§ Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Bill be now read the third time.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Major Astor)
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now,'' and, at the end of the Question, to add the words,"upon this day three months.I am here in the absence of my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, because in the past the Local Government Board has dealt with questions of registration. I consulted Mr. Speaker just now as to the best manner in which I could state the policy of the Government. The Government have decided that, on the whole, it will be preferable not to attempt to amend this Bill, but to introduce their own Bill, probably next week, to redeem their election pledges. The Government election pledges, as the House probably knows, are to give equality in civil and judicial matters to women as compared with men. Hon. Members here will realise and appreciate the great work which has been done by women, and will welcome this recognition which is made officially by the Government in the announcement that they will take an early opportunity to establish full equality in civil and judicial matters as between men and women. The Government have decided that it would be better to give effect to this by bringing in their own measure: for two reasons. The first is a question of draftsmanship. I have been through Clause 1, which deals with civil and judicial offices, with the Parliamentary draftsman, and, in our opinion, it would be far better to give effect to the intention of the framers of the Clause by moving it in a different manner. For instance, we propose to begin that Clause with the words "A person," instead of "A woman." That is to say, we propose to remove inequalities not only from women, but from men so far as they exist. The Bill which we shall introduce shortly will enable all persons, including women, to hold civil and judicial posts, to enter and exorcise any civil professions in the future. That is to say, it will be very wide and 1284 comprehensive, and, in our opinion, will be better drafted than the present Bill. For instance, I understand that there is considerable doubt as to the meaning of the words,under any authority or body corporate or un-incorporate deriving powers directly or indirectly from any Act of Parliament, Order in Council, charter or franchise whatsoever.That appears to refer to some sort of quasi-official body, and we believe that the Clause, as drafted by the Government, will make the purpose quite clear. We do not propose to deal with the question of ecclesiastical equality. That may be raised in discussion on the Bill. I am giving a general indication of what will be in the Bill. There will be an important proviso. Hon. Members on consideration will realise that all countries and all races have not yet reached the same stage of advancement, progress, civilisation, and development, at the present time. That applies to Europe and applies with greater force to the world at large. In the opinion of the Government, after going into it very carefully, it would not be wise at the present moment and at the present stage of development to put women, for instance, in the Indian Civil Service on the same footing as men. It is a very important point. Their exclusion will not be dealt with specifically in the Bill, but powers will be taken as to the exclusion, of women from certain branches of the Civil Service. It is quite possible that at some future time it will be advisable to give women full equality in the Indian Civil Service, but at the present moment all who are best acquainted with that country and with recent development are practically unanimously of opinion that it would be unwise at the present moment to bring women into the Indian Civil Service on the same terms as men. That is one of the main points that the Government have in mind. Generally speaking we propose to adopt the recommendation of what is called the Gladstone Committee, which deals with this subject. So far the main difference between this Bill and the Government Bill which we hope to introduce next week, is the question of drafting. Our Bill will be intended to carry out the Government pledges given at the last election.
I come now to a real point of difference between the two Bills, and that is on the political and constitutional question. In the opinion of the Government this is not the right time to deal again with the big question of the reform of the fran- 1285 chise. There is in this Parliament a large number of Members who were in the previous Parliament, They know the amount of time which was devoted by the Government to dealing with the question of the franchise and altering the franchise. A large and comprehensive Bill, the Representation of the People Bill, was passed. It was the result of recommendations made by an important and representative conference representing Parliament, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Speaker. As the result of that Act, whereas in the past there were only, roughly, 8,000,000 voters, there are now something like 21,000,000 voters; whereas in the past there were no women entitled to vote at Parliamentary elections there are now something like 8,000,000 or 9,000,000 so entitled. An enormous fundamental change has been brought about. So far as women were concerned it was the result of a compromise. I need not remind the House of the great difference of opinion which existed in the past on the question of women's franchise. In the opinion of the Government this is not the opportune moment, only six months after the passing of that Act, when it has hardly been tried, to embark upon another measure which would re-open the whole question. A distinct bargain was arrived at by the different shades of opinion. That is not a logical basis, I agree—compromises very seldom are logical. I am not defending it because it is logical but because it was a distinct bargain and compromise arrived at after careful investigation. I myself look forward to the time when we shall base our franchise not on compromise, but on logic. I am all in favour of getting absolute equality, but in the opinion of the Government this is not the moment, after Parliament has devoted months of care and attention to the question, to reopen it.
There is another point which bears materially on this Bill and its future procedure. Hon. Members know that it is the custom when a large number of new voters are enfranchised to have a General Election. If the intention of the supporters of this Bill were given effect to, probably something like 5,000,000 new voters would be put on the register, and, according to precedents, it would be necessary to have a General Election very soon after. [Hon. Members: "Why not?" and "You do not want one !"] If I wanted to burke the question I should not raise it. Hon. Members know what a General Election means.
1286 It means that for two or three months there is general dislocation and disturbance in the consideration of all public matters. We have just been through it, and we know the turmoils of a General Election. The Government have a very full programme of legislative measures. There is a large number of important Bills which the Government desire to pass, which, I believe, hon. Members here desire to pass, and which we want to pass as soon as possible. In addition, there is all the administration of the Government Departments. If we were to plunge into a General Election now, or if there were the prospects of a General Election in the near future, our administration would be most seriously interfered with. I say frankly that it is not necessary for me to come down to the House to answer questions, to propose Bills, or oppose Bills, in order to find a full day's employment. At the Ministry of Health I could give a full day's work merely to administration. We want vigorous, sound, comprehensive administration in our Departments. I believe most other Departments want it too. I believe we can do a tremendous amount for social reconstruction by using existing powers without legislation. If there were to be a General Election in the near future the whole of that work would be interfered with; the whole development which comes, and can only come, from vigorous administration would be interfered with, and because of that, in the opinion of the Government, it would not be wise to dislocate the whole of the public service, to dislocate public opinion, by doing anything which would necessitate the holding of an early General Election. So far as I know the general public will support me. There are a few sections in the community almost wiped out at the last election. They, possibly, would be in favour of having a General Election, because they are in such a bad way they could not be worse off; but I do not think the public at large wants an election now or in the near future. I believe that the general public wants this Parliament and this Government to go ahead with the work of reconstruction, both by legislation and administration.
There is another point. The House the other day had an interesting and comprehensive discussion on the problem of what is generally called federalism, or what I prefer to call legislative devolution. T understand that in the very near future a conference or committee, or con- 1287 vention is to be set up to make a full and comprehensive "inquiry into the whole problem of legislative devolution for the United Kingdom and the different countries which go to make up the United Kingdom.
§ Major ASTOR
I cannot answer because I do not know. I have seen the general terms of reference, which are practically determined; they are very wide, purposely wide. They do not specifically deal with the question of franchise or with the position of the other Chamber or this House, but, it seems to me quite obvious—I am giving only my own personal opinion—that if this body is to consider the question of legislative devolution and the delegation to subordinate Parliaments of specific powers then the whole question of the electorate must arise. Are we to have the same electorate for the different Parliaments? [Hon. Members: "No."] It seems to me very possible that the position of this House and of the other Chamber, and the relations of the two Houses to the various legislative bodies will arise. That, I think, is an additional reason for not tinkering at this stage with the question of franchise. The Government have dealt with it very comprehensively within the last twelve months, and it is possible that in the near future they might have to deal with it again in a very comprehensive manner. It is far better that we should not be tinkering at it constantly. We have got a great many other things to deal with. That is an additional reason for not at this moment in the opinion of the Government tinkering with the franchise. I desire to deal also with the actual draftsmanship of the Bill before us. I understand that those supporting the Bill desired to give equality to the sexes in this matter, but as I understand the Bill it would actually make inequality between the sexes because it would, as now drafted, give to women not only all franchises which are given to men, but would also reserve to women certain special qualifications which they have as women—that is to say in the Bill as now drafted there would not be equality but inequality. It is not an emancipation Bill, but a Bill that as drafted would give superiority to 1288 women over men in questions of franchise. I do not know whether that is the intention of those who have promoted the Bill, but I am advised that that would be the actual result. I am sure hon. Members who support the Bill will not misunderstand me when I say that the draftsmanship is in. certain respects rather crude. It is far better to deal with the question in a detailed manner and without any ambiguity, and that the intentions of Parliament in a matter such as this should be expressed in a comprehensive Bill, and a Bill containing many Clauses, and not one general and somewhat vague Clause as in this Bill, and that it should say exactly what it intends to do, so that there should be no doubt as to those who were qualified to vote. I am advised if Clause 2 were passed there would be real doubt and ambiguity, and it would be for the Committees and not for Parliament to settle who and what classes were entitled to vote. In our opinion it is far better that Parliament should decide that question and not the Committees.
Let me just give instances to hon. Members of the sort of points in doubt. Docs Clause 2 prevent a woman, if qualified as a Parliamentary elector by residence in one constituency becoming registered by virtue of a £5 qualification in any number of other constituencies'? We are doubtful, we do not know, and that is a very important point to settle. There is another point. Does the Clause prevent a woman over thirty years of age being qualified as a local government elector by residence with her husband? That is another important point which ought to be settled by Parliament in a Bill. It appears to me also that a Bill of this importance and magnitude ought to contain a Schedule referring specifically to certain measures which it purports to supplement and alter. The Government Bill, which will be introduced shortly, will do that, and will have a Schedule giving specifically the parts of certain existing Statutes, so that there shall be no doubt or ambiguity about the intention of Parliament. If it were desired to deal with this question of franchise reform it would be far better to deal with it in a Bill by itself adequately, and I can assure hon. Members that more than one Clause would be necessary in order to remove all ambiguity. There is another point which I will refer to very generally, and that is the question of peeresses. It is doubtful 1289 under the Bill whether all peeresses would be entitled to sit in the House of Lords. The Government Bill will make the intention of Parliament quite clear, and it will enable His Majesty to create peerages giving specific rights to peeresses, if it is desired, to sit in the Upper Chamber. The Government ask Parliament not to pass this Bill, and not to give it a Third Heading, because they propose to introduce their own Rill carrying out their pledges at the last election, to give equality in civil and judicial matters to the sexes. They cannot undertake at the present moment to bring in a Bill to amend the franchise, in view of the very comprehensive manner in which they dealt with it only a few months ago, and in view of the fact that the new Convention which is going to be set up may possibly raise the whole question again. For those reasons I cannot ask the House to give this Bill a Third Reading.
§ Mr. SPOOR
I am somewhat surprised at this late stage of the Bill that the Government should have adopted the plan outlined by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. We have to remember that the Bill has now reached its last stage. The Government have had ample opportunity of giving an: indication of what their policy was going to be long before this. It will be remembered that in the Debate on the Second Beading the Government indicated their objection to the second Clause or the Bill. They told the party who introduced it that when the Committee stage was reached they reserved to themselves (he right to oppose that particular Clause. When the Bill passed through the Committee stage the Government, apparently recognising the very large measure of support that was given to the proposal from all sections of the House, very wisely did not press their suggested Amendments, and the Labour party hoped that when the Bill came on for Third Reading that the Government, having regard to the expression of opinion from all quarters in support of the measure, would withdraw all possible opposition. Even now I would appeal to the hon. and gallant Gentleman to, at all events, let us have to-day a free vote on this question. I would ask that the Government Whips should not be put on, and if the arguments of the hon. and gallant Gentleman has advanced so genially and so sympathetically, because apparently he is extremely sympathetic to the objects of the Bill, have weight with those who are 1290 present, they will have the opportunity in the Lobby of vindicating their opinion. Reference has been made in the course of his speech to the alleged defective draftmanship of this measure. There may be defects in that draftsmanship but I would respectfully suggest that the time when, those defects could and should have been remedied was while the Bill was in Committee. It is rather late in the day for the Government to come along now and to try to defeat a measure which not only has support in this House, but has the support of every responsible women's organisation in the country, by the suggestion that the draftsmanship is defective when there has been ample opportunity to remedy any such defects. The hon. and gallant Gentleman told us, what we were told in the earlier stages of the Debate on this Bill, that it came too soon, after the last Franchise Act and that, as a matter of fact, the country had not yet grown accustomed to the new conditions that that Franchise Act created. There was throughout, both in his speech this morning and in the speeches that were given on the Second Reading and in Committee, no suggestion of principle raised.
Apparently the House is quite agreed on the principle that this Bill embodies in fuller degree than the Franchise Act. We are all agreed on the question of votes for women. The only question raised is that of expediency, and that is the question that has been raised again this morning. I would simply say, is it ever too soon to do justice? It is admitted that six months ago, when the Franchise Act was introduced, that was a temporary compromise at the best. We submit that the conditions are totally different to-day. The War, we are assured, is over, and we are beginning the task of reconstruction, everybody realises how very formidable that task is, and we say that it is imperatively necessary—and I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman will agree—that in the doing of that task we should enlist as far as we can the co-operation of all the women in this country who are qualified to help in that great work. The age limit was fixed in the last Act. We were told that it was in no sense arbitrary, and that the age of thirty was fixed simply to prevent the existence in this country of a majority of women voters. I would like to say in reference to that that if at the moment there happen to be more women in England, once we have admitted the right of these women to a vote, then 1291 they are entitled to more votes. The probablity is that in course of time and of nature that is a situation which would correct itself. It has been again stated this morning, as it was in the earlier Debates, that whenever a comprehensive and revolutionary proposal like this, at some hon. Members appear to regard it, is introduced, it is invariably followed at an early date by a General Election. I would like to say in reference to that, and I think that the opinion of the House will be with me on this matter, that it is very desirable if there is to be an election that the sooner that change takes place the better. Nobody wants the General Election, either now or at any other time, on a register be defective as was the register upon which the last election was fought, and we Bay that the Government cannot begin too soon, in order to prevent those very real grievances that undoubtedly existed throughout the last General Election. But with regard to the possibility of a General Election, desirable as it may be to secure unity in this time of crisis, we are bound to face the facts.
