HL Deb 17 June 1907 vol 176 cc68-100

Order of the Day for the House being put into Committee read.

Moved, "That the House do now resolve itself into Committee."— (The Earl of Crewe.)


who had given notice, on the. Motion that the House do now resolve itself into Committee, to move— That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee; and that it be an instruction to the said Committee to consider and report whether the co-operation of women in certain matters of local government entrusted to county and borough councils might not be more effectively secured by methods other than that of election by the council as aldermen or by the ratepayers as councillors, said, My Lords, in rising to move the Amendment which stands in my name, I should like to make clear what my object is. I wish, in the first place, to give an opportunity for the Bill to be further considered as to some of its details, and especially as to what is likely to be the result if the Bill passes into law. In addition to that, my object is to allow any alternative proposals for securing the co-operation of women in county and borough council work to be considered at the same time as the Bill is considered— in fact to secure that the Select Committee, if it is appointed, should have full powers to deal with the whole question, and arrive at a conclusion as to the most effective way of securing our object—namely, that those women who would be useful in county and borough council work should be able to give those authorities their assistance.

Now, my Lords, let me say that I intend moving this Instruction to the Committee because I believe it is the correct mode of securing my object. Although the matters which I wish referred to the Committee are not exactly on the lines which the Bill proposes, they are entirely cognate matters and quite in accord with the purpose for which the Bill has been brought in. It might be argued by those who had only seen the figures of the Division on the Second Heading that when a Bill is carried by a majority of more than three to one there is not much necessity for a Select Committee or for further inquiry; but any one who had read the debate which took place upon the Bill and had observed the drift of the speeches that were delivered on that occasion would, I think, agree that there were a considerable number of Members on this side of the House, who, although they were very unwilling to vote against any measure of which the principle was to obtain the assistance of women on county and borough councils, yet felt very strongly that there might be alternative modes in which that might be better secured. I need only refer to one speech—that of the noble Marquess the Leader of this side of the House. The speech of the noble Marquess was entirely in sympathy with the object of the Bill, though he did suggest considerations as to whether that object might not be brought about in a somewhat different manner.

The two points which I ask the House to consider are, in the first place, what is really the business which county and borough councils have to transact in connection with which the opinion of women would be really valuable; and, in the second place, what is the best way of securing the co-operation of those women whose services would be really useful on those councils. I allude to the first point because the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, in summing up the debate the other night, remarked that he did not think any speaker had enumerated those matters which county councils had cognisance of but in connection with which the services of women would not be useful.

Taking the principal matters with which county councils have to deal and the committees which are appointed for a special purpose, I naturally turn, first, to the Standing Joint Committee, which has the administration of the police and also has to deal with the arrangements for the administration of justice. Notwithstanding the remarks which were made by the noble Marquess on the other side of the House, I venture to think that those two questions are eminently questions on which a woman, if she had a seat on the committee, would not bring any very new point of view to bear. As a matter of fact, the Government have themselves recognised this by providing in the Bill that, although a woman may be competent to preside over a county council, she should not be competent to be a justice of the peace. Then there are the committees dealing with the management of roads, highways, bridges, and county buildings. I do not think that it can be said that the presence of women would add anything to the value of the deliberation of such committees. Next I take the committee which deals with diseases of animals and matters of that kind, on which I think it is obvious a woman would have no place.

Then I come to two important committees—the Parliamentary Committee, which deals with many different subjects which are constantly arising; I think in my own county there has never been a year in which the Parliamentary Committee has not had serious work to do defending the interests of the ratepayers in connection with measures brought into Parliament—and the Boundaries Committee, which deals with the representation of the parishes on the smaller local authorities, with the boundaries of the county, with election areas and matters of that kind, of which at all events women can have had no special experience. Then there is the Food and Drugs and Weights and Measures Committees, which deal with very important matters in the administration of the Acts in connection with those matters. I do not for a moment wish to assert that a competent woman having a seat on a county council might not sit on those two committees with advantage, but still the work done by those committees is not of such a character as to cause anyone to say that a woman ought to be elected for the purpose of taking part in it. Lastly—and lastly only because I do not wish to weary the House with further enumeration—I take the Finance Committee. Although the noble Marquess who sits opposite (the Marquess of Northampton) alluded to the thrift of many women and to the fact that in the household probably the greatest economy is practised by the wife, I am bound to say I hardly see the bearing of that argument on the duties of a County Finance Committee. The members of a Finance Committee have a great variety of questions to deal with, and questions of particular importance owing to the large sums of money passing through the hands of the council, especially for educational purposes. The best means of borrowing money, the question of the organisation of the staff, the arrangement as to scale of salaries, questions of county rating—these and various other duties have to be undertaken by the Finance Committee, the members of which require experience in finance and special training. Again I do not suggest that a woman might not have a seat on that committee, but I do not think that a Finance Committee would come under the heading of those committees on which it could be said that the services of women would be exceptionally useful.

Then I come to the two committees I mentioned the other night on which the services of competent women would, as regards some of the duties, be extremely useful—the Asylums Committee, especially where there are female lunatics, and the Health and Sanitary Committee. As far as sanitary matters are concerned the duties of county councils are only those of supervision; they have no initiatory powers. Those powers are in the hands of district councils, and it is to those councils that women should look if they desire to take part in sanitary duties and in questions concerned with the housing of the working classes. As to the supervision of midwives, I consider it would be of great advantage in this work to have the assistance of women, and I venture to think that the first thing they would find out, if elected to such a committee, would be how limited and imperfect are the powers given to county councils for that purpose.

The question of infant life protection was referred to the other day by the most rev. Primate. I ventured to make a slight interjection of non-agreement when the most rev. Primate referred to county councils having jurisdiction over that matter. The London County Council, it is true, have jurisdiction over the whole of the county of London with regard to this matter. In boroughs the authority is the borough council, and in all the counties throughout the country the authority is the board of guardians. Women can already sit on boards of guardians. Therefore, if a woman seeks a seat on a public authority for the purpose of dealing with this matter the board of guardians is the authority to which she should look. Probably the most rev. Primate was thinking of the London County Council when he alluded to county councils having jurisdiction in the matter, and I had in my mind when I interrupted him county councils generally throughout the country.

