HC Deb 04 November 1918 vol 110 cc1867-84

Order for Second Heading read.

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


I do not rise, I need hardly say, to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill I only desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill if he will not consider the further extension of the scope of this Bill in order that it may apply to both Houses of Parliament? A very simple alteration will effect this. The operative Clause might read A woman shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage for being elected to or sitting or voting as a Member of either House of Parliament. If the word "either" be put in, that will do it. If the principle is admitted in regard to the House of Commons on what grounds are we to deny the application of this principle to the House of Peers? It will also be equally relevant to keep in the words "by election to either House," because some peers are elected. I need not remind the hon. Gentlemen of the Scottish and Irish Peers. I, therefore, rise to express the earnest hope that the Noble Lord has not closed his mind to this aspect of the question, but will consider an Amendment in Committee designed to make this Bill apply to both Houses of Parliament.


Although I was a persistent and consistent antagonist of the franchise of women I shall support this Bill, because I have always argued that once you give the franchise you must give legislative functions to women. I think that is the only logical deduction to be arrived at. I am, however, rather interested to know why this Bill is under the auspices of the Foreign Office? Has there been some secret diplomacy between our Allies or something in the contemplated League of Nations to the effect that women shall be admitted to the different Senates and Houses of Deputies in the Allied countries? I notice that the Assistant-Secretary for Foreign Affairs is a sponsor for this Bill; as is also the Minister of Blockade. That the Minister of Blockade should be responsible for this Bill is rather astounding, for this is not a Bill for blockade, but rather for entry; and therefore it will be of interest to the House to know why these two right hon. Gentlemen are sponsors for the Bill. One would have imagined that this Bill would have been under the auspices, either of the Home Secretary, who, if I may say so, so ably piloted through the Franchise Bill, or, otherwise, the President of the Local Government Board. It would, therefore, be of interest if the Noble Lord would say why he has taken this position. I shall support this Bill. I also propose to move an Amendment, for I do not see why the House of Lords should at this time be excluded from the operation of this Bill. I do not quite agree with my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Whitehouse). Perhaps the words "being elected to or summoned to" would help to meet the case. Surely the Noble Lord has not got an idea that if the other House were included this Bill might be rejected by them! There is only one other remark, but that, I think, relates to a point of some substance. The Representation Act says that women should not vote until they attain the age of thirty. If they can only exercise the franchise at thirty they should only be eligible to become Members of this or the other House when they arrive at that age. I hope very much that the Noble Lord will say why he has differentiated in the Bills as to the age.


I rise to say a few words in support of the suggestion put forward by the hon. Member for Mid-Lanark (Mr. Whitehouse). As a matter of fact, I raised, as the Noble Lord will remember, the very point on the discussion of the Resolution in this House the other day. If I interpreted the Noble Lord aright on that occasion, he agreed that the form in which the Resolution was passed by the House of Commons was a mandate to the Government to bring in a Bill to make women eligible as Members of both Houses of Parliament. So far as I took him on that occasion, he semed to give his approval and support to that idea. I hope before this Debate concludes that we shall hear something from him on this point, because he agreed, at any rate—whether he approved of the suggestion or not—that the form of the Resolution was a direction to the Government to include eligibility to both Houses of Parliament. My hon. Friend, who made the suggestion a few moments ago, said that a very simple alteration in the Bill would give effect to that. There are two or three ways, it seems to me, in which effect could be given to a provision of this kind, because we are dealing in the case of the other House with a very different condition of affairs from that which obtains in this House. It has been pointed out that in Scotland and Ireland there are elected Peers who sit as representing the Peers of those countries. It has also been said that now would be a good time to remove the sex barrier in case the other House came to be an elected House. There is a short way, I venture to press on the attention of the Government and the Minister in charge of this Bill. Why should not Peeresses in their own right sit as members of the House of Lords? So long as you have got an hereditary Chamber across the Lobby, even under the existing system, and before that House comes to be reformed in any way, the sex barrier should, and could be, removed. If you give the right to Peeresses to sit in the House of Lords in their own right I think you would be, until measures are taken to reform the Upper Chamber, placing them on an equality, such as you propose in connection with the House of Commons. I do not, of course, know how many Peeresses this would apply to at present, but I would ask the Noble Lord why should this privilege—if you call it so—which some supporters of the Government enjoy at the present time in reward for their services—being sent up to the other House—be confined to one sex, if you have women sitting in this House? I suppose that you will also have them sitting on the Treasury Bench, and if they have a record of faithful service to the Government who wish to reward them, why should they not have the right to be sent to the House of Lords if they get tired of sitting in this assembly. These are two or three points I wish to bring to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope he will reply to them.