I would suggest that, not only because there is throughout this country a greater measure of industrial unrest than there has ever been before, but because of certain other indications, there is reason to believe that a General Election cannot be very long delayed. We have had evidence that the temporary alliance of two great parties in a Coalition which after all—and Members opposite, to be quite honest, must admit it—was of an artificial character, and was intended on their own statements to serve a purely temporary purpose, we have had indications, and nobody can sit in this House without seeing those indications every day, that that alliance has been strained almost to breaking point. It is inevitable that it should be so. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] Hon. Members say, "No," but hon. Members told us at the time of the last election—I am speaking now of sincere politicians, either of the Liberal or the Tory persuasion—that this was a temporary arrangement to see us to the finish of the War. I do not imagine that any of those Gentlemen who have called "No" would for a moment suggest that they have deserted their Liberal or Tory principles.[do not imagine that they would be prepared to say that they have discovered that those old divergencies that used to exist between Liberalism and 1292 Toryism before the War have entirely disappeared. [An HON. MEMBERS: "We are in a new world !"] I am quite prepared to believe that we have come into a new world. I am quite prepared to believe that in the future we are going to have some new regroupings in political life, but at the same time I say that men who held their political principles sincerely, who, whether they were Tories or Liberals, believed that there was real and fundamental opposition, cannot suddenly have become united in an alliance that is going to be permanent. Again I say that those of us who have sat through recent Debates in this House know full well that there is abundant internal evidence that the time cannot be far distant when this Coalition is bound, in the very nature of things, to come to an end. I say that it is unthinkable that men who for years have held views, and held them tenaciously, views vitally different from each other, can continue to co-operate as one party and pursue one common purpose; that is, if they retain their opinions, or at any rate retain the sincerity with which those opinions are supposed to be held. As a matter of fact, we had a very amusing indication during the Debate on the Budget as to the real state of mind of the Coalition.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I was in the act of rising to ask what has this to do with young ladies under thirty getting the vote.
§ Mr. SPOOR
In justfication of what remarks I have made, I was merely dealing with the points raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Astor) when he said that to all appearances a General Election would be long delayed, and used that as an argument for delaying the passing of this particular measure, and I simply wanted to take these examples as indications of the immediate need for electoral reform. I would like to appeal to the Government to deal generously and justly with the women of this country. As I have pointed out, we are beginning this great task of reconstruction in all departments of our national life, and the assistance and help of women are imperatively needed. The hon. and gallant Gentleman represents a Department that has got a very great work before it, and I believe he would be the first to admit that in the doing of that 1293 work it is supremely necessary that the women of this country should have a voice, and also a vote. In the great work of education and, in fact, all the different departments of our national life, more and more we realise the immense contribution which the women of the country can bring to the solution of our problems. There are those who suggest that, whilst women might be able to do work of real value so far as domestic legislation is concerned, they are not qualified to take part in legislation dealing with foreign and international affairs. I would like to submit, in reference to that argument, which is sometimes advanced, that in the present crisis the women of Britain have shown, perhaps, a greater international spirit than have the majority of men. The women of England have shown an appreciation of the international problem, which in itself is an argument in favour of what we are asking for them this morning.
In the War, through which we have just passed, the active participation of the women of the country has been most marked. Again and again we have heard in this House very high tribute paid to the part that women have taken in the struggle through which we have just come. In addition to that great active co-operation of theirs, there is another reason why we should have regard for their contribution. I would like to suggest that, along passive lines, the women of England have, perhaps, made a bigger contribution than they have along active lines. In large measure it is the women who have borne the burden of this War. It is the women who had to endure the loneliness, and are having now to endure the heartbreaking. Every man who has been abroad during the War, and who has talked to soldiers on active service, may again and again have heard them say, "Our times are pretty rough, but the women at home are having a rougher time than we are." We know that they have made this contribution, and whilst we are here this morning discussing, quite dispassionately, this supremely important question, we must not forgot that there are hundreds of thousands of women in England, many of them below thirty years of age, whose men have gone down in the War—women who are left, often with little children, to face the battle of life alone. I suggest to the Government that the very least we can do is to give these women any means in our power that will help them to fight that battle well, and 1294 look after their children. I believe that the women of England are entitled to this vote on precisely the same terms as men, and more so at the present moment when the War is just immediately over than they have been at any other time, and I would ask the Government whether they are going to prevent these women having the use of one means of securing redress for their grievances, which is a very vital one indeed to-day.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke for the Government this morning pointed out that women are really going to secure an unfair advantage according to the drafting of this Bill. I would like to remind him that that is entirely prevented by one phrase in the second Clause. We simply ask thata woman shall have and may exercise under that Act—That is the Act of 1918—all such franchises as are therein conferred upon men which she would have been entitled to have and to exercise if she were a man.I think that does secure absolute equality of treatment. Therefore, I would appeal to the Government that if they are not prepared to withdraw this eleventh hour Amendment, at all events to allow the Members of this House to judge the question for themselves, and to have a free vote on this matter, and so allow us to get immediately the co-operation of the women of this country in the great task we have at hand—the task of rebuilding this world.
§ Colonel GREIG
I am sure that all the House will have listened with very great respect, and no doubt very general acceptance;, to what has fallen from the hon. Gentleman opposite; but before I deal specifically with what he has said, and indicate my view upon the matter, may I just say that our experience to-day shows one of the defects of our present system. All of us are in favour of having as large an output of legislation as possible. At the same time, a good deal of undigested and ill-digested legislation is apt to get through owing to the system in operation. This is the first time a great many of us have had our attention directed to this Bill, not because we have not been following the proceedings of the House, not because we have not been, doing our work here and in Committee, but simply and solely because the whole of out attention has been absorbed in some great measure. This is a Bill brought in 1295 by a party called the "Labour Party," comprising two wings, just as this side of the House is comprised of wings. The Government are objecting to this Bill because of the draftsmanship of it and the method in which it is framed. I propose to indicate how it seems to me that that argument is very strongly substantiated when you reflect what this Bill really is. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken said that the underlying idea in this Bill was to deal generously and justly with women. He said: Is it too soon to do justice? Why exclude women? This is now a reconstruction period. We should enlist the co-operation of all women who are qualified to assist. Are all Members really in favour of that view [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] "The assistance and help of women are imperatively needed." That was another of his phrases. Do hon. Members agree with that? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes !" and an HON. MEMBERS: "Where would you be without them?"] "Their active co-operation is needed." Do hon. Members agree with that? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes !"] He also indicated that many a, woman is left without a breadwinner, to fend for herself and children in the world, and that any means we can offer to help her to do that we should offer her. That being so, my objection to this Bill is that at the end of Clause 1 it docs not contain these words,or from being engaged in or employed in any occupation, commercial or industrial or otherwise.Hon. Gentlemen opposite will next week be putting all their force into a Bill which will exclude women from employment in industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no !"] Why should it be confined to civil or judicial offices?
§ Colonel GREIG
What will better assist a woman to take her place and fend for herself in the world than the right to take her place alongside the man under proper conditions as to wages and otherwise, and to earn her living? And yet what do we find going on now? We know we have pledges to fulfil in certain directions, and we are going to fulfil them, but we do not intend to go one inch beyond those pledges, because they are directed at keeping out the woman from what is her right, to go into industrial life, just as much as it is her right to go into civil or professional life. It appears to me that 1296 this Bill is an insincere Bill, and is promoted by a party who will do lip-service to the principle of sex equality in judicial, and professional avocations, but who, when it touches themselves, will draw a line and say, "No, she shall not come in, not even into the new industries in which she has shown herself perfectly able and willing to take her place. Why? "Because it interferes with what we call skilled labour." She may have been able to show herself just as able to do her work. On this occasion, when all these generous sentiments have been, poured out with the object of dividing this party, let us carry this Bill with the Amendment which I have suggested. Let the Government redraft it from that point of view, carrying out to the full the pledges which were made, but not going one inch beyond those pledges. When that is done I shall believe that the party opposite will be entitled to carry this Bill, and not before.
§ Mr. J. JONES
I should not have intervened in this Debate had it not been for the speech that has just been delivered by the hon. Member opposite. I happened to be a member of the Committee that was-appointed at the Conference called by the Government to discuss the question of the restoration of trade union conditions and pre-war practices. It was admitted on all hands that a definite pledge had been given by the Government that, in consideration of the trade unions having been prepared to accept the Government's undertaking, when the War was over pre-war customs and practices would be restored. We were left to decide how far we should go in the interpretation of that promise, and it seems very extraordinary to me that a supporter of the Government should bring in that particular argument in order to prejudice this Bill. We of the Labour party stand for the fullest possible expression of political rights, apart from sex, for equality of opportunity, the right to govern, and the right to take part in the election of Governments, because we cannot expect to have any kind of real government if we divorce a great mass of the people from the possibility of taking part in the election of the Government. The hon. Member opposite charges us with insincerity. [An HON. MEMBERS: "No !"] There was a pledge given by the Government when they asked the trade unions to surrender certain of their customs and privileges. The pledge was to 1297 be redeemed automatically at the cessation of hostilities, when these customs and practices would be re-established.
§ Mr. JONES
New industries are a matter of negotiation. What does the Bill say? The Bill places the responsibilty upon those who originally gave the promise to restore the conditions. That is all for which we ask. The sympathy of our Friends for the women is not so much based upon their desire to see women in employment, as it is to use the women against the men in lowering the standard of the workers generally.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Mr. JONES
Practical sympathy means an increase of your dividends ! What has been the argument at all the arbitrations attended on behalf of the workers when we have asked for the same increase of wages for the women as well as for the men? When we have asked for 10s. per week increase for the women as for the men before the Arbitration Courts appointed by the Government, hon. Gentlemen opposite, through their employers' associations, have come forward and said, "It does not cost as much for a woman to live as for a man." They have always used the economic argument against us, that a woman has not the same responsibility as a man in the maintenance of a home and a family. Therefore, in very one of the arbitrations already decided we have had half the amount of increase given to the women as to the men, and the hon. Gentleman opposite himself has attended conferences with that object in view—to deny the right of the women to the same increase as the men. They are both doing the same job and, according to our hon. Friends opposite, doing it equally well. If it be true that women are doing the work equally well, they are entitled to the same wages and to the same increases that the men receive.
§ Mr. JONES
Aye; but they have not got it. No because hon. Gentlemen opposite are in control. We, the Labour party, do not own the factories. We are not members of the employers' associations. I belong to a union where we have 60,000 women members out of a total of 300,000. We have fought for the women the same as the men, and these people 1298 talk about us rendering lip service ! We are fighting for them every day, men and women-workers alike. There is work enough for all if all are willing to do it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"]Yes, but there is a large number of people who talk about work in this House and who seem to be very willing for other people: to do it—so long as they can take the results. I dare say some Members here, appreciate that observation ! This Bill deals with the political rights of women. When they got those political rights, if they hold the same political views as hon. Gentlemen opposite, they will see that they get justice. We are willing to run the risk. The ladies arc able to look after themselves in the 'home. T dare say they will be able to look after themselves outside of it. Hon. Members in this House know very well the power of the ladies. We do object to this lip service as to the industrial rights of the women. The trade unions, where we have a large proportion of women members, have fought and established conditions of employment for women—conditions which compare more than favourably with those people who suggest that they have got all the sympathy for women. But the unorganised industries are where the woman trouble exists, not the organised. Therefore we say that this Bill giving to women equal political rights with men establishes the possibility of equal industrial rights, because no Parliament in the future, which will have to deal with economic as well as political questions, can refuse to recognise the strength that women will possess. Therefore I appeal to the hon. Member opposite, if he is enthusiastic about women's rights in industry, to give them first the political means of achieving the rights they are entitled to.
§ Captain LOSEBY
I do not think I have ever listened to a more hypocritical speech than that which has been delivered by the hon. Member who has just sat down. It is quite extraordinary that the political party who are bringing forward this Bill to-day to give women political rights is the same party which we shall see fighting desperately next week to turn women out of industries, and to make it a criminal offence to employ a woman in those industries—I am referring to the Pre-War Practices Bill, which has the enthusiastic support of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Do hon. Members deny that? Do they deny that in the Pre-War Practices Bill which they enthusiastically support it is not being made a criminal 1299 offence to employ women in industries? [HON. MEMBERS: "We do deny it !"] Is my statement true, or is it not? [HON. MEMBERS: "No !"]
