§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
*THE LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (The Earl of CREWE)
My 1344 Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill I feel a certain relief in the fact that it is one which cuts across the ordinary line of political divisions in this House. It will, I hope, receive support not merely in the division lobby, but also of an articulate, and, I am sure, a valuable character from some noble Lords opposite.
This, as many of your Lordships know, is no new question in this House. I do not intend to spend any time in referring to what has been done in the matter in. another place; but I may remind your Lordships that as long ago as the year 1890 the noble Earl, Lord Meath, brought in a Bill to remove the disabilities of women so far as county councils were concerned. That arose out of the fact that on the first London County Council three women sat, two by election and one as an alderman. It was not until a legal decision had been taken that those ladies had to leave the council, and the object of Lord Meath at that time was to anticipate the legal decision by removing the disability. Your Lordships, however, threw out that measure by a majority of more than two to one.
Then in the year 1899 the London Government Bill, under which the borough councils were framed, came up from another place with the provision that women should sit on the borough councils, but, on the Motion of Lord Dunraven, that provision was explicitly struck out in spite of the strong support, in a very interesting speech, of the late Lord Salisbury. Lord Salisbury founded his argument partly on the fact that women had already sat upon the London vestries, and it was well known that the borough councils were only the old vestries in something of a fancy dress, and consequently it seemed unreasonable that women should not be allowed to sit upon them also. Then in 1901, my noble friend Lord Aberdeen made a further attempt to secure the admission of women to the London borough councils; and, lastly, in 1904 my noble friend Lord Beauchamp introduced a Bill of a similar character to that which I have to submit to your Lordships to-day. That Bill was lost by a narrow majority, fifty-seven voting against it and thirty-eight for it.
1345 In the previous discussions on this subject in your Lordships' House two noble and learned Lords have been very active—Lord James of Hereford and the noble and learned Earl on the front bench opposite who is about to move the rejection of this Bill. I need not say that, with their long experience, the House is naturally disposed to pay deference to their views; but I cannot help regretting that the lapse of time has made no difference at any rate in the opinion of the noble and learned Earl, and I can only trust that on this occasion his arguments may not prevail to defeat the Bill.
Now, my Lords, this is a measure of a modest character. What it does is simply to remove the sex disqualification for a seat on those local bodies where a qualification to vote exists. As your Lordships are aware, women can now sit on urban and rural district councils; they can fit on boards of guardians and on parish councils. In fact, of the local authorities in this country they can sit on somewhere about 9,000, whereas there are only about 500 from which they are excluded. I need not dwell upon the excellent work which has been done by women on these local bodies, both in relation to the care of the poor and in relation to education, to which I know the noble Marquess opposite can bear personal testimony.
§ *THE EARL OF CREWE
But I pass on to explain what this Bill does and what it does not do. It has to be observed that it creates no new qualification of any kind. It leaves the voting qualifications where they are, and simply provides that those who can vote can sit. The existing qualifications are various, and consequently the power to sit will also be various, and, I fully admit, anomalous. As regards county councils outside London, the qualification for membership is either being qualified to elect a county councillor or being so qualified in all respects except that of residence and being resident within a certain distance of the county, having a property qualification, or being a peer owning property in the county or being registered as a 1346 Parliamentary voter. The effect of that is that a single woman can vote at an election of a county councillor but no married woman can, and this Bill, in consequence, would enable a single woman having the qualification to vote to sit, but, of course, the qualification of registration as a Parliamentary voter would not apply.
Now, as regards, in the second place, the borough councils outside London, the qualification for membership of those bodies is either being a person qualified to elect a town councillor or being so entitled in all respects except residence and being resident within a certain distance and holding a property qualification. Here, again, a single woman can vote at the election of a town council but a married woman cannot. That is no doubt an anomaly, but I do not know that it is necessary at this time of day to defend the existence of anomalies in legislation. I think it is a regrettable anomaly in this instance. We should all, I am sure, deplore it if some Romeo and Juliet were parted, not on account of dissensions between their families, but because the lady could not make up her mind whether the prospect of married happiness entirely compensated for losing her seat on the finance committee. One only hopes these cases would be rare. But on the darker and more sinister possibility which might attach to the fact that though a married woman cannot be elected a widow can, I entirely refuse to dwell.
As regards the, London County Council and the Metropolitan borough councils the case is different. The qualification for membership of a Metropolitan borough council is being what is called a parochial elector; that is to say, either a person who can vote at a Parliamentary election, or who, if outside London, could vote at the election of a county councillor. The result is that women otherwise qualified, whether married or single, can vote at the election of borough and county councillors in London, but of course they cannot at present, as we know, be members of any of those bodies. This Bill will enable them to be members; that is to say, any married woman who can vote can be elected. I do not go into the rather intricate question as to whether in all cases parochial electors are entitled to vote, because that affects men who are 1347 parochial electors as well as it does women.
Well, my Lords, such is the measure, and, as your Lordships sec, it is an enabling measure; but at the same time the enabling powers are subject to considerable restrictions and qualifications. We have not felt it possible in this Bill to deal with or to alter questions of franchise, because those would raise a great number of new and very important issues. We have thought it better, therefore, simply to leave the franchise as it is, and to make the qualification follow the vote. It is an advantage, in urging a Bill of this kind, to have some pretty clear understanding of what the arguments are likely to be which are advanced against it. The noble and learned Earl opposite and his friends have two weapons in their arsenal, and only two, so far as I am able to judge from previous debates on this subject. The first of these weapons is that any measure of this kind is a bad one, because it removes women from the sphere of home, which she adorns, and plunges her unduly into the turmoil of public affairs. We who are promoting this legislation have, I think, quite as complete an ideal of what English wives, mothers, and daughters in the home can be as any of those who sit opposite to us, but we do not admit for a moment that that ideal is in any way compromised by, or can be regarded as being incompatible with, the exercise of these modest public duties and the doing of work for the benefit of their fellow countrymen and fellow-country-women.
There is another familiar figure which is sometimes drawn for us of the domestic woman—a sort of combination of the maid-of-all-work and the ministering angel. Such a woman is supposed to be devoted to the cult of the saucepan and the mangle, but also to be prepared, so to speak, to stand by and wipe the heated brow of the exalted being with whom it is her privilege to be mated. After a life of blamelessness and barley water she is supposed to retire to the chimney corner and there to occupy herself in making under-garments for innumerable grandchildren; and if the ideal domestic woman is not to carry out this programme in its completeness, her mental constitu- 1348 tion is supposed to be so ill-balanced that it is practically certain that she will devote her days and nights to breaking up political meetings and assaulting the police, and therefore women must not be plunged into this administrative turmoil.
But just consider the situation for a moment. By the Education Act of 1902 it is absolutely required that women should be placed on education committees. There is an uncontroversial subject for noble Lords! We know very well that education is possibly the most controversial subject at this moment, I am sorry to say, with which anybody can deal. Even in the animis cœlestibus of the Right Rev. Bench it has caused, as we know, some excitement from time to time. Then, again, there is the Unemployed Workmen Act of 1905. By that Act it is required that one woman, at any rate, shall be placed on every distress committee. Is there any one subject more controversial than the relief of the unemployed? I confess that if there is I do not know it. It may be said that women are co-opted on to those bodies and are not elected. I cannot see that that makes the faintest difference. The fact of not being elected does not prevent the existence of controversy. Your lordships are not elected, but at the same time nobody can possibly say that the proceedings of this House are altogether free from controversy.
And I must be allowed to say, in passing, that if it is imagined that the practice of co-opting, or any extension of the practice of co-opting, could make up for the loss of this Bill I believe that to be a complete error. If your local government is going to depend on a system of election it stands to reason that those who are not elected thereby lose a certain part of their influence. That is undoubtedly the fact, and it is not to be supposed that women who wish to take an active part in this work will be content merely to be called in in an advisory capacity instead of being elected. After all, the matters with which women are not now allowed to deal, and with which, if this Bill passes, they will be able to deal, are of a far less controversial character than those I have mentioned. Sanitation is, after all, a very uncontroversial subject. The care of lunatics, again, is not one which excites, at any rate in this country, serious 1349 controversy. I say in this country because I am reminded that this perhaps would not be true of all parts of the United Kingdom. I remember when I was in Ireland receiving a letter from a rev. gentleman connected with a lunatic asylum, bitterly complaining that the asylum's board was entirely composed of people of one political complexion and one religious faith, and he added—I enclose a list for your Excellency's information of a number of gentlemen who are in every way admirably qualified to represent the 300 inmates of this establishment who are their co-religionists.But in this country, I am happy to say, we are free from difficulties of that kind.
