§ House again in Committee (according to Order).
§ [The EARL of KINTORE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 4:
§ Franchise (women).
§ 4.—(1) A woman shall be entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector for a constituency (other than a university constituency) if she—
- (a) has attained the age of thirty years; and
- (b) is not subject to any legal incapacity; and
- (c) is entitled to be registered as a local government elector in respect of the occupation of land or premises in that constituency, or is the wife of a husband entitled to be so registered.
§ (2) A woman shall be entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector for a university constituency if she has attained the age of thirty years and would be entitled to be so registered if she were a man.412
§ (3) A woman shall be entitled to be registered as a local government elector for any local government electoral area where she would be entitled to be so registered if she were a man; or where she is the wife of a man who is entitled to be so registered in respect of premises in which they both reside, and she has attained the age of thirty years.
§ EARL LOREBURN moved to omit subsections (1) and (2). The noble Earl said: My Lords, I think every one will agree that Clause 4 in the Bill and the Amendment which I am about to move in it are matters of very great importance, and although we have been assured by the Leader of the House that the Government, as I understand, have laid this Bill, or this clause at all events, on the Table of the House, I am glad to hope that in moving this Amendment I am not taking any step of a hostile character against the Bill or against the Government. I had first been apprehensive lest in raising a controversial question of this kind it might appear to be at an inappropriate time, considering that we are engaged in this war, and I thought it might present an aspect of discord which I should very greatly regret to create. On reflection, however, I have come to the opinion not merely that it is not I who am raising a question of discord but that to divide in opinion on a matter of this kind cannot have any ill-effect on the public interest.
§ The purpose of the Amendment is to stop that part of the Bill which bestows a vote upon women for the Imperial Parliament. I desire to lay emphasis on the fact that it is in the case of the Imperial Parliament that I object to their introduction. The point of view which I take up on this matter is not any presumptuous or ridiculous idea of superiority of one sex as contrasted with the other. That would be indeed a ridiculous and preposterous position to take up. I believe, and have all my life believed, that women are better than men. I think they are much better than men, and as brave as men, and there are very few men who, speaking candidly, would not tell you that whatever good there is in them is very largely due to the influence, the teaching, and the affection of good women. Therefore no one is less disposed than I am to take up an attitude of that kind.
§ My view simply is that it is not in the true interests of the State, or in the true interests of women themselves, any more than of men, that they should have power 413 in Imperial matters. The claim that is made for them is that they should take part in electing members to the House of Commons. It is said that women are unjustly treated by the House of Commons, and that the only real protection that can be given to them is the vote. I would ask your Lordships to consider that for a very few moments. The House of Commons is in this country principally responsible for making all our laws and also for superintending their administration. As regards the administration of the laws, whether by Courts of Justice or by the Departments which are charged with the administrative work, I have not myself heard any complaint that there is unfairness towards women. I am sure of this, that in the Courts of Law with which I am familiar a more merciful view is taken in regard to women than in regard to men. It is in matters of administration that this complaint really is made.
§ Let me come then to the laws themselves, and see whether they are unjust towards women. Take the property laws—I shall not of course attempt to do more than give illustrations—the property laws were very unfair to women at one time. That has been amended, and amended by various Acts of Parliament. In regard to the inheritance of land in cases of intestacy, which is another form of property, it is said that the law is unfair towards women. It is a large subject, and I, personally, should like to see an amendment of the law in that respect. Take the case of divorce. That is always very difficult. I agree, or at least I think, there ought to be an amendment made in regard to that in favour of women. Let me come to the liquor laws—treating the thing very compendiously. The liquor laws, as they are now, appear to many of us to be unjust equally to men and women. I am not aware that there is any discrimination between the two. It seems to me to be an outrage that a number of public houses should be planted among poor districts and temptation thereby offered to those who are least able to resist it. But the wrong is quite as much towards men as it is towards women.
§ I do not pretend that I have done more than give the briefest sketch. It would mean a long speech to enter upon all the laws, of this country which require amendment, but I do not believe there are many laws which are unfair towards women as 414 compared with men. There may be some. If so, they ought undoubtedly to be altered, and I do not believe, for one moment, that there would be any difficulty in altering them were it not for the one thing which prevents the alteration of all laws namely, the congestion of Parliament. That is the thing which has hindered business in the House of Commons. It is the great evil, applicable both to men and women; and if you examine or consider the spirit in which men would look at reforms proposed in the interests of women, I do not believe for a moment, if Parliament were free and had the rime to attend to these things, that any other but a sympathetic treatment would be applied.
§ But there is one point, a particular point, upon which I should like, and, indeed, upon which I ought to and must touch. It has been much dwelt upon by suffragists, and it is what may be called the social evil. I think it becomes every man and also every woman to speak with restraint on this theme. If it can be remedied by law—and I do not say it cannot be assisted by law—then let proposals be made, and I do not for one moment believe that, even in the congestion of business from which the House of Commons grievously suffers, that House would neglect or ignore measures of that kind. I believe also that men would do their duty just as much as women in that respect. My own opinion is that amendment in matters of this painful kind, to which I need not further refer, depend on individual conduct and character, and not upon the laws you place on the Statute Book. When I hear discussions about education in this House, I consider that the education of character is far more vital than the education of intellect, and that it is in that direction that the best hope—I do not say the only hope—of improvement may be found. A friend of mine, who is a member of this House and whom I sincerely respect, said to me in regard to this question the other day, "How can you say that women ought not to have a voice in the settling of any legislation upon this subject?" I felt that he hit me very hard. I acknowledge it. But I will give the reasons why I did not accept that as an answer to the views I hold. I acknowledge that it is an important and a strong point, and I will go further and say this, that if this Bill only sought to give women a direct vote in matters affecting our well-being and our common life in our own country I should feel more difficulty in moving the Amend- 415 ment which I am now about to present to your Lordships' House.
§ The House of Commons has far wider and greater powers than those which affect our own country exclusively. The House of Commons prescribes, in theory at all events, our foreign policy. In practice, for the time, it has allowed that control to be committed into the hands of secret councils which supersede the House of Commons, but this is war time. The House of Commons, however, has the power; and when peace comes I am perfectly sure that it will hold the reins very tight indeed, much tighter than it did before the war in respect of matters of foreign policy. That House also has control in the same sense over the Crown Colonies. It decides issues as regards India; and although not in theory required by our Constitution to sanction a declaration of war or the making of peace, yet whenever it chooses to assert itself it can control both. The men who are responsible for these things are the Ministers of the Crown not His Majesty the King, but the Ministers of the Crown whose advice he constitutionally takes—and the House of Commons has complete control over the Ministers of the Crown.
§ What this Bill does is to add something like, roundly, six or seven millions of women to the electorate. The ago limit of 30 is illusory and illogical, because I do not see how you can pretend, if women of 30 and men of 30 are entitled to vote, that women of 21 should be excluded when men of 21 are admitted; for women of 21 are older than men of 21, as every one must know from his own experience. It is merely a fictitious and an artificial and temporary expedient. This Bill gives this enormous number of voters, who in a little time will become a majority of the entire electorate, the power over Imperial policy, the power over questions hereafter of peace or war, the most solemn questions that can affect the destinies of the nation.
§ It is needless to argue upon a subject of this kind, because it is a question of experience and opinion. I think that it is inexpedient that these things should be in feminine rather than in masculine hands. No great State has ever done anything like this, even after deliberation. The arguments that I hear advanced and disputed on both sides in this House and elsewhere as to what has been done by this or that State of the American Union, or by other Provinces or States in 416 America or Australia or Canada are wholly beside the purpose, because, the States in question are States which have exclusively an authority in regard to what I call, for the sake of brevity, domestic or internal matters. This Bill is to hand over the control of the House of Commons—varying in different parts of the world, but always able, to affect the destinies more or less of all the British Empire, over one quarter of the human race—in a manner which I will in a moment describe. His Majesty's Dominions and India and the Crown Colonies have nothing to do with our own internal sell-government; but a quarter of the human race, which is under the sceptre of the King, have a great deal indeed to say as to the control of the Imperial policy which affects them all. They have, therefore, a very great deal to feel in regard to the question of handing over the present powers to feminine instead of masculine hands. It is the, same thing with the Army and the Navy as with foreign policy, which—if I may venture upon a prophecy, which I do not think is always a safe tiling to do—will not be left after the war is over under the same kind of control that has prevailed until now.
§ The noble Earl who leads the House (Earl Curzon of Kedleston) knows India; so do other members of this House. There are others who know the Crown Colonies and the Dominions. There are members of this House who know the Army and the Navy. I would rather that they should speak for themselves, if they would be so good as to do so, and tell us whether it is expedient that in these matters control should be put into feminine hands. I would like your Lordships to ask yourselves, if I may respectfully suggest it, this question, whether it is desirable and in the public interests of our country that the feminine influence should be very powerful at once, and most probably predominant in the near future, in regard to matters of that kind?
§ I yield to no one in my admiration of what women have done during this war. I am not in the least surprised at it. It is just what I should have expected of them. I believe that they are as sure to do their duty in the face of danger as are men, but they have never rested their claim for a vote upon the ground that they have 417 done, and splendidly done, their duty in the war. It has been left to politicians, not to the women themselves, who have too much self-respect to put forward a claim like that. I think myself that women share with men to the full—perhaps a little more—the bereavements and the privations caused by war, and the plague, pestilence, and famine that may come from it. They have to share all that, and perhaps even, because of their more sensitive natures, in a fuller sense. But it is upon men that the dangers of battle and the ordeal of service fall, and in volume they are incomparably greater. They share the other also. Is it right that women should have the controlling voice in these things, and that men should have so indescribably greater a shave of the suffering that is the consequence of the policy? That is a question which your Lordships surely will ask for yourselves. Is it wise to say that the judgment of women may prevail upon these things—although I do not doubt for a moment that the desire to do right would be as strong with women as it is with men—when upon the whole men are safer than women as judges upon such solemn matters? It is impossible to adduce arguments. It comes from our knowledge and from what insight we may possess, but it looks to me a very dangerous leap in the dark to take all this volume of business and duty and to transfer it to what may be a majority of women.
§ I have read a good deal of the literature and a good many of the speeches, speeches conceived in high tone, in favour of the movement, to which I am sorry to say I cannot assent. But I would ask your Lordships whether this is not a just criticism. All of them, or nearly all of them, are devoted to the right and propriety of voting for the House of Commons in respect to internal and domestic affairs. I may be wrong, but I think these two things have not been kept separate, as they ought to be. I can perfectly understand a man saying that women ought to have a right to vote upon all the questions that affect our own internal and domestic life—land, liquor, divorce, marriage, and everything else—but drawing the line when it comes to the bigger Imperial things. My education on this subject may have been imperfect, but I have never yet heard an argument put forward on the footing that these other Imperial things ought to be treated in the same way. In those circumstances I think 418 we have not the right to make this vast change in our present condition.
