HL Deb 09 June 1890 vol 345 cc261-83

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


My Lords, as an Alderman of the London County Council, and as a member of the Committee upon which two ladies are at the present time sitting, it would be, perhaps, as well if, in asking your Lordships to read this Bill a second time, I were to give a very short historical sketch of the position of the question at this moment, as well as a statement of the reasons why I think ladies ought to be enabled to sit upon these County Councils. Owing to doubts as to the intention of the Legislature in passing the Local Government Act of 1888, Brixton and Bow elected two ladies to sit on the London County Council, and the London County Council were so aware of the benefit which the presence of women would confer upon them in considering the important questions, especially social questions which came before them, that they were not content with the presence of the two ladies thus elected, but they themselves as a body elected a third lady (Miss Cons) as an Alderman, if that is a proper grammatical expression to make use of. When Lady Sandhurst, as your Lordships are aware, was unseated, Miss Cobden and Miss Cons retired of their own accord from the Council for a twelvemonth; but, in accordance with advice they received, and trusting in a clause of the Municipal Corporations Act, 1882, to the effect that if their seats were not contested within 12 months their election should be deemed to all intents a good and valid election, they at the end of the 12 months re-took their seats. Since then one of their colleagues (Sir Walter de Souza) has challenged their position, and at this moment the case is in the Law Courts; and if those ladies lose their seats they will be fined £250 each for having given five votes, half of which sum goes to the informer. Whatever the decision of the Courts of Law may be in the case of these two ladies, there is no question that in any future election it will be the duty of the Returning Officer, if a woman's name is put upon the list, to refuse to accept her nomination. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to those who think it desirable that women should occupy seats on County Councils that this Bill, which I have laid upon the Table, should be passed before the next election in 1892. Now, my Lords, I do not think this is a political question. If it were merely a political question you would not see me standing here taking a prominent part in the discussion. I look upon it as a social question, and more especially as a question of administration. I will go further and say that I do not think that any subject which is a woman's question can be a Party question. Women, in this country at all events, are more than half the population. We all know that women will have their way, and I think it is impossible for any Party in these days to oppose the legitimate aspirations of women. I hope, therefore, that this subject will not be made a Party question, but that in the decision of it the votes which will be given will come from both sides of the House. Now, my Lords, I contend that I am asking for the recognition of no new principle. Women are at present elected to serve on School Boards and Boards of Guardians They have been elected on School Boards since 1871, and as Poor Law Guardians since 1875. Every year the number of women thus elected increases. In 1871 there were only eight women elected to serve on School Boards; there are now 80. Consequently, I am justified in saying that the administrative capacities of women have approved themselves to the voters, and that their value is now 10 times more recognised than it was in 1871. I think there can be no doubt, from the increase in the numbers of women elected, that they have shown their capacity in carrying out administrative work in those two positions, on Boards of Guardians and on School Boards. The Right Hon. James Stansfeld, on two occasions the head of the Poor Law Department, has said that— It is vain and preposterous to imagine that men can administer the Poor Law as well without as with the assistance of women. The very recent election of a lady as a Poor Law Guardian in Shad we11, I think, is a proof that electors believe in the truth of that assertion. She was in no way consulted upon the matter, but found one morning that she was elected as a Poor Law Guardian by the electors of that district. Women have shown in those two departments their capacity for administrative work. I contend that the work of the London County Council, at all events, and of a large number of other Councils, is not greatly different from the work of the two bodies I have mentioned—the School Boards and the Boards of Guardians. What is the work of the London County Council which we specially want women's aid in? One of the most important considerations is that we in the London County Council have under our charge a large number of babies, who are placed in what are called baby farms; and I think it is simply ridiculous to expect men to go and inspect these babies and report upon them. We want women to do that kind of work. There are certain kinds of work which women are more capable "of doing than men, and I assert that use ought to be made of women in every way in which they can possibly be made useful, and that they should be assisted to take their place in the affairs of Local Government. Then, besides baby farms, there are female industrial schools. Not only are women more capable than men of looking after girls, but they are more capable of looking after the boys also. Then there are a large number of female lunatics under the charge of the Council. There are at this moment 9,280 pauper lunatics under their charge. In Hanwell alone there are 1,900, and of those 1,900, 1,100 are women. One of our Committees went down the other day to inspect that lunatic asylum, and in passing through the wards the members witnessed, as usual, the saddest scenes One of the women patients approached, and, addressing one of the members of the Committee, said, "What business have you here, sir?" and the gentleman addressed felt