§ House again in Committee (according to Order).
§ [The EARL OF KINTORE in the Chair.]
§ Discussion resumed on 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.
§ (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.
§ LORD GAINFORD moved, at the end of subsection (1), to add "or is the wife of a husband who is entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector and who would be entitled to be registered as a local government elector, but for the fact that the premises occupied by him for the qualifying period and in respect of which he is registered as a parliamentary elector, are in more than one local government electoral area."
§ The noble Lord said: The point to which I desire to call your Lordships' attention is one which was overlooked in the various stages of the Bill in the other House. I think that my Amendment really deals with a substantial defect in the Bill. On Thursday last your 530 Lordships passed a provision in Clause 4 that "a woman shall be entitled to be registered as a Parliamentary elector if she is the wife of a husband entitled to be so registered as a local government elector."
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Before the noble Lord comes to that, I want to ask the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill two questions about paragraph (c), subsection (1). Might not the effect of paragraph (c) be to deprive of a vote the wife of a certain class of soldier? I will take the sergeant-major, the colour-sergeant, and the sergeants of a Regular regiment in normal times. They would have married quarters, and I presume they would not be local government electors. If so, their wives would not get the vote. I think your Lordships will agree that, if any woman is to have the vote, this is a class of woman we should not like to exclude. I would ask the noble Viscount to look into that point.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE NATIONAL SERVICE DEPARTMENT (VISCOUNT PEEL)
I think there is an Amendment later which deals with part, at any rate, of the difficulty suggested by the noble Earl—that is, the case where women would be entitled to have votes but for the fact that their husbands, being away at the war, cannot be qualified as local government electors as they otherwise would be. Perhaps this later Amendment will meet the point raised by the noble Earl.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
All I want to do now is to ask the noble Viscount to look into the point, which applies to peace conditions and not to war conditions.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
There is another point on the same matter. It has been suggested that the wife of a local government elector does not get a Parliamentary vote under Clause 4 (i) (c) unless she is a partner under Clause 3, proviso (v).
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think that proviso (v) is based upon their being joint occupiers; and that is not the case under Clause 4.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
It has been suggested that she does not get the vote unless she is a joint occupier with him. I will ask the noble Viscount to look into that point, too.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I will look into it; but I think it has validity only under proviso (v) of Clause 3, where they must be joint occupiers.
§ LORD GAINFORD
I was endeavouring to point out that on Thursday the House decided that the wives of local government electors should be given a Parliamentary vote through the qualification of their husbands as local government electors; and your Lordships have already passed in an earlier stage of the Bill, in Clause 1, the provision that a man must during the whole of the qualifying period have resided in premises in the constituency or within a Parliamentary borough or Parliamentary county contiguous to that borough or county. In that way any individual moving from one county to another or from one borough to another—for instance, moving from one side of the Thames to the other, or, we will say, from Manchester to Salford, or from Newcastle to Gateshead, or from anywhere in Essex to somewhere in Kent—will be in contiguous counties and will continue to retain a Parliamentary qualification. He will retain, of course, for a certain period after removing, the vote in the constituency in which he previously resided, and then when he comes on to the new Register he will continue a Parliamentary voter without having lost his vote at all.
But owing to the peculiar qualification of women voters for Parliamentary elections, it is proposed in the Bill that the woman, although she accompanies her husband from one constituency to another, shall be deprived for a six months' period of her vote as a Parliamentary elector. In other words, she is going to be handicapped to the extent of six months whenever her husband goes from one part of the country to another, or follows his work from one county to another. Therefore you will have side by side the husband, being able to vote as a Parliamentary elector, and the wife, whom it was intended to qualify as a voter, but who will not be able to exercise her vote for that period of time. It is neither logical nor expedient, 532 nor just that Parliament should attempt to whittle down what Parliament decides shall be given to women; and they should be able to vote, as they desire to vote, practically in the same way as their husbands. It is a technical point; and the only thing that I can suggest the Government might say, if they are not prepared to accept my Amendment, is that they do not want to extend the local government qualification to a system of successive occupations. But it is not really any new qualification. It is only applying for the benefit of married women the same successive qualification as men already have in connection with the Parliamentary vote, and I ask the Committee to agree with me that an Amendment of this kind is really required to give the same opportunity to married women as their husbands now possess of the Parliamentary vote.
Page 4, line 26, at end insert ("or is the wife of a husband who is entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector and who would be entitled to be registered as a local government elector, but for the fact that the premises occupied by him for the qualifying period and in respect of which he is registered as a parliamentary elector, are in more than one local government electoral area").—(Lord Gainford.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The noble Lord who has brought forward this Amendment suggests that Parliament is attempting to whittle away the vote given to married women, but I should rather put it the other way—namely, that the noble Lord by his Amendment wishes considerably to extend the vote given to married women. If I may be allowed to say so, the noble Lord, by his Amendment, raises an ingenious point. It arises out of two things, one from the fact that a woman does not get the vote on the same terms as a man. On the contrary, she gets it by reason of its attachment to her husband's local government vote. I am talking, of course, of married women.
The second fact from which difficulty arises is that the successive occupation is different in the case of local government voters and of Parliamentary voters; so that it is quite true that if a man and his wife are living in a particular county, and the man is acquiring both his Parliamentary qualification and his local government qualification, and if, say at the end of five months, before he has obtained those 533 qualifications, he moves into an adjoining county, he carries with him his Parliamentary qualification and therefore he may get the vote in the county to which he moves, but he will not get the local government vote, because it would be a great extension of the local government area of successive occupation if he could move from county to county and carry his local government qualification with him. Very well, then. His wife, being dependent upon his local government vote, which he has not got in the new county, will not get the Parliamentary vote.
What the noble Lord wishes to do is this. He wishes to say that, although the husband has not got the local government vote, yet the wife shall have a Parliamentary one, because if the husband had remained in the first county for six months then she might in the first county have got the Parliamentary vote. What he really desires is this, that the wife shall get the Parliamentary vote although her husband is not qualified to pass it on to her. It is clear that that is a very large extension of the proposals in the Bill and would be creating an absolutely new franchise for women. I submit that such a proposal would be against all principles and would give a vote to women in the air. I hope that your Lordships, therefore, will not accept the Amendment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I agree with the noble Viscount, and I hope that your Lordships will not accept the Amendment. But as I listened to the intricacies of the Amendment, so clearly explained by the noble Viscount, and to his observations upon it, I was struck with the precarious character of the woman franchise which we are establishing. The Amendment is only one more illustration of how difficult it will be in the future to resist any firm demand for an extension of the franchise which we are now conceding, for no human being can apply any logic or philosophy to the particular lines on which the franchise is now being given.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ LORD SOMERLEYTON
moved, at the end of subsection (1), the addition of the following proviso: "Provided that no woman shall be entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector by virtue of any local government qualification of 534 her own which would not also entitle her to be registered as a parliamentary elector if she were a man, nor by virtue of any local government qualification of her husband which is not of sufficient value to qualify him for registration as a parliamentary elector."
The noble Lord said: The Amendment which I move is one that I hope will commend itself to your Lordships, and which also I believe will meet with the approval of the Leader of the House, and, I trust, of the noble Viscount who is in charge of the Bill. It is clear that when this Bill was brought in the Government were anxious not to give the vote to women to the same extent as to men, and they therefore withheld the vote from women under thirty. Yet what they took with one hand they are proposing to give with another, and I think they are a little inconsistent in this clause of the Bill, because they give a vote to a woman where she would not obtain a vote if she were a man.
The object of this Amendment is to prevent women securing the Parliamentary vote for a qualification which would not give the Parliamentary vote to men. If the Amendment is not carried, the Bill will give a Parliamentary vote to women for the occupation of land or premises of any value, whereas the same land or premises would not qualify a man for a vote if it were not of the value of £10. Surely men and women should be put on the same footing in this respect. It is to be noted that it is not suggested that women should be prevented from having a qualification in respect of premises occupied as a dwelling-house whatever the value. It is a very simple Amendment and I trust it will be accepted by the noble Viscount. As I pointed out before, you have deprived women of the vote under certain conditions where men have the vote, and surely it is not necessary to give them the vote for a qualification which does not give the vote to men. I therefore hope that the Amendment will be accepted by the noble Viscount, and that he will not put your Lordships to the trouble of a Division.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 4, after line 26 insert:
Provided that no woman shall be entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector by virtue of any local government qualification of her own
which would not also entitle her to be registered as a parliamentary elector if she were a man, nor by virtue of any local government qualification of her husband which is not of sufficient value to qualify him for registration as a parliamentary elector."—(Lord Somerleyton.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think that this particular Amendment is to some extent an illustration of the observations which fell from my noble friend Lord Salisbury a moment ago. The object of the Amendment apparently is, as stated, to give the vote on the same basis to women as to men. That goes absolutely, of course, against one of the leading principles of the Bill, because, as I have stated more than once, the Bill does nothing of the kind. It establishes quite different principles for the granting of votes to women and to men. The effect of the Amendment would be considerably to limit the number of women who would get the vote. The noble Lord wants to substitute for the existing qualification for women a £10 qualification—that is to say, he wants to substitute the existing business qualification for men for the qualification as proposed for women; and he puts it on the ground that men and women ought to get the vote on the same conditions. May I suggest to the noble Lord that it is rather a dangerous Amendment, because if I were to accept it some one else, with rather different views, would at once suggest that women ought to have the residence vote because men have it; and, of course, if that were so, we should have a good many millions of women added to the 6,000,000, less the reduction brought about by the Amendment of the noble Lord.
§ LORD SOMERLEYTON
If I may correct the noble Viscount for one moment, I would say that the object of the Amendment was that women should not obtain the vote for such a qualification as would not give it to men. I do not say they should be put on an equal footing. I admit that the Bill puts them on a different footing. But my point is that they should not be given a vote for a qualification which does not give it to men.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I followed the argument of the noble Lord, and I was pointing out how very easily it could be turned against him. Perhaps I ought to remind the noble Lord again that it is an artificial qualification that is given to women in order that a certain number of women may 536 be enfranchised. It is not a very logical distinction, I agree, but if the noble Lord begins to alter the qualification for women on the basis that he suggested, I think he would be bound to alter it for men as well. Anyhow, I am compelled to resist the Amendment, because it very largely alters the whole basis of the Speaker's Conference. It deprives women of the advantage which they have got of being registered for the Parliamentary vote in respect of a local government qualification, or in respect of the qualification of their husbands. This Amendment would make a serious diminution in the women's vote; and as the basis of that vote has been accepted, I hope the noble Lord will not press his Amendment. There are several other Amendments on the same lines, some increasing the vote for women and some diminishing it. I can only hope that your Lordships will be inclined to leave the women's vote where it is, and not by this serious diminution reduce the 6,000,000 by a very considerable number.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I have nothing more to say about the illogical character of the women's franchise, because that has been frankly admitted by my noble friend opposite. There is no kind of defence whatever for it. It is a mere arbitrary line. One arbitrary line is very much like another, and it is impossible to argue about it at all. But there is a substantial point beyond the illogical character of the subject. The proposal of the Bill which my noble friend's Amendment seeks to alter is this. It allows a woman to get a vote for an occupation, however small, which would give the local government vote, whether she is a local government elector herself or whether her husband is a local government elector.
Now, applied, it comes to this. If a woman occupies an allotment worth a shilling, or is the wife of a man who occupies an allotment worth a shilling, she will get the Parliamentary vote if she is thirty years of age. I do not know how long this particular arrangement is likely to continue a part of our law; but if this goes on, just imagine what a happy hunting ground it will be for the Parliamentary agent who wishes to create faggot voters. It will be the simplest thing in the world. He does not have to change the residence of the lady. All he has to do is to get her an allotment. He acquires from a benevolent person of strong Party convictions a large field and 537 divides the field into shilling allotments, which he lets to various ladies or their husbands. Each of these allotments will give a local government vote, and an enormous mass of faggot votes will be at once created. That will be done with the greatest facility. The Government do not seem to have thought of any of this sort of points. No precautions seem to them to matter. They have taken a leap into this perfectly arbitrary system of suffrage and they do not mind what consequences it produces.
I do not suggest to my noble friend that he should at this moment press his Amendment, but I want the Government to see, if they are going to make a good watertight Bill, that they must be prepared to deal with the particular mischiefs which arise from the provisions. It is no good to reply, as my noble friend replied just now, that it is a very arbitrary provision and so is the rest of the Bill, and that it does not matter very much. That does not seem to be a sufficient reply. The question is, Can you deal with the evils and mischiefs which arise in it? I may, of course, have exaggerated the mischiefs. Indeed, it is a very difficult Bill to understand, and I may have misinterpreted its language, but, if I understand it, there is a mischief to be remedied which my noble friend proposes to remedy, and I hope the Government will be able to deal with it.