Then, again, there is the question of housing, the care of very young children, homes for inebriates, and other matters, all of an uncontroversial character, and in which women are not now allowed to assist, but in which they would be allowed to assist if this Bill became law. I must say that what I called the domestic argument cannot, in my opinion, be sustained.
Then I pass to the second argument which I am certain will be used by the noble and learned Earl, or, at any rate, by some of his supporters—namely, that even if this measure could be held to be a harmless one in itself, it is not harmless because it must inevitably lead to something else—to the Parliamentary franchise, to which noble Lords are opposed. That, of course, is the familiar argument of the thin end of the wedge, and in the debate in this House in the year 1899 the late Lord Salisbury pointed out, with very great force, that that argument did not apply in this case. As he said, the question is into what log the wedge is being driven. If there are two logs and you are not driving the wedge into the one which you are afraid may be split—as we maintain is the ease in this instance—then the argument falls to the ground.
Well, my Lords, can it be maintained that passing this Bill would necessarily lead in any way to the granting of the Parliamentary franchise to women? I confess that, as one looks at the course of legislation in this country, one is sometimes tempted to wonder whether anything ever follows anything else, 1350 except in mere succession of time. It is, of course, a question upon which every one must have his own opinion. We have recently had a very striking instance to that effect. Your Lordships will remember that some little time since we on this Bench were questioned, before the appearance of the Irish Council Bill, as to the character and intentions of that proposed legislation. I ventured to point out at the time that when the Bill appeared some people would say that it inevitably led to Home Rule and others would say precisely the contrary. Your Lordships will remember what occurred. On one side the Irish Nationalist Convention—and, I think, Mr. Balfour—stated that under no possibility could that Bill lead to Home Rule. On the other hand, a very large number of persons throughout the country said that it undoubtedly would. And that seems to me an illustration of the extreme difficulty of prophesying in these matters as to what the future effect of any single piece of legislation is likely to be.
Now, what are the objections that are largely taken to the granting of the Parliamentary franchise to women? They are very largely, in the first place, of what I may call an instinctive character—a general feeling, deep-seated and strong in some minds, that it is not a desirable thing that women should have to do with Imperial affairs; and, again, it is pointed out that there is a very large area of national interest with which women are not concerned. It is not merely a question of the Army, the Navy, and the police; there are also a vast number of national interests, industrial and otherwise, in which women have no part. Besides, there is the whole mercantile marine; the whole fishing industry; practically, you may say, the whole mining industry; all the heavy trades connected with the working of iron and other metals; the whole building trade; practically the whole business of agriculture, and also, in an entirely different line, commerce, banking, and what is generally known as "the City." In all these matters women take no direct part, and that, it is held, is a reason for not conferring the Parliamentary vote upon them. I do not say that that is a conclusive argument, but it is an argument which has to be 1351 met; and I only mention it on this occasion in order to point out that nothing of the kind applies in this case, because the matters with which women will have to deal, if this Bill is passed, are, almost without exception, matters in which women are interested, at any rate to a great extent, and in many cases to quite as great an extent as men.
And then again, my Lords, it cannot be said that women do not want this legislation. So far as I know, there is no opposition from women to the granting of these local powers, but, on the contrary, a vast number of representations from bodies of women have been received by the Local Government Board asking that this may be done. That, again, is a matter which I think your Lordships ought to take into consideration, as in some degree differentiating this question from that of the Parliamentary franchise.
All I can do is to leave the measure in the hands of the House. I am certain that your Lordships will desire to give such weight as is due to the fact, which I certainly believe to be a fact, that the passage of this measure through another place would not be difficult. It is, so fur as I know, a measure which would certainly receive no Party opposition elsewhere, although, of course, there may be individuals who do not regard it as necessary. In conclusion, I entreat your Lordships not to stand in the way of what I believe to be a very moderate and a most necessary reform.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a" —(The Earl of Crewe.)
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY,
who had given notice, on the Motion for the Second Reading, to move that the Bill be read 2a this day six months, said: My Lords, I am rather gratified to find that the difference between the noble Earl and myself is not so great as might be supposed. It seems to me that the latter part of his speech might have been delivered very appropriately on a proposal to give the Parliamentary franchise to women, and to my mind his argument led to the conclusion that, if this Bill ought to be passed, there is no conceivable reason why women should not 1352 have the Parliamentary franchise. As to the distinction which he drew in regard to occupations in which he said women were not interested, I suppose they are interested in the lives of their husbands and also in the industries by which they are supported.
I confess I had expected rather to hear the noble Earl describe what the things were which he wished women to do which they are at present prevented from doing. The noble Earl, who speaks with great authority in the matter, has told us over what a large area the influence and power exercised by women at present extends; but if he had told us what it is he wants women to do which they are at present prevented from doing it would have been much easier to deal with the question. I can assure him that I have given considerable time to the matter, but have endeavoured without success to frame an Amendment which would be consistent with the Bill and would give to women the power to exercise their influence in matters with which they are more familiar than men. But the truth is that a great many of these things are at present within the power and influence of women; and when he says no one can exaggerate the work that has been done by women in different fields the difficulty is to find out where it is that the inability of a woman to be a county councillor has prevented her from exercising the qualities she is so well able to exercise.
One of the two subjects mentioned by the noble Earl was sanitation. Well, why not bring in a Bill which would permit women to be engaged in this work in an advisory capacity? I am afraid I cannot concur with the noble Earl that the fact of their occupying an advisory position only would diminish their influence. Confining myself for a moment to the one subject of sanitation, which I only use as an illustration, what would prevent an obligation being imposed similar to that adopted in the case of education committees to admit women to public health committees? I am sure that if the noble Earl would take this action in regard to any one of those fields of influence in which women are so useful he would find no opposition from this side of the House. But it does not follow from that that women ought to be 1353 permitted to do everything that a county councillor can do.
The field of employment occupied by a county councillor seems to be forgotten. Why, there is hardly any subject matter which Parliament can deal with with which a county council cannot, and it seems to me that if the proposal contained in this Bill is agreed to it will be one of the strongest possible arguments in favour of the proposal—upon which I observed the noble Earl dwelt in very cautious language—to give the Parliamentary franchise to women. One cannot help feeling that this is a Bill to satisfy an engagement made, I think, by the Prime Minister himself. What change has there been since 1899, when this particular question was discussed in a very considerable House and the proposal rejected by a majority of more than two to one, to make the Bill necessary? And let me remind the noble Earl that that was not an occasion when the whole question arose. It had been the practice and the law that women could sit on the old metropolitan vestries, and the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, pointed out, with great force, that because the name of the body was changed it was unreasonable to alter the qualification. But that does not apply here.
You are now proposing to give women the complete franchise, enabling them to sit as members of county and borough councils. Women are, under this Bill, to be brought in upon equal terms. This will, of course, necessitate lady candidates at elections. They must, I suppose, come out and address the electors, and one of the difficulties which I cannot help feeling is that you would not be likely to get those women who do and have done so much to come forward to fight elections. I ask again what change has there been since 1899 to make the Bill necessary? Is it the attempt which has been made from time to time to wrest the wider privilege from Parliament? I confess that I regard this, apart from the merits of the scheme itself, as a matter of very dangerous example. Is it a proper mode of government to make bargains with a certain number of persons who are violent in their views? I confess that appears to me a very serious proceeding. Are you likely to add to the usefulness of those 1354 women who have distinguished themselves in what may be called the humanitarian area by giving them seats on these bodies?
This Bill is simply the abolition of the disqualification of marriage or sex. Therefore, to take the noble Earl's illustration, we may have Romeo speaking on one side and Juliet on the other, and that is one of the ideas that you are to bring into politics and into the county councils. To suggest that county councils are not political is, to me, rather a monstrous idea. There is hardly a debate in a county council which does not more or less turn on some political view. Happily the views are a little more harmonious at present than they used to be in county councils. I should like to know why this Bill has been produced. Has anything lately occurred to render it necessary? Has the little interview between the Prime Minister and some of the ladies who take strong views on this matter anything to do with it? The noble Earl said something about the extraordinary number of persons who had communicated with the Local Government Board inviting the introduction of such a Bill. Can he tell us the numbers? I should like to have details as to the numbers, because I have never heard that more than a small minority are in favour of the female franchise.
The principle really raised is that of the Parliamentary franchise. I say even now that if a mode could be discovered by which a particular thing could be done by women which they are not able to do at present but ought to be able to do, I should be delighted to assist, but I do not see how that can be done in this Bill. This is a Bill which in broad terms removes disqualification, and I do not see how it is possible to ingraft any Amendment of the kind I have suggested. Therefore, either the Bill in its present form must be passed or it must be rejected.
