§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE NATIONAL SERVICE DEPARTMENT (VISCOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Peel.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, the procedure which has been pursued with this measure is an innovation, because it has not been usual in your Lordships' House to have any statement upon the First Reading of a Bill. On this occasion the Leader of the House thought it well to modify the ordinary practice, and I think, if I may say so, he was well advised in so doing. The great complication of the Bill and the profound modifications through which it passed, even up to the last moment, in another place are all justifications for the course which has been followed. But I do not think it would have been pursued with success if the duty had been entrusted to less able hands than those of my noble friend the noble Viscount opposite (Lord Peel). Perhaps he will allow me to express my admiration for his speech upon the last occasion, for its extreme clearness, for its brevity considering the complexity of the subject, and for the trouble which the noble Viscount took in submitting his case to your Lordships.
My noble friend did not set out to defend the Bill; his duty was to explain it. Yet in the last few minutes of his speech I think he felt that to propose a Bill such as this—a Bill dealing with almost every part of our electoral machinery, covering an enormous number of pages of print, and of which the part which was not expressed but was left to Rules was almost as great as the part which was expressed in the 164 Blue Paper before us—to propose such a Bill to your Lordships in the very crisis of the greatest war in which we have been engaged did require a few words of explanation. The noble Viscount, in an eloquent passage at the end, did his best to account for this remarkable circumstance. And I think that part of his speech contained the only passage in it which I regretted, because he stated, as one of the reasons why a Bill on this subject and of this magnitude should be presented at such a time, that at ordinary times such a Bill would engender heat, suspicion, and controversy. I am sure my noble friend will forgive me if I say that this was rather a cynical observation. Why should he, or, rather, why should the Government, wish to avoid controversy except through the weakness of the flesh? After all this is a democratic country which prides itself on the fact that it governs itself, and to smuggle a Bill through when people are thinking of something else does not seem to me the right way to be loyal to the democratic institutions of our country. I do not think that is a good reason; I think it a very bad reason.
But what other reasons are there? I think my noble friend the Leader of the House on a previous occasion said that Mr. Asquith's Coalition Government had tried to deal with this subject in another place and their effort had not been very well received. That is quite true. But surely the fact that the then Government produced what I am afraid I must call rather a bad Bill is no reason why we should be suddenly presented with this vast congeries of Bills, covering a far wider scope than was attempted by that unfortunate effort of Mr. Asquith's Government.
This Bill arises out of Mr. Speaker's Conference. I desire to speak of it with all respect. But may I say with submission that the present Government will, I expect, be distinguished in history by many things, but among others by their fondness for Committees of every kind? Everything is entrusted to a Committee. Sometimes they are called Committees, sometimes they are called Conventions, sometimes they are called Conferences. But whenever the Government are in a difficulty, instead or trying to solve it themselves, they hand it over to a Committee. I do not altogether blame them; I know they are very much overworked; but I think we must view the Reports of these Committees, which 165 are not guided by the responsibility of a Government, with a certain amount of caution. Now, a Conference is supposed to be a sort of sacrosanct kind of Committee. Indeed. I hear people talk as if its findings have a sort of verbal inspiration which it was almost profane to call in question. I can assure your Lordships that, although Mr. Speaker's Conference was a body of great importance, yet it did not substantially differ from other Committees. I have been inside it and I know what it looked like, and several of my noble friends who sit in your Lordships' House have also been inside it. It was not anything so very striking, after all, when you were there. And though its findings must be received with profound respect, I do not think they are above criticism.
I need not say that I am not going to reveal any secret. But what guided the Conference in recommending this vast Bill? I cannot tell, unless it be that sort of passion for settling things which sometimes affects politicians a most dangerous moment, and nearly always adverse in its results to conservative opinion But there was one thing which I think probably affected them it certainly affected His Majesty's government—namely, the difficulty of what is called the soldier's vote. That has been dwelt upon more than once by my noble friend the Leader of the House. There was a general and a strong feeling in the country that the soldiers—who are really our own people at large, now fighting for their country—ought not, because of their service, to lose their vote. It was thought to be a great shame that men who were fighting for their country, and bleeding for their country, should, for that reason, be deprived of their vote. People were indignant at the idea. I know that I was; and I did my best to express that view to your Lordships. It was a shame; and the people of this country were determined that such an unfair result from the patriotism of our soldiers should not be allowed to occur.
But the Government have gone a great deal further than that. Starting with the base that you must not disfranchise the soldiers, the Government have gone on ascending and widening like a pyramid on its head, until we see the Bill which is now before the House. Soldiers must not be disfranchised; therefore all soldiers must be enfranchised. Soldiers are men; there-fore all men must be enfranchised. Men are persons; therefore all persons must be 166 enfranchised. And so we get, balanced upon this undoubted grievance of the proposed disfranchisement of the soldiers, manhood suffrage, and practically in principle womanhood suffrage as well.
So enamoured were the Conference and His Majesty's Government of this process, that even in details they carried on the same rule. Soldiers must vote. Soldiers are absent; therefore soldiers must vote in their absence therefore every one must be allowed to vote in his absence. The same argument applied. And so a vast principle of absent voting—which may be good or not, I am not pronouncing any opinion at the moment—is adopted that tears a great, jagged hole in the Ballot Act, which is supposed to be the palladium of our liberties. It is proposed, almost in a moment of absence of mind, in the middle of a great war. I do not know whether the Government thought that such a Bill would easily get through Parliament. It has not easily got through Parliament. It has taken up a great deal of time, and I am afraid it must take up a little more time.
In opening The Times a week ago I was very much struck on finding this passage at the head of the Political Notes—With the Reform Bill out of the way, the House of Commons will be able to give its attention this week to pressing war questions.Your Lordships will observe that pressing war questions had to wait until this Bill was out of the way. Is it credible that, in the immense difficulties in which we stand, war questions have to wait until this Bill is out of the way? It is not only the House of Commons that has been occupied with this Bill. His Majesty's Ministers have been occupied with it. I suppose it is the duty of the Home Secretary to administer the Defence of the Realm Act. No doubt that work had to wait until this Bill was out of the way. One of the principal duties of my right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board is to produce a housing policy for this country. That, no doubt, has had to wait until this Bill was out of the way. Both of those Ministers were engaged every night in Parliament. I hardly like to say it, but I suspect that a great deal of the attention of my noble friend opposite, and of the other members of the War Cabinet—whose primary duty it is to attend to the war—has been occupied otherwise, and they are obliged to lay aside pressing war questions until this Bill is out of the way.
167 It is for these reasons that I venture to protest in your Lordships' House against the production of these vast legislative changes at this moment. Not because I desire to prejudge the issues; not because there are not many things in this Bill, and in other Bills which are proposed, that are admirable in themselves, but became the business of this country is now, first of all and all the time, to win the war. However, the Government have chosen otherwise in this respect, and this Bill has been presented to your Lordships. The Bill doubles the electorate. We are now engaged in discussing the Second Reading of the Bill. What attitude ought your Lordships to adopt towards the Second Reading? I hope I shall be forgiven, as a very humble member of your Lordships' House, if I venture to say one or two words upon that point.
I trust that the House will not reject the Second Reading of the Bill. Notwithstanding all that I have said, I still think that it would be a mistake for your Lordships to reject it. In the first place, there is much in the Bill which is not controversial. There are many parts not only not controversial, but which, by universal assent, will be great improvements on the present law—changes in the regislation law; changes in the law relating to the expenses of candidates for Parliament, and other changes of a similar kind. That is one reason. But there is another reason. I have said that this Bill practically means manhood suffrage. Except for vagrants it does. But I believe your Lordships will think that this is inopportune. I am of opinion that the Bill has been proposed by the Government with undue precipitation. It has, however, been offered to the working classes of this country.
Now, my Lords, what is our attitude towards an extension of the suffrage? This is not the first extension of the suffrage; there have been several Reform Bills before. An extension of the suffrage is to most of us merely a question of degree—a question of period of time, opportunity, degree. We do not object—at least, speaking for myself I do not objectߞto the extension of the suffrage in itself. I have great confidence in my countrymen. I believe that they all share the public spirit, the political instinct, the administrative capacity, which are characteristic of the race to which they belong. They do not differ diametrically from the classes above them. They are cut 168 out of the same block. They have the same instinct and the same high quality. I am willing to trust them. Not very long ago I ventured to urge in your Lordships' House, with all the force of which I am capable, that it was necessary and in the highest interests of the State that we should trust the working classes, and that the old attitude of suspicion and want of confidence should be swept away. It would ill become me, who so recently used such words—and they were words of my most innermost conviction—if I were to suggest to your Lordships that after the working classes had been offered this extension of the suffrage, you should be the instrument of showing distrust of them and refusing it. My Lords, I believe it would be a profound mistake. We are not afraid of them; we are prepared to trust them; and although we may regret the production of this Bill at this moment, we ought not to refuse it.
I pass from the men, and come to an even more dangerous subject—the women. And I know that in speaking of woman suffrage I am dealing with a subject which divides parties, and which divides your Lordships one from the other in whatever part of the House you may sit. I see before me on the Treasury Bench noble Lords who differ profoundly in opinion on this subject, and I know the same is true of those who sit immediately behind me. It is true of every bench in this House and in another place. It is true that to some extent the argument which I venture to offer to your Lordships for agreeing to the extension of the suffrage in the case of men applies to women too. There is no reason why we should not trust the women. They belong to the same race and have no doubt the same instincts; and also, I am bound to say, I think that for any body of His Majesty's subjects to feel a resentment at the fact that they are excluded from their due share in the government of the country is a bad thing in itself. It is quite true that the essence of our government is a government by consent, and to have that feeling of resentment is an evil. Although I have said so much on that side of the case, I am bound to say that I cannot but view with considerable alarm the enormous increase in the electorate which these proposals involve. I think I am correct in saying that by this Bill four million women's votes are added to the Register.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am obliged to my noble friends. I have understated the figure. I understand that six million women's votes will be added to the Register. It is a very formidable, increase, and it must be admitted that the woman suffrage question differs from man suffrage in this particular, that the increase in the case of the men is, after all, only an increase of degree. It is only a difference of degree in the old suffrage. But woman suffrage will be a difference in kind; and I cannot conceal from myself, my Lords, that this great change is proposed in a Parliament which, according to the current phrase of the day, has no mandate for woman suffrage. Does any of your Lordships know what the electors really want in respect of woman suffrage? Did they express any opinion at the last Election? Have we any idea what opinion they hold at this moment? Is it even known what view women themselves take of the suffrage question? Those are very formidable questions. I do not pretend to have studied the issue as many of your Lordships have done. We shall no doubt hear in the course of these debates the case for woman suffrage, and the answers to such questions as I have ventured to put, made with great ability. I, for one, shall listen with every attention in the hope of being able to satisfy my mind as to the real wishes of the country in respect of this vast change.
I pass to another point. Whatever is settled about the woman question, we have to face a very large addition to the electorate; and the first question that occurs to any one to ask is, Under what conditions is this vast mass of electors to record their votes? My Lords, there were signs of dissatisfaction in the methods of recording and counting the votes even before this Bill was proposed. There were many occasions on which the results did not seem to be in conformity with the wishes of the majority of the electors. It was very unsatisfactory, and the reason why it was so unsatisfactory is that there are no longer only two Parties who ask for the suffrages of the electors, but there are at least three Parties who ask for those suffrages, and the old method of deciding the issue is certainly not very satisfactory. The House of Commons has taken a very curious line in respect of this question. The Conference realised that it had to be dealt with, and at any rate they proposed a method applicable to part of the constituencies with which we are dealing. 170 But the House of Commons rejected proportional representation, except in the case of the Universities, and proposed instead the alternative vote. The history of the alternative vote is very remarkable. I am not sure that I could, even if I thought it would be right to delay your Lordships by doing so, trace the various phases of the history of the alternative vote. I think the noble Viscount (Viscount Peel) told us on the First Reading that the Bill had a Schedule for a brief period explaining it. That Schedule has now disappeared; and although the alternative vote is in the Bill, any proposed method by which it is to be applied is a blank, to be filled in—I am not sure whether by your Lordships' House or by Order in Council. At any rate, the House of Commons having tried itself could not solve the problem, and gave it up in despair. I think if your Lordships will apply your minds to the question—I do not ask you to do it at this moment; Heaven forfend!—you will see that the alternative vote as it is generally known is a very unsatisfactory method of solving the difficulty to which I have called your attention. It is very easy to show that by the method of the alternative vote, so far from the electors' wishes being expressed, a candidate may be elected who is by no means the one supported by the majority of the electors.