The noble Marquess never exaggerates anything, but I think he has not appreciated the full force of his arguments. He drew for your Lordships a horrible picture of these faggot voters, but he omitted to notice that he should have taken his objection on line 23, because if the husband can be made a local government elector so, I take it, can the wife, and we have already passed the line which says she shall be entitled to the vote if she is entitled to be registered as a local government elector herself. Therefore I think the proposal now before the House would not, at any rate, admit this bogey of the faggot voter which has been raised.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved the insertion of the word "either" after the word "and" in subsection (2). The noble Viscount said:—This is in the nature of a drafting Amendment. It makes it quite clear, in connection with another Amendment, 538 that the method in which the woman can acquire the vote is alternative and not concurrent.
Page4, line 29, after ("and") insert ("either").—(Viscount Peel.)
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
This Amendment raises a matter which I think deserves the attention of His Majesty's Government. The House may not be aware, or at least not every one may be aware, that the British Universities stand in this respect on a somewhat different footing—
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Perhaps the noble Viscount will allow me to make a short statement on my next Amendment, which is to add to subsection (2) the words "or, so long as at any University women are not admitted to degrees, has passed such examinations and kept such residence at that University as would entitle her to receive a degree if she were a man." I ought to explain perhaps why I, as representing the Government, come to move an Amendment at all on the vote connected with women. The reason is this. It was pointed out in another place that as the University vote was granted to women if they were able to obtain a degree, it was rather unfair that, as neither Oxford nor Cambridge gave degrees to women, women who had passed similar examinations to men should not be able to get the vote. An undertaking was given that such an Amendment should be brought forward in your Lordships' House. I am not in a position, of course, to press this Amendment. I put it forward for your Lordships' consideration. I think I ought to say there is some difference of opinion (so at least I understand) between the two Universities. It is, perhaps, an unusual course that the House is considering. But I dare say your Lordships will agree that there are particular reasons in the cases of Oxford and Cambridge why this should be done.
The Universities have been consulted—not, of course, the electorate, as that would be impossible—and I understand that the ruling authorities at Oxford are quite 539 ready to accept this Amendment. I believe the same thing has not been done at Cambridge. I should like to read to your Lordships a resolution of the Council of the Senate at Cambridge, agreed to on December 3, 1917—That the Council do not consider themselves to be in a position to express any opinion on behalf of the University with regard to the proposal to grant the University Parliamentary franchise to certain women students. There would be no serious difficulty in preparing a register of women who have passed the examination," etc.The resolution, of course, is of a non-committal order, but I understand that the Parliamentary representatives of the University are still strongly opposed to this arrangement, mainly, I believe, on the ground that the government of the University would run a risk of being, to some extent, altered if these women were admitted to the vote. There is, I think, no ground for a suggestion of that kind; indeed, the proposal of the Government gives rather an easy way out to the University which does not wish to grant degrees to women. If these two Universities are the only Universities in the whole country at which women graduates could not vote, there would obviously be extremely strong pressure put upon them to give degrees to women. Under this Amendment, women who pass the same examination as men will be entitled to get a vote, and therefore there would not be so much pressure as there would otherwise be on these two Universities. I suggest that this Amendment is rather of assistance to Universities which do not wish to grant degrees to women, and if your Lordships would look at the Amendment you would see that this provision is valid only so long as at any University women are not admitted to degrees. As soon as they are admitted this provision becomes of no effect, and they will get the vote in the ordinary way.
Page 4, line 30, at end insert ("or, so long as at any university women are not admitted to degrees, has passed such examinations and kept such residence at that university as would entitle her to receive a degree if she were a man").—(Viscount Peel.)
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
On the merits, and as a matter of logic, this Amendment has everything in its favour, because it is clear that even those who are most opposed to extending the suffrage to women will 540 admit that if any women are to have it, none can have a stronger claim than the graduates of Universities. On that point we should all be unanimous, and therefore I welcome the Amendment on its merits.
But I desire to call your Lordships' attention to a point which has been partly taken up by the noble Viscount who moved the Amendment—namely, the attitude of the Universities themselves towards it. I have seen it stated that the Universities have not been consulted on the subject, and perhaps it did seem proper that they should have been consulted. I understand the noble Viscount to say that Oxford has been consulted, and that the Council has expressed its approval of the proposal, but that Cambridge has not yet given an answer. As a mere matter of courtesy it would seem proper to consult the Universities and to tell the House what their opinion was. By the Bill we should be, of course, creating a very anomalous class of persons; persons who are members of the University for the purpose of voting, and not members for any other purpose, and it may be that a close inspection of the Statutes of the University may disclose some difficulties which would arise out of the creation of this new class.
Therefore I would suggest to the noble Viscount that while the House might accept the Amendment now, it would be desirable that the matter should come up on the Report stage, and that he should be able, if possible, to give us then some more definite deliverance from the Universities as to how far any complications would be introduced into their system by the creation of this new class. Personally I do not take any exception to it, and I do not know that the opinions of the representatives of the Universities ought to govern the case. The matter ought to be governed, as far as it is not governed by Parliament, in some accordance with the views of the Universities themselves, and, if they take no exception to it, I submit that the Amendment is a very proper one.
THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
I am going to ask your Lordships not to assent to this Amendment, and I do so on two grounds First, on the ground taken by the noble Viscount, Lord Bryce, that this Amendment proposes that certain persons should be registered as voters who are not members of the University at all, but are only 541 guests. The second point is the one mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Peel, but I must use it in exactly the opposite sense to that in which he used it. I object to this Amendment because it indirectly affects the very vexed and difficult question of mixed Universities; in my opinion it prejudges the question, and Parliament would be forcing the Universities to take a step in the direction of mixed Universities and giving degrees to women, without their having been consulted. Oxford and Cambridge stand really in the same position. Neither of them has admitted women to membership of the University or given degrees to women.
Let me make my position clear at once. I have no claim whatever to speak for Oxford University, and I do not profess to. Some of the things I shall say apply equally to Oxford as they do to Cambridge. Neither do I make any claim to speak for Cambridge University. That would be a most arrogant thing for me to do. I will only say this that I do not believe any one—not even the noble Lord whom I do not see in his place to-day, and who is Chancellor of the University—is in a position now to speak for the University of Cambridge. In many cases he would have been naturally the mouthpiece of the University in your Lordships' House. But I claim to speak for a very considerable body of opinion in Cambridge University who regard this Amendment, for the reasons which I have stated, with considerable apprehension.
May I remind your Lordships that an Amendment was moved in the House of Commons, not in exactly but substantially in the same terms—the noble Viscount, Lord Peel, will correct if I am wrong. Mr. Hayes Fisher, in his reply, a quotation from which I shall ask your Lordships' permission to read, really seemed to misunderstand the whole position. He said—When it is found that in the other eight Universities which are to be represented in Parliament the qualification for a woman is the taking of a degree, I cannot help thinking that the University with which I was associated, and which I loved so much, and the great University of Cambridge, will reconsider their attitude towards women, and will conclude that after all they are not going to have the women associated with their Universities who have displayed such excellence in the course of their studies put into an utterly inferior position as regards the franchise compared with the women who will be the graduates of other Universities. I think that in any case the force of public opinion would secure the end which my hon. friend has in view.542 I submit that I am entirely justified in suggesting that pressure will be put by Parliament on Universities in the direction of their giving women degrees and making them members of the Universities. I say that because I have never heard any practical scheme—and I have consulted those at Cambridge who are thoroughly conversant with the government of the University—whereby they could concede the giving of degrees to women and exclude them from membership of the University.
The Universities—the noble Viscount, Lord Bryce, mentioned this point—of Oxford and Cambridge are in a totally different position from the other eight Universities mentioned by Mr. Hayes Fisher. They are practically, as you know, the great residential Universities, having the associated ancient foundation colleges of the government of the University with full powers of giving degrees, of which the colleges all form a part. The new Universities, on the other hand, are teaching, examining, and degree-giving bodies only, and while there may be no objection whatever to men and women having equal facilities for those purposes there and receiving degrees in common, there is very great objection indeed to anything which tends towards the establishment of mixed residential Universities.
Any one with a knowledge of the government of either Oxford or Cambridge will bear me out that this is a very difficult and vexed question, and one which leads to an acute difference of opinion. Not in this country but elsewhere, these kinds of Universities have been tried and have failed. I will quote Harvard University in the United States. There, I believe, they never did give degrees to women, but the question became very acute, and it may very well be that they found the best solution, which was that the women's college should be placed in a position of giving its own degrees, while all the privileges of lecture-room, laboratories and examinations were shared in common with the men. That, I think, was the solution which they found to be the best and most practical, and I am not at all sure that it is not the solution to which many are working in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. I cannot, however, speak with any certainty.
But I will quote a stronger case than that, and that is the case of the more 543 modern University of Chicago. This was actually started as a mixed University, and the difficulties which arose in consequence were found so great that they actually separated the two governments and are now each degree-giving bodies with their own government. This, therefore, is taken out of the domain of conjecture and is placed in that in which there is some practical experience from which one can form an opinion. It is not in the lecture-room and in examinations that the difficulty arises, it is in the Government of the residential University, when, in the opinion of very many, it is desirable that they should be independent of one another.
There is one other point in what Mr. Hayes Fisher said, and it was referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Peel. Mr. Hayes Fisher said that he was bringing this to the notice of the two Universities, and then suggested that some Amendment such as this might be proposed "in another place." What really happened was this. He brought it to the notice of the Vice-Chancellors of both Universities. The Vice-Chancellors sent it on to the Hebdomadal Council in the case of Oxford, and to the Council of the Senate in the case of Cambridge. The Council of the Senate had no more right to express the opinion of the University than any other collection of people or committee that might be brought together. I believe that the Council of the Senate is the executive body which carries out the decisions of the Senate, and which has no additional function to that other than to say that if a question has to be voted on by the Senate it should be in such a form that the vote can be conveniently taken. Only the Senate, and, in the case of Oxford, Convocation, has the power to express the mind of the University, so that it is not right to say that the Universities have been consulted. Certain persons have no doubt been consulted. I entirely agree with the Noble Viscount, Lord Peel, that it is impossible to consult Convocation of Oxford and the Senate of Cambridge at the present moment. Even the residential members are very few, and the non-residential members are scattered in all directions; it would, therefore, be quiet impossible to obtain at this moment a vote of the Senate or of Convocation, which would really express the mind of Cambridge or of Oxford.
It has been said outside this House—not inside—that women have not been 544 altogether fairly treated at Cambridge. I want to point out that they have been treated as guests, and as privileged guests. All lectures, all the laboratories and examinations, are freely open to them, and they pay neither matriculation fees nor University dues. At Cambridge they are in some cases allowed to go in for examinations on conditions less strict than those which are required for men. So far as I know, the only restriction which is put upon them is that they must enter through the recognised colleges. They cannot go into these examinations and have these privileges except through Girton and Newnham, and the reason for this is obvious. If they could be non-collegiate students, and they were not limited in this way, a lecture room might very easily be overcrowded, and there would really be no control over the women who were entered for the examination. The only other restriction, as far as I know, is that they may not take Pass degrees; they are obliged to enter for Honours examinations—what we call at Cambridge Tripos examinations.
I earnestly ask your Lordships not to pass this Amendment, because this is a matter which very seriously concerns these two Universities, and it is most undesirable—I was going to say most improper—that Parliament should, without the power (as the noble Viscount, Lord Bryce has said) of getting the opinion of either of the Universities definitely stated, introduce this change which may end in great difficulties and possibly in impairing the value of the work done by the Universities.
Will your Lordships understand that this has nothing whatever to do with the question we debated on Thursday, or with women as such. Under proper conditions and qualifications, I do not know of anybody at Cambridge who wants to oppose women, especially, as Lord Bryce has reminded us, those possessing the highest intellectual capacities, who are naturally those who, among women, would be the last to be excluded from the Parliamentary vote. This question really does not touch that point. It is a question of serious, interference with the government of these two Universities, the ground of this interference being that the Parliamentary vote is being given to women in other Universities of a totally different character. What I am trying to point out is that Cambridge and Oxford stand on a perfectly 545 different footing, and you would possibly, if you passed this Amendment, be drawing them into serious complications, and, perhaps, interfering in the settlement of a question in which there is an acute difference of opinion. These Universities at present have not had an opportunity of studying the whole question as it affects them, and of placing their case before Parliament. In these circumstances I ask the noble Lord below me not to press this Amendment.