I do not wish to prolong the debate further. The matter is a very old one. I do not think this is to be described as the thin end of the wedge. It is the wedge itself. By passing this Bill you will be giving the whole thing, and I maintain that if the Bill passes there is no answer to the demand for the Parliamentary franchise. There are, of course, anomalies there. A lady owning a large estate and 1355 perfectly intelligent and able to form a judgment on important questions—she might be a director of a bank or hold similarly important positions—has no Parliamentary vote, while her coachman who lives in the lodge at the gate has. That is one of the anomalies which has been over and over again urged in respect of the Parliamentary franchise. I admit that anomaly. The answer to the present contention is that the whole of the discussions in county councils, apart from those matters in regard to the administration of which I am quite willing to admit women, are inappropriate to and not fitted for participation in by women. I think they are too hysterical, they are too much disposed to be guided by feeling and not by cold reason, and they are very much disposed to refuse any kind of compromise. I do not think women are safe guides in government; they are very unsafe guides when they argue from sentiment and not from reason. I beg to move my Amendment.
To leave out the word 'now' in order to insert the words ' this day six months.' "—(The Earl of Halsbury.)
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, it sometimes falls to my lot at the close of your Lordships' debates to take upon myself to express what I believe to be the feelings of noble Lords with whom I generally have the privilege of acting. But upon this occasion, as the noble Earl opposite has truly said, we are dealing with a question which has never been dealt with upon Party lines, and if I rise now it is merely for the purpose of expressing the way in which the question before your Lordships presents itself to my own judgment.
I will venture upon one preliminary observation. It is this. I trust that during the rest of this debate we shall continue to treat the subject as both the speakers who have addressed us have treated it, and that it will be discussed entirely from what I would call the practical point of view. I have seen many dissertations upon this and kindred questions affecting the political position of women. They are sometimes treated upon high scientific and physiological grounds. We are 1356 told that the present predominance, if I may use the expression, of the male sex is the result of an entirely unnatural usurpation, and we are invited to consider, for example, the superiority, both in size and strength, of female over male spiders, and to draw conclusions from this and similar analogies. I put on one side all considerations of that kind. There are other considerations which I venture to think we need also leave out of account. It is perfectly true that the question of the Parliamentary suffrage for women has been the occasion of noisy and unwise demonstrations, but I do not think that that is a fact which need in the least influence us in considering the question now before the House. The only considerations which seem to me to be worthy of attention are those which have to do with the efficiency of these important municipal bodies. I believe I shall only express a feeling unanimously entertained in this House when I say that we all of us consider that the cooperation of women in these matters of municipal administration is of the utmost value in regard to all subjects in reference to which such co-operation can be usefully invoked.
Wherever our municipal administration touches the home life of the people, wherever it has to do with the health, either of individuals or of classes, or of the whole community, wherever it touches the question of education, there, I think, we shall all agree that the advice and assistance of women should be invoked so far as it is possible to invoke it. Much has already been done in that direction. Women are now serving upon boards of guardians, upon district councils, and upon parish councils, and all those who have had to do with them as colleagues in the transaction of business of that kind will be ready to bear witness to the great usefulness of their co-operation. Upon the county councils they already have a place, a place which they fill most usefully—namely, on the education committees.
Well, my Lords, the question is, Can we go further in that direction? If I had to answer that question I should certainly answer it in the affirmative. It seems to me that there is no reason why we should cry a halt at education, 1357 and why, if the assistance of women is resorted to in regard to questions concerning education, it should not be also resorted to in regard to a number of other questions which come before county and borough councils. The noble Earl gave a rough sketch of some of those questions. It was an enumeration which seemed to me to be one which most of us would be willing to accept. He referred to the management of asylums, to the housing question, to the administration of such Acts as those which have reference to shop hours and questions of that kind, to the protection of infant life, to the care of inebriates, to the employment of children, to the carrying out of the laws with regard to midwives, and generally, to questions dealing with public health. Upon all questions of that kind—and I do not suggest for a moment that the list is an exhaustive one—I think we should be able to resort to the assistance of women to a greater extent than we do at present. Therefore I hope I have said enough to show that I do not approach the proposal of His Majesty's Government in any captious or needlessly critical spirit.
But, my Lords, I do ask myself whether it is quite clear that the Bill proceeds in the most appropriate way. It is certainly a very long step in advance. I heard the noble Earl describe it just now as a measure of a very modest character. I am always a little alarmed when I hear the Government describe their measures as of a modest character. I am almost sure that a Bill dealing with Ireland, upon the fate of which I need not comment, was described by its author as a modest and unassuming Bill. My noble friend behind me dealt at some length with the question of the Parliamentary suffrage, but some of the arguments of the noble Earl opposite, if pushed to their legitimate conclusion, would, I think, go far towards actually introducing women into the other House of Parliament. It would tax one's ingenuity to frame a list of the measures that come before Parliament in which women are not interested. They have a great and a very legitimate interest in most of them, and we have to consider further developments.
After all, county councils are, you may fairly say, provincial parliaments, 1358 and a great deal of the business before them is business of a very important and commanding description, and I feel that the arguments which would justify the admission of women for all purposes as members of county councils would go very far indeed towards justifying not only a change with regard to the Parliamentary franchise, but even the admission of women to legislative powers. The Bill admits women to these councils with only one reservation, and that is that if a woman has the good fortune to become mayor she is not to be allowed to exercise judicial functions. I own that I am not entirely satisfied that the Bill does not go somewhat too far in this direction, and I would also like the House to consider whether there are not other points at which the Bill does not go far enough. If this Bill were to become law, unless I misunderstand its provisions, you would not have the slightest security that upon any county council in the United Kingdom there would be a single woman member. The Bill is an enabling Bill. On the other hand, in some counties you might have the council flooded by women.
Again, I ask, is it quite clear that by means of the proposals in this Bill you will obtain exactly the right sort of women as your assistants and advisers? We all listened with interest and amusement to the noble Earl's description of that ideal domestic woman whom he described as a kind of cross between a ministering angel and a maid-of-all-work. But, my Lords, putting that lady on one side, is it not likely that, if you make the only avenue to these county councils a political contest at an election, you will get women of the class who rather enjoy the hurly-burly of political life, but not those women who in a quieter and more unobtrusive manner devote themselves to the consideration of those important matters of detail which are now so well dealt with at our parish councils and boards of guardians?
I ask myself, then, whether there is no possible alternative to the procedure which this Bill proposes, and I own that I am attracted by the precedent afforded to us by the Education Act of 1902. Under that Act it is laid down that on all the education 1359 committees there must be a certain number of women. Now why should it be impossible to extend that procedure, and to say that not only upon education committees, but upon all committees dealing with business for which women have any particular aptitude, a certain number of women should have seats? I should like to have that question thoroughly considered as an alternative to the scheme of His Majesty's Government. Let us have more committees, let us have more women upon them, and let the arrangement be an obligatory one. That would enable you to obtain what you require, which is the co-operation and advice of women, without raising at every county council election this question of sex, which is, as a rule, discussed with so much angry feeling. That is my opinion as at present advised with regard to the Bill.
I ask myself how, when it comes to a division, shall I cast my vote. Regarding the Bill, as I do, as an announcement, an affirmation, of the principle that it is desirable that we should extend the opportunities now offered to women for taking part in the municipal affairs of the country, I feel that I cannot vote against it. I should be sorry, indeed, if a vote of this House were to have a result which would be interpreted in the country as an indication that your Lordships were indifferent or hostile to the object which I believe both the noble Earl opposite and I have equally at heart—I mean the giving of increased opportunities to women for rendering useful service in our municipal affairs. Therefore, my Lords, I shall give my vote in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill, but I earnestly hope that the noble Earl will consider the suggestion which I have made, and it would be extremely satisfactory to me if in the result we should decide, after the Bill has been read a second time, that it should be referred to a Select Committee which might be instructed, not to take evidence as to whether it was or was not desirable for women to be employed in this way, but inquire whether the scheme of His Majesty's Government, or the kind of procedure which I have ventured to suggest, is 1360 the most appropriate mode of arriving at the desired result.
§ *LORD JAMES OF HEREFORD
My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will be disposed to appreciate fully the tone of guidance which my noble friend Lord Lansdowne has given us, and there is scarcely one word he has uttered from which any of us would differ, except the momentous statement that he intends to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. I would ask my noble friend whether he has fully considered the effect of such a vote by your Lordships' House. I fully concur that the scope of women's influence might be well extended, but this could be done without causing her to become that party political citizen against which position many of us object. But what does the noble Marquess suggest? Apparently without considering the political consequences of giving a sanction to this Bill he says that after it has been read a second time he will suggest the appointment of a Select Committee. The Government may, however, object, and then we shall have no Committee. What will be our position then? I have three objections to the Bill as it stands. I object to the circumstances under which it has been introduced, I object to the effect of the provisions contained in it, and I object to the inevitable consequence of this Bill becoming law. As to the circumstances under which the Bill has been introduced, may I remind the noble Earl opposite that it was not mentioned in the King's Speech.