But, my Lords, what I would like to dwell upon is that if the alternative vote will not do we must have some other plan. There is a great deal to be said, as I think, for proportional representation by itself, but what is certain is that if you do not have the alternative vote you must have some other method, and I submit to your Lordships that proportional representation is the best other method that has been proposed to us. If the Government are not willing to accept proportional representation then they will have to produce something else. They will have to fill in the blank of the alternative vote left by the House of Commons, and I think they will find that they will produce a very bad plan in that way. If that be so, I submit to them that they are compelled to take some other plan, and unless they can produce a better they ought to take the method of proportional representation. That appears to cover the ground.
Now proportional representation has also the immense advantage of having 171 been the particular recommendation of the Conference. The Conference recommended proportional representation; it did not recommend unanimously the alternative vote. Therefore, both on the ground of authority and on the ground of necessity, the method of proportional representation appears to me to hold the field; and I should like to say one other word in respect of it. The effect, the designed effect, of proportional representation is that the minority may have its due representation, and no doubt the consequence of such a system will be to diminish the size, the habitual size, of the majorities of members in the House of Commons. Some people regret that. Some people think that the bigger the majorities in the House of Commons are the better. I do not share that view. I believe that, with the enormous majorities such as we have often seen in another place under the present system of voting, the power of the Cabinet grows every year, and in my opinion the overwhelming power of the Cabinet is a great danger to this country. I believe that this is the view of a very large number of persons. We do not want to have our country bureaucratically governed. We want to have it governed by the people, and if it is to be governed by the people these vast majorities are a mistake.
And remember, my Lords, that we are still living under the shadow of the Parliament Act. I know that a great many noble Lords, some of the most distinguished of your Lordships, are now engaged in considering the relative positions of the two Houses. But they have to agree. Their Report has to be considered, and their Report, before it becomes effective, has to be agreed to; and all the time we are living under the Parliament Act. That is to say, if it be true that the present system of voting gives the Cabinet of the day overwhelming power, there is no authority in your Lordships' House to check the exercise of it. Owing to the Parliament Act, in the last resort we are powerless. Therefore it behoves us to take especial care, while this Bill is passing through Parliament, that if we can avoid them these vast majorities in another place shall be avoided. But, however that may be, some expedient has to be found in lieu of the alternative vote. The absence of a Schedule in respect to the alternative vote is not the only lacuna in this Bill as it comes before us. There is the 172 very remarkable case of redistribution in Ireland. The Bill as it is now upon your Lordships' Table proposes that the franchise in Ireland should be lowered, but it does not propose any method of redistribution for the constituencies in Ireland in consequence of the lowering of the franchise. That redistribution is reserved, so we are informed, for another Bill which is to be passed in the present session. This is not the first time on which your Lordships have heard of the "other" Bill. We remember the case of the Parliament Act. We remember the case of the Preamble which promised another Bill a promise which has never been fulfilled. We remember the case of the Home Rule Act itself. That was to be supplemented by another Bill. The other Bill broke down. It was never passed. And the Home Rule Act, which by everybody's consent was impossible as it stood, is now the law of the land without the other Bill. I think your Lordships will be very cautious before you agree to anything in the confident expectation of the passage of another Bill. It may always break down.
But, my Lords, even if the Bill were here on the Table, even if we had it in our hands to deal with at this moment, I am afraid the difficulty would not be at an end. For what indeed can be more vain than this treatment of Ireland at this moment? Let us be quite frank. One of two things must happen in respect to Ireland. Either there is going to be Home Rule, or there is not going to be Home Rule. If there is going to be Home Rule this Redistribution Bill which is promised will be waste paper. It will never have effect. It is not proposed in any Home Rule scheme I have ever heard of that the present representation of Ireland in the House of Commons should continue. Take the other alternative. Supposing there is no Home Rule, supposing the Convention breaks down and we go on with the Union, are we also to go on to the end of time with the over-representation of Ireland? Is it really tolerable that we should continue in this Parliament suffering under the excessive power of the Irish Members in another place? I feel convinced that neither this House nor the country at large is prepared to go on enduring that over-representation. Whom is it proposed to represent in these undue proportions? Are they citizens of this Empire upon whom we can rely? Are they people who have shown by excessive loyalty that they are buttresses of our polity? Are 173 these the people to whom we want to give excessive representation? I do not believe it is any exaggeration to say that if the franchise be lowered in Ireland, as is proposed in the Bill now upon your Lordships' Table, the power of that part of the Irish people known under the designation of Sinn Fein will be enormously increased. Why should we go out of our way at this moment to increase the authority of Sinn Fein in Ireland? I confess that to my mind this attempt to deal piecemeal with. Ireland in this Bill is altogether indefensible. Let us, before we enfranchise further classes in Ireland, at any rate know what we are about. Let us in the first place have a scheme of redistribution in Ireland before us, and, when we have got it, let us be quite certain that the people of this country really desire to perpetuate the over-representation of that part of the United Kingdom which is avowedly disloyal to the Empire.
I pass on to another part of the Bill which is a great contrast to the one with which I have been dealing. It deals not with the Jess loyal citizens of the Empire but with the most loyal citizens the soldiers who are fighting at the Front. I am glad, indeed, that the Government have made an effort to enfranchise the soldiers. I hope that when we come to examine the clause of the Bill which deals with this part of the subject we shall find that there is a real attempt to carry out this enfranchisement. I hope the Government will not think that I am unduly suspicious, but I notice that the method of registration is extremely uncertain. Although there is the fluty thrown upon the registration officer to see that all electors are registered, yet in respect of the soldiers he does not seem to be armed with materials which enable him to do so. My noble friend Lord Selborne reminds me that sailors are also included; and, of course. I should have spoken of sailors and soldiers. But the registration officer does not appear to be armed with sufficient material to register the soldiers and sailors under the proposals submitted to us. It is not much good registering a man unless he can get his vote, unless he can get his ballot paper. How is he to get his ballot paper, and to what address is the ballot paper to be sent? The part of the Schedule which deals with this subject is very vague. The method remains to be prescribed. What a useful word "prescribed" is in an Act of Parliament! Whenever the Government does 174 not know how to get out of a difficulty in drafting a Bill, it says, "It is to be done in a method hereinafter to be prescribed."
This is to be prescribed, I see, "after consultation with the Admiralty and Army Council." Those are words which have alarmed me, because there is a great history attaching to this question. We have not approached it for the first time. I was unfortunate enough—perhaps I ought to say I was privileged—to submit to your Lordships' House a Bill on this subject some time ago, and I found that, when we consulted the Army Council on the subject we were not very favourably received. I want to know whether they have changed their mind: otherwise when they come to be consulted under the terms of this Schedule it may end in a disappointment. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne, and I think my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, will remember some of the difficulties which were experienced in dealing with the Army Council in respect of this vote, and there are passages in the speeches of both my noble friends in which they describe the difficulties how a trench election is impracticable, and how there is great objection to introducing politics amongst the troops. Do the Army Council still hold that view? If so, I cannot, look forward to their co-operation in this matter with any great satisfaction or hope that it will produce a good result. You cannot have an election without introducing politics. And as regards a trench election, whereas I proposed a small trench election, this Bill, if it is to be effective, will involve a large trench election, because the only people who were enfranchised under the Bill for which I was responsible were those soldiers who would have had a vote under the existing law had they not been soldiers, whereas the Government propose to enfranchise every soldier. The trench election, therefore, under this Bill will be much more important, much larger, and a more complicated affair, if it is to be effective, than it was under my Bill.
Under my Bill the Army Council thought it impossible. Now we shall require to know, before this Bill leaves your Lordships' House, one of two things—whether the Army Council still retain the view which they held before; or, if they do, whether the Government are determined to override the Army Council. Personally, I have no doubt there is no difficulty whatever about this so-called trench election. 175 Every Dominion has had to consider the question, and has solved it. The matter is perfectly simple; but the fact that we know the history of this question will make it incumbent upon us to clear up some of these ambiguities before this Bill leaves your Lordships' House. Why have I dwelt—at much too great length, for which I apologise—upon these points: the soldiers' vote, the position of Ireland, and proportional representation? I have said that I believe it is right we should on this occasion trust the people, trust their sense of public spirit, and their administrative capacity. Though I say so, undoubtedly the simultaneous enfranchisement of this large body of men, and possibly of women, does involve a risk, and why should we not honestly say so. It does involve a certain risk, and it seems to me we ought to take the greatest care that in this Bill the best elements of our population have their full weight in the decisions which the electorate has to give. It is of vital importance that the soldiers, the most loyal and the most public-spirited of our people, should be properly represented. It is also of importance that the Irish—I am not speaking of all the Irish but of a section—should not be over-represented. It is important, further, that the minorities, those elements of knowledge and special information, should, by means of proportional representation, have their due weight in the electorate. These are all necessary precautions which ought to be added when you are embarking upon this vast change and this enormous addition to the electorate of the country. That is the reason why I have dealt with these particular topics. The consideration of them throws a great responsibility upon your Lordships. May I say that I earnestly hope that we shall justify the trust which is reposed in us. It is true that we have been attacked in the past; it is true that we have been insulted, that our motives have been traduced, that we have been held up to scorn as interested persons in pursuing the public good, but we know that it is not true, and that no attacks of this kind absolve us from the responsibility which is thrown upon us.
Again, my Lords, we know that great changes are impending in the constitution of your Lordships' House. It may be that many of us will not for long remain members of it. But that, again, has nothing to do with the point. So long as the responsibility is with us we must meet it, and must fulfil he trust which is thrown upon us. Like a 176 sentry at his post, we must remain to the last. I earnestly hope that your Lordships will feel the responsibility as I have ventured to put it before you in these debates, and if this be, as it might well be, the last measure of great importance which your Lordships in your old constitution have to consider and determine, that you will be faithful to your trust to the end.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
My Lords, this Bill contains a great many points of first-rate importance. It is—as was pointed out by the noble Viscount who moved the First Reading some days ago in a speech which I should like to be permitted to congratulate him upon, because I never heard any opening statement in either House made with more perfect lucidity and admirable skill—the largest increase in the suffrage, the most fundamental change in the electorate of the United Kingdom, that has ever been submitted to Parliament. There are many points in the Bill to which one might refer. There is the question of proportional representation. There are the other points referred to by my noble friend who has just sat down. There is the increase in the members of the House of Commons. That seems to me, if I may say so in passing, rather regrettable. But I propose to touch upon none of those subjects, except to remark that it is a curious instance of the irony in human affairs that a Bill which makes these enormous changes, which revolutionises the Constitution of this country more than any measure since the great Reform Act of 1832, should be introduced in the middle of a great war when it is impossible for the people to give their attention to it, and when they are not, in point of fact, giving to it the attention that it requires. I entirely agree with what was said by my noble friend who has just spoken as to the inopportuneness of laying before Parliament at such a moment many of the large changes which are included in this Bill. Some of them, of course, we must have. The need for the Bill is admitted on all hands. But one could wish that it had been confined within the necessary and inevitable limits.
The one subject on which I propose to ask your Lordships' indulgence for a short time is that which introduces the most novel, the most momentous, and what is clearly the one irrevocable change—that is the introduction of woman suffrage. I have given considerable attention to this subject since I first entered the House of 177 Commons much more than thirty years ago, and I have had the opportunity, while travelling in various countries where woman suffrage has been in operation, of studying its working, and I will endeavour as fairly as I can to state the arguments for and against this change, and to give your Lordships the results of the observations which I have made, and which furnish the only experimental basis upon which you can proceed.
