an impression has been created outside that this House is either trifling with the question, or, if not, that the majority of the House is unable to give effect to its own wishes in the matter? The only justification I have for intervening in this Debate is that I have the honour to represent the Metropolitan constituency within whose borders the towers and turrets of Holloway Castle raise their hospitable heads, but I am not here to defend the foolish virgins who have been incarcerated there in their campaign of violence. I recognise that they have had a great deal of provocation leading to their calamitous tactics, but I do not for a 1973 moment consider that that justifies them. The demand for the vote, however, is not by any means the monopoly of the militant. There is behind it an intensity of personal feeling and devotion on the part of women who have never participated in any way whatever in the militant campaign. The demand is based on a sense of injustice, and it is also based on the desire to help women who are driven into the full stream of industrial life. The true basis of the demand lies, I think, in the fact that there has been an extraordinary industrial development in the last generation or two, creating an entirely new situation. The position of millions of women has thereby changed. They take a far greater part in industrial life and in political life and in the work of social reform; but the law has not kept pace with the change, and it is, to my thinking, inevitable sooner or later there must be an alteration in the law. The question is not going to be solved even if the militants are repressed entirely. Penal measures will not offer any solution, nor will they in any way abate the demand for votes for women.
I do not regard the Bill before the House as by any means an ideal Bill. I think it would enfranchise too many at the first time of asking. I think it undesirable that there should be such a violent change. I am not afraid of the argument of the thin end of the wedge. I quite recognise that if the suffrage is given to a limited number of women it would be only a beginning; it is bound to be extended by and by. But if the extension comes gradually I do not think we have any reason to fear it. I should much prefer a measure which began by giving the suffrage to women householders. That, I believe, is a change the fairness of which public opinion would recognise. But I very much doubt whether public opinion would endorse the extension of the suffrage to 6,000,000 women. I do not myself attach too much importance to the question of mandate. On that subject I have this justification for supporting the measure—that at the two General Elections of January and December, 1910, I stated my views in favour of votes for women in my election address. But I know perfectly well that I received on other grounds the support of many electors who were opposed to me upon that particular question. Therefore I do not think that one can fairly say that every Member who was returned to this House 1974 after declarations in favour of extending the suffrage to women has been returned in order that he may carry out that policy. The Conciliation Bill was a compromise. If this Bill gets a Second Reading, there will again be scope for compromise. I believe that it would be possible to give votes to women under this Bill in such a form as to meet the reasonable objections of the various classes of supporters. I quite recognise that no Amendment would satisfy those who are entirely opposed to the proposal; therefore I do not think we need consider them too much. Neither do I think that any Amendment would satisfy those—and I fear there are a considerable number of them in this House—who are always in favour of any measure of enfranchisement except the particular one that happens to be before the House at the time.
Criticism of the methods of the advocates of any reform is one of the oldest dodges in Parliamentary life. It was used against Catholic emancipation; it was used against the extension of votes to men; and I think it might be used equally logically against Home Rule. I regret as much as anyone the violence of the women. Hitherto that has been a monopoly of the male agitator for political recognition. I fear the women thought that they would have a better chance of getting the privilege enjoyed by men if they copied the vices of men. It is deplorable that they did so. One result, however, has been to divide those who were genuine in their support from those who gave a limited promise under some sort of duress. It has also helped to demonstrate that a lack of logic is not a monopoly of any one sex. I cannot regard the responsibility for the recent outrages as resting upon the women alone. To me their policy seems to have been a policy of despair, a policy which they adopted because they had lost confidence in politicians. For that this House is largely responsible. The franchise blunder of last year might have been overlooked if it had been a solitary incident. But it followed a systematic shelving of this question during fifty years of peaceful persuasion. There was no militancy when all were agreed on the Conciliation Bill. Militancy began only when that Bill had been "torpedoed" at the instance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is an enthusiastic suffragette, but like many good men he is misunderstood. I think he is mistrusted by 1975 suffragettes and anti-suffragettes alike. If a reform is to be based on merit, I cannot see that the question of the methods of a few of its supporters should have anything to do with it. If we really regard voting as taking an account of the wishes of the people, on what ground can we possibly ignore the wishes of half the nation and of those who do half the work of the world? It seems to me that a refusal of civic rights to women demands a case of overwhelming strength, and that a time will come when everybody will wonder why these rights were denied for so long.
The hon. Member for the Osgoldcross Division (Sir J. Compton-Rickett) spoke of women as if they were a different sort of humanity from men. He compared them with the people of India and the peasants of Russia. At the same time we are told by those who argue in that way that there is a vast field for women's work in local government. The arguments are based on the assumption that men always vote wisely, and that women are not wise enough to exercise the vote. It seems to me that the constitution of this House at the present time is sufficient evidence that men do not always vote wisely. To say that they do is simply an extension of the old claim of divine right, but instead of being applied to kings it is applied to male voters. It is quite idle to argue that a vote would be of no use to women. If you argue that, you must also say that it is of no use to men, that the thing is useless, valueless, a mere fraud upon the elector, something with which to humbug the people. The minimum wage alone was sufficient evidence of the value of the vote in reference to legislation.
§ Mr. TOUCHE
The strike alone would not have had that effect if it had not been backed up by a large number of people who possessed the vote. I asked one of my anti-suffragist friends to send me what he considered to be the strongest arguments against granting the vote to women. He was one of those reasonable, fair-minded people who always speak of the militant suffragettes as she-devils. He sent me an article containing two propositions. The first was that an elector must be physically able to make his way to the poll against opposition if necessary. To illustrate this the article proceeded to say that a dozen ruffians at a single polling 1976 station would prevent a hundred women from casting a single vote. If that is an argument in favour of anything at all, surely it is in favour of militant methods. But are men always able to force their way to the polling station? I fancy I have heard of a certain number of independent electors in North Louth who did not succeed in doing so. The second proposition was that the elector must be able to carry out by force the effect of the ballot. That, of course, is our old friend the physical force argument—the argument that women cannot fight, which is so often used by men who know better. Since when has the fitness to fight been made a condition of the franchise for men? Men who will not join the fighting forces exercise the franchise. Men who are engaged in the fighting forces of the country are practically disfranchised. In these times fights are not won so much by physical strength; it is very much a question of the head. Somebody has said that the rifle has no sex. Even our War Ministers are not always chosen for the splendid military bearing which characterises the present occupant of that office. It seems to me that all the arguments against votes for women break down, even the argument of physical force, which is a most undemocratic argument to my thinking. The rule of physical force has always been the rule of the armed few over the unarmed many. If I might summarise the position, as it occurs to me, very briefly, I would say that I am going to support this measure because I think the exclusion of women from exercising one of the elementary rights of citizenship is unjust. It may not be unjust to the sheltered women, but it is unjust to those who are engaged in industrial life. I think it is also unwise that the State does not, to a large extent, get the benefit of woman's point of view. It is a flagrant violation of the old Whig theory that taxation and representation ought to go together. New conditions of life have come into being, and a new race of women who have discarded the dependence and helplessness of the early Victorian women. Their energies are no longer restricted to the home, the nursery, and the Church. They have substituted self-reliance for the old feeling of dependence, and they are entitled to the shield and buckler which men possess in the exercise of the franchise. Either this or some other measure of a similar character is a measure of justice long over- 1977 due, and is part of that broad movement of human progress which is sweeping away privilege and giving liberty and justice to all.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
One of the hon. Members who addressed this House very early to-day remarked that it was an exceedingly difficult thing to speak upon this subject because it had become so threadbare. If it was difficult to speak upon this subject earlier in the sitting, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, far more difficult it is to speak upon it now. All I can venture to do, I think, in beginning to wind up this section of the Debate is to attempt to summarise, as briefly as possible, some of the more general considerations that will weigh with me in giving this Bill my support to-night. The Prime Minister, in the speech which he delivered, remarked that no Government, whether Liberal or Conservative, could be conceived as being united upon this Bill. I am not sure that that is a bad thing. As a matter of fact, so far as I am concerned, I think it is a very good thing. It is not at all bad to allow an independent majority of this House to emphatically express its will in this House, and the decision that is to be come to to-night, and which I hope will be favourable to this Bill, will be all the more valuable because no party Whips will meet Members when they rush into the Lobbies to record their votes. At any rate, I for one, am not going to accept the dictum that because the Government have not agreed upon a thing, therefore the House of Commons can do nothing at all. Another criticism which the Prime Minister made related to the method of the Bill. It does not, he said, do everything. It is not logical. It is not complete. It leaves much undone. My hon. Friend who introduced it does not stand to his guns right through! When I heard that argument, I reflected on what a terrible mess we are going to get into this Session if that canon of criticism is going to be applied to any measure that this House is going to be asked to discuss between now and August. I have longed for such a Bill as that suggested—for the Bill that is logical, that is complete, and that goes the whole hog. I have been in this House since 1906. I have never come across such a Bill. If I remain in this House for the next twenty years I will not come across it.