I hope that your Lordships will support the Amendment. I urge it, not as a general advocate of woman suffrage, for I have not been a supporter of that, and only now acquiesce because I see that the thing is practically decided for us by the general voice of the country. But as to the two ancient Universities, Oxford and Cambridge, I think the noble Earl opposite has not stated the facts correctly, and he has also conjured up visions of danger and disturbance which are to my mind purely chimerical. As to the obligation to consult the Universities, which would mean the convocation of a large body of electors dispersed throughout the country, their opinion would not be worth much if they were consulted; you might as well consult any constituency in England on the question of whether they wanted to have women added to their electorate.
The noble Earl has tried to frighten you by conjuring up the bogey of co-education of men and women, and also the question of a residential University. As a matter of fact, as far as I know, all the Universities of this country, except still to a limited extent the University of London, are now residential Universities. It is a great confusion to think that residence in a college, within four walls, of men, or possibly, as in Rabelais' Abbey of Theleme, of women and men living together, constitutes residence. Residence is determined by residing in the place whore you receive your education; and the noble Earl himself stated with perfect truth that both at Oxford and Cambridge the lectures and the laboratories have been thrown open with great liberality to women, so that co-education exists there. But it exists on sufferance and by courtesy, and not as a matter of right.
The noble Earl was perfectly well aware that as to residence in the strictest sense 546 there are Girton and Newnham at Cambridge, and Lady Margaret's and Somerville at Oxford, which are places of residence for the women who go there, and not the slightest inconvenience has been caused. I think it is certainly a good deal more than forty years, both at Oxford and Cambridge, that women have been admitted with growing and increasing liberality to the lectures, the laboratories, and the other teaching facilities of the Universities.
Another thing. When the noble Earl tried to frighten your Lordships with the idea that this would affect the government of the Universities. I would point out that it does not touch it at all, because this Bill is to give votes only to Bachelors. We know that at Oxford and Cambridge there is no right to partake in the government of the University given until you become a Master of Arts. I think that what the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill said was perfectly true—namely, that there are some old-fashioned people at Oxford and Cambridge who hug the idea that they shall be purely male Universities. They can embrace that idea with greater affection, because these people will be given the franchise simply on account of educational qualifications. For my part, I think that if there is any sphere which ought to be open to women it is the intellectual and mental sphere; and, whatever you may think about their power to make laws for the country, we ought all to rejoice that they should have the fullest power of self-improvement and the highest range of education possible. I should be glad, therefore, if the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge would admit co-education as a matter of right. I think that this is a moderate proposal, and I hope the noble Viscount will carry it.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Lord Plymouth, with his accustomed modesty, entirely disavowed the character of a representative of Cambridge in this matter; but still he stated very categorically, and with no little force, a particular view which is held by some at Cambridge of whom he for the time being was undoubtedly acting as a representative. It is true that there is at Cambridge, and no doubt also at Oxford, a strong body of opinion which dreads any further association of women with the University, while quite content to offer them the facilities which are at present given; and that view was forcibly stated by my noble friend.
547 Personally, with no more claim than my noble friend to speak for Cambridge, I am one of those who have always desired that women should be admitted to degrees at the old Universities. But my noble friend who has just sat down has pointed out, with, I think, unanswerable force, that this question is not in any sense raised by the Amendment. On the contrary, those who are desirous that women should obtain the full degrees might take exception to this Amendment on the ground (which the noble Viscount stated) that the agitation—if that is the word—for the granting of the degree would be greatly strengthened by the Bill as it stands; because it would be said it is absurd that women at Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, and Sheffield, who obtain a degree, should get the vote, while women at Oxford and Cambridge—of equal mental calibre—are denied it. If the Amendment of the noble Viscount is carried, that particular argument will undoubtedly disappear. For that reason, its passing might even be regretted by some of those who are strongly in favour of the admission of women to degrees.
There is one other point only on which I wish to say a word. I think that my noble friend Lord Plymouth pressed somewhat too strongly the difference between the old Universities and the new. Such differences as exist are well known and obvious. But it is not reasonable to regard them as being altogether different in their constitution; and it will be found, I think, as years go on, that the newer Universities will tend to become more residential, even in the sense in which the word is used by my noble friend—that is to say, by a multiplication of hostels—and they will not be residential only in the sense in which Lord Sheffield properly so described them, namely, that the residents in the great towns which they serve will send their sons and their daughters to be educated there.
I may point out that the fear which Lord Plymouth expressed of something like a divided management between the sexes, which appears to be impending over Oxford and Cambridge, has not been realised in the case of the newer Universities. I know something of the Victoria University, having been a member of the Court for a great number of years; and I recently became Chancellor of Sheffield. In both those Universities the general management is carried out on very parallel lines to those which obtain at the two old Universities. 548 I think, therefore, that the fears of my noble friend may be soothed, and that those of his friends who hold similar views need dread no untoward results from the passing—which I hope we shall see—of the Amendment of the noble Viscount.
§ LORD PARKER
As a member of the Senate of the University of Cambridge, and also as one holding office in that University, I should like to make one or two remarks. I am entirely in sympathy with the object of the Amendment, but I think it would be wise if the noble Viscount who moved it could see his way to postpone this matter until the Report stage. I will give one or two reasons for my request. The only objection which it appears to me could be raised to the Amendment would be in so far as it might affect, or react upon, the internal government of the University. There is no doubt that, even as things stand at the present day, the outside element that votes for the Senate is sometimes antagonistic to the inside element which really has control of the affairs of the University. And, of course, if the admission on the other part of the Bill of Bachelors to vote at Parliamentary elections should lead to the increase of the outside element—because it must be remembered that as soon as a person has obtained his degree he gets the vote in perpetuity, and you will have generation after generation of people constituting an enormous electorate which will entirely swamp the inside vote in the management of the University (I do not say that this is the necessary result, but the tendency is in that direction), one wants to see very carefully, in looking at the Statutes and otherwise, how far an Amendment of this sort, if carried, would react upon the internal government of the University. I should like to have an opportunity of consulting not only the Statutes but certain members of the University interested in the matter—especially the Parliamentary Members—as to whether they see any objections to the Amendment on that ground.
There is another question which strikes me as rather important. I am speaking from recollection rather than from knowledge, but I think I am right in saying that either at Girton or Newnham, the residential qualification which admits to the University examination is different from that which would qualify a man. Therefore, if the Amendment is carried in this particular 549 form, I am afraid that it will have the effect of not admitting to the franchise any past members of one of the Colleges while admitting the others. I think that is a matter to be deprecated altogether. It occurs to me that the result might be secured by expressly mentioning those colleges—" people who have resided and kept their terms at Newnham and Girton and who have passed the examinations." It is, as your Lordships have already been told, a matter of courtesy with the University itself to admit to the examinations; they have made relaxations in respect of residence and, I think, other rides in favour of the governing body of the particular colleges; and it might be better, instead of putting the Amendment in this form, to mention expressly those who have resided at, and passed the examination from, the colleges in question. I expect the same probably holds with regard to the hostels and colleges at Oxford. That being the case, I should like to have an opportunity of looking into the matter a little more closely before the Amendment is voted upon; and if the noble Viscount can see his way to postpone the matter until the Report stage, I will in the meantime look into it and see what Amendments may be necessary, having regard to the considerations I have mentioned.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
May I mention two points before I reply to the noble Lord? One is that the noble Lord is perfectly right in his assumption that the matter has been considered by the Hebdomadal Council of Oxford and approved. Another matter is that the noble Earl who spoke on behalf of Cambridge, if I may say so with respect, also roped in Oxford on several occasions. Oxford, so far as its Council is concerned, has been consulted and is prepared to welcome the change.
THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
I only said that, as the two Universities were in their government and constitution on the same footing, some of my facts applied to one as well as the other. I limited myself strictly to that. I have no wish to speak for Oxford in any way whatever.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
There is a little difficulty in regard to Newnham and Girton, and of course if the noble and learned Lord makes an appeal that I should postpone the Amendment to the Report stage 550 perhaps I ought to do so, in order that he may have an opportunity of further conferring with Cambridge, because no doubt your Lordships would be unwilling to force a clause of this kind upon the University. I will only say this, that as we have had a rather full discussion, I hope that your Lordships on Report stage will not consider it necessary to cover the same ground again.
§ LORD PARKER
I made the suggestion I did in order to keep the matter open for myself in case it should be necessary to move an Amendment on the Report Stage, but if on the general question the noble Viscount thinks it well to take the opinion of the whole House, giving me an opportunity on the Report Stage to move any Amendment which may be necessary, I should be satisfied.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think it would be more convenient to postpone the Amendment to the Report Stage, and for this reason. The Government have consulted Oxford University and received their reply. They have consulted Cambridge and have not received their reply. I understand that is so.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I read out the Resolution that they were "not in any position." I cannot quite interpret those words.
§ THE MARQUESS OP SALISBURY
I think the words of the noble Viscount rather suggest that we ought to wait. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Parker, illustrates the difficulty of dealing with this matter in the rather sketchy form in which it stands in the Bill, because it seems that one of the principal colleges of Cambridge does not keep the residential terms necessary for men to get a degree. What guarantee have we that at Oxford residential terms are kept? Does he know that residential conditions are fulfilled at Oxford in the case of women? Once you abandon the solid ground that the members of the Universities are to be the voters for the Universities, you are rather launched upon a chartless sea. We do not exactly know what we are doing in this respect.
It is true that the Bill proposes in another clause to extend the University franchise to Bachelors of Arts. They are members 551 of the University. That is quite understood. But these ladies, although deeply interested in the Universities, are not members of the University. May I illustrate the point which I am upon. The matter ought primarily to be left to the Universities to determine, because when we were discussing the case of Dublin University the other day, Lord Rathmore pointed out that in the case of Trinity College, Dublin, from time immemorial, the scholars of that University had had the vote for its Member. This House unanimously resolved that the old practice should be maintained. By parity of reasoning the practice which has prevailed always in Oxford and Cambridge should be continued. The graduates of the Universities are the governing bodies of those Universities, and although you may extend that by a provision to include the holders of the B.A. degree as well as the holders of the M.A. degree, still it is a strong measure to go outside the wishes of the University itself and to say that these ladies, because they live here and take advantage of our education ought also to be the persons who have control of the Parliamentary representation of the University. Prima facie one would imagine that the graduates of the Universities should elect the Members for the University, and what the noble Lord, Lord Parker, has said, illustrates the difficulty once you leave that solid ground. You do not know whether the conditions of graduation are actually fulfilled in the case of women, and there seems good reason for postponing the matter to the Report stage.
We have had unexpectedly a long discussion on this Amendment, and I suggest to the noble Viscount that the general sense of the House is that we should to-day accept the principle of the Amendment and insert it in the Bill, leaving it to be amended, if necessary, on the Report stage. I rather gather from Lord Parker that he would not think that course discourteous, or be embarrassed in moving subsequent Amendments. I hope the Government will see their way not to pass from this matter now that it is in possession of the Committee.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.552
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER moved to omit from subsection (3) all words after the word "man," where it first occurs, and to insert: "Provided that a husband and wife shall not both be qualified as local government electors in respect of the occupation of the same land or premises."
§ The noble Earl said: By this subsection, any woman who possesses the qualification for any local government area shall be registered as if she were a man. The second part of the provision which I am moving to omit goes much further, and says that where she is the wife of a man who is entitled to be so registered in respect of premises in which they both reside, she shall be entitled to be registered as a local government voter if she has attained the age of thirty years. I may say, my Lords, at the very outset, that with the first proposition of this subsection—namely, that every woman who is qualified should have a vote for local government—I am in thorough agreement; but with regard to the second subsection, I think we are embarking upon a very dangerous course, and I am therefore moving its omission. There are two main arguments in favour of this vast addition to the local government electorate, involving, I believe, the addition of from five to six million women voters. The first of these arguments is that the wives of Parliamentary electors are given the vote by reason of their husband's qualifications as Parliamentary electors, and therefore the same rule should apply to local government elections. Secondly, it is argued that women are speecially interested in sanitation, health, education, and child-welfare, and that therefore they are a valuable addition to the local government electors.