§ I recollect in the year 1914 attending a meeting on this subject with the noble Earl who is leading the House. At that time I held the Great Seal, and I moved a resolution against allowing women to vote for the Imperial Parliament, and I was honoured by the noble Earl seconding that Motion; and I ventured to say, although I was then in office, that it was a constitutional outrage for the then House of Commons, without the matter having been before the country, to make so vast a change as this. The noble Earl—and I am not saying for a moment that he has changed his mind—followed me and did me the honour of referring to that sentence, and said he entirely agreed with it. I hope that he will give us the lead in the same sense to-night. The present House of Commons is exactly the same House that it was in 1914. All that has happened is that it has got nearly four years older and four years more out of touch with the constituencies. I hope I may say this without giving offence, but the House of Commons, which governs us all and to which we are all entitled to look for support, has lost its original authority. It was not returned upon any question of the kind at the Election more than seven years ago. It has been renewed from time to time by special Acts of Parliament, I, for one, shall always dislike, it I can help it, differing from the House of Commons upon anything, because I know the great authority of that body. But we must; remember that before the evolution which took place a short time ago this very House of Commons had twice rejected woman suffrage. This shows what their opinion was before the great rush came. It votes now when it has lost its original authority what it rejected when it had its original authority. But I will go further. I say that there is not a single Member sitting in the House of Commons at the present moment who is there because of his opinion either in favour of or against woman suffrage. It has not turned the election of a single member of the House of Commons.
§ But may I be bold enough to go still further? I say there has not in the history of this country ever been an Election which has turned upon this question. If there has, let any noble Lord who knows of one kindly quote it. The House of Commons has never been elected, nor has 419 any single Member of it been elected, because be was or was not in favour of this franchise. More than that, I think I am accurate in saying that those who speak for women—or think that they do; quite, sincerely I am sure—have in a very patriotic spirit said that they did not wish to make difficulties during the war. It was not at their invitation that the question of woman suffrage was brought forward. On the contrary. They said, and I think it was very honourable of them to say it, that they did not wish to raise any controversies during the war.
§ Further than that—I know I am touching upon delicate ground now, because we have reached another atmosphere upon that—I understood that His Majesty's Government promised and pledged every part of the House that there should be no controversial legislation during the war. I am told by my noble friend Lord Crewe that I put a wrong construction upon that. I am very sorry if that is so; and I am also sorry that it was not put a little more clearly, because the acute discussion which had taken place in this country upon this very subject died down. The various associations which had been occupied with the matter ceased their activities. And then, in the twinkling of an eye, the Speaker's Conference is appointed, for a perfectly different purpose. The Speaker himself—whose impartiality nobody would dispute—himself selects a few members, not, I am sure, with reference to this particular subject but in a general way, to consider the matters placed before them. Then these members, who had been so selected, did what I venture to say is unprecedented. I think they went, I will not say outside the letter, but outside the spirit, of their Reference; and by a small majority (for I am told it was that) affirmed the propriety of woman suffrage upon this scale—not on the scale in numbers—to deal not only with domestic affairs but also with these vast-Imperial affairs to which I have been referring. I do not know what was at the bottom of that, therefore I do not say. But I do hope nothing of that kind will form a precedent in the history of this country, because it is going behind the back of Parliament and assuming duties which there was no right to assume.
§ Then the whole controversy came before us. Mr. Asquith changed his mind. I have no desire to criticise him; he has as much right to change his mind as any- 420 body else. He turned a somersault; and then a great number of his colleagues and of the Members who follow him in the House of Commons turned somersaults also. It is a subject more fitting for a cartoonist than for a commentator. I do not question for a moment the sincerity of any one of them, but I must say that it was, in fact, a wholesale conversion; and although they had a perfect right to be converted in battalions, they had no right to affect the country by their rapid and instantaneous conversion.
§ At what time is this matter brought forward? There is nothing more certain than that the House of Commons has far more to do than it can possibly accomplish. One of the great troubles that we have had in this country has been the pressure of business in the House of Commons which has put back Bill after Bill, and which has hindered the control of the House of Commons over not only foreign affairs, but also over domestic affairs. That is sure to be remedied. Whether it comes in the form—as I think it probably will come—of what is usually called "Home Rule all round" or not, it is quite certain that a great part of the work of the House of Commons will be delegated, or devolved, to some other body of men. That is the time—close at hand, certain to come soon—when all matters of this kind can be conclusively settled. In the meanwhile I believe that a request has been made to your Lordships which is beyond all the precedents in Parliamentary history—without consulting the people, without raising the question, without having a single member of the House of Commons whose election has been upon this subject—a request has been made to pass in the time of war, when men are thinking of other things and when all their feelings are moved and disturbed by every kind of consideration, a proposal which, whether it is right or wrong—I think it is wrong in regard to Imperial things—must be one of the most serious decisions that has ever been arrived at in this House. I therefore beg to move the Amendment standing in my name on the Paper.
Page 4, lines 18 to 30, leave out subsections (1) and (2).—(Earl Loreburn.)
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Your Lordships always listen with admiration to my noble and learned friend who has just sat down, for the sincerity and the conviction which 421 pervades his utterances. That sincerity was never more conspicuous than to-night; and I think it has really been more conspicuous as a dangerous element in the argument of the orator who uses it, because my noble and learned friend from the very justness of his outlook felt bound to make so many concessions that I think I shall be able to point out that he has made breaches in his own fortifications. Lord, Loreburn began by saying that his desire was to exclude women from power in Imperial matters—that is to say, they were not to take part in the proceedings of the Imperial Parliament. Later on he developed his reason for that as being that, on the whole, men were safer judges, and that it was a dangerous leap in the dark to entrust women with power with regard to foreign policy and in regard to the Army and the Navy. But my noble and learned friend in another part of his speech said, with most genuine feeling, that he himself would have hesitated and paused had he thought that his Amendment meant that he desired to deprive women of a part in those great social questions which so closely concerned them. The noble and learned Earl sits in this House as one of the most out-and-out apostles of Home Rule all round. He has referred to it to-night. Home Rule all round means that there will be a very large devolution of important subjects from the Imperial Parliament, and, according to my noble friend, women will therefore be admitted to a very large share of power in connection with matters which are at present handled by the Imperial Legislature.
I ask, Is it possible to draw a line between matters in which women ought to take part and matters in which they ought not to take part? Take, for instance, social questions. If there is one thing clearer than another it is that there are a large number of such questions which will continue to be handled by the Imperial Parliament. Take legislation affecting health. Take legislation affecting the factory system. That obtains equally for every part of the United Kingdom in the same form, and I hope it will continue to do so, because it concerns the population of these islands as a whole and does not affect merely local considerations. I could multiply instances of that kind. Take finance. It touches the home very closely. Customs affect women in a degree which men, who have not anything to do with housekeeping, hardly appreciate. Take 422 marriage and divorce. It is true that the laws of marriage and divorce are not in all respects the same, but that is due to historical reasons, and the whole tendency of the time; is to say that marriage and divorce is a subject in which the country is interested as a unit, and it is very unlikely that we shall depart from the precedent of one of the most recent Constitutions which has dealt with this subject—namely, the Constitution of Canada, in which the Dominion Parliament has the general subject of marriage and divorce, leaving the provinces more freedom in respect of the mere solemnities. Here we come at once in the Imperial Parliament to subjects vitally affecting women, which my noble friend's Amendment would shut them out from, contrary to his own wish.
My noble friend complained of this question of woman franchise as having been sprung upon us, and as something which we ought not to have expected having regard to the truce which the war has imposed. But the war has witnessed a great number of sweeping changes. This question has a context perhaps larger than the context of any other question that has emerged from the war. I deny altogether that things have stood still, or should have stood still, because a truce was declared upon controversial subjects. There is, of course, no uniformity to be expected in the proceedings of the deliberative body, but if that deliberative body is in its true function the interpreter of the great movement of public opinion outside its own walls, if its duty is to ascertain what the nation asks and what the nation requires, to determine those things which are essential, and if at the end of the great convulsion of this war we are to enter upon a sea of peace and not a sea of controversy, then Parliament is entitled to take cognisance of the changes which are going on outside its own walls, and, in spite of any truce obtaining among Parties, having ascertained the great changes of opinion which are taking place, to give effect to them. That was the very purpose of the Speaker's Conference. It was appointed as a most impartial body, under the most impartial chairman that could be obtained, to determine not what this or that Party thought in Parliament or how this or that Party was to be reconciled, but what was the movement of public opinion, what were the changed standards which were coming into existence; during the war, and how they 423 were to be met. Therefore I find myself altogether at issue with my noble friend in his criticism of the Government for having allowed this question to be brought forward in the fashion it is.
How are we, sitting in this House, to approach our duty in this matter? I have listened with great respect and agreement to the declaration of those who say we here have to do our duty. We are entrusted with a constitutional obligation to see what is right, and fearlessly to express our opinion. It may sometimes happen that the other House ceases to express the opinion of the country. Then we step in at our own risk, but we step in, and it is our duty to step in fearlessly when we feel we are right. But what does "right" mean in this question? Does it mean that we are to set up our own individual prejudices and opinions, or does it mean that we are to be the interpreters of public opinion, interpreting what we believe the nation desires and seeking to give effect to the national wish, expressing what we believe to be the true view of the great volume of public opinion? Unquestionably, to my mind, the second is the true view of our functions, and it has been expressed over and over again by great masters of the Parliamentary spirit of this House, such as the late Lord Salisbury. We here are in a peculiarly difficult position. Great changes are impending in the constitution of Parliament, and not least in the constitution of this House. What form they will take, we cannot tell; but they will be profoundly affected by our judgment on the measure that we are now considering, and I think it imposes an obligation on us to give our judgment accordingly, paying due attention to the arguments that have reached us from public opinion outside, and not setting ourselves in the face of public opinion.
The franchise question is not a question which emerges abstractly. It has a large and historical context. It has emerged as the result of a very long struggle. The question as regards women differs in its character and in its general features but little, if at all, from the question as regards the extension of the franchise to men It used to be argued, and it was argued very plausibly at one time, and quite truly, that the franchise was not a right. My noble friend Lord Bryce argued the other day that there was no abstract right to the franchise. I agree with him, but there is a constitutional propriety in 424 seeing that your people are aimed with all they ought to be armed with in order to maintain their position as citizens. There is a right in a moral sense which is as important as the maintenance of a merely legal right. In the year 1767, I think it was, the argument was put forward that the American colonies, which it was proposed to tax, had no legal right of representation—which it was said they would not be taxed without—and that they were really very well represented by the electors in this country, for it was pointed out that nine-tenths of the people of this country were outside the franchise and were represented by the other tenth. That was urged in this House and in the other House, and the argument prevailed, with the results that your Lordships know. Again, in 1832, it was said "Oh, but the middle classes are represented, and they are represented very adequately by the system which prevails." There, again, the argument was put forward and resisted with a violence which led to great turmoil, and the question was answered again. In 1867 the same thing was said, and the question was answered again. In 1885 it happened again. The question arises again in just the same form, only with this difference—that the classes concerned are classes which contain very highly educated representatives of the community. No doubt there are a great many very ignorant women just as there are a great many very ignorant men, but there are also a great many very highly educated women as there are very highly educated men. You cannot separate the classes. You cannot break them up, and you have the most unmistakable claim on the part of these educated women that they should be allowed to take their part.