As a matter of fact, I always understood that it was one of the cardinal and characteristic principles of Liberalism that it did not stick to logic when it was 1978 dealing with methods. It took up a logical position so far as principles were concerned, and then it proceeded to carry out those principles by the time-honoured historical method of compromise. I am surprised that the Prime Minister did not compliment my hon. Friend on the very successful way he has come to a compromise in this matter. We were asked to prove that there was a demand. The Prime Minister was very careful to explain that a demand was something more than a desire. We agree. But the right hon. Gentleman was very careful to avoid defining what a demand was or is. What sort of a demand does he want? What sort of a demand can he expect? Take the increases in the franchise with which his own party has been associated. The demand that preceded those increases were created by party agitation. Party leaders stumped the country. Party leaders stood up in this House, and laid down the doctrines of democratic Liberalism, and in that way there was a certain wave of enthusiasm got up. No party leader has stood behind this movement. No party has associated itself with this movement. This movement has been left to the advocacy and championship of women belonging to no panty; women without the vote, women without political influence, women who have stood alone and apart, declaring that the time had come for the enfranchisement of women. They have got up petitions. Before a single woman rose up in a meeting to create a brawl and start militancy there was a petition signed by over 30,000 of the working women of Lancashire asking this House to give them the vote. Before there was a single move that could be called a militant move, professional women, honourably associated with every intellectual profession that has opened its doors to women, asked this House to regard them as the equals in citizenship of men. Nothing new has happened since the militant movement started. Petitions, demonstrations, and processions; all the meetings and the demands that have been made in any shape or form, preceded in a magnificent, convincing fulness the militant movement to which so much reference has been made.
The Prime Minister characterised my hon. Friend's Bill as a Bill which obliterated sex in politics. Nothing of the kind. That is the Prime Minister's own construction. The Prime Minister's whole position is a position that obliterates sex in politics, because, he says, you do not 1979 require to take women voters into account—men voters are sufficient to do all that is required. That is obliteration of sex. As a matter of fact, we go upon far more natural and far more scientific lines. We say you cannot obliterate sex in politics. We say it is absolutely impossible for the State, in view of the work that it has got to do, to remain a masculine State alone. You are dealing with legislation regarding children, regarding wages, regarding food. These grounds have been covered very fully by preceding speakers, and I do not propose to go over them again. But does any man mean to say that all these problems can be successfully settled by men appealing at elections to constituencies composed of men only, or by men who sitting here, over and over again, thinking, as we must do, of what pressure can be brought to bear upon us by our constituencies, and thinking only of men's inteterests and men voters? Does any man mean to say that all the enormously complicated system of social legislation which this House has got to face in days to come can be successfully faced by male electors alone represented by men in this House? It cannot possibly be done. The people who say it can be done are the people who would obliterate sex in politics and those who look at the situation candidly and scientifically and say, "You must bring in women, you must appeal to women's experience, you must give women political weight and power"; they are the people who deny the possibility of governing the State in the future on purely sexual lines. Then we come to the first proposition. We were told we must not merely settle this question on grounds of large and wide and abstract consideration, that we must come down to practical and utilitarian principles. I agree. Let us come down to utilitarian principles. Oddly enough, after the Prime Minister enunciated that, and told us that nobody with modern minds would talk about the natural right, he himself, indeed, committed an error which was just as gross, because he talked about natural function. What is the natural function of woman in the State? To talk about the function of women in the State as if it were something that was not defined is just as inadequate as to talk about natural right. Those of us who have known women of warm enthusiasm for public affairs, women of keen, mature judgment, women whose interests in social welfare is equal to our own, women 1980 to consult whom was a great enlightenment, was a great support and liberal education—those of us who have experienced that must simply smile at those who talk about women's functions as being something which was exclusive of that experience and duty and right.
The function of women is not to be settled by the hypothetical dictates of anybody who desires to keep them in a certain corner of the social sphere. What is this function in view of what women are actually doing now? Hon. Members supporting this Bill have referred to the liberal professions: I leave that, as it has been adequately dealt with; but so far as I listened to the Debate, there was one illustration not touched which I venture to bring forward. They say keep women cut of politics so far as voting is concerned. What do they ask women to do? Remember what happens at elections. The moment we go down to our constituents everyone of us—I do not believe there are twenty Members in this House who do not owe some of their votes to women's influence—we get a committee of ladies who associate themselves with our candidature. We give them our canvassing books, our literature, and our programme, and they go out into the highways and the byways, and they buttonhole electors and argue with them and try to explain why they should vote Liberal or Conservative or Labour. Are they not exercising the judgment in that operation which is precisely the same as the political judgment you and I have to exercise when you and I put a cross opposite the candidate of our choice? They advise you and support you, they fight for you and they argue for you, they explain your position and they meet the arguments of the Opposition. What more do you want? A little more still. On the day of the election we put them in our carriages, we send them into the streets, and they take the voters literally by the hand, they put them in the carriages, they put the cards into their hands, they come with them to the polling booths, tell them how to vote, and in some cases where they are afraid of illiteracy, take their hands and show them how to put the cross upon the ballot paper. What absurdity to come and say that if these women themselves walked across the threshold of the polling booth and put their own cross on the ballot paper against the candidate of their choice that they would be doing something which is different from what they are doing 1981 every day during the progress of these elections. I hope I have got some imagination, but I have not enough imagination I am bound to confess to see the difference between these two operations.
Then the Prime Minister asked us for cases, and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made a reply. The reply was quite satisfactory so far as I am concerned and so far as it went, but might I supplement it. Hon. Members who sat on the Committees upstairs considering that very useful measure the Children's Bill will remember how badly we were equipped for dealing with some of the Clauses of that Bill, if they look back and examine into their own mental process at the time. I was a member of that Committee myself, and I was specially interested in the Bill. I knew very little and was very little use in that Committee until I had been able to consult women and knew what the Bill was about, how its Clauses would operate, and knew, from their experience and knowledge, exactly what certain phrases in the Act of Parliament would mean. But the difficulty with us was we never knew that the Bill was quite so real, quite so pressing and important as we would have done if we had to face women electors in our own constituencies, challenging us upon our votes, and asking us to explain our position to them. Take a still more definite case than that—the Insurance Act. Does any hon. Member say that if there had been women electors when that Bill was going through the House of Commons things would not have been different? We know perfectly well that the Clauses relating to women would have been more carefully considered, and that greater trouble would be taken by Members of the various Committees when considering the Bill in a preliminary way, and that more trouble would have been taken by the Committee of this House had we to go back, not merely to women friends, but women electors, and state to them what it was that we voted for, and to show that we had done the best we could do. I am perfectly convinced that if these women had been voters we would have been able to have done more for them than we did last year.