Before I deal with these two arguments—and I think they are both weighty ones—it would not be out of place if I briefly gave the history of how this proposal to give the vote to wives of local government electors found its place in the Bill. I may say that it had no place in the original Bill as drawn by the Government, and, what is perhaps more important, it found no place in the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference. In fact it is exactly the reverse of what the Speaker's Conference recommended, as they distinctly stated that this qualification should not be given to the wives of local government
electors. This is what the Speaker's Conference reported:—
In substitution for all existing franchises for local government purposes every person who for a period of six months immediately preceding the 15th day of January and the 15th day of July in any year has occupied as owner or tenant any land or premises in a local government area in England and Wales shall be entitled to be registered and to vote as a local government elector in that area.
The first part of this subsection gives effect to that recommendation. The Report then goes on—
For the purpose of this Resolution neither sex nor marriage shall be a disqualification, provided that a husband and wife shall not both be qualified in respect of the same premises.
§ I think we may take it that these words are very strong indeed, because, as a matter of fact, they distinctly recommend that the local government franchise should not be extended to the wives of local government electors.
§ No doubt acting on that Report the Government introduced their Bill, and, as I say, no recommendation of this sort was found in the Bill. An Amendment was proposed in Committee in the House of Commons to place the wives of local government electors on the Register, but that was defeated, and it was not until the Report stage in that House was reached that this proposition found a place in the Bill. Then an Amendment was moved, and it was opposed by the Minister in charge of the Bill. Sometimes people say it is a good practice to sleep on a difficult question, but I regret to say that on this occasion the Minister in charge of the Bill slept on the question and when he returned to the House of Commons on the following day he went over bag and baggage to the enemy, and surrendered without a word. I cannot help thinking that this death-bed repentance on his part caused a very great flaw in the Bill. The Amendment was inserted without any real demand from outside, when nobody was expecting it, and after it had been reported against by the Speaker's Conference and had not been put in when the Bill was in Committee in the House of Commons.
§ If I may be permitted to say so, the Minister in charge of the Bill in another place did not, in opposing the Amendment, state the true and real objection to the proposal perhaps as strongly and as forcibly as he might have done. At the present moment the local government 554 authority is really a combination of rate-payers for the purpose of deciding what is to be done with the levy on the ratepayers. For the sake of convenience they hold elections and choose representatives, but when their numbers are few, as is the case in certain parishes throughout the country, they do not even go through the form of election. The ratepayers then meet together and discuss what should be done with their money, and how it should be spent, and what schemes they ought to put into force. I do not know whether at these parish meetings to which I am referring the wives of the local government electors will also attend. Perhaps they might make these meetings somewhat more amusing and their discussions at times perhaps a little more acrimonious than they are at the present time.
§ The main point is that as regards local government the principle that "taxation and representation should go together" still holds good. Although that is an old maxim, it is a sound one, and I believe it is a maxim that has answered extremely well in our local government. It is perhaps rather late in the day to dwell on this subject. Unfortunately, as regards our Imperial taxation, we have possibly gone a good way from it. On one memorable occasion not many years ago your Lordships had rather an unfortunate difference of opinion with another place when large amounts of money had to be raised for Imperial taxation for various purposes, and the Government of the day proceeded to select certain classes of taxpayers and made them pay the whole of the increased levies, while placing no extra burdens on other classes. That is a principle with which I never agreed, and I never shall agree. As regards Imperial taxation the principle cannot be argued so strongly, because by indirect taxes almost everybody in the country has to pay some share towards the expenses of the nation. Therefore there may be some reason for giving the vote to this number of women for the Imperial Parliament.
§ The moment you come to deal with local government you are in an entirely different sphere of action. By this measure you are enfranchising some five or six million women, who in no way will be directly paying the cost of government. I confess that if this large addition of irresponsible persons is made to the local government electors I dread the day very 555 much when we shall have the policy which may be summed up as the famous policy of "Ninepence for Fourpence" introduced into our local government elections. On the whole, in the past that principle of electioneering has not taken a leading place in our local government elections. Although, of course, certain candidates do occasionally promise a great deal, I think we should not be wrong in saying that the great majority of local government candidates almost always state that they are going to look after the interests of the ratepayers and see that their money is not thrown out of the window. The principle of compounding rates—an unfortunate principle, in my opinion—whereby the tenants of certain small premises or small plots of ground compound for their rates, does not really make the tenants direct payers of rates, but if rates rise to an abnormal height there is no doubt that, even with this principle of compounding for rates, the householder or the small tenant eventually has to pay by an increase of rent or by some other obnoxious way.
§ There is another point in connection with placing all these women as local government electors which should not be lost sight of. At the present moment the owner of the land, or the occupier of the premises which are rated, is responsible for paying the rates; and there are very heavy penalties if he does not pay them. In the last extremity he can be put into gaol. There is no proposal that, in the cases where the rates are not paid, the man is to be accompanied to prison by his wife. It seems a ridiculous thing that all these married women should have this enormous power of voting the money, and that no responsibility should attach to them, whereas the unfortunate male, who finds himself in a difficulty and unable to pay his rates, is made responsible and can eventually be cast into prison.
§ The question of rating is an old one. I do not intend to trouble your Lordships by dealing with it at any length, but I am old enough to remember a good many fights in Parliament on this question. I have always urged that rating, as it stands at the present moment, is not at all fair to owners of certain classes of property, but whenever we have attempted to make other forms of property contribute towards the rates we have always been met by the argument, used by the late Viscount Wolverhampton when he was Sir Henry 556 Fowler, in another place—namely, that those who had to pay rates had nothing to grumble about as they were hereditary burdens. That may be true for certain purposes for which the rates are levied, such as the maintenance of the poor, and the roads, but since then many other things have been laid upon the rates, such as sanitation, the health and welfare of children, and many other matters which are in no sense hereditary burdens whatsoever; and the ratepayers think they are rather unfairly treated in being called upon to pay. I am therefore of the opinion that if by adding an enormous number of irresponsible ratepayers to the local government electorate you find there is a still further heavy charge on the rates, the ratepayers will come to Parliament with an overwhelming case to show that it is absolutely unfair that these heavy burdens should be placed upon them. Many municipalities throughout England are taking over the means of traction and lighting, and other municipal services, as they think they can run them for the benefit of themselves, and that it would be better for them to run these necessary adjuncts of municipal life themselves, rather than let outsiders come in and make a profit. When you come to deal with all these matters I think an overwhelming case is made out that only those people who are directly responsible for paying rates—they and they only—should be the people who have a vote.
§ Now I come to the other argument in favour of giving these married women the local government vote, and that is the argument that women are much more interested in matters of education, child welfare, sanitation, health, and other subjects. There is no doubt that women are greatly interested in these subjects, but at the present moment you have a large number of women—I think the exact number is between one and two millions—who are electors, and they have a very powerful influence if they choose to make it felt on these different questions. On the committees which are appointed by our different councils almost invariably women have been co-opted wherever the help and advice and experience of women was required. Therefore, up to the present time women have made their voice felt in local government, and there is no reason to believe that by this vast increase of irresponsible women they are likely to use their influence to any better purpose.557
§ The fact that women have stood on our councils, and have taken a leading part in these matter of health and sanitation, is all to the good, but I do not think it is entirely owing to this that there has been such improvements in these matters during the last few years. The large amount of improvement that has taken place in this way I put down, first of all, to the greater medical skill which now exists, and to the many discoveries made lately which have greatly helped in dealing with these matters. At the same time I think there has been a very large advance in the kind of men whom we get as our medical officers. From my own experience of local government I must say that almost all these matters largely depend on the class of medical officer the county has as its servant. And where a medical officer goes into all the new discoveries, and puts before his council the new methods which are perpetually coming out, you will find that the council is ready to do everything that is proper for the welfare of children and on the subjects of sanitation and health. I very much dread that if you place this large number of irresponsible women on our local government, women who are not directly responsible for rates, you will find there will be a steady deterioration in our local government elections, and I am not at all certain that a candidate for local government office will not find it a great deal better to advocate free tram rides and free meals, rather than advocate that there should be more inspectors coming to visit the houses and see that the children's teeth and hair are properly looked after. I am not at all certain that these proposals, which Parliament frequently passes, are always so popular among the homes of the working classes as some people would like to believe; and I am very doubtful whether this large increase of married women in our local government elections will tend to promote any of these objects.
In addition there is one thing which, when the horizon is rather dark, becomes a matter of congratulation, and that is that almost universally we find that our different local governments have been saving money and been careful as regards their expenses. It is a very bright spot, when so many old and new departments are spending money right and left, that we still have some public bodies which have some idea of economy and do not throw money out of the window. I believe that when it comes to reconstruction after
the war you will find that this is a wise policy, and that most of our local bodies will be a very valuable asset. Before I close, I should like to read an extract from Mr. Gerard's book, "My Four Years in Germany," which I think bears on this subject. He states—
Already the mere interest of the War Loan of Germany amounts to four billions of marks a year, and to this must be added, of course, the interest of the previous indebtedness of the country and of each political sub-division thereof, including cities, all of which have added to their before-the-war debt by incurring great debts to help the destitute in this war.
§ It is some cause for congratulation to know that in one respect we are better off than Germany, because, apparently, all the great municipalities of Germany have during the war continued to pile up debt. In this country I am pleased to say that our great municipalities and our county councils have almost all acted in exactly the opposite direction. They have been saving money and paying off debt, and will be in a good financial position when the period of reconstruction conies.
§ I most sincerely ask your Lordships to give this matter your very serious consideration. It is a great pity to depart from the old established principle of taxation and representation going together. The local government bodies are dependent upon one thing only to raise their money, and that is the rates, which are levied on but one class of property—namely, land and houses. It is a most radical, and in my opinion most unwise, principle to throw all this to the winds because on the last hour of the Bill in another place the Minister in charge made a death-bed repentance. I do not believe that if you throw out this proposal of giving votes to the wives of these local government electors you will retard the good work of improving child-life, of improving sanitation, and of having better drainage and better houses. We run a very grave danger, indeed, if this mass of women is placed on the Register of bringing about great extravagance. There is no greater certainty than that high rates always mean low wages and high rents. I can only ask noble Lords to look back on those years when rates rose to such an enormous height that Parliament had to step in and alter the Poor Law Act, as a warning against taking this dangerous step of enfranchising many millions of utterly irresponsible people.
Page 4, line 33, leave out from ("man") to end of clause, and insert ("Provided that a husband
and wife shall not both be qualified as local government electors in respect of the occupation of the same land or premises").—(The Earl of Ancaster.)
THE LORD CHAIRMAN
I would point out that the noble Earl's Amendment overlaps others, and that if it is put in the form in which he has placed it on the Paper it will cut out no less than five subsequent Amendments. I therefore propose to put the question that the words from the word "man" to the word "reside" stand part.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My noble friend has made an interesting and eloquent speech on the subject of local government. I could not help thinking, however, that he was so eloquent because he felt that he was fighting a somewhat forlorn hope. The noble Earl intends, by his Amendment, to prevent no fewer than 5,000,000 married women from voting for local government—one of the largest Amendments, I think, that has been moved during the course of the Committee stage. The noble Earl dwelt rather lightly on what happened in another place. I do not think that he reminded the House that the change was carried without a Division. It was felt—and I have no doubt that many of your Lordships will feel also—that if you are to give the Parliamentary vote to these 5,000,000 married women, there would be something almost of an absurdity in not giving them the vote also for local government in respect of matters which I should certainly think, and others too probably, are far more within their competence than are the matters on which the House has already decided that they shall have a vote.
I would also point out to the noble Earl that in another place some of the strongest opponents of the women's vote, some of those who fought it consistently for years, said they would not oppose the grant of the local government vote to women because they thought that it was rather a matter which came within their purview. I must admit that the two classes of votes are based upon different considerations. The theory in local government is that those who vote should pay the rates. Unfortunately, that theory has been a good deal masked by the system of compounding, and the noble Earl himself has advocated on various occasions that rates should be paid direct. But I think that he goes rather far when he talks of these 5,000,000 married 560 women as being "irresponsible." Surely he must realise that they are just as much interested in the family economy as the men, and that if a man has to pay more in rates his wife will probably get less for her household expenses. Though I admit that the women do not pay the rates directly, I think that the noble Earl's expression is rather too strong, and that wives must at least be considered to be associated with their husbands in their desire for economy. That is really the whole question. I hardly imagine that your Lordships will decide to take away this vote from 5,000,000 women when you have already given them the larger Parliamentary franchise, and I think that you will follow the unanimous view of another place and vote against the suggestion of the noble Earl.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
I do not quite know why my noble friend should have taken it into his head that my noble friend who moved this Amendment must know that be was supporting a forlorn hope, and I do not think that he has given us any reasons in support of that decided opinion. For what has he told us? That the Amendment would prevent 5, 000, 000 women having votes for local government who otherwise would have such votes. That is quite true. But it means something more than that. The proposal in the Bill which is now before us, and which it is desired to amend, means the giving of a double vote to 5,000,000 women. That is a very different view of the situation. My noble friend cannot deny that the interpretation which I have placed upon the effect of the Bill as it stands is absolutely correct. As long as I can recollect, the unfairness of the burden of the rates has existed upon real property. The rates upon that kind of property have been increasing during recent years so enormously that it has become something in the nature of a scandal.