My Lords, the matter does not even stop there, because in this war yet another situation has emerged, a situation with which we have never been familiar before. The magnitude of the war, the kind of organisation up against which we find ourselves, is of a nature which has made it necessary to mobilise the whole nation. To-day we are a nation in arms. Women, although they are not really fighting in the trenches, are in arms as men are in arms, as part of the great supply system of the Army without which the Army could not fight, or the Navy either. Women are taking a tremendous part in this war. They are sacrificing their health, their lungs, they are sacrificing 425 everything, to throw themselves into the work, and they have thrown themselves into it with an integrity of purpose and with a determination to make the right prevail which certainly does not put them anywhere behind the other sex. My noble friend spoke as if women had not imperilled their lives in this war.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
A good many have died. There have been women, like Edith Cavell, whose names will not be forgotten, women who have died under shell fire, died under bombardment, died by bullet wounds just as men have died. They have not feared to take risks in going to work at hospitals close to the fighting line. They have shown courage and determination which, doing the work they do, puts them, I would venture to say, on a level with the other sex in this matter. And because we have mobilised the whole nation for war, women as well as men, I ask, How can we say that the situation to-day is the same as it was before the war broke out?
Manifestations of public opinion are all to this effect. Just look at the kind of testimony that is being put forward in every direction in support of the position that the nation has now made up its mind that women should be admitted to the franchise. My noble friend Lord Bryce asked where was the evidence that women desired this; it was, be said, not proved. I do not know whether my noble friend wants a referendum or not. It is a very odd way of taking opinion. I have fought a good many Parliamentary elections, and how any question that arises could have been considered in the election without a previous electoral campaign, and without the machinery without which a campaign cannot be made effective, I do not know. But there are ways of ascertaining public opinion quite apart from a referendum. Parliament recognises those ways every week. It does things because it sees public opinion advancing. Look at the way in which public opinion has been advancing here. It is all very well to say that it is a new House of Commons, but the House of Commons for many years past has been progressively passing a general Resolution in favour of woman suffrage by larger and larger majorities, and last June—
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
The House of Commons has been passing a Resolution with increasing majorities. I think as far back as 1910 there was a majority of 109; in the next year, 167; and last June the House of Commons, by I think 385 to 55—that is to say, by seven to one—passed the proposition that women should be admitted to the franchise. I know that there have been disputes about what form Bills should assume. These are minor issues, and it is the very merit of the Speaker's Conference that it has assisted towards finding a common denominator which has brought that enormous majority, which (however it may differ about the details of the Bill), converges in favour of woman suffrage. Can anybody say that the House of Commons is not represented in the public? I speak with great respect in the presence of the Leader of the House, who is one of the leaders of the Conservative Party, but I think I am right in saying that the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations has passed by a large majority a resolution in favour of woman suffrage. So has the National Liberal Federation, the Party to which my noble friend—
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My noble friend is in a more detached and fortunate position. So has the Labour Party. I do not know what my noble friend says about that. It has passed, by its Congress, by an enormous majority, a resolution in favour of woman suffrage. So has the Trade Union Congress, so has the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, as has the Miners' Federation, so has the National Union of Dock Labourers. All these are men's societies. I do not trouble you with what has been done by the women's associations, because it will be said that these are, after all, women, and you would expect them to take that view. But the vote of the women on this subject has been accompanied by some very striking manifestations. I do not know whether your Lordships gave any attention to the Petition which came to this House from the Sheffield women munition workers. It was a very remarkable document, and the number of resolutions of that kind affecting this matter is very striking. There has been a good deal said about the fairness with which women are treated, 427 both by my noble friend to-night and my noble friend Lord Bryce. They said that women are treated fairly, that they get things, and my noble friend gave an illustration. He said, taking the Solicitors Bill, how easily it was passed. But my noble friend Lord Bryce had overlooked that, although this House passed the Solicitors Bill, it went to the House of Commons, which is a place which gives attention to things which are pressed upon it. There was nobody to press the women's claim to the Solicitors Bill in the House of Commons, because there was no woman in the House of Commons. They had not a vote and could not influence its members. Consequently the Solicitors Bill, although it passed this House, was as dead in the House of Commons as any Bill could be. That proves that unless you give women a direct power to interfere in these matters they will not get even their own measures attended to. It is not because the House of Commons has any ill-will on the subject, but because there is nobody to whom it is responsible in these matters who takes the trouble to press the point. Therefore I think that the Solicitors Bill, so far from being an argument for my noble friend who sits on that Bench, is a very powerful argument against the contention which he put forward.
Then my Lords, the other view, which I think is one of very great importance, is that things are changing—changing, as I have pointed out, to a degree which to my mind makes it essential that women should take their part, and their full part, in the national basis of government, and I am going to say to your Lordships why. I, in common with others, and perhaps with less apprehension, see resolutions passed and programmes put forward which seem to be dangerous if they were likely to be carried out, but I know that these programmes are merely the symbols in which people who find no other way of expressing themselves put forward the causes of unrest, the anxiety to realise higher ideals, and the desire to the attainment of better standards than at present obtain. Therefore I am not myself very much afraid of these programmes so long as the great Party that is behind them is a Party that is organised on a sufficiently broad national basis. I do not want to see violence or instability or narrow views put forward. I am, and have been for many years past, in favour of 428 woman suffrage, because I have taken the view that it would broaden the basis of the Constitution, and that it would give a stability and divergence to a point of view which would be most beneficial in the discussions which must take place before anything practical can be done.
The old Parties are somewhat passing away. My noble friend has just said that he is no longer a member of the National Liberal Federation. I am a supporter of the Liberal Party, but I think it has lacked vision considerably, and lacks vision now. On the other hand, take the other great Party in the State—the Conservative Party. A Conservative Party will always exist because it is always the checking Party. But the Conservative Party is becoming more democratic. It, too, is infected with the new spirit, and claims to represent democracy. Both the Liberal and the Conservative Parties are becoming permeated with the new spirit. Then there is the Labour Party, and it seems to me that they, too, have taken up too narrow a line. When I read resolutions which they have passed in favour of this and the other abstract propositions, sometimes of a very violent order, I reflect, not that we are in any great danger, but that the Labour Party is trying to find a formula for its spirit which is much too narrow, and which seems to me to be a case of putting the cart before the horse.
The new movement, which the Labour Party embodies, is a movement which is inevitable. It is an outcome of the times in which we live, has been greatly stimulated by the war, and we shall see it a far more powerful Party after the war than it was before the war. Surely, then, it is most desirable that the basis of this most powerful national Party should be as broad as we can make it. By democracy I mean government by the whole of the people of the nation with the exception and exclusion of those who are unfit. It is only negatively that I want to restrict the franchise, and I think the introduction of women into this great democratic foundation of the nation would be a step forward in broadening it and giving it a more miscellaneous and more enlightening view. I believe the days of class Government are over, even as regards the Labour Party. In many respects they come before the country as a class Party to-day. I am sure they will cease to do so. Already a great step forward has been taken by the recent announcement in their 429 programme that brain and hand are to be prepared for the future. They are Looking to intellectual ideas as well as to the mere material ideals, and seeking the co-operation of all those who can bring assistance to it; men and women, and the help of women will be of the utmost value to the community. Their interest in social and other problems is very marked.
I cannot agree with my noble friend that women are bad judges in matters of foreign policy or in matters connected with the Army or Navy. I have seen nothing to reproach in their attitude. I have seen plenty of ignorant people among the women, and also among the men, on these subjects, and I agree with my hon. and learned friend who said that by all means give women their chance in matters of this kind. I take very much the same view as the noble Viscount, Lord Bryce. I do not think the views of women have made much difference where they have been given, but they have enlarged the body of electors, and in that way have exercised a tranquilising and steadying influence. The days of class government are over. What we see Wore us to-day has come to stay. Let us try, in such part as we take in this House, to give to the new movement the best chance. Let us expand our ideals, and not approach in a narrow spirit such a question as is before us in this Amendment. I am convinced that the introduction of woman suffrage is part of something much wider, something which has come to stay, which we cannot any more keep out than we can keep out the tide of the Atlantic; and which this House could not stop even if it would, and if it tries would only impair its own position and the respect it holds in the public mind. I want to see a system of government in this country in which the whole nation is represented. Unless the whole nation is represented there would be a lack of that stability which is essential if we are to be free from the danger of such revolutionary movements as we see in countries where government is less organised. It is because hold that conviction, have held it strongly for years, and still more strongly in view of the changed conditions which the war has brought about, that I trust your Lordships will not agree with the Amendment.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, we have just listened to an interesting speech from one who is well entitled to speak upon constitutional questions. I, 430 for one, was much interested in one passage which occurred very near the beginning. He asked your Lordships to consider what was the duty of this House. I venture to say that is the main point we are here to consider to-night. The noble and learned Viscount went on to say that we are not to give effect to our own personal prejudices, or our own personal wishes, in matters of this kind. With that also I entirely agree. But the noble and learned Viscount assumed that the opinion which he put forward—I will not call it a prejudice—was necessarily the opinion of the country. That is just the point on which I am in the gravest doubt. I do not believe there is any certain evidence as to what is the real opinion of the country.
The noble and learned Viscount went on to say that there had been discussions in various years on the question of the extension of the franchise. He spoke of 1832, 1867, and 1885, and used them as illustrations of the present extension of the franchise. My point about this particular proposal to-night, is that it is absolutely different in kind from any one of these previous episodes. Every one, whether in 1832, 1867, or in 1885, proceeded from step to step in the extension of the franchise amongst men. It was a broadening of the basis of the Constitution without any real departure from established principles. I venture to say that the proposal which is before us to-night stands on a different plane from any of these previous extensions. Those changes were in the nature of a natural evolution, as men became more fit to exercise their privileges and their duties, became better educated, and had a larger stake in the country. This is a difference not in degree but in kind. It is a proposal for a wholly new departure, which has no precedent in any country with duties and difficulties and responsibilities in any way parallel to our own. There is no experience the world over which can guide us as to whether this is or is not a wise move to make. All this is being done without any obvious mandate or authority from the people. It is being done in the absence of 3,000,000 of men who are fighting for their country in various climes. It is being done by the House of Commons at the very end of its life, or at all events near the end of its life—a life which the House has itself extended in a way almost without precedent, and it is being done even by that House in the absence of a great many of its members.