There was one question raised on the Motion of the hon. Member for Cleveland which was not dealt with either in the course of the former Debate or outside the House so far as I know, and it is, what right has this House to make a grave constitutional change in the government of this country? This House, we have been told over and over again, has long since exhausted any mandate it received. It has extended its life on several occasions, on the express understanding that its extended life should be used only for the purpose of the prosecution of the War. This Bill has nothing whatever to do with the prosecution of the War, but it makes a very grave constitutional change in our government, and I ask whoever replies to this Debate on behalf of the Government to explain how it is that this House is thought to be competent to-day to make this grave constitutional change. We are never tired of professing profound faith in democratic government. I do not believe there is a single Member of this House who has not at some time or other expressed that view. I remember a good many years ago one of those astute gentlemen who coin phrases started the phrase, "Government of the people by the people." If that is a true definition of democratic government, I ask, Is this Bill government by the people? Why, the people have never had a chance of expressing their opinion upon it, and it has never been raised at an election. Nobody can tell to-day how a referendum on the question would result. Even if you included the women voters to-day, nobody can tell how they would determine if they were asked, Shall women be eligible for seats in the House of Commons? I venture to say if a referendum were taken on this subject you would find a majority of women against this Bill.

It is not a question of whether you would find a majority one way or the other. The question is, that you do not give the people of this country a chance of expressing their view. Is that democratic government? Many hon. Members may think if the question were put that there would be an overwhelming majority in favour of this Bill. I do not know what reason they have for thinking so, or whether they have any reason at all except that they desire it. If we are really a democratic country, and if we are ruled by democratic principles, you should before you make a change in the constitution of the country submit the question to the country and give the country a chance of deciding. There was an enormous number of Members who voted for the Resolution who had on all previous occasions voted against woman franchise, and I know that many of them did so because women have got the vote and they thought to themselves, "If we vote against this Bill the women will vote against us at the coming election, and although they were profoundly opposed to the principle of this Bill they voted for the Resolution in the hope thereby of saving their seats. That sort of thing is contrary to true democratic principles. Hon. Members of this House are elected as representatives on the basis that they will in the exercise of their votes in this House do that which they believe in their hearts to be the right course. If hon. Members are opposed in principle to this Bill and yet fear the consequences of voting for it, then they are introducing a system which I think is a negation of democratic principles.

We have given votes to certain sections of women, and before we did that in my humble opinion we should have submitted the matter to the country. We did that without taking that course, and to-day we are taking a far greater step, for we are proposing to introduce women into this House, and if the Amendment which has been foreshadowed is carried we may be introducing them into the other House. I urge hon. Members to consider whether before we take this step we should not allow the country at the coming election, which is not far off, to express its view and to determine this question. I do not believe that women will be elected to this House. I do not believe that you will get for many years to come any women elected to this House. We had an illustration only last week of the feeling of the country on the question of the election of women in Swansea. I do not think there is a more democratic town in Great Britain than Swansea, and you had there a municipal election. There is a great deal to be said for women serving on municipal bodies, but at Swansea you had fifteen women candidates for twenty-eight seats, and not one of them was returned. Do you think that if constituencies will not return women to municipal bodies they will return them to this House? I do not think you will get a single woman returned to this House in the next Parliament. If you believe in democracy and do not merely pay lip-service to it, then appeal to the people on this question and do not make this great change without their approval.


I heartly support this Bill, but I would like it to go much further than it does. It removes one disqualification, but there are many more which call for removal, such as their disqualification for acting as solicitors. I believe it would be just as easy for my Noble Friend to remove all these professional disqualifications, and it is ridiculous when the citadel is open to women that the outposts should continue to resist. With regard to the admission to the legal profession there is very strong reason for—


We cannot discuss the solicitors' question upon this Bill.