I forget how many years ago it was, but I was induced by these reasons even at that time—and it certainly is a long time ago—to introduce the Agricultural Bating Bill in the House of Commons. That Bill was designed to remedy a tremendous abuse, an abuse which was then admitted, and all the facts that were adduced in support of the contentions which I put forward for the purpose of proving the abuse remain un-contradicted at the present day, and nobody has ever attempted to meet them. It is 561 quite true that it led to a violent opposition on the part of a great number of Members of the Opposition, and was the cause of incidents which, fortunately for your Lordships, are rare in this House at all events, for we were kept up night after night during the progress of that Bill, which consisted of only seven clauses. However, the Bill was carried and, to a certain extent, the complaints which we were justified in making were removed by its operation. But nearly all the good that was done at that time has been removed, and more than removed, by the enormous increase of the rates; and, that being so, I am certainly not encouraged to take the view that has been taken by the representative of the Government on this occasion. I do not see the least reason for giving a double vote to live millions of the ratepayers at the present time, and if my noble friend goes to a Division on this Amendment I shall most certainly support him.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I sincerely hope that your Lordships will not accept this Amendment. The grounds upon which it has been urged for your favourable consideration are as I understand, two—first, that the acceptance of the Amendment would tend to local economy: and, secondly, that it would remove from the Register of the local government electors a large number of people whom the noble Earl consistently called "irresponsible voters." What is meant by an irresponsible voter? A person, as I understand, who gives a vote without any sense of the responsibility involved in seeing what its effect may be. Have these married women no such sense of responsibility? Is not the young married wife of an artisan as interested as anybody in seeing that the rent of her house is not unduly overloaded by unnecessary rates? And has she not an even heavier and graver responsibility than that? Is she not the person on whom is placed the responsibility of seeing that her children are brought up in decent surroundings and with a fair chance of being able to be made into honest citizens? Any one who knows how shamefully local government has been neglected in some of our cities in the past would, I cannot help thinking, welcome this opportunity of including in the local government electorate the people who have suffered most by local neglect, and who have the most to gain both by economical and 562 efficient administration and by seeing that the ratepayers' money is used for the purpose of securing the opportunity of healthy development for their children.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
I venture to address to your Lordships a few words in opposition to what Lord Buckmaster has just said. My reason for being in favour of this Amendment and for objecting to the clause as it now stands is that this Bill is primarily a franchise Bill, and is not a local government Bill. Hither-to the muncipial franchise has been conferred upon those who pay the rates, and by this provision in the Bill your Lordships would take away from the ratepayers the control and give it to other persons. I do not say that those persons are irresponsible, or that they are not inclined to be as economical as possible; but they do not pay the rates, and therefore they really are not properly within the scope of this Bill. I very much doubt whether this Amendment, when it was inserted at a very late stage in the other House, was within the purview of the Bill, the title of the Bill. I can see no reason for giving this large control over ratepayers' money to persons who do not pay the rates. That is the real objection. As the noble Earl told your Lordships, it was not in the Bill originally. The Government opposed it on more than one occasion in the House of Commons, and why at the last moment Sir George Cave came down to the House, having refused the application only three days before, and gave way, Heaven knows. I think there is a very strong case for this Amendment, and if your Lordships go to a Division I shall vote for it.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I think this discussion is a very good illustration of the evil caused by mixing up these two things, the Parliamentary and the local government franchise, in one Bill. It would have been much better if we had had a clear issue upon this important matter in a Bill by itself. I have said so before, and I do not desire to develop that argument. But I do feel, after what I said the other night, that I cannot give a silent vote upon this question; and I am afraid I must say to the noble Earls behind me who have spoken that I value their support for the Amendment which I moved the other day, but I am not able to join with them, owing to the position in which 563 we are, in attempting to disqualify women from the local government vote. I welcome the assistance of women in local government matters. I think it stands upon a wholly different platform from the Parliamentary franchise, and although there is force in the contention that perhaps the female voter will not directly have to pay rates for these matters which have been mentioned, I think they are equally responsible and equally entitled to be consulted with the men in matters of local, government concern.
I share the opinion of the noble Earl about the compound householder. I am thankful to say that, except to a very limited exent, we do not know that individual north of the Tweed. It is a very great evil that those who pay the rates do not know the amount that they pay as between rent and rates, and I am glad to think that in many places the authorities are now separating the charges, and that when the bill is presented to those who have to pay, at any rate either by the agency of the local rate collecting authority or by the agency of the landlord, the amount which is paid by the tenant respectively as rent and as rates is separated and they are enabled to tell what they pay under each head. I am indirectly responsible for a large estate in South London, the estate of the Duchy of Cornwall. There we take care, when any demand is made upon the tenants, to let them know how much goes in rates and how much in rent. I think it would be a valuable thing if that were done to a wider extent, because then a great deal of the argument for putting these ladies upon the local Register, would be largely done away with. I repeat that although I dislike the mixing up of the local government and the Parliamentary franchise in the same Bill, I shall not be able to go into the Lobby for this Amendment.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I move to leave out "or" in subsection (3) and to insert "and (b)." This is a purely drafting Amendment.
Page 4, line 34, leave out ("or") and insert ("and (b)").—(Viscount Peel.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.564
§ LORD GAINFORD had an Amendment on the Paper to omit the last nine words of subsection (3). The noble Lord said: This Amendment is not intended to shut out the Amendment of my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster; it is directed to removing what seems to me to be a blot on the Bill. Allusion has been made to the Bill being somewhat illogical, but to me it is almost ridiculous to insert a subsection of this kind which directs that there shall be two classes of female local government voters—namely, the unmarried woman who shall be permitted to vote from the age of twenty-one and upwards; and the married woman who shall be allowed to vote only on attaining thirty years of age. In other words, there appears to be a presumption of what I may call mental paralysis on the part of the married woman. I suggest that we should do one of two things—either raise the age of all local government voters to thirty-one, or enable all married women between twenty-one and thirty, who are qualified under their husbands' qualification, to record their votes in the same way as those who happen to be upon the rate-book in connection with the occupation of premises or land (which will be of a purely nominal character under this Bill), who may record their votes between the ages of twenty-one and thirty.
§ I will not develop further the argument in connection with the great advantage which married women are to the community, because that matter has been alluded to before. I know what magnificent work young married women have done in the field of education; in connection with the nursery schools of this country, in the establishment of crèches and in the upbringing of children. They have served on health committees, and they are now serving on agricultural committees, pension committees, and so on. And I cannot conceive why the single women between twenty-one and thirty, who have very little interest in a place, should be allowed to retain their votes—possessing, it may be, a small sweetshop, or something of that kind—while you debar the married women between twenty-one and thirty, who are much more competent to exercise the right of a local government elector.
§ It is on these grounds that I move this Amendment—although I am quite aware that if it is carried it will add very largely to the number of local government electors. 565 It is on behalf of the married woman that I venture to urge that we should make the Bill as logical as we can, and reduce the age so as to enable them to be qualified at the age of twenty-one. I beg to move down to the words "and she has attained the age of."
Page 4, lines 35 and 36, leave out ("and she has attained the age of").—(Lord Gainford.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER had on the Paper an Amendment to substitute "twenty-one years" for "thirty-years" at the end of subsection (3). The noble and learned Lord said: There is an Amendment standing in my name, which follows Lord Gainford's, but it might be more convenient if I say a word upon his Amendment instead of upon my own. I have, perhaps, an excusable affection for my own words, which I think better than those of the present Amendment, because although the Bill when it deals with granting electoral qualifications to a man makes the condition that he shall be of full age, electoral qualifications conferred upon a woman are made dependent upon certain specified ages, and if this Amendment were accepted there might be a question whether a woman could vote although not twenty-one. But that is a small matter which can be put right on Report.
§ I trust that your Lordships will accept this Amendment, or this reason. There has been expressed in this House, I think, a general approval of the principle that women should be permitted to enjoy and to exercise the vote in local government matters. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Loreburn, who moved an Amendment to exclude women from possessing the Parliamentary franchise, expressed himself in strong terms as to his approval of their possessing the franchise for domestic matters; and I believe that many noble Lords who spoke upon the noble and learned Earl's Amendment expressed the same view. As the matter stands, a woman is entitled to a local government qualification if she is either unmarried or married If she is unmarried she is entitled to that vote when she attains the age of twenty-one. If, after she has possessed a vote as an unmarried woman, she marries, as the Bill stands she automatically loses that vote. If her husband dies before she is thirty the vote is once more restored; and if she marries again before she is thirty 566 she loses her vote once more, and, I suppose upon the hypothesis that her electoral reason is in a state of suspense, she recovers it only when she attains the age of thirty.
§ When the Amendment of Lord Loreburn was being considered there was a considerable amount of justifiable criticism directed against the illogical provisions of the Bill which enable a woman to exercise the Parliamentary franchise only at the age of thirty years. Indeed, such drafts were made upon diction for the purpose of finding proper phrases for expressing the absurd character of these proposals that I do not propose now to use them again. The Lord Chancellor said that the proposals were grotesque, and I think that that was one of the mildest phrases used. If it was grotesque when you were conferring a new franchise for the first time upon a woman, what is the true character of a provision which, when a woman already possesses the qualification, takes it away because she has married and only restores it either when she becomes a widow or when she attains the age of thirty years?
§ I have seen Bills in my time which were both obscure and difficult, but this seems to me to be something that is almost humorous. Surely if a woman who is unmarried at the age of twenty-two, for example, is entitled to a vote for local government, there is no conceivable reason why, from the mere fact that she has married, it should be taken away. If, of course, you base your whole qualification upon the hypothesis that no woman ought to have a vote unless she is an independent ratepayer, then why give it to her when she attains the age of thirty years? There is no principle at all which underlies this provision, and I ask the noble Viscount to consider whether in truth the provision has not been introduced by some oversight—whether the Government have really considered what it effects or how little reason or logic there can be behind it. The principle of the Parliamentary vote in its limited form cannot be supported upon logic or philosophic principles, as the noble Marquess said; but there is no reason why we should not make the local government vote as logical and as philosophical as we can.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The noble Lord who moved the Amendment did so on the ground that he wanted to make this provision as 567 regards women logical. I do not think that even his ability can attain as high as that. In fact, if I may allude to the observations which I made in introducing this Bill, I then said that this measure must be regarded rather from the point of view of compromise than of logic, and if those who hold strong views on one side or the other of the woman question are prepared to drive their logic to the utmost limit, they will obviously upset the compromise. This Amendment is, of course, precisely opposite to that which was recently moved by Lord Ancaster. He wished to cut down the woman local government voters by 5,000,000. The noble Lords who support this Amendment wish to add, not, I agree, such an heroic number as 5,000,000, but still a considerable number of women.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I am afraid I have not got the figures. I do not think the proposal in the Bill, however difficult to defend on the ground of logic, is as absurd as was suggested by the noble and learned Lord. I think there is a certain class of principle in the matter. Married women of over thirty get the local government vote through their husbands. That is to some extent an indirect way of getting a vote. Women between twenty-one and thirty get the vote, not through their husbands, but through their own right, which surely is a stronger ground of possessing a vote than if they got it through somebody else. The noble Lords who support this Amendment wish to see married women between the age of twenty-one and thirty secure the local government vote through their husbands I suggest that that is a very serious alteration of the compromise, which limits the vote to the cases of women over thirty. Moreover, Lord Buckmaster, in his effort to make the proposition as absurd as possible and in order to gain his point, I think slightly overstated the case, because he said, "You have a woman who has the local government vote, who is twenty-two years of age, but who, if she marries, loses her vote." She does nothing of the kind. If she has her vote, if she has got it in her own right, she retains her vote and is not disfranchised.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Supposing she is entitled by virtue of occupying her house, and she marries and goes and lives in her husband's house, she loses her vote at once.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
We are not discussing the same point. The noble and learned Lord is referring to the occupation of the house. I was referring to the occupation of land. Then take the case of a house. The only restriction is that both husband and wife cannot be registered in respect of the same premises. Very well, here is a woman who has a house and who marries. She is not deprived of that vote. Of course if she is foolish enough to say she will hand over the property to her husband, and that he shall be registered in respect of that property, then it is her own fault, but she has a perfect right to retain the vote if she wishes. Therefore I think the noble and learned Lord has gone a little too far in saying that if a woman of twenty-two, who has got the vote, marries, she loses the vote.