There is housing, Poor Law, finance, and so on—all measures that have been dealt with, and I simply refer to them now in order to complete my argument. Every one of these Bills would have to be considered by Committees in this House in a different frame of mind, with different considerations from different points of view, 1982 if, instead of merely having to appeal to men electors, we had to appeal to women electors as well as men. I share the opinion of those who say that the mere granting of the votes to women would not directly increase wages, and so on. But the difficulty we have got is that when we try to increase women's wages there is a sort of subordinate frame of mind in which women approach all these points. They are careless. They will not organise. They will not take pains and trouble to look after themselves. What is the reason? The reason is that they have always been accustomed to shuffle responsibility for their own actions upon somebody else's shoulders. The very argument which the Prime Minister used this afternoon, that we were doing so well for women, was the most humiliating argument that any Liberal could use against such a reform as we are asking for. We want women to do these things for themselves, because they can do them a great deal better than men can do them. We want to get them into the frame of mind of independent and self respecting citizens who will co-operate with us and not merely ask us to do things for them when they can do them much better for themselves. What would happen if the franchise were given would be this: Women would take a far keener interest in such questions as wages, a far keener interest in their place in the factory or workshop. Women as enfranchised citizens would join the unions, would make their economic demands with far more advantage, with far more spirit, with a much more rigid backbone than they do now. Up would go wages as an indirect consequence of the vote having been given to them.
Another thing. In our programmes we always lay down a certain series of proposals on which we appeal to the electorate for their decision. The items of that programme would change. A great many things would be put at the bottom which are now at the top; things which are put at the bottom now, such as, for instance, the regulation of the white slave traffic, would go up. That hung on year after year until, horrible to confess it, a mere burst of sentimentality seized upon the House and forced the Bill through last year. That would not have been the case if women had been part of the electorate. That Bill would have taken a foremost place in our programme years ago and we would have had by now the experience of its effective working. That is the sort of 1983 change that would take place. The relative importance of various items in our programmes would change, and the rate at which certain items would get through this House would change, and I am convinced that these changes would be for the better. I go back to my fundamental position. I do not believe in votes for women merely on the ground that women have got a natural right, or anything of that kind. That is not the basis on which I support it. I believe in women's votes because I hold that the State, in view of the sort of work it has to do, has got to ask women to bring their experience to hear upon it so that it may be good work. We want the experience of women, and until we get that experience as a factor in our labours, this House will never be and never can be thoroughly representative of the mind, the desires, and the wishes of the whole nation. One final word. I have heard hon. Members in this House say that they are in favour of the suffrage for women, but that they are not going to vote for it to-night on account of certain incidents that have happened since 1905. Surely this House is not going to take up a pettifogging attitude like that.
What about the women who have never engaged in militancy? What about those who have never, even from its very earliest moments, when many people were inclined to pat it on the back, greeted it with a welcome? Militancy, from the very day it started, in 1905, was, as somebody has already defined it, an excrescence upon the suffrage movement. It has given us more trouble than anything else that has happened during those years, and if there is any doubt to-night as to how this vote is going, it is not because the country has changed its mind upon Women Suffrage, but it is rather because this outburst of militancy has swept a few Members off their feet for the time being, and they are going to give a vote, so they say, to-night, which I think they will regret when they come to consider it in their calm and rational moments. Is a Member of Parliament, is the House of Commons, going to be swept away from its moorings merely because of a few insane and foolish things which have been done by some few people who have lost their heads, their tempers, and their common sense? We have taken steps to stop it; we have taken steps to punish it. Do not let us be content with that. Do not let us be content with that merely 1984 negative action which improves nothing, which cures nothing, which solves nothing, which satisfies nobody. Let us supplement those steps by something positive. Let us range ourselves side by side with those women who have never bowed the knee to militancy and who have kept up their demand year after year through a long and wearisome period of time. Let this House show that it can do justice to women and treat women as equals, and let it give them the vote which is the complement to the new social conditions in which they are asking this House to take them into partnership and make them co-partners with men as citizens, so that the State may have the rich, the domestic, the wonderful experience of the woman who has lived, thought, and felt, and who desires to throw all that at the feet of the State, so that the young and the aged, the rich and the poor, may be blessed by that partnership.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
The whole House will observe with pleasure, from the very vigorous and eloquent speech which the hon. Gentleman has just delivered, that he has emerged without injury from the varied and very exciting experiences to which, as we have read in the public Press, he has been recently exposed. In a very early stage of his observations he commented upon what the Prime Minister had said to the effect that neither party in the State was in favour of this movement, and the hon. Gentleman said that it was not a bad thing for the movement that neither of the great parties was in favour of it, and that he thought that that circumstance afforded an opportunity to the House of Commons to show that the House still possessed some powers. I think the hon. Gentleman took somewhat too sanguine a view. Does he really think that if we passed the Second Reading of the Bill to-night, we should be able during the various Committee stages to show that we possess some power in relation to it? I will tell him what he knows, what I know, and what everybody in that part of the House knows, that this movement has not the slightest chance of success until a Government, as a Government, is prepared to make itself responsible and to take its life into its hands and to stake its Parliamentary existence upon it. That state of things does not exist to-day. The hon. Gentleman, taking 1985 a very effective illustration, asked us with what degree of consistency we could refuse to pass the Second Reading of this Bill when we are content, as it is perfectly true every one of us is content, to accept the services of women in our constituencies. The hon. Gentleman drew a very vivid picture of the extent to which we are indebted to those ladies for their services, and I should be very sorry to say it was exaggerated, though it exhibited great resource and picturesqueness of language. He said that they actually put the voters into the carriages, took them to the polling booth, and almost put the pen to paper in order to teach them in what way they should vote. The hon. Member draws from this circumstance the inference that we should vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. I have never heard an attempt made to support a conclusion upon which a moment's reflection would have shown how completely inadequate it was. It is quite true that in the constituencies every one of us knows that there are some women who would be ornaments to the electorate of any country in the world. It is perfectly obvious that there is none of us, unless possibly in a very small constituency of a few thousands of people, who does not know among our own acquaintances women who would be infinitely more able to exercise the vote in choosing a Parliamentary representative than many men voters, but everyone in these matters deals—I should have thought this was a commonplace in our controversy—not with what the First Lord of the Admiralty would call the selected moment or the selected case, but with the average case. We deal with the average man, and we compare the average man with the average woman, and to say that each one of us has in his constituency some twenty or thirty or forty, or even some 200 or 300 women who are highly instructed in politics, and that therefore you should give the vote to all the women in the constituencies who are not instructed at all in politics, and take not the slightest interest in politics, is to draw a conclusion from a flimsy basis that is not creditable either to the hon. Gentleman's sense of logic or to his appreciation of the facts. He was preceded by an hon. Gentleman on the same benches, a Member of the Labour party (Mr. Snowden), who put to the Prime Minister and to the House a dilemma which to him appeared a serious one. He asked, "If your contention is that women 1986 are not entitled to the vote, how do you justify asking women to sit upon important Commissions?" The answer is precisely the same as that I have just attempted to make the hon. Member for Leicester. You do not put the average woman upon Commissions. You invite exceptional and highly gifted women to sit upon these Commissions, and, so far from that being an argument in favour of Women Suffrage, it is an argument in the other direction, because it shows that under a Constitution in which political control is exclusively in the hands of men the advice of women is not neglected on those special questions which directly concern them.