I merely wished to make my protest and I have now finished.

7.0 P.M.


I think it is rather late to raise this particular question, and it should have been raised when the House discussed the whole question of admitting women to the vote. In passing this Bill we are really doing the very best we can in order to give the people of this country a chance of recording their opinions. We are giving to the electors the right of saying whether or not they wish to have a woman in preference to a man, and can any exception be taken to that proposal? Up to the present the people of this country have had no chance of selecting a female as a Parliamentary candidate, however much she might be suitable, or however much they desired to have her services. The hon. Gentleman said that certain Members voted the other day for the Resolution because they were afraid of the votes that might be recorded against them by the women or the men of this country. But I do not believe that sentiment actuated the minds of a very large number of the Members of this House. I may say at once that so far as I am concerned, I desire to see women in this House because I believe they will be of immense service. I have had the advantage for many years of serving with ladies on local government bodies and other committees, and I can say that they have been able to supply a long-felt want in all municipal work, and which I think is also felt in legislative work. We shall find when we do have, as I hope we shall have, some women elected to this House that their value on the Committees will be very great, and that is the reason why I wish to urge on the Government that they should extend this power both to the House of Lords as well as to the House of Commons. The Resolution put down in the name of myself and others was general, and I had hoped that we should find a Bill prepared which would allow women to sit in the House of Lords as well as the House of Commons. At this very moment there is a Committee sitting upstairs which I believe would strengthened by the admission of women. I am sitting on a Joint Committee dealing with Criminal Law Amendment. There is a cognate subject affecting Regulation 40D which has been referred to a Special Committee on which the Home Secretary has purposely invited ladies to serve. On the Committee on which I am sitting we are deprived of the great advantage we should have on that particular subject, because neither the House of Commons nor the House of Lords includes any female members. I hope we shall be able to induce the Government to insert or exclude the words which are necessary to indicate that ladies may sit in the House of Peers in precisely the same way as men who there sit on hereditary grounds or are elected as representative peers. If we put the necessary words in, it will enable the House of Lords to take them out should they think fit. If, on the other hand, we do not put them in, then the House of Lords will be able to insert them should it be so desired. I venture to submit to the Noble Lord in charge of this Bill that we who are representing the people of the country should express our views definitely on this point, whether or not the House of Lords should be open to women, and we should then leave it to the House of Lords to deal with the question as they think necessary. Amendments will no doubt be put down for Committee to effect that object, but meanwhile it is hoped the Government will announce that they are not unwilling to sympathetically consider the suggestion.


May I say to the hon. and gallant Member for Gloucester that he quite forgot apparently there are very large bodies of women in this country who are organised. There are hundreds of thousands of women organised in trade unions who have their women representatives on various public bodies. They have very strong and powerful organisations. Does the hon. Member mean to say that these women, who have over and over again protested against the exclusion of women from Parliament, should now be prevented sending their own representatives to Parliament, seeing that the Vote has been granted to them? I imagine he would say, at any rate, that in their case they should have that light. We must not forget there are throughout the length and breadth of this land not merely hundreds of thousands but millions of women who have repeatedly expressed their desire that their sex should not be excluded from Parliament. You have only to look at resolutions passed by the Women's Co-operative Guild and other organisations of that nature to realise that, and I hope the hon. Member will not at this stage offer any opposition to this Bill.