§ Captain LOSEBY
We are prepared to go all the way with hon. Gentlemen opposite in this matter of political right, and we ask them to go all the way with us next week, when we shall fight for women having industrial equality as well. [An HON. MEMBERS: "At the same wages?"] I agree with equal pay for equal output, and that is what we are fighting for. We are fighting for industrial and political equality, and hon. Members opposite are fighting professedly for political equality, but at the same time they are fighting to the death industrial equality. It is perfectly true that certain pledges were given by the Government, and they are going to be honoured. Hon. Gentlemen opposite no doubt are entitled to what they arc going to demand—that is, their pound of flesh. They will get their pound of flesh, and no more, and if hon. Members fight against it we will have you. So much for hon. Gentlemen opposite. I suspect their motive. They are covering up what they cannot help knowing is a dastardly act in the coming week.
Now, Sir, for the Government. I regret that I have not complete confidence in the Government on this matter. I believe their promises will be redeemed and I am going to support them to-day, but I regret that they wait until the position is forced against them. If they had stood out in the interests of women against hon. Gentlemen opposite on the Pre-War Practices Bill, I should feel happier to-day. Had the Minister of Health accepted the just demands of the women earlier in the Session for an advisory board for women alone I should have respected their pledges more. In view of the origin of this Bill, and knowing where it comes from, and in view of the fact that I know hon. Gentlemen are next week striking a blow against women, I am unable to support them on this occasion, and I prefer to accept the promise of the Government which I believe this time will be fulfilled.
§ Mr. GEORGE THORNE
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down and my hon. Friend opposite have both spoken in opposition to this Bill, but apparently they are not able to see that in the arguments they have used they have given the strongest possible support in favour of the passing of this measure.
§ Mr. THORNE
They said that the promoters of the Bill were apparently going to take such a course as to injure the industrial prospects of women. How can women secure better their industrial rights than through their political rights? This Bill is to give women political rights, and that is the best possible method of securing their industrial rights, and yet those very Gentlemen who so very strongly opposed my hon. Friends because they will not grant them industrial rights are those who are most earnestly opposing the very means to secure those rights. I think I can claim those two hon. Gentlemen, although professedly opposing the Bill, as two of the strongest supporters we have yet had in favour of it, and I trust not long hence they will see that is the logic of the course they have taken.
To me a bigger question is involved in the procedure upon this Bill. I am an absolute believer in the representative principle of Government. I believe in the government of the country by Parliament, and the thing I most intensely stand for is that this House shall be representative of the country. Unfortunately, and I know many of my hon. Friends will disagree with me, I regard the present House of Commons as the most unrepresentative House of Commons we have ever had in this country. What is going to make this country really representative and give the prestige and power this House ought to have is the method of our procedure, and that has been such in this Parliament as not to give confidence to constituencies outside. If the Government intended to take this course on the Third Reading it would have been infinitely preferable that they should have taken the same course on the Second Reading. What was the good of letting this Bill pass the Second Reading if they never intended to give it any further opportunity? The worst aspect of our procedure is shown in the result of the operation of the system of Standing Committees.
I had the privilege of being a member of the Committee, and I am aware of what 1301 took place. When we met there to give under the policy for which the Government is responsible of doing away with sittings in Committee of this House, we presumed that we went there for practical purposes. It seems to me to be utterly useless to propose these Grand Committees if they are to have no practical effect upon the operations of this House and the Bills we pass. What took place there? The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, as he was then, could not be present, and my hon. Friend opposite who spoke a moment ago, I think, was also not present. The Private Parliamentary Secretary was present. What did he do? He did not raise any of those technical points in regard to the first and third Clauses which have been referred to here. He might have done so with effect, and many of us would have been quite willing to listen to those detailed Amendments to the first and second Clauses, which certainly require most careful consideration. He did nothing of the kind. So far as I can remember, he raised no Amendment to the first Clause and no Amendment to the third Clause, which to my mind puts those hon. Gentlemen who raised them now entirely out of court. What did he do? He moved the excision of the second Clause, which is really the gist of the Bill. The significant thing is that while he, representing the Government, moved the excision of that Clause, practically all the Committee were in favour of its retention. The consequence was—and it is an astounding feature of the working of the present system—that the Government recognised that the feeling of the Committee in favour of the main principles of the Bill was so strong that they dare not force it to a Division, and their Amendment was rejected without a Division at all. Yet, that having taken place in Grand Committee, the Government now come and, looking for support from the men whom they can send into the Lobby, move to throw out the Bill altogether on Third Reading. That does not tend in the slightest degree to make our constituents outside this House have greater confidence in our method of procedure. It seems to me a most unfortunate thing, and I hope this is the last that we shall see of it.
The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill objected to it mainly because he considered that it was a breach of the compromise come to last 1302 year. I should like to state my own position in regard to that matter. I approach these questions as a convinced believer in adult suffrage. I have always held that view so far as I have taken part in political life, and I approached the compromise last year from that standpoint. I accepted it as a compromise. Personally, unless I had been a supporter of adult suffrage, I do not think that I could have supported that Bill, because logically it was absolutely impossible for it to remain where it was. This is the natural sequence of the Bill. I supported the Government then because it was a compromise urged by those who were not prepared to go any further, and I stood by that compromise. Again and again, I was urged while that Bill was before the House to move to extend its provision. I refused to do anything of the kind. I said: "I have joined in this compromise to carry out the report of the Speaker's Conference, and I will stand by it and will not move anything which goes beyond it. That, however, had to do with that particular Bill in that Parliament. It has nothing to do with this Parliament Since then there has been a General Election, and we are here absolutely free as representing our constituents to face the whole matter afresh. I desire to do so, and, in doing so, to support the measure now before the House, I believe, in the interests of all that we stand for, that the desirable course is to follow the proposals of this Bill.
The Government have indicated in regard to the minor portions of the Bill that they propose to introduce a measure themselves, and, if there were nothing in the Bill but those proposals, I should think that a very satisfactory result had been arrived at, because a Government Bill is much more likely to get through than a private Member's Bill. But they absolutely exclude from the provisions of their proposed Bill that which makes this Bill really worth having, namely, the extension of the suffrage, and, as I believe in the extension of the suffrage, I am bound in support of my principles to stand by the Bill as it was submitted to the House. I assume that my hon. Friends will go to a Division upon it, and if they do I personally shall support them. I do not profess to speak for anybody but myself. The position is a new one, resulting from the action of the Government in the extraordinary course which has been taken to- 1303 day. It seems to me, if we are ever going to make our country that which we desire it to be, that we want every person in the country interested in the Government. I agreed last year to limiting the franchise to women thirty years of age as a matter of compromise, but as a matter of principle I believe in all women being represented as well as all men. I desire as much as the hon. Gentleman opposite to see industrial justice done to women as much as to men, and it is with that particular object and hope that I earnestly support the Third Reading of this Bill.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Naturally, I agree with the criticism which has just been made by the last speaker with regard to what toot place in Grand Committee, because I drew your attention on the same day to the farcical nature of the proceedings. There was no member of the Government present, but that does not altogether exclude Members of the House from blame. Many of us regarded the Bill itself just as farcical, and therefore many Members did not attend the proceedings in Grand Committee. The Leader of the House gave me an undertaking afterwards that a memorandum would be sent round to Ministers enjoining their attendance at Grand Committees, so that the particular criticism which my hon. Friend has made will not be necessary again. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Spoor) spoke eloquently of what women have done in this War, and he asked: "Is it ever too soon to do justice?" If justice were the object of this Bill, I should have thought, after what the women have done in this War, that my hon. Friends above the gangway would be prepared to open wide the trade unions and the industries to women, so that they should not merely have the right to vote, which confers little, but the right to live. There is a natural law of selection which excludes women from certain industries. Women are free to go into the Mercantile Marine, but the natural law excludes them, though they do become, merchant seamen as stewardesses, and so on. It is the declared policy of the Labour party, and I do not know why they do not carry it into effect, because in that reform programme which the Socialist Labour party put forward Clause 4 demandedcomplete restoration of freedom of speech publication, travel, residence, and choice of occupation.1304 Will any hon. Member say that women have complete freedom in the choice of occupation? The Restoration of Pre-war Practices Bill, which has been forced on the Government by the trade unions, will drive the women out of industry. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland spoke about numerous resolutions sent by women's societies. He must have received, as I have received, numbers of resolutions from women's societies protesting against the Restoration of Pre-war Practices Bill, which is going to drive women out of industry. The promise made by the present Prune Minister, who was then Minister of Munitions, is regarded as so sacred that we must go far beyond it. The Minister of Labour has told us that there were 40,000 cases of departure from trade union practices during the War. Thirty thousand of them were cases where women were employed. The women are to suffer, even women who came into new industries which did not exist before the War.
Next we come to the understanding with regard to Mr. Speaker's Conference. That is not sacred at all. I quite recognise there is a time for everything, and that under an agreement like that it is quite open to hon. Members, towards the end of a Parliament's life—the usual time for such a Bill—to support a measure of that nature. I hope the Government will bring in a Bill that will give absolute equality to the sexes in the matter of the vote. But surely just after a Parliament is elected is not the time to do such a thing? I agree that the words sound familiar. We are accustomed at Question Time to them. We are always being told that "the matter is under consideration" or "it is not the proper time for it." Generally speaking, I hate both phrases because they remind one of the tune the old cow died of—"This is not the time for grass to grow, consider, good cow, consider." Probably hon. Members know the full words and the tune as well. Politicians continually talk about considering as they did in the old days when by the Greeks and Romans they were called "fiddlers." We do not want that, I agree the Government should have come to their conclusions much earlier in regard to this Bill. I think that is perfectly sound criticism. We want real emancipation. I looked up the word "emancipation" before I came into the House and found that it meant. "to free from bondage, restriction, or restraint of any 1305 kind." But this Bill does not do that. What the women are asking for is freedom to enter industry. The Bill does not provide for that.
§ Mr. CHARLES EDWARDS
On a point of Order. Is not the hon. Member dealing with a point which we are to discuss next week, and which is another matter altogether, having nothing whatever to do with the question now before the House?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I take it it is relevant. When we discussed the Bill on the Second Reading one objection taken to it was that it professed to put women on a level with men, but that it did not do so under certain circumstances.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
My point is, that the question of votes for women does not come under the trade union measure.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. and gallant Member was using an illustration to show that this Bill does not do what its advocates profess that it does do, and he is basing his arguments on that.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I think I can show the hon. Gentleman that my speech is relevant. When the Resolution of Thanks was moved by Mr. Asquith to you, Sir, on 28th March, 1917, for your work on the Franchise Conference, the right hon. Gentleman pointed out that the Vote was simply a means to an end. What he said was this:But what I confess moves me still more in this matter is the problem of reconstruction when the War is over. The question which will then necessarily arise in regard to women's labour and women's functions and activities in the new order of things—for do not doubt it the old order will be changed—are questions in regard to which I for my part think it impossible consistently either with justice or with expediency to withhold from women the power and the right of making their voices directly heard."—[Official Report, 28th March, 1917, cols. 469–70, Vol. 92.]Naturally, the way in which that should operate is to give power to women to enter trade unions and industries. The vote was a means to that end. But evidently, with the Labour party "emancipate" does not mean "participate." Their idea in regard to these matters is the same idea as that of the average man in regard to heaven: he puts it off as long as possible. I intend to support the Government in the Division Lobby to-day, but I hope that they will carry out what they have promised to do in regard to the other Clauses of the Bill, which deal with small 1306 matters. These other Clauses are merely like false pearls dangled before the eyes of youth. The Clause affecting the House of Lords, for instance, comes within that category; it will affect two or three women only. I do not know if hon. Members intend that more peeresses shall be created under the Bill. [An. HON. MEMBERS: "Any number."] There is, another point I wish to make in regard to the franchise being put on an equal basis for men and women. How will that affect women who have entered the Navy, Army, and Air Force? Are they to be on the same basis as soldiers, and to have a vote when they are nineteen? That is the worst of a Bill of one Clause. There is no definition about it.