431 The noble Viscount, referring to the Speaker's Conference, called it an impartial body, and so I think in the main it was. But whether or not it was as impartial on this particular question as on others I am not quite certain. I think that it is stated somewhere by the Speaker that in collecting the members for the Conference he had endeavoured to get persons who were equally divided upon this particular question. But changes were made in the course of the existence of that Conference, and other members were put in. I do not know whether the same care of selection was made in these changes as was taken in the case of the original body. All I want to say about that is that even if this body was impartial it was not united upon this particular question, as it was upon some others.
On a matter of this importance we ought to have had a separate measure. The case which I myself believe in is, in my opinion, prejudiced by the fact that this important question is mixed up with so many others. The noble Viscount who introduced the Bill made a very able speech, and showed how, on all other points, if one demand or one extension was given effect to it carried others along with it. That theory of evolution in my opinion breaks down wholly when you come to a question which is so different in kind as is this. It is the fact that you may take out these two subsections if you wish without destroying the measure. Other people who want the extension of the franchise to women may say: "Oh, if you take out these two subsections then you destroy the Bill." I say that that is not in the least a true statement. For all practical purposes the Bill could go on just as it is, extending the franchise to men in the way that is necessary, even if these two subsections were left out. It is not fair to tell us that if a change is made on these Subsections we shall destroy the Bill. In any case those who think with me are not responsible for the insertion of these provisions and clauses in the centre of this Bill, but beyond all doubt we are prejudiced by the fact that they have been inserted in this way and in this place because we are thereby prevented from getting the clear issue that we want to have on this important question before an irrevocable step has been taken.
I have shown a way in a subsequent Amendment by which, even if the opinion of this House is adverse to woman suffrage, 432 we may come to an arrangement whereby the real opinion of the country may be taken. I am not going to argue that special matter just now. My reason for speaking of it at this moment is this. Supposing the noble Earl's Amendment be carried, then of course my Amendment will fall to the ground. This is, put it how you like, a highly controversial matter, and was highly controversial before the war. It is quite true that opinion may have changed, but there is no authority to give effect to that alleged change of opinion unless you find out that it is really concrete and has taken place. I say, without fear of contradiction, that there is no certainty that even for this measure in favour of women there is a certain demand even by the women themselves. If you doubt that, then join with me in the Amendment which I have put down, and put it to the test.
No one is proposing to touch the Register of women for local government purposes. I see no Amendment down to interfere with it, and I welcome that fact with great cordiality. If you want to ascertain in a concrete and constitutional and easy manner what is the opinion of the women of this country, then take a vote of those who will be put on the Register by this Bill. There are 6,000,000, we are told. Those 6,000,000 are those who are above the age limit in the Bill. Who seriously defends that age limit? Do you suppose that if you once put 6,000,000 women above the age of thirty upon the Register there will not be instantly an agitation to include those who are younger? I think, indeed, that a noble Lord who sits on the Bench near me has himself an Amendment down to make that change at the present time by extending the franchise to women of a younger age than that in the Bill. There is no sort of principle in the age contained in the Bill. Do not, therefore, delude yourselves with the idea that you can stop at that age.
One of the most influential members of the Government in the House of Commons, Mr. Walter Long, making a speech accounting for his change of opinion, dwelt upon some of the same points as did the noble Viscount, who said that he would not consent to this change if he thought the women would be in a majority over the men upon the electoral roll. What is the meaning of saying that? If women are entitled to a vote, why should not they be in a majority? There is no reason if they are entitled to vote for keeping them in a minority. What is the 433 object of saying to us, "There are only 6,000,000 of these women, and they will not be a majority, because we are not putting on those who are under thirty years of age"? Mr. Long's words were that it would be "disastrous" if there were a majority of women votes in Great Britain. The women are the majority of the population now. They will be, owing to the lamentable events of the past years, in a greater majority in the years to come; and if you put them upon the Register in the way now proposed by this Bill, before long there will be a majority of women over men upon that Register. And the very "disaster" which Mr. Long fears would come about, and the very reason he gives for supporting his change of opinion is swept away because the women will be in the majority which he dreads.
The noble Viscount gave eloquent expression to the plea that war work has shown that women are entitled to vote. I know that this has changed the opinion of many. But is that change justified? I will not be behind the noble Viscount in admitting how splendidly the women have worked. They have done magnificent work, but they have not done it from motives of self-interest or in order to gain the vote. They have done it in an absolutely unselfish spirit, from motives of the purest and exalted patriotism, and for that they are entitled to all the credit that we can give them. Our women, however, are not singular in that matter. The women of all the Allied nations have done the same. All that has been done by our women is to their credit, but it does not change the material facts of the position as between women and men. The difference remains, and, say what you can of it, their work is auxiliary to that of men and is not in itself decisive. They cannot enter the Army, they cannot enter the Navy, they cannot do the great work which has been done by the Merchant Service, of which no praise can be too great. They cannot in the future in peace time take part in the rougher police work where force is required; and I believe it to be the fact that, after all, the last sanction of all government is force.
But there is another point. Will those who have actually done the work get the vote? My belief is that you are leading us on on false premises when you say that as a reward for the work that women have done they should got the vote. Many of you have no doubt read a very able article by Mrs. Humphry Ward in the Nineteenth 434 Century of this month, in which she says—The brave girls in the munition factories the girls who have gone to France [...] girls who are on the land, the nurses, the V.A.Ds, who are doing heroic work for the wounded, are as a rule many years under thirty. The change is being made and the vote is being claimed in their name, but it will be many years before they get the advantage from it.And the writer goes on to say that among the women who will immediately benefit, if it is a benefit, will be those who in many cases have not deserved the vote, including a multitude of rich and idle women who are doing no work for the war at all.
Those of us who are against this proposal have endeavoured, in the last few days to circulate a Memorial of those who are engaged in women's work. Let me read some words from the Memorial, which is addressed to your Lordships' House—The vast majority of women have had no previous political training, and only a very small, number are associated even with any form of industrial organisation. And there is no sufficient reason shown for doing this at a time when [...] is impossible to consult the men of the community who are fighting and dying over-seas. We submit that women have a clear rich [...] asked and to express their opinion before such a responsibility, leading as it must do within a very short time to adult [...] for both sexes, is placed upon them.That Memorial has been extensively signed in a very few days. It has been signed, for what it matters, by 105 Peeresses, but what is of much more importance by many hundreds of those who are actively engaged in this very work that is so eloquently mentioned by the noble Viscount. Other Memorials are mentioned, but almost all those Memorials, as far as I could trace, are from people who have no real right to speak on behalf of women. There were county councils, trade unions, and so on. That is a very insufficient ground on which to make this great change, especially when you have the power, as you will have under this Bill, of consulting the constitutent body who have the right, if we are a democratic country, to state their views before a great change is made.
The noble Viscount, in referring to this responsibility, said Parties would not be the same in the future as in the past. I believe that is absolutely the case, that those who think that we will go back to the old days of Liberal and Conservative are living in a fools' paradise. The issues before us will be very different. They will be issues in which the influence of reason will be of more importance than the 435 influence of sentiment, and at any rate at the present time the great mass of women whom you would enfranchise by this Bill will go more by sentiment than by reason, not from any fault of their own but because they have not had the opportunity and the occasion to study things on grounds of reason. I say it with no idea of renewing old controversies, but I greatly mistrust the leadership under which so many of these women have enrolled themselves. I remember the rioting and the disorder, and I shall never forget the destruction perpetrated upon some of our most ancient and valuable buildings in Scotland. Those who did it, though they may not have been discovered, in my humble opinion merit perennial infamy.
It is a pure matter of good faith that we should not make this change in the circumstances in which we are placed. To make it at such a time and in such a way as this is a breach of faith; it is a breach of faith on the part of those who support it, and a breach of trust on our part who disagree with them to allow it. If, however, the men and women of this country really desire it, of course we are bound to obey; but before we give way upon a matter like this, do let us make sure that we are doing what the people themselves really desire. In other words, does this country govern itself or does it not? Whether we are in favour of this change or not, we must recognise that it is a momentous and irrevocable change. If you once agree to it you can never go back. Therefore I say that it is our simple duty to take care that we do not take a step of this kind without making sure that those whom it will concern for longer years than it will concern ourselves have made up their minds that it ought to be taken.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I am conscious that when this Bill was being debated in your Lordships' House upon the Second Reading I made some considerable inroads upon your patience in speaking upon this subject. I feel that I ought to apologise for addressing the House again, and to assure you that I should not do so were it not for the fact that the two speeches which have been made this afternoon in support of the Amendment of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Loreburn, have placed this matter before your Lordships' House on grounds rather different from those upon which the noble Viscount, Lord Bryce, based his objections.
436 I feel, of course, the uneasiness which must haunt every speaker upon the subject when he reflects that for at least eleven years past the merits of this proposal have been discussed on every platform and have been made the subject of debate in every assembly, that it is impossible at this moment to urge new arguments in its favour, and that the repetition of the old arguments cannot produce conviction and may produce fatigue. If the arguments in support of the measure are old and worn, so, I think, are the arguments against it which were used by the noble and learned Earl who moved this Amendment.
What is the real ground upon which the noble Earl bases his case? The ground is that as a matter of profound conviction, the result of long experience, he had formed the unalterable opinion that women were unfit to take any part in the control of what he described as Imperial measures. He thought that the last great sacrifice which a man is called upon to make when he is bound to fight for his country was one that a woman could not share. To use the noble and learned Earl's own words, "Man had an indescribably greater share in the sufferings of war." I cannot accept even the premises upon which his conclusions were based. It may possibly be true in this sheltered country, though I doubt it; for if women have not been called upon in large numbers to lay down their lives for the sake of their country, they have been called upon to bear the loss of lives far dearer than their own. But if you went outside the limits of this island and considered the condition of the women in Belgium, does anybody suggest that the sufferings which the men have had to bear there have been "indescribably greater" than those which the women have had to endure? They had their persons violated, they had their houses ruined, their children slain before their eyes; and I would be glad to know what greater suffering any human being can be called upon to bear than sufferings such as those. I do not for a moment accept the principle that the vote can be determined by attempting to weigh and to measure the different degree of suffering which men and women have to bear in the appalling tragedy and calamity of war.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I think that is true. But the noble and learned Earl will forgive me if I remind him that I took down the words which he used.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
The noble and learned Earl will also forgive me for dealing with the point, and if it is not relevant to his argument I can pass it by; but I could not pass it without a challenge.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
The noble and learned Earl then said that women have not the same experience or knowledge to enable them to take a part in big Imperial questions. The first thing that suggests itself in answer to that is this. Does the noble Earl think that women will ever possess that experience or knowledge, or no? Is his opposition to their enfranchisement an opposition which is based upon their being enfranchised at the present time, or upon their being enfranchised at any time? I gathered from what he said that his objection was permanent, and that it is not merely now, but that never are women to be allowed to take a share in Imperial responsibilities. I find myself unable to understand upon what experience that view is based. The noble and learned Earl will forgive me for saying that I think he spoke quite accurately when he said that, after all, it was a matter of personal and individual opinions. I think that is so. But personal and individual opinions upon this matter are the personal and individual opinions of men; and it is a little hard to see why it is that men, who at this present moment have the control of government, should say that an opinion of that kind which they possess should never be open to challenge by the people who have not an opportunity of expressing their views.