the truth of the remark, for he had been witnessing what could only be called very indecent exhibitions, which, of course, the poor women themselves wore perfectly unconscious of. He felt, therefore, that there was a great deal of truth in what that poor half-witted woman said to him. In addition to those subjects which are-essentially work for women, there are other matters upon which women are quite as competent as men to form an opinion. Those subjects are hygiene, sanitation, the housing of the working-classes (four-fifths of whom are women and children),matters relating to the well-being of the poorer classes, and social reforms generally. I assert that women, as a general rule, are more fitted than men to discuss and determine social questions and matters of detail of that character, and for this reason: There are a larger number of women of leisure who are occupied in going in and out among the poorer classes, and who have practical knowledge of the suffering and needs of those poor creatures. It is, therefore, distinctly in the interests of the poor men and women that women should be admitted to serve on the County Councils. It is not a question' for the rich; it is a question for the poor, and I ask your Lordships, in justice to the poor, to pass this Bill. We have heard it said, however, that women have a heart, but not an intellect. I think, my Lords, that what we have been enabled to read in the newspapers within the last day or two will prove the contrary of that doctrine. I think, any Lords, the triumphs of Mrs. Butler and Miss Fawcett will show that women are capable of doing all, intellectually, that men can achieve-Indeed, I think we may take a higher ground, and say that it is the duty of those who oppose this measure to prove that women are not capable of doing the work. If there were any force in the arguments used by those who do not desire to see women sitting on the County Councils, they would, only show that the electors who have returned the ladies to serve on the School Boards and Boards of Guardians have not known what is the best thing for their own interests. After an experience of 18 months, you find that the London County Council are sending in a Petition, which I have presented to-day, signed by 75 members, a majority of the Council, advocating the passing of this Bill. I hold in my hand, also, a list (which I am not going to trouble your Lordships by reading through) of all the clubs and associations and public meetings which have sent mo Petitions and resolutions in favour of the Bill. I find that there are 21 in London and 35 in the Provinces, representing, I venture to say, a very large number of women throughout the country. As another proof that the London County Council appreciate the presence of ladies among them, I may mention that when Miss Cons and Miss Cobden retired for a twelvemonth from the Council they were invited to sit as visitors on the Committee on which they were then serving as members for the purpose of giving their advice, as they could not vote. I said just now that I think women are more capable of dealing with social matters than men, owing to their practical experience, and perhaps it may not be generally known how large is the number of educated and refined ladies who are occupied in benevolent and charitable work, going in and out among the dwellings of the poor. In one Society alone, of which I know, there are 28,942 women so employed, all ladies of birth or education. That is only one instance, and there are many other societies of a similar character. The fact is, that women have more leisure than men. Then it may be said, "Why cannot you ask these ladies to attend as visitors to act and give their assistance in that way?" Of course, it is better they should be there as visitors than not at all; but there is this very great difference: that if they are elected and placed upon the Councils they will be able to visit these institutions with some authority, not as busybodies, and point out with authority what is wrong, and come back and defend in the Council Chamber the action they have taken. The London County Council passed a resolution not long ago to erect a model lodging-house. Now, I ask your Lordships whether you do not think that the advice of women would be invaluable in the arrangement and management of such an institution as that? I will tell your Lordships one thing which will show why we members of the London County Council believe we cannot properly do our work without the assistance of women. We are not going to erect lodging-houses for women. We are doing so for men, though lodging-houses are a great deal more wanted for women; but we are holding back because we feel that we ourselves dare not erect lodging-houses for women as long as we have not more ladies on the Council to direct and manage them. The other day one of our Committees went to visit one of our institutions. On that Committee were seven gentlemen and one lady. Part of their duty was to inspect the wash-houses. The seven gentlemen marched through the wash-houses, the lady following meekly behind. Well, the gentlemen admired everything—they never saw anything so magnificent and beautiful, and they praised the officials up to the skies. But the lady hung back a little and examined for herself, and when she came out she had not quite such a seraphic look of contentment upon her face as the other members of the Committee. She told them some of the arrangements were not quite so good as they thought, and she brought them back. They found out a good many things which, if allowed to pass, might have led to mischief, especially to contagious diseases and ophthalmia. I think, therefore, that women's aptitude for details would do a great deal, to improve our institutions and buildings. Then another consideration is, that we are becoming more democratic. We know from the experience they have had in America that, although democratic institutions have their good points, they have their weak ones. We have seen that in America in Municipal elections and in Local Government affairs there has been a great deal of jobbery and corruption. Women are