A woman over thirty years of age gets the vote through her husband, and a woman under that age gets it through herself. It is a clear distinction, and I beg your Lordships not to disturb the arrangement in the nature of a compromise which has been come to. Allow these 6,000,000 to get their votes, but do not seek to add to their number. The idea was to limit the number of women voters to some extent, illogical though it may be, and if you are going to upset the compromise, there is a fear that those who have acquiesced in the arrangement may say that the compromise has been disturbed and they will no longer hold to it.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved to add at the end of subsection (3) "and is not subject to any legal incapacity". The noble Viscount said: This is merely a drafting Amendment.
Page 4, line 36, at end insert ("and is not subject to any legal incapacity").—(Viscount Peel.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ LORD GAINFORD moved to add at the end of the clause thè words: "For the purpose of this provision, a naval or military voter who is registered in respect of a residence qualification which he would have had but for his service, shall be deemed to 569 be resident in accordance with the qualification. The noble Lord said: I hope I may be a little more fortunate in securing the acquiescence of the Government in this Amendment. It is, I believe, required because by the repeal section in Schedule VIII of the Bill the Act of 1914 has been repealed which would enable a man serving abroad to retain a qualification and be deemed as continuing to occupy the premises which would entitle him to a local government vote.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I do not know whether it would shorten the proceedings if I say that I am quite ready, on behalf of the Government, to accept this Amendment.
§ LORD GAINFORD
I was proceeding to explain the Amendment, but if the House approves of it, I do not desire to trouble your Lordships further.
Page 4, line 36, at end insert ("For the purpose of this provision, a naval or military voter who is registered in respect of a residence qualification which he would have had but for his service, shall be deemed to be resident in accordance with the qualification").—(Lord Gainford.)
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Before the Lord Chairman puts the Question, may I ask whether it was on this Amendment that my noble friend said the point could be considered which I raised at the beginning of the discussion?
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH had given notice of an Amendment to insert, after Clause 4, the following new clause—
§ Referendum as to franchises (women).
§ ".—(1) Notwithstanding anything in this Act contained, no steps shall be taken to put into operation the provisions entitling women to be registered as Parliamentary electors unless and until the male parliamentary electors shall have signified their approval in manner provided by this Act.
§ "(2) At a date to be fixed by His Majesty in Council, being subsequent to that on which the first register prepared under the provisions of this Act shall come into force, but not less than six months nor more than twelve months after the end of the present war, the provisions of this Act entitling women to be registered as Parliamentary 570 electors and to vote at an election of a member to serve in Parliament, shall be submitted by referendum to the women registered as local government electors for the purpose of ascertaining whether they are in favour of those provisions.
§ "(3) At a date to be fixed by His Majesty in Council being not less than one month nor more than six weeks after the result of the aforesaid submission by referendum has been declared, the same provisions of the said Act shall be submitted by referendum to the male Parliamentary electors.
"(4) The questions put to the voters under subsections (2) and (3) of this section shall be:—
Are you in favour of the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1918, entitling women to be registered as Parliamentary electors and, when so registered, to vote at an election of a member to serve in Parliament, and a copy of sections four and seven of this Act (so far as applicable to women) shall be printed upon every ballot paper issued.
"(5) if a majority of the male Parliamentary electors voting on referendum as aforesaid shall reply to the question in the affirmative, the said provisions of this Act shall come into operation forthwith.
If a majority of the male Parliamentary electors voting on referendum as aforesaid shall reply to the question in the negative, the said provisions of this Act shall be of no effect.
§ "(6) The voting of the female local government electors under subsection (2) of this section shall be known as Part I of the referendum, and the voting of the male registered Parliamentary electors under subsection (3) of this section shall be known as Part II of the referendum.
§ "(7) No person may record more than one vote, otherwise than as a proxy voter, at the referendum. Any person who shall do so or attempt to do so, shall be guilty of an illegal practice within the meaning of the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act, 1883, and the expression "illegal practice" shall be construed accordingly. A statement of the effect of this subsection shall be printed on every ballot paper issued.
§ "(8) His Majesty may, by Order in Council, frame regulations prescribing the method of conducting the aforesaid referendum and ascertaining and declaring the result thereof, and such regulations may apply to the referendum the provisions of the Ballot Act, 1872, and any other Act regulating the holding of Parliamentary elections, including any provisions imposing penalties in connection with voting at those elections, or in connection with ballot or proxy papers, or the official marks thereon, with such modifications as may be prescribed for the purpose of adapting those Acts to voting at the referendum."
§ The noble Lord said: Before I say what I have to say in regard to this Amendment, I should like to say that I propose to move it in a slightly different form from that in which it appears on the Paper. I could not give notice in time for the Amendment to be reprinted, but it is not very material. I propose to move it without the limit of time to a certain number of months after the war. This will apply to the second and third subsections. 571 The words in subsection (2) which I leave out are "but not less than six months nor more than twelve months after the end of the present war". The effect of this will be to leave absolute power to His Majesty in Council to take the referendum, if it is agreed to, at any time that is thought best.
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE EARL OF CRAWFORD)
Does the provision in subsection (3) as to "six weeks" come out also?
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Yes, I know that in moving this Amendment I am raising a very large issue. I am also aware that in all probability I shall have two main arguments to meet. On the one hand, I shall be told that it is a novel suggestion, wholly foreign to our Constitution, and doubtless I shall have to meet the hostility of the out-and-out supporters of the woman's vote, who probably will say—as I expect they will—that it does not matter to them whether the majority of women want the vote or not; that those of them who are anxious for the vote would like it for themselves.
Before I deal with these two points I want to ask the Committee carefully to consider the issues involved, and some of the statements which were made and the arguments used last week. Whatever our opinions upon the merits of the question may be, there is no doubt whatever that in the discussions of last week both sides acknowledged to themselves and to the Committee the magnitude of the issue which we were discussing. It was described by the Lord Chancellor as a "momentous issue"; by his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, as "a plunge in the dark." Other member of the House called it "a leap in the dark," "a revolutionary measure," and it was said to be the "crossing of the Rubicon," and "the most serious change that will have occurred for more than half a century." These descriptions of the effect which the Bill will have should, I think, convince your Lordships that we ought to make very certain that what we are doing is being done, not against, but in accordance with, the will of the great majority of the people of this country.
Another outstanding fact which it seems to me we ought to gather from last week's 572 discussion was this, that the deciding factor in the Division of Thursday night was not really the actual merits of the question, but that a great variety of other considerations were involved. There was a certain amount of what I shall venture to call prejudice raised through the Amendment moved by the noble and learned Earl on the bench below the gangway being described as a motion for the rejection of the Bill. I do not admit the validity of that description. I am still of opinion that, if people had been willing to do it, the Bill could have gone on without votes for women. But even if that were not the case, that fact was not the fault of those who were opposed to female suffrage. The presumption is raised in my mind that the fact that those who are in favour of female suffrage use that argument shows that in their heart of hearts they were by no means as convinced as they would like to be that without that argument they would be likely to win their case. I may venture to say without conceit that I know this House pretty well. I have not been so long in it as some of the noble Lords I have the honour of addressing, but I have entered upon my forty-second year of consecutive membership of this House. I have many friends in the House, some of whom last week frankly told me that they agreed with me on the merits, and that they agreed with the noble and learned Earl below the gangway, but that they did not wish at this particular time and in all the circumstances in which we are placed to enter upon a conflict with the other House. I am as certain as I can be of anything that that consideration was really the deciding factor in the Division of Thursday last, and not the merits of the question whether or not it was wise to take this plunge.
One cannot help sympathising with the contention. I am not desirous of making difficulties for the nation at the present time, or of entering into a great internal contest in present circumstances. I know that that consideration was uppermost in the minds of many. It was candidly confessed by the noble Earl the Leader of the House, who I am sorry is not able to be here to-night. The first part of his speech was one of the most convincing arguments against the proposal in the Bill that I have ever heard, and it was quite clear that it came absolutely from his heart. There was one omission in his speech—I will not do more than mention it, 573 because the noble Earl is not present (but it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, who spoke from one of the back benches) that it was largely owing to the intervention of the noble Earl himself in the management of the Association against woman suffrage that agitation had not been more marked in the months through which we have just passed. I do not know whether that fact, if it had been present to the mind of the noble Earl, would have made him take a different course from that which he took, but I am bound to say that we did not expect him, although he might abstain from voting, to put all the pressure which the latter part of his speech undoubtedly put on loyal supporters not to vote according to what he knew were their real convictions on this matter.
I say again that this is a very momentous issue, and it is reasonable that we should be quite sure of our ground, and that we should not take the responsibility of making this great change unless we are certain that the majority of those to whom we are responsible desire it. I do not know whether I shall be thought equally candid with the noble Earl, but I am bound to say that I think there are some questions in the near future, such as marriage laws and the important problems connected with commercial and industrial reconstruction, on which the women have a strong right to be represented. I am not sure that they will get greater justice by being a body by themselves, with their own interests, than if they trusted to the fairness of those who would desire to see fair play in matters of that kind. But I do feel apprehension upon the dangerous step we are taking even in regard to those matters, because I look forward with the greatest fear if this step we are taking were to bring about a regular contest between the male and female sexes in this country. I am not without apprehension that this is what we are preparing for, and that we shall be in greater difficulties by having given the vote than if we had not done so.
I am confirmed in this view by a reported contribution from the pen of Mrs. Pankhurst which I saw in the Daily Express of Saturday. These words are attributed to her—I believe that women will vote more together as a sex than the men have done. Men have been nurtured in an atmosphere of political Parties, but they themselves are now agreed that the old political system is a failure.If the 6,000,000 women are going to accept 574 leadership of that kind, then I say that the fact that they have the vote is preparing difficulties for them and for the country which, without it, none of us could have anticipated. The description is not mine, and. I am not responsible for it, but it does give expression to what is in my humble opinion a change which those who are forcing it must feel they will be responsible for, and one of the things which makes me mistrust the stop we are taking.
I am not going to trouble yoür Lordships with many quotations. I prefer to found my argument upon the passage in the late Mr. Leeky's book on Democracy and Liberty, where we find these wordsA due sense of the proportion of things; an adequate subordination of impulse to reason; an habitual regard to the ultimate and distant consequences of political measures; a sound, sober, and unexaggerated judgment—are elements which already are lamentably wanting in political life, and female influence would certainly not tend to increase them.If it is to be female influence under the leadership of those who associated themselves with the burning of our churches, with the breaking of windows, and with the assaults on the police, then I say we are preparing for ourselves very serious trouble in the future. All we can say is that we hope for better things and that those who are moderate will be able under the new circumstances to regulate their leadership in a way they have not done in the past. That can only be a hope, and it does not take away from me the feeling of responsibility for the change we are making.
I know I shall be told that it is a large and revolutionary change which I am proposing. At any rate, in regard to it, it cannot be alleged that we are doing anything contrary to what was settled in another place. This question of the reference to the people was not brought forward in the House of Commons. As a matter of fact, it was ruled out of order; there was no discussion, no debate, and no opportunity of testing the feeling of members of that Chamber. But although it was ruled out of order in the House of Commons, that is, according to precedent, no reason why your Lordships should not insert it in the Bill. I will state in a word or two the exact technical position upon that point. It so happens that there is an exact precedent made no longer ago than last year. In the case of the Parliament and Local Elections Bill there was a point of order on exactly the same grounds 575 decided against those who wanted to move an Amendment. The exact reference is on August 23, Hansard, House of Commons, column 2695. When the Amendment was inserted in this House and was down for consideration in another place, the then Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, asked for the ruling of the Speaker, and the Speaker's words were, "The rules of procedure are different in the two Houses. Each House is judge of its own rules." I am shortening the quotation. In the House of Lords the same ruling did not obtain and the provision was inserted. Then the Speaker went on to say, "It does not, therefore, come before us as an Amendment in which the question of privilege arises. It is for the House to decide the question on its merits as to whether or not it will accept the Amendment." The Amendment was moved, the House of Commons accepted it, and it is now the law of the land. Therefore it is obvious that no point of conflict with the other House arises on this occasion.