I think I was almost the last person on this bench to offer opposition to the extension of the franchise to women. But I always held the opinion that the moment the franchise was conferred on women it became impossible to refuse them the right to sit in this House if their fellow citizens desired that they should occupy places here in preference to male candidates. That was a logical proceeding which could rot be denied either to the elector or to the woman who desired to stand as a candidate. My opposition to the Franchise Bill was always based upon one ground and one ground only, not that you were denying to women an opportunity for work in co-operation with men, or denying to women something which you were allowing to men, but my opposition was on entirely different ground—it was that by opening up to every woman inducement to take part in public life you were giving opportunities to perhaps the most gifted of their sex to take part in public affairs, and that participation in public affairs would have the almost certain consequence that they would neglect what is the primary obligation and duty of women, the creation, management, and control of the home. My right hon. Friend opposite who has just spoken and another hon. Member both spoke of their desire to co-operate with women on national affairs. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that there were two Committees sitting side by side, one a Parliamentary Committee and the other an extra Parliamentary Committee, in the latter of which women are included, while from the former they are excluded. I wonder whether cither of these two Gentlemen ever inquired into the statistics of the Post Office, which has long been the greatest employer of woman labour, and in which that employment has so long existed that certain statistics are available with regard to the female labour so employed. I speak merely from recollection, but I think it will be found by those who study the statistics that there has been a great reduction—a steadily increasing reduction in the percentage of those women who are employed in the Post Office who leave that occupation in order to marry, notwithstanding the fact that so far as the Civil Service is concerned there is the excep- tional advantage that a substantial bonus on marriage is granted to women employed in the Post Office. The proportion of ladies who get married is being reduced every year and the argument that I adduce from that fact is that by the opening of public life to women you automatically increase the disinclination which women have for the cares, duties and worries of domestic life. There is this other aspect of the question, namely, that whereas you get gifted men employed in private life transmitting their qualities to their descendants, unless I am strangely misinformed, the number of ladies who have distinguished themselves in public and who marry and have descendants is extremely limited. If that is not so I am open to correction, but I would ask hon. Members who disagree with me to look at the number of ladies occupying positions in public life who marry and have descendants. I think it will be found that the number is extremely small as compared with the number of men. You can test this in almost every branch of public life. It was on these grounds I opposed the Women's Franchise Bill, but the moment the vote was given to women it became impossible, logically, to oppose their admission into this House, and if this Bill demands that they shall be admitted to the other House as well it will equally have my support.


I only wish to take up one moment to protest against the argument advanced by the right hon. Gentleman who last spoke, that because a woman takes part in public life her value to the State as a potential wife and mother automatically declines. That statement is unsupported by any data and I think it ought not to have been made unless it was supported by conclusive data. The plain fact is that in this old country the entrance of women into public life is within the memory of nearly every one of us here. Every Member of this House can remember that event, and to draw conclusions—


The hon. and gallant Member is entirely incorrect.


—to draw conclusions from the comparatively few women who have had the opportunity—to whom the opportunity has been given—is to my mind to take a very narrow and unreasonable view of the capacity of womanhood in this country. I myself believe that those women who shine most as wives and mothers are likely to be the most effective as administrators and legislators if the opportunity is given them. I protest against the idea that there is anything unwomanly or unmatronly in a woman doing her share in carrying on the affairs of a democratic country, and I will say in conclusion I hope the Noble Lord in charge of this Bill will make some statement I resently to reassure us that when opening the House of Commons, as we gladly do to women, to secure the suffrages of the electors, we are not going to debar them from becoming members of another House, for it would be a reflection if we were to say that we opened the doors to them in the House of Commons but bar to them the doors of the House of Lords.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir HEDWORTH MEUX

I should like the Noble Lord when he makes his statement presently to explain one or two matters, if he will kindly do so. I want to refer to the un-suitability of this House for women. We are all aware that when a big speech is about to be made, say, on one of the rather rare occasions when the Prime Minister comes down here, it is quite impossible for Members to find sitting accommodation. They are packed on the benches like herrings, and I have seen right hon. Gentlemen so crowded on the Front Benches that they have had their arms round one another's waists. I should like to know whether since the Franchise Bill was passed the Noble Lord has taken any steps to enlarge this House. He must have known it was quite certain that women would have the right of entry here, and in all probability several will be elected at the next election. Has the Noble Lord taken into consideration the fact that they will require a great deal of extra accommodation in the House? Are they going during the Recess to alter the House to give reasonable accommodation for the ladies? I see the Noble Lord shakes his head, which confirms me in my belief that he really does not hope to see them in this House at all, and I believe that there are very few Members who do. Perhaps he will explain what class of women he wants. He certainly does not want the noblest class of women, the women who are producing children. It is just as well to speak plainly in these matters. We want as many children in this country as we can get? Why was Belgium destroyed? Why was Serbia overrun? Because there were not enough men to resist the invaders. Therefore, that class of women—and the ambition of every right-minded woman when she is married is to produce a beautiful child, a boy more beautiful than her husband or a girl more beautiful than herself—cannot possibly come into this House.