not so open to those temptations as are men, and I venture to assert that if there were more women upon our County Councils there would be less danger in that particular direction. Then, again, my Lords, I do not think that anyone can be perfectly satisfied with the order, decency, and cleanliness of our streets. I do not know anything more filthy and disgusting than the streets of London. In walking through them on a windy day, one is blinded by the flying dust and covered with mud in wet weather. Women's love of order and cleanliness would do a great deal to remedy what may fairly be considered a disgrace to the streets of London. Woman's love of the beautiful, also, would not tolerate miles of houses without trees, shrubs, and flowers. Women, too, would not be satisfied with a merely physical cleansing of our cities; they would undoubtedly, also, do their best to effect a moral cleansing as well. They would also use their influence on behalf of temperance, providing open spaces, the erection of model lodging-houses, public baths, the inspection of markets, cow-houses, and dairies, slaughter-houses (and a most important matter in connection with slaughterhouses is the prevention of cruelty there), the suppression of houses of ill-fame, the prevention of indecent exhibitions, enforcing- measures with regard to the adulteration of food and the pollution of water, and in many other directions. Those are all subjects on which I feel confident that women could give valuable assistance. Can it be doubted that if we could get such women as Miss Octavia Hill and Mrs. Fawcett elected upon the London County Council we should vastly benefit thereby? My Lords, after this discussion is closed, your Lordships will consider the great subject of sweating which has been brought to your notice by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Dun-raven). I venture to say that if our Municipal Bodies did their duty, and if the various Local Bodies of this vast Metropolis did their duty—I do not say that they would be able to cure these evils—they could not do that, but at all events they would not be nearly so bad as they are at present. But I do think one way of checking these evils is to obtain the services of as many educated and refined women as you can with leisure on their hands to assist the Local Vestries, the London County Council, and in the future the District County Councils to do their duty. My Lords, publicans, slum-owners, and jerry-builders have too long held the field. They it is who, as a general rule, have managed to get them selves elected upon the small Local Bodies; and I do think it is time that those who get themselves elected upon those Local Bodies, in a great measure for the purpose of stopping reforms, should give place to those who will take their seats for the purpose of promoting and advancing reforms. I think, my Lords, in enabling women to take their seats on the County Councils and District Councils you may feel confident that you will not be adding to those who, by reason of the temptations to which they may be exposed, will be disposed rather to hinder reform than to advance it. Women are asking for this privilege in very large numbers, as is shown by the Petitions and resolutions which I have placed upon your Lordships' Table. Whether they succeed this year or the next, of this, at all events, I am confident, that within a comparatively short period they will have gained their object, and it will be a matter of astonishment to succeeding generations that for so many years women should have been excluded from the Local Government of their country.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Chaworth, E. Meath.)


My Lords, it is with great deference to your Lordships and to my noble Friend that I venture to move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months. In dealing with this subject I hope to treat it in a serious manner. I think it has too often been the case, when Female Suffrage and other matters of that kind have been alluded to, that it has been attempted to put them aside with a joke or a sneer, and to treat them in an unbecoming way. Certainly, I will not fall into any fault of that kind. My Lords, I do not think that the noble Earl who has brought forward this measure has quite done justice to the great body to which he belongs—the London County Council. His speech would lead one to believe that the duties of County Councillors are, to a great extent, to go about and personally inspect Lunatic Asylums, male and female; to superintend baby farms, and to superintend reformatories—in fact, to act the part of District Visitors throughout the Metropolis. But the London County Council is a body of the very highest importance; hardly second in importance to the House of Commons itself. I think the difference between the London County Council and the House of Commons is more with regard to the magnitude of the interests involved and the universality of the interests involved in the one case compared to the other than in any difference actually in kind. Though, of course, the interests with which the London County Council are concerned are not so great as those dealt with by the House of Commons, yet they are undoubtedly enormous. One has only to look through the eloquent address which was made by my noble Friend Lord Rosebery to the body over which he so worthily presides to see how great those interests are. We have only to look casually at the newspapers in order to see the enormous number of meetings they held in the year, the number of Committees appointed, the enormous sums of money which can be spent by those Committees, and the great interests involved in their proceedings. We saw on one occasion there was a question debated in which more than £1,000,000 was concerned. In fact, the interests are perfectly gigantic, and they will continually increase, because I have no doubt that in a short time the County Council will have to exercise a more direct influence over paving and lighting matters, and those sort of things. There is no doubt that they will have more entirely the business committed to them which is now