The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) took a most remarkable illustration of his point. He took the case of the Children's Bill, and I confess that what he said filled me with astonishment. He said that in the case of the Children's Bill there was a particular necessity for consulting women. I agree. The hon. Gentleman has told us, and I am sure it is true, that he has opportunities of consulting some women. He told us in a forcible phrase that he never came away from such consultations without a sense of having learned a great deal. What was to prevent him when the Children's Bill was being discussed from imbibing special knowledge from those who were able to give him on these questions such admirable advice? He made a statement which filled me with amazement. He said, "I took part in the discussion on the Children's Bill, but I never felt it was real." The hon. Gentleman is a well-known and a sincere advocate of social reform. What does he mean by saying that he did not feel the grievances disclosed in the Children's Bill were real? Does he mean that his mind was not sufficiently formed about them? Then why did he not go and consult some of those exceptional women whom he tells us are so able to advise him? Was it a deficiency in his knowledge of the facts that was his handicap? If so, who was so fitted to inform him as those women whom he told us he never consults without a sense of having learned so much? He referred to the white slave traffic. After all, the House of Commons dealt with the White Slave question. I have heard some criticisms of our treatment of that question. Those criticisms are mainly confined to a single point, and they centre round the contention that we should have dealt with that very difficult and delicate question in a far more drastic manner. 1987 The suggestion which has been made most plausibly and by those best acquainted with the facts is that we could have dealt with it through the local authorities and by means of more effective supervision and more drastic instructions given to the police. How is it that the hon. Gentlemen's friends, who could have helped us so much in this House in dealing with the White Slave Traffic, never, or hardly ever, make the slightest effort to secure election to these local bodies who would have a far more direct method of dealing with these admitted grievances than we have in the House of Commons? Everybody knows that the degree of control that could be exercised by means of influence on the local bodies is incomparably greater than we are likely to be able to exercise in the House of Commons.
The whole of this question, as the Prime Minister said, in its general aspects is to-day threadbare. There is no argument that has not been used many times on both sides of the House. The House of Commons once listened to me with great indulgence, when, at considerable length, I attempted to argue the whole of this question, and I do not propose, in the short time which is at my disposal to-night, to treat the general question at any considerable length; but, if the House will allow me, I will deal very briefly with one or two general considerations which have been relied upon in the course of the Debate to-day. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), for instance, raised the question as to the comparative intelligence of women and men, one of the most irrelevant considerations, if I may be allowed to say so, which have ever been obtruded upon this particular subject, and my Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil), in his speech alluded with enthusiasm to the performances of "Deborah," who, I suppose, may not unreasonably or with any undue levity be treated as being the pioneer of the militant movement. We are not concerned, as I should have thought everybody at this period of the controversy knew, with discussing whether certain distinguished women have exceeded the ordinary intelligence of men. You are comparing in one scale the brains of Sappho or the determination of Joan of Arc with the brains of the agricultural labourer of to-day. What we are concerned with is to attempt to discover whether on the whole, on an even balance of men and women 1988 whether you are going to strengthen the quality of the electorate as a whole or disparage or weaken it. In answer to my Noble Friend who asked what was the real objection which we advance, I say that if there were no other objections it would be fatal to these proposals that you are proposing to make an enormous infusion into the electorate, and that the great majority of those whom you are proposing to add are entirely indifferent to the franchise and would not use it if you gave it them. An ignorant elector is a great menace to the Commonwealth, a corrupt electorate is a greater menace, but an indifferent electorate is almost, and in quite a different way, as great a menace. An hon. Gentleman last night, speaking on that side of the House against this proposal, gave figures with regard to the use that was made of the franchise by those who already possess it for municipal purposes.
The hon. Baronet who sets for a Shrop, shire seat (Sir C. Henry) gave figures which, I confess, were perfectly astounding, and which showed that the smallest conceivable portion of those women who to-day are entitled to vote in the county council elections think it worth while to exercise it. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) with conspicuous courage draws the logical conclusion and carries the contention to its necessary goal. He was bold enough to say to-day, "Why even if it be the case that the majority of the women do not desire the vote, should not the minority who do desire it be given it?" I should have thought that that was a question which admitted of a perfectly simple answer. This question affects then whole status of the future of the sex, and I say that the sex may well be entitled to, be consulted as a sex. I do not understand the point of view of the ethical or political advocates of this proposal which says you are entitled to force it upon that sex with possibly incalculable consequences to their whole future, oblivious of the view they take of it. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) who, I understand, is to follow me, made in the course of an interesting and humorous speech on one occasion, the observation, "After all, what is there in the giving of a vote which women are obviously not fit to do. To drop a ballot paper into a box is a very lady-like performance." It may be, but there are somewhat more important considerations involved than the physical act of dropping 1989 a paper into the box. Nobody has ever done so great an injustice to the female sex as to suggest that quite a large number might not be equal to that performance.
As the hon. Gentleman who preceded me in the Debate has made some reference to a not unrelated subject—the question of militancy—I may be allowed to add that those of us who have always been opposed to this proposal in any shape or form, proceeding from any quarter, are at least entitled to observe, with somewhat distant admiration, the association of non-militant and militant supporters of these various proposals. In this House there is apparently a unanimous chorus of disapproval, and one would gather that there is nobody who does not repudiate with an indignation which it almost passes their very considerable powers of articulation to express, the methods adopted by the militants. Let me tell them this, and what I say is in the knowledge of the whole House, that if it had not been for the militant movement in its earlier stages this controversy would not have been where it is to-day. You repudiate the militants at the moment when it suits you. You use them as long as it pays you to use them. If anybody quarrels with that statement, which I should have thought impossible—I see the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division of Nottingham dissents; I know he has great enthusiasm; I know——
§ Mr. SMITH
A very just distinction. I will only make this commentary on what the hon. Gentleman says, although the trend of this Debate has almost made it a common place—the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in the course of his most interesting and impressive speech, has told us that for thirty years this question has engaged the attention of the House of Commons, and received favourable votes in the House, but what did it amount to? When you had had your thirty years' success, were you one yard nearer your goal? You got further away from it with every Second Reading decision that was taken in Parliament. It was not until they began to realise that, strange and paradoxical as it may appear, there was somebody in this country who really cared for it, that the position of affairs became completely altered. In the old days, nobody cared for this proposal; therefore everybody voted for it. I say deliberately here, as one who has taken as strong a view as anybody in this House 1990 of the conduct and tactics of the militant suffragists, that it was not until the year 1906, when they adopted in their earlier stages the tactics they did adopt, that a single person in this House or in the country took these proposals seriously, or thought that he did more by giving a vote on a Second Reading than pay an agreeable tribute to the lady workers in his own constituency. It is perfectly true that in the later stages of this manifestation you found this enthusiasm inconvenient. A distinction is now drawn between the militant supporters of this Bill outside the House and its non-militant supporters. The distinction is a perfectly clear one. It is largely economic. The non-militants do not indeed take part in the militant movement, but many of them subscribe to it.