Now I turn to the point that this suggestion of mine is a novelty in our Constitution. In the first place, I say it is not so great a novelty as female suffrage. It is much less of an innovation and it is much less a dangerous innovation, because, after all, it is only a proposal to consult those who, in theory at any rate, are supreme in the government of this country. Let me see how far we can go on common ground in putting forward that argument. It is, I think, agreed by everybody that the theory of our Constitution is that the will of the people shall prevail. That, of course, means that it must be the real will of the people. The House of Commons represents, to a large extent, the will of the people of this country as constitutionally ascertained. It is because it represents, and only because it represents, the will of the people that it has its basis of authority. It is no derogation to the House of Commons to say that no House of Commons can be representative on every point. It cannot reflect the exact opinion in everything that comes up for discussion. It is very easy to give illustrations, but I will not weary your Lordships by doing so, because I do not suppose that the thesis that I have put forward will be seriously disputed. I would like to say, in case I am misunderstood, that it is no slur upon the House of Commons to make that statement. It is no fault of that House that it cannot represent exactly on every point the 576 opinion of the majority of people. What I do think it right to point out is that the majority of a majority does not necessarily mean the majority of the people outside. This is especially the case when the question at issue, like female suffrage, cuts across the ordinary Party lines. The fact is some people may rejoice over it, some may deplore it—that our system of organisation, what is called the caucus of the Party organisation, many merits as it has in some ways, does undoubtedly tend to squeeze out the independent man. He is not liked by the Party organiser, and the Party organiser does all he can to put him out of Parliament. Abraham Lincoln defined the proper form of government as "Government of the people, by the people, for the people." I am afraid that we are getting too much into a contrary system—Government of the people, by the Party, for the sake of the Party. It is that particular thing which the referendum, if it ever became a part of our Constitution, would cure, and it is because it would strike at the authority of the Party organiser that the Party organiser is always against it.
There are other objections made to it from time to time. There is the question of the expense, the question of the delay which will arise, the question whether the referendum would involve the fate of the Government, and so on; and there is the point, often made, that the subject of the reference would be so complicated that the average voter would not understand it. There is, further, the question which is prominent in the minds of some, that if you begin a reference to the people you will have the initiative and a great many other horrible things which are portrayed in striking colours. For my part, if I were proposing to make a referendum part of our Constitution I would face all those dangers cheerfully, rather than go on under the thumb of the Party organiser as we are doing at the present time. I believe that it would be an infinitely less danger to our institutions.
All these things, however, are side issues at present, because my Amendment does not propose to make this part of our Constitution. What it does propose is a perfectly simple issue which can be understood by every man and woman in the country. It is proposed to take the decision of those who, after all, have the right to decide a point of this kind. I am always glad 577 to make a quotation from those who are against me on a point at issue. I could multiply quotations from prominent statesmen on both sides, some keenly in favour of, some not so keenly in favour of but indifferent to, the question of the referendum. But here is what was said in The Times, which is against the proposal that I am putting forward, of August 22, 1916—We have no provision for the referendum, which, whatever its limitations, is essentially the best method of settling such a question as woman suffrage.That is my case. Here is an isolated instance of a very important change easily understood by the people which I cannot understand any possible constitutional objection to submitting for their judgment and consideration.
I turn to another point which was discussed very much last week. My noble friend, Lord Selborne, said that if ever there was a clear case as far as he could see in our Constitution, there was clearly what is popularly called a mandate for woman suffrage by the Election of 1910. He did not use the word "mandate," and I use it only as a short method of describing what is meant, because I detest the word. The allegation which Lord Selborne made was that this matter was sufficiently before the people in 1910 to be regarded as decisive at the present time. Let me refer to the exact circumstances under which the Election of 1910 was taken. The most prominent issue was the Parliament Bill. It absorbed nearly all attention at the time of the Election. There were some vague indications that some sort of Home Rule Bill was also to be introduced by the Government. The nature of the Bill itself was not described, but there was a general statement that there would be a Home Rule Bill if the then Liberal Government was returned to power. I suggest that these two issues by themselves absolutely overshadowed any question of female suffrage at that Election.
Let me illustrate what I mean. It is quite possible that a majority of those who were returned to the House of Commons were in favour of female suffrage, but when there were two other questions of such enormous importance as those that I have mentioned before the electorate, what was the position of the man who was against woman suffrage and against the Parliament Bill and Home Rule? He is given only the choice by our Party 578 system of two candidates. And supposing one of these candidates had declared in favour of Home Rule and the Parliament Bill and the other candidate had declared against legislation on these subjects, but in favour of female suffrage. Surely the average man who is against those two very large measures, which were prominent, could take no other course than vote for the candidate with whom he was in sympathy on those measures, notwithstanding that the same man was a professed supporter of female suffrage. I need not labour it further, for I have too much desire not to take up more of your Lordships' time than is absolutely necessary.
I turn to another point which was made in the course of that discussion. It is alleged that there was no opposition in the country to the proposal to include female suffrage in this Bill. I have two or three remarks to make upon that. It is easier at any time to organise in favour of a change than it is to organise against it, but the agitation against this change was deliberateately damped down upon the grounds that it was too great a change to make in the circumstances in which it was being made, and that it was not proper to divert the attention of those concerned from the work which they were doing to win the war. Beyond all question, the influence of the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council was used, for reasons I have no doubt sufficient to him, to urge those who were against this proposal not to disturb matters and agitate and divide the country at the time.
Summing up all these arguments, I say that if the fate of this Bill, which I want to see passed, is involved in carrying female suffrage, surely the fairest thing to do is to ask that question by itself—Are you, or are you not, in favour of this great change? I do not claim that my Amendment is perfect. I can understand criticism of the details, but the point I want to make is this—that those of us who mistrust this change, who dislike the method by which it has been brought about, shall be relieved of the responsibility of tacitly consenting to what we so much dislike and mistrust. I have put down in my Amendment provisions for taking the vote by women separately and by men separately, and not taking them together. Personally I think that we have come to that stage when the deciding issue will be, if we can find it out, whether the women of the country really 579 desire this change. And I have very grave doubts whether, if a very considerable majority of the women were proved to want it, men would be found to vote against it.
I have put in the Amendment the taking of a reference to women first, because we have now the local government register, or shall have when this Bill passes, with six millions of women upon it, and it seems to me perfectly reasonable that they should be asked to decide whether or not this great change is to take place. I do not know whether I shall go too far when I say that hostility to my proposal arouses in my mind the suspicion that those who are spokesmen of this change are not so certain in their own minds that they would get the majority for which they seek. At any rate here is a point which is at least in grave doubt; it is a momentous change, a leap in the dark; and, if we mistrust this policy, surely we are not going too far in saying that the responsibility is too great to allow it to pass when we know that it does not profess finality, that it is founded on no principle, and that further changes will certainly be urged upon us. To sum up what I have to say in favour of a reference to the people on this point, the issue is clear and precise. It is in accordance with the best principles of our Constitution to make this reference to those who, after all, are supreme in authority; and it is by this means, and by this means alone, that you will secure a final decision on a high matter of principle without complication and without any confusion of other issues.
§ Amendment moved—
§ After Clause 4, insert as a new clause:
§ " Referendum as to franchises (women).
§ ".(1) Notwithstanding anything in this Act contained, no steps shall be taken to put into operation the provisions entitling women to be registered as Parliamentary electors unless and until the male Parliamentary electors shall have signified their approval in mariner provided by this Act.
§ "(2) At a date to be fixed by His Majesty in Council, being subsequent to that on which the first register prepared under the provisions of this Act shall come into force, the provisions of this Act entitling women to be registered as Parliamentary electors and to vote at an election of a member to serve in Parliament, shall be submitted by referendum to the women registered as local government electors for the purpose of ascertaining whether they are in favour of those provisions.
§ "(3) At a date to be fixed by His Majesty in Council, the same provisions of the said Act shall be submitted by referendum to the male Parliamentary electors.580
"(4) The questions put to the voters under sub sections (2) and (3) of this section shall be:—
Are you in favour of the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1918, entitling women to be registered as Parliamentary electors and, when so registered, to vote at an election of a member to serve in Parliament, and a copy of sections four and seven of this Act (so far as applicable to women) shall be printed upon every ballot paper issued.
"(5) If a majority of the male Parliamentary electors voting on referendum as aforesaid shall reply to the question in the affirmative, the said provisions of this Act shall come into operation forthwith.
If a majority of the male Parliamentary electors voting on referendum as aforesaid shall reply to the question in the negative, the said provisions of this Act shall be of no effect.
§ "(6) The voting of the female local government electors under subsection (2) of this section shall be known as Part I of the referendum, and the voting of the male registered Parliamentary electors under subsection (3) of this section shall he known as Part II of the referendum.
§ "(7) No person may record more than one vote otherwise than as a proxy voter, at the referendum. Any person who shall do so or attempt to do so, shall be guilty of an illegal practice within the meaning of the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act, 1883, and the expression "illegal practice" shall be construed accordingly. A statement of the effect of this subsection shall be printed on every ballot paper issued.
§ "(8) His Majesty may, by Order in Council, frame regulations prescribing the method of con-ducting the aforesaid referendum and ascertaining and declaring the result thereof, and such regulations may apply to the referendum the provisions of the Ballot Act, 1872, and any other Act regulating the holding of Parliamentary elections, including any provisions imposing penalties In connection with voting at those elections, or in connection with ballot or proxy papers, or the official marks thereon, with such modifications as may be prescribed for the purpose of adapting those Acts to voting at the referendum."—(Balfour of Burleigh.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
If your Lordships will allow me to intervene for a moment, I desire to say that this is a matter which is open to the House. Therefore on the part of the Government I do not propose to make any statement on the grave considerations advanced by the noble Lord. I should like, however, to make one or two observations on small points. As regards the form of the Amendment, your Lordships may observe that there is first of all a referendum to the women, and then to the men. Apparently if the women are in favour of the vote it does not follow that they will get it, because they may be upset by the vote of the men. On the other hand, if the women decide that they do not want it, apparently the men may decide that they do. The form, therefore, is rather curious.
581 I think I ought to call attention to this, that the proposal of the noble Lord suggests that we might have in the very near future no fewer than three Elections. I do not want to refer to the expense, because that is a vulgar matter which is rather the business of another place. But I think it is worth considering that if we are to take this referendum before we get an appeal to the electorate we may in a very short time have no fewer than three Elections—first of all, the election in which the women are consulted; secondly, the Election in which the men are consulted; and, thirdly, the General Election. This does involve very considerable machinery, because in all three cases—and, of course, nothing can take place till July, when the new electorate is on the Register you will have to put in force the whole machinery that you would for a General Election; that is to say, the vote by proxy, the vote by post, and all the other matters. I am only stating these points in passing, because your Lordships may think that other considerations outweigh them.
May I incidentally say that no doubt the change made by the noble Lord in his Amendment is a great improvement upon the wording as he put it down on the Paper, because that put off this referendum till rather a late stage and kept the matter for some time in suspense. But supposing the General Election takes place before the referendum, then you will have Parliament elected, and that Parliament will, of course, be able to do exactly what it likes with this clause; it may repeal it or not. The result is that, if the referendum is put off till after the next Election, it really is putting off this question for the determination of another Parliament; That is, I think, what the proposal really amounts to. There is this further difficulty. The Government had hoped—in fact, it was one of the reasons for bringing in this large measure during the war—that all these matters of electoral machinery might be dealt with and that the consideration of the new Parliament might be devoted to those vast questions of reconstruction that lie ahead. Of course, that would not be so if you bad this contested question discussed in all its issues and in all the constituencies during the General Election.
The noble Lord said, in dealing with this matter, that if you introduce the referendum you will not be doing anything contrary to the views of the House of Commons. I am not sure whether that can be said 582 to be an accurate statement of the case. The House of Commons, by a majority of seven to one, decided in favour of woman suffrage. When a decision like that is come to by a Legislative Assembly I think it always means that as soon as the Bill becomes an Act its provisions shall come into force. Therefore, to that extent. I ought to suggest that limitation on the accuracy of the statement of the noble Lord.