I freely admit that there are a very large number of other matters which conic within the purview of borough councils in the administration of which women might usefully be asked to take part. There are the questions of sanitation, housing, and infant life protection; and other Acts have been passed in the carrying out of which the assistance of women would be very often extremely useful. I am bound to say I very much regret that county and borough councils- are treated in this Bill on the same terms, and that no distinction has been made between the duties of the two bodies.

I now come to a point of considerable importance—snamely, what would be the effect of this Bill if passed. Theoretically, it is admirable to enable women to sit, not only on committees, but also on the councils themselves, and take part in the debates. The question arises whether the women you want to get on county councils to take part in these duties would be able to secure seats. At the present time there is great competition, and no man has a chance of a seat on a county council unless there happens to be a vacancy in his own division or someone retires in his favour; and I doubt, looking to the fact that they would have to face a contested election in a large number of cases and address a considerable number of meetings, whether those women who are doing the best work in connection, for example, with education would be willing to stand the contest, or, if they did, whether they would be successful in securing election.

The alternative mode suggested in the course of the Second Reading debate— namely, that of co-opting women on to particular committees for which they had special qualifications—would at all events result in securing the, best women for the work with which they were specially competent to deal. The experience we have had on education committees has shown that that process has been most successful. Ladies are | giving up a great deal of their time to this work, and have been found of great assistance in the consideration of the vast number of details which come under the head of education.

There is one other point I should like this Select Committee, if appointed, to consider. I think it would be very interesting if we could know how far the privilege which has been given to women of sitting on district councils and boards of guardians, more especially on district councils, has been availed of; and I think if the Committee could get a return of that sort it would be some guide to us as to what would be likely to be the result in regard to county councils. A district council is comparatively easy to get on to, com- pared with a county council; the appointment is only by a parish, and in many cases women would secure election without any contest whatever; and those bodies have to deal with many other duties in which the co-operation of women would be useful. I took the trouble to ascertain what was the case in my own county—the county of Nottingham—with regard to urban and rural district councils. That county has a typical population, part of it being rural and a considerable part urban. There are twelve urban district councils in Nottingham and ten rural district councils. They represent a population of over a quarter of a million. Yet I find that there is not a single woman sitting on an urban or rural district council throughout the whole of that county. I do not know what is the case with regard to other counties, but I think that is rather a suggestive statement; and it would be worth while at all events to see if in other counties women have taken advantage of the powers now possessed by them of sitting on these smaller councils, which are nearer their own homes and would take up much less time than the county council.

There is another matter which I am obliged to bring before the House, and which I think ought to have considerable weight with your Lordships in deciding whether or not to send this Bill to a (Select Committee. On Saturday last I received what purports to be a copy of a letter addressed to the Prime Minister by a number of ladies on the education committees of county and borough councils. That letter contains such serious statements with regard to this matter, some of them totally contrary to what my own experience has been, that I feel bound to bring it before the House. It appears that this letter has been lying dormant in the possession of the Government or the Prime Minister for fifteen months. It was dated March 1st, 1906, and appears to have been made no use of on the Second Reading of this Bill or to have seen the light at all until it was sent to your Lordships under the patronage of a society which calls itself the Women's Local Government Society. I will not trouble your Lordships by reading the letter, but will give the gist of it. The women addressed the Prime Minister because, they said— We feel that the disabilities under which we labour seriously impair our power of usefulness. And then they went on to say— The borough or county council is often in fact, as well as in name, the education authority, and actively directs and modifies the policy of its committee; questions with which we are specially interested are consequently settled in assemblies from which we are excluded. This letter is signed by no less than 310 ladies who have seats on education committees. I am bound to say that I read that statement with extreme surprise. It is absolutely contrary to my experience in my own county, and to the information I had gained with regard to what goes on in a great many other counties. Finding among the signatories the name of a lady with whom I am well acquainted, I ventured to write to her and to quote that paragraph. I asked her whether in her experience the decisions of education committees were constantly overruled by the county council, the supervising education authority, and whether she could give me any points with regard to that which had come within her own knowledge. I do not wish to give the name of the lady, as I have no authority to do so, but she writes to me as follows— I cannot imagine how my signature can have become attached to such a statement. I can only absolutely refute it and deny it. I have never heard the statement you quote made, nor have I seen it in print or written. It is entirety contrary to my experience.…I have scarcely realised that the committee is not the ultimate authority. That is all I know about this letter. It seems to me that at all events some inquiry is necessary. I do not know whether there may be other ladies who have signed this paper, like the lady to whom I refer, without knowing all its contents. But, even supposing this letter is, generally speaking, correct, I think it is of great importance that we should know how many councils there are who, as the letter says, often over-ride the decisions of their education committee. Such information would throw considerable light on the question we have to consider.