The real case, as I understand it, for woman suffrage, is this—that according to all the principles which regulate modern government, government can never be stable and can never be safe unless it is based upon the consent of the people who are governed. That is independent of sex. That depends just as much upon the consent and the good will of women as upon the consent and the good will of men; and I do not know why we, having obtained the power at times and under conditions when women 438 certainly were not fairly treated, should now say, as we have remedied one by one the injustices from which they suffered, that their claim for admission to the franchise should now be refused.
The noble and learned Earl then pointed out with great force, as did Lord Balfour of Burleigh, that this Bill was illogical in fixing the age limit at thirty. Lord Lore-burn said, Why fix it at thirty? The noble Lord who has just sat down suggested—and I entirely agree with him—that it might well be that the women between twenty-one and thirty years of age would be more active and more energetic and better qualified in many ways to exercise the vote than those who are over that age. I accept his criticism. This Bill is illogical in that respect, and there is no reason why the age of thirty should have been introduced except this—namely, that as women never have been introduced to the suffrage up to the present, it was considered that it would, not be wise to introduce them by one measure in such numbers as they would on the electorate be in an overwhelming majority over the male electors. Lord Balfour of Burleigh pointed out, again quite accurately, that this result would ultimately arise. I do not dispute it; I think it will arise. But the idea which underlies this measure is that this result should arise slowly, and that it should not be effected by one step. I do not defend it. I would rather have had the perfectly logical straightforward principle of enfranchisement without any limitation at all. But it was thought that some limitation must be introduced. As far as I can see there were three only that could be used. One was the limitation of age, another was the limitation of property, and the third was the limitation associated with man. I need not say that the first two would be unacceptable. You will find it difficult, when you are discussing the question of marriage, whether to enfranchise those who are married or not. There would be no particular reason one way or the other. The qualification was out of date, and there was left nothing but this limitation of age.
The noble Earl spoke rather bitterly about the recommendation of the Speaker's Conference. But was he quite fair in his criticism? Of course I do not mean that he was intentionally unfair. I am sure he would not be. The Speaker's Conference was established to consider the question of electoral reform generally; 439 and if so, is not this reform one of the reforms which has been the subject of most acute agitation for the last eleven years? Why, then, was there anything improper, or any procedure behind the back of Parliament, in the Conference recommending to this extent and in this form that woman suffrage should be introduced? The noble Earl then suggested that this proposal had been twice rejected in the House of Commons. I have forgotten the second time, but I certainly remember one occasion when it was rejected by a substantial majority. Why? The reason is perfectly plain. It was because the House of Commons was outraged by the acts of violence to which Lord Balfour of Burleigh has just referred. The vote was certainly not given upon the merits of the question of woman suffrage, but was intended to express the abhorrence of the House of Commons at the methods by which the claim to the suffrage had been advanced.
Then it was said that the women's associations ceased their activities when the war broke out, and that since then we have had no further evidence of their desire for this relief. I should have thought that that might have been accepted by the noble Earl who moved the Amendment as a most convincing argument that women were alive to Imperial interests and responsibilities. For why was it that these associations were disbanded? It was because the women were united in their desire to do nothing whatever that could embarrass the Government in the prosecution of the war, and sought to use the whole force of their organisations, not for the purpose of advancing the cause for which they were formed and which they still hold dearly at heart, but, if possible, for the national benefit. To say that that can be used as an illustration that women are either dead to Imperial needs or have ceased to demand or desire the vote is, I cannot help thinking, a misinterpretation of the facts. Lord Balfour said, and quite truly, that in this matter we have no experience to guide us. I agree in thinking that what Lord Bryce pointed out has much weight in it—namely, that the experience that we have is too limited to enable us to use it safely in argument. Let us assume that we have not enough experience to guide us in the matter. But when the British system of representation was first established we had no experience to guide us. We established a precedent and other people have followed it. 440 Are things to be changed now? Are we to adopt the rôle of imitators, and not the rôle of initiators in such a matter?
Then it was said that there is no reason why the exclusion of women should cause the loss of this Bill. I can assure the noble Lord that I think there is. If the only issue that could be put before another place was whether this Bill should pass with women excluded, or whether it should be rejected, I myself feel strongly that they would reject it, and I should feel inclined to take the same action myself. I should regard the passage of a great Reform Bill at this moment which excluded women from its provision as a great insult to the women and something more—namely, as an attempt to evade the claim that they have put forward by a method that was not very creditable to the Houses of Parliament.
If we look back at the history of this movement I do not think it is one of which we can be very proud. In another place there has been certainly during the last eleven years a majority of Members of Parliament returned who have solemnly pledged themselves to support this particular measure—I do not say in all its details, but a measure including women in the Parliamentary franchise. Bills have been introduced and read a second time, and by one means or another whenever there seemed any chance of their being brought near to conclusion something happened and the whole thing had to be begun again. Is it remarkable that women should have lost patience, and to a great extent have lost faith in the sincerity of the promises by which from time to time they have been flattered when elections were on?
My Lords, the women have waited during the last three years for this measure. They have waited patiently, and have worked well—nobody disputes it—at the time of the greatest trial this nation has ever had to face. They have given unstintingly of their services and their strength, and I would beg of your Lordships not to deny them the opportunity which this Bill affords, and to which they anxiously look forward, of being able to lend their assistance to rebuild once more the shattered fabric of our social system, and to mend our broken life.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I should like to state, in the fewest possible words, the reasons which induce 441 me to support the Amendment moved by my noble and learned friend. One proposition I will venture to make which I think will scarcely be disputed, and it is this. This clause stands on an entirely different footing from any other provision which is to be found within the four corners of this Bill. It is an excrescence upon the Bill, and, as has been pointed out, the remainder of the Bill can perfectly well proceed in the absence of this clause. For the rest of the Bill I do not think it is very difficult to make at any rate a plausible case; but for this particular provision I find it very difficult to offer any plausible justification.
There are two questions which we have to face. In the first place, there is the question of the fitness of women for the franchise. In the second place, there is the question whether at this particular moment the House of Lords would be justified in making this immense change in our political system. With regard to the first question, I hat of fitness, I think I may say with absolute sincerity that my attitude is by no means a bigoted one. I listened with great respect and interest to many of the arguments put forward just now by the noble and learned Lord opposite in support of his view that the women have a right to have this privilege conferred upon them and would exercise it wisely. I feel, with regard to arguments of that kind, that there is room for legitimate difference of opinion between those who support the view of my noble and learned friend and those who oppose it; and I, at any rate, am not going to dogmatise to-night upon such questions as the physiological difference between the two sexes, the difference in their temper and mentality, or the difference between the contribution which they make or which we expect them to make to the activities of the Commonwealth. I have a great deal of sympathy with what was said by Lord Buckmaster a moment ago as to the magnitude of the sacrifices which women have been called upon to make during the, course of this war, and I am far from ruling them out merely upon the ground that their sacrifices seem at first sight to be less than those to which the other sex has to submit. Nor, again, shall I allow myself to be influenced by anticipations as to the possible consequences of this great change, if it were to be made. These are, after all, more or less matters of conjecture, and although I am one of those who look with 442 a certain amount of alarm upon the consequences which may follow from this revolution, I am content to admit that I may be quite mistaken, that our apprehensions may be groundless, and that the women may be found (contrary to the expectations of my noble friend who sits beside me) to be as competent as the men to deal even with questions of high Imperial policy.
I propose to rest my case upon one or two very simple propositions which seem to me to be incontrovertible. I want to deal simply with the question whether we have a right at this moment to make this great change in the law. In the first place, I express my opinion that we have no clear indication of the will of the people of this country with regard to this question. We live in a democracy. We are fulsome in our professions of faith in the democratic system. Surely the essence of a democratic system is that the ascertained will of the people should prevail. I say that we have not ascertained what the deliberate will of the people upon this subject is. I venture to add that, so far as we have any means of judging, public opinion has of late years hardened against the proposal to give the suffrage to women. As has been said just now, the Suffrage Bill was defeated in the House of Commons in 1912 and again in 1913, and no Bill was introduced in that House in 1914. The noble and learned Lord who spoke just now said that that was on account of the abhorrence created by the suffragist outrages. They may have had something to do with it but I do not think we can accept that as a wholly sufficient explanation of the phenomenon.
Then there is the present House of Commons. I venture to hold the opinion that the present House of Commons has no authority whatever from the country to deal with this question. I think it was the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, who said that although the opinion of the country had not been formally taken upon the question, there were other means of ascertaining how public feeling was running, and he cited various conclaves and committees and consultations. I submit that we should be extremely careful how we allow these conclaves, these conferences and consultations of the Party wire-pullers, to be taken as a firm indication of what the country is really thinking about. Then there is the 443 undoubted fact that the women themselves are profoundly divided upon this subject. It must be within the knowledge of every noble Lord in this House that many of the ablest, most thoughtful, and most independent women hold a strong opinion adverse to the proposal in the Bill; and that, I am assured from many quarters, is the case in all stations of life, amongst the women who are employed in manual work in the factories as well as amongst those who move in a somewhat higher sphere.
We are, however, brought up against the authority of the Speaker's Conference. The Speaker's Conference itself was not unanimous upon this subject. We are given to understand that the proposal was supported at a not very well-attended meeting by a not very large majority. But, my Lords, I must be allowed to protest against the idea that the authority of the Speaker's Conference is so overwhelming that we are bound to shelter ourselves behind it and to abdicate our right to form an independent judgment on the question. We had a most illuminating speech the other night from my noble friend Lord Burnham, himself a member of the Speaker's Conference, and, if I remember aright, he started with the very frank admission that the Speaker's Conference was composed of what he called average men, men, let us say, of a high average but still fallible men, like others. Apparently it was pressed upon them that somehow or other they had to find a way out of all these difficulties, and to agree to something that might form the basis of a Parliamentary measure. They must have been rather in the position of the jury who are locked up and kept locked up until they have agreed upon a verdict. My noble friend, with great frankness, also admitted that some of his colleagues at any rate began to be rather alarmed when they found that the result of their proposals was that the whole fabric began to tumble about their ears. I think he also pointed out-it is a very material point—that in at least three important particulars the Bill upon the Table departs entirely from the recommendations of the Conference. I mention these facts merely because I feel very strongly that it is our business to treat these questions upon their merits and not to allow our judgment to be too much influenced even by the weighty authority of the Speaker's Conference.