I cannot in Committee move Amendments on the lines that I would advocate, namely, that the vote should be given at a more reasonable age. I would like the vote to be given to men and women equally at the age of twenty-five, keeping those under that age who now have the vote on the register, because it would be an injustice to take it away from them. I think it has been shown in regard to the way in which women exercised the franchise in the last election that women over thirty years of age give a more considered vote because they are older women. If we raise the age to twenty-five we shall, I believe, get a more considered vote. But it is not possible in a one-Clause Bill of this character to move an Amendment on these lines, and that is my difficulty. The Bill is badly drafted. It is a sort of omnibus Bill. One can do nothing with it, and therefore I think it is incumbent on the Government not only to bring in another Bill to make men and women equal in civil life, but also at a later stage to give the House a chance of voting freely in regard to a Bill putting men and women level in respect to the vote. The time for such a thing will, of course, be towards the end of this Parliament. This is a point on which we feel keener than hon. Members belonging to the Socialist-Labour party. We have far more to gain, to put it on a selfish ground, by setting the vote on an equal basis for men and women. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of this Bill, when he talks of making men and women equal in civil life, will he give us an opportunity of moving an Amendment which will put them on an equality in regard to industry? If we can get equality of pay for equal output, then 1307 women should be free to enter trade unions and industries. After all the Pre-War Practices Bill was only promised to enable soldiers who went away from industry to re-enter it, and within one year after the War we may consider ourselves absolved from that pledge. Therefore any Bill which his introduced which is to be a true emancipation Bill, should enable us to move Amendments of that character.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir SAMUEL HOARE
I do not intend to follow the last speaker into a discussion of the Pre-War Practices Bill. I regard the question of this Bill as one to be settled on its own merits. I am anxious, before we go to a Division, to make my position quite clear. Let me at once add my word of support to what was said by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Spoor) that this Division should not be treated as a Government Division, and that Members should be allowed to vote freely according to their own consciences. I feel supported in that appeal by the conclusion I drew from the speech delivered by the Under-Secretary to the Ministry of Health. He based his objections to this Bill mainly on two grounds. First, he said it was badly drafted, that in a number of details it did not carry out the purpose for which it was intended, and that in other details it was inadequate. I fully realise that. I do not remember any private Member's Bill ever having been introduced into this House against which a member of the Government has not made a similar objection. It is almost impossible for a private Member, with the facilities at his disposal, to draft a Bill as well as a Government draftsman. Granted that this Bill is badly drafted and docs not carry out a great many things we should like to see it carry out, why then did not the Government take steps to amend it in Committee? Why did they not take steps earlier on the Second Reading to emphasise the criticisms that have been made by the Under-Secretary to-day, and give the promoters of the Bill an opportunity of themselves amending it in Committee? I was not a member of the Standing Committee, but I have heard to-day, for the first time, what actually happened. The President of the Local Government Board, no doubt for very good reasons, had not the time to be present in Committee. The Under-Secretary was not there either. No member of the Government at all was there. It was rather late in the day now, when the Government 1308 took no action and they had a full opportunity of taking action during the meetings of the Standing Committee, to come down and say that the Bill cannot pass because in a number of ways it does not carry out the things we wish to see carried out.
§ Sir S. HOARE
Even to-day they might have produced their Amendments on the Report stage. Why should we not have considered the Amendments, no doubt many of them excellent, suggested by the Under-Secretary to-day? If they are not ready to-day, why should not the Bill be allowed to pass and the Government take the opportunity of introducing the Amendments in another place? On the ground urged by the Under-Secretary that this is a badly-drafted Bill, I am not convinced. 'Secondly, the Under-Secretary alluded to the agreement that was come to at Mr. Speaker's Conference as to the inadvisability of making a large addition to the franchise so early in the Parliament. With reference to the Conference over which you, Sir, presided, no one has greater respect for the work that was done than have I. At the same time, I must make a protest against the contention that a new Parliament, because some compromise was agreed to in our old Parliament, is bound by that agreement and is prevented from taking action of its own. A new Parliament is sovereign, like all other Parliaments, and must be left free, in spite of the compromises that have been agreed to in the past, to take its own independent action. If that contention is valid, and if because an agreement was come to in the last Parliament we are debarred from reconsidering it now, why did the Government give its election pledge? I know that it is a very unprofitable thing to argue across the floor of this House exactly what election pledges mean. I am prepared to accept what the representative of the Government said to-day was intended by the Government when they made their pledge. According to his interpretation the pledge meant a civil and judicial equality between men and women. He says—and I have no reason to doubt what he says, and I should not dream of doing so—that is what the Government intended. Then why did they not make it clear at the time? I was an ordinary candidate standing for a metropolitan division in 1309 which the question of women's suffrage has taken a very prominent part in the past, and I, having followed the question as closely as I could, naturally followed with great interest the pledge which the Government gave. I understood that pledge to mean equal suffrage rights to men and women. It is quite clear that my Constituents also adopted that interpretation. I do not think that during the course of my election there was any subject on which I was asked more questions than upon the exact meaning of that pledge outlined in the Coalition Programme. I said—I understand now, wrongly—that that pledge meant equal voting rights for men and women. Having given that pledge to my electors, having so understood the interpretation of the Coalition pledge at the last election, I shall certainly vote for the Third Reading of this Bill.
Even supposing that no pledge had been given and that this question had not been raised at the last election, I should still say that on grounds of general policy this Bill should be given a Third Reading. First, on the ground of justice to women. No one can deny that the women voters at the last election played a most responsible and valuable part in it. We were told in the past that it would be a very dangerous state of affairs if the majority of voters in any constituency were women. At the last election I suppose that in the great mapority of constituencies the majority of voters who give their votes were women. No one can deny, whether he approves or disapproves of the result of the election, that the women voters took a most intelligent interest in the course of the election and gave their votes as wisely and responsibly as any of the oldest men voters. Therefore, with that experience behind us, there is every reason for removing the present differentiation between men and women and treating women for electoral purposes upon an absolute equality with men. Further, on the ground of general policy, apart from the actual position of the women, it would be wise to make this extension. I agree fully with one or two remarks made during the Debate as to the necessity of making this House as representative as possible. The great danger at the moment is that of direct action taking the place of the Parliamentary action that hon. Members of the House of Commons take here. On that, ground I am most anxious to leave outside the interests of this House no big body of 1310 intelligent men or women I wish to concentrate in the electoral system all the educated opinion, whether it be men or women, throughout the country. I believe these young women are just as capable of taking an active and intelligent part in our political life as the older ones. After all, the greatest work done by the women during the War was done by the young women, and I believe every day we leave these young women outside our electoral system the danger will become greater of the demand already made by some of the younger men for direct action in place of the constitutional though sometimes lengthy action of Parliament. For these reasons, the pledge that I myself gave to my electors, and the interpretation which, rightly or wrongly, I put upon the pledges of the Coalition at the last election, and, what is more important than that, with a desire to bring into direct contact with our public life, both in the House of Commons and at the polling booths, all men and women, whatever may be their ages, upon an absolute equality, I shall certainly support the Third Reading.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
I was one of the few members of the Standing Committee who spoke in support of the Government proposal, and I am ready to continue my support of the Government on the present occasion. Of course, a compromise like that by the last Parliament is in no way legally binding on the next, but I think it would have some moral effect. Anyhow, I think it deals with the objection raised. by my hon. Friend (Sir S. Hoare) with regard to the position of the Government and their pledge to remove all inequalities between the sexes. I took up that line myself when the point was raised at my election meetings. I said I was prepared to support the pledge of the Government to remove all inequalities between the sexes, but this compromise only having been recently arrived at I assumed, and I think my audiences assumed, that the question of the franchise was excluded. Anyhow, to make my position quite plain, I always said I would propose to include the question of the franchise in this question of the removal of the inequality as the matter had been so recently settled. Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Astor) referred to the question of a General Election being involved soon after the passing of the Franchise Act. I believe it is contrary to all precedent to pass an extension of the franchise at so 1311 early a period in the history of a Parliament as we have reached. The hon. Member who is in charge of the Bill hinted that anyhow a General Election was inevitable in the near future, and that there were signs of a rift in the Coalition lute. I deny that statement. Recent events, and the imminence of other events in the future, will tend to consolidate and strengthen the Coalition party and put it in a far stronger and more combined position than it has ever been before. On theoretical and general grounds I am entirely in favour of extending the franchise to women. I believe it is bound to come at no distant date. But let us put it off to the later years of this Parliament rather than to the first year. It seems to me inevitable that men and women should he put in a position of equality in this réspect, but I hope that when we bring forward a Women Franchise Bill we shall have a levelling up of the age to twenty-five, or possibly thirty, if not a levelling down to the age of twenty-one. Then, on general grounds, although I confined my opposition in Standing Committee to Clause 2, not having gone into the intricacy of the questions of the other Clauses, I feel that we might get a much better and more comprehensive Bill if it is brought in by the Government than a truncated Bill like the present. Apart from the industrial question, I hope the Bill promised by the Government will deal with some of the great moral questions which are so conspicuously left out of the present Bill. There is no pledge which was so pressed home at the last election as that to remove the inequality of the sexes. There was no pledge which brought the Government greater support and more votes, and I hope, therefore, they will deal with it exhaustively in the measure they have promised us.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
Arguments have been used against the passing of this Bill on account of the alleged iniquitous conduct of the trade unions. That is rather a poor excuse. If women are entitled to the vote, why should the alleged inequalities of trade unions prevent them from having it? A weaker excuse I never hoard in my life. It is no argument against the Bill, and a very poor excuse at the best. The really serious and valid arguments which were used against the Bill were two. The first was bad draftsmanship, but the Government has means at its disposal of dealing with the drafts- 1312 manship, so that that argument falls to the ground. The second was that a wide extension of the franchise was almost inevitably followed by a General Election. The policy of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Astor) means that an election will come and these women will be disfranchised. Either the Government intends to give these women votes or it does not. A plain straightforward answer as to whether it is the intention of the Government, now or before it goes out of office, to grant that extension would be be very much esteemed by those in favour of the Bill. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman gave no indication whatever of the intention of the Government, either at this or any other moment, to consider the extension of the franchise. The issue is perfectly plain and simple. The arguments used on the one side have no weight, because the Government neglect can still be made good, and on the other side he has not stated definitely whether the Government will or will not at any time give these votes to the women. I suppose it has been the custom in the past for a wide extension of the franchise to be followed by a General Election. Who is asking that this franchise shall be followed by a General Election? Certainly we are not although we have no fear of a General Election.
We should welcome it. I argue in support of this Bill as a man who holds an official position in an organisation which has 120,000 women members, who work side by side with the men, who are paid the same rates as the men, who have the same rights in their society in every respect as the men, who have proved loyal colleagues of the men and have shown that they have quite as much sense in essential issues, and perhaps a greater balancing power, than the men have. From my own personal experience, quite apart from the inherent justice of the claim that people who live in a country should have the right of a voice in their government, and on broad grounds of public policy I appeal to the Government not to put on the Whips against the Bill. I believe that the inclusion of women in the franchise will not help our party; it will not help the advanced party. We are not supporting this Bill because we believe these women will be voters in our cause. My firm opinion is that the majority of 1313 these women will not vote for our party. It is because I believe that it is right and just, and that it is in the interests of the country that everybody of adult age should have a vote, that I ask the hon. Gentleman to reconsider his decision to put on the Whips, and to give the House free expression of opinion.
§ Sir MAURICE DOCKRELL
I intend to support this Bill. I cannot follow all the arguments as regards the industrial effect of the further enfranchisement of women, but it seems to me to be a very inconsistent argument that, on the one hand, you contend that women are about to be thrown out from employment by the trade unions, and at the same time you say that they are not to be given an opportunity of being fully enfranchised and of determining their own destiny. There are several reasons which have impelled me to the decision I have come to. The first is that I saw how intelligently the women exercised the vote during the last election. I suppose I should be something less than human if I did not realise that in the constituency which I have the honour to represent I received a very great amount of help from the women, and, of course, I should be less than human if I did not admit that in exercising the franchise in that way they acted most intelligently. I do not intend to go into the ramifications as to what will be the industrial effect of this Bill, but I regard it purely as a franchise question, and, viewed as a franchise question, I cannot understand why, seeing that we have enfranchised women at the age of thirty, we should refuse to enfranchise them at the age of twenty-one. I regard a woman of twenty-one as being at least as capable as a man of twenty-one, and much more amenable than a man at twenty-one. I asked a lady the other day, a very astute lady, if she thought that women at twenty-one were more frivolous than at thirty, and she said with great emphasis that she considered women much more frivolous when they were over thirty. We know that one of the canons that has been held right down through the ages by women is that they are no older than they look, and, as a man who has lived some time in the world and has had some experience of it, I find that there are many women who have refused to declare themselves thirty years of age because they did not look it. That being so, I believe that if you make the age for enfranchisement twenty-one you will have a 1314 very large number of women who will come in who are already a great deal over twenty-one, although they do not admit it. So that you will simply be carrying out the logical conclusion at which this House has arrived, namely, to enfranchise women at thirty.
I strongly object to the theory that you cannot introduce any franchise Clause into any Bill whose primary object is not that of the franchise. I am fortified in that opinion by something that happened in my own experience recently with reference to the Proportional Representation Bill for Ireland I thought there was a class entitled to the franchise, but I was told that it was not competent to raise the question of the franchise in a Bill which primarily was not a franchise Bill. I object to the doctrine being laid down that you cannot raise the question of franchise on a Bill whose object is something different from enfranchisement, and on that and the other grounds I have named I intend to vote in favour of this Bill. I have not the least idea how the parties are balanced, but I regard this as an absolutely fair Bill, and, seeing that women have been given the vote at thirty and that they are as capable of exercising it at twenty-one as at thirty-one and as capable of exercising it as a man of the same age, I shall support the measure.
§ Mr. LYNN
My hon. Friend (Sir M. Dockrell) has been referring to the ladies who voted for him. Those who have listened to his eloquence since he came to this House, and who know his genial manner, can understand that he would have got the support of the ladies under any conditions. I supported this Bill on the Second Reading, and I support it now whether the Government are, or are not, putting on their Whips. I support it because I think it is an act of justice. I cannot for the life of me see why you should give a man the vote at twenty-one and refuse to give the vote to a woman of the same age. If I were to argue the question out I could prove, at least to all reasonable-minded men, that a woman at twenty-one is generally more fully developed mentally than a man at the same age. I have had a good deal of experience in politics, and I have discovered that women display as much intelligent interest in politics as men, and often more intelligence. I have been told from time to time that women know nothing about 1315 politics. I do not believe it. I have met a great many men, not in Ireland, of course, who do not know anything about polities, and who simply vote as they are told. On the other hand, the instinct of women makes them better politicians than we men are. I have heard no argument why this enfranchisement should be withheld. Some hon. Members on the Second Reading put forward the argument that if you give a vote to women at twenty-one you would upset the balance of men and women on the register. You might as well lay down the principle in the franchise that a man who has red hair or a bald head—many Members of this House have bald heads—should not be entitled to a vote. The thing is absolutely absurd. As a matter of justice there is no argument against the principle of this Bill, and I intend to vote for the Third Reading.