I do not wish to pass from this letter without referring to a paragraph at the end, because, as usual, the sting is in the tail. The letter goes on to say— We venture to ask that His Majesty's Government will consider whether steps can be taken to enable women to be elected and serve as members of county and borough councils. We make this request in the interests of education, but we may add that the presence of women would be useful in carrying on other branches of work, such as supervision of female lunatic asylums and inebriate homes, supervision of baby farms and midwives, regulations with regard to street trading by women and girls, and the inspection of workshops where women are employed. When I read that paragraph I had a very shrewd idea that this letter must have been drafted by someone who knew nothing whatever about the work of county councils. It is true that the supervision of lunatic asylums and midwives comes within the duties of county councils, but with the other matters, to deal with which these ladies are so anxious to get on county councils, county councils have hardly anything at all to do; in fact, they have no power in regard to two or three of these matters. The supervision of baby farms comes under infant life protection, and any lady who wished to take part in that work would have to seek a seat on a board of guardians. As to the rules regulating the employment of children, the borough council is the authority in all boroughs over 10,000, and the urban district council in all urban districts over 20,000. Your Lordships will recognise, with regard to the employment of children in streets and otherwise, that the necessity for regulation arises almost invariably in populous places, and therefore although a borough council has jurisdiction in smaller areas it is not a matter which has very often to be taken up by them. Then there is the inspection of factories. This comes under county borough authorities and district councils, but county councils have nothing to do with it; and, with regard to inebriate asylums, very few of them are under the direction of county councils, and therefore that is not a matter in connection with which women would find very much to do on county councils. I should like to ask whether these ladies who are burning to get on county councils in order to take part in the work of supervising baby farms, of inspecting factories and workshops, etc., were aware, when they signed this letter, that the greater part of these matters were not within the jurisdiction of county councils at all, and that by securing seats on district councils and boards of guardians they could take part in the administration of the greater portion of the duties mentioned. This letter has now seen the light for the first time, as far as I know. It has been sent round, with a letter from the secretary of the association named, in view of the Motion which is being-made today, and in order, I suppose, to endeavour to influence your Lordships not to support it. The secretary's letter contains this most extraordinary statement— No doubt the most capable of women will be the least likely to be co-opted in the future, and certainly not for a second period of service. In these circumstances it seems to me that we should know how far the statements in this letter have been personally vouched for by the people who have signed it. I have said enough, I think, to show that this is a matter which should be inquired into, and I hope that if the Committee is appointed it will sift the statements that are made, and, if they are borne out, they will, of course, have very considerable weight in the direction of the Government's Bill.

I think I have shown good reasons for appointing a Select Committee. At all events I have indicated that there are means by which the co-operation of women could be secured on these councils other than those proposed by the Bill. I should like to add that I have not brought this proposal forward at the wish of the County Councils Association. They have not considered the Bill, and on the whole, I think, it is very likely that, if they had had an opportunity of doing so, they would have decided that it was not necessary for them to express an opinion upon it. In bringing the Amendment forward I am anxious to do all I can to make the local government of the country—county and borough councils, and especially county councils, in which I take so much interest—efficient, and I trust that the Committee will succeed, in arriving at some solution which will afford an effective means of securing the assistance of the most capable ladies on these bodies.

Amendment moved— To leave out all the words after ' That' for the purpose of inserting ' the Bill be referred to a Select Committee '; and that it be an instruction to the said Committee to consider and report whether the co-operation of women in certain matters of local government entrusted to county and borough councils might not be more effectively secured by methods other than that of election by the council as aldermen or by the ratepayers as councillors."— (Lord Belper.)

* The LORD PRESIDENT OF the COUNCIL (The Earl of Crewe)

My Lords, the Motion and speech of the noble Lord have made it quite evident, what I think was pretty clear before, that, assuming as I do that he is not acting alone but in concert with other Members of your Lordships' House, a large number of those who voted for the Second Reading of the Bill only did so with considerable reservations and qualifications. In fact, supposing we were of the same suspicious turn of mind as the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, who accused us of some arrière pensée in bringing in a Bill at all, we might be tempted to imagine that a considerable number of those who voted for the Bill only did so in the hope that a Motion of this sort might be introduced and that the matter might be thereby indefinitely shelved. I do not accuse the noble Lord who made the Motion of taking that view.


I did not vote on the Bill.

* The Earl OF CREWE

Whether the noble Lord voted or not, I do not accuse him of holding that view, because I believe he would be glad to find some way by which women could be associated with county councils. Still less do I accuse the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition of holding that view. I do not ask him either to confirm or deny the statement, but the impression that was left on my mind by his speech was that the noble Marquess was so anxious that some means should be found of associating women with county and municipal work that sooner than let the matter drop altogether, if no other way could be found, he might be induced to consent even to this Bill.

The noble Lord who has just sat down has made a most interesting speech, but it was a speech, so far as I am able to form an opinion, directed against the Second Reading of the Bill; and the noble Lord gave no reason whatever why the very singular and unusual course should be taken of referring a measure of this kind to a Select Committee. After all, the question before us at this moment is not the importance of this or that particular proposal so much as whether reference to a Select Committee is the proper way to treat this Bill instead of forwarding it through its stages in the ordinary manner.

Now, my Lords, I want to know what it is proposed that this Committee should do. The noble Lord has not told us whether he proposes that the Committee should call evidence or not. The object of a Select Committee, so far as I know, is not to collect the opinions of a great number of people, nor indeed to supply arguments to those who wish to debate a question, but to ascertain hitherto unknown facts. Those facts are coordinated and collected, and upon them a Report is founded which the Committee makes to the House, and upon that Report the House is able to form its judgment. If witnesses were called in a case of this kind they would simply be witnesses of opinion, not witnesses of fact. No doubt you could call a number of witnesses of various views. There would be no difficulty in finding a number of ladies who would say that they would very much rather have nothing to do at all with the work of county councils, either as co-opted or elected members; you could gather others, of the type of those who wrote the letter to the Prime Minister, to which the noble Lord has alluded, who would say that they were not satisfied with co-option and desired to stand as candidates; and very possibly some ladies of a more retiring disposition would be found who would profess themselves content with matters as they are. But, my Lords, such opinions would get you no further in forming a judgment upon the merits of the case.

These are all questions of policy. The facts are perfectly well known. It is perfectly clear what women would do if they were elected on county councils, because, for instance, they have already been elected on the London County Council; and as to whether the particular kind of women who might stand and be elected is the right kind to give the particular service required, that is a matter on which evidence is obviously of no use, because it must be simply and solely a matter of opinion. As regards the letter to which the noble Lord has alluded, I quite agree that in such a matter as this signatures have to be weighed as well as counted; but I think the noble Lord was scarcely fair in the manner in which he dealt with the fact that this measure applies to borough councils as well as to county councils. I think one must assume that the ladies who signed the document, connected as they are some with county councils and some with borough councils, quite appreciated the difference in the jurisdiction of the different local bodies, and therefore signed it qua their own position and qua the powers they would obtain if elected on any of these different bodies.