There is another division of opinion 444 which is not less remarkable. Unless we are entirely mistaken, the Cabinet itself is divided upon this question. We all heard the other night the speech delivered by my noble friend who leads the House, and who dealt with these questions with his accustomed eloquence, but when he got to woman suffrage he, so to speak, reined his steed back upon its haunches upon the verge of the precipice, and passed on to a different subject. My noble friend knows, of course, perfectly well—he will not take it amiss if I say so—that the case which he has again and again made so, triumphantly before different audiences has remained entirely unshaken by anything that has lately taken place.
Then, my Lords, I dislike this clause particularly for the reason given a moment ago by my noble friend Lord Balfour. I dislike it because it does not look the problem of woman suffrage in the face. It deals with it in a fragmentary manner, and asks us to defend a frontier which cannot possibly be held against attacks during the years which lie before us. We are told that the women will be in a minority; that only 6,000,000 of them will come in under this Bill. Well, 6,000,000 thrown into the wrong scale may do a considerable amount of harm. But what is perfectly certain is that the 6,000,000 is not going to remain at 6,000,000. It has already been intimated pretty plainly, by people who know what they are talking about, that they are not going to stop at the 6,000,000; and, indeed, if sex is to be no disability, what possible reason can there be for giving a vote to a lad of nineteen and refusing it to a lass of the same age?
Moreover, it is to be remembered that the greater part of these women workers whose efforts we all appreciate so much are below the age limit given in the Bill, and will, therefore, be excluded. If you take the line of saying that the vote is to be given to them as a recompense, they will make their claim, and certainly make it with success. I think it was the noble and learned Lord who said that the only basis for safe and stable government was the consent of the governed. Does the noble and learned Lord think that this great body of women below the age of thirty will consent to be governed without a vote when they see their elders, who have, perhaps, contributed not nearly so much as they have to the national effort, obtaining the vote denied to them? 445 If you want to touch bottom in dealing with this question the only point at which you can touch it is that suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, the other night, when he told the House that he claimed the vote for these people because they were human beings and required protection. If you accept that, then you will have to give the vote to the rest of these women, who are human beings, and who will certainly tell you that they want protection just as much as anybody else.
Let us not forget, too, when we come to consider the question of the strength of the female contingent, that the effect of this deplorable war has been to greatly disturb the balance between the two sexes. Some very remarkable figures have been published in the newspapers showing how, in the case of Germany, the excess of women over men, which ought according to the ordinary calculation to have stood at 800,000, will probably stand at 2,100,000; and I do not think it can be doubted that there will be the same disturbance of the vital statistics in this country, and that the eventual majority of women will be a very numerous one indeed.
What is the reason which is given to us in justification of the change of attitude undergone by so many of those who used to oppose female suffrage and who now support it? One ground and one ground only, so far as I am aware, has been alleged. They point to the conspicuous service and the valuable work done by women in connection with the war. I appreciate that work, and the spirit in which it has been done, as fully as any member of your Lordships' House. It is not too much to say that if at any moment the women of this country had "downed tools," there would have been a collapse, and the war might have been brought to an inglorious end. Therefore I pay my tribute of respect and gratitude to the women who have clone this great service for the country. But we are told that all this has come as a revelation to us. I consider that to be a most dangerous argument. What does it mean? It means, if you think it out, that until now we thought these women were rather poor creatures and therefore did not give them the vote. Now that they have shown us they are not poor creatures, therefore we are going to reward them. None of us would, I hope, listen to such an argument. This has not been a revelation to me. I never doubted it; and 446 I believe most of us never doubted that, when the emergency came, the women would step into the breach and shoulder the burden. And why? They did so because when their husbands, their brothers, and their sons were risking their lives or laying them down for the country, the women determined that they would do what they could to help those who were still spared, and to honour the memory of those who had been taken away by doing what they would have wished them to do. It was for that reason, and not because they looked for the reward of being admitted to our political controversies, that they undertook the great task which they have so nobly performed.
There is, I know, an apprehension that, in the work of reconstruction which will follow upon this war, women will be left out in the cold if they are not given the franchise. I disbelieve it entirely. I believe that in the difficult times which lie before us the advice of the women will be sought, as it has been sought up to now. We know that there is scarcely a committee which has been formed upon which women are not represented, and this Bill itself admits them to municipal activity to a very great and salutary extent. I have no apprehension whatever that in the work of reconstruction, whether it be social, domestic, municipal, or industrial, the interests of the women are likely to be lost sight of. I am afraid there is a considerable danger, when dealing with this question, that people will allow their hearts to prevail too much over their heads. It is not a bad thing sometimes that the heart should prevail over the head, but it is very dangerous to allow it to do so when you are dealing with the very foundations of the political system under which we live and have our being.
I suggest then to the House that there are two questions which have to be asked and answered in a most cold-blooded manner. Does the country want this change? I say that we have no information to show us conclusively that it does want it. The second question is, Have we the right to make a change at this moment? I believe that we have no such right. I believe that this is a new departure of the most serious kind. It is a revolutionary departure, and it is advocated as such. It is entirely unprecedented, and it is bitterly objected to by a large number both of men and of women. What then, 447 my Lords, is our duty when this proposal comes before us? When the powers of this House were seriously curtailed by legislation a few years ago we were entrusted—I may almost say entrusted in terms—with the duty of delaying any measure which we believed had not received the sufficient and deliberate support of the people of the country. Can we consistently with our duty shirk the obligation which was then imposed upon us? Surely we have a right to remember at such a time that we live in a country in which there are hardly any constitutional safeguards, and that we are the trustees for the slender shred of safeguard which still remains to us under the Parliament Act.
There is only one other observation which I will make. I ask the House to consider the difference between our position and yours, should either of us be mistaken in the view which we hold with regard to, this clause. If we who oppose this clause are mistaken and prevail, it will be easy to repair the mistake. Lord Balfour of Burleigh has suggested a means by which the mistake might be repaired without any great difficulty; but even if his particular proposal were not to find favour, those of us who oppose this clause have always made it perfectly plain that, should we hereafter receive an unambiguous indication from the country that it wants this change, we shall submit to it loyally and without question. Therefore if we are mistaken and prevail, our mistake will be a reparable mistake. If you are mistaken and prevail, it will not be merely a case of a temporary check. You will have made an irreparable change in the Constitution. You will have placed yourselves in a position from which there is no retreat; and I fear that it might be found that in your desire to snatch a temporary advantage; you had irretrievably injured the very foundation of the Commonwealth.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I think that your Lordships are aware that this is not a question on which I have ever expressed a strong view, or upon which I have in any sense acted as a partisan. I do not desire, therefore, this afternoon to detain your Lordships at any length on the subject, but merely to deal with one aspect of it, and in doing so in some degree to join issue with my noble friend who has just sat down. That is on the point whether this is or is not an appropriate moment at which this question of woman 448 suffrage should be considered and ealt with by Parliament.
It seems a somewhat plausible argument that in the present great world convulsion a question which is by common admission most controversial—though, as I ventured to point out to my noble and learned friend yesterday, not controversial in the old Party sense—should be postponed until a quieter time; and I hope my noble and learned friend will not again think that I am offering an argument which could be supposed to be in the bad sense Jesuitical if I venture to say that for this particular purpose these are, I think, the quiet times. This is, in fact, the political backwater in which it is possible to take a far calmer view of this subject than it was possible to take before the war, and, what I think is infinitely more important, than it will ever be possible to take after peace is declared. The atmosphere after the conclusion of the war is by common admission uncertain, but one thing about it I think must be agreed—it cannot be in the political sense calm. It may be very much the contrary. A great number of questions exciting controversial feelings among all Parties will emerge suddenly, will rise to the surface, and will be freely discussed, without any of the patriotic checks which all men, however keen their desires, wish to apply to political discussion at this moment. I therefore venture to ask those who believe that the consideration of this question could properly be postponed, what advantages can be expected from its postponement?
I recall the political position on this subject as it existed just before the war. We all know how high feelings ran. It is literally true that it would have been no surprise to us, the members of the Government of that day, if any one of our colleagues in the House of Commons who had taken a prominent line either for or against the grant of the vote to women had been assassinated in the street. Nor, I venture to say, would it have been the slightest surprise to Scotland Yard. It is quite true that the various leaders of the women's party had drawn the line at murder, although they did not draw it at any other kind of outrage for the propagation of their ideas. But we all know that every period of political agitation is liable to have its Invincible wing, and nobody was certain that some enthusiastic supporters of the movement might not take the life, either of one of the Ministers who declared himself in strong opposition to the Bill, or 449 of one of those who was known to be strongly in favour of it, on the ground that he was acting as a traitor in remaining a member of the Government which refused the vote. That is an atmosphere, if the grant of the vote is refused, which will undoubtedly be re-created one of these days. That is no reason, it will be said, and very rightly said, for giving the vote if it is a wrong thing to do. Equally—and this is not quite: so generally remembered—that is no reason for refusing the grant of the vote if it is right. But at any rate the existence of those passions in the past and the probability of their recurrence in the future does prove the earnest conviction of those who support this change in the law. I venture to put it to those who, like my noble friend who has just sat down, doubt the expediency of dealing with the matter at this moment, whether it is not wiser to attempt to settle this question during the present general truce than to await the reopening of the struggle, perhaps in even more violent forms than before, for it will certainly be renewed if the present Amendment is carried.
I have no desire to repeat now the argument which I used on a former occasion of the far deeper interest in the whole affairs of the nation and the Empire which is now taken by women—greater, I suppose, than anybody had thought possible before. Whereas before there were perhaps some four-fifths of the national activities which were not; open to women and never exercised by them, perhaps now it would not be too much to say that there is not more than one-fifth of the possible activities of mankind in which women do not take some part. I have always been one of those who have altogether resented the idea of giving the vote as a reward for public service. It has always been said, "What an insult to women to suppose that they have performed such splendid public service merely in the hope of being put on the electoral lists." I entirely agree. The same thing applies to the soldiers. We have all said a hundred times in this House that the men who are risking their lives in the trenches ought to have the vote. But it is equally unfair to suggest that their willingness to give military service is in any sense founded on a desire to become voters. You may be quite certain that those boys of nineteen and twenty who are to become voters under the Bill have been actuated by no such motive as that. But I 450 cannot confess I feel no surprise whatever at the vast extension of the capacities of women which has been exhibited during the last few years. Nobody doubted that they would come forward and do their best while their husbands, brothers, and sons were risking their lives, but what that best would be, the form that it would take, was, I confess, a completely sealed book to me. I should never have conceived it possible that women could have done the work which I have seen them doing in engineering shops and in a great many other spheres of activity. Therefore I cannot quite join the noble Marquess in saying that we could regard this as a matter of course. But I repeat, if women are to have the vote they should have it not as a reward but owing to a certain unexpected revelation of their capacity, of which we knew nothing before, to take part in the whole public life of the country.