§ Mr. SPENCER
Before dealing with the main objects of the Bill I wish to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. Hoare) upon what I think was one of the most sagacious and kindly speeches, that has been delivered in this House, especially in the latter part of that speech. That speech, coupled with the remarks made from the Front Opposition Bench, are the most timely observations that have been made in this House in view of the circumstances outside for a very long time-Outside there is being created a certain psychology which is attempting to undermine political institutions, and the influence of this House, and if we are going to have the spectacle that we have had in the Grand Committee—I was a member of that Committee—and then in this House, I am quite positive that this House is doing its utmost unconsciously to produce that frame of mind which is going to make for direct action rather than for political action. If the measure goes to a Grand Committee, and the supporters of the Government who are unfettered upon that Committee unanimously express themselves in favour of the principles of the Bill and then, when it comes to this House, the Government refuse them the right to exercise that liberty here in the Lobby at this most psychological moment, then the Government themselves unconsciously are stimulating that growing feeling that is arising in the country to substitute direct action for political action. I do not think that any body of men have the right to resort to direct action when 1316 and if the majority of the intelligent electors have expressed their opinion upon issues which have been brought before them, but if at a General Election there are definite promises made by the Government, and then when people look for the redemption of these promises and hon. Members are prepared to redeem these promises, they are prevented from redeeming them by the Government themselves, then the Government must take the responsibility for what happens outside this House, and at this moment when the policy of direct action is so agitating the minds of the country, and seems to be taking hold of men's minds, the Government ought to very careful indeed before it does anything which would help that means of forcing decisions either in this House or outside.
By any test or standard you may set up it can be proved easily that women are as much entitled to a vote as men. What right have we to impose obligations and burdens upon women through the legislature of this country when they themselves have had no voice in the legislation? They have to pay their taxes, and submit to the law, and up to now they have had no opportunity whatever of bringing their women's experience, intelligence, and intuition to bear upon the legislation of this Chamber. By any standard you may set up, whether intellectual or moral, women have proved themselves as capable and efficient as men in carrying on the affairs of this country. Take education alone. Take the intellectual point of view. Where is there a single item in which woman has not shown herself capable of the great achievements of man? If we trust women as we ought to trust women, with citizenship, and the exercise of the franchise, they will display the same faculty, enthusiasm, and directiveness that men have shown up to now in relation to these things. Then consider the women's point of view in relation to legislation. There is no man who can understand all that relates to his own home. He can never embody in legislation the spirit of his home. That must be done by woman alone, and the exercise of the franchise by woman is not putting a cross upon a ballot-paper. That is a mere incident in the matter. When woman comes to vote she brings her conviction, she brings her contribution from an intellectual point of view as to what is required, and though to-day she may be said to be in infancy from the political 1317 point of view, I am certain that when she has had the light of franchise for the same term of years as man has had it she will show that she can use that franchise on intellectual 'lines far more than man has exercised it. There has been opposition, very petty opposition, based upon the fact that trade unions have not allowed women to enter into occupations the same as men. I should be the last in the world to uphold trade unions which denied to women the right of entering into occupations which were suitable for them, but we have to take certain standards. I happen to be a miner, and the standard which I set myself is this: Would I like my own daughter to enter into that occupation? I think that that is a very reasonable standard.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I would be prepared that she should have her choice if my daughter could have given to her the same independence from the economic point of view that belongs to your daughter. It is because my daughter has not the economic freedom of choice that I cannot give her the right to enter into that kind of occupation. It is because we know that under the old factory system, and the system of aisser faire, because they were economically at a disadvantage, they were forced into circumstances that even hon. Gentlemen in recent years have revolted against, that we cannot always give the right of freedom of choice to enter into these occupations. But it has been stated from that side that hon. Members will not vote for this because, though they believe in votes for women and equality of the sexes, yet this House does not give the right of entering into certain occupations. Because this Act will not give the full loaf they are going to vote against half or three-quarters of a loaf. That is a very petty position to take up. This Bill should be judged on its merits. It may have certain defects; it undoubtedly has defects in draftsmanship, to which the representatives of the Government have drawn attention. That point has been most ably dealt with by the hon. Member for Chelsea. The other criticism made was as to the political and constitutional point of view. So far as that is concerned, especially that part relating 1318 to a General Election, I think it has been pointed out that supporters of the Bill on these benches do not want it to be understood that if the Bill was accepted by the Government it must inevitably follow that a General Election takes place. We want nothing of the kind. What we do require is this, that this right of exercising the franchise shall be given to the women now, so that the register might be prepared and that when a General Election did take place she would be secure of her place on the register and would be able to vote. What will be the effect of the rejection of this measure? I think that has been adumbrated by the hon. Member for Chelsea. It has been indicated that if it is rejected and the Government give no definite promise that the matter is going to be attended to immediately, the effect will be to stimulate to a great degree those who are preaching that the only salvation of the worker to-day is by direct action. If it is not desired to take a step which will make for the subversion of political institutions, the Bill should be supported.
§ Mr. J. JOHNSTONE
I cannot give a silent vote on this measure and I intend to support the Bill. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who represented the Government made what I think was a very ineffective and feeble defence of the Government's attitude. The very fact that in the last Parliament a bargain was arrived at and a compromise reached on the question of the franchise is no reason, whatever why this House should be tied and why we should continue an injustice. There is no justification of any kind for depriving of the franchise women over twenty-one years of age. If the vote is good for the man of twenty-one, it is equally good for the woman. The only argument—and it is really no argument at all—is that women may swamp the electorate. [An HON. MEMBERS: "A very good swamp too !"] The reason given from the Front Bench was that if this extension was given and the age limit was reduced there must be a General Election. That has been well disposed of in the arguments we have already heard. The women do not demand a. General Election. There is no necessity for a General Election in the event of the age limit being reduced. What would result is this, that if this Bill is carried there will be put upon the register women of twenty-one years of age and upward, that when. 1319 by-elections came they would have the right to exercise the vote; and that when there was a General Election the register would be completed and ready. We have heard one or two extreme arguments used to-day against the Bill. Two hon. Members have said that they are in favour of increasing the age limit for men—that is, of bringing up the ago for men to twenty-five or thirty. I wish them joy in putting that before their constituents. An hon. Member would need great courage to go down to the country and stand before a public meeting and advocate that a very large number of his constituents should be disqualified. That is what it comes to.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
There is no question of that. It would apply not to the present electors, but only to the future.
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
I do not think any constituency would stand that. I am exceedingly sorry the Government have taken the line they have taken. A large responsibility rests upon them. In Committee they ought to have produced Amendments if they wished to improve the Bill. I gather that the Government have no intention in the Bill they are about to introduce of dealing with the franchise at all or of removing this inequality that women are suffering from just now, and unless very strong pressure is brought to bear the next General Election will pass without this needed reform being carried through. I should like to impress upon there presentatives on the Treasury Bench the urgent necessity for this reform. It is intolerable that the House should allow, or the Government should continue, an injustice of this nature, and that there should be a differentiation between the woman of twenty-one and the man of twenty-one. The sooner the differentiation is removed, the better it will be for the country and for the House.
Mr. T. THOMSON
I join in appealing to the Government to allow a free vote on this occasion. We were told yesterday, in moving and eloquent terms, that we must continue to mobilise the whole of the forces and patriotism of the country in order to face the difficulties that are before us. I suggest that it is a curious answer to that appeal which has been made from the Government Bench to-day in relation to this Bill. I think the message that will go out from the Government— I hope not from this House—is one of dis- 1320 couragement to the women who have rendered such patriotic service during recent years. It is not merely those who will not get the franchise by the extension suggested, but also those who have the franchise who will be discouraged. I submit that the disappointment that would be created will have a very great sentimental effect upon the women of this land. It is rather significant that the; speeches have practically all been in support of this measure, and that there have only been a few half-hearted speeches on the other side. Several of those who rose-to speak against the Bill admitted that they were in favour of the principle, but that this was not the particular time or method of doing this particular thing. I would point out to some hon. Members that this Bill is not what they chose to suggest—a measure merely supported by what they call the Socialist Labour party in the House. It is a Bill which has the unanimous support of all the women's organisations of this country, which, contain women of all political parties and of none, and the Government will be flaunting the opinions of those organisations if they do not permit a free vote here to-day. We have been told that the Government do not consider themselves pledged to a reduction of the age. They must answer for themselves, but surely Members of the House are entitled to answer for themselves and for the pledges they gave at the last election. I submit that the vast majority of Members gave a definite pledge one way or other as to the reduction of age. I appeal to the Government to give us a free vote. We have been told that we are entering a new world, and surely old precedents can go and the Government can for once be independent enough to allow the free expression of this, supposed democratic House, elected on the most democratic franchise.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the faulty drafting. As a private Member one is not able to adequately criticise that point, but I may recall that in another Grand Committee, when Amendments were proposed they were resisted on the ground of drafting, and the Government said that for certain technical reasons, obscure to the lay mind, they could not be accepted. I refer to the Housing Bill, and yet I find that on a similar Bill before the Scottish Grand Committee Amendments which were refused in the English Committee because of difficulties of drafting, are admitted by the Government. Under 1321 those circumstances, the ordinary private Member will receive with a certain amount of suspicion arguments based merely on faulty drafting. Surely it is the duty of the Government to assist private Members in regard to legislation, and if & private Member is not to have the assistance and guidance of the official draftsman in the measures which have been accepted by the Government on Second Heading, then legislation by the private Member becomes a farce and the House is merely here to register the desires of the Government with the mechanical majority which they have to support them. Therefore I say that in the interests of private Members and in order to safeguard their independence and their right to attempt to legislate, we should resist the proposal the Government has made. I urge along with others that the Government should reconsider the matter and leave Members free to vote as they like. Mention has been made with regard to the necessity to having an election, but precedents are being broken every day. For instance, a precedent was broken yesterday in introducing a measure to partially ratify the Peace which has been arranged. Surely, if one precedent can be broken, another can be broken in this interest, and it is not necessary to follow the extension of the franchise with a General Election. An election may come sooner than either the Government or possibly other sections of the House desire, and unless we have this proposal on the Statute Book we shall find that the pledges which were given have not been redeemed. Those who are anxious for the larger enfranchisement of women are particularly desirous that no step should be omitted which will ensure that when an election does come women will be able to take a fuller and a greater part than they have ever done before.
I am sorry to see a second action of this kind on the part of the Government. We had a previous instance in connection with the so-called Dogs' Protection Bill. In the early stages of that Bill I suggested to the head of the Department concerned that he should take steps to secure the defeat of that Bill, but I was told it was a private Bill, and yet late in the day they took action which made some Members charge them with a breach of faith, and there was sufficient truth in the charge to make the head of the Department wince. This Bill has been allowed to come up for Third Reading. I thought it was the policy of the 1322 Government to save the time of the House, but on this Bill they have allowed time to be wasted by the earlier stages. We are told that the Bill is bad, and that we must wait until we have a brand new Government Bill. The Government object to the second Clause because it gives the franchise to women on the same terms as men. The Government enfranchised some several millions of women before the last election, and they were returned by the women of the country with the biggest majority which any Government over enjoyed. The Government now think it has been a doubtful experiment, and that we must be cautious before they extend the franchise any further, and that is the thanks they give the women of the country for returning them. I do not believe that every principle in legislation should be carried to its logical conclusion. The British Constitution is a standing argument against, carrying everything to a logical conclusion, but this proposal is not only carrying the principle to a logical conclusion but there is more than that, because the extension of the franchise has been a great safety valve for the voters of this country—apart from the abstract justice of the question. It is a common experience, and society seems to believe, that a woman is fit to undertake the responsibility of marriage earlier than a man. This responsibility is great, and, therefore, I do not see why it should be suggested that a woman at the age of twenty-one should not be capable of exercising the vote with just as much wisdom and common sense and patriotism as any man of twenty-one. I am not saying this to court the suffrage of the women, but I agree with those who think that the women of twenty-one will exercise it with a much higher sense of responsibility than the men of twenty-one. Take the university graduates—and I see there is a Scottish university Member here. Why should not women graduates of twenty-one who are able to compete with the men of the same age at the universities and to earn the degrees—"The sweet girl graduates in their golden hair"—why should Dot they have the same privileges of impressing their views on the legislators of the country as the men, of whom Burns very politely said,They gang in stirks and come out asses"?Young men, he said; he never said it of the women, and Burns knew the women very well. There seems to me no reason. 1323 in logic, or in politics, or in psychology, or in physiology, if you like, why the women of twenty-one should not have the vote and be able to exercise it as well as the men of twenty-one. Women have been admitted to medicine, which shows that medicine is one of the liberal professions. She has been admitted to the teaching profession, and I am told that she is going to be allowed to study the dusty columns of law; but, according to the Bill that is coming in next week, she is not to be admitted to orders in the Church'. I am not going to give an absolute opinion on that, but I would suggest to the English Members of the House that it might be worth while them thinking over the admission of women into Holy Orders. At the present time you cannot get a man of sufficient saintliness of character, or whatever other qualities are required, for the post of Archbishop in the Church of England without going across the border to the land of saints, and it is just possible that if you admitted women on the same conditions as men into the Church you might find in England some women of brilliant capabilities to become an Archbishop in the Church of England. I simply throw out that as a hint. On the main question of this Bill, I am in hearty support of my hon. Friends in the Labour party. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Renfrew (Colonel Greig) charged the Labour party with being insincere. If the charge is correct that the Labour party are against admitting these women into industrial life, my hon. Friends of the Labour party can say that they are very magnanimous, because they are willing to admit these women into the franchise in order to expel them from political life when the opportunity arises. I think it is, therefore, a very severe test of the sincerity of the Labour party when they are supporting this measure.