transacted by Local Bodies, as well as much of that now undertaken by Government; and great as their business now is it will be much greater in a few years; in fact, it will certainly become nothing less than the administration in all branches of the affairs of more than 4,000,000 of people. My Lords, I cannot but think that if we admit women into the London County Council there will be really no valid reason why we should not admit them into the House of Commons. I do not think anybody can show that there is much difference between the two cases; perhaps some attempt to do so may be made in the course of this Debate. The County Council, like the House of Commons, do a great deal of their work in open assembly; but they also do a great deal of their work by Committees, and many of those Committees are concerned with subjects in which women and children are most intimately interested; and I believe that on many Committees of your Lordships' House and the other House of Parliament there are subjects discussed, with regard to which it may be said that the presence of women upon them would be most advantageous. I daresay, for example, that Committee if which we have heard so much lately—the Sweating Committee —migh t have been much better for the presence of a lady on it; and I am not sure that in Debate in this or the other House light might not he thrown upon the subjects discussed, and great benefit derived from the presence of women. My Lords, my object in making these remarks is to show that the subject which we are tonight discussing is only part of a larger question; and if we go so far as is suggested by the Bill before us we must, I think, logically go a great deal further. In fact, the great question is forced upon us, to a certain extent, whether we are or are not to undertake the gigantic experiment of placing women on a political equality with men. Now, my Lords, I, for one, must say that I am opposed to this, and I am opposed to it chiefly in the interests of women themselves. Nobody is more aware than I am of the enormous influence for good of women in this world. It would be foolish to deny it; but I think this influence, great as it is, is generally in proportion to their unobtrusiveness. I think most of us, from our own personal experience, may well say that those women who have gone to their graves having done most real good—having exercised the best, the highest sort of influence, and performed best those purposes for which a human being is sent into the world—are those women whose names have very often never been heard of beyond their own immediate circle. My Lords, I will notice an historical fact, and I do it for a certain purpose, which I will explain. It is obvious to everybody that the great influence of women for good in this world arose very much with the dawn of Christianity, and was very closely associated with it. We may see this by comparing the position of women in Christian countries with that held by them in Pagan and Mahomedan com- munities, and in countries where other religions than Christianity prevail. From the time of the New Testament downwards women have filled a great place in human history. There has been as many women as men among the saints. But from the time of the Apostles women have been most strenuously discouraged in making an appearance as preachers and speakers upon public platforms. This tends to prove that the best and highest influence of women is perfectly consistent with abstaining from publicity. I am very desirous that those who take the line I do should not be accused of wishing to treat women as mere dolls, and that any nonsense of that sort should not be attributed to them. I would repudiate any suggestion of that sort. On the contrary, we take that line because we are so conscious of the present high position of women, and because we are so anxious that they should not be contaminated by the deteriorating influences of political life, the struggles and enmities, and bitterness, and, I might almost say, the vulgarities of public life, that we wish to guard women from them. I am not quite sure whether the rough and tumble of political life always exercises the most ennobling effect even upon men. I am not sure that the violent Party animosities, the one-sidedness, the virulent personalities, and the misrepresentations which often distinguish even the best people in political life when their passions are excited—and all these distinguish political life perhaps more frequently in the present day than in former times—do not sometimes exercise a rather deteriorating effect upon the men. Men must, of course, take part in the affairs of the country, and in carrying on the public business must submit themselves to these things, though there is no doubt that only a strong nature can shake off what I may call the dirty part of the business without its leaving any permanent traces behind. But for Heaven's sake, my Lords, let us shield women from this as long as we possibly can. Some people say that women would exercise an elevating effect upon public life, and would raise it and free it from many of those evils. I am by no means sure of that. On the contrary, I fear that women, with their more excitable natures, and their tendency to look at things more from a personal and concrete than an abstract point of view, would be liable, even more than men, to the deteriorating effects of the platform. It is very likely, and I believe it will be the case, that even if this Bill should pass the best and highest of women will, with few exceptions, still prefer the shade; but even if the best women could be dragged forward into the glare of publicity I do not think their presence would enable us to take a calmer or more philosophic position in our discussions. But, my Lords, all the objections which I have mentioned would have to give way if it could really be shown that it was necessary for the good conduct of affairs, either in the House of Commons or in the County Council, that women should take part. I do not think this has been shown, or can be shown; and for these reasons I beg to move that this Bill be read this day six months.