A Committee, in considering this question of policy, might decide to take the Bill as it stands, and on that I need only say that the Bill does provide for a certain degree of co-optation; for if noble Lords think women ought not to be subjected to the turmoil of election, they could, under the Bill, be elected as aldermen, either to borough or county councils. Then, again, you might take the course of co-opting a further number of women on to the council in addition to those who would be elected as aldermen for all purposes; or again, you might extend the principle of co-optation from those committees on which women can now sit to other committees, or to all committees. I cannot help saying that the arguments of the noble Lord when he pointed out that there were certain committees, such as the Joint Committee, for instance, of county councils on which it was not desirable, or indeed, proper, that women should sit, rather seemed to imply the possibility of a county council composed entirely of women. Nobody supposes that.women need necessarily be elected on all committees. As a matter of fact we have known among those of our friends who are members of county councils some who are extremely well fitted to serve on one committee and who would be equally ill placed if added to another committee. Those things settle themselves. No one imagines that a very large number of women would be elected to any council, and those that were elected would shake down to the work of the committees for which they are suited, just as men do in similar circumstances. It is sometimes assumed that you have a complete analogy in the manner in which women now sit on education committees in counties. But there is no complete analogy at all, for this reason—that women do not sit on those committees as women but as experts. If anyone will take the trouble to look at Sec 17 of the Act of 1902 he will see that it is absolutely necessary that a certain number of outsiders—experts—must be elected on these committees, and a further subsection goes on to provide that some of those outsiders must be women.

All the questions that could be raised before a Committee are questions of policy, and are not matters in which evidence would be of any value; and if, on the other hand, it is not intended to call evidence, what is the use of a Select Committee? In what way will it be better than the Committee of the Whole House or the Standing Committee? To put the matter very shortly, I cannot understand why your Lordships should not take the simple and by no means unfamiliar course of altering a Government Bill as seems best to you. The Bill is in the hands of the majority of your Lordships. You can do what you like with it in Committee of the Whole House or in the Standing Committee, and all that we can do is to state our own opinion on the different propositions presented.

I think the noble Lord in moving this Instruction has come very close indeed to, if he has not overpassed, the line of order. It is to me a somewhat novel idea to send a Bill to a Select Committee with an Instruction tacked on to find out if there are means of doing something entirely different from what the Bill proposes to do. I should have thought that the proper plan would have been either to reject the Bill and refer the whole matter to a Committee, or for the noble Lord to have brought in an alterna- tive Bill, and to refer the two Bills together to a Committee. Holding as we do that the Bill can perfectly well be considered by the ordinary process, we shall be obliged to vote against the noble Lord's Amendment.

The Marquess of SALISBURY

My Lords, I regret the decision which the noble Earl announced, in the conclusion of his speech, that the Government will oppose this very moderate proposal to refer the Bill to a Select Committee; but I rather gathered, from the tone of the noble Earl, that although he and his friends are prepared to resist this Motion they do not altogether condemn the policy which has dictated it.

The noble Earl, in his speech the other night, frankly told us that he was introducing a Bill on what was not a Party question. That is perfectly true. There are great differences on both sides of the House, in respect to this Bill, but one thing emerged, I think, from the debate on the Second Reading—namely, that most of your Lordships are anxious that women should take a larger part in matters of local government in the future. That was the general view of your Lordships reflected in the Division Lobby. Certainly we did not vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, as the noble Earl rather hinted, in order to postpone the discussion of the question. At least, that was not the view with which I supported it. On the contrary, I have held for some time that women might, with advantage to the country, be much more freely employed in matters of local government than they are at present.

The noble Earl asked why a Committee was necessary, and added that there was nothing for a Committee to take evidence upon. I confess that I was very much surprised at that observation. In the first place he discarded altogether evidence as to opinion. Why? Are all opinions fully represented in your Lordships' House? I should be the last man to say anything in derogation of this House, but it is clear that all opinions are not represented here, and in this particular subject there is one class of opinion which is very much unrepresented namely, the opinion of the women who are authorities on this subject and who take part in local government. They are only indirectly represented in your Lordships' House; and yet the noble Earl says there is no evidence as to opinion which it is worth your Lordships' while to consider. Then there is evidence of fact. If the noble Earl will carry himself back to the otherwise convincing speech which he addressed to your Lordships on the Second Reading, he will find that he gave us very few facts. There is the question, What women are at present elected to serve on local bodies? That is very material in considering whether we shall proceed by election or co-optation. The noble Lord who has moved the reference of this matter to a Select Committee gave us the facts with regard to his own county, the only county from which he had had an opportunity of collecting information, and in which there is not a single woman elected upon either of the local bodies on which women can sit under the ordinary law.

* The Earl of CREWE

I do not think the noble Lord went so far as that. He said nothing about boards of guardians.


I referred to urban and rural district councils only.


At any rate on the urban and rural district councils in Nottingham not one woman has been elected. Are your Lordships satisfied with that? Do you think it is a good result of our present legislations? I think that a very important consideration, and being in favour of promoting the cause of woman representation on these bodies I would like to know what are the facts in other counties.


That could be perfectly well ascertained during the course of ordinary discussion.


But there would have to be great delay. We should have to postpone the consideration of the Bill while the Government were informing themselves of the facts. I think, considering how long this Bill has been on the stocks, that the Government might have employed their leisure moments—that is, if they ever have any—in preparing these facts beforehand. But they have not done so, and that makes the case for a Select Committee all the stronger. Then there is the question of what petitions have been presented by various bodies in favour of the representation of women on these councils. The noble Earl said nothing on that point in his speech on the Second Reading. One of his colleagues, however, said something upon it late in the debate, but I do not know how far that was a complete statement. Then, again, there was the letter from the 300 ladies to the Prime Minister, which has been referred to by my noble friend Lord Belper. Are all these signatures to be absolutely relied upon? I should not have dared to ask such a question but for the evidence which my noble friend who moved the Amendment has brought forward. In the only case which he has been able to investigate it has turned out that the signature is not to be relied upon. That is an important fact. I pass from the signatures to the arguments. Is it the fact, as stated in this letter, that the decisions of women on the education committees are often reversed by the final authority; and how often is it the fact?


