HL Deb 17 February 1891 vol 350 cc809-13

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


My Lords, it seems somewhat superfluous in me, after now some years of disappointment, to raise this question again. The noble Marquess at the head of the Government gave me two days at the time of the introduction of the Representation of the People Bill, so that I was enabled to introduce an Amendment which would have made all other Bills on the subject unnecessary. In 1886 I ventured to trouble the House on the subject. I was most courteously treated by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and I wished that nothing but his Lordship's speech should appear in the Report, but Mr. Hansard insisted upon reporting the whole of my speech, whether I wished it or not. I would remind your Lordships of the way in which this question has been dealt with in India. On one occasion I laid on the Table of the House a measure upon which M. Bignon had made a speech in the French Chamber of Deputies as to the persecution of women, and I know that that was extensively circulated. On this occasion I shall lay upon the Table of the House the report of an address to the Undergraduates of the Madras University by the Principal of the College there. The words which he uses are most impressive. He says: "To educate men you must also educate women." This, my Lords, is a very comprehensive Bill, and it would do away with the necessity for another which I introduced with regard to the power of women to vote at Municipal elections in Ireland, because it embodies that power. In reference to that measure, I could only get an answer two years in succession, from the Lord Privy Seal that it was intended to introduce a very extensive measure of local government for Ireland. That measure has not yet appeared. The late Duke of Buckingham said that it was a step in advance towards women's suffrage, but it appears to me that was a very great mistake, because no woman with a £10 ownership could have the privilege of voting. But I have not been careless of the effect of this measure, because I do not forget that in the Local Government Act there will be a triennial election for all County Councils. It was a very great evil that the hasty way in which the former Bill was passed prevented all due consideration by your Lordships' House of that measure. A speech was made for me by the reporters, not one word of which did I utter. However, the opinion of the majority of the House was in favour of the measure. I am not going into that question again. The system adopted in reference to the Grand Committees impairs the usefulness of every Member of this House, and your Lordships have not the same control as if you were satisfied in Committee of the whole House. It is open now, through the great and useful change in the Standing Orders, for noble Lords to say whether matters shall be so dealt with or not. It is a very narrow system to have these elections to Grand Committees; you do not know what they are doing, and it is impossible for business to be conducted on a sound basis unless every Member of the House has an opportunity of seeing what is done. I humbly venture to differ from the objection of the noble Marquess that measures affecting the interests of the other House of Parliament should not originate in this House. What was the Septennial Bill, which was originated by the ancestor of the Duke of Devonshire, in this House? That was a most useful measure, and if it were not that it exists we should have a General Election this year. Sometimes there is a difficulty with the Clerk of the Table about money Bills, but it is really not at all in accordance with the principles of the Constitution. I may remind your Lordships that one most important measure was a money Bill, because it gave a salary to six paid members of the Judicial Committee. I trust that if Mr. Haldane's Bill comes to this House it will have due consideration. I think that every Bill should have the fullest consideration from this House by whomsoever it may be introduced. I am at very great disadvantage in bringing forward this question. I have been always blamed for doing so; but at the same time I thought I obtained the great support of Lord Carnarvon and Lord Wentworth, and I certainly was not without a teller. But I am not one to be discouraged by being alone in any measure that I venture to advocate. The abrogation of Standing Orders by Resolution has been an evil in this House since the year 1856. Both sides of the House agreed in passing measures which afterwards fell to the ground. But it is not known at the time what noble Lords are present in the House, that can only be ascertained from the Journals of the House on the occasion of a Bill being carried to a division. I am really anxious that there should be reciprocity between the two Houses, and I believe it to be possible that we may by communication with each other very much shorten the duration of Sessions of Parliament. I am sorry again that this question will benefit nothing from the feeble advocacy by which I have endeavoured to support it. I may say in reference to the present Bill that I have ceased to receive petitions from duly qualified women, but I know that Miss Becker was particularly anxious that there should be agitation in the House of Commons in order to carry out this measure. Why should it be said that your Lordships are unwilling to allow women householders to vote if you admit ladies into the Gallery and treat them with courtesy? And surely they are better judges of the qualities of candidates for membership of Parliament than many who now have votes. We have given votes to our servants who occupy their own houses. In 1869 there was a change made as to the right of women to vote at Municipal elections, and more power was given them in unincorporate than in corporate towns. I humbly beg your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this measure, and I hope it is not presumptuous in me to suppose that you will carry it. I know from my correspondence with the noble Marquess that he would be desirous to equalise the Municipal franchise for all women. The lodger franchise is possessed by those who do not pay rates, but women are often householders paying rates and taxes. There is a question also as to married women voting. Certainly if women pay rates and taxes there should be no objection to their having votes. They have many duties in which they are associated with men. I believe also that they are strong political partisans. There would be much less difficulty in getting Irish enthusiasts to cease agitation if they could see that we know how to get rid of agitation ourselves. I am a very old man and I hope that nothing I have done will affect your decision in this matter. I feel that I have done my duty with impartiality in this respect. I have often heard Mrs. McLaren, the sister of John Bright, in Edinburgh, and Mrs. Fawcett in London, and I am sure that their counsels can always be acted upon although they do not wish to appear in Parliament themselves. In the old times the abbesses were represented in Parliament by proxies, and I am very sorry that proxies are no longer used in this House, because I think the opinion, of the best men in the country is in favour of voting by proxy. However, that is past. I have introduced a measure against lengthened speeches and I hope I have not occupied your Lordships' time much beyond the hour when Debates formally begin. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

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


My Lords, there are very few subjects which the noble Lord has not touched upon in the course of his speech. I shall not imitate him in its discursive scope, but will confine myself to repeating the reason which I have previously had the honour of laying before your Lordships, for rejecting this Bill, that it is against the comity of Parliament for one House to undertake the reconstruction of the constitution of the other House. I should think it very unwise, and very unbecoming for us to set the example of departure from so wholesome a rule. Without expressing any opinion on the main question involved in the Bill. I beg to move that it be read a second time this day six months.

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

On question, whether the word ("now") shall stand part of the motion, resolved in the negative; and Bill to be read 2a this day six months.