§ *LORD JAMES OF HEREFORD
I was speaking entirely from memory. At any rate we heard nothing of it until certain circumstances occurred. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne says that we may pass those circumstances by, and that they ought not to affect our judgment. I submit that they ought not to be passed by, first, because the persons to whom he was referring are the mothers of this Bill, and we have learnt from their conduct what to expect when women become party politicians. To my mind the conduct of these women in interfering 1361 with the free action of Parliament, and in endeavouring, by threats and such personal violence as they could command, to prevent Members of Parliament from exercising their free judgment, was a high crime and misdemeanour, which ought not to receive any approval from Parliament. Yet the Prime Minister is giving this Bill to those women as a concession; and that is a principle we ought not to ratify. I recollect that the loyal supporters of Mr. Gladstone were greatly tried when he stated that the blowing down of the walls of Clerkenwell Prison had created the Irish Land Bill. Many of us who were his ardent supporters doubted the wisdom of that statement, because it was capable of misunderstanding, and it probably produced injurious results. What are we doing now? We are admitting that if these women riotously assemble without the precincts of this House, and attend at the private houses of Ministers denouncing the action of the Party in power because their claims are not immediately recognised, they ought not to be punished, but to be rewarded by the granting to them of this great concession. I should like to ask the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council whether any single county or borough council has made a request for this measure.
§ *LORD JAMES OF HEREFORD
I do not think that question requires notice. If there had been any requests for this measure from these bodies the noble Earl would probably have heard of them. At no single meeting during the General Election was this question ever mooted. The fact is, there has been no public demand for the Bill, which has sprung from one cause only—namely, a want of agreement in the Cabinet on the subject of female suffrage. The result was that a compromise had to be effected, and this Bill is intended to be a compromise to satisfy the women who are clamouring for the Parliamentary franchise. As my noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury has stated, this is not the thin end of the wedge, it is the thick end of the wedge and the wedge 1362 altogether. If your Lordships accept this measure, making women eligible for the important position of Lord Mayor in great communities like Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham, where is the man who would be able successfully to argue against their fitness to exercise the Parliamentary franchise?
This is a matter in which the step forward becomes of the greatest importance. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne has told you how vast a step this is. I think that the inevitable consequences of it will be that the day upon which this Bill becomes law all arguments against the granting of the Parliamentary franchise to women will be sorely weakened, unless we wish to be illogical or to recall what we have done. We who oppose this Bill do not recognise the picture drawn by the President of the Council of the extraordinary Cinderella like lady who sits in the chimney-corner looking after her grandchildren. We know not the originals of that sketch. What is to be feared is that if we take away the position which woman has hitherto occupied, which has come to her from no artificial education, but from nature, if we transfer her from domestic into political life, not only will the change affect political parties and the whole of modern politics, but the homes and the happiness of every member of the community will be worsened by the transference.
I look with anxiety to women entering into these Party contests, which are fought out with great heat. Political meetings are held night after night, and there is the greatest excitement. Is the woman candidate when on the platform to be treated as men are treated? Is she to be attacked and to bear the inevitable consequences of being placed in that position? I hope not; but if she is it is a destruction of the position she has hitherto held. But if courtesy is to be expected to be displayed towards her, what is to become of her unfortunate opponent? I can imagine an unfortunate middle-aged man who has done his duty and understands political economy being opposed by a lady who may be all that fancy may depict. She is to stand there safe from criticism, while the unfortunate man is subjected to 1363 bitter personal attack. We are introducing an entirely new system. Let women enter into these Party political contests and secure increasing influence on the county and borough councils and then you may be sure that that which will have attracted them so much will attract them more, and in a little while we shall have them clamouring as of right—and as of logical right—for the privilege of being able to take their seats in the other House of Parliament. But at the same time I repeat our desire that their utility apart from the struggles of political life shall be encouraged and assisted, and in this direction my noble friend Lord Lansdowne will receive our loyal, even zealous, support.
*THE EARL OF MEATH
My Lords, eighteen years ago I had the honour of introducing a very similar Bill into your Lordships' House. I reintroduced the measure in 1890, and it was again introduced in 1891. In 1889 your Lordships rejected the Bill by 108 to twenty-three. The next year you rejected it by 119 to forty-five; that is to say, the minority had nearly doubled. In 1891 I was indisposed and unable to bring the Bill forward, but my place was taken by Lord Monkswell. Unfortunately the leaders of the Gladstonian Party in those days were not so sympathetic as the leaders of the Liberal Party appear to be on the present occasion, for they advised Lord Monkswell not to proceed with the Bill, and after that I thought it was advisable to allow time to elapse before moving again.
I am now very grateful indeed to His Majesty's Government for having taken the matter up, but at the same time I should like to associate myself with the noble and learned Earl, Lord Halsbury, in asking why the Bill was taken up at this particular moment. I hope it really does mean that His Majesty's Government have the Bill seriously at heart, but from the fact that they have never yet, if they could help it, introduced legislation in this House I have my suspicions that they are not over anxious about it. I was therefore very pleased indeed to hear such a sympathetic speech from the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, and, in a less degree, the speech of the noble and learned Earl, 1364 Lord Halsbury. The noble and learned Earl stated that he was not opposed to ladies occupying positions which should be able to control certain fields of influence in which they were particularly interested and calculated to do good, so long as they were on advisory boards. I was also pleased to hear the statement of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition that he intended not to vote against the Bill.
This attitude on both sides of the House is very different from their attitude on the last occasion when a similar Bill was before your Lordships. I recognise that, and I feel that the cause has gained enormously in those eighteen years, and probably all the more because the measure has not been brought before the House every year. The noble and learned Lord who spoke last asked whether any county council had taken action in urging Parliament to pass a Bill of this kind, and the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council did not seem to be certain on the point. I can tell both noble Lords that in five separate years the London County Council by large majorities petitioned Parliament to pass legislation permitting women to sit on that Council. I can only speak of the London County Council, because that is the only county council upon which I have ever myself sat.
Perhaps it may not be out of place to recall what induced me to bring forward a similar Bill to this in 1889. It will be in the recollection of your Lordships that in the year 1888 the Local Government Act was passed. That Act was to a certain extent a little doubtful in its terms as to whether or not women could sit on the county councils. When the election took place in that year Lady Sandhurst and Miss Cobden both stood and were elected respectively for the district of Bromley and Bow and the district of Brixton, and the same year the London County Council, by a higher majority almost than that by which any other alderman has been elected, appointed Miss Cons, who is well known as having taken a most active part in social work, to the position of alderman. Those three ladies remained on the London County Council for about nine months, and their fellow members had 1365 during that time an object lesson of how ladies behave on those bodies. The result was that, when it was found that these ladies could not legally sit we petitioned Parliament by an enormous majority to secure an amendment to the Act enabling ladies to do so.
During those nine months—and I regularly attended the meetings of the London County Council—I can assure your Lordships that those ladies, far from speaking frequently, only spoke on two or three occasions. On the other hand, they were most assiduous and attentive to committee work, and I remember that Miss Cons belonged to such a number of committees that her enormous energy was the subject of comment among the members. Even those who were opposed to women being allowed to sit on county councils acknowledged that these ladies during the time they were on the London County Council did a most useful work. I remember that on one occasion a committee had to inspect one of the buildings belonging to the Council. The committee walked through the building, saw everything, as they thought, and were perfectly satisfied that things were right. Towards the end of the day, however, it was noticed that one of the ladies was absent, and before we actually separated she reappeared and pointed out something excessively irregular which we men had all overlooked, and it was entirely owing to her that that matter was set right.
I feel that we must all agree with the noble Marquess that we ought to consider this from a strictly practical point of view. We must put out of our heads altogether questions of sentiment, and I am certain that the ladies who desire this reform would agree in that. If they come into public work they must put aside altogether questions of sentiment and sex, so far as treatment is concerned. They must expect to be treated in the same way as men—openly and without mincing matters. It is hard that the argument should be used in this House that because a certain number of lawless women have made themselves disagreeable therefore millions of their sex should be punished. These noisy women 1366 are absolutely repudiated by the mass of their own sex. Even the organisation which has been working for the Parliamentary vote for women has dissociated itself from these acts, and therefore it is somewhat hard that the whole mass of the women of the country should be punished for the acts of a few. Your Lordships have heard, far better than I can state them, from the lips of the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council the different social spheres of energy in which women can be occupied, but I do not remember his mentioning baby farms or industrial schools.