If the noble Marquess will look at the letter he will see that those are not the words.


No, they are not the exact words, but I have stated the substance.


What the noble Marquess said was that the ladies complained that their decisions were often reversed. What the letter says is this— The council is often, in fact as well as in name, the education authority, and actively directs and modifies the action of its committee.


I do not understand the difference between what the noble Earl has read out and what I stated. "Modify" is perhaps a more polite word, but it means the same thing. The contention of these ladies is that their decision on the committee is not accepted as final but is subsequently modified. How often is that the fact? In how many counties is it the habitual practice of the council to reverse the decisions of the committee? Such questions are not only material but eminently suited to be the subject of inquiry. They are facts which ought to be in the knowledge of somebody, but which are not in the knowledge of the Government, and these facts the Select Committee could arrive at. Issues concerning facts are so material that without the evidence it is impossible for your Lordships to come to a rational or defensible decision as to whether the object desired should be secured by election or by co-optation.

It may be true that, after we have heard the evidence, we may decide that the final authority is so important that it is better to risk the possibility that fewer women will take part in local government under the system of election than under the system of co-optation in order that they should have this final authority. If that appears to be true, then I for one would be in favour of carrying the Bill in its present form; but if it turns out that it is much more important to get the best women on by way of co-optation, then it appears to me that a case would be made out for altering the Bill. These are not the only questions the Committee would have to investigate. The noble Lord who moved the Amendment drew a distinction between the duties of county and borough councils, and I think that distinction offers another matter for the consideration of the Committee. I am not quite in agreement with my noble friend Lord Belper as to the committees on which he thinks women could not be usefully employed. My noble friend expressed the opinion that women would be out of place on the Joint Committee and on the Highways Committee. I am not prepared to agree with him.


I do not think I, stated that they would be out of place. I said that they would not be specially useful or bring new light to bear on the matters which come before those committees.


The Joint Committee has to do with women as well as with men, and the Highways Committee is concerned very prominently with the comfort of the people. The main question with which the Highways Committee has to deal at the present moment is how to prevent the dust nuisance. That is a matter upon which the opinion of women would be very valuable and would be very much in place. Therefore I go further than my noble friend and say that women might be especially useful on both of those committees. But on these and other questions the inquiry of the Select Committee now proposed would be desirable. The inquiry suggested ought not to take very long. The evidence ought to be accessible from a small number of witnesses, and as soon as the Committee had examined the witnesses and reported the Bill could be proceeded with. Matters are not so advanced in another place that they are clamouring for Bills to be sent down from your Lordships' House. I do not suppose that if the Committee stage were passed to-day the Bill would be considered in the other House for many weeks and perhaps months. I would urge the Government not to regard the proposal as hostile to the Bill, or as proceeding from any desire to shelve it, but rather to regard it as made in a friendly spirit, in order to ascertain the facts on which the best possible Bill might be based.


My Lords, if the suggestion of the noble Marquess is carried out, this inquiry will take a long time. He said that the evidence of women who take an interest in this matter should be considered, but I would remind him that the evidence of women is frequently rather diffusive. I am a member of a board of guardians and of a district council to both of which ladies are elected, and I can assure your Lordships that their assistance is of the greatest value. My noble friend Lord Belper, in the beginning of his speech, said he was willing that women should serve upon some committees, but not upon all; in fact, he was rather inclined to ask some to come to tea, but he would hesitate a long time before he extended the invitation to dinner. The noble Marquess who has just sat down goes further than Lord Belper, and says there are other committees on which women might with advantage serve. What does that show? It shows that we must look at this matter from a broad point of view, and consider, not the limitation of the power of co-optation to one or two committees, but whether the presence of women on the county councils themselves would not strengthen those bodies. Your Lordships can easily imagine a woman who has been co-opted on to a committee exercising great influence over that committee; but when the committee's report goes to the county council there may not be present at the council the one who probably was responsible for the report, and it may be thrown out by the council. Surely if a woman is to have the responsibility of advising in committee, she ought also to be entitled to express her views in the full council. Therefore I hope that this Instruction will not be carried. It may be a vain hope, but I should like to see us have the courage of our opinions of the other night. Some people may think, as I do myself, that women ought not to join in Parliamentary contests, but that is no reason why we may not also feel that women can exercise a beneficial and kindly influence on our local self-government. I am sure that the results of our local self-government would be all the better if it could be shown to the public that we have the support and sympathy and energy of every class in the community.


My Lords, I should like to add my voice to those in favour of giving not a grudging but a generous and sympathetic assent to this measure. What has been the opposition offered to the Bill? The noble and learned Lords who took a prominent part in the discussions last week founded their opposition, not upon anything in the Bill itself, but on something neither in the Bill nor germane to it—on the proposal that women should have votes for Members of Parliament. That is not in this Bill, nor does the Bill lead up to it. We are all agreed on the general principle that we ought as far as possible to have the help of women on these local bodies. These women are in a totally different position from the women who are asking for the Parliamentary franchise. The women on whose behalf this Bill is advocated already have the franchise for all our local authorities, and are able to sit on some of them. It is said that there are very few women sitting on the rural and district councils. That is not the case with boards of guardians. Of 24,172 guardians in this country 1,036, or about one twenty-fourth, are women; and of 812 guardians in London, 114, or, roughly, one-eighth, are women. With regard to boards of guardians I think we may fairly argue that the women who have had seats upon them have proved their usefulness and done their work thoroughly well and in a manner satisfactory to all concerned. The proposal that is made from the other side is that you should allow the men elected on county and borough councils to select what women they choose to sit on particular committees. These ladies have the right to vote for county councils. and they ought to be able to share in their business fully. The case we have put before your Lordships is one that is worthy of your support. I believe it is in harmony with the general wish of most of your Lordships, and we on this side of the House cannot accept Lord Belper's proposal, but shall be compelled to oppose it.