We are asked by this Bill to introduce a new principle, and, as my noble friend has observed, to enfranchise at one stroke six millions of women. In reality, my Lords, we are asked to do much more. Everybody knows that we cannot stop at the limit of thirty years of age, and that we shall have to add a million or two more to the number of women voters before long. Only the other day I received, as I suppose all your Lordships did, a Memorial signed by a name which has become well known in connection with suffrage agitation, which protested indignantly against such a miserable, compromising, imperfect measure as this was, and which insisted that very man and every woman had a right to the vote. We know perfectly well that this demand will immediately be renewed, and that the cessation of this agitation, which is expected from the concession of woman suffrage by the Hill, will not be attained. I venture to believe that it is the hope of that peace and tranquillity which has led so large a number of persons in another place to change their opinions upon this subject more than any solid arguments for it which exist. But that, of course, is only matter of surmise. I am afraid that if that is their hope they will be disappointed. The agitation will continue until all women have been enfranchised, and the logic of the case seems to be with them, because all the arguments that I have read or listened to bearing upon the enfranchising of these six millions really go to complete enfranchisement—that is to say, to giving the suffrage to women upon exactly the same terms as it is given to men.
The first question which occurs to me to ask your Lordships to consider is, Does the nation desire this change? We have no evidence that it does. We only have in evidence that there is a general desire, if possible, to get rid of the question. The matter has never been before the nation. We do not even know whether women desire the suffrage. It seems to me very 178 doubtful whether, if the question were left to a popular vote of all the women in the country, the change would be carried. If the women were left to themselves I should rather judge, from what limited observations one can make, that it is very probable that the change would be rejected; and I suspect that not a few of the advocates of woman suffrage think so themselves, because we have noticed no disposition on their part to accept the offer of a popular vote. However, I say that only in passing.
I desire to proceed to the substance of the case. Feeling the great difficulty that there is in the matter, feeling the weight of the arguments that have been advanced on both sides, I do not ask your Lordships to accept any prejudiced statement, but I will try to state as fairly as I can what seem to me to be the best arguments for and against. The first argument is that there is an abstract right in every human being to take an active part in the government of the country where he or she lives. As no evidence has been given, or can be given, for the existence of this or any other abstract natural right, the question furnishes no common ground for argument, and we in England have happily never legislated upon the basis of abstract natural rights. It would have very serious consequences for us in our tropical Dominions if we were to proceed upon any such principle. In fact, those are principles which are better suited for Petrograd than for Westminster; and, if any one wants to know whither the faith in and the desire to carry out abstract natural rights lead, let him look at the condition of things that now exists in Russia. The only point, I would submit, which is really worth considering is whether this change will be for the benefit of the nation and for the benefit of women themselves—whether, in short, it will give us a better Parliament and a better Government.
One argument which I hear used is that it is a reward which is due to women for the services they have rendered in the war. Do they desire this reward? Was it for the sake of it that they gave us their services so freely in such a noble and unselfish spirit? I think it is disparaging to suggest that those who gave themselves to hospital and Red Cross work, or those who went into munition factories, did so with any thought of having the suffrage given to them as a reward. To think this 179 would be to disparage their sense of duty and their sense of patriotism. And do not those who speak of giving the vote as a reward rather forget that the exercise of the franchise is a duty? It is not a boon. It is a duty to be performed. And if women are generally qualified for the vote and if they need the vote, then they are entitled to it already, whether they have given this service or not; and, if they are not qualified, it is surely no kindness to enforce upon them a duty which they are not now prepared to discharge.
It is also said that the vote is needed as a protection for women in the labour disputes which are likely to arise after the war. This, I suppose, means that there will be a competition for work between men and women when the war comes to an end, and that it is necessary that, in order that women may have a fair chance, they shall be allowed to have the electoral suffrage, and especially to have a right in the passing of laws which are to determine the wages to be paid to men and women. There is in some quarters a demand that, wherever men and women are doing similar work, the wages of women shall be equal to those of men. I do not discuss that question, although I think there is a good deal to be said as to the possible injury which might be involved to women themselves in the establishment of such a principle. But I do not stop to discuss it. I only ask your Lordships whether this means that we contemplate when the war is over passing laws to fix wages—not merely to fix a minimum wage, as has been done already for some purposes, but to fix wages generally, and especially between men and women. If so, we are adding very largely to the tasks which our Legislature has already undertaken, and the prospect, I think, is not one to be contemplated without anxiety. I am not aware that the law now makes any distinction whatever between the wages of men and of women, or makes any distinction between the rights of men's unions and the rights of women's unions, or that there is anything in our law which in any respect prejudices, as far as wages are concerned, the right of women to get whatever wage they can. If there is, by all means let us be told of such an injustice, and let it be remedied. But is it suggested that, for fear of hypothetical difficulties which may possibly arise at the end of the war—difficulties which may be transient—this enormous change, this permanent change, should be enacted?
180 More respect seems to be due to another argument—namely, that women need legislation to protect their interests against men in general. Now if this could be shown there would be a real grievance. I frankly admit that if it could be shown to us that women at present are unfairly dealt with by the general law of the land, that there are grievances from which they suffer, in comparison with men, which the law inflicts or permits, then there is a strong case for giving them better legislation. But is the law unjust to women in that way? I may venture, if your Lordships will pardon me, to say that I should be particularly anxious to disclaim the slightest-right to maintain that any grievance suffered by women should not be at once rectified, because many years ago, before I entered Parliament, I was one of those who worked long and earnestly to remove one grievance that then existed—the defective rights that women had to their own property; and when that was carried, I worked for many years endeavouring to get women a larger share in educational endowments, to see that better secondary as well as elementary education was provided for them, and I had the honour of carrying through Parliament an Act which enlarged the rights of women to the guardianship of their children. So I hope that I should not be indifferent to any case of grievance from which women could be shown to suffer.
I admit that there is one inequality between the law as it affects men and as it affects women, and that is as regards the law of divorce. The conditions for divorce are not quite the same for women as they are for men. That I admit. But I should like to observe upon that subject that the Royal Commission which sat a few years ago recommended that this inequality should be remedied, and I do not suppose there is any one of us who will not feel that upon that point at least the proposals of the Royal Commission are certain to be accepted. I should like to add also that this inequality does not exist in the law of Scotland. In Scotland the lights of the husband and the wife in that respect are identical. And it did not need woman suffrage to bring that about in Scotland.
As regards property, as regards education, as regards entrance to the professions, I believe the law is now equal and just between men and women. Only the other day we passed an Act, at the instance of my 181 noble friend Lord Buckmaster, to admit women to the profession of solicitors. And as regards the Bar, I suppose, if there were shown to be a case for it, that even the Inns of Court would not hold out for very long. As regards labour, I believe the law to be equal and fair between men and women. But I should like to quote an authority which your Lordships will all admit to be one of the highest that we could well have, both as regards law and as regards statesmanship, that of Mr. Asquith, who said in another place, I think in 1910—I challenge the comparison of our Statute Book with any Code of Legislation in any part of the world in regard to the degree of protection and care which it gives, not only to the property of women and to the status of married women, but to the position of women workers.Now, the interests of women who labour, the wage-earners, are exactly the same as those of men in the same class. The fact is that women are not a class in the sense in which we speak of the various social classes. They are a sex, which is a different thing altogether. And the interests of women in every social class are substantially the same as those of the men who belong to that class. In sanitation, in education, in questions of housing, in questions of the right of combination, as regards sweating in industries—in all these matters the interests of the class are practically the same for men and women. If it is said that the law, although it sufficiently protects men from what is called sweating in certain industries, does not, owing to the peculiar position of women, give them an equal or equivalent protection, let us be told of that, and lot us remedy it. But I am not aware that a case of that kind has been made out. If it has been made out, then so far my argument would fail. But I submit that in a case of this kind Parliament would be willing to step in and to remedy the grievance.
The position of women has been, as many of your Lordships will remember, immensely improved by law during the last, sixty or seventy years. How was that done? It was done without the vote. It was done by the pressure of public opinion: and surely with a public opinion which has shown itself so capable of remedying these grievances in the past, and which is certainly more sensitive and more alert now than it ever was before, and more animated by humanitarian considerations—surely when we look back upon the work that has been done during these sixty or seventy years, we may feel confident that the same 182 spirit will continue to prevail. In spite of what is said about the hostility of men's unions to women's unions, I do not and will not believe that the working men of this country desire to perpetuate any hardship or injustice upon the working women.
I come now to the arguments which are advanced against the granting of the suffrage. Some of them seem to me rather weak, and I do not propose to take up any time with them, I should like to go to what seems to be the one argument which deserves careful examination. It is this—that the immense majority of women are not yet qualified by their way of life, by their knowledge, and by the interest that they take in public affairs, to use the vote to their advantage and to the advantage of the nation. In 1866 and 1867, when we were engaged in discussing the extension of the suffrage, we always assumed as a matter of course that the first thing to be proved was the fitness of those to be enfranchised to exercise the franchise. That was common ground between the Parties in those days. In 1884, when the question again came up and the franchise was extended in the counties, the same argument was used. Those of us who fought for the enlarged franchise were put upon proving that the working men of this country were fit to exercise the franchise. We acknowledged the obligation to prove that, and we thought that we did prove it. But I notice that this I had of argument is considered now to be obsolete. In fact, it is now called by what has become the opprobrious name of a "Victorian doctrine"; and it is not thought necessary to inquire whether any class should be enfranchised, but to inquire only whether they are human beings. As a matter of fact, it is held that when you confer a vote you confer therewith the capacity to use a vote wisely. An answer is always made to this argument, "Are not there plenty of men who have the vote but who are ignorant, who are indifferent, who care more about a football match than they care about their political rights? Yet you give them the vote; if so, why not give it to women also?" It is not to be denied that there is a proportion of our voters who are comparatively indifferent to their civic duties, who do not possess the knowledge enabling them to form a just opinion upon difficult questions. But surely the number of women who are not qualified is incomparably larger than the number of men who are not so qualified; and if the want of knowledge and of 183 interest among the male voters is an evil, why should you increase it enormously by giving the vote to those in whom the want of knowledge and the want of interest are confessedly very much greater?
It was admitted, of course, in 1866 that there was some considerable proportion of the electors who might be thought not fully qualified for the vote; but Parliament in those days decided to enlarge the franchise because there were other reasons which made it worth while to take that risk in order that the greater benefits might be obtained. It was felt that our franchise was too narrow, that the foundation of our Government was not wide enough. It was felt that the legislation was not sufficiently regardful of the interests of the working classes; and those were the grounds which induced Parliament then to pass that great extension of the franchise. I have endeavoured to state the argument that this need does not exist in regard to women, because the legislation which benefits them as a class is already passed by the demands which are made by the men who belong to the same class.
It may be asked. Why is it that the women of this country as a whole should be less capable of giving a vote than are men? Is one supposed to be disparaging either the intelligence or the sense of duty of women by making that argument? It has nothing to do with that. Nobody disparages the intelligence of women. Nobody says that women have less, or ought to have less, interest in the welfare of the country. All we say is that the conditions of their life are so altogether different that it is not possible for them to acquire the same knowledge, to have the same practice and aptitude to understand questions, so well as their husbands and fathers and brothers are able to do. The vast mass of them do not move about in the world as men move about. They do not meet and talk-about politics; they do not attend meetings; they do not read political news, as we all know, in the way in which men do. I do not deny, of course, that women do read newspapers to some extent. But we all know the heading in a newspaper which is generally put in type as "The Woman's World." That is the part of the newspaper which is supposed to appeal most to women. But how many women whom we know belonging to that class read the political news or know anything of what is passing in the political sphere? Think, for instance, of the large class of domestic 184 servants. Within ten miles of where we are meeting there are probably hundreds of thousands of cooks, housemaids, parlour maids, nursemaids, and those who are called "tweenies," who do not look at a newspaper, and who know nothing at all about what is passing in the political world. We are proposing to give the vote to them all. Take, again, the case of the wives of the agricultural labourers. Many of them do not see a newspaper from the beginning to the end of the year, and they cannot know anything about the political questions which engage us. What is the use of expecting them to give an intelligent and considered vote upon those subjects?