§ Mr. D. M. COWAN
I quite recognise that nothing new can be added either for or against this Bill, but I think it is for each one of us to make clear our own position in this matter, more particularly as we have been told that it is a matter of party, and as some reference has been made to the Coalition Members not being as free and independent as I am sure they are going to show themselves in the Division Lobby this afternoon. I speak as one who has been in favour of equal suffrage for the two sexes long before the War, when it 1324 was much less popular than it is now, and all that has happened during the time of the War has simply confirmed me that my previous attitude is absolutely right. But to come to the question as it stands to-day, I agree with those who have said that the attitude of the Government in this matter is not one that its supporters or others can view with entire satisfaction. It is too late now to bring against this Bill the charge that it is not well drafted. They have had their opportunities for making the Bill what it should be, and if the Government did not make use of them: t is not for them to find fault with the drafting of the Bill now. It has been said that the franchise as it stands just now is the result. Off a compromise agreed to in the last Parliament. The conditions of that compromise may be the best that were attainable at that time, but in my judgment they were not even for that time a satisfactory compromise. I do not know that anyone should attach weight to the explanation which was given here during the course of the Second Reading Debate, when, I think, it was said that the age of thirty was chosen, not because it was the experience of the members of the Committee who were dealing with the matter that thirty connoted any particular mental development on the part of women which would qualify them 'to exercise the franchise, but that it was agreed upon on rather arithmetical grounds, so that the number of women voters would not outnumber the men voters. If that were the ground, I think it was not only an illogical and a wrong ground, but I think it was a very stupid ground, because it seemed to go on the assumption that all the men were going to vote on one side and all the women on the other, and that so we should have a Parliament which would represent the one sex and not the other.
Apart altogether from the just claim which I believe this to be, I believe in practice it would work out equally well, because I am sure that among the women voters there will be at least equal divergencies of opinion with what exist among the men. I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Islands (Dr. D. Murray), and he made an oblique reference, I think, to myself in saying that one of the Members for the Scottish Universities was here. I speak as such, and I quite corroborate what he has said as to the claims which the women of twenty-one have on the ground of their fitness for the exercise of the University franchise. 1325 We have many young women in our universities who have shown mental equality with men, and I think it is derogatory altogether to the spirit of the franchise that there should be any differentiation of that kind. I am rather inclined to think that behind, all those arguments which arc being put forward as to bad drafting— I do not wish, to do any injustice to any hon. Member—there is still rather a prejudice against the feminine franchise altogether, and that something of the arguments put forward are rather stalking-horses to lead us away, rather than help on the course of this Bill. I do believe the extension of this franchise will do much to strengthen this country in the great tasks in front of it. The women, in addition to their moral claim, have proved their fitness by their work dining the War, and it is a notable fact that women during the last election voted—I say nothing as to the side on which they voted—with enthusiasm, and at least as much understanding as the ordinary man. I heartily agree too, with the argument put forward by the supporters of this Bill that it will not do altogether to rest upon a promise given by the Government—that is to say, a promise given under Certain conditions but to be fulfilled under other conditions. We do not know what those conditions may be. Things are changing rapidly, and it is quite possible that things will happen, as has been said by the hon. Gentleman opposite, that the Government will be prevented from implementing the promise they have here and now made. I do not think, in dealing with this matter, we should take into consideration at all the question of the industrial opportunities to be given to women. This Bill, as it stands before us, has nothing whatever to do with that. Therefore, as this is the only opportunity I shall have of expressing my entire concurrence in the spirit of this Bill, I mean to vote for it.
§ Major LLOYD-GREAME
I feel at this stage of the proceedings that the issues before us fall within a very narrow compass. I do not propose to say much about the attitude of the Government. I agree entirely with the criticisms which have been made. I think they must now find it unfortunate that they were not courageous at an earlier date. There is a motto about a person who fights and runs away living to fight another day. The President of the Local Government 1326 Board has gone one better than that. He has run away on previous occasions without fighting at all, in order, apparently, to be in a position to come in and fight at the last moment. Indeed I do him something more than justice. He has not even turned up at the last moment to defend what I regard as the entirely indefensible position which the Government have taken up in this matter. I thought perhaps we should have heard from the Parliamentary Secretary the reasons—they may be excellent reasons— which keep the President of the Local Government Board from the House of Commons to-day. I do not think they have been given to this House.
§ Major ASTOR
I did not think it was necessary to explain that it was not lack of conviction that kept my right hon. Friend away. He is absent from London.
§ Major LLOYD-GREAME
The Bill has been on the Order Paper a very long time. I have had it in my diary as being fixed for coming on for the last six weeks, and I must say that I think the first duty of Ministers, apart altogether from any question of personal courage or courtesy, is to be present in this House, especially when a situation of this kind arises. I can hardly regard that as a satisfactory explanation, but I will leave that point. The sole issue, I think, on this Bill is, what was the meaning of the pledge which the Government gave at the last General Election that they were going to abolish the inequality of the sexes? To my mind, and I believe to that of nearly every voter in the country, that pledge, if it meant anything, meant that in the matter of franchise women and men were going to be put on an equality. That is how I understood and interpreted it, and how I propose to interpret my pledge when I give my vote to-day. If that is so, is there anything in the argument which has been advanced, that if we are to extend the franchise we ought not to do it at the present time? I am going to sweep aside altogether the argument that this is a badly drawn Bill. I daresay it is. Then why did we not make it better in Committee, or why did we not have Amendments on Report to make it a better Bill? But there is undoubtedly in the mind of some hon. Gentlemen the argument that you ought not to pass this Bill so early in the present Parliament. That raises art interesting question of ethics. If you owe a debt, it is a new idea to me that you should put off paying 1327 it as long as possible. I am a little anxious about that, because in another field there is what is known as a Statute of Limitations, and if a debt runs for a long time before it is discharged, it becomes what is called statute-barred. I think as an evidence of good faith we should carry out in our political life the principles we try, or most of us try, to carry out elsewhere, and I think if you engage in an obligation, the sooner you discharge it the better for public credit and your own private credit as well.
Then it is suggested that there is something magical in a Franchise Bill which makes it undesirable to pass an Amendment so early. It is impossible to forecast with any absolute certainty when a General Election may come. I do not share the view, which has been expressed in certain quarters, that we are faced with a General Election in the immediate future. I hope that the spirit which moved us at the last election to try to get common action may continue and that this common action is not going to break up the moment Peace is signed. But there is always the possibility that something may force an election, and I think if I were a woman waiting to exercise my vote I should wish to see the debt redeemed, so that I should be quite sure of being able to exercise a vote whenever an opportunity arose. Further, there is one practical point on which I join issue entirely with the hon. Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs). One of the unfortunate features of the last General Election was that the registers were in an extraordinarily incomplete stage, because we passed a Franchise Bill, and there was not time, although a very considerable number of months elapsed, to get those registers in order, and the result was that there were hundreds of thousands of voters, men and women, whose names were omitted from the register. We all know that the franchise law is such that there are only specific seasons at which you can get your registration brought up to date, and if a name is off the register it has to stay off. With the experience of the last General Election register in our minds, I think if we are going to make this alteration in the franchise at all—and I am quite sure the majority of Members of this House are pledged up to the hilt to make that alteration in the 1328 franchise—we ought to pass the Bill which will make that change in full time so as to give the opportunity of making the registers complete before the General Election does arrive. I say that with all the more force because the greater the number of voters you add to the register, the longer time it takes to ensure that the register is made complete and accurate. I think it was well said by the hon. Member for Chelsea that real Parliamentary and democratic Government was the alternative to direct action. If that argument be true how much more important it is to make sure on the occasions on which people can give a vote that those entitled to give it should be put on the register?
The argument has been used that this, is, if I may put it so, a sort of Greek gift, that the quarter from winch it comes is dangerous, and that we must therefore, coming as it does from the Labour Benches, regard it with some suspicion. I hope that hon. Members on all sides, of the House will carry out their principles equally consistently on all occasions. I am not concerned or impressed by the arguments drawn from the analogy of the restoration of trade union conditions under the War Pledges Bill. But I say this: if it is thought by any hon. Member that this Bill does not go far enough on the way, then why in Heaven's name should we not accept it as an instalment and try to get a further portion at a later stage? I cannot, at any rate, see either in morals, logic, or convenience anything which prevents me from accepting this measure. I propose, therefore, to vote for it and so take advantage of the first opportunity that comes to me, no matter from what quarter, to redeem the pledge which I gave at the last election.
Sir J. D. REES
My hon. and gallant Friend who has just addressed the House out of the fulness of his experience has twitted the Government because a particular Minister was not present, and because they have not carried out their pledge, as he said, that they were going to abolish the inequalities between men and women—in point of fact that they were going to establish complete equality between the men and the women. As regards the absence of a particular Minister I might regret that if his place had not been mostly efficiently filled by the hon. and gallant Member on the Front Bench (Major Astor), who really has dealt with this case quite as well as his chief would have done, and as well as the case requires 1329 and deserves! As regards the second attack, the Government said that they would take certain action, but they did not say that they would adopt the first Bill that any private Member who happened to draw a place laid before the House of Commons, whether it was a good, bad or indifferent Bill. If the Government had said that then, the hon. and gallant Gentleman's charge might really have had something in it. What is the position to-day? Anyone who has sat in this House for some years knows that this is the most commonplace, ordinary, and frequently recurring description of things. You take a policy about which there is general agreement, as there is here to-day on those benches and on these benches. You have the Government committed more or less in spirit to certain action, and then you get someone drawing a place in the ballot, and saying, "I am now going to chip in with my little Bill, and I shall get the credit for carrying out this matter without any responsibility whatever, and those who have not voted for it shall be gibbeted at the next General Election for not having kept to their election pledges." Every hon. Member in this House knows the whole position. It is within our recollection that not long since a certain wage was voted to the agricultural labourer which immensely unproved his position. That was done by the Government who had the National Exchequer behind them. Being in the fortunate position they were of having the money chest behind them, they raised the minimum wage of the agricultural labourer.
Here was the opportunity for the astute Parliamentarian. Immediately from the Opposition Benches there rose up men, who said, "We will give twice as much as the Government propose, or at any rate a great deal more." Of course they did not have it to give. They had not charge of the public funds, but they made this fine offer, and being people who were unable to provide anything, at the next General Election they gibbeted every Member who voted the other way. Precisely the same position has come round again to-day. We in this House—and I desire quite as much as anyone to correct these inequalities. But I am going to do it as soon as there is a proper Bill brought forward in the proper quarter. I am old-fashioned to think that governing is the business of the Government. Everybody knows that there is not a single hon. Mem- 1330 ber here who thinks that this Bill is serious business. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh !"] Everybody knows to-day that it cannot become law. Could any Government, without a suicidal abdication of its duties, allow a private Bill enfranchising 5,000,000 of electors, five minutes after the General Election, to go forward—after a, great advance in democratic representation had been conceded ! Does anybody think that? I do not believe that even the most inexperienced Member, even the youngest and most infallible Member of this House—
Sir J. D. REES
—-would allow that. My hon. Friend invoked the name of wonder. I would venture to cap it by invoking the name of common sense. If this Bill is not likely to effect its object are we not conniving at this thin and transparent device? Are we here this afternoon simply for the purpose of providing powder and shot for the next election? I do not desire to make in any way a vote-catching speech. I am venturing to address myself to the sense of the House, Members of which so kindly listen to me; to deal with what is really the state of things, and what arc the real issues. I deprecate very strongly the rather mischievous suggestions of the hon. and gallant Member that any hon. Member is going to vote against this Bill because of the quarter from which it proceeds. I do not think any hon. Member of the House would do that.
Sir J. D. REES
Any hon. Member of this House, I feel sure, would strain a point in a matter like this to vote for a Bill in view of the quarter from which it came, seeing that the Bill which, as at present, came from that quarter of the House which is the largest section of the House after that which supports the Government. I think they would. It is quite true that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire did dig rather a large hole in the Bill.