Amendment moved to leave out the word "now," and add at the end of the Motion the words "this day six months." —(The Earl Cowper.)


My Lords, I am quite sure that nobody can have listened to the speech of my noble Friend and have thought for one moment that he was actuated in the course which he has taken to-night by anything except the deepest respect for the women whose interests are being discussed upon this occasion, and for those who are desirous to uphold their rightful position. But, my Lords, it seems to me that the arguments of my noble Friend have been based throughout his speech upon the principle of principiis obsta. That is a principle which we have heard applied to a great number of reforms throughout our lives; but I venture to think my noble Friend is in error in the close comparison he has instituted between the duties of the County Council and the duties of the House of Commons. It is because my noble Friend thinks that the duties of these two bodies are so similar, and because he greatly desires to debar women from the Parliamentary franchise and from the House of Commons, that he is so fearful of their being admitted to the County Council. My Lords, it seems to me that it is a mistake to select the Houses of Parliament as the Public Bodies which County Councils most resemble. The business of the County Council is not legislative business; the business of the Houses of Parliament is, in the main, legislative. The County Councils are almost entirely Administrative Bodies. They carry on their administration, no doubt, mainly in committees, which report to the Councils, who then pass resolutions; but almost the whole of their functions are of an administrative character, and it is because of that administrative character that it seems to me that the assistance of women upon those bodies would be so valuable. My noble Friend has very much deprecated the meddling, if I may so call it, of women in political life. Well, my Lords, we see a good deal of the interference of ladies in political life in these days, and I am bound to say I do not think that that interference is always precisely of the kind that we should most desire. I think it would be far preferable that they should take such a part in the administration of local affairs in County Councils as they already do upon School Boards and Boards of Guardians, than that they should take the part they sometimes do in the keen contests of political life. My noble Friend who has moved the Second Reading of this Bill has touched so largely upon the functions of County Councils, in which ho thinks women might take a useful part, that there is no need for mo to go over that ground again; but as he has spoken mainly from his point of view as a member of the County Council of the greatest City in England, I may be, perhaps, permitted to say a word from the point of view of the Provincial County Councils. I do feel very strongly that there are portions of the duties which fall to Provincial County Councils in which the assistance of women would be a great advantage. There is one subject especially which my noble Friend has alluded to, namely, the management of lunatic asylums. I do think that there, particularly in regard to female lunatics, the assistance and inspection of ladies would be of the greatest advantage. But to be thoroughly useful it must be an inspection combined with authority, and it is only as members of the body managing those asylums that they could really take an effective part in supervising and controlling the administration. My noble Friend who has just sat down spoke slightingly, by-the-bye, of the inspection of lunatic asylums, reformatories, and other institutions of that kind by members of County Councils, and he seemed to hold that it was not the duty of members of the Council to undertake any such inspection. I am sorry to say I entirely differ from my noble Friend in that respect. I do not think our lunatic asylums in the country would be well administered unless they were inspected regularly by the Asylums Committee; and if the Asylums Committee and the County Council take that part, which the old bodies used to take, of inspecting minutely all that goes on in those asylums, I venture to say that in that respect the assistance of women, having the full authority of the County Council, would be of great advantage. But, my Lords, there is one portion of the question which we are discussing to-night upon which my noble Friend touched very slightly, and upon which I should like, if I may be permitted, to say a few words. At the present moment, under the Act of 1888, you have included a large number of women among the electors of members of the County Councils. That was deliberately done. There was a great deal to be said in regard to taking the Parliamentary franchise instead of the Municipal franchise; it would have been much more convenient in many ways if you had taken the same franchise for the County Council as for Members of Parliament, but you deliberately chose to take the Municipal franchise, and thereby to place a large number of votes in the hands of women. Now, my Lords, is it consistent in that case that you should say to those female electors, who are quite numerous enough everywhere, I take it, to turn a closely contested election, "You may vote, but you shall not be yourselves elected." I think, my Lords, that if ever the day comes (though I wish to keep off that discussion to-night) when the Parliamentary franchise is given to women there will be a strong argument in favour of extending their right beyond the franchise. But it is not only in that respect that this matter is to be considered. We have been reminded that women are elected as members of School Boards, and Boards of Guardians. Are yon going to prevent women sitting upon the District Councils when created when they sit already on the Boards of Guardians? If the District Councils take over the duties of Boards of Guardians, are you going to let women sit on them? If you are going to keep up the two Bodies separately, are they to sit on one Body and not on the other? At the present moment, sitting on the Boards of Guardians, they deal with sanitary questions; they are members of Rural Sanitary Authorities; are you going to turn them off from dealing with those subjects in regard to which they have shown themselves to be very useful? I think that is a consideration of great weight. I defy you to keep them off the County Councils if you admit them to the District Councils. I say, therefore, do the thing graciously when you have the opportunity, and do not wait to be forced by the logic of the situation into granting that which in the end you will find you must grant. My noble Friend has told us that there are now 80 women members of the School Boards in this country. Well, it has taken 20 years to get 80 women on the School Boards. I do not know the total number of the members of those Boards. But 80 is not a very large number, and there need be no fear that if you give the county electors the power of choosing women they will do so to an excessive extent. I do think it is unwise, in dealing with the administration of those local matters with which County Councils are intrusted, that you should deny to the electors the power of selecting women members if they think fit.