I do not deny that there are plenty of women—in fact, I gladly recognise that there are—as well fitted in every respect to give votes as are any members of this House or of the other House. I will take, for instance, a class which it is proposed to enfranchise by this Bill—namely, the graduates of British Universities. I am sure that the women graduates are quite as fitted to give votes as men who have graduated. Take the case of those 500 or 600 ladies who signed a Memorial which was circulated the other day, and no doubt read by your Lordships. It was a remarkable and interesting list, and showed how much more active a part women are now taking in public work. It was a list which was in the highest degree encouraging to those who sympathise with the efforts of women. Everybody knows that we should be only too happy to enfranchise those 500 or 600 ladies and the tens of thousands of other women who have equal knowledge of public affairs. If we could give the vote to those tens of thousands without giving it also to the millions who do not possess their knowledge and fitness, I am sure we should all be happy to do so; but to give it to six or eight millions of voters, to give it to 95 per cent. of the women of this country for the sake of the 5 per cent. whom we admit to be fully qualified, would surely be a very bold step.
Again, let me say that the number of women who are qualified or who will qualify is increasing. It is increasing every year, as the causes increase. The number of women who enter the professions is increasing, and I do not doubt that in twenty or thirty years' time the number will be very much larger than 185 it is at this moment. I do not doubt that when the time comes that women in any degree comparable to men take an interest in public affairs and possess the means of giving an intelligible vote upon public affairs, they will receive the franchise. All I ask your Lordships to say is whether that moment has yet come. What will happen when this large number of women is enfranchised? Most of them, if I may judge by what has happened in other countries, will vote with their fathers, husbands, and brothers, but there will be a great number who will not have fathers, husbands, and brothers to go to for advice. How will they vote? They will be got at by the Party organisations. Not having any opinions of their own, they will be easy victims of any representation which is made to them. The organisations and the Party machines will look to it. These organisations, these Party machines for bringing up voters, are, as we all know, inevitable; but the man voter is not so easily got at by the organisations. He has, or may have, an opinion of his own, and he is able to check the representations made to him, and can exercise his own judgment; whereas where the bulk of the electors are women you put a premium upon electioneering arts. What is an election? It is a means of getting at the mind and will of the individual citizen, that he may express himself upon public questions. Where the elector has no knowledge and very little interest, it is not a reasonable and thoughtful vote he can give. It is not a true expression of his mind and will as a member of the nation. A voter of that kind is wax in the hands of the Party machines or the electioneering agent, because he is not possessed of that independent judgment which will enable him to give an independent vote.
There are, as we all know, plenty of amiable enthusiasts who believe that the giving of the vote will confer capacity to use it; that a brighter and better era will forthwith dawn upon this country whenever women come into Parliament; that we shall have politically a new heaven and a new earth, and that women will bring a purer and nobler spirit into politics, because they will always give their vote to the cause of peace and justice. Those hopes, or hopes of that kind, have often been entertained at epochs of history in the past. People are always hoping, and I suppose they will always continue to hope, for great moral changes from mere changes in 186 voting machinery. I should be sorry to throw cold water upon those who indulge these hopes, and certainly I shall not attempt to refute the prophecies which are made of this better time. It has been well said that you cannot argue with a prophet. All you can do is to disbelieve him. If any of these prophecies are realised we shall be very glad of it. But all we can say at present is that in the past they have often been indulged and in the past they have often proved to be baseless.
Your Lordships may, perhaps, ask whether one means by this that women ought to have nothing whatever to do with politics. I am very far from suggesting that women ought not to play their part in public life, and to bring their knowledge and experience into the common stock. But votes are not the only means of doing that. There is such a thing as public opinion, and in the long run it is public opinion which rules in a country like Great Britain. In every enlightened and progressive country legislation follows the march of public opinion, and all the means of forming and guiding public opinion which man possesses are now possessed by women equally. They can write, they can speak, they can bring every means in their power to bear upon those who legislate in order to influence their opinions and form a sound, wise, and liberal public opinion in the nation, and they are doing so. They have the same power of influencing public opinion as men have, where they have the same knowledge, the same character, and the same experience; and when we find this capacity for influencing public opinion in women, in the spheres which they have studied and in which their experience has lain, is it not true that we attach just as much importance to it, and are just as willing to defer to it, as to the opinions of men?
I might mention a great many women who have exercised this power in the last generation. I dare say your Lordships will remember two women who had great and special knowledge in two spheres, to whom we all deferred, and whose knowledge and experience were of the greatest value to their country. I refer to Miss Octavia Hill and to Miss Florence Nightingale; and I might mention, among others, if I may be allowed to do so by way of illustration. Mrs. Ward, Mrs. Creighton, Mrs. Henry Sidgwick, and Mrs. Fawcett. There are many others. There are many women who 187 are exercising an influence on public opinion and who are doing far more work than could be done by more votes, and I hope we shall continue to have more of them. This seems to me, my Lords, to be an answer to the Memorial to which I referred a few moments ago, and which was signed by 600 or 700 ladies. They say that surely there is practical urgency for the representation of women's interests and women's experience in the task of social healing and industrial reconstruction. To that we should all heartily agree. We desire all the help that women's interest and women's experience in the task of social healing can give us. But they can give us that now without votes, as they have done in the past. We shall obtain it better by inviting their advice and valuing it than by throwing the decision of the greatest issues of national and Imperial policy into the hands of millions who have no knowledge of and have given no thought to the tremendous issues that are before us.
I thank your Lordships for having listened to me so patiently and so long, but there is one topic more upon which I desire to say a few words. What has been the working of woman suffrage in the countries where I have had the opportunity of observing it? I do not take countries like Norway and Finland, because the experience there is too short. I confine myself to the experience of some of the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. First of all, what were the causes which led to the giving of the vote in these countries? There was no general desire expressed by the women in any of them to have the vote given to them. The grant was clue to the constant pressure exerted by very small knots and groups of women upon the Legislatures in those countries. They appealed to the principle of democratic equality which is very strong in democratic communities, and they appealed with the more effect because they kept up a continual pressure. Your Lordships know—those of you, at any rate, who have sat in the House of Commons know—what is the natural tendency of a member of a legislative body. He finds it a great deal easier to say "Yes" than to say "No," and it is to this tendency to say "Yes" rather than "No" that the grant of the suffrage in the American States, in Australia, and in New Zealand is to be attributed. All the testimony that I received there was to the effect that there had been no general desire whatever on the part of the women 188 of those countries. An interesting instance of this was given by the fact that in the State of Massachusetts a little while ago it was proposed to take a popular vote, a sort of referendum, of the women of the State as to whether they desired the franchise, and the advocates of woman suffrage refused to have it. They distrusted the result. So much then for the causes.
And now two or three words about the results. In the United States the grant of woman suffrage has made no difference whatever. The general administration is no better and it is no worse. There is one State which has had woman suffrage for a good while, a State whose administration is anything but satisfactory, and in which a good many political scandals have arisen. The scandals are no greater than they were before woman suffrage was granted, and they are no less. There has been no more or better legislation for the benefit of women in these States. If you compare the American States that have woman suffrage with those which do not have it, the laws for the protection of women are no better in the States where the women vote than they are in the States where they do not vote. In fact, the best code of labour legislation for women that exists in any State is in a State which has more than once, I believe—certainly once—refused to grant woman suffrage. It does not have it now. Where legislation is passed it is passed under the influence of public opinion, and the mere fact that women have a right to vote makes no difference at all. I have heard it said that temperance measures are more easily passed where women vote, but even that does not seem to be generally proved. It seems to have been occasionally true in some States, and the opposite seems to have been true in others. Taking one with another, I do not think that the woman's vote has made any difference to the temperance cause. It is supposed that women generally vote for peace, and it was supposed that at the last election of a President the votes of the women were given for what they believed to be the cause of peace, but as they were given under the ballot it is impossible to say that with any positiveness.
Curiously enough, the results in New Zealand are just the same. There has been no more legislation for the benefit of women in New Zealand. Most of the legislation which they desired had, I think, come 189 before they had the vote. Certainly I cannot make out that it has caused any difference since. The only result has been that the tendency of women to vote for the prohibition of the sale of liquor has confused and perplexed politicians. The politicians are always in doubt when an election comes to know how to shape their course and play their cards with a view to getting the women's votes. They do not know whether to throw themselves on the prohibition side or not, because they do not know for certain how the women will vote, or what their relative strength is as compared with the opposite interest of those who deal in intoxicants.
Subject to one exception, the same thing is true of Australia. In Australia there has been no difference as regards legislation, according to all the evidence I could receive when I was there. But it is believed in Australia that the possession of the vote by women has gradually tended to increase the strength of the Labour Party. The reason assigned for believing this is that whereas the women belonging to the labouring class are brought out to vote by their unions and by their male relatives, the women of the middle and upper classes will not go to the polls in the same proportion, not being worked up by unions in the way in which the women belonging to the working classes are. It is a common belief in Australia—though figures cannot be given, because the voting is by ballot—that the Labour Party has thus gained great accessions of strength. Many think that the woman vote went to defeat conscription.
This leads me to the last point I desire to put to your Lordships. It is a very unexpected result. The granting of the vote to women has had no appreciable effect in increasing the interest that women take in public affairs. There is less interest taken in public affairs, either in the suffrage States of the Union, or in Australia, or in New Zealand, than is taken by women in this country. You find a larger number of women here who study polities, think about politics, talk about politics and take part in political work than you do in Australia or in New Zealand, or in the United States, in those places where the women have votes. This conclusion warns me from venturing any attempt at prophecy, and I make no prophecy. I will not venture to say what the results of woman suffrage will be if introduced in this country, beyond those considerations which 190 I have already laid before your Lordships' House. But this I do venture, respectfully, to submit—that no great and ancient nation, with a complicated civilisation like ours—not even France, the home of abstract ideas—no great nation has ever yet tried this bold experiment, and no sufficient reason has been shown why we, with all the large and difficult problems, national and Imperial, that now confront us, should, without any expression of the people's will, be the first great nation to launch out into what is for us a wide and uncharted sea.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, in the same way as the noble Viscount who has just sat down. I desire to address the remarks I have to make to one subject only—the subject of proportional representation. The peculiarity of this subject is that it did form part of the agreed recommendations of the Speaker's Conference, but during the course of the Bill through the other House the principle, substantially, was withdrawn from the Bill. It now remains only so far as the University vote is concerned, which is a very small matter indeed. I want to say this—and I will make my speech as short as I can—that a Franchise Bill which incorporates the principle of proportional representation is in truth and substance a different Bill from a Franchise Bill which has excluded the principle from its provisions. It is a matter which goes to the root of the exercise of the franchise and the effect which the exercise of the franchise has as regards the voting power of the elector.
I will quite shortly explain what I mean by the contrast between an Electoral Bill which is founded on the single-Member constituency principle without proportional representation, and a Bill in which the principle is introduced. In a single-Member constituency you get representation of the majority in each particular constituency. I think, on representative principles, that this is a narrow and a wrong basis. But leaving that for a moment, what is forgotten is this—that if you have the principle of the single-Member constituency as is proposed in the present Bill you in truth and substance disfranchise a very large number of people to whom you pretend you are giving the vote. In other words, you are reducing what is a great national duty to a mere sham. I will give one or two illustrations of what I mean, and show 191 that I am in no sense exaggerating the position.
Let me quote first what was said by President Garfield at the time when he was President of the United States and was criticising the system of single-Member constituencies. He said—In my district the effect of the single-Member constituency is to disfranchise 40,000 electors, and these electors have no more opportunity or chance of obtaining a position in Congress than they would on the floor of the House of Commons.What you really find is this. In large districts you have permanent and important minorities which in substance are disfranchised. Let me take the case of Scotland, for example. I have the figures here. In the election of January, 1910, the Liberal and Labour voters were 394,000 and the Unionists 265,000. What was the result? The Liberal and Labour votes secured sixty-one Members, and the Unionist votes secured only eleven Members. Or to put it in another way, it required 34,000 Unionist votes to obtain representation and only 6,000 Liberal or Labour votes.