My Lords, I speak as one of those who desire to give a wholehearted support to the aim and purpose of the Bill, which is to get women appointed on these local bodies. But I am not at all sure, especially after the speech of my noble friend Lord Belper. and the statistics, limited as they were, which he was able to give us, whether the Bill, as it stands, or as it is capable of becoming by the normal modes of amendment, will produce that result at all. I want to see ladies on these local governing bodies, both in boroughs and in counties, as members of the body as a whole; I want to see them capable of defending before the bodies as a whole the arguments they may have adduced before committees. It seems to me, as the Bill stands, that it is exceedingly improbable that under its provisions ladies would in any large numbers be elected, and mainly for the reason that throughout England the elections to the councils of counties and boroughs are for the most part conducted in single-member constituencies, and to vote for a woman candidate would be to make the representation of the constituency wholly feminine. That is not the case at the elections for guardians, nor was it the case at elections for the old school board, for in neither case is the constituency a single-member one. May it not be that, if we adhere strictly to what is here laid down, we shall be in the position that, with all our desire to get women elected on county and borough councils, we shall, owing to one-member constituencies, which, except in London, are prevalent, find that ladies will not secure election on these bodies? I should like to have more statistics bearing on the matter. We want to know how far the district councils have had women placed upon them, and there. is other information of a similar sort lacking. The noble Earl in charge of the Bill says that the information will be available during the discussions. Will the Government promise to give us this information? If not, I feel that we go forward in extreme difficulty. I am in favour of the object of the Bill, but I want the mode adopted which is most likely to secure the desired result; and I confess I have grave doubts whether, as the Bill stands, it will produce that result. It may be said that ladies could under the Bill secure a place upon these councils by co-optation or by nomination as aldermen, but the number of aldermen is very limited, and there is great competition to secure that position. I feel that-more information is needed, not in order that the Bill may be delayed, but in order that what is done by Parliament may be efficiently done.


My Lords, by the indulgence of the House I would like to say a word or two in reply to the most rev. Primate. I assume that there will be no difficulty in obtaining, during the course of the ordinary stages of the Bill, the figures as to the number of women who, for instance, now serve on district councils, which was one of the points upon which the noble Marquess wanted information; but I confess I do not quite understand how any figures of that kind, referring to a different body, will throw light on the question whether women are likely to be elected in totally different circumstances. That must be a matter of opinion.


My Lords, the most rev. Primate appears to have forgotten the Instruction to the Committee which in my humble opinion is the governing matter on which we are going to vote. If the most rev. Primate had merely proposed that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee in order to obtain information on those points which he now says he wishes to have considered, that would be a different matter. I think the most rev. Primate will see that the principle for which he wishes to vote —namely, that women should be capable of taking a share in the business of these councils fully and not in par—t will be absolutely killed by this Instruction. Therefore, I cannot understand how, if the most rev. Primate is in favour of women being elected to these councils, he can possibly consent to a Committee with such an Instruction as that proposed. But I did not rise to carry on the discussion as to the principle of the Bill, nor to indulge in a Second Reading speech. I rose to suggest to your Lordships that the instruction which my noble friend has moved is entirely and radically out of order. It is quite true, as my noble friend who is now leading the House pointed out, that the question of order is entirely in the hands of your Lordships, but I venture to say that it is contrary to all elementary rules of order that an Instruction should be moved the effect of which is entirely to negative the principle contained in the Bill. The principle in the Bill is that women should be qualified for election to county and borough councils. The Instruction, on the contrary, is that women should be co-opted; in other words, you are going to ask the Committee absolutely to upset the main principle of the Bill, the principle upon which your Lordships voted the other day and which was carried by a large majority. The Second Reading of the Bill was carried not in any way by a Party vote, but in accordance with what might be called the general consent of the House. A vote on the Second Reading is a vote for the principle of the Bill, and when you have once carried the principle it is quite out of order to move an Instruction to a Committee absolutely to upset that principle. If it is the principle of the Bill that women should be elected, surely it is to negative the principle of the Bill to say they are to be co-opted.


There is nothing whatever about co-optation in my Amendment.


No, but the question of co-optation is implied, and it was further implied by the speech of the noble Marquess opposite. The words in the proposal are that it should be an instruction to the Committee— To consider and report whether the cooperation of women in certain matters of local government entrusted to county and borough councils might not be more effectively secured by methods other than that of election by the council as aldermen or by the ratepayers as councillors. The whole principle of the Bill is that this should be secured by the method of election, and if you have other methods you negative the principle of the Bill. I hold, with all submission, that it is contrary to the dignity of this House and to the general principles of constitutional procedure that you should at the present moment bring forward an Instruction such as this.


My Lords, I cannot help thinking that it is quite apparent that those who really desire that women should be able to be elected on an equality with men for this particular form of service must vote against the proposal to appoint a Select Committee. I feel the force of the argument of the most rev. Primate; but even if it be true that this Bill, if passed, would also require a revision of the system of representation in order to introduce a larger number of areas returning two members to the councils, yet it would be well to have affirmed the principle, even if experience showed that it had a limited application. Other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon have referred to co-optation as an alternative to direct election. But this Bill would not affect the present power of co-optation, nor would it prevent the extension of that power. But whatever system of co-optation may be brought into existence, I desire that there should also be a power to elect women directly. I am not among those who possess the gift of prophecy, and I feel that the question whether many women would be elected is one involving great uncertainty. As to Birmingham, I do not feel at all sure that there are not circumstances in which women might obtain election. It would be a great advantage that some should be elected, and I desire to do all I can to bring that about and to secure that they should have this power in perfect equality with men. For that reason I shall feel bound to vote against the proposal to appoint a Select Committee.


