HL Deb 24 August 1907 vol 181 cc1469-73

Order of the Day read for the consideration of the Commons Amendment.

Moved, "That this Amendment be considered."—(The Earl of Crewe.)


May I call attention to the fact that the Orders of the Day are not on the Table, and we cannot tell in what order the business is to be taken? I feel inclined to move the adjournment of the House until we can get the ordinary Papers necessary for the proper transaction of business. I do not think we are being fairly treated.


My Lords, as the first Order on the Paper is mine, perhaps I may be allowed to reply. There has been no change in the order of business, at any rate so far as regards the first two Orders on the Paper—namely, the consideration of the Commons Amendment to the Qualification of Women (County and Borough Councils) Bill, and the Report stage of the Small Holdings and Allotments Bill. The noble Lord will see, I am sure, that we, as the Government, are not to blame for the absence of the Orders of the Day.


I should be sorry to say that the Government are to blame for not circulating the Orders of the Day, but I think they are to blame for the hurry with which business is being transacted.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


There is only one Commons Amendment to this Bill—namely, in page 1, lines 8 and 9, to leave out the words— Shall not be elected as chairman of a county council or mayor of a borough, and to insert the words— If elected as chairman of a county council or mayor of a borough shall not by virtue of holding or having held that office be a justice of the peace. and I beg to move that your Lordships do not insist on your Amendment. The House may remember what occurred on the last occasion. I was in charge of the Bill, and I said that in my opinion the question was one of very small practical importance, and therefore I did not wish to attempt to force the House to vote one way or the other; but it seemed to me a pity, as you were giving power to women to sit on these bodies, to make this grudging limitation which could not have any practical effect, more particularly as I think it is certain that for some time, at any rate in the case of the larger local authorities, the possibility of a woman sitting as mayor is unlikely. I think it is not necessary to explain the effect of restoring the Bill to its original form. By its original form a woman can be mayor of a borough or chairman of a county council, but if she holds one of those positions she cannot be a justice of the peace; and the Amendment which was inserted by your Lordships on the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Camperdown, prevented her from occupying the position of mayor of a borough or chairman of a county council. When it went down to the House of Commons the Bill was put back into its original shape on the Motion of an independent Member, the House of Commons agreeing to that course without a division. I hope that, under the circumstances, your Lordships will not insist on your Amendment. The matter, as I have said, is not a very large one, and I do not think it is one on which it is worth while to engage in a contest with the other House of Parliament.

Moved, "That this House does not insist upon its Amendment."—(The Earl of Crewe.)


As I was the Member who moved the Amendment perhaps I may be allowed to say a word. I am not going to ask your Lordships to insist on your. Amendment, in fact, I advise your Lordships not to insist upon it. This House has no desire at all, on the contrary it has a great disinclination, to differ from the other House of Parliament, except on occasions when it is absolutely necessary for them to do so; and certainly I do not think this is one of the occasions on which your Lordships should differ. At the same time, in replacing the Bill in its original form I would desire to call your Lordships' attention to what the effect will be. A woman will in future be able to be elected to the position of chairman of a county council or mayor of a borough, but although she holds that office she will not be able to be a justice of the peace. If a woman is fit to be mayor of Liverpool, or Manchester, or Birmingham, I cannot conceive on what ground she is not fit to have a seat on the bench of justices. It seems to me to be a most manifest inconsistency. The Government think it very undesirable that the disability should be placed upon women which was placed by your Lordships' Amendment; yet in spite of that they propose to place this disability upon her. I am very much tempted to move to add at the end of the provision disqualifying women from sitting as justices, the words "unless placed by the Lord Chancellor thereupon." I am sure that your Lordships have the greatest confidence in the Lord Chancellor's appointments, and I am certain that if a woman were placed by him on the bench, this House would be of opinion, even if she were a suffragette, that the appointment had not been made without due consideration, and that it was a very proper appointment.


My duties in regard to magistrates are sufficiently distressing already; and if I had to consider the merits of women for the purpose I am quite certain that I should be so overwhelmed with the task that I should be inclined to withdraw altogether from it.


In deference to the noble and learned. Lord I will not propose the addition of those words.


Noble Lords opposite will remember that there is a Scottish Bill on similar lines to this passing through Parliament. It was introduced into this House at a very late period of the session, and was passed after some discussion, with Amendments, and sent to another place. I am sure I shall find myself in agreement with noble Lords opposite and with the great majority of your Lordships when I say that whatever is done on this particular point in regard to England ought to be done in the same way with regard to Scotland. The law ought not to be different in the two countries, and I should like to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are able to say as yet in what form the other Bill is likely to be returned to your Lordships.


In answer to the noble Lord, I have to say that a very similar Amendment has been made by the other House in the case of the Scottish Bill, and that I understand it will be considered by your Lordships on Monday.


My Lords, with regard to the Bill now on the Table I have only to say that I am very glad my noble friend Lord Camper-down does not ask the House to insist upon its Amendment. It is quite true that the Bill will leave matters in a somewhat illogical position, but the question does not seem to me to be one of really first-rate importance. It will only be in quite exceptional cases that a woman is likely to find herself elected chairman of a county council or mayor of a borough, and in such cases I think we might very well acquiesce in the idea of trying the experiment. The matter is not one in which it seems to me this House could very well involve itself in a controversy with the other House of Parliament. On Question, Motion agreed to.

Moved, "That the Commons Amend went be agreed to."—(The Earl of Crewe)

On Question, Motion agreed to.