Sir J. D. REE S
—and in the position of hon. Members opposite. I am quite content to take my own attitude. I am not called upon to deal with the domestic concerns of hon. Members opposite in respect of the women workers. The right 1331 hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson) I understood to take up an attitude of being the chosen champion of the opposite sex on this occasion. I congratulate him on the proud position, and he can impale a petticoat upon his lance. Whether or not he represents his fellow-countrymen is another matter, I do not know that he is any greater authority in this respect on this Bill than other hon. Members. I do, however, earnestly deprecate any suggestion from any quarter that any of us who vote against this Bill are influenced in voting by the quarter from which the Bill proceeds, and which, to my mind, is really all that can be said in favour of a measure so drafted. It has been suggested that a private Member has the right of introducing Bills, and that in drafting them should have the assistance of the Government and the Law Officers. I say, heaven forbid! because those officers are sufficiently occupied in advising the responsible Government of the country, to whom the country looks, and if they are to draw up Bills for all and sundry—
§ Major LLOYD-GREAME
The hon. Member has misrepresented my suggestion, which was not that hon. Members should have the services of the Law Officers—
§ Major LLOYD-GREAME
There was no suggestion of that kind. I suggested that if the Government opposed this Bill because they thought it ought to have Amendments to make it workable, then they should have produced those Amendments.
Sir J. D. REES
The Government are under no obligation to deal with a Bill of this kind in order to make it presentable. They have to bring forward their own Bills on all important subjects of legislation, and already my hon. and gallant Friend has said that they mean to do so. Consequently, those who wish to do women any real service will seize that opportunity and support the Government Bill when it appears. The Government have already ten first-class Bills on the stocks, and some of them are very much advanced, and surely you are not now going to overload their programme with a measure dealing with another 5,000,000 electors, and if that is not a sufficient 1332 reason against this measure I really do not ' understand the arguments that have been used.
I was described the other day as the only representative of the Indian Civil Service in this House, and I am told that under this Bill the members of that service might be women, but that would not do, because neither young nor old women can properly administer the affairs of India, It is perfectly clear that the Government could not support a Bill in which there are such serious pitfalls. Consider for a moment the purpose of this Bill in its solicitude for Peeresses. Why in the name of common sense is a Bill of this kind brought forward, half of which deals with the injustices under which peeresses labour, and it is exceedingly odd that this should be a subject of such solicitude in what is claimed to be the most democratic-quarter of the House. I think this shows that this Bill requires to be entirely recast and reconsidered. The last speaker was good enough to deprecate another General Election immediately. I suggest that no General Election could hasten the settlement of this question, and judging from the reception given yesterday to the Prime Minister he is not yet unpopular besides this, the Government is committed to bringing in a Bill on this subject as soon as it possibly can. Would a General Election really expedite the bringing forward of this question 2 Would it be quicker to get rid of this Government and get another Government in which my right hon. Friend opposite would be the Leader? If that is the object I am afraid it would be retarded rather than accelerated by turning the country inside out and upside down again.
It really has astonished me to hear the arguments which have been addressed to us. Under this Bill it might be the case that we might get some extremely capable lady as the Governor of a province. There was once in India a Queen who fell in love with her Brahmin Prime Minister, and be popped her into prison and governed in his own name. Women government in India is not altogether popular, and I suggest that hon. Gentlemen opposite should consider what are the objects they have immediately in view, and what might, happen under an ill-drafted and ill digested Bill if the Government, to snatch popularity, pledged themselves to support a Bill of this character. In any case I 1333 would not support this measure, because I am really and sincerely anxious, now that women have the vote, that all inequalities should be abolished, and they should be placed on an equal footing with men. I hope there are others like myself who will seize the first practical and responsible opportunity coming from a responsible quarter—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]— do hon. Members suggest that this comes from any responsible quarter? If there was any subject which required the action of a responsible Government surely it would be a Franchise Bill which enfranchises 5,000,000 voters, and according to the custom of this country would be required to be followed at no long interval by another General Election. How monstrous that would be in the position in which the country finds itself, a position only less serious than that during the War. Do hon. Members really think that this is an occasion for essays in electioneering or in amateur law-making? I do not think that they do. I do not, and I do not think that in their hearts they ever thought that this Bill would pass. I am sure that I hope it will not.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I hope the Government will not think me in any way impertinent if I express my heartfelt commiseration with them for the course which the Debate has taken this afternoon. I have heard a great deal of it, and the earlier part of it was remarkable for the fact that scarcely anyone rose to support the course which the Government had thought it right to pursue; and even those who did, like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs), carefully explained that, though they thought the course on the whole was right, the action of the Government had been absolutely wrong. My pity was a good deal accentuated by listening to the speech of my hon. Friend below me (Sir J. D. Rees). He is an hon. Member whom we all know and respect, and who, as he explained more than once, has been a Member of this House for some considerable time, and he is a Gentleman of vast experience in Parliamentary matters. He presented a case on behalf of the Government which I should think is as weak as any case that has ever been presented on behalf of any Government. He really did not attempt to deal with any of the points which have been made in this Debate in favour of the Bill. I can quite see that by the course this Bill has followed the 1334 House is put in some little difficulty. After the Bill has passed its Second Reading, and been through Standing Committee, and has been considered on the Report stage, the Government at the very last moment on the Third Reading, for the first time, come down to the House and explain that they are wholly unable to support it, and ask that it should be rejected.
Unfortunately, I was not able to be present at the earlier Debates, but I understand that this is the first time that they have indicated any disapproval of or disagreement with the main proposals of this Bill. I do not understand that my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary (Major Astor) at this moment disagrees with Clause 1 or with Clause 3. Indeed, I have heard no objection to Clause 1 except the objection put forward by the hon. Gentleman who spoke last (Sir J. D. Rees) that it would be possible for women to become governors of the Indian provinces. That has always appeared to me to be a very unsatisfactory answer. I am not prepared to say that under any conceivable circumstances any woman would be unfit for a post even of responsibility in our Indian Empire. If that were true, no doubt the responsible Government would not appoint a woman to such a post. There is nothing compulsory in this Bill. It is a Bill, so far as it can be effected by legislation or by the Regulations of the Government, to open, every career to women. It will depend upon the fitness of any particular woman whether she is appointed to any particular position.
My hon. Friend is 'also the only person, who has made any objection to Clause 3, which proposes to remove the disqualification of a woman from being a peeress. He said, "Why should we take care of peeresses?" I do not know why we should take care of peeresses, but it is part of our business to do our best to see that both branches of the legislature are the best possible. We have opened this House to women and I see no reason in the world why we should not also open the other House to women. I do not think my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education (Mr. H. Fisher) would at all disapprove of that part of the Bill. I imagine that the Government would be all in favour of it. For my part, I think—it is not a matter on which all the supporters of the Bill perhaps would agree—that the reform of the Second Chamber is overdue, and, even if 1335 this is a small reform, it is something, and it is going in the right direction. It is going to open the Second Chamber more largely to other interests and other influences than those which prevail or are said to prevail in that Chamber at the present moment, and I heartily support and hope that Clause 3 of this Bill will be carried into effect.
The great controversy to-day has ranged round the second Clause, and a variety of arguments have been used against any further extension of the franchise to women. In the first place, it has been said that by a constitutional practice, if you extend the franchise any further, you must have a General Election. That point was admirably dealt with by an hon. Member on the Labour Benches, who said, with great truth, that this is merely an understanding of the Constitution, and if the supporters of the Bill are prepared to say that they do not desire to insist upon that understanding there is no reason why a General Election should follow immediately on an extension of the franchise. There is, so far as I know, no reason for it except that it is thought where there are voters who could exercise the franchise that they ought to be allowed to exercise it at the earliest possible moment. I never thought that a very satisfactory reason. No doubt, in the earlier stages of reform there was a good deal to be said for it but at the present moment I do not see that there is anything to be said for adhering to it, and I do not see that by itself it forms a good ground of objection to the second Clause.
After all, when will a General Election come? Who is going to prophesy? I know that in my own Constituency there was a very strong feeling that the Parliament which was then being elected ought not to be prolonged unduly. It was said that it was elected mainly to carry out the Peace and the settlement that hinges immediately upon Peace. There certainly was a very strong feeling—I do not know whether it was so in other parts of the country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes !"]—that the life of this Parliament ought not to be unduly prolonged. Anyway, this Parliament is certainly quite unlike any Parliament with which I have had anything to do. It is quite different in character, and there are circumstances in connection with it which are quite familiar to everybody and which do not seem to me to make Par- 1336 liamentary longevity an absolute certainty. I will not put it higher than that. My hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, with that charming manner which he has in addressing this House, explained that the Government could not adopt this Bill because of its drafting. That really does show that my hon. and gallant Friend is not only a man of great ability, but also a man of great courage. It is the oldest excuse. It is like the boy who is late for school, and who says that he has overslept himself. It is the kind of excuse that cannot be accepted by any self-respecting House of Commons unless they are absolutely driven to it by some external and unavoidable reason. I never heard it put forward with less excuse or justification. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) absolutely demolished it. There was nothing left of it.
Here you have a Bill which had been sent to Grand Committee, and which has been open to amendment on Report in this House. If there are any faults in this Bill they might be put right by the Government proposing an Amendment. Not only that, but it has to go through the other House. It is only a question of drafting, and everyone knows that the Government can put right any defects in drafting in the other House. Indeed, many people think that one of the chief functions of the Second Chamber should be to revise and correct drafting and other accidental defects which have cropped up in legislation. There is no kind of reason why this Bill should not be made an absolutely good Bill if the Government so desire, and if the Government had come down and said: "We approve, but we very much regret that, owing to an oversight or pressure of work, we have not been able to put the Bill right, but we make this offer—that if the House will not insist on the Third Reading now, but will allow the Bill to be re-committed, and then we will put it right, and find time later on for the Third Reading," everybody would have been satisfied. But what is their proposal? It is that the Bill should be defeated, and that they should produce another Bill which will contain nothing about the franchise, and then, at some future time, they are to produce a long and elaborate measure dealing with the franchise, and, incidentally, to carry out the main purpose of Clause 2. Really I do not think that this is a proposal which those who feel themselves bound to support this Bill can look at for a moment.
1337 There are two other arguments urged against this Bill. One is that the argument that hon. Members who are mainly supporting it are not prepared to carry out their principles to the extent of opening trade unions to women. I am not familiar with the details of their proposal, but I do say that if they are using their predominance in trade unionism against women they should be profoundly ashamed of themselves, and I shall be found voting for any legislation that will put that grievance right. If it be true that the Bill to restore pre-war practices in any way gives legislative sanction to such an unjust state of things, I shall press the Government to put in the necessary Amendments to secure that it shall not do so. But what has happened over this Bill? The hon. Member who last spoke said with great candour he was prepared to support the entry of women into all positions because now they had the vote. Then give the women between twenty-one and thirty the vote and if they are suffering from any injustice at the hands of hon. Members opposite they will very soon make their voices heard, and put their position right.
The last objection, raised to Clause 2 is that this Bill has been brought forward by a side wind. Before I was a member of the Government I spent a good deal of time in this House in trying to protect the rights of private Members. That is not a cause which has much popularity with official Members of this House, and with those who are their whole-hearted supporters. But I am quite satisfied that unless the interests of private Members are properly safeguarded, the House will continue to go down in public esteem, and then we shall have a period of serious constitutional unrest. These are the arguments used against Clause 2. No one has dealt with the merits of the Clause. Can any one really defend the proposition that a woman of thirty shall vote, and one of twenty-eight or twenty-five shall not? When it is said that we entered into some kind of compact in the last Parliament, that we would never ask for a lowering of the age, I must say that I am not aware of any such understanding ever having been come to. I certainly never gave any encouragement to that idea. We were in favour of a vote at an earlier age, but we accepted the age of thirty merely in order to meet what we regarded as the wholly unreasonable fears of the 1338 opponents of the Bill. They had the extraordinary delusion that you would have all the women of the country voting against all the men, and if they were allowed to have a majority they would. vote down the men. Of course that conception to my mind is utterly ridiculous. It is ridiculous to suppose that all men would vote on one side, and it is much, more ridiculous to suppose that all women, would do so. As a matter of fact, we know it is not true. We have been through a General Election in which the women voted, as we expected they would vote, in accordance with their opinions on public affairs, and not merely because they were women. That was the reason why that compromise was accepted. I am strongly in favour of abolishing all distinctions as between men and women in, public affairs.
There are two other reasons why I shall vote for the Third Reading of this Bill. Here is a Bill which has been through all its stages in this House, among them, the Grand Committee. I was a very strong supporter of the proposal to establish Grand Committees as a regular method of legislation. I still think that, if fairly used, it is a great improvement on the old system in this House. But the-one thing that is absolutely essential, if it is to succeed, is that it should be seriously treated by the Government. They must not come down to the House and say in regard to something which has been done by the Grand Committee, "We are going to put on our Whips and reverse what was done; we cannot be bothered with what they decided there, and we shall endeavour to exert our will by our mechanical majority in this House." If that becomes the practice, no one will take any interest in the work of Grand Committees. It is essential that the House should support the decisions of Grand Committee unless there is strong reasons for doing otherwise. I cannot help saying that coming back to this House I have been surprised at the extent to which what may be called the war mind still prevails in Government circles. During the War it was quite clear to anyone who sat in the House that a great deal of the ordinary procedure of the House must be put aside. We were in the presence of the greatest crisis we had ever had to face, and the legislative part of our Constitution had become relatively-unimportant. The executive side was necessarily all-important, and everything had to be done to strengthen the hands- 1339 of the Executive and to remove from it all the checks and fetters which are valuable when peace-time. We, therefore, all submitted to the Government regime. But the real necessity for that has passed away, and it is not vital to treat the House now as under war conditions.