I have had a few communications from unknown correspondents since I made a few remarks upon this subject a few days ago. One gallant gentleman wrote to me from Bath—I have forgotten his name—and said, "Do you remember what Lord Palmerston said about this?" I cannot find the reference and I do not know where it is, but there was some discussion on this matter, and Lord Palmerston said, "Obviously, if you bring women into the House, there is no earthly reason why you should not allow them to be Ministers." Suppose you have a female Prime Minister, and suppose she is in a state which every woman who loves her husband ought to be, what is going to happen? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am sorry to hear these exclamations. It shows me that this business is not really straight. If there are to be women in this House, I hope to see the really nice ones, women around whom we shall see Members swarming like bees, women something of the noble character of the charming heroines of whom we read, like Rosalind, Imogene, or Portia. I should love to see Portia here, and to see her talking with the First Commissioner of Works. Supposing he refused to give her proper accommodation, I can imagine Portia saying Now, I have thee on the hip. The House of Lords is a totally different proposition. They have very reasonable and leisurely hours, and I believe they nearly always go home to dinner. I can see no reason why the women should not sit there. As I have said before, I am afraid that I have not a very high opinion of people who say one thing and vote another. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote a little piece of poetry, English poetry, by Pope, from his translation of the Iliad. He uttered these words about one whom we recognise as one of the greatest warriors, and whose bronze statue is in Hyde Park— Who dares think one thing, and another tell, My heart detests him as the gates of hell.


My hon. and gallant Friend has made a speech of the kind with which the House is becoming, perhaps, rather too familiar. I do not think that it would be really respectful of me to pretend that he has presented any serious argument on the subject. Possibly he forgot that Queen Victoria was a woman, and a woman who had a large family.


She reigned, but did not rule.


With regard to the other speeches which have been made, I think practically no opposition has been raised to the Bill. It has been suggested by a great number of Members that the Bill is too narrow. The first hon. Member who spoke raised the point, and said that it ought, at any rate, to include membership of the House of Lords. A number of other Members have said the same thing. I say, frankly, that my own sympathies are undoubtedly with that criticism of the Bill, but I do not think it would be fair to say that there are not certain difficulties in the way of the proposition, which no doubt will be considered when the matter is raised in Committee. In the first place, there is certainly some doubt whether, as a matter of constitutional propriety, this House ought to settle who is to be a member of the other House. At any rate, it has been represented to me that there would be a very strong feeling in the other House that it is a matter which ought to be left to the decision of the other House itself.


They interfere in our functions.


On the other hand, there is a more substantial and serious point. The whole purpose of this Bill is to make women eligible for this House. It is not to implant them in this House unless they can secure election from their fellow citizens. The effect of inserting women in this Bill in the way that has been suggested for the House of Lords, I am afraid would be immediately to place a certain number of women in that House without anything further being done. That, perhaps, is open to some objection, because it means when they receive, either by succession of creation, the dignity of a peerage, that they receive one thing which is now going to be turned into a different thing by an Act of Parliament. That is an aspect of the matter that ought to be considered, and before we come to the Committee stage I trust that those who are in favour of this change will consider, first, whether on the whole it is desirable to insert such an Amendment and not leave the other House to say whether or not they desire women to be Members of their House; and, secondly, whether they ought to make it retrospective or only operative for the future. My own personal sympathies, as I say—it would not be fair to deny it—are in favour of both House? being open to women, and therefore, speaking only for myself, and not as a Member of the Government, I shall look upon any Amendment of that kind without any undue prejudice.