§ Mr. SMITH
They dissociate themselves from it upon public platforms. Some hon. Gentlemen say they do not subscribe. If I had the time at my disposal I could satisfy them that the subscription list would show that I am not wrong, but right. Indeed, an hon. Gentleman who spoke last night from the Irish Benches made no secret at all of this connection. He did not trouble to conceal his admiration for the militant movement, and spoke of Miss Christabel Pankhurst as the Mahomet of the new movement. I do not recall that the victories, either spiritual or secular, that were won by that great prophet were ever gained by an absentee Mahomet. As showing the extent to which the dissociation is either candid or complete, I could only desire that a larger House had had the opportunity of listening to the arguments of the hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Irish Benches. There is one other circumstance which is a cause of congratulation to many of us who sit upon these benches to-day. It is that whatever else is still alive, the Conciliation Bill at least is dead. Crude, partial, illogical, dishonest, its fraudulent career is closed. I saw a circular in to-day's newspapers signed by fourteen of my hon. Friends, whose sincerity I respect more than I do their gallantry. They invite my hon. Friends who sit behind me to support the Second Reading of this Bill in the hope that they may add a "Conciliation" Amendment in Committee. Who is going to vote for it besides the fourteen signatories? Is any anti - suffragist in the House going to vote for it? I say frankly 1991 that if I were put to a choice between the Conciliation Bill with its 1,000,000 and this Bill with its 6,000,000, I would rather, much as I hate Women Suffrage, have an honest 6,000,000 than a dishonest 1,000,000, and I would never, under any inducement of party advantage, vote for a Bill which, if it were to give the vote to women at all, excluded those who by marriage had won the greatest prize of all womanhood, maternity and all it stands for and all it means. Speaking as a Member of the Unionist party, I say that I, for one, rejoice that the present Leader of the Unionist party, the late Leader of the Unionist party, and my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square (Mr. A. Lyttelton), who made a very impressive speech on behalf of the Conciliation Bill last year—I rejoice that these distinguished men, if they are not here to-night by their arguments supporting the contentions for which I stand, have at least given to my hon. Friends who sit behind me the benefit of their example, that they have realised that the game is up, and that there is not one of them who intends to support it by his vote to-night. We have heard a good deal to-day of the question of mandate. I do not understand now, after listening to this Debate with the attention which I have attempted to give it, whether it is the intention of the supporters of this Bill that if the 8,000,000 existing male voters do not want the extension of the suffrage to women and if the women do, whether it ought to be given.
I will invite the specific attention of the Noble Lord (Lord Hugh Cecil), who is a great believer in the necessity of moving with caution and with deliberation, as I am in constitutional matters, to this question. Supposing it be established that the 8,000,000 male voters who are on the register to-day are opposed to this or that the majority of them are opposed to it, is it the view of my Noble Friend or is it not that against their wishes we here are authorised—I am not talking of constitutional pedantry—whether in the theory of it Parliament is omnipotent—as honest representatives, to introduce this great change without consulting those who sent us here? This House of Commons, I boldly affirm, on this point is clothed with no representative faculty whatever. We are a fortuitous collection of Englishmen neither specially gifted nor unusually inspired. Two candidates have stood on this 1992 question and they got between them 500 votes out of a possible constituency of about 10,000. No other candidate ever stood on this question. There was not a candidate on any side in politics who had not more sense than to stand upon this question. In view of that I would put this simple question, and I know what the answer will be: Is there one man of the House of Commons to-day who will say, "In my judgment, on these diverse questions which, taken together, produce that strange concatenation of controversies which goes to make the issue at a General Election, the one thing that sent me back here to the House of Commons was my advocacy of the proposal of Women Suffrage"? Do not let us get into verbal controversies on the differences that make up a mandate. Everyone knows what I mean when I say a successful candidate for Parliament knows what sent him here in the main. We all know. We may differ in detail, but in the main we know, and there is not a Member who will say he was sent here to support Female Suffrage. I am not familiar with all the eccentricities of university representation, of which, again, I am a strong supporter and in which I have a vote, which I hope and expect long to exercise.
What has been our case in the fierce controversies of the last three years? If I make an observation in conclusion which may not be in agreement with the views which are held by hon Gentlemen opposite they will, I am sure, not imagine that I am doing it with the object of introducing party controversy which is irrelevant. I am saying it in the attempt to address an observation to my own Friends. Our whole case, our whole justification for much violent language—and our only justification has been the sincerity with which we have held our views—for three years has been that no Government is entitled to introduce any great change upon which the people of this country have not been specifically consulted. We have said repeatedly that of all the moments in our history which could be chosen the one moment when there would be least justification of all for doing this is the one in which it could be said that according to our view—hon. Members opposite may not agree with us—the Constitution is in abeyance. I would say this to my hon. Friends: What would their position be in view of the standpoint which they have taken up upon the two great controversial 1993 questions of the day that neither of these was a specific issue at the last election if it is to be said of the Unionist party that the moment they found themselves face to face with a situation in which they thought, or some Members of it thought, that they could derive some party or personal advantage, they threw away from that moment the one constitutional contention which had been their political stock-in-trade for three years? I say plainly to my hon. Friends—and they know my views in reference to the right of the Government to deal with Home Rule or Welsh Disestablishment—that if Female Suffrage was an issue at the last election in the sense that this Government was entitled to deal with it, then Home Rule or Welsh Disestablishment was ten times an issue. My last observation in that connection would be this: My Noble Friend (Lord Robert Cecil) said, "I would never use the Parliament Act in order to carry this Bill into law, assuming that the House of Lords were to reject it this year." What kind of position does my Noble Friend put the House of Lords in? Hon. Members may take the other view and say, "If this Bill passes here, and the House of Lords refuses to pass it this year, we will use the Parliament Act." If you are entitled to use the Parliament Act for anything, you are entitled to use it for this Bill But where in that case will be my Noble Friend? He says, "I will vote against it if it is brought in again next year." He says, also, it is right to pass the Bill through this House this year without any mandate from the country. Speaking for myself, and for, I believe the overwhelming majority of the Unionist, party I say that, under no temptation or circumstances will I afford our political opponents here or in the country the chance of confirming the contention frequently, and I think baselessly advanced, that we repeatedly use the House of Lords as a pawn. If we did this, we should use that House as a pawn, and I hope there is no Member of the Unionist party in this House will be content to send this measure to the House of Lords in the expectation that they would pass it under circumstances which would discredit any Second Chamber in the world. I have only to say in my last sentence that I believe that by accepting this Fill we should be betraying every cause on behalf of which the Unionist party has stood during the last three years, and 1994 extending the question and not dealing only with the Unionist party, I believe that every Member who votes for this Bill under these circumstances is guilty of greater treachery to the whole democratic principle than has ever been committed by any statesman who habitually paid, as we do, lip-service to democracy.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
One of the peculiarities of this controversy is that it disorders the faculties of even the ablest men. My right hon. Friend is not only unable, as indeed I anticipated, to form a sound judgment about the question of Women Suffrage, but he is so upset that he is unable to understand his own party's case, his own leader's attitude, and, I think, even his own speeches on the Constitution. No Conservative statesman—I might almost say no person outside a lunatic asylum—ever maintained the doctrine which he lays down as being constitutional. At that rate the House of Commons would have a very limited function at all. It would have indeed, so far as I can understand, considerably less power than the House of Lords has under the Parliament Act, because, at any rate, the House of Lords under the Parliament Act is allowed to pass Bills and send them down for the consideration of the House of Commons, whereas under my right hon. Friend's Constitution the House of Commons would not be allowed to Pass Bills and send them up for the consideration of the House of Lords. Of course our position has always been this, on this side of the House, differing altogether from the Government and their supporters, that only one authority is entitled to overrule the Second Chamber, and that authority is the people. If I may venture to quote one of my own speeches, I remember saying that we believed in a superior House of Commons, a subordinate House of Lords, and a supreme people; and according to that principle of those who support this Bill on this side of the House I will add that we favour reading it a second time, that we shall endeavour to amend it, in its progress through Committee, to make it, as we conceive, a better Bill; and if we fail to make it a better Bill we shall have to consider whether we can go on to support it on the Third Reading. I know that many of my hon. Friends have declared their intention of not voting for it on the Third Reading unless we can make it a better Bill. What other purpose have the Committee stage and the Third Reading 1995 than to use them in this manner? Finally, we propose to submit the Bill to the Second Chamber in as good a form as we are able to pass it in, and if the Second Chamber reject it we shall not be parties to taking any step which would overrule them by the mere authority of the House of Commons, because we do not conceive that that belongs to the function of the House of Commons.