It is said with a great deal of force that in the sphere of Imperial polities the present generation of women have not had the same kind of experience which at any rate a considerable proportion of men voters have. That is, no doubt, quite true. But may there not have been occasions in the past in which the woman's vote, if it had been exercised, might have been exercised in the right direction? I wonder whether the institution of slavery would have lasted as long as it did if the women of Great Britain had had the vote. I do not say that because I at all agree with those who believe that the ordinary woman is more sentimental than the ordinary man, because I am inclined to believe slightly the contrary—that the ordinary woman takes a somewhat harder view of life in general and of offences of different kinds, and is probably less inclined towards mercy than man.
Lastly, there is the question whether Parliament is justified in dealing with this matter at all. The noble Earl who leads the House made one parallel in his speech on the Second Reading which impressed me not a little, and I have naturally more knowledge of the inner position regarding it than some of your Lordships—I mean on the question of compulsory service. You could hardly have had a more controversial question than the introduction of compulsory service into this country. Nobody, I suppose, would now dispute that in the national need Parliament had a right to deal with that matter. I have no desire now to 451 say a word on the question of the referendum and its possible applicability to this question of woman suffrage, but this I do say—that there was a time when, believing as I did that compulsory military service was necessary, I should have greatly dreaded its submission to a referendum. The time doubtless came after Parliament had discssued the question, when I have no doubt a referendum would have produced exactly the same result as the discussions in Parliament produced; but there was a moment when I confess I should have been very sorry to submit the question. I merely mention this, not in order to anticipate any discussion about the referendum, but on the general question as to whether Parliament—even this supposed out-of-date House of Commons—may not take the opportunity of dealing with a question when it believes that the appropriate moment has come. I do not think, therefore, that your Lordships can properly take the view that it is our duty to save the House of Commons and to save the country from itself on this matter because the House of Commons is not empowered to express an opinion on it in its present condition.
Perhaps I may repeat once more that this is not a subject on which I have ever felt strongly, and I have never been a supporter of granting the vote; but on this occasion I shall certainly give my vote with those who desire to retain the Bill in its present form, because I feel certain that the striking out of these subsections, as my noble and learned friend suggests by his Amendment, must have an effect upon the Bill—probably upon the fate of the whole Bill—which I, for one, am not prepared to contemplate.
§ LORD BURNHAM
The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, has made a grave speech leading up to a still graver conclusion, because he has virtually proposed to your Lordships that you should destroy a Bill which has been accepted by the country as an agreed settlement in order to heal the sores of political grievances, and to create an atmosphere favourable to the consideration of social reforms for reconstruction without bitterness, and, so far as possible, with consent. I hardly think that your Lordships would be wise in assuming that you are right in taking this course in defiance of public opinion.
452 I know of old that there is great difficulty in defining the differences between Second Reading principles and Committee points. Some Bills have half-a-dozen principles; other Bills have no principles at all. But I venture to think that if ever there was a case, gross and palpable, for an Amendment on the Second Reading of a Bill, it is the Amendment which has been submitted to-night by my noble and learned friend Lord Loreburn. Supposing that your Lordships pass this Amendment, out of the 8,000,000 people enfranchised by this Bill you take 6,000,000. The main part of the structure has gone beyond recall. I cannot think what sort of language my noble and learned friend, who was a great constitutional precisian in the House of Commons, would have used if any such attempt had been made by the Tory Party sitting opposite to him with the Bill when it came into Committee. No Amendment was moved to the Second Reading; and when my noble friend Lord Weardale attempted to move an Instruction on going into Committee, he was almost laughed out of court. Now, in Committee, an Amendment is proposed which would destroy as I say, what is the main feature of the Bill.
Already there has grown up a strange myth of misconception about the Speaker's Conference. If it had not been for the question of woman suffrage there would have been no Speaker's Conference and no Speaker's Report. It was very largely in consequence of the vital differences of opinion which existed in the community on this question that the Conference was appointed; and when one deals with the validity of the decisions of the Conference, one has to recollect that there was hardly one which was not carried by a majority in the first place. My noble and learned friend Lord Loreburn said that the Conference was acting almost ultra vires in considering woman suffrage.
§ LORD BURNHAM
From the Chair it was laid down on the first day on which we met that this was one of the main questions for consideration, and this could not have been said without agreement after consultation with the Leaders of the Parties by whom the Conference was appointed. As to the decisions arrived at, it was only when they were put as an agreed com- 453 promise at the end that exception was taken to two in particular; and a minority insisted upon recording their votes so that they might be free in the other House and here, I think to take what line they chose. But there is no talisman of agreement in the unanimous acceptance at the end of the recommendations of the Conference. Nearly all were carried by a majority in the first place, and it matters very little whether there was a division then or before.
I share, of course, to a great extent the view that this question has to be argued as far as possible, not on the ground of sentiment, still less of fanaticism; it is a matter of experience and of expediency. I am no fanatic in the matter. I share most of the old-fashioned prejudices of my noble and learned friend befow the gangway on the other side. The natural man that is in me rather rebels against what we are now doing, because the natural man is always in favour of the primitive view of women's rights. But we have to consider the question in the light of experience; and I listened with astonishment to my noble and learned friend's description of the reasons why women were disqualified from having the vote. He said that no great State which took part in the world's affairs admitted women as constituents for their Assembly. In to-day's newspapers there is a declaration from the President of the United States, who is elected indirectly by woman suffrage. Does my noble and learned friend think that President Wilson's pronouncements are invalidated because women have indirectly some share in drawing them up? In these days it is taking a very high course to deny to the Commonwealth of Australia a share in the world's affairs. With General Smuts sitting in the War Cabinet, can it be said that the self-governing Dominions, which have adopted woman suffrage, have no share in Imperial affairs?
Then my noble and learned friend says that it is foreign affairs on which women are more disqualified from expressing an opinion; they have not the wisdom of men, he says, with regard to foreign affairs. Does the present state of things do much credit to the wisdom of men in foreign affairs? Is there any reason why women should not be able to take the same part as the male electors of the country have taken in foreign affairs hitherto, 454 which has been a very small one? Many of the Agreements concluded before this war were as absolutely unknown and unsuited to the male electors as they were to the women non-electors of the country. I cannot help thinking that this is a strange argument to come from my noble friend, who has taken strongly the view that nothing could be worse than the conduct of foreign affairs conducted in a man-elected Assembly. It seems to me that in his speech, and in the speech of the noble Marquess (Lord Lansdowne), there were many arguments which had not been urged by any of the advocates of woman franchise. Lord Lansdowne testified most emphatically to the value of women's services in this war. And when you come to it I should like to ask, Is there any war service which has not been done by women during these last few years, except handling a rifle in the trenches? The old argument founded upon bygone wars, to some extent a matter of ancient history, is now worth very little; and although women may not claim the vote as a result of their war services, yet, if you look at the matter with fairness, can you deny that the women police; who patrol the streets, the women who guard the hayricks in the country districts, are doing war service of a kind which was almost inconceivable before the war, and in the performance of which they have shown the highest efficiency?
Besides that, we had no better proof of the weakness of the argument against this grant of the franchise to women than was afforded by the speech of Lord Bryce on the Second Reading. There is no man, of course, who has a higher reputation for constitutional learning throughout the world than Lord Bryce. Yet the most he could urge against the inclusion of the women in the Constitution is that in the States of the Union where they exercise the franchise they have not raised the standard of governing any higher than it is in the States where they do not possess the vote. I think he omitted to say that the States where they have been given the vote are mostly in the West, and he would be the last to deny that in the States of the West there has been great progress towards clean government in recent years, and that to women should certainly be given some of the credit for it. We shall hear more in the future, about clean government in our own country; but on the question of clean government, I do not think 455 general opinion is wrong when it attributes a better standard in great part to what women have done. My noble friend said that women were not qualified because, I understood him to say, they did not read the newspapers. From a certain point of view that may be a very serious charge, but it is one which would apply equally to the cottars in Ireland and the crofters in Scotland; yet he did not proceed to argue that in this Bill we should take away the franchise from those who had it, and he could not reasonably say that there is not a great part of the population which does not lie under the same, as I think, serious disability.
The old argument that women are disqualified because they do not take the same interest in public affairs as men does not bear examination. For thirty years, as your Lordships know, women have exercised the franchise for the larger assemblies of local government. It is said that they do not take any great interest in the elections. Nor do men. In the administrative county of London I think it is true that not more than 50 per cent of the male electors take the trouble to record their votes in the County Council elections; and there, again, the argument used is a disqualification for those who now have the vote rather than for shutting out the women from having the vote in the future.
I do not think there is a more vain imagination than that political power is measured and limited by civic, responsibility. In many countries women exercise the greatest power without the responsibility, and where it is exercised in that way I need not point out the obvious mischiefs to which it is open. There is no country where women have exercised greater political power than in France. It is said, rightly or wrongly, that every French movement must have a woman behind it. In any case, the women in France have exercised a profound influence in shaping the destinies of the country. I need not go through the long history, but I will remind your Lordships of a story of Talleyrand. After discussing the question of the influence of the Duchesse de Berri, who was in revolt against Louis-Philippe, as a Legitimist, he said he did not know where she would be found, whether in France or in Italy, but wherever she was she would be found en homme—playing a man's part—and that is what the women in France have done 456 before. In this country we want them to have responsible and not irresponsible power, and I believe that you gain in saddling women with the responsibility of power.
There is, however, a stronger argument still. Lord Lansdowne spoke of the time of social and industrial reconstruction before us. Can it be contended that during that period the interests of men and women will be identical? It is true that Lord Bryce earned undying fame in days gone by in passing the Married Women's Property Act. Will they always find such a disinterested champion? Is it not possible that men will try, by legislation and otherwise, to exclude women from the employments into which they think it undesirable that they should enter? I have had occasion to go round many employment exchanges in London during the last few weeks, and all the managers were unanimous in saying that the struggle in the immediate future in workshop and factory will be between women and men. It is true that employers may support the women against the men, but it is equally true that it will be a struggle between the sexes; and in the circumstances is it fair to say that women will be represented by men, or that what is called virtual representation has any real effect? The truth is that in many ways and for many purposes the interests of men and women will be diverging, if not opposed, and it is right that Parliament should be in a position of joint responsibility to women as well as men—a responsibility which cannot be made up for by smooth phrases about equal justice being meted out to all. On the contrary, Lord Loreburn gave instance after instance in which, under the present system of law, grave injustice is done to women, such as the conditions of and the care of children, divorce, and many other things, and he expressed the hope that this state of things would soon be set right. I do not know upon what ground he bases his hopes if the conflict is to become more acute, as it is likely to do if the House of Commons should take only the man's view of the situation.