My Lords, the noble Marquess has touched upon the question of the District Councils, but I think it will be time enough to consider the question whether women should belong to those Councils when a Bill on the subject is brought forward. Considering that most of the County Council elections are conducted upon political grounds, I do not see how the ladies would have much chance of getting in, unless they were to take a very active part in public matters, and they would then be liable to those evils to which the noble Earl opposite has alluded. Now, I quite admit what the noble Lord who introduced this Bill has said with regard to' the work of women in many capacities. I think many of those ladies whose names he has mentioned, like Miss Octavia Hill and others, have been doing good work, and work in which men might well be proud to follow their example. I will not attempt for a moment to minimise the value of women's influence, but the question before us is whether it will be to the public advantage that they should be qualified to be elected as County Councillors and Aldermen. I wish to point out to the House that when the Local Government Act was passing through Parliament it was-distinctly understood that women would not be qualified to be elected. That Act was drawn upon the lines of the Municipal Corporations Act, by which a vote was given to women. During the 20 years that the Municipal Corporations Act has been in force not a single woman has been elected as a Town Councillor or as Alderman. Clearly, therefore, public opinion does not favour the idea that women should be qualified to be elected to the County Council, and the recent decision given by the Courts only gave the stamp of the law to what has been the common opinion and wish on the subject. The measure has been introduced, as the noble Earl has said, on behalf of certain ladies who have been elected to the London County Council, and though I have, on behalf of the Government, to ask your Lordships not to support this Bill, I should be very sorry to say a single word which would imply any want of courtesy or respect for those ladies. They no doubt wore impelled by a strong sense of duty to take the course they did, but I do not think any hardship has been caused by the interpretation of the law to which I have referred, because it has merely laid down what everybody originally intended. Now, the noble Marquess and the noble Earl have spoken with regard to the duties which belonged to County Councillors, and which, in their opinion, might be very well carried out by women. There are a few special cases, no doubt, in which the advice and help of women would be useful, but I would point out, with regard to asylums and reformatory schools, that in the first place County Councils have matrons in those institutions, and if those I matrons are not suitable or qualified to carry out the objects of the asylum or schools, they should be changed. Then also they could get advice by the aid of paid or unpaid women officers, or by the aid of lady visitors. There is not really so much difficulty in getting help in looking after asylums and schools on account of the want of women upon the County Councils as has been stated. Then, again, as women have votes for the County Councils, they can in the ordinary way exercise influence over their Representatives; and I can quite understand that on any Council on which the noble Lord the Earl of Meath served there would be plenty of kind sympathy towards those objects on which he has spent so much of his time and talent and for which he has done so much good. We must remember also that it is not sufficient to show that there are certain ladies who wish to belong to the County Councils, but we must consider whether there is any general desire on the part of women and the public that women should be upon those Councils. We have given them votes for the election of Representatives, but admitting that women are quite capable of making a good choice of Representatives, that by no means proves that the majority of them are fitted for or wish to be intrusted with the carrying out of administrative and executive functions. On the contrary, as I have stated, the fact that no woman has been elected upon the Borough Councils shows that there is no desire on the part of women generally to take over those public burdens which have been hitherto borne by men. If this Bill were passed it would be quite necessary that it should be extended, in order that women should sit upon Town Councils. In order to make a change of that kind we should require some very strong public reason. It is admitted that this is a sort of Relief or Endowment Bill for certain ladies, but that is surely hardly a strong enough ground to make a change which, as far as we can possibly tell, would not be well received by the public. Of course, one is always sorry to in any way appear ungracious or not to desire the presence of ladies, but I am sure if your Lordships refuse to receive this Bill, if you close this avenue of distinction to women, there are more con genial spheres of work where their quick intellects and kindly sympathies can be better exercised than by serving in the somewhat heated atmosphere of the County Councils. Therefore, my Lords, I beg to support the rejection of the Bill.