If the House of Lords rejects the Bill we shall not be parties to passing it under the Parliament Act. If the House of Lords add a Clause, as it might very well do, referring the issue to the people, I myself would certainly vote to agree with the House of Lords in the Amendment. So there really is no bottom in the constitutional case at all. We are performing a very natural part of the House of Commons duty in proposing legislation. Nor is there anything in the mandate doctrine. I have never believed it in any of its forms. It always seemed to me a hopelessly muddle-headed piece of argument. I believe in the principle of the Referendum, which is perfectly logical and consistent, and I believe in Parliament acting independently, subject to settlement by a Referendum to the people. But who ever heard of such a proposition as that each separate issue must have a mandate at a General Election? We are perfectly entitled to pass Bills through the House of Commons with the intention of submitting them to the people when they are rejected in another place. We are perfectly entitled to take that course. It is said that this question has not been the issue at a General Election; but there has been seldom a question which has been more elaborately or more frequently discussed in Parliament before any General Election. In the summer months immediately preceding the last General Election a Women Suffrage Bill was read by a large majority. Then again, after the General Election, it was again read a second time by a large majority, even by an increased majority. What more can you have by way of getting the question fairly before the public than such opportunities of discussion as that? Certainly this Bill does not come as a new subject, brought forward behind the backs of the people in any way whatever. It has all the sanction behind it which can possibly be given unless you have a Referendum on all great questions of constitutional importance. If my hon. Friend, exercising 1996 his new popularity with the Treasury Bench, can induce them to support the Bill——
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
Some of the more distinguished Members of the Treasury Bench disagreed with him and did not applaud him, but the First Lord of the Admiralty, I think, was quite enthusiastic because of his political neophyte, whom he is training up to these constitutional ideas. If my right hon. Friend could persuade them to bring in a Bill of some importance to the country, we shall all be delighted to see that Bill passed into law, except, probably, the Prime Minister and the First Lord of the Admiralty. How far are we justified on this side of the House in advocating a moderate measure of Women Suffrage? The Prime Minister pointed out the inconsistency that if women are to have the vote why not all women. But that sort of argument might have been used against any great reforms ever introduced into this country. It might have been used in the case of the Toleration Act, and if you read Macaulay you find that it was extremely inconsistent with its own principle. It laid down certain conditions as to the Quakers, and other conditions as regards Roman Catholics and Unitarians. If a logical Toleration Act had been brought in the Whigs and the Tories would have united against it. Even in the case of the Great Reform Bill, Liverpool had only two Members, while places like Calne and Liskeard had two Members each, but if half their representation had been given to Liverpool, Lord John Russell would have been among the first to oppose any strictly logical scheme of reform. It is because they wish to test and try the measure in a moderate form to see, by way of experiment, whether the evils which are alleged will actually happen, and if no evil follows, and if the results are satisfactory, they can go a step further and another generation can proceed further still and so on, until you get perhaps a much more extensive change than what was originally contemplated, and when I supported the Conciliation Bill for a limited measure of Women Suffrage I argued in that way. Some people say "What a destructive, mischievous thing Women Suffrage is," and other people say, "What a good and desirable change it is." Let us try moderation to begin with, and let us see 1997 whether those evils happen, and we shall then have taken no irrevocable step. Those women enfranchised under the Conciliation Bill would be a very responsible body of electors. It would be easy to stop there supposing evils follow, and if it were apparent that the electors were utterly untrustworthy, we should be able to go back, because there is not the slightest reason for thinking that the majority of electors that would be enfranchised under such a scheme would be indifferent to the evils which a moderate franchise would show by hypothesis among their less wise sisters. That is always the case with a moderate reform. You try an experiment and you may go forward. Let me observe when we are told that we cannot stop half way that the Throne itself is actually held by just such an illogical compromise between two principles—that woman is fit for everything or that she is fit for nothing. On the Prime Minister's principles you might argue that if women are to be on the same level as men in respect of the succession to the Throne, then why should not the eldest daughter take precedence over the eldest son and why should the rule be that all sons should succeed and then the daughters. On the principles laid down by the Prime Minister that is hopelessly illogical, but it has been so here for centuries, and is likely to be here as long as the Monarchy. Does not that show how untrue it is to say that you cannot pause in carrying out a principle to its logical extreme, and that you ought not to persist in it because on some academic plea it does not carry it out to the extremity of some logical principle inherent in it. That is true of a great many things. I mentioned the Toleration Act, and even to this day the Sovereign is under a religious restriction, and so is the Lord Chancellor, and so is the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, so that even now we have not absolutely carried out the principles of the Toleration Act to their extreme logical conclusion. Nothing is more untrue than to say you are bound always to carry every change as far as some ingenious logician can drive you by a process of dialectics.
Therefore, I have no hesitation in adopting the principle that a moderate extension of Women Franchise is the right course in the present circumstances, but the whole matter really turns on the competence of woman to a vote at all. I warmly admired and thoroughly agreed with the right hon. Gentleman's (Prime 1998 Minister) statement of the problem. He put aside a great deal of what he considered to be irrelevant, and I humbly assent to what he said. He stated the proposition that the only question to be determined was, could these women, or could anybody, be given the vote in the interests of women and in the interests of the community. I was interested to find that my right hon. Friend the Member for Walton thinks there are a great many women, not of course all the women in this Bill or the Conciliation Bill, who could be included and given the franchise in the interests of women and in the interests of the community. In what confusion does my right hon. Friend find himself? He concedes that there are now a considerable number of women perfectly qualified to exercise the franchise, perfectly competent for political power, quite arbitrarily excluded. On what principle does he justify such an arrangement as that? Granted that they are distinguished women, that may be an argument for a still more restricted Bill, but it is an argument for Women Suffrage, not against it. It is perfectly plain, on my right hon. Friend's own showing, that he is unfairly excluding from the franchise persons who might, in the interests of the community and in the interests of women, rightly exercise it. I am glad that that is conceded. It has always seemed to me perfectly plain. I do not fear any language about equality between man or woman or between one man and another. All language about equality, superiority, or inferiority, missed the point of human nature. People are not equal, superior, or inferior. They are fit or unfit for a particular vocation. The real question is, Are people fit for the vocation of voter? No one will dispute that men and women are in common fit for a very large number of vocations, but one hesitates to employ men and women indiscriminately in a great many relations of life. The only question is whether that of voter is one of those vocations in which men and women may be indiscriminately employed or whether it is one of the exceptional vocations which must be restricted to men. That really comprises also the point that if you exclude women from a vocation by an arbitrary and unfair distinction you impose a slur upon them. For example, in certain towns in South Africa, it is—whether wisely or foolishly I do not profess to say— 1999 the rule that no native subject should be allowed to walk on the foot-pavement; they are obliged to walk in the middle of the road. Suppose you had a similar rule in respect of women. Everyone would regard that as an intolerable slur. It would be an arbitrary distinction between men and women which had no relation to their natural qualities, and which therefore was a mere insult imposed upon women. If there is no real distinction resulting from sex which excludes women from voting, exclusion from voting is just such another arbitrary slur, which they naturally and justly resent. How can it be said that the act of voting is unwomanly? You have to prove that to go into a polling station and make a mark on a ballot paper is in some respect inconsistent with a woman as such. I should have thought that that was a most absurd proposition. It is not a question whether women are to be politicians or not. They are politicians. They canvass; they speak; they are journalists of great distinction; they are orators of great power; they take every part in politics except that of voting—and they do even that in municipal politics.