But that is not the whole story. The story is really this, that in all the districts where the Unionists were in a minority they were practically and substantially disfranchised. That is shown in the case of the Election which very nearly concerned your Lordships' House—the Election of December, 1910, in which the question arose as the powers of the Second Chamber. What was the effect there? There was a change in the voting in Scotland. The Liberal and Labour vote declined from 394,000 to 372,000, whilst the Unionist vote rose from 265,000 to 277,000. I am not giving the actual, but round, figures. The change in opinion affected 32,203 votes, a very large change in public opinion, but it did not effect any change whatever in the representation of Scotland at that time. You had just the same representation after this change as you had before.
I ask whether in these circumstances you really get a form of enfranchisement which allows the real opinion of the electorate to be ascertained. I do not want to go into the numerous cases. But take the well-known case of Wales and Monmouthshire in the 1906 Parliament. The Unionist minority was 32 per cent. of the whole, or over 100,000 votes. Yet they did not get a single Unionist Member for any part of Wales or Monmouthshire. The Unionists 192 under the existing system were in sub-stance disfranchised. I will take one illustration to the contrary, because I should not like all the illustrations to be on one side. Take the Unionists of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex in the January election of 1910. They polled 218,000 votes; the Liberals polled 134,000 but did not get a single representative, because the effect of the single-Member constituency, with a single vote, is not to give representation of the district, but representation only of the majority of the district; with the result, as I say, that the minority is practically disfranchised. The same may be said of Birmingham where there is a monopoly of Unionist representatives. On the other hand, you may refer to Leeds, which had a monopoly of Liberal representation. In both cases there was a substantial number of the electorate who, if they had had an opportunity, would have shown what the real state of public opinion was in those districts.
Let me say one other word about single-Member constituencies. They do not really give a chance to the electors of voting for a representative of their own choice. You practically have the two representatives of the caucus on either side, with the effect—I think a very deleterious effect—that the independent element has been largely banished in recent years from the other House. If we follow what has happened since 1885 when the single-Member constituency principle was really established, we shall find that, so far from the House of Commons growing in prestige and authority, it has become more and more under the iron heel of the agent and the caucus.
Let me say a word about the opposing principle. It has been stated in various ways, but I should like to state it as clearly as I can and very shortly. Proportional representation implies that every elector has an opportunity of giving an effective vote—in other words, it gives effect to what I think is the true principle of "one vote one value." Whether you have what is called the single transferable vote or not, you have to see what is the essence of the matter, and it is this—that whereas under the single-Member constituency principle you have a large measure of disfranchisement, if you apply the proportional representation principle you practically give an opportunity of voting, and of effective voting, to every man on the Register. 193 Instead of having a sham franchise, you have a real one.
There is another matter which one has to bear in mind. What really do you want your House of Commons to be? Do you want it to be representative of the majorities from time to time in single-Member constituencies, or do you want it to be what has been called a reflex of national life in all its variety of thought and expression, and representative of all the forces and ideas which in the aggregate we connote by the, term "nationality"? I think there is no doubt whatever that what we want is that the House of Commons should be the reflex or mirror of national life, and you can only ensure this by allowing the electorate not only to be enfranchised but to have the chance of giving a collective vote. This you cannot do without the introduction of the principle of proportional representation, I do not want to catechise the noble Viscount who has this Bill in his charge, and who has been very properly complimented upon the way in which he introduced it, but if I might challenge him I would challenge him in this way. Can he give any answer to my statement that single-Member constituencies do not give representation to a large number of electors to whom the Franchise Bill affects to give a vote; and, second, does not proportional representation give an effective chance to each one and thereby introduce the true principle of one vote one value? I put the challenge in that form because I do not want to go off into matters of detail.
I noticed in the other House that there was a great deal of discussion as to the mechanism of proportional representation, and as to whether it is easy to be understood or not. I want to say a word or two by and by on those topics. But the principle is a different thing. We have to consider the principle apart from the method in which it is proposed that it should be applied. It is the principle and the principle only which can give an effective vote to all the electorate, whereas any other principle which up to the present has been tried has inevitably resulted in the practical and virtual disfranchisement of large numbers. That is not only a mistake as regards the vote, but it introduces all the difficulties, or a large number of the difficulties, which we have found practically in all representative government. It produces a natural discontent 194 amongst those who have not really got the vote which Parliament had promised to give.
More than that, we have to consider that the giving of the vote is only a method of giving a voice to what the noble Marquess called the democracy of the time. I agree with him. I have no fear of democracy. I welcome it, but with this proviso—that the democracy must be, a true and not a false one. It must be a democracy that is really representative. The term "democracy" has too often been used of a particular class or a particular interest. One does not wonder at this, because that is very much the effect of having single-Member constituencies and disfranchising a large minority of voters. But I protest that this is a wrong view of democracy altogether. We want the co-operation of all classes of this country. We want each man to be induced not only to accept his vote as a right but to deal with it as a duty. We want to get rid as far as possible of friction and antagonism, and, if we desire to produce those results it can be done only by basing the representative system upon a just principle, and by giving to every man wherever he lives, whether poor or rich, or whatever his interest may be, an equal right and opportunity in the selection of the representative Assembly on which representative government depends. That is the argument for proportional representation. As far as I know, or have heard, that argument has never been answered.
Without going into details, for a special reason, at the present moment, let us see how the other system has worked. Have we really had representative government, bringing various parties and interests together in Ireland? Your Lordships may recollect that when the introduction of proportional representation to Ireland was moved in this House it was accepted without a Division. Originally a Division was called, but there were no tellers on the opposing side, and therefore proportional representation for Ireland has already been accepted by this House, without any Division.
It would not be appropriate at this moment to go into detail, but look at Canada, Australia, and South Africa. Are we satisfied with the result of single-Member constituencies in those districts? Have they resulted in the co-operation of all parties, or do we not find that under that system there is an unfortunate division 195 at the present time as regards their national attitude upon the great national question?
Let me contrast that with what happened in Sweden. Only the other day Sweden was in a condition of great national excitement. The elections were proceeding on the principle of proportional representation. For the capital, Stockholm, there were elected Monsieur Branting, who is the head of the Socialists, and Monsieur Lindmann, a prominent Conservative. There, by proportional representation, you had in the same constituency all sides thoroughly represented. I think the effect has been admirable as regards Sweden. Instead of division after the election there has been co-operation between all parties, and I should like to read to your Lordships what these great leaders M. Branting and M. Lindmann, said upon this point. M. Branting said—I am an avowed advocate of proportional representation. Of the opponents of proportional representation at the time it was first proposed there are scarcely any that have remained so, nearly all of them having become convinced both of the fairness and of the practical advantages of the new method.Now what does his opponent, M. Lindmann, say?—The anxiety of many as to the great inconvenience that proportional representation would bring in its train has not proved to be justified. All the parties appear on the whole to like the new method. Direct personal attacks upon individuals occur less frequently since its adoption. I am further confirmed in my belief that it is a just and equitable method of election.I could multiply illustrations of that kind, particularly from Belgium. I could give illustrations, I believe, that in every country and in every district where it has been tried, it has been found not only easy and practicable of application—no one, I think, can really doubt that at the, present moment—but it has resulted in what every one must desire, the cooperation of interests and classes as against the fatal results of division and friction between interests and classes.
I should like, quite shortly, to deal with the objections which have been raised to the system of proportional representation, because it appears to me that none of them can be said to have any weight when one comes to close quarters with them and considers what they really are. In the first place, it is said that the Speaker's Conference provided only for a partial application of the principle. That is 196 perfectly true. But I should like to say, speaking as an avowed supporter of proportional representation, that that was not our fault. We desire more than any one else to have, not a partial, but a full application of proportional representation. I know—at least I fancy I know—that if the Speaker's Conference had suggested a full incorporation of the principle our critics would have taken exactly the opposite line. Anything is good enough for criticism in matters of this kind, and nothing is more easy than criticism of this character. But if the noble Lord opposite really is opposed to the introduction of the principle of proportional representation on the ground that it has not been carried far enough, he will get the fullest possible support in this House in carrying this principle further than was suggested in the Speaker's Conference.
Several of your Lordships, some of whom I see here to-day, were present the other day when we had a deputation from the agricultural interests. Nothing could be more certain than that the Bill as it stands without proportional representation is to the detriment of agricultural representation at the present moment. That cannot be questioned. Agriculture is a thinly divided industry, which in a special manner suffers from the system of single-Member constituencies, and which has also suffered in a special measure from the methods of redistribution. This is only an illustration, but I think it is a just illustration. It is a matter of the greatest national importance that agriculture should be properly represented in the electorate in future. It has been a great national want that it has not been sufficiently represented in the past. And what I say of agriculture is true also of other industries. But I beg of your Lordships to adopt the view which every one adopted who heard the agricultural deputation, that we ought to make sure that agriculture is not unduly handicapped in this Bill, and there is no other way of doing it than by the introduction of proportional representation, applicable to the counties as well as to the boroughs.
Then we are told about practical difficulties. What practical difficulty is there to an elector in putting the figures 1, 2, or 3 opposite his selected names? No one thinks there is a practical difficulty so far as the electorate is concerned; but a White Paper was issued which dealt not only 197 with what the electorate had to do, but with the duties of the returning officer. Of course, the duties of the returning officer are very different from those of the elector, and the evidence shows conclusively—I think it would be a satire on the intelligence of this country to make any other suggestion—that so far as the returning officers are concerned, and so far as our expert staff is concerned, there is no difficulty whatever in making the return under the system of proportional representation. And so far as the elector is concerned, if you assume the elector to have a minimum of intelligence you cannot suppose that he is not capable of putting the figures 1, 2, 3, 4 opposite the candidates in the older of his selection. There is no greater difficulty for the elector if you have proportional representation than there is in putting the cross at the present time opposite the selected name on the ballot paper.
There is another point which is, no doubt, more open to discussion, but I want to associate myself entirely in this with what was said by the noble Marquess to-night. It was said that you would have a less effective governing body if you had the House of Commons elected on the principle of proportional representation. I admit that there may be a difference of opinion on that, but I entirely agree with what the noble Marquess said. The House of Commons has not improved as a governing body under the cast-iron heel of the caucus mechanism of the present time. The House of Commons would he improved if you had a larger independent element, if you had men who could stand for, and I hope find a place in, the House of Commons without placing their necks entirely under the yoke of the Party Whip. I do not say this from a desire to attack the Party system. I agree with what Burke, who was, after all, a great constitutionalist, said years ago, that you cannot have effective Parliamentary control except under the Party system. But you may have the Party system carried too far. I think the I Party system has been carried too far in recent years. And I think one may say without danger of inaccuracy that in old days, long before the Party machine had the power it has now, our House of Commons did show itself to be a governing authority in the true sense of the term, and its governing power was not lessened but increased by the large number of 198 independent men who sat in the House of Commons in those days.
The next argument which has been used against the proposal is that to introduce proportional representation into the Bill would cause some difficulty as regards the registration proposals, or as regards the redistribution proposals. Let me answer that at once. So far as registration is concerned, there is absolutely no difference whatever. Your Lordships know that the registration officer is to be the clerk of the county council or the clerk of the borough. What has he got to do? He has to prepare the Register for each registration unit. The noble Viscount (Lord Peel) will tell me if I am wrong in any single respect, but would his duties be different whether you introduced proportional representation or left the Bill as it is at the present time? I have had a good deal to do with registration matters, and it appears to me that in not one single particular would there be the slightest alteration whether we introduced proportional representation or not. In other words, if there is a question of delay in regard to this Bill, so far as the registration proposals are concerned they can be put into operation at once; and they would be equally applicable whether you had the principle of proportional representation or the principle of single-Member constituencies.
Let me now take the question of redistribution. Your Lordships will remember that at an early stage we asked that the question of the Instructions to the Redistribution Commissioners should be considered in this House. The noble Earl the Leader of the House made it quite clear—admirably-clear, if I may say so—that, if this House did not intervene in the question of the Instructions to the Redistribution Commissioners, this should be no argument against this House exercising its full constitutional authority on the matters involved in a Franchise Bill. The noble Earl will recollect that he made this position quite clear. But I want to go a little further. Assuming that you introduce proportional representation into this Bill, redistribution is practically a mechanical matter and nothing more. I will give to the House illustrations of what I mean. Redistribution would not be necessary if you introduced proportional representation into this Bill. It would mean only the grouping of certain local government areas which have already been defined. I do not say that you may 199 not find an obscure case here and there, but that is the principle. I have had illustrations taken out both in boroughs and in counties, for it would be a lamentable matter that a great principle should be put on one side on the excuse of a difficulty which in fact does not exist.