My Lords, I never spoke or voted on this question) before, and, therefore, before we go to a Division, I should like to say a few words. I shall support the Bill of the noble Earl; but I am bound to say that in so doing, although I accept his conclusions, I do not arrive at them precisely by the same process of reasoning. The noble Earl has said much as to the valuable services which women can render upon these County County. I am not disputing that; but that is not the ground I should go upon, for my own part. I am not sure that in the majority of cases women will be as fit representatives upon County Councils as men are. I think it would be a very exceptional case and a very exceptional qualification that would induce me to vote for a female candidate, but that is-not the way I look at it. What I cannot see is why we are to put ourselves in the place of the electors, and why we are to take out of their hands the decision in a matter which primarily, and, indeed, in questions concerning local affairs, exclusively concern themselves. My noble Friend who spoke last said that public opinion had not favoured the election of women to the Borough Councils, but that seems to me to be an argument which cuts both ways. If public opinion does not favour the election of women, women will not be elected either for Borough Councils or for County Councils, and the danger you apprehend will not arise. If, on the other hand, the electors, knowing the persons, knowing what they want, think the female candidates are the fittest to be chosen, they are the persons concerned, and I do not see how it can be our business to say they shall not have the members whom they desire to vote for. We should, of course, be justified in objecting if it could be shown that there were any case of absolute and universal disqualification applicable to every female candidate, but I know nobody in this House will say that. If the electors choose badly, if they choose a person who is unfit or who will be an obstruction to business, they alone are responsible, and they alone will suffer. My Lords, I quite agree in what has been said as to the importance of the work done by the County Council, but the very fact that you have entrusted them, with these great powers shows that Parliament has some confidence in their judgment and in their capacity; and it occurs to me rather contradictory to say that, although they are perfectly fit to decide upon matters of the gravest importance, yet, if it be a folly to elect women, they will, nevertheless, do so upon a great scale. My Lords, if that were so, I think it would show not that this particular measure is a mistake, but that they have been entrusted with powers for which they were not fit. My noble Friend behind me expressed a wish that women should be kept clear from the rough work of politics. I sympathise entirely with that feeling, but is it not rather late in the day to speak of that? You have women addressing public meetings; you have women—ladies of high rank—not unfrequently appearing on public platforms; and I must say that one of the best speeches I ever heard on that much disputed Irish question of which we hear so much was delivered by a woman. But nobody supposes that women generally will desire to serve upon these County Councils; and if they do not wish to do so, nobody will compel them. Those who are willing to put themselves forward are presumably those who find the duties congenial and who will not, therefore, object to undertake them. My Lords, I will not repeat what has been already said; but I think the argument of my noble Friend was absolutely conclusive when he spoke of the precedent which you have created by permitting women to be members of School Boards, and to sit as Guardians. How you can draw a distinction between the work of School Boards or Boards of Guardians and the work which will devolve upon the County Councils I cannot see. The question of the Parliamentary franchise is entirely a separate one, and it will be time enough to deal with it when it arises. At any rate, my Lords, do not let us refuse to do a thing which in itself The Earl of Derby is harmless and rational, because it may be used as an argument in pressing us to do something which we do not believe to be either one or the other.