My right hon. Friend says that a large number are indifferent. By his own account many Members of this House are indifferent also. My right hon. Friend thinks that the House has repeatedly passed Women Suffrage because Members were too indifferent to express their real opinion about the matter. Yet he does not propose to exclude from the House those Members who so improperly performed their legislative duties. You cannot shut out great bodies of the population because some of them do not exercise the franchise or exercise it remissly. You must go on broad lines. You must accept the broad proposition unless someone can show—and no one has made any attempt to do so—that there is something in the sex of a woman which disqualifies her, not from being a politician—which would be absurd when we remember how many distinguished politicians there have been among women—but from the mere act of voting, which has nothing to do with any distinction which can reasonably be drawn between men and women. Why is it that there is all this feeling against the Bill? No one can deny that why this question is felt deeply on both sides, is because there has—in my opinion most unhappily—arisen—I 2000 do not say in the minds of the great majority of those who have taken part in this controversy — but certainly in the minds of those who take a most vehement and extreme part—an inter-sexual conflict; a conflict between men and women. No one can take up the publications of suffragist and anti-suffragist without seeing here and there signs of what is in my view a most odious and hateful spirit. On the one side we see men hating women because they are women, and on the other side women hating men because they are men. That spirit, I think we will all agree, is morbid, unnatural, hateful. The true spirit is essentially one of mutual regard and reverence. The great body of men and women in their serious and restrained life are quite incapable of being disturbed from the true point of view by a controversy that has merely a political significance, but there are a few that have been so. There are a few who have been taken from the serenity of the true attitude; it is highly desirable that they should be restored. I believe, unless we could settle the Women Suffrage question—and you will only settle it by conceding it in some form or other—the controversy will certainly go on. No one who has had any experience in political matters can doubt but that sooner or later this controversy will be ended by some concession of Women Suffrage. I quite accept the Prime Minister's assurance that he has not consciously used any influence against this measure, but his unconscious influence, his eminent qualities, have had great influence upon this controversy. I am sure if a Liberal Prime Minister had by chance been an advocate of Women Suffrage it would have been passed into law by now—so near is the thing, as I conceive. Then would it not be better to settle this question by timely concession, which will restore that true atmosphere in which men and women ought to live, and from which most have never departed, it will restore the capacity for good: all that is essential in human nature, all that is noble and elevated, when the two sexes regard one another with reverence and respect, and can give back even to the fanatical minority that sense that they depend upon one another, whether suffragists or anti-suffragists, so that they may for the future live in the serene atmosphere which depends upon dignity, reverence, and mutual honour between the sexes.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."2002
§ The House divided: Ayes, 219; Noes, 266.2005
|Division No. 85.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Healy, Maurice (Cork)||Radford, George Heynes|
|Adamson, William||Healy, Timothy Michael (Cork, N. E.)||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Addison, Dr. C.||Helme, Sir Norval Watson||Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Hemmerde, Edward George||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)||Redmond, William (Clare, E.)|
|Alden, Percy||Higham, John Sharp||Rendall, Atheistan|
|Amery, L. C. M. S.||Hinds, John||Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)|
|Arnold, Sydney||Hodge, John||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Atherley-Jones, Llewellyn A.||Hogge, James Myles||Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)|
|Banner, John S. Harmood-||Holmes, Daniel Turner||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Holt, Richard Durning||Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)||Hope, John Deans (Haddington)||Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)|
|Barnes, George N.||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Robinson, Sidney|
|Barton, William||Hudson, Walter||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Benn, W W. (T. Hamlets, St. George)||Hume-Williams, W. F.||Roe, Sir Thomas|
|Bennett-Goldney, Francis||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. Sir Rufus||Rolleston, Sir John|
|Bentham, G. J.||John, Edward Thomas||Rowlands, James|
|Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish-||Johnson, W.||Rowntree, Arnold|
|Bethell, Sir J. H.||Jones, Rt. Hon. Sir D. Brynmor (Swansea)||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Jones, Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)|
|Boland, John Pius||Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur S. T. Griffith-||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel|
|Bowerman, Charles W.||Jones, Leif Stratten (Notts, Rushcliffe)||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Brace, William||Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)||Shortt, Edward|
|Buckmaster, Stanley O.||Jones, W. S. Glyn- (T. H'mts, Stepney)||Simon, Rt Hon. Sir John Allsebrook|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Jowett, Frederick William||Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)|
|Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North)||Kellaway, Frederick George||Smith, H. B. L. (Northampton)|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Sydney C. (Poplar)||King, Joseph||Snowden, Philip|
|Byles, Sir William Pollard||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Spicer, Rt. Hon. Sir Albert|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Lawson, Hon. H. (T. H'mts, Mile End)||Stanier, Beville|
|Cawley, Harold T. (Lancs., Heywood)||Lawson, Sir W. (Cumb'rld, Cockerm'th)||Stanley, Albert (Staffs, N. W.)|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University)||Leach, Charles||Strauss, Arthur (Paddington, N.)|
|Cecil, Lord R. (Herts, Hitchin)||Lewis, John Herbert||Sutherland, J. E.|
|Chancellor, H. G.||Lewisham, Viscount||Sutton, John E.|
|Chapple, Dr. William Allen||Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Clough, William||Lynch, A. A.||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Clynes, J. R.||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Tennant, Harold John|
|Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)||Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)||Terrell, G. (Wilts, N. W.)|
|Crawshay-Williams, Ellot||Maclean, Donald||Thomas, J. H.|
|Crooks, William||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Thompson, Robert (Belfast, North)|
|Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy)||M'Callum, Sir John M.||Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Down, North)|
|Davies, Ellis William (Eifion)||M'Curdy, C. A.||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||M'Laren, Hon. F.W.S. (Lincs., Spalding)||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan)||M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Touche, George Alexander|
|Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Markham, Sir Arthur Basil||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Dickinson, W. H.||Marshall, Arthur Harold||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Martin, Joseph||Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander|
|Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor)||Mason, David M. (Coventry)||Verney, Sir Harry|
|Edwards, John Hugh (Glamorgan, Mid)||Masterman, Rt. Hon. C. F. G.||Wadsworth, J.|
|Falconer, J.||Middlebrook, William||Walsh, Stephen (Lancs., Incs)|
|Fell, Arthur||Millar, James Duncan||Walters, Sir John Tudor|
|Fenwick, Rt. Hon. Charles||Mond, Sir Alfred Moritz||Walton, Sir Joseph|
|Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson||Money, L. G. Chlozza||Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd||Montagu, Hon. E. S.||Watt, Henry A.|
|Gilhooly, James||Needham, Christopher T.||Webb, H.|
|Gill, A. H.||Neilson, Francis||Wedgwood, Josiah C.|
|Ginnell, L.||Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Glanville, H. J.||Norman, Sir Henry||White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E. R.)|
|Goldstone, Frank||Norton, Captain Cecil W.||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Gordon, Hon. John Edward (Brighton)||Nuttall, Harry||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Goulding, Edward Alfred||O'Brien, William (Cork)||Whyte, A. F. (Perth)|
|Greig, Colonel James William||O'Grady, James||Wiles, Thomas|
|Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||O'Shee, James John||Williams, J. (Glamorgan)|
|Griffith, Ellis Jones||Outhwaite, R. L.||Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen)|
|Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.)||Palmer, Godfrey Mark||Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough)|
|Gulland, John William||Parker, James (Halifax)||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway)||Parry, Thomas H.||Wing, Thomas|
|Hall, Frederick (Yorks, Normanton)||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Hancock, J. G.||Pearson, Hon. Weetman H. M.||Worthington-Evans, L.|
|Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Pointer, Joseph||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Hardie, J. Keir||Pollard, Sir George H.||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.|
|Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Viscount Wolmer and Mr. H. M'Laren.|
|Hazleton, Richard||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.|
|Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour)||Flavin, Michael Joseph||Manfield, Harry|
|Agar-Robartes, Hon. T. C. R.||Fleming, Valentine||Marks, Sir George Croydon|
|Agnew, Sir George William||France, G. A.||Mason, James F. (Windsor)|
|Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P. (Stroud)||Gastrell, Major W. H.||Meagher, Michael|
|Anson, Rt. Hon. Sir William R.||Gibbs, G. A.||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major William||Gilmour, Captain J.||Mildmay, Francis Bingham|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert Henry||Gladstone, W. G. C.||Molloy, M.|
|Baird, J. L||Glazebrook, Captain Philip K.||Molteno, Percy Alport|
|Baker, H. T. (Accrington)||Goldsmith, Frank||Mooney, J. J.|
|Baker, Sir R. L. (Dorset, N.)||Grant, J. A.||Morison, Hector|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Greene, W. R.||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas|
|Barnston, Harry||Greenwood, Hamar (Sunderland)||Mount, William Arthur|
|Barran, Rowland Hurst (Leeds, N.)||Gretton, John||Muldoon, John|
|Bathurst, Hon. Allen B. (Glouc., E.)||Guest, Hon. Major C. H. C. (Pembroke)||Munro-Ferguson, Rt. Hon. R. C.|
|Bathurst, Charles (Wilts, Wilton)||Guinness, Hon. Rupert (Essex, S. E.)||Murphy, Martin J.|
|Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks||Guinness, Hon. W. E. (Bury S. Edmunds)||Murray, Captain Hon. A. C.|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Gwynne, R. S. (Sussex, Eastbourne)||Newdegate, F. A.|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Hackett, John||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Haddock, George Bahr||Nolan, Joseph|
|Beresford, Lord C.||Hall, Frederick (Dulwich)||Nugent, Sir Walter Richard|
|Bigland, Alfred||Hambro, Angus Valdemar||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Bird, A.||Hamilton, Lord C. J. (Kensington, S.)||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)|
|Black, Arthur||Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis (Rossendale)||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Blair, Reginald||Hardy, Rt. Hon. Laurence||O'Doherty, Philip|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)||O'Donnell, Thomas|
|Boyle, D. (Mayo, North)||Harris, Henry Percy||O'Dowd, John|
|Brady, P. J.||Harrison-Broadley, H. B.||O'Kelly, Edward P. (Wicklow, W.)|
|Brassey, H. Leonard Campbell||Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)||O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N.)|
|Bridgeman, W. Clive||Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry||O'Malley, William|
|Brocklehurst, W. B.||Hayward, Evan||O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Helmsley, Viscount||O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim. Mid)|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Henderson, Major H. (Berks, Abingdon)||O'Sullivan, Timothy|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||Henderson, J. M. (Aberdeen, W.)||Paget, Almeric Hugh|
|Burke, E. Haviland-||Henry, Sir Charles||Parkes, Ebenezer|
|Butcher, John George||Herbert, Hon. A. (Somerset, S.)||Pearce, William (Limehouse)|
|Campion, W. R.||Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)|
|Cator, John||Hibbert, Sir Henry F.||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Cautley, H. S.||Hickman, Colonel T. E.||Peto, Basil Edward|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Hills, John Waller||Philipps, Colonel Ivor (Southampton)|
|Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.||Hill-Wood, Samuel||Phillips, John (Longford, S.)|
|Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Hoare, S. J. G.||Pirie, Duncan V.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H.||Pole-Carew, Sir R.|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Hohler, G. F.||Pollock, Ernest Murray|
|Clay, Captain H. H. Spender||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Pretyman, E. G.|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward Feetham||Horne, Edgar (Surrey, Guildford)||Priestley, Sir Arthur (Grantham)|
|Collins, G. P. (Greenock)||Horner, A. L.||Priestley, Sir W. E. B. (Bradford)|
|Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Pringle, William M. R.|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Hunt, Rowland||Raphael, Sir Herbert H.|
|Cooper, Richard Ashmole||Hunter, Sir Charles Rodk.||Rawlinson, Sir John Frederick Peel|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Jardine, E. (Somerset, E.)||Rawson, Col. R. H.|
|Cotton, William Francis||Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburgh)||Reddy, M.|
|Courthope, George Loyd||Jessel, Captain H. M.||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)|
|Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Joyce, Michael||Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone, E.)|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Keating, Matthew||Rees, Sir J. D.|
|Crichton-Stuart, Lord Ninian||Kelly, Edward||Roche, Augustine (Louth)|
|Cripps, Sir C. A.||Kennedy, Vincent Paul||Rothschild, Lionel de|
|Croft, Henry Page||Kerry, Earl of||Royds, Edmund|
|Crumley, Patrick||Keswick, Henry||Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.|
|Cullinan, John||Kilbride, Denis||Samuel, Sir Harry (Norwood)|
|Dairymple, Viscount||Kimber, Sir Henry||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Dalziel, Davison (Brixton)||Lane-Fox, G. R.||Samuel, Sir Stuart M. (Whitechapel)|
|Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)||Larmor, Sir J.||Sandys, G. J.|
|Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)||Lee, Arthur H.||Scanlan, Thomas|
|Dawes, J. A.||Lloyd, George Ambrose (Stafford. W.)||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Delany, William||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Dewar, Sir J. A.||Locker-Lampson, O. (Ramsey)||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)|
|Dixon, C. H.||Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Colonel A. R.||Seely, Rt. Hon, Colonel J. E. B.|
|Donelan, Captain A.||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Sheehy, David|
|Doris, William||Low, Sir Frederick (Norwich)||Smith, Rt. Hon. F. E. (L'p'l, Walton)|
|Du Cros, Arthur Philip||Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Duffy, William J.||Lundon, Thomas||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)|
|Duncan, J. Hastings (Yorks, Otley)||Lyell, Charles Henry||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Elverston, Sir Harold||Lyttelton, Hon. J. C. (Droitwich)||Stanley, Hon. Arthur (Ormskirk)|
|Essex, Sir Richard Walter||MacCaw, Wm. J. MacGeagh||Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M.||Mackinder, H. J.||Starkey, John R.|
|Farrell, James Patrick||Macmaster, Donald||Staveley-Hill, Henry|
|Ffrench, Peter||MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South)||Stewart, Gershom|
|Field, William||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Flennes, Hon. Eustace Edward||McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Talbot, Lord E.|
|Finlay, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert||Magnus, Sir Philip||Taylor, Thomas (Bolton)|
|Fitzgibbon, John||Malcolm, Ian||Terrell, Henry (Gloucester)|
|Fitzroy, Hon. E. A.||Mallaby-Deeley, Harry||Thynne, Lord A.|
|Tobin, Alfred Aspinall||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)||Wood, Hon. E. F. L. (Ripon)|
|Tryon, Captain George Clement||Weigall, Captain A. G.||Wright, Henry Fitzherbert|
|Valentia, Viscount||Weston, Colonel J. W.||Yate, Colonel C. E.|
|Walker, Col. William Hall||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.||Young, William (Perthshire, East)|
|Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)||Williamson, Sir A.||Younger, Sir George|
|Warde, Colonel C. E. (Kent, Mid)||Willoughby, Major Hon. Claud|
|Warner, Sir Thomas Courtenay||Wills, Sir Gilbert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Arnold Ward and Sir Maurice Levy.|
|Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)||Wilson, A. Stanley (Yorks, E. R.)|
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to. Second Reading put off for six months.
§ The Orders for the remaining Government business were read and postponed.