One word was said by my hon. Friend as to the age. The whole thing is whether you will allow the electors of this country to choose women to be their representatives. It is not quite the same thing as giving the franchise, a thing which they can exercise straight off. They have got to secure election. The question is whether there is really any sense in cutting down the class of women from whom they may choose their representatives. Surely, if women are to be eligible for this House the right thing is to give them free choice, providing the woman is of age. You would not make a difference in that respect. It is clear, if women are to be eligible at all that women over twenty-one should be eligible by the same rule. There was a point which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Durham (Major Hills) raised which Mr. Speaker pointed out could not be dealt with. I have great sympathy with what he says, but with a view of getting this measure through it seemed advisable to follow the Resolution which the House had itself passed, and it therefore did not include the subject which he has raised. No one would be a warmer supporter than myself if he succeeded in getting those other measures brought before the House. My hon. Friend (Sir C. Henry) wants to know why the Foreign Office was put in charge of this Bill. I should have thought it was quite obvious. Because it is the most enlightened office in the State. Beyond that I do not know that there is any special reason which connects it with the measure, though perhaps the Leader of the House asked me to take charge of it because I had taken a great interest in the subject from the first.

I must say one word in answer to the hon. Member for Gloucester (Major Terrell), who was almost the only opponent of the Bill. He had a great objection to it on the ground which was put forward the other night, that this was a moribund Parliament which ought not to undertake a stupendous change in the Constitution of this country. I am afraid I cannot pretend to improve upon the answer which was given by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Asquith) to that objection, namely, that having passed a measure enfranchising I do not know exactly how many millions of women—six or seven millions—it was a ridiculous thing to say that this was so great a change that this Parliament was incapable of carrying it out. My hon. Friend supplied me himself with an answer to his arguments, because he went on to say that he was quite sure that no woman would be elected to this House. If that is so—I do not think it will be so—then, surely, this does not amount to a great and far-reaching constitutional change! He said a. Bill of this kind ought not to be passed without a referendum, and he went on to explain that the reason so many Members voted for the Resolution was that they were certain that a very large majority, if not the majority, were in favour of the Bill. These arguments show the real difficulty in which genuine opponents of the measure find themselves. The truth is that this is the logical conclusion of the enfranchisement of women, and it would be absurd of this House not to carry that measure to its logical conclusion. In point of fact, there is much less to be said, even from the point of view of the most vigorous opponent, against opening this House to women than to the enfranchisement of women, because you are only empowering the electors to choose women and not compelling them to do so. I venture to think that the whole reason of the House and of the country is in favour of this measure, and I trust that the House will now give it a Second Reading.


I should like to join in the protest which was made by the Noble Lord against the character and the tone of the speech made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Meux), who will forgive me for saying that it was of a kind which was distasteful to very many Members of this House. We have had already, on the Resolution that was moved a few days ago, what was in effect a Second Reading Debate on the principle of this measure. The House will not wish to cover again the same ground. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Terrell), who has been the only serious opponent of the Bill today, spoke in the name of democracy. He said we had not given the people a chance of expressing their view whether women should be elected to this House or not. The whole purpose of the Bill is to give the people a chance of expressing their view whether they wish to see women returned to this House or not. How can we best elicit their opinion? By allowing women to stand. If the electorate does not wish to see women as legislators, they will not vote for them, and the matter will have been decided by their own voice. The hon. and gallant Gentleman urged also that if the nation polled it would be found that the great majority was against a measure of this character. But at the same time he told us that in his view many Members voted last week against their convictions in order to save their seats. Surely if the majority of the electorate was opposed to this measure they would have been more likely to save their seats by voting against it than by voting in its favour. But I will not pursue further this argument on the main principle of the Bill. That has been decided emphatically by a majority of eleven to one only a few days ago.

Two or three comparatively subsidiary points have been raised. The first is whether the Bill should apply to the other House as well as to this. This Bill, by making women eligible, does not seek itself to decide whether women shall sit in this House or not. We do not say women shall be elected to the House of Commons. We only say the people may elect them if they so desire. If, on the other hand, you extend the Bill to the House of Lords, we do, in fact, say: Women shall sit in the House of Lords. This is an illustration of the absurdity of the principle by which the great majority of the Peers are recruited—the principle of heredity—and if the sex distinction were abolished, and women were made eligible to become Members of the House of Lords, and if the first woman peer took her seat by virtue purely of heredity right, some Noble Lord would at last, for the first time, be convinced of the absurdity of the principle by which legislators are recruited for Membership of the other House of Parliament. However that may be, it seems to me that if the sex barrier is to be abolished for the one House, it ought to be abolished also for the other. That, however, is a matter which we can discuss when we come to the Committee stage. I am very glad the Bill does not limit the age eligible to this House to the age at which they can exercise the franchise, for reasons which I expressed the other day. It would be most desirable that a law should be passed by Parliament as speedily as possible throwing open all the professions to women on equal terms with men.