I would remind your Lordships that the position has altered a good deal during the last eighteen years. The Acts dealing with inebriates, shop hours, midwives, the employment of children, and the prevention of cruelty to children have all been passed during that time, and the question of the condition or the people has become a much more official one. It is much more under the powers of local bodies than it used to be, and the local bodies of the present day are largely associated with what was formerly considered private philanthropic work. Every year we are tending further in the direction of giving to local authorities more power to improve the condition of the people, in my opinion, rightly. I hope therefore that your Lordships will support His Majesty's Government by recording your votes in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ *LORD ALLENDALE
My Lords, I must ask for the indulgence of your Lordships in addressing the House for the first time, especially as I have so recently become a Member of this House. This Bill seems to me a simple and moderate Bill, and I am surprised that the noble and learned Earl who has moved its rejection was able to find so much material for his attack upon it. I had intended referring to the Bill which the noble Earl who has just sat down introduced in 1880, and to have read to your Lordships a few quotations from Hansard, but as Lord Meath is present I will not inflict any passages from his speech in that year upon him now, though I think much of what he then said would be very appropriate to this Bill, and a 1367 great advance in public opinion has taken place since 1889.
I am sorry, however, that the noble Earl Lord Meath questioned the sincerity of the Government in bringing in this measure. If the argument were admitted that a Bill of this sort should not be initiated in your Lordships' House I think you might almost say that no legislation of any kind should be initiated here, and that is an argument which those who oppose the existence of the House of Lords altogether might be very glad to use. I believe it had been the intention in the ordinary course that this measure should be introduced in the lower House, but, as your Lordships know, there is a great congestion of business there at the present time. I do not think the Government need offer any apology for initiating in this House a measure dealing, as this one does, with questions in which your Lordships are as much interested as any members of the community.
I consider this Bill, in spite of what has been said on the other side, a very simple and moderate Bill. What are the objections that have been raised? The chief argument of the noble and learned Earl who moved the rejection of the Bill and of Lord James was that which was anticipated by the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council—namely, the thin-end-of-the-wedge argument. The thin end of the wedge has already been inserted, for, as has already been pointed out, there are many questions with which women can deal on local authorities. They can sit on urban and rural district councils, on boards of guardians, and on parish councils, and the matters with which they can deal on these bodies are very important and numerous.
A question was raised as to whether there had been any petitions presented to Parliament in favour of this measure. The London County Council, as the noble Earl on the Cross Benches pointed out, has petitioned Parliament five or six times; the Durham County Council, the Oxford City Council, and the St. Pancras and Lewisham Borough Councils have several times petitioned Parliament in favour of this legislation, and I believe other authorities have done so. Petitions 1368 have been presented both to Parliament and to the Local Government Board in favour of the proposal. I cannot sec how this measure, if it is given a Second Reading, as I hope it will be, can, in any way, drive in the wedge, and open the block for the Parliamentary franchise for women. Personally I should very much deprecate such a proposal, but I would remind the noble and learned Earl who has moved the rejection of this Bill, that so far as any encouragement has been given to this proposal in the country it has largely emanated from those on his own side in politics. I believe—though I speak under correction—that the late Lord Salisbury made no secret of being in favour of this proposal, very likely for Party reasons, and Mr. Balfour, I think, also supports woman's suffrage. I understand that a good many members of the Conservative Party support the proposal because they think, rightly or wrongly, that it would assist their Party politically.
But, however that may be, I have voted in another place against the Women's Franchise Bill, and I should certainly deprecate any proposal of that sort. It is rather rash to prophesy, and we do not know what is in store for us, or whether candidates for Parliamentary honours and Members of Parliament will in future be more amenable to "peaceful persuasion," or the more violent methods which have been witnessed recently in the precincts of this House, but I think it will be quite time enough to deal with any proposal for the Parliamentary franchise for women when the demand takes practical shape. This Bill merely empowers the election to the local bodies of those who are quite competent to assist in the administration of their work, and I believe it is the firm conviction of a very large majority of the people of this country, without distinction of Party, that women can do very helpful work on those bodies. I therefore hope your Lordships will give this measure a Second Reading.
*THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTH-WARK
My Lords, when we are considering this matter I think we should bear in mind that the majority of the bodies with which we are dealing are not those stately county councils with which, in many of the shires of England, your 1369 Lordships arc familiar, but those bodies in our large towns upon whose administration so large a proportion of the welfare of the working-classes depends. It is, I think, incontestable that in many towns, from their social circumstances the number of people who, by education, leisure, and detachment from the engrossing demands of business, are eligible to carry on the work of the council in all its branches of administrative philanthropy, if I may so call it, is very limited, and it is therefore surely unwise not to enlist the valuable and willing reinforcement which women can bring.
Reference has been made to the very important speech which was made on a former occasion by the late Lord Salisbury. But the noble Earl who quoted it has not referred to what, to my mind, was the most striking passage of all, coming from one to whom no one would venture to attach the epithet hysterical. The noble Marquess said that—What touch there is, what contact there is, between the working-classes and the classes that are above them, apart from matters of business, passes almost entirely through the hands of women.If that is true, it is a very strong argument for not leaving these women entirely outside official ranks. The late Lord Salisbury also said, speaking of women—Their presence on such bodies would be one of the highest, most constant, and most reliable stimulants to true and honest and unflagging administration of the law.I think those are most weighty words, and I believe the truth of the facts lies with them.
It is very natural that in such a debate as this our old friend the thin end of the wedge should appear. It would be very unwise to throw into the arms of the noisy persons to whom allusion has been made, whose objects and whose methods I equally dislike, the thoughtful and accomplished women who are doing this service. I am certain that many of us who are very anxious to see this Bill pass are not thinking in any degree of any bargain with that party to which I have alluded; we are not thinking even of the rights of women; but we are thinking of the well-being of the community. Great testimony has been paid to the services of women, and I wish to see an enlarged sphere of usefulness for them in public life.
1370 Then comes the question whether a place should be given to them by election or whether they should be co-opted. Unfortunately, whichever course you adopt, you will be liable to the danger of the method working in a merely political sense. I think I shall be confirmed by those who know more about the matter when I say that in the case of the appointment of alderman the expectation which was at first entertained was that the position would give a very happy opportunity for the introduction into local bodies of persons who would not go through the turmoil of an election, but whose presence would add to the efficiency of the authority; but, as a matter of fact, persons have, as a rule, been nominated as aldermen upon strictly political grounds. I do not think you are getting rid of that danger by adopting one method instead of the other. I might mention that in some cases women have stood for boards of guardians on distinctly non-political platforms and have succeeded in winning election. If women are elected to these public bodies in their own right they naturally have considerably greater influence than if they are merely co-opted.
The argument used with regard to Parliament ignores this difference, that these councils, though they may be little parliaments in their different spheres, have, if I may say so, an even more important side. I refer to the great administrative functions which are in their hands. They deal directly with persons and things. The members have, e.g, to go down and see houses which are said to be insanitary, and it is in such matters as this that it is important that the women who attend to these duties should have been directly elected to that position by the ratepayers. I cannot help recalling an instance of a lady known to myself who was the first to be nominated to a board of guardians in a northern town. She was a refined lady and possessed a large amount of common sense. On the first issue on which she tried to move something she was very nearly being left in a minority of one, except that one gentleman, perhaps more chivalrous than the others, decided to vote with her, although he did not agree with her, in order to prevent that happening. But that lady subsequently obtained a position of great importance 1371 and influence on the board because she became an elected member of it.
If a woman is elected to a body she can deal much more effectively with the officers, and that is an important point. A matron or a superintendent at the head of a council's institution, not perhaps a person of the highest extraction or refinement, considers carefully whether the lady who visits the institution has any influence over his or her future, or whether she is merely a semi-official philanthropist. Therefore, if the alternative method of co-option is adopted, I feel that we shall not have done so much for utilising the valuable cooperation of women. I will only add that I hold these views though my own feeling is strong against female suffrage; and though I feel very strongly that the Government have been unwise and immoderate in allowing a provision to be included under which women could be elected to the chair of a county council or the mayoralty of a borough. That seems to be to go beyond the scope of the arguments which have been addressed to your Lordships.
§ LORD BELPER
My Lords, I have no intention of detaining the House at any length, but there are one or two considerations with regard to this Bill which I do not think have been put forward. I was rather surprised to hear the noble Earl who introduced this measure, and I think other speakers, treat the Bill as if the two bodies with which it deals had the same or similar powers. Now, what is the fact? The subjects on which it would be most desirable to have the assistance of women are admitted to be housing, sanitation, and questions of that sort. Although borough councils have considerable powers in regard to these, and for that reason it might be very desirable to have women on those bodies, county councils have no powers whatever in regard to these particular matters. Their powers have been given to the district and urban councils, and these bodies already possess the privilege of having women sitting upon them to assist in those questions in which, by general consent, it is admitted to be desirable that women should have some voice.