Take the case of the boroughs in the metropolis. I have taken Camberwell, Hackney, Lambeth, and Wandsworth. Those four boroughs would return four, three, four, and five Members respectively. No redistribution of any kind is necessary. You simply have to elect your three, four or five Members from the borough as a whole, instead of in single-Member constituencies. Or take, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Nottingham, and Plymouth, which return five, four, four, and three Members respectively. Let me go even a little further in order to show how easy this matter is. Take Glasgow, which has fifteen Members. It is only aggregating these fifteen constituencies under three heads; there is no redistribution, nor is there any necessity for it. Or take Manchester. Manchester has ten Members. There is no difficulty, and no question of redistribution. Instead of having ten constituencies in Manchester you would have two, each of them containing five of the constituencies as they have now been marked out. As far as I am aware, in a very large number of cases—I do not say in all—if your Lordships introduced the principle of proportional representation the change under the redistribution scheme would be comparatively small, I do not wish to be misunderstood with regard to one point. Under the Schedule, as it is now, and as it was introduced, there is a certain number of single-Member constituencies. They might stop there. But as regards the mass of constituencies, cither in the counties or in the boroughs, it is a mere question of aggregating areas already defined, and the question of redistribution is comparatively simple. I hope, however, that before the Committee stage comes an Amendment will be put down which will carry out in a practical manner what I am stating now to your Lordships.
There are two minor points upon which I would like to say a word. The first is the question of by-elections, which is comparatively unimportant, and which I think can be adequately dealt with as suggested in the Report of the Speaker's Conference. The other point is that of expenditure. Expenditure would really be the same whether you 200 had proportional representation or the other system. There would be the same limits in that connection. It is, of course, a matter for the House of Commons, but I think that the expenditure which has been allowed is grossly extravagant unless you desire to make an Election a system of indirect bribery. Why do you want this huge expenditure in connection with Elections? I do not know whether it is of any advantage that the electorate should be misled by somewhat absurd posters and matters of that kind. I fought five contested elections myself, and I say without hesitation that the mass of expenditure such as would be authorised by this Bill has no real purpose at all, and is used for direct motives and inducements only, and for what is practically a system of indirect bribery. However, the actual figures are a matter for the House of Commons and not for this House.
I think that I have now gone over the case for proportional representation and dealt with the suggested objections. I claim that those objections have in substance no weight at all. I claim for the system of proportional representation that it brings in the doctrine of one vote one value; that it enfranchises the electorate which you intend to enfranchise; that it keeps away what is the real evil of the single-Member constituencies—namely, giving a vote on paper and knowing that in reality it is a sham. As a basis of an electoral Reform Bill that evil ought never to be allowed.
With regard to the conduct of this House, I desire only to say this, in addition to what was said by the noble Marquess. There is no doubt that we have a constitutional right and a constitutional duty in connection with a Bill of this nature. As I said, nobody has put that matter more fairly and fully than the noble Earl who leads this House; but on a matter of this kind, which was sanctioned by the Speaker's Conference, which goes to the whole root of a Franchise Bill, which determines whether we are to have a democratic co-operation between the classes or a democracy which may lead to friction and trouble—on a matter of this kind we ought to exercise the constitutional duty which has been thrown upon us, and to restore to this Bill the principle of proportional representation as it was placed there unanimously in the Report of the Speaker's Conference.
§ LORD BURNHAM
My Lords, the truth is not in us if we deny that the legislative proposals in the Bill which your Lordships are now asked to read a second time effect a revolution, though a pacific and, as we all hope, a peaceful revolution. It repeals, in whole or in part, 100 Acts of Parliament. It enfranchises 8,000,000 men and women—whereas the first Franchise Act affected only 500,000; the second, 1,000,000; and the third, 2,000,000. This Bill does away with the old 40s. freeholder, who was the sturdy champion of British liberty, and drives him into the limbo of forgotten things. It preserves the occupation franchise by a side wind only and for a special purpose. Therefore, make no mistake about it, this Bill is a revolution.
I believe that I am the only member of your Lordships' House who sat on the Speaker's Conference from the first hour to the last. I am not concerned to defend the Bill as it now is, but I am concerned to a certain extent to justify the Bill as it was introduced into the House of Commons. I am bound to differ from my noble friend Lord Salisbury in the description that he gave of the purpose and principle with which we set out on that Committee. It was not an inspired body, though in its reconciliation of extremes it became at the end an inspiring body. It was simply a Conference of average men, representing the average opinion of political Parties; but I will point out to my noble friend that in this I must differ from him. We were warned by the leaders of both political Parties that we had to strive our utmost to effect a national settlement that would leave no sting or sore behind it, so that the great problems which would have to be treated after the war might be considered in a proper spirit. We were told that we must try to effect something which would at least last for a generation of men. If we had simply tinkered with the problem we could not have done so, and I would point out to my noble friend that directly we began pulling out the old timbers from the fabric, of the electoral law, the whole thing came tumbling about our ears. For that reason, once we had started we were forced to the conclusion that we could not do much repair in the style of the old building as many of us would have liked, but we were forced to reconstruct. And I would point out to my noble friend Lord Bryce that if we had to attempt a national settlement we could not leave women out of the question. He said that women 202 neither meet nor talk. That is not our common experience, and to have left women out would have been not to allay trouble but to create trouble. In fact, it would have been better to leave the problem of electoral law on one side altogether, and I think he would admit that they would have made their voices heard in such a way as would have altogether prevented any calm consideration of this Bill.
Perhaps it is best that your Lordships are now considering this Bill in the calm and impartial atmosphere which, if I recollect rightly, the great Lord Derby asked for in 1859. Your Lordships have always before had to yield to clamour. There is no clamour now. There is not a dog barking outside because of this Bill, and therefore whatever you do in respect of it you will do without pressure and without coercion. The Bill will really he passed by your advice and consent in whatever form you choose.
I quite agree with my noble friend who introduced this Bill with so much clearness, that it does not do to under-rate the effects which will follow. But may I say that it does not do either to over-rate the effects. Your Lordships know that in the old days, in this place of ancient memories, there is none among many coloured memories that is fuller than that of the great conflict, which took place in successive stages over what was called by the exclusive and rather enigmatic name of Reform. We do not talk of reform now. The term is never used in this sense, and that perhaps tells its own tale. But the greatest orators that this House produced wracked and rent the country in their prophecies that the various franchises would lead us into the darkness of blackness. I think that at the time of the great Reform Bill there was a member of your Lordships' House, the Lord Hertford of that day, who sold £300,000 of Consols in fear of what was coming, and according to the memoirs invested the money in America and lost it all. That only pictures the state of mind which was all-pervading in those days.
It was, of course, true, as my noble friend pointed out, that, in Disraeli's words, "if you establish a democracy you must in due time reap the fruits of a democracy"; and the question is whether we have not been reaping them already, and whether this Bill, which I hope will be a national reconciliation, has not cast its shadow before it and 203 brought about its effects before duo time. At the present time, the Labour leaders of the country and the trade union secretaries are keeping their offices and filling the greatest office of the State, and I think it is the common knowledge of all of us who are engaged in public work outside this House that Labour men who sit with us on the benches do their duty with every whit as keen a sense of honour and every bit as strong an impulse of patriotism as the representatives of any other class. Public work is equally well done by all classes, and to talk of the governing classes now is almost a contradiction in terms, or at least an absurdity in definition. All the classes are governing classes, and if you consider it as a mere question of classes and masses, it is only to say that the masses are composed of all the classes, and all the classes are the ruling classes now. Our hope is—and our hope was on the Conference—that we are laying concrete foundations, reinforced by Labour, which will support the whole fabric of the Empire, solid and sound, and I know of no reason to differ from it. But I do think, after our war experience, which has shown us how all classes can work together in mutual good will and helpfulness, it would be a thousand pities if we in this House were in any way to prevent the nation from speaking with all its power and in all its numbers in dealing with the problems put before it.
I know there were many men outside—and one heard murmurs in the corridor of the Conference—who said it was possible to fight a rearguard action for fifty years. What is the good of fighting a rearguard action, falling back from position to position until you get to the crumbling walls of the last defence and are at length driven into the sea? A rearguard action of this sort is not worth fighting, and it is a rearguard action that I hope your Lordships will never try to fight. Looking at our war experience, I think we all want to make the area of our machine space as large and as spacious as possible, and I hope we shall receive this Bill without unworthy forebodings of what will follow, because we already know more or less what those who are to be enfranchised are thinking. Every day you see the reports passed at trade union and other conferences showing what working people of both sexes are aiming at, and with a good deal of what they are aiming at most of us will sympathise.
204 The changes which followed the last Reform Bill were large, and those which will follow this Bill will be greater still. The working people are asking for a larger return from the fruits of industry and a larger amount of leisure to develop their lives according to the faith and the will that are in them. They insist that they shall have a better place in the community than they have hitherto held. Who will say them nay who relies on the innate fairness of the British mind, and believes, as I do, that in the end their action will be governed by the dictates of justice and of wisdom.
When we come to the Bill that is now presented, I beg leave to say that it is certainly not the measure which was settled at the Speaker's Conference as a considered compromise between different sets of opinion. It has been rather interesting to see the way in which the House of Commons treated the Speaker's Conference. In small things it assumed that the words of the Conference were inspired in a way that prevented their amendment in any particular, but in the big things they swept its recommendations on one side. There are three notable cases. I am going to deal with only one. In the first place, the Speaker's Conference recommended that the number of members of the House of Commons should, if possible, be reduced. It is already, as you know, the most cumbersome and inconvenient Assembly in the whole of the civilised world; yet the number of Members of Parliament is to be increased by the Bill now presented to us. I do not think we need worry about the pecuniary burden that is laid on the community, but we must see that the increase of members of the other House cannot possibly lead to the diminution of the congestion of business which there prevails, or do anything to promote its further efficiency in the future to support the great Imperial burdens that lie to its hand. The second point is that the Speaker's Conference drew a broad distinction between the Imperial franchise for political purposes and the local government franchise for local purposes. I do not say that I attach much importance to that, but the House of Commons has swept that distinction on one side and has said that all women, whether they have the ratepayers' qualification or not, are to vote in exactly the same way and in the same measure for the purposes of local government that they do for the purposes of political representation.
205 And lastly, my Lords, we come to that large question of principle that was dwelt upon by my noble and learned friend (Lord Parmoor) who has just sat down. Proportional representation was an essential part of the bargain or arrangement—you may call it either—which was come to at the Speaker's Conference. The Report was a composite whole, and I venture to say without fear of contradiction that it never could have been carried as it was with practical unanimity upstairs unless the principle of proportional representation had been admitted and applied. It was considered at length and was adopted as a necessity for obtaining any fair basis for our representative institutions. When one talks of proportional representation one does miss in this House the ennobling presence of the late Earl Grey, with whom it was, as you know, an article of faith. He could have preached from the text in a manner and with a fire very different from those which any of us who are following him can command.
