HC Deb 15 April 1921 vol 140 cc1474-5

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill seeks a very small Amendment of the Act which was passed in 1919, by which the disqualification of women from the exercise of public functions as lawyers and in a variety of other capacities was removed, and it also provided that a woman should not be exempt from liability to serve on juries. There was a qualification by which a woman could get exemption from service on a jury by making application to the judge, and, in fact, the judge or chairman of the Quarter Sessions has power, at his own instance, to order that the jury shall be composed of men only or women only. There is a good deal of dissatisfaction in the public mind as to what has happened lately. Women have been terror-struck at the thought of having to serve in some particularly disgusting cases, and I am certain that every man desires, as far as he can, to treat women as a privileged class—

Viscountess ASTOR

They do not want it.


—and not to expose them to duties of that character. It must be singularly oppressive to a woman to have to serve in some of those very terrible cases which come before the Courts in which sexual questions are involved.

Filthy photographs and filthy literature is handed round as part of the evidence for jurors to see, and my only desire is that women who wish to escape work of that character should have the opportunity of doing so. It should not be left entirely to the judge to say "yes" or "no." I do not, of course, wish to deprive any woman who is interested in services of this character, or who may be pleased with the prospect of having to serve on a jury, of the opportunity to serve. I do not wish to deprive her at all of the privileges which she is gaining under this Bill. My Amendment perhaps goes to the extreme length of giving women the fullest discretion. The Committee may think that this goes a little too far, and that the Amendment should be within reasonable limits. It, then, would be a very small matter to whittle my Bill down. It is a very short Bill, only two and a half lines in length. I hope it will meet the general approval of the House, and that it will be given a Second Reading.

Notice taken at Two of the Clock that 40 Members were not present; House counted by Mr. SPEAKER and, 19 Members only being present


I will now leave the Chair. If there should be more than 40 Members present at any time, I shall be prepared to resume. In any event, I shall resume the Chair at 4 o'clock.

At a Quarter after Three of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER again counted the House and, 40 Members being present, resumed the Chair.