If the powers of county councils are considered it will be found that they do not deal with nearly so many questions 1372 on which the assistance of women would be useful as some of the borough councils. Take sanitary matters, which have been dealt with by more than one speaker. County councils have no direct powers with regard to sanitary matters, and they have no initiatory powers at all in this direction. They have powers of supervision and of direction, but it is so very difficult at the present time for county councils to carry them out at all effectively that the County Councils Association is making a very strong protest with regard to the position of county councils on that question. With regard to the other points, no doubt the presence of women might be extremely desirable on committees dealing with the management of lunatics and lunatic asylums. As far as my experience goes, those committees would certainly be improved by the co-option, not only of women, but possibly of other members, because it is very difficult on some county councils to get the busiest and most useful members to attend these committees. Then there is the question of the administration of the Midwives Act, and in connection with that it is obviously desirable that there should be some power whereby women could assist in that work.
I must say I sympathise very largely with the view which was expressed by the noble Marquess the Loader of the Opposition when he favoured the co option of women on to the committees on which they could do the most valuable work. It is not really a question of wishing to reject the Bill. As it is now, it is difficult for anybody who wants to get on to a county council to find a seat at all, and it is not likely that women would easily be able to secure election. The precedent in the Education Act, by which on education committees provision must be made for a certain number of women, has been found to work excellently, because those women most suited fur the work have been able to be selected. How the suggestion of adopting that process as an alternative to this Bill can be carried oat it is difficult to say; but I would venture to ask whether, if a Select Committee is appointed to consider the matter, the Government will agree that the Committee should have power to consider whether the alternative suggested by my noble friend the Leader 1373 of the Opposition would not carry out what we desire better than the provisions in this Bill. If you can put ladies on in that way it is not necessary to abolish the disqualification that women are at present under of not being able to sit on county councils.
The remarks I have made are entirely with the view of securing the best local government we can. There is no other feeling in my mind. I do not think that if you secure the co-operation of women on the particular committees of county councils on which their assistance would be valuable you will do anything to bring the day nearer, which I hope will not come at all events for a long time, when women will seek to have either the Parliamentary franchise or to sit in the other House of Parliament. I should like to ask, as a matter of order, what is the best procedure to get this alternative suggestion considered? I should have great difficulty myself in voting for the Second Reading of the Bill, because I do not wish to see the disqualification which women are under from sitting on county councils done away with. I express no opinion with regard to borough councils, but if the Bill is read a second time I shall be prepared, unless some arrangement is made with a view to having the alternative suggestion considered, to move in Committee that county councils be excluded from the Bill. I hope the Government will be able to express some opinion as to how this end could be attained, and if the Bill is read a second time and goes further I trust there will be an opportunity of having this point thoroughly considered.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I desire to say a few words in cordial support of the noble Marquess's suggestion that this Bill should be read a second time and that we should subsequently consider in what way it may require amendment. The issues before us are not complex although the question is most important, and I cannot do otherwise than support, as I always have supported in this House, a Bill which gives true expression to what I am perfectly certain is the instinct of the community as a whole—namely, to enlist the services of women for the benefit of the community. No greater 1374 mistake could be made than to think this is a question of the rights or wrongs of women. To my mind that is not the question; we are thinking rather of the rights or wrongs of the community. I was surprised to hoar the noble Lord who has just sat down give a list of duties devolving on county councils in connection with which he said the help of women would be exceedingly desirable, and then state his intention to move to omit county councils from the Bill.
§ LORD BELPER
My point was that the greater part of the duties were duties in which women would neither be useful nor probably wish to take part; but I mentioned two matters on which I thought their assistance would be desirable, and I suggested that they might be able to take part in those matters by being co-opted on to the committees.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
County councils have nursing work, the work of midwives, and the work of infant life protection in their hands. Infant life protection is one of the specific duties assigned to county councils, and one of the reasons why that particular Act has not proved as operative as it should has been the lack of women to give effect to it. This is one of the arguments which seem to me strongly in favour of our going forward in this matter. Speaking as one who has had a great deal to do with administrative work in which women have been concerned, I repudiate in the strongest way the idea that they have proved themselves impracticable and hysterical. There are many things in municipal administration which women would do better than men, and they would also do a number of things which men do not attempt to do. I most cordially hope that the Bill will be read a second time.
§ *VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, I have acted for so many years in another place with my noble friend Lord James on the general subject, that I am anxious to address a few observations to your Lordships with regard to the course I propose to take on this Bill. I think there is a universal agreement in your Lordships' House, as I believe there would be in the country, in favour of enabling women to take a greater part in the work of county and borough councils in some 1375 way or other. It is unnecessary to repeat the matters with which such councils deal in which women could do useful and admirable work for the community, for those have been already alluded to by noble Lords who are well acquainted with that work. But I am bound to say I do not think His Majesty's Government can be congratulated on the precise manner in which they have chosen to deal with this question.
I hope I shall not be considered to view His Majesty's Government with incurable suspicion, yet I do think that in introducing this Bill it is just possible that they may have had the hope of placating some very foolish and disagreeable persons who have lately been causing them and their friends no inconsiderable annoyance. I also think that the argument which the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council addressed to your Lordships in defence of the precise mode which the Bill adopts was not a very strong one. He admitted that the Bill perpetuated existing anomalies in the manner in which women are admitted to vote in municipal and county elections, and extended those anomalies to them when sitting as members of those councils under this Bill. I do not think that His Majesty's Government can contend that this is anything like a complete dealing with the question.
But the noble Earl went further. He explained to us some powerful reasons for objecting to the grant of the Parliamentary franchise to women—he did not say he shared those reasons, but he put them forward as strong reasons—and he referred to many matters with which Parliament deals and with which women have no special concern. But, my Lords, are there no matters with which county and borough councils deal with which women have no special concern? Certainly there are. Of what service could a woman possibly be on a watch committee? Is it likely that the ratepayers would be benefitted by the presence on finance committees of women who have not studied finance and who are liable to generous impulses in the matter of expenditure? There are, on the other hand, important matters in connection with which women might do useful service. Why could not His Majesty's Government have acted in the manner suggested by my noble friend who leads this side 1376 of the House? By not doing so they have given very reasonable ground for the argument addressed to the House by the noble and learned Lord, Lord James of Hereford, to the effect that, if this Bill became law in its present shape, it would afford a very powerful argument to those who are in favour of extending the Parliamentary franchise to women. It is not, of course, a franchise Bill, but it would be said that Parliament had placed women in a position to be elected members of county and borough councils which deal with various matters in which women have no special interest, and therefore ought to give them the Parliamentary franchise, and certainly it would afford a very powerful argument to those who would be in favour, if the Parliamentary franchise were extended to women, of allowing women to be elected Members of the House of Commons or to sit in your Lordships' House. I confess that if we were now dealing with the Third Reading of the Bill I should certainly record my vote against it on the ground I have named. But recognising that it would be a misfortune if this House did not attempt to do something in the way of increasing the power of women to give useful service to the public on county and borough councils, I shall vote for the Second Reading, believing it to be possible, if it goes to a Select Committee, as has been suggested, to alter the Bill in accordance with my views. I would merely add, in conclusion, that my vote does not depend on the view which His Majesty's Government may take of the possibility of the course being adopted which my noble friend on this side has suggested. The Bill is in the hands of your Lordships. If the Committee to which it is sent comes to conclusions different from those of His Majesty's Government, it is open to the Government not to proceed further with the Bill, but at any rate your Lordships will have given them a chance of dealing with the matter and will not have prevented it from being dealt with by rejecting the Bill.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I should not have intervened in this debate but for the fact that I cannot entirely agree with my noble friends as to the manner in which they have received the Bill. From my own 1377 point of view I shall cordially vote for the Second Reading, reserving, naturally, my right in Committee to suggest any alteration which I may consider to be of advantage.
I associate myself entirely with those noble Lords who have declared that this Bill will be of great advantage to the country as a whole. I have been absolutely consistent in the line I am taking, for I was the only Conservative Member who supported Lord Salisbury in opposition to the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Dunraven, excluding women from seats on the London borough councils which superseded the old vestries. My reason for supporting the late Lord Salisbury on that occasion was that my experience as Chairman of the London School Board had taught me the enormous value of women's services in local administration, and I was able to pay a tribute also to their lucidity, brevity, and good judgment in debate. We derived considerable advantage from the presence of ladies on the London School Board. During my term of office as Chairman of that Board I visited many crowded parts of London which were represented by those ladies, and I there saw the esteem in which they were held, the good work they were doing, and the influence they exercised over the managers and teachers. Their influence and power for good were greatly enhanced by the fact that they wore directly elected and represented constituencies upon that Board. It was that position which gave them their influence and prestige.