The Army and Navy?


I was not referring to the Army and Navy, although the Army, the Navy, and the Air Service has been thrown open to women with regard to those services for which they are specially qualified, namely, the Army, Navy, and Air Force Auxiliary Services, which employ very large numbers of women. I was refering to the removal of the sex discrimination with regard to the medical profession, and it ought to be speedily removed with regard to the law and many other professions. But I think, from a Parliamentary point of view, the Noble Lord is well advised in not complicating this Bill with that issue. It might rouse an antagonism which would hinder the passage of the Bill; and, as the time may be short before a Dissolution takes place, and for practical reasons it is important that this point should be settled, we cannot complain that he has not on this occasion cast his Bill in a larger mould. As for the point raised by my hon. Friend (Sir C. Henry) as to why the representative of the Foreign Office should have charge of the Bill, the Noble Lord has replied that the Foreign Office is one of the most enlightened Departments of the State. That may be disputed; but we shall all agree that, in some matters at least, the Noble Lord in charge of the Bill is undoubtedly one of the most enlightened Members of the House, and we all welcome his conduct of it.


In dealing with the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend (Major Terrell), my Noble Friend said this was a revolutionary measure, because probably women would not be elected to the House. I do not follow that argument at all. It does not matter whether women will or will not be elected. It is a revolutionary thing to give them a power of being elected. It is something which has never occurred during the eight hundred years this House has sat, and therefore, although I admit that he is a most enlightened Member of a most enlightened Department of the Government, in this particular argument I think he has gone a little astray. The question of admitting women to all professions is rather a large order besides being out of order, but it is probably the natural sequence of what we are doing to-day. I rise because my Noble Friend said there was no opposition. But we had an opposition only two or three days ago. We had what was really a Second Reading Debate on the Motion.


I do not wish my right hon. Friend to misrepresent me. What I meant was that as far as this Debate was concerned, with the exception of one or two speeches there was no opposition.


It is no use saying anything more. We made our protest and divided, and there is an end of it. We were beaten, and like good Englishmen we have taken a good beating, and there is no unpleasantness after it. But what would the result have been if the voting had been by ballot instead of open voting? It would undoubtedly have been that we should have won.


The right hon. Baronet says this Bill confers upon women the power to be elected. I take it that it confers upon the electors the power to elect women. It is a concession not so much to women as to the electors. It is a little matter, however. The great matter to women was to secure the vote. With the vote they can be represented and their representatives can be turned out if they do not fully and adquately represent them. The essential thing was done when we conferred the vote upon women. This is quite a secondary change. But it gives the electors a wider choice. The evil that exists to-day is that the electors do not get a sufficiently wide choice, because the parties choose the candidates. This Bill is going to accentuate the evil which has prevailed in this respect for, while the choice of the elector is going to be widened by the admission of women to this House they are not going to be selected by parties but they will stand in addition to those Members who are selected by parties. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] At first at least there is no doubt the parties will not select women, but women will not be content with that choice and will stand in any case. Consequently we shall have a greater multiplicity of candidates and we shall increase the danger of minority representation. I am not opposing the Bill. I think it ought to be passed. I am pointing out the increasing danger and the complexity which will arise from the fact that we have not the alternative vote. We are going to give a wider choice to the electors, there will be a greater number of candidates, and we will, therefore, greatly increase the danger of having minority representation by the admission of women to the House. It will be all the more essential that the country set itself to a consideration of the urgent necessity of bringing in the alternative vote and establishing that form of election in order that the evils which arise from minority representation may not be accentuated by the passing of the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Wednesday.—[Lord R. Cecil.]