I am glad to notice a change of tone from the echoes of old times. We have heard nothing of the shrieking sisterhood. On the contrary, we have heard it admitted that women are deserving of being talked of with exactly the same respect as men, and certainly there is nothing in what we 457 know of their opinions and aspirations to which we need lake exception any more in their case than in the case of their husbands or their brothers. They talked during the days of the old Reform Act of 1868 of the "dim millions." They are neither dim nor dumb now. Women are just as vocal as men, and if their programme is sometimes extreme and extravagant it is not more so than the authorised programme; of the Labour Party, and I am certain that to leave open a great sore like this will not conduce to the moderate and successful settlement of things on a permanent basis. Disraeli described women as the Priestesses of Predestination. I do not know whether we are to regard this as predestined. For my own part, I certainly do; and I do not think that if you had to choose a time for emancipating women, you could have selected a better time or a fairer opportunity. I think this is an opportunity to take up now and here, and I believe that if it is not done your Lordships will have deep cause to regret it. The noble Earl, Lord Loreburn, I think, said we must draw the line somewhere. I should like to ask whether during this war women have drawn the line in their self-sacrifice and their self-devotion?
§ LORD BURNHAM
If they have not drawn the line, why should we draw the line? If we do not draw it (as I think we are somewhat unwisely advised to do) we shall welcome instead of rejecting this compromise—for it is a compromise—though nobody can say what the future may bring forth. I think this House, instead of refusing to admit women, ought to welcome them into the full freedom of the Constitution For better or for worse, my Lords, we have got them, and I say for better. I believe, with a hope that is breast-high, that they will be received for better and not for worse to the bosom of our old body politic.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
My Lords, I have heard the last speech with the surprise that Balak had in listening to Balaam, because I was told that the speaker who would precedes me was going to curse the Bill, and he has blessed it altogether. I feel that many of the things I should have said to your Lordships have been very much better, more clearly, and more 458 eloquently said by the noble, Lord. I should not, therefore, have ventured to take part in the debate at all had I not thought I could contribute a certain amount of experience from a quarter which is not specially familiar to your Lordships—that is the working-class quarters of the great cities. I have known them for twenty-nine years, and although for many years I was very doubtful as to the support of woman suffrage—it was hardly a tactful way to convert us by burning down our churches or putting bombs in our homes and cathedrals—I have been wholly converted to the support of this movement by the belief that we need women in the reconstruction of the world after the war. I do not put it on the ground of reward for service, or on any lower ground at all, but in reconstructing the world after the war I believe we need the votes of these women. In that most conservative body, the Church of England, we were compelled to this belief in the last twelve months. I have carried out during the past year a slow visitation of the great diocese of London. To my surprise, when it came to the question of visiting the diocese, it was felt by the whole diocese—the most conservative rural deans proposed it—that it was impossible to examine the work in a diocese like London unless the women were represented. At each ruridecanal gathering, by arrangement and backed by the public opinion of the whole diocese, on the proposal of the rural deans themselves, thirty women were present.
What are the burning questions that are coming up after the war in these working-class quarters? The other day I was at a Sunday conference of a thousand men in East London who were conferring on the disgraceful condition of the housing of East London. I took the chair, and the man who made the speech was not some local "spouter," but the Mayor of Bethnal Green himself, in his robes. He pointed out to this great gathering of indignant men that there were areas in that district which were condemned as unfit for habitation in the last century. Seven areas were condemned in 1904, and nothing whatever had been done to remedy them. Why not? Because no voice with special power could reach the centre. We have to make up our minds that if the housing of Bethnal Green and East London is going to be remedied it is the concern of the whole nation. Whose voice do we want 459 to sound that view? The voice of the working-woman, those who are most concerned. We say that the women are to look after their homes. They have the right to say what their homes shall be, and if your Lordships knew the houses in which some of those boys were brought up who have gone out to fight for the country—and I am certain some noble Lords do know them—they would say that the voice of the working-women must be heard. These working-women have hardly been mentioned in the debate. We have heard of "tweenies" from my noble friend Lord Bryce. As a matter of fact, I have never found a "tweenie" of the age of thirty in London yet. We have also heard of educated women. I plead, on this housing question, for the voice of the working-women, those upon whom the burden of life really rests.
Then take another great question which this country will have to face, the question of infant mortality. It is well known now and accepted that 100,000 little children, of whom 50,000 could be saved, die in the year of their birth. When Lord Haldane was in power he entrusted me, under an Act of Parliament, with the chairmanship of a great charity, a Royal charity, a great ancient foundation, which was restored to its original use of saving the infant life of this great city. As I looked round the table I found to my horror that we were all bachelors, although the feeding of babies was the concern of the charity. What did we do? We called in the most experienced woman we could find to do the job for us, and only too quickly she laid down her life in that service. Miss MacQueen died at her post in carrying out her duty. Everybody must feel that on this question of how to save the infant life of the country the working-women should have the first voice. They have no voice yet at all.
There is a third question—and I know perfectly well that this will appeal to the feeling heart of Lord Loreburn; in fact, he hinted so in his speech—the question of safeguarding and saving young girls from a bad life. We have been singularly unfortunate in that. In all honesty I must say that the Criminal Law Amendment Bill has been apparently hindered by a division of opinion among women. But I do say that no section has a greater right to be called in to help with this most urgent question than the women of this country. We must call them in, and unless they have 460 a voice in the Imperial Parliament—that is, the Parliament which passes these laws—they have no adequate voice at all.
Then comes the tremendous question of education. I hope we shall have as large a House as this some day to pass a measure on the lines of Mr. Fisher's Bill. The working-classes of this country are determined to have a better education for their children; and why should not the mothers have a voice in it? They are just as intelligent as the men of the working-classes in East London. I could not help smiling when I heard my noble friend Lord Bryce say that they did not meet and talk. One of the most famous sayings of Archbishop Temple was, "They do talk in Spitalfields." As to meeting and talking, they do so constantly: and on the question of education and all these other difficult questions the women have a right to be consulted, and we cannot do without them if we are to get a solution.
Lord Burnham touched on another point, the coming struggle between men and women for the future in industrial quarters. It is going to be a most serious question, and surely we are evading the danger by taking a wise course when you give them the vote by which they can fight for themselves. No one rebels more than those who are kept under and ill-treated without a voice. Therefore on all these five questions, which are coming into the reconstruction of the world after the war, we need to have the women's voice in a full and practical measure.
When we read Mrs. Humphry Ward's pamphlet—which I expect your Lordships have already done—we find a most terrible picture drawn by her of red rain, to which the revolution in Russia is absolute child's play. I would ask her to soothe her fears and take comfort from the statement of the noble Viscount, Lord Bryce, who in his speech said that, as far as he could make out, it had done no good and no harm where the experiment of giving women the vote had been tried. I think if, after a survey of the whole world, be says that no harm is done, it should be enough to satisfy and set at rest the fears of Mrs. Humphry Ward. But we can go much further. It has not been quoted yet in this debate, but the Parliament of Australia in 1910 passed a Resolution by a unanimous vote, stating—That sixteen years' experience of woman suffrage had justified the hopes of its supporters, 461 and falsified all the prophecies of disaster voiced by its opponents; that its effects had been to educate women to a sense of their responsibility in public affairs, and to give greater prominence to social and domestic legislation; that to adopt woman suffrage is simply to apply to the political sphere that principle of government which secures the best results in the domestic sphere—the mutual co-operation of men and women for the individual and general welfare.That is the statement made in 1910 by both Houses of the Australian Parliament. It is said that it was the women's vote which defeated conscription the other day. That is an entirely unproved assertion; and, if it was so, what then becomes of Mrs. Humphry Ward's contention that if the women had the vote they would vote men into a war which they would not share.
But is it true that it has done no good? I am surprised that the noble Viscount, Lord Bryce, with his conspicuous fairness, should seem to ignore facts with regard to woman suffrage! and its effect in the countries where it has been tried. In fact, the age of consent, upon which I had the honour to bring in a Bill before your Lordships' House a few years ago, has been raised in the countries where the women have had the vote. In Colorado the age is eighteen; Utah, eighteen; Idaho, eighteen; Washington, eighteen; California, eighteen; Arizona, seventeen; Kansas, eighteen; Oregon, sixteen; Alaska, sixteen; and Illinois, sixteen—only three have sixteen as the age. But the other list shows nothing like the care for young girls which is shown in the States I have mentioned, where votes for women are in force. In New Zealand, also, there was passed the Criminal Code Amendment Act, raising the age from fourteen to fifteen, two years after the women obtained the vote. It was raised again later, and is now eighteen. In South Australia was passed the Indecent Advertisement Suppression Act, the Police Act Amendment Act, the Children's Protection Act, the Gambling Suppression Act, and the Suppression of Brothels Act; while in Western Australia there has been passed the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the Police Act Amendment Act, and the Indecent. Publications Act. All these were passed two years after women had the vote. I have had a rather disturbing experience in this House in bringing forward two small Bills, one for raising the age of consent, and the other for shortening the hours in which public-houses are open. Both of them secured a Second Reading, but I had not 462 sufficient power to carry them beyond the Second Reading. Every one agrees that they should be carried. We cannot go back to the nineteen hours for week-days and the long hours for Sundays during which public-houses were open; and when I come, as I hope I shall, at another time with similar proposals before your Lordships' House I feel I shall have far greater power with 6,000,000 women's votes behind me.
I come now to my last point, the Imperial question. I know that it is a serious point, and I will try and be as honest and straight about it as the noble and learned Earl, Lord Loreburn, was in his speech. The question of peace and war is difficult, but I do not shirk it, because in these Imperial questions there are so many things which really concern the life of the people. What about the women of India? Is that no concern of the women of this country? What about the sale of drink to the natives—I am chairman of the particular Committee which looks after that—is not that an intimate concern of the women of this country? And with regard to peace and war, I do feel that those who have ventured their lives to the death, as they have done, have a perfect right to say whether the nation should go to war or not when the issue comes.
It is after having considered the very great difficulties of the question, and being very uncertain for a long time—having an instinctive dislike to the whole thing—that I have been driven, by the logic of life as I see it, and the need of the reconstruction of the world, to come and ask your Lordships to reject the Amendment and support the woman's vote. I believe that to reject woman suffrage now, when it has been passed in the House of Commons by 385 to 55, a seven to one majority, would be most cruel to the women themselves, and that we should lose one of our best aids in the reconstruction of the world.
§ House resumed; and to be again in Committee to-morrow.