I do not understand why women should not take the same useful part in county councils. If they serve on committees only they lack the status and prestige of representatives of constituencies, and they are subjected to the drawback of being unable to speak in the full council. I differ from the noble Viscount who spoke last as to the disqualification of women to give a sound opinion on finance I think it is the women who generally manage the house books. In my opinion, where women are concerned their interests should be supervised by women. That is the main reason why I support the Bill. There are a great number of women under the control of local authorities, and it is here that a sphere of usefulness would be be open to women on these 1378 bodies. Take, for instance, baby farms, which are under the control of county councils. If there is one portion of the community which should be supervised in the highest degree by women it is those responsible for baby farms. Yet under our present system there is no woman on the London County Council to exercise that supervision.
Allusion has been made to the housing of the working classes and public lodging houses for which the London County Council are responsible. I venture to think that it would add very materially to efficiency if there were women on the County Council specially told off to supervise these matters. Then there is the question of the prevention of cruelty to children, which is taken up in every county in England. In this matter the women of England have taken a prominent and foremost part, yet the by-laws are framed by county councils. In the framing of these rules it would obviously be of great advantage if there were women on the county councils to render assistance.
Only a week ago I was told of an incident which shows the value of women on boards of guardians. A number of guardians, including a woman, wore inspecting a workhouse school. The male guardians noticed nothing, but suddenly the lady member observed a little boy standing tenderly on one foot. She asked what was the matter, and the mistress told her that the boy suffered from chilblains. The lady, however, insisted on the child taking off his boot, and she found that the foot of the stocking had been cut off. Carrying her investigations further she discovered that quite a number of stockings had been cut in this way to save the trouble of darning. I only mention this to your Lordships as one instance of the value of women on these bodies.
I do not think that if this measure becomes law it will tend in the direction of extending the Parliamentary franchise to women, to which I may say I am strongly opposed. I have always opposed the extension of the Parliamentary franchise to women, and I am convinced that I am not assisting to that end in supporting the Second Reading of this Bill. I have always held the view that if women were given the Parliamentary franchise they would in time secure seats 1379 in Parliament and become members of the Government, and we should eventually see a lady attaining the position so well occupied by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. In that matter there is no stopping the ball when you start it rolling, but I consider that the the question of the extension of the Parliamentary franchise is so entirely different from this measure that I shall cordially support the Second Reading.
§ THE MARQUESS OF NORTHAMPTON
My Lords, I rise to say but a very few words on this subject. I happen to be almost the only Member of your Lordships' House, with the exception of Lord Rosebery, who was on the first London County Council. I do not know whether your Lordships recollect that when the first County Council came into operation three ladies were elected as members and served with us for a certain length of time. I was then Chairman of the Housing of the Working Classes Committee, and two of the ladies were members of that committee. I should like to bear witness to the great usefulness of those two ladies in carrying out the work of that committee. They were the least talkative and the most active members, and they certainly knew more of the subject than the majority of the committee.
I also had experience of the work of ladies on other committees, and we found the same thing everywhere. They displayed ability, they were silent when silence was necessary, there was no volubility, and certainly the reverse of anything like hysteria. With regard to the suggestion that ladies should be co-opted on certain committees, I hope they will refuse to belong to any body unless they are given voting power. As to the question of finance, my experience is that almost the only economical people in this country are the ladies. If our national accounts had been in the hands of the ladies I am sure they would be in much better order than they are at present. In our own houses, who is the expensive one? Why, the husband always. And if you go down to another strata of society you find that the thrifty one is the wife. In my opinion it would be infinitely better that the people should he left free to choose their representatives from women for local councils.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I am very sorry to intervene, and I do not rise for the purpose of continuing this debate, but merely to ask a question which I hope the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will answer when he follows me. I want to know the reason why the introduction of this Bill has been so long delayed. Notice of the Bill was given in the King's Speech. As your Lordships know, we have not suffered from a plethora of work in this House. We have asked the noble Marquess over and over again to introduce Bills here, and he has in the most courteous and urbane manner given us a variety of reasons why that has been impossible. If it has been impossible to introduce this Bill before in this House, why is it possible now? In another place the Prime Minister has lately been giving a variety of reasons why some Bills have not been introduced and why other Bills have been introduced in a slipshod form. One reason given is that there has been want of time to prepare the Bills owing to the last autumn session. That reason at all events does not apply to this Bill. Another reason given is that there has been a difficulty in drafting Bills. That reason, again, does not apply to this Bill, which consists of very few words. Well, what is the reason? The Government know perfectly well that, owing to the Bill having been introduced on 12th June, whatever expedition your Lordships may use in passing the measure, it is impossible for it to become law. I am sure there is no member of His Majesty's Government who will say, in view of the confused and congested state of public business in another place, that it is possible for this Bill to become law this session, even if your Lordships should pass it through all its stages and send it down. The noble Earl the Lord President of the Council shakes his head. I should very much like to know the reason which makes him think that there is any probability of a Bill of this sort getting through the House of Commons before the middle of August, which is the time we are told Parliament is to rise. Can it possibly be that the members of His Majesty's Government are disunited on this subject? Does the noble Earl the Undersecretary for War support the Bill?
§ THE UNDER - SECRETARY OF STATE For WAR (The Earl of PORTSMOUTH)
I am a ladies' man to-night.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
I will not make a remark which is on the tip of my tongue, but will keep it to myself. But let me remind the noble Earl that when Lord Beauchamp moved this Bill or one very much like it in 1904, he was not a ladies' man. As he stated, he was a thorough Philistine in everything that related to persons whom he designated as political women. We all know that great changes are produced according to the part of the House in which one sits, and no doubt the noble Earl's changed position has produced this effect in his attitude. I conclude by asking the noble Marquess to tell us why he has not been able to introduce this Bill during the past three or four months, in the course of which we have been wanting something to do and have been refused it. And I want also to know, if it has not been possible to introduce it until now, why it has now been introduced when it cannot possibly pass this session.
*THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marquess of RIPON)
My Lords, on many of the points connected with this Bill I should be very willing indeed to rest upon the speeches which have been made by the noble Marquess opposite and by my noble friend the noble Marquess behind me. Those speeches were eminently practical, Lord Londonderry having had experience of women's work on the London School Board and Lord Northampton on the County Council. They were an answer, and a powerful answer, I think, to most of the objections that have been taken to this Bill, because they were the answer of experience.
But, my Lords, I cannot allow this debate to close without saying a few words on what fell from the noble Viscount opposite at the commencement of his speech. The noble Viscount said he had something of a suspicion—he put it very mildly, I quite admit—that the proceedings on the part of certain ladies, whose conduct I condemn as strongly as anyone in this House, had had something to do with the introduction of this Bill; and I think I hoard the noble and learned 1382 Earl who moved the rejection of the Bill use the word "bargain." The noble Viscount has fallen into an error, which is very natural, for this reason, that he was not in this country when Parliament began, and we have not had the advantage of seeing him here until quite lately. The fact is this. This Bill was mentioned in the King's Speech, and the proceedings of these ladies began after Parliament had assembled. Therefore the vague and gentle suspicion of the noble Viscount has no application whatever to the case.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
I have the noble Earl opposite to answer on that point. I am answering you at the moment, and will come to the other point afterwards. There are two forms of objection to this Bill. There is the objection of those who, like the noble and learned Earl who moved its rejection and my noble and learned friend Lord James of Hereford, object to this Bill because they think that it is a step, and a dangerous step, in the direction of that to which, at all events, my noble and learned friend Lord James has always been most vehemently opposed—namely, the granting of the Parliamentary franchise to women. Now, I venture to submit that in objecting to this Bill on that account those noble Lords make a mistake. Looking at the considerable number of local bodies upon which women are now enabled to sit, there is no real distinction between those bodies and county councils. You can draw a reliable distinction between county councils and the local bodies and Parliament, but I do not think it is wise for the opponents of the Parliamentary franchise for women on that account to oppose a reform which must inevitably come.
I know that your Lordships entertain a great respect for the opinion of the late Lord Kimberley, and I will tell you what was his view upon this question. He was a strong opponent of giving the Parliamentary franchise to women, but he always voted for a Bill of this kind; and he has often said to me that his reason for doing so was this, that he thought that where you gave the franchise you could not upon any solid ground prevent these who had the right 1383 of election from sitting in the body to which they could elect. Therefore, as he did not wish to see the admission of women to the House of Commons, he, on this very ground, opposed the extension of the Parliamentary franchise to women. That view I commend to the consideration of noble Lords opposite. I think it is a very sound and solid view. I do not say how far I myself agreed with it; that is not the point at the present moment, but the distinction is clear, and it is one upon which those noble Lords who do not wish to go further can rest. But that you can rest permanently on a distinction between a district council and a county council I do not believe.