My Lords, I was very glad that the noble Earl the Lord President at the outset of his remarks made it clear that he did not impute to me any hostility to what I would venture to describe as the main object of this Bill. That object I take to be that we should as far as possible give ampler opportunities to women to take part in municipal affairs, and I for one am anxious that those opportunities should be made as ample as possible, with due regard to the efficiency of the bodies on which these women may be called to serve.

I have probably had less experience of municipal administration than the majority of your Lordships. and I therefore freely confess that there are many points connected with this question in regard to which I should be glad to receive further evidence, with regard both to matters of fact and to matters of opinion. I was very pleased to hear the most rev. Primate enforce a point which I endeavoured to make when I addressed your Lordships the other evening. He reminded your Lordships that the Bill as it now stands gives no security whatever that any woman will find a place on these county or borough councils. To my mind that would not be at all a satisfactory solution; nor, again, is it clear that under this Bill the best qualified women are by any means sure to be selected for employment of this kind. I say unhesitatingly that if I vote for the appoint-of this Select Committee I do not do so with any idea of thereby shelving the Bill. I cannot believe that it should not be possible within a comparatively brief space of time to obtain the kind of evidence we desire; and I must be allowed to repeat that if we are obliged to run matters a little fine, the fault is not ours but lies with His Majesty's Government for having brought the Bill forward at so late a period of the session. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House told us the other evening that the delay was due to the autumn session and that the Departments had, in consequence of that autumn session, not had sufficient leisure for the preparation of their measures. That may be a very good excuse when you are dealing with a long and intricate Bill, such as some of the measures now before Parliament; but this Bill contains two short clauses of about twenty lines altogether, which could have been drafted in twenty-four hours by any competent draftsman if he had been instructed as to the principles on which he had to proceed.

A good deal has been said, particularly by Lord Burghclere, on the point of order. The Lord President told us that we were very near the line, but Lord Burghclere stated we were well on the wrong side of it. I venture, with great submission, to doubt that. I cannot find in our Standing Orders anything that bears very distinctly on this question of order; but I find in the manual of the proceedings of the House of Commons, on page 79, that it is laid down, with reference to Instructions to Select Committees, that— The scope of an inquiry by a Select Committee is defined by the terms of the Order under which it is appointed, but may by enlarged or restricted by an Instruction from the House. It was therefore felt that, if the Select Committee was to examine fully into the question, it was necessary to enlarge the Instruction, and we do so in the terms of the Amendment which my noble friend has moved. If the Committee was under any disability that disability will be removed by the Instruction which your Lordships will be asked to give to it. Therefore I cannot admit that the Instruction in any way upsets, as we have been told, the principle of the Bill, or that it is in any way ultra vires. I take it that, fortified by this Instruction, the Committee might perfectly well report either in favour of the proposal contained in the Bill or of a proposal such as that indicated by my noble friend Lord Helper, or possibly in favour of a resort to both of these procedures in combination. I hope that the Committee will be appointed, and when it has reported and its Report is before your Lordships it seems to me that His Majesty's Government will be perfectly free to consider whether the Bill is still deserving of their support, while your Lordships will be seised of the whole subject, and will be in a position to consider whether it is a Bill which you desire should find a place on the Statute Book.


My Lords, I feel constrained to say a few words on this occasion because my position is a somewhat unfortunate one. I am naturally anxious always to support and vote in the same Lobby with my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, but having ten years ago supported the late Lord Salisbury when he opposed the Amendment introduced by Lord Dun-raven to the Bill of 1899, in which action I supported the principle of this measure, I feel that I should be stultifying myself if I were now to oppose the Bill before your Lordships. I see nothing in respect of the details of the Bill that could not be discussed in Committee, whereas if the Bill went for examination before a Select Committee it would be some time before your Lordships received the Report. The question of women obtaining these advantages is a very urgent one, and I see no reason why the Bill should not be proceeded with now. Sorry as I am to separate myself from the noble Lords with whom I usually act, I shall feel compelled on this occasion to support the Government.


My Lords, I ask leave to add one or two words in this discussion. The desire which really appears to animate your Lordships is to secure, in one way or another, the object aimed at in this Bill, and I shall certainly support His Majesty's Government against the Amendment which has been moved by the noble Lord opposite. I do so because I am not disposed to place any hindrance in the path of the Government. Whatever the intention of the noble Lord's Amendment, I cannot doubt what the result of it would be at this stage of the Bill, and that result is one which goes counter to the real wish, as I understand it, of the House at large. It seems to me, therefore, to be rather a deplorable position. If it be found that this Bill only allows a very few women to obtain seats on these councils, then it would be proved that in order to attain the object the House has before it we must go a little further, but that does not seem to me a reason for not passing the Bill. With regard to the letter from a number of ladies to the Prime Minister, if it be true that the total number of ladies already employed in such service is not a large one, then the fact that over 300 of them come forward and say that they have found their position weakened owing to being co-opted members only, is a very important and material fact. Though I do not think that the Government have quite presented their case with all the efficacy the House would like to see, I ask whether it is not possible, even now, that the appointment of the Committee should be so far delayed as to give an opportunity to satisfy the House of the needed particulars before coming to a decision. If that course is deemed inadvisable, is it not possible to have some honourable understanding between the two sides of the House that the Select Committee should get its work done within a few weeks, in order that the fate of the Bill might not be affected by the appointment of the Committee? It would be a grievous thing, when there is so much opinion in favour of the gist of the proposal, that your Lordships should be unable to make progress with it, and that we should vote upon an issue which would be misunderstood by the people of the country. I do not think that this position would be altogether favourable to our own fair fame.