In pointing out that proportional representation was an essential part of the scheme as adopted by the Speaker's Conference, I do not mean to allege in the least that the Government willingly departed from the Conference compact. On the contrary, I think most of them, as shown by their votes in the Lobby, did their best to keep it in the Bill. The reason I attach so much importance to it is that I believe it is the only security for the representation of minority opinion in the future. Democracy, my Lords, is often unjust and often cruel, but its worst vice is its tendency on all occasions, if it can, to suppress minority opinion; and you cannot guard against that danger by any system of representation that I know or that I have heard any noble Lord suggest unless you follow the sure rule which gives minorities their proper weight in the affairs of State, and carries out Burke's maxim that—the virtue, the spirit, the essence of the House of Commons consists in its being the express image of the nation.I think it would be a very serious thing if in this measure as it goes from your Lordships' House there is no provision whatever for the representation of minorities. We know that one member of the last Government coined the witty epigram "minorities must suffer." I do not believe there was ever a more poisonous saying than that. I do not mean to say that they do not suffer. 206 But today down as a maxim of Government that minorities must suffer is fatal to all the rules of justice and fair play, and this Bill is founded to a certain extent on that cynical maxim. Where are minorities to go? It is said that by some mysterious system of averaging opinion a minority in one place will be represented by a majority in another; that if, as is the case now, the vote of a Liberal or Labour elector in Scotland has four times the value of the vote of a Unionist elector, it is of small moment because in the South of England almost the reverse is the case in favour of the Unionist Party. I submit the proposition that minorities in Scotland or in Wales are of a different fibre and nature from those in the South of England, and unless you take the most narrow and bigoted view of Party interest I defy anybody not to come to the same conclusion. It is the old doctrine of "virtual representation," a doctrine that was laid down when it was said that the people of Manchester were represented by the representatives of Old Sarum, and that nothing mattered so long as you got representatives in Parliament who could speak haphazard for various opinions and interests, no matter whence they came. I believe that this maxim is fatal to any system of good government, and it is proved to be fatal in its application, as anybody who studies comparative and contemporary politics must know. It is nothing less than a misfortune that in the Union of South Africa, the Orange River Colony has not, I believe, a single member in the Union Parliament who is not a follower of General Hertzog—
§ LORD BURNHAM
And therefore in favour of racial enmity and continued disturbance. It was not an advantage to the Commonwealth of Australia that up to the last Election—it is not now the case, I believe—the whole of the members of the Senate belonged to the Labour Party. I doubt whether there is any Labour representative in this country who would say that that is a good thing even from the point of view of his own Party interests. The result is a curious one. I have often heard in this House denunciations of the overweening and exaggerated power of the newspaper Press. You cannot increase that power more surely than by enacting that minorities shall have no way of expressing their views except in the columns of the 207 newspaper Press. You give the newspaper Press an unfair and unbalanced power if you destroy the equity of our Parliamentary system. This is what will surely follow, and this is to a certain extent what is happening now. When you complain of the result, you had better look at the causes that are at work. Whence comes the opposition to the only fair system of representation that any of us know? Well, it is an interested opposition. There is an apparent opposition and there is a Teal opposition. The apparent opposition is grounded on what I may call the Fulham argument—that is to say, that you break up administrative areas where they are united and you unite administrative areas that are in point of interest and sentiment very different and diverse. The exact reverse, as a matter of fact, is the case. In almost every case to-day to which this system applies you will unite areas that have been arbitrarily separated by the system of single-Member constituencies. My noble and learned friend gave examples from London. It is exactly the same in the great cities and provinces. It will be a very great thing for local patriotism and municipal life if you are able to bring together these areas which for purely artificial purposes, Party politics, have been divided one from the other. Surely it is a finer and a prouder thing for any man to be Member for the City of Birmingham even than to be Member for West Birmingham with all the history of that constituency. Surely it is a finer thing to be a Member for Manchester than to be Member for one of its divisions. And the same thing may be said for every great borough which would be affected by the application of this system.
As to London, I have called it the Fulham argument because it has been largely advanced by my right hon. friend Mr. Hayes Fisher, the Member for Fulham. London has had no better servant than Mr. Hayes Fisher, who commands confidence everywhere. At the same time it is a little unfortunate that he should be so closely associated with a borough which is one of the exceptions to the general rule. Fulham is Fisher and Fisher is Fulham for this purpose, and there is no doubt that the borough of Fulham has great reason to be proud of its representative. On the other hand, is it fair to sacrifice the interests of those large boroughs in London which are divided and sub-divided under the present scheme, and which would be reunited under a proper system of proportional representation because of the occasional cases where it 208 may rather unfortunately interfere with the present conditions of local life. I suggest that, if it is necessary, Fulham should be treated like the City of London, and put in a category of its own. Surely the single case of that particular division ought not to be an obstacle to a fair and proper solution of this problem.
It is objected to that this will be a bar of expenditure that will prevent the poor man being elected to represent populous localities. I do not believe it for a moment. The heavy burden of expenditure now and always has been in the intensive cultivation of small constituencies. I heard in another place a remark that this principle, if applied, would put a stop to the small acts of kindness that passed between a Member and his constituents. What are they, my Lords? I will try to explain from long and painful experience. It means that if you represent a poor constituency, as I did, you are looked upon as a general relieving officer. I cannot imagine anything that is more calculated to put the property disqualification in the way of a poor man entering and continuing in Parliament. If constituencies were restored and it is only a question of restoration to their former areas, then they become too big for that purpose. As was wittily observed in another place, no purse is large enough to deal with three or four hundred thousand people; and the truth is that by restoring the grandeur of the old constituencies, both in counties and in boroughs, you will revive the best spirit of our representation and identify the Member who sits for the constituency with all the traditions, not of the division with which he has been associated, but of the whole of the borough or county which have had, as a rule, representation from the beginnings of our Parliamentary history.
These are the apparent objections, but the real objection is a different one. It is the objection of the great vested interest that has grown up in the Party machine that has been created on all sides of recent years. The opposition is the opposition of the machine minder. The Party agents look upon themselves as the high priests of the electoral mysteries. They think that they alone are able to explain electoral law, at a price, and they do not want to be dispossessed of their office. I am not one who is trying to convince your Lordships that the Party machine is likely to disappear under any system, but under the system of 209 single-Member constituencies there is the machine in every division, and everywhere you have the commissioned and the non-commissioned officers as its servants. It is quite natural that this great vested interest should protest against the abolition of a system which has tended so greatly to their advantage. Although I have nothing to say against political agents, because they loyally serve their Party, I deny and absolutely refuse to believe that the interests of the country ought to be sacrificed for any vested interest, however powerful or however expert.
I venture to put these considerations before your Lordships because I am bound to say that unless this Bill contains the principle of proportional representation I fear it will do more harm than good. There is no tyranny so great as the tyranny of the mob, and it is not giving democracy a fair chance if you refuse it the modern equipment which is necessary for its proper expression and conduct. Therefore I hope, my Lords, that you will restore the clause in the Bill which will make it as it was when it left the Speaker's Conference and was introduced in the House of Commons. I know—everybody knows—the dangers that are ahead, but I do not fear them. I recollect those famous words of Mr. Lowe in 1866Democracy you may have at any time; night and day the gate is open that leads to that bare and level plain where every ant's nest is a mountain and every thistle a forest tree.We are entering the gate now, pell-mell, and I do not believe in the consequences he predicted. I do not believe that the form of Government makes the character of the people. On the contrary, I believe that the character of the people moulds and forms the Government. If our character is sound, so I believe, under all the conditions of the wide and popular franchise we are now creating, the institutions will be sound and staple too. I hope that your Lordships will declare yourselves infavour of a lasting settlement on broad and equitable lines; that you will do it without vain regrets or fearful forebodings of what is coming, and in the spirit of freedom-loving citizens of this old Commonwealth, which has given the precedents of Parliamentary Government all over the civilised world. I hope that you will do this, and at the same time, when the Bill reaches Committee, that we shall review and revise it to the best of our mind and the depth of our conscience.
§ LORD SYDENHAM
My Lords, the noble Viscount, in his most admirable, lucid, and eloquent speech, stated that this Bill is a destroyer as well as a creator. I believe that he is right, and that in this Bill there are the germs of a disease which may bring about the destruction of our Empire. It will destroy by what it proposes to create. I think that it has been admitted by several of the speakers this afternoon that this is the most revolutionary Bill that has ever been brought before your Lordships' House, and the time chosen is, perhaps, the greatest crisis in the most appalling war that the world has ever known. It happens also to be a time when the House of Commons, for several reasons, does not adequately represent in any way the will of the people. For one reason, that House has long outlived any mandate that it may have originally received; and even when it was elected our electoral system was in such a hopeless tangle, as the noble and learned Lord has pointed out, that no Parliament returned under the old system can be regarded as a true and full representation of the will of the people. Besides that, the most patriotic of the younger members of the House of Commons are fighting for their country, and, perhaps most important of all, we have masses of men, our best manhood, now abroad fighting for our defence and unable in any way to make their voices heard. These are the conditions in which this Bill arrives in your Lordships' House.
With many of the provisions of this Bill everybody will and must agree. A new Register was essential. It has been already postponed far too long, for reasons which have never been quite satisfactorily explained. Again, a simplification of the franchise was most desirable, and that also is provided by the Bill. With a new Register it was natural and necessary that there should be some measure of redistribution unless all the gross anomalies of our present system were to be retained on the Statute Book. This Bill most imperfectly fulfils that condition. It retains, as the noble Marquess has said, the monstrous over-representation of Ireland which for many years has exercised a demoralising influence over our whole public life. Then, as has been said so well by two speakers, by excluding proportional representation, which the Speaker's Conference had supported, it perpetuates many of the existing evils, and, perhaps most important of all, it leaves the vital interests of agriculture in 211 an even worse position than that which at present they occupy.
I earnestly hope that your Lordships will give favourable consideration to the Amendments which will be designed to prevent the permanent and hopeless disfranchisement of large minorities in this country. The redistribution scheme has the great drawback, which has already been pointed out, that it increases considerably the number of members in the House of Commons, which, as the noble Viscount said, is already by far the largest legislative Assembly in the world, and which certainly suffers greatly in efficiency for this reason. The measures which have been proposed to confer the franchise upon our sailors, soldiers, mine-sweepers, patrols, and practically all the men who have saved the Empire during this terrible time that we have gone through, will be most warmly welcomed in your Lordships' House and throughout the country, although there may be some details which are open to criticism. I imagine that the increase of two millions of male voters may be in some measure due to the reduction of the qualifying age in the case of our fighting forces. The Bill contains provisions, therefore, which are not only not controversial, but which will, I believe, have the full support of the people of this country. But we had surely every right to expect that no highly controversial matter would be brought before us at this time. On February 3, 1915, the late Prime Minister said—It would not only be idle, but I think it would be offensive to the nation, to proceed at such a time with controversial legislation.Whatever may be thought of the fulfilment of this and many other pledges, there can be no doubt whatever that this Bill embodies a revolutionary change of the most controversial character. It might almost be regarded for that reason as, in Mr. Asquith's words, "offensive to the nation."
The noble Viscount, Lord Bryce, speaking with the great authority which he wields as an old and earnest student of practical politics in all lands, has dealt fully with the claims of women to possess the franchise. I will not attempt to enter upon that delicate and dangerous subject. I will only say this, that upon that question opinions must always differ widely so long as sentiment influences our minds as well as reason and experience, and, as the world grows older, it certainly does not 212 tend to become less sentimental. I will only state what I believe is an incontrovertible fact, that no great country has ever granted women the suffrage except revolutionary Russia. So far as we can understand the situation in that country, women shared in the election of the Constituent Assembly, and then the group of male adventurers who have seized upon power proceeded to arrest the deputies and now seem to be determined to prevent the Assembly by force from ever meeting, because its present composition does not suit their aims. Surely an enormous number of pregnant lessons can be learnt from Russia, but no argument whatever in favour of woman suffrage can be extracted from a country which is at present in a state of anarchy. In America during the last five years and excluding the State of New York, which I believe has recently decided in favour of women having the vote, 14 States have refused the franchise to women, and 2, Montana and Nevada, have granted it. The population of the 14 States is 43,000,000, and that of the two States which have granted the franchise is 500,000.
When war broke out I think we all believed that this question was practically dead. The violence of the suffragists at that time had passed beyond all bounds, and very probably it helped the Germans to believe that a country in which educated women perpetrated outrages on churches and public property was not in a position to wage war. The present House of Commons has twice rejected the suffrage, on one occasion three months after the commencement of the war by a majority of 104 to 60 votes, and three times it has passed the principle of this measure. The voting shows an extraordinary amount of wobbling which, to say the least, is not quite creditable to all parties. Only the Labour Party has proved consistent in its vote upon this question.
Even assuming that the principle is a right one and that it had the support of a large majority of people, the provisions in the Bill would be open to very great objection. But there is not a shred of evidence before us that the majority of men or of women desire this fundamental change in the Constitution. If any body of individuals has a right to advise in determining this question, it is the men who have fought and suffered for their country, and we have no means whatever of knowing what their opinions are. But we do know that in the first referendum on conscription in Australia 213 that measure was defeated by the vote of the women.
