HL Deb 15 July 1907 vol 178 cc264-7


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is the Scottish edition of the measure which was recently introduced into your Lordships' House by my noble friend the Lord President of the Council, and to which your Lordships accorded a Second Reading by a majority of eighty-eight votes—a majority which, I may remind the House, is altogether unusual in the case of a Bill which proceeds from this side. That Bill was so recently discussed here, and the principle which it involves has received such emphatic endorsement from your Lordships, that I feel sure it is not necessary for me to detain the House by any discussion of that principle; and I assume, as I hope I have the right to do, that your Lordships will show the same confidence in the women of Scotland as you have already shown in the women of England.

In Scotland women are at present entitled to sit upon parish councils and school boards, so that, allowing for the differences in the systems of the two countries, I think it may be said that their position in regard to local bodies is very similar. I must admit that the number of women occupying seats upon those bodies is not very considerable, but I think it is universally admitted that those ladies who have been selected to occupy these positions have uniformly done so with the greatest credit, and, in many cases, as in the instance given on Thursday by my noble friend Lord Courtney, with the very greatest distinction. The position of women in Scotland as electors of town and county councils is also broadly the same as it is in England. It may be asked, "Why, if there is so much similarity, is it necessary to have a separate Bill?" That has been thought desirable for two reasons, which I think are very sound ones—first, because the systems of local government in the two countries have been established under totally separate and distinct Acts of Parliament, from which it follows that the references necessary in a Bill of this kind will be much clearer and more explicit if only one set of Acts is referred to in each of the two Bills than would be the case if an attempt were made to deal with the subject in one Bill; and, secondly, because there are certain important differences between the methods of appointing the magistrates and the members of the licensing authorities in the two countries. It is not proposed under either o f these Bills to do any more than remove from women the disqualification from sitting upon town and county councils, and it is not intended to qualify women to occupy seats upon the bench or upon the licensing courts. There are, of course, certain cases in which a man who is a member of a town or county council becomes a magistrate by virtue of his office; in England I believe there are only two such cases—where a man becomes a mayor of a town or chairman of a county council. Those two cases were covered in the English Bill as originally introduced by a clause of three lines, which provided that a woman, if elected as chairman of a county council or mayor of a borough, was not, by virtue of holding or having held that office, to be a justice of the peace. Your Lordships decided in Committee that you would not allow women to hold either of those offices, and that provision consequently became inoperative and was struck out of the Bill. There is in the present Bill a similar provision, and it will, of course, depend on the course which your Lordships take whether or not that provision is necessary.

In Scotland the case is not quite so simple as in England, and there remain to be dealt with the cases of the bailies and the members of the licensing authorities. As your Lordships know, the bailies or burgh magistrates are elected by the town council from among their own number, and the licensing and appeal courts consist either wholly or in part of burgh magistrates, justices of the peace, and members of the county council respectively. As it is not intended to empower women to occupy either of these positions the provisions which will be found in sub-clauses (a) and (b) of the first section of the Bill have been introduced. Sub-clause (b) also contains a provision that in case a woman is appointed as provost of a burgh an extra bailie shall be appointed during her term of office, the object of that provision being, of course, to prevent any diminution of the number of burgh magistrates as established by Statute. I think that, with the exceptions I have mentioned, this Bill is absolutely on all fours with the Bill to which your Lordships have already given a Second Beading; and it is, therefore, with some confidence that I ask the House to read this Bill a second time in order that the two measures may proceed together.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(Lord Hamilton of Dalzell.)

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.