The great thing before us is to establish in the country the reputation of this House. I regard that as of vital importance. You must not try to overrule the House by your mechanical majority, by exercising your authority or by disregarding your Committees. You must allow it to have fair play, and its proper play in the Constitution. Technically, the House of Commons is all-powerful, but if you destroy the belief in the House of Commons there is nothing left. You have no answer to the plea for direct action unless you can say that the House of Commons can be trusted to exercise and carry out its constitutional functions. That is vital. I appeal to the Government not recklessly, in order to meet some particular Parliamentary emergency, or it may be some Cabinet difficulty, to flout this House and reduce its reputation in the country. It is for that reason mainly or very largely that I attach such immense importance to our carrying out to the full the pledges we gave at the last election. I was not here, but I am told that the Parliamentary Secretary said that the pledge to give equal rights to women did not include a pledge to give an equal franchise. Surely that was a most non-natural construction. It was the main thing. I gave that pledge fully, without any mental reservation. If I went back to my Constituents, and said, "When I pledged myself to give equal rights to women I did not mean they should have an equal right to vote," they would regard me as little better than a swindler. It would be very unfortunate if that is the view taken in the House. I understood my hon. Friend below me (Sir J. D. Rees) to say that this kind of way of dealing with pledges given in Parliament is a very usual condition of affairs.
Sir J. D. REES
My right hon. Friend very much misunderstood me. I did not say anything remotely resembling that.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I am extremely glad to hear my hon. Friend say that. I and other hon. Members were at least misled, I suppose, because we could not follow the 1340 beauty of my hon. Friend's style. I thought it must have been a slip or a misunderstanding on my part, because I was sure my hon. Friend would not contend for such a proposition. But it is a very serious thing that in any circumstances we should play fast and loose with our pledges. I have had some experience of the women's controversy during the last ten years, and anyone who has been in it knows that over and over again the women have been told, "Yes, you shall have the vote. Yes, we will give you this and give you that, but not now. On this particular occasion it is impossible for us to carry out our pledge." That has happened over and over again.
§ Lord R. CECIL
I remember that Bills have been brought in, but for some reason, or other they have been failures, and people who were pledged to support the women's vote had some excellent reason why they could not support them on that occasion.
§ Lord R. CECIL
My hon. and gallant Friend, who was always a straightforward opponent of votes for women, knows that what I am saying is absolutely true.
§ Lord R. CECIL
What does it matter whether it was a public Bill or a Private Bill? Is the obligation to carry out your pledge greater because you are dealing with a Government Bill or because you are dealing with a Private Bill? I cannot understand any distinction of that kind. In all seriousness, I say to the House it is vital for its good name in this country that it should take especial care not to play fast and loose with the pledges given to women. For that reason I venture to appeal, even at this late hour, seriously to the Minister for Education to allow the House to vote freely on this question. Many of my hon. Friends will, no doubt, vote honestly and honourably—probably being free from all pledges on the subject —against this Bill, but those who are bound to the women are put in a very difficult position when they are told that 1341 they cannot carry out their pledge without imperilling the existence of the Government. It is not fair to put people in that position. In the last Parliament this question was treated always as an open Question, and the Government put on no Whips and exercised no pressure. I venture very respectfully to ask my right hon. Friend, when he replies on the Debate, to say that we can all vote as we please and carry out the pledges which we think are absolutely necessary.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD Of EDUCATION (Mr. Fisher)
The House always listens with the greatest respect to a speech from the Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil). I feel certain that his weighty words will have made a deep impression on his audience. He concluded his speech by making an appeal to the Government to allow Members of the House to vote as they please upon this Bill. I am sorry to say that I am unable to accept that offer. I am unable to accept it, firstly, because the Government does not consider this Bill to be a good Bill; and, secondly, because the Government does undertake to introduce a Bill to redeem its own pledge. My Noble Friend has criticised the attitude which the Government has taken with respect to this measure. He has urged that it is now, for the first time, that the Government have intimated any disagreement with the proposals and principles contained in this Bill. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health did intimate in cleat' and unmistakable terms the attitude which the Government took towards one of the main proposals of this Bill on the occasion when it came up for Second Reading. He pointed out in most unmistakable terms that the Government were not prepared to consider an extension of the franchise at this juncture. When this Bill came before the Standing Committee the Private Parliamentary Secretary reiterated that view. Therefore there has been no ambiguity with respect to the attitude which the Government takes towards one of the main questions raised by this Bill, that is the question of the franchise. I quite admit it was unfortunate that the Minister of Health did not happen to be present when the Bill came before the Standing Committee. I fully agree with all that has fallen from the Noble Lord with respect to the desirability of cultivating the House of Commons' mind and getting rid of the War mind in our political transactions. 1342 I would ask the House to bear in mind the very special difficulties under which the Government has been labouring in the last few months. Half the Government has been to Paris. The Law Officers have frequently been in Paris when their attendance has urgently been demanded here. It has been very difficult to grapple with all the onerous tasks which have devolved upon the Government. Ministers have been worked day and night, and it has been very difficult for them to give the attention they would otherwise desire to give to affairs in this House. I admit that it was unfortunate that my right hon. Friend, for reasons over which he had no control, was unable to be present.
The Noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) has urged that the Government ought to amend the Bill. We very carefully considered whether we could amend it, and whether the Bill properly amended could be regarded as the same thing as the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend. There is an old philosophical problem as to when a difference of degree becomes a difference of kind. It has been debated in all the text books. Our advice was that the many minute differences of degree which it would be necessary to import into the Bill in order that it might become a really adequate Bill would amount to such a difference in kind that Mr. Speaker would not allow it to proceed. We came to the conclusion that it would be much more satisfactory if the Government were to introduce a Bill representing its own views as to what should and could be done than to attempt to import Amendments into this Bill. We have been told that we must fulfil our pledge. What was the pledge? In the Coalition manifesto of 22nd November, 1918, it was said it would be the duty of the new Government to remove all existing inequalities of the law as between men and women. I have had opportunities of knowing what was in the minds of the Ministers who drafted that manifesto and it was not present to their minds that this would involve the reopening of the franchise question immediately. The inequalities which were present to their minds were those which are mainly dealt with in the first Clause. I agree that there is ambiguity. My hon. and gallant Friend (Lieut.-Colonel Sir S. Hoare) understood the promise to involve the removal of inequalities in respect of the franchise. Hon. Members are entitled to take that view, and I quite realise the difficulty which the attitude of the Gov- 1343 erment caused. But I Have always been—long before this question became a question of politics—an advocate of the Parliamentary franchise to women, and I should see no difficulty in accepting Clause 3, but I feel the strength of the argument put forward by the Government upon this point. When a great question, like the franchise, after full consideration by an authoritative conference has been settled upon certain lines, it is expedient in the interests of the country and the public that that settlement should not be disturbed immediately, but that a reasonable time should be given for it to work. I consequently feel no difficulty in accepting the view of the Government that it would be inconvenient to disturb it now. On the grounds, firstly, that the Government cannot amend the Bill satisfactorily without changing its character, secondly, on the ground that the Government does not see its way to upset the settlement of the franchise which was arrived at so recently in accordance with the recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference, and, thirdly, that the Government has a Bill almost complete, drafted with a view to giving effect to the pledge contained in the Coalition manifesto, as it was understood at the time—
§ Lord R. CECIL
Do I understand then that the Government position is that they are not going to alter the franchise with respect to women, and feel themselves bound by no pledge to do so, but they are going to deal with the other two points of the Bill?
§ Mr. FISHER
At the moment. I have said that is the position of the Government. We do not consider ourselves bound by that particular pledge to reopen the question of the franchise.
§ Mr. FISHER
We do not consider ourselves bound by that pledge to reopen the question of the franchise. It does not follow that the question of the franchise will not be reopened, but we are not bound by that particular pledge. On these three grounds I feel that the Government cannot accept the invitation which has been addressed to them by the Noble Lord.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 100; Noes, 85.1345
|Division No. 58.]||AYES.||[3.55 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Harbison, T. J. S.||Richardson, R. (Houghton)|
|Arnold, Sydney||Hartshorn, V.||Roberts, F. O. (W. Bromwich)|
|Barrand, A. R.||Hayday, A.||Rose, Frank H|
|Billing, Noel Pemberton||Hennessy, Major G.||Rowlands, James|
|Berwick, Major G. O.||Hills, Major J. W. (Durham)||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Sir Samuel J. G.||Scott, A. M. (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. W. E.||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Sexton, James|
|Breese, Major C. E.||Hogge, J. M.||Shaw, Tom (Preston)|
|Bromfield, W.||Holmes, J. S.||Simm, Colonel M. T.|
|Brotherton, Col. Sir E. A.||Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Sitch, C. H.|
|Burdon, Col. Rowland||Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster)||Smith, Capt. A. (Nelson and Colne)|
|Bum, T. H. (Belfast)||Johnstone, J.||Spencer, George A.|
|Carter, W. (Mansfield)||Jones, J. (Silvertown)||Spoor, B. G.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Hitchin)||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander||Sugden, W. H.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Kiley, James Daniel||Swan, J. E. C.|
|Coote, Colin R. (Isle of Ely)||Locker-Lampson G. (Wood Green)||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Univ.)||Lunn, William||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Crooks, Rt. Hon. William||Lyle-Samuel, A. (Eye, E. Suffolk)||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Devlin, Joseph||Lynn, R. J.||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Dockrell, Sir M.||M. Donald, Dr. B. F. P. (Wallasey)||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Donnelly, P.||M'Laren, Hon. H. D. (Bosworth)||Wallace, J.|
|Doyle, N. Grattan||M'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.)||Walsh, S. (Ince, Lancs.)|
|Duncannon, Viscount||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Waterson, A. E.|
|Edge, Captain William||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian)||White, Charles F. (Derby, W.)|
|Edwards, C. (Bedwellty)||Moles, Thomas||Wignall, James|
|Elliot, Capt. W. E. (Lanark)||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Williams, A. (Consett, Durham)|
|Entwistle, Major C. F.||Mosley, Oswald||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough)|
|Farquharson, Major A. C.||Murray, Dr. D. (Western Isles)||Wood, Major Hon. E. (Ripon)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Murray, John (Leeds, W,)||Wood, Major Mackenzie (Aberdser, C.)|
|Ganzoni, Captain F. C.||Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.||Young, Robert (Newton, Lanes.)|
|Glanville, Harold James||O'Connor, T. P.|
|Goff, Sir R. Park||O'Grady, James||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh)||Palmer, Brig.-Gen. G. (Westbury)||Tyson Wilson and Mr. Frederick.|
|Greame, Major P. Lloyd-||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Hall.|
|Grundy, T. W.||Parry, Major Thomas Henry|
|Adair, Rear-Admiral||Edgar, Clifford||Parker, James|
|Amery, Lieut.-Col. L. C. M. S.||Eyres-Monsell, Commander||Percy, Charles|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Col. Martin||Fell, Sir Arthur||Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray|
|Astor, Major Hon. Waldorf||Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Baird, John Lawrence||FitzRoy, Capt. Hon. Edward A.||Pratt, John William|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Forestier-Walker, L.||Raeburn, Sir William|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Forster, Rt. Hon. K. W.||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, E.)|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Roundell, Lieut.-Colonel R. F.|
|Barnett, Captain Richard W.||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Samuels, Rt. Hon. A. W. (Dublin Univ.)|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Grant, James Augustus||Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Green, J. F. (Leicester)||Stanley, Colonel Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Bellairs, Com. Carlyon W.||Greenwood, Col. Sir Hamar||Stewart, Gershom|
|Betterton, H. B.||Greig, Col. James William||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith-||Harris, Sir H. P. (Paddington, S.)||Sturrock, J. Leng-|
|Bowles, Col. H. F.||Haslam, Lewis||Surtees, Brig.-Gen H. C.|
|Brassey, H. L. C.||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Sykes, Sir C. (Huddersfield)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Hopkins, J. W. W||Vickers, D.|
|Briggs, Harold||Illingworth, Rt. Hon. Albert H.||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Jodrell, N. P.||Wardle, George J.|
|Campbell, J. G. D.||Kellaway, Frederick George||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
|Campion, Col. W. R.||Law, A. J. (Rochdale)||Warren, Sir Alfred H.|
|Carr, W. T.||Law, Right Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)||Williams, Lt.-Col. Sir Rhys (Banbury)|
|Coates, Major Sir Edward F.||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ. Wales)||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Lloyd, George Butler||Yate, Colonel Charles Edward|
|Craig, Col. Sir James (Down, Mid.)||M'Curdy, Charles Albert||Young, William (Perth and Kinross)|
|Craik, Right Hon. Sir Henry||Magnus, Sir Philip||Younger, Sir George|
|Davies. Sir D. S. (Denbigh)||Morrison, H. (Salisbury)|
|Dawes, J. A.||Murray, Lt.-Col. Hon. A. C. (Aberdeen)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Lord E.|
|Dean, Com- P. T.||Murray, Hon. G. (St. Rollox)||Talbot and Captain F. Guest.|
|Dixon, Captain H.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ On the figures of the Division being announced,