My Lords, I hope I may be pardoned if I address your Lordships for a moment upon this question; but I should like to make a suggestion, though, perhaps, a suggestion on a point of order, comes ill from me being but a recent Member of this House. It is difficult for me to understand why it should not be possible, instead of appoint- ing this Select Committee, to proceed by the ordinary method, but to allow say a fortnight to elapse, during which His Majesty's Government, if they have the good will, would certainly have the power of placing before us those statistics which noble Lords seem so much to desire. It is with great regret that I find myself compelled to vote on this occasion contrary to what appears to be the course supported by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. I am not one of his regular followers, but I yield to no one in my respect for the wisdom and moderation of the counsel which he usually tenders to the House, and I should always feel much happier in following his lead. But on this occasion I really cannot do so with anything like a good conscience, because I am firmly convinced that, circumstances being what they are, and without considering for a moment who is to blame for those circumstances, the effect of the reference to a Select Committee will be to kill the Bill, and that, I feel, would be a national misfortune. I approach this subject without any very special knowledge of the work of local government, but I am deeply impressed by the fact that a great body of authoritative opinion on both sides of the House seems to favour the. view that it would be a great public advantage if a greater number of women took part in the administrative work of those councils to which the Bill refers. That being the case, it seems to me that the question of method becomes a minor question, and it would be a disastrous thing, in my opinion, and would produce the worst effect upon public opinion and give the worst impression of the capacity of this House as a legislative body if, on account of differences on a question of method, the whole proposal were allowed to fall to the ground. I do not conceal from the House that personally I have not the slightest fear of the effect of women becoming full members of these councils. And, whatever may be the value of the arguments contained in the letter which has been so much discussed, it seems to me to stand to reason that the-influence and authority of women, and therefore their usefulness, on these councils will be seriously diminished if they are not able to defend in full council the policy which they may have helped to shape in committee. That being my feeling, believing that their presence on the councils will be of great public advantage, that their position will not be as effective as it ought to be unless they are full members, and that they cannot possess full authority except by direct election, I feel bound to vote against a course which seems to me calculated to destroy the Bill.


My Lords, my noble friend who leads the House has asked me to say that of course the Government will be perfectly prepared to give any information they possess to the House if the House thinks fit to postpone the Committee stage as suggested. I am not quite clear as to what the information desired is, but I trust that could be ascertained by private communication, and, at any rate, we shall do our best. I would add that, whatever the intention may be— and, of course, I give the credit of good intention to every Member of the House— the result of the Amendment, if carried, would inevitably be to destroy the Bill for this year.


My Lords, I can only speak again by the permission of the House. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has made a statement too important to be lightly passed by. I understand him to suggest, speaking in the place of the noble Marquess who usually leads the House, that His Majesty's Government are prepared to lay before us any information of which they are at present in possession or which may be accessible to them, and which might have the effect of giving us that knowledge as to certain aspects of this case which many of us think we ought to have. I understood the noble and learned Lord to add that His Majesty's Government were prepared for an adjournment of this discussion in order to give us time to consider the new position which thus arises. All I can say, speaking, as I have always done in this matter, for myself alone, is that that seems to me a. suggestion which your Lordships would do well to entertain, and I therefore should be ready to support a proposal for the adjournment of the debate rather than precipitate a division in which some of us might give a vote which we might afterwards have some cause for desiring to reconsider.


My Lords, I would press the point that a number of noble Lords voted for the Second Reading relying on the understanding derived from the speeches of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, Lord St. Aldwyn, and Lord Belper, that the Bill would be dealt with afterwards by a Select Committee. If the adjournment of the debate takes place I hope my noble friends will not forget the circumstances under which the Bill was read a second time.


My Lords, as my noble friend has referred to words which fell from me, I would like to say that while I desired that this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee with an Instruction authorising that Committee to consider whether it could not be so altered as to provide for the co-optation of women on county and borough councils for certain duties only, yet I did add the additional statement that I should support the Second Reading of the Bill in order that all hope might not disappear of something being done this Session by your Lordships to enlist the greater services of women on these bodies. It seems to me that if we were to proceed with this matter tonight it is conceivable that that hope might be disappointed. Therefore I cordially support the action of my noble friend the Leader of this side of the House in accepting the olive branch held out by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and I move that this debate be now adjourned.

Moved, "That the further debate be adjourned sine die"— (Viscount St. Aldwyn.)


My Lords, the proposition which the noble Viscount has just submitted entitles me to say another word. I confess I do not see the precise object of moving the adjournment. It appears to me that either the House is going into Committee on the strength of the assurance we have given that we will supply such information as we have, or it is not. At least I can hardly suppose that the noble Marquess meant that the matter should be left in this way, that after seeing the papers which we are prepared to provide to the best of our ability noble Lords on that side of the House could then say, "Oh ! these are not sufficient for our purpose. We will have our Select Committee all the same." I did not take that to be the noble Marquess's proposition. What I understood the noble Marquess to say was that he was prepared to proceed with the Bill in the ordinary manner in the House, on the understanding that in the interval we should give all the information we could. Of course it is open to noble Lords to reject the Bill at any future stage. In these circumstances I would appeal to the noble Marquess whether we might not now go into Committee on the understanding that the Committee should be adjourned for a fortnight.


I understood the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to suggest that the present stage of the Bill should be postponed, and it is that proposal that we are prepared to accept.


I do not think I had that distinction in my mind. What I meant to say was that we were prepared that the Committee stage of the Bill should be postponed. If I did not make that clear I am afraid the fault was my own.


I would point out that if we go into Committee and the Committee stage is adjourned, it means that my Amendment will have to be withdrawn. That is not, I conceive, the proposal made by the noble Marquess on the Front Opposition Bench. I should be quite willing to fall in with the feeling of the House and agree to the adjournment of the debate, which would leave the matter as it stands at the present moment. If the Papers are then produced we can decide upon future action; but, as far as I am personally concerned, I should not be prepared to withdraw the Amendment to- day, and I certainly should not pledge myself with regard to any future stage of the Bill.


Very well; we will agree to the proposal that the debate be now adjourned.

On Question, Motion for the adjournment of the debate agreed to.