§ LORD SYDENHAM
Nothing seems to me to have occurred which can justify any change of opinion upon this most controversial subject. The noble Viscount said that "many have been converted by the services rendered by women during the war," but sudden conversions cannot always be trusted, and I cannot imagine any logical reason for a change of view. No one would think for a moment of underrating the valuable services which women have rendered—services of the greatest importance to the Empire—in this crisis, but we all knew well that British women would show their patriotism at a time like this, and it would be an insult to them to suppose that they expected to be paid for their services by the grant of the franchise. We know that this was the very last thing that would occur to their minds when they came forward in such large numbers to help the country in its hour of need. The women of France have shown just the same shining patriotism, and the burden of additional work which has fallen upon them cannot be less than that which our own women are now so bravely bearing.
I would not for a moment pretend to prophesy what the result of this important change will be, but two things do seem to me to be quite certain. The admission of 6,000,000 women must within a very few years entail, by the political processes with which we are so familiar, the vote for all adult women, and then women would command an enormous majority in determining the destinies of our Empire. Could such a triumph of feminism be a real national advantage? Are women really fit to govern a great Empire such as ours? One immediate effect would be to add very largely to the forces of Socialism which will ruin any industrial or commercial State which submits to their operation.
214 But the real question which now presents itself is not whether women ought to have the vote, but whether what I believe is a flagrant breach of constitutional practice ought to be accepted without any sanction from the people of this country. This is not really a Government Bill in so far as the revolutinary part of it is concerned, and if that part is resisted in this House it will mean no weakening of the Government, which I am quite certain is the very last thing your Lordships would wish. On the other hand, if this Bill passes in its present form it will establish a most dangerous precedent for the future. As the noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) reminded us, your Lordships' House as it now exists and as it has existed for centuries may be nearing its end. Nothing could be more in accordance with the highest traditions of its great past than that one of its last important acts should be to vindicate the principles of the Constitution and incidentally the theory of democracy by insisting that no revolutionary change shall be made until the will of the people has been clearly expressed at a General Electoin.
My Lords, I think it is safe to say that the reform which this Bill makes is the largest since the Parliament Act, if it is not indeed more important, for that was largely a matter of machinery, and this Bill admits to the franchise and therefore to the government of this country an enormous mass of voters, and makes really the greatest change that has been made.
Before I deal with its larger issues, I should like to mention one or two smaller matters. I see in this Bill—and I see it with some pleasure, although it is a small matter—that the Government of the day have taken their courage in both hands and made permanent the Ballot Act, which by some absurdity was always re-enacted annually. I find in the Bill what has not been very much dealt with in this discussion, but what I think will require a little explanation, and that is the very obscure references to absent voters. Although I have read the Schedule I find it difficult to understand whether an absent voter has a privilege which endures for all time or only during the war, and whether it applies to every person, civilian or otherwise, as I rather gather it does. I should like to have some further explanation as to the necessity of this provision, and as to 215 the exact effect it will have in delaying the counting of votes at Elections.
The noble Marquess who spoke first (Lord Salisbury) spoke almost with apprehension as to this measure, and he said it is in effect a measure of manhood suffrage and—he went on to say—of womanhood suffrage. Well, if I could find any fault with a large measure of enfranchisement of this kind it is that the courage of the Government has not gone a little further, and that they have not in effect made it a measure of adult suffrage. It comes so near it that a great deal of trouble might have been saved by doing it. But one understands the crosscurrents of which Lord Burnham spoke, and how every sort of interest had to be conciliated, and matched, and balanced, and no doubt this was the best Bill that could be got through the House of Commons, and in that respect I think it is rather a pity. I do think His Majesty's Government are a little to blame for not having got the Bill through at an earlier stage. If it could have reached your Lordships' House at the beginning of November, I think we should have been more certain of having the Register prepared in time for any Election that may take place. There will be a great rush now to get this Register ready, and it is very important that it should not be an Election on a stale Register.
The noble Marquess who initiated the debate said that manhood suffrage is now inopportune. I think it may be truly said that there has never been a Reform Bill presented to your Lordships' House without there being a large number, perhaps a majority, of your Lordships ready to say that the extension was inopportune. So much is that the case that the noble Marquess based his argument largely on the fact that it is impossible not to pass this measure now. People expected, and you may say demanded, it, and I think His Majesty's Government will hesitate very much before they prevent the passage of this measure or some measure like it.
Then the noble Marquess finished by saying that the same argument did not apply to women: that in the one case when you add 2,000,000 men to the Register it is really an addition of the same kind, while women voters are a difference in kind in the addition that you make. Well honestly, even after the long and explanatory speech of Lord Bryce in opposition to the proposal to enfranchise women, I do 216 not quite know what that means. Does the noble Marquess mean to take his stand upon the fact that they have a servile sense, that they are an enslaved race, and that therefore they are not to have the possession of free men in the shape of a vote? I can hardly think that he cares to adopt that argument. Still less do I think it likely that in the twentieth century he adopts an argument based upon a very ancient and long since disused culture and religion. Yet if he does not base his argument on one of those two things, what does the noble Marquess mean when he says there is a difference in kind? I recall the speech of Shylock to Antonio—If you prick us, do we not blood? if you tickle us, do we not laugh?Does not the same argument apply quite as forcibly to any man or any woman? If a woman is short of food, is she not hungry? If she works hard, is she not tired? If she suffers from unpleasant conditions of labour, is she not equally impoverished and weakened by these conditions? Why cannot the argument for women be based upon the simplest and most straightforward reason—the reason that they are human beings; not that they are a special class, not that they will be able to uplift our politics, but simply that they are human beings; and if the franchise is a weapon that they need for their self-defence and for the protection of their interests and of their labour, women need it just as much as men.
Lord Bryce, when he discussed this matter, talked about the fitness of voters, and admitted that this was a very Victorian argument. What do we mean when we talk about the fitness of voters? Lord Bryce himself mentioned the suggestion to repudiate it, that every male voter understands all the political considerations which should guide his vote. Is it suggested even that every member of your Lordships' House could give an intelligent vote on some question connected with, say, the foreign politics of Persia? I would not undertake to say as much for myself. There are questions of which some people understand more than others. We do not grant the vote for fitness; we grant it—and I venture to suggest that this is the real essence of the vote—for the protection of the voter; and we grant the vote for what is much more important than that—namely, for the protection of the State, in order that through the ballot-box the State may learn, from the organised opinion of those who have 217 grievances and who desire their remedy, what those grievances are. I suggest that the vote is granted nowadays on no kind of fitness, but as a substitute for riot, revolution, and the rifle. We grant the suffrage in order that we may learn in an orderly and civilised manner what the people who are governed want. The noble Marquess who opened the debate admitted that we want the consent of the governed. I know no way in which we can get that except by giving the governed an opportunity of a free expression of their opinions in the ballot box. If those considerations apply to any class they apply to women. The noble Viscount (Lord Bryce) took as his illustration the class of female domestic servants, I wish to say nothing against female domestic servants, particularly nowadays when they are so difficult to get; but is not that, after all a parasitic class? Is that a class which one should take as an illustration of what one, means? The noble Viscount seemed to me, when he spoke, as if he had never heard of the working woman, of the woman who has to live, of the widow with her children, of the wife who is supplementing the income of the house, and of the woman working in the factory. She has the same conditions affecting her as has the male worker, and she has just the same right to have her voice in saying how she is to be protected against those conditions.
The noble Viscount said that the law was equally fair for men and women. Many of your Lordships have conducted contested elections, and you know very well—nobody knows better than those who have conducted contested elections—that grievances which have not the pressure of the vote behind them can be, and are, disregarded by candidates. I did not mean to give much time to-night to the question of woman suffrage. I had hoped that this was a question which had almost passed the stage of contest and was accepted. Indeed, the noble Marquess himself said that he would not vote against it. I trust that it may now become law. That it is a momentous change I do not deny. That women will always vote wisely I do not for a moment suggest. Do all men vote wisely? What opportunities of political education have women had in the past? For the noble Viscount to say that women do not meet, and do not talk, and do not agitate—I wonder where he has spent his days. Women, on the other hand, are 218 very persistent, and will be undoubtedly very uproarious if they suffer any longer.
There is another curious distinction drawn in the Bill when we grudgingly give this vote. I have always said and I say it again, that once you give the vote to ten I women I am satisfied. You have admitted the principle, and the rest follows. Perhaps the noble Earl opposite, if he speaks, will use that as an argument for not giving the vote at all. But you have been careful to make distinctions. The intelligent women of twenty-seven, say a borough councillor, or an inspector of nuisances, or a woman occupying any of the numerous public offices which women so effectively fill, is not to have a vote because of her sex. The boy of nineteen in the trenches, who probably knows nothing about politics, is fit to vote on political questions according to the Bill. He has very likely never bothered his head about politics; but he is to have the vote simply because he is in the trenches. I say nothing about that distinction, because it is one which will remedy itself. It is unjustifiable by any rule of logic, and that is probably sufficient reason for putting it into British legislation. But the groundwork of the argument, I think, for giving votes to women is not that they will vote this way or that, but simply because they are human beings. If you wish, of course, to give women a real opportunity of protecting themselves in connection with the grievances from which they suffer, the franchise is the proper way of doing it.
I must now mention a matter which I am astonished to have heard no speaker refer to to-night. I trust the reason is that most people in this House are ashamed that it is in the Bill. I refer to the disfranchisement of conscientious objectors. That is a blot on this Bill, and I will tell your Lordships why I think so. It is a blot first of all, in my opinion, on statesmanship to disfranchise a man because you do not agree with his opinions, which is, after all, what it comes to. It is not a very wise thing to do. I know what the argument is. The argument is that these people will not take up arms to defend the State, and therefore they are no part of our civil State, and deserve no civic rights. I admit the logic of that argument, and if logic were to be discovered in the other parts of the Bill I should have nothing to say about it. But from the statesmanlike point of view it is not, I believe, a wise thing to 219 disfranchise a class because you disagree with its opinions, no matter how strongly you disagree. I do not agree with these gentlemen myself. But there are a great many people with whom I do not agree; yet I have no desire to disfranchise them.
Let me point out what would happen if the principle is established for the first time in our legislation that people shall be disfranchised for opinion. It is for opinion, because you can no longer say that it is for refusing to fight. You definitely say in the Bill that they are disfranchised if they have stated that they have a conscientious objection. That is the actual ground of disfranchisement. But suppose that next year a wildly Conservative and loyal and patriotic—as noble Lords would call it—House of Commons decides to disfranchise in this country every one who believes in Republicanism. Why should you not put those people into a Bill next year; and then the next year put Syndicalists into a Bill? And once you came to this you would get very near to the point where in alternate years the Parties would proscribe each other. The franchise which was sought to be established by Cromwell would have made the Reform Bill of 1832 unnecessary. He gave votes to all sorts of people, but he thought that malignants ought not to vote. I do not think that is a wise precedent to follow from the statesmanlike point of view.
Look at this from what can be said against it as a piece of ordinary common sense. You give the vote to the forger, to the thief, to the pander, to the bawd, to the white slave trafficker—they are all to have the vote; but you deny the vote to a man whose offence is that he has a conscience. You deny the vote to men like Stephen Hobhouse and Clifford Allen simply because they have consciences with which you do not agree; yet you give the vote to every real criminal, you give it to the convicted murderer after he has come out of prison on the expiration of his term. I submit to your Lordships that you are establishing a very dangerous principle, and one which I think this Parliament, and the majority of those who have put this provision into the Bill, will live to look back upon with shame. I am not going to move any Amendment to it in this House. I do not propose to say any more about it, but I submit to your Lordships these considerations, which ought to weigh from a statesmanlike point of view. I think it is to be regretted that His Majesty's Govern- 220 ment did not set their faces against the proposal when it was first made. This Bill is a large and very important measure of enfranchisement. I agree that it is revolutionary, and that your Lordships, if you are afraid of revolution, have some reason to fear it. Although it is disfigured by the unfortunate blot to which I have referred, the Bill as it stands has my blessing, and I hope it will soon be on the Statute Book.
Further debate adjourned until to-morrow.