I should very much like to have heard what are the duties of county councils for the discharge of which you think women unfit. My noble friend behind me told the House of many duties which he thought women were eminently qualified to discharge. We have not, on the other hand, heard any distinct declaration as to those duties which women are thought unfit to discharge, and the testimony of the noble Marquess opposite, Lord Londonderry, to their fitness is founded on a most valuable experience. The London School Board, over which the noble Marquess presided, and on which women sat, had to deal with questions of finance and other matters, and he has told you the result of their presence. According to his testimony it was altogether satisfactory. I think he fully demonstrated that women were in no respect as members of the London School Board inferior to men. Then, my Lords, why do you object to allow them to sit on county councils? My noble friend Lord James said something about hysteria.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
I beg the noble and learned Lord's pardon. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Halsbury, is not in his place, and therefore I have the greater difficulty in alluding to him. I know what the expression means, and I regret its use. I would give your Lordships my own experience as a former chairman of a board of guardians to which four ladies 1384 were constantly re-elected, doing the best possible work upon that board. They were not restricted to dealing with matters which related to the female paupers; they dealt with everything, including finance, and rendered constant and able service. There were many cases relating to the relief of the poor which might have excited an hysterical temperament, but those ladies were as careful of the interests of the ratepayers, as determined to resist improper grants of out-relief, and as firm in the right and proper administration of the Poor Law as any of the men who sat on that board; and that is my answer to those who tell me that you cannot put ladies on county councils because of hysterical tendencies.
That brings me to the proposal which my noble friend Lord Lansdowne has made. I listened to my noble friend's speech with deep interest. I thought it eminently skilful. It was one of the best instances of careful balancing that I have over seen—so skilful that until the last moment I did not know on which side of the rope the noble Marquess was going to descend. The noble Marquess descended the rope on the side of a Select Committee. His alternative to our proposal is that women should be able to sit by co-option upon more committees of county and borough councils. But that is a solution of the difficulty which His Majesty's Government could not accept. I do not think it would prove in any way satisfactory. While women sit on education committees at present, and are able to defend their views and persuade members of the committee to accept them, they are unable, when the reports of the committee come before the council, to support their propositions there. That is a most erroneous and ignominous prohibition. It diminishes their utility and puts them in a position which it is not at all right they should occupy.
I think my noble friend Lord Londonderry took the same view. He appeared to feel, from his experience, that it was not right and fair that these ladies should be put on committees and then be precluded from discussing the reports of the committees when they came before the full council. For this reason there is no probability of the Government being able to accept the proposal of my 1385 noble friend Lord Lansdowne, and that proposal certainly does not come under the title of the Bill. I will not say whether the House has power so to alter the title as to get rid of the difficulty, but if you adopt that system you produce an entirely new Bill. It would not be the Bill you have on the Table now, and the proceeding of cutting out the whole of the Bill and putting in an entirely different title and different clauses would, I think, be in itself a proceeding open to objection. But it is not on that ground that I object.
I object to the proposal because it does not put women in the position which in accordance with the judgment of the Government they ought to be put in. They should occupy a position on the county and borough councils similar to that which they occupy on urban and rural district councils and other bodies. Is the work of an urban district council so entirely distinct from the work of a county council? It is similar in extent and nature. You admit women freely to the one and exclude them from the other. That is a distinction which cannot be maintained. I cannot think that the false position in which women are put by that distinction will be removed by the proposal of my noble friend Lord Lansdowne, and it will be, I imagine, my duty to offer my opposition to the proposal for a Select Committee.
Now, my Lords, as to Lord Camperdown's inquiry why the Bill was not brought in before, I may say that we were at first very anxious that the Bill should be introduced in the House of Commons. I have always been of opinion—I know it is an opinion which your Lordships will not agree with—that it was unwise for a Liberal Government to bring in Bills in this House; but as we are very often pressed to do so we are glad to do so when there is an opportunity. We waited, and immediately after Whitsuntide, when the state of business in the House of Commons was known to be unfavourable to its introduction there, the measure was brought in in your Lordships' House, and it was at the request of Lord Halsbury that it was
§ not proceeded with immediately. Lord Halsbury requested my noble friend to put off the Bill for more than a fortnight, and in compliance with the wish of the noble and learned Earl that was done. Therefore a part of the delay that has taken place is due to the courtesy of my noble friend behind me, and not to any malign desire on the part of the Government. My noble friend also, I think, said there was no chance of the Bill passing. If the Bill goes down to the House of Commons there is every chance of its passing. There is always a period at the end of the session when your Lordships are considering the Bills sent up from that House when the Bills can be taken from this House, and I venture to think that if your Lordships will send down this Bill to the House of Commons it will become law.
§ EARL CAWDOR
My Lords, it may be convenient that I should mention the course some of us on this Bench propose to take in consequence of the statement which has just been made by the noble Marquess. We propose to adopt the plan which was foreshadowed by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn. The Bill is clearly one which is under the control of your Lordships, and we suggest, therefore, that the better course would be that we should read the Bill a second time, and at the next stage suggest the appointment of the proposed Committee and take the sense of the House upon it.
§ LORD JAMES OF HEREFORD
I would like to ask my noble friend what will happen supposing the Government refuse to take part in that Committee. Are we, in that event, to have a one-sided Committee?
§ EARL CAWDOR
I cannot answer that Question now. We propose to move for a Committee, and then be guided by what takes place.
§ On Question, whether "now" shall stand part of the Motion, their Lordships divided:—Contents, 111; Not-Contents, 33.1387
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Ripon, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Bath, M.|
|Loreburn, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Grafton, D.||Lansdowne, M.|
|Crewe, E. (L. President.)||Wellington, D.||Salisbury, M.|
|Ancaster, E.||St. Aldwyn, V.||Granard, L. (E. Granard.)|
|Brownlow, E.||Bangor, L. Bp.||Hamilton of Dalzell, L.|
|Camperdown, E.||Hereford, L. Bp.||Hastings, L.|
|Carlisle, E.||Peterborough, L. Bp.||Hay, L. (E. Kinnoul.)|
|Carrington, E.||Ripon, L. Bp.||Hemphill, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Southwark, L. Bp.||Hindlip, L.|
|Cawdor, E.||Winchester, L. Bp.||Joicey, L.|
|Chesterfield, E.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Chichester, E.||Lawrence, L.|
|Craven, E.||Allendale, L.||Ludlow, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Armitstead, L.||Mendip, L. (V. Clifden)|
|Granville, E.||Barnard, L.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|Jersey, E.||Basing, L.||Muncaster, L.|
|Lytton, E.||Boston, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Bowles, L. (E. Strathmore and Kinghorn.)||O'Hagan, L.|
|Mayo, E.||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Morley, E.||Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.)||Pirrie, L.|
|Orford, E.||Brassey, L.||Poltimore, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)||Rayleigh, L.|
|Portsmouth, E.||Burghclere, L.||Reay, L.|
|Romney, E.||Castletown, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Russell, E.||Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.)||Robertson, L.|
|Stradbroke, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Sanderson, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Clinton, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Waldegrave, E.||Colchester, L.||Saye and Sele, L.|
|Wicklow, E.||Colebrooke, L.||Sinclair, L.|
|Courtney of Penwith, L.||Sudley. L (E Arran.)|
|Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)||Teynham, L.|
|Althorp, V. (L. Chamberlain.)||De L'Isle and Dudley, L.||Tweeddale, L. (M. Tweeddale.)|
|Churchill, V.||De Mauley, L.||Tweedmouth, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Denman, L. [Teller.]||Waleran, L.|
|Falmouth, V.||Ellenborough, L.||Weardale. L.|
|Hill, V.||Farrer, L.||Wenlock, L.|
|Milner, V.||Fitzmaurice, L.||Winterstoke, L.|
|Portman, V.||Forester, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Richmond and Gordon, D.||Westmeath, E.||James, L. [Teller.]|
|Kintore, L. [E. Kintore.]|
|Hertford, M.||Atkinson, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Balfour, L. [Teller.]||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Abingdon, E.||Blythswood, L.||Mowbray, L.|
|Carnwath, E.||Brougham and Vaux, L.||Newton, L.|
|Clarendon. E.||Burton, L.||Ponsonby, L (E. Bessborough.)|
|Coventry, E.||Calthorpe, L.||Rothschild, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D.Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Cottesloe, L.||Savile, L.|
|Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)||Stratheden and Campbell, L.|
|Feversham, E.||Hatherton, L.||Wemyss L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Malmsbury, E.||Heneage, L.|
|Shaftesbury, E.||Hylton, L.|
On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative; Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.