My Lords, I am anxious not to give the perfectly silent vote which I gave last year upon this question. I entirely agree with the noble Lord the Earl of Meath that this is not a Party question, and I merely offer my own opinion upon the subject. I thought it was to be lamented last year that upon his measure, which occupied public attention a good deal, and which was backed up on a division by, I think, two to one of a great Municipal Body interested in the question, your Lordships should have divided without one word having been said against the measure which has now been explained in so very satisfactory a way by the noble Earl. The result was a very large majority against it and a small minority for it; but I think that a very large majority is not very discouraging on a question of this sort. Very much younger Members than myself have had opportunities of seeing the enormous changes which have taken place in public opinion upon the question of the position and usefulness of women. When I was a boy, a great statesman, who has since become a very brilliant man of letters, took his daughter into Devonshire on a visit. On his return to London he received a letter from his hostess, enclosing a copy of verses, and suggesting that very likely the modesty of his daughter had prevented him seeing the copy which she then sent him. The statesman at once sent for his daughter and criticised the verses, pointing out some unsuitable lines, praising the beauties of others, and on the whole greatly approving of the poem. But, having done that, he then appealed to her affection for him, and made a request to her never to write verses again. He was not afraid of her becoming a good poetess, but he was afraid of the disadvantages which were likely to be suffered by her if she were supposed to be a lady of literary attainments. Since that time I think matters have greatly changed. The noble Earl who has just sat down and myself have been a good deal mixed up with the question of Female Education, and I think we can remember every argument which has been used to-night being put forward tit every step, whether the question was the admission of women to the Universities, or their eligibility to medical degrees, or to degrees in Arts. What has been the result? The result is, that you have at this day, as has been so aptly said by Lord Meath, as compared with 50 years ago, the most universal expression of pleasure at the success of the daughter of another and more modern statesman, who has shown that even in the least sentimental and most reasoning branch of study women can be equal to, if not superior to men. My Lords, I need not go over the ground as to the functions given to women since that time, the fact of their having been given votes in municipal affairs, or the fact of their increasing numbers as members of School Boards and Boards of Guardians. I believe it is the fact that within the last 10 or 15 years the increase has chiefly taken place on the Boards of Guardians. I have been told, and I am rather inclined to believe it, that in a great many cases, as Guardians, women have shown exceptional energy, tact, and sympathy; and I believe that has been exactly the experience also in the School Boards during the short time that the influence of women has been exercised upon them. Now, my Lords it occurs to mo that it is really a waste of power to refuse arbitrarily their assistance in such useful public work as is performed by the County Councils. Lord Meath has explained that many of these ladies have abundant leisure besides having the wish to make themselves useful. With regard to the Councillors in general, they represent the average candidates for the post; but with regard to the women, it should not be forgotten that they are nearly all a picked lot, and very superior in attainments to the majority of the men whom they meet. I think, my Lords, it is a real waste of power, when you have this fund of useful work for public purposes, that you should deprive yourselves of it. I entirely agree with the noble Earl that one of the principal items in this matter is the question of the constituencies and their liberty to choose whom they think will best represent them on these Councils. I quite agree that it would be tyrannous and cruel to force women even to exercise the votes they now have in electing County Councillors if they do not wish; but it seems to me it would be equally tyrannical to prevent the constituencies choosing these persons to represent them, and to prevent the women themselves who wish to be useful to their fellow-citizens from contributing their assistance to the performance of public duties. Of course, there are things to be said for and against, but one thins; that strikes me very much is that I do not think I have heard one single word yet about its being a disadvantage to have women on the County Council. I may have missed it, but I do not think one word was said to that effect. The argument was, that if you give women seats on the County Council, you must give them seats in Parliament afterwards. Now, it appears to me that those who are so very much afraid of contaminating women by allowing them to do this sort of work, forgot the part they already play. I am afraid that is a very dangerous admission, and I believe the noble Marquess has expressed himself on one occasion as not altogether unfavourable to some enlargement of the franchise to the other sex. When we are called upon to allow them to sit on County Councils, it is only logical to say that, as we have given the women votes for the County Council, we must give them the Parliamentary franchise. That is rather a dangerous argument, therefore, from the quarter whence it comes. I hold myself in these matters, if there is a doubt, it is always better to give the benefit of it to the side of freedom and liberty. I do not think there is any fear of the Government of this country being entrusted to women if this Bill passes, but I think it would be of immense advantage that they should be allowed to deal with those subjects with which they are so well qualified to deal. Some people talk about the danger of contaminating-women by contact with politics, but I think it is a little too late to speak of that when we consider the work that is done by the ladies of the Primrose League, and at Conservative as well as Radical meetings, and too late to expect the women to keep themselves—to use a popular phrase—"to their proper sphere." In fact, I think it is hopeless; and I think it might be judicious if those who are afraid of too much political action on the part of women were to afford them the means of making themselves useful in administrative work where Party politics ought not to enter, and to give them that vent for any superabundant energy which they may have.

On Question, whether the word "now" stand part of the Motion, the House divided:—Contents 49; Not-Contents 119.

Resolved in the negative; Bill to be read 2a this day six months.