There is only one remaining point. Woman suffrage having been passed by this overwhelming majority of seven to one in the House of Commons, and by a large majority in this House, the question is whether your Lordships feel not only that you are prepared to put in this Amendment now, but that when it comes back from the other House—as, of course, it will come back in view of the overwhelming majority there—your Lordships, in view of the feeling in the other House and in view of the statements made by my noble friend the Leader of the House last Thursday, will be prepared to stand by that Amendment. That is all I have to say at this stage.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, in moving his Amendment, stated that there were two classes in your Lordships' House who might be expected to oppose him—in the first place, those who regard the introduction of this new constitutional device as representing a gigantic innovation, and those who, as out-and-out supporters of woman suffrage, would be certain to offer opposition. That no doubt is true. On the other hand, my noble friend may expect to gain the support of some who, though not exceedingly interested one way or the other about the woman's vote, take a keen interest in the referendum as an addition to our constitutional machinery, and would, therefore, be disposed to support him on that account.
I am very anxious on this occasion not to discuss the general merits of the referendum as an addition to our Constitution and one in opposition to the representative system under which we have so long been governed. It is a very large question. Seven or eight years ago it was, as many of your Lordships will remember, before the House and was discussed at great length for two days. I dare say that some of your Lordships may remember the discussion. I am anxious, therefore, not to deal with the general question at all. In fact, my noble friend 583 himself did not do so to any great extent, although he did undoubtedly try to extol the advantages of this particular system of arriving at public opinion and of ultimate government.
But there is one difficulty which everybody knows attaches to the institution of the referendum—particularly would be likely to attach in a country like this—namely, the exact body of persons to whom the reference is to be made. It has been often pointed out that in the case of a Scottish Bill, or an Irish Bill, or a Bill which applies exclusively to England, a general reference to the electors of the whole United Kingdom might in some instances be out of place. At any rate, so it has been argued. It has been pointed out that the introduction of the system would be far more easy under a Federal Constitution than under that with which we live. I think it cannot be disputed that in this particular instance this difficulty arises—it was drawn attention to very clearly by the noble Lord above the gangway (Lord Willoughby de Broke) in his speech on Clause 4 the other day—namely, the almost amazing anomaly of referring a question of this kind, as to whether they are or are not fit for the vote, to the class of persons who themselves are stated by you to be unfit.
Let me try to find a parallel. Subject races in the Empire who are not supposed to reach to the full stature of political manhood are sometimes granted what are called representative institutions by degrees, and with gradually enhanced powers until at last they attain the full status of a responsible Government. I certainly never heard it suggested that, when some form of representative government was to be conferred on such a race, a referendum should be taken of that race asking whether it did not think it was fit for responsible government. Yet that is apparently what my noble friend proposes to do. There is this set of people described by my noble and learned friend Lord Loreburn as congenitally unsuited for the control of our Imperial affairs, and yet you want to put it to them whether they are or are not suited. I confess that this seems to me one of the most astonishing suggestions that has ever been put before your Lordships' House by a responsible statesman like my noble friend.
It has often been alleged in the past, of course, that this question of woman 584 suffrage is a particularly suitable one for the introduction of this constitutional novelty, because it does not cut (as my noble friend said) straight across the lines of Parties, which, as we know when Party government was in full swing, constituted the principal difficulty in the way of a Government of either Party submitting it to the popular consideration. No Cabinet that could have been formed before the war but would have contained members holding diametrically opposite views on this question, and therefore it was thought, almost as a counsel of despair, that a referendum was the only way out of the difficulty. But the noble Viscount who is in charge of this Bill has pointed out, in the short speech he made, what are some of the special difficulties surrounding the submission of this question to a popular reference at this time, and I should be greatly surprised if any one of the noble Lords who favour the Amendment of my friend can find an answer to those difficulties.
To my mind, the fatal objection to this proposition, apart from any question as to whether the referendum is a good thing in itself or not, or whether we wish to see it introduced, is that this is a deliberate invitation to a new and probably violent agitation on both sides; and I cannot believe that the Government—although I gather from my noble friend that they do not wish to take a special part as a Government in opposing this Amendment—would regard with anything but the utmost apprehension and dismay any probability of the sort of agitation which would be aroused by accepting the proposition of my noble friend.
Then I come to the final point which the noble Viscount opposite mentioned. The proposal certainly would not be accepted. It is not to be supposed that the House of Commons, having passed the measure by the vast majority it did, would sit down and agree to what is practically the rejection of that measure in favour of an entirely different plan. It is inconceivable that any House of Commons could accept a proposition of that kind from your Lordships' House, and this, I cannot help feeling, must be the governing consideration in the mind of this House. I trust, therefore, that your Lordships will not accept the Amendment of my noble friend In spite of the powerful arguments which he used as to the difficulty of submitting 585 this question apart from others—arguments which, of course, may hold good for a general acceptance of the principle of the referendum—those arguments of his, I thought, tended further to a support of some system of proportional representation than they did to the introduction of the referendum. I trust, for the reason I have named and for many others which other noble Lords have given, the House will not accept the Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
There are, as we all know, a great many of us who entertain feelings of considerable suspicion with regard to this novel method of taking the opinion of the whole people by what is called the popular vote. It is a novel proposal, and it is difficult to foresee how far it might carry us. But I want to submit a few reasons for thinking that the objections that attach to the plan of popular voting which we know as a referendum do not apply to this particular proposal made by Lord Balfour.
The main objection to introducing a system of popular voting as a new principle of our Constitution is that it would supersede the constitutional system which we have long observed, and with which we are satisfied, of legislating by Parliament and appealing to the people to elect a House of Commons which can represent their views. The proposal of my noble friend does not do anything of the kind. He proposes, not to ask the electors to go past the House of Commons and to deliver their opinions upon a question which they could decide at a General Election, but to ask those who are not represented in Parliament at all, and who have no means now of expressing their view, to deliver their opinion. Therefore he is not introducing any principle which is open to the objection generally taken to referendums.
My noble friend finds in this case that the main contention which has been urged on both sides during the debates has been as to the wish of the women themselves. I notice that those who are in favour of woman suffrage have fallen into the habit of always saying "Women ask for this; can you refuse the demand of the women?" Surely that is to assume the very question at issue. The contention of those who are opposed to woman suffrage is that the women have not given any such opinion, and that those who claim to speak for them 586 and ask for woman suffrage here have no commission to speak for the women of this country. They represent a section; and there is another section, which many of us believe to be equally large, or larger, which is opposed to the gift of the franchise. I hold in my hand a memorial which I have just received and which is signed by a very large number of women. I have not counted the signatures, but there are twelve folio pages very closely printed. They are all engaged in war work in some form or other, in which the women of this country have been rendering such splendid services. If your Lordships had time to peruse this memorial, I think you would be struck by the very large number of women of all classes engaged in all kinds of war work who have signed it, who ask your Lordships to oppose the proposal in this Bill, and urge that this question should be submitted to the judgment of the whole of the women of the country.
It was remarked in the debate a few days ago, by, I think, Lord Selborne, that in 1867 when the question of the extension of the borough franchise was being debated, and again in 1884 when the franchise was extended to county voters, it was not thought necessary to argue that they wanted the vote. Of course, it was not. Everybody assumed it. It was not thought necessary to take their opinion, because nobody doubted for a moment that the men of the country did want to have the vote. But the case of the women is entirely different. They have never had any opportunity of declaring their opinion, and it is perfectly open to any one to say with conviction that if the women of this country could be properly consulted a very large number would be opposed to the grant of the franchise.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
The noble Viscount has not quite accurately quoted what I said. What I said was that the statesmen of that day were quite satisfied that there was a demand which required satisfaction. They never thought it necessary to inquire whether an actual majority of the men to be enfranchised were clamouring for the vote.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
I am sorry if I misrepresented the noble Earl, but my argument is just the same. Certainly nobody then suggested that the men did not want the vote. It was assumed that 587 every man wanted the vote. No men ever petitioned against it, no meetings were ever held against it, and no society existed among working men asking that working men should not be enfranchised. Therefore we have perfectly different cases; and it is essential to the case that is made on behalf of woman suffrage by those who advocate it here that some far better and more conclusive evidence should be given than has yet been furnished that it is the desire of the general mass of women of this country.
My noble friend Lord Crewe, in the remarks which have just fallen from him, suggested that we were not in the habit of inquiring, when it was proposed to confer a gift, whether those upon whom it was to be conferred were competent to undertake the duty. Here it is not a question of competence. What we are asking the women is whether they wish it, and whether they think it would be to their good; and those who have tried to follow this question and ascertain the opinion of women upon it know a very large number of women—whom every one would agree to be perfectly competent, and whom we should desire to enfranchise if we could do so without enfranchising the large mass of women—who are entirely opposed to it. Many of your Lordships must know large numbers of the most capable and intelligent women who deprecate the gift of the vote and say that it would take women out of their proper sphere, and, so far from doing them good, would possibly do far more harm. I express no opinion on the question. I say it is only right that women who entertain that opinion should be given a chance of declaring their views. We have, fortunately, the opportunity of doing so, because this Bill contains provision for setting up a local government register, and upon that register it would be perfectly easy to take the opinion of the women of this country.
It is not for me to anticipate what final form my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh will give to his proposals. I think that an answer could be given, but it is better that he should give it, to the practical difficulties which were indicated by Lord Peel in the few remarks which he made at the beginning of this discussion. But there is one point I wish to notice, and to appeal to my noble friend regarding it. His Amendment proposes two referenda, one to the women and one to the men. I would submit to him and to your 588 Lordships that the result of the referendum to the women might be accepted as practically decisive. I think that those of us who deprecate the extension of the suffrage to women would withdraw our opposition at once if there was a substantial majority of the women in favour of their having the vote; and I cannot imagine resistance being successfully maintained if the women had given a decision to that effect. On the other hand, if the women rejected it, I think it may fairly be assumed that those who have hitherto professed to speak on behalf of women as a whole would, when they found that they had been mistaken, withdraw, for the present at least, the demand they have put forward. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend may be able to indicate that he will be content with a referendum to women alone, which, moreover, would be free from the constitutional objection that I have ventured to point out.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My noble friend Lord Halifax has tabled an Amendment which meets the suggestion made by the noble Viscount. It was not put down in time to be printed in the Marshalled List of Amendments, but it is lying on the Table.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I was going to say that I had given notice of an Amendment to limit the referendum to women alone. I suppose it will be more convenient that I should move it in the event of Lord Balfour's not being carried.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
I have one or two observations to offer upon what was said with regard to the position of the House of Commons in this matter. I submit that we are not entering on any contest with the House of Commons if we pass this Amendment. The matter was never before the House of Commons. It has not delivered any opinion against a referendum. Therefore we are not controverting any views that it expressed. More than that, the members of the House of Commons claim, and rightly claim, that they are entitled to represent their electors, but the women are not their electors. The women are not represented by the House of Commons. The very case that is made in favour of the grant of woman suffrage is that the House of Commons does not represent the women of this country. The House of Commons is, therefore, surely no better interpreter of the 589 feelings of the women of the country than is this House. Its members do not profess to know, and they cannot know, what are the feelings of the women. We do not claim to know either. We are both equally ignorant of what the decision of the women will be. Therefore, there is certainly no offence to the House of Commons in our asking that it should join us in endeavouring to ascertain that opinion.
What the Amendment proposes pays a tribute to the wishes of the women themselves. It is said that men ought not to legislate for women. Well, we are going to ascertain whether women themselves wish to legislate. That is a recognition of the fact that they ought not to be entrusted with the function if they do not desire to fulfil it. I submit to your Lordships that there is nothing in this proposal which is either inconsistent with constitutional practice, or which ought to be taken, or will be taken, as a matter of grievance by the House of Commons, or as an attempt on our part to enter into a contest with that House. It is a proposal surely which that House can accept without the slightest loss of dignity, and one, which, in fact, ought to commend itself to its members as removing what has been one of the chief causes of difference between the supporters and opponents of this proposal—namely, the question of what is the real wish of women themselves.
§ LORD STUART OF WORTLEY
The noble Lord who moved the Amendment had, I think, little need to appeal to that long experience of membership of this House—and, I may add, it is Ministerial and legislative experience—which has given him the influence and authority that he so justly exercises among your Lordships. I rise, however, to point out that in no matter has he shown that experience better than—and I hope he will forgive me for saying perhaps more craftily than—in the selection of the manner of this new counter-attack, to be carried out apparently by picked troops, upon the position which was carried by frontal attack a few nights ago. My noble friend appeals to the General Election of 1910. His skill in advocacy is shown by the fact that he knows well enough that every member of your Lordships' House who has come here since the General Election of 1910, and who belongs to the Unionist Party, is one of those who in that Election and in the political contests of those days advocated the use of the referendum; 590 and since then my noble friend and I have been collaborating in recommending, in certain circumstances and for certain purposes, the use of the referendum as a solution of political questions. He, therefore, rightly anticipated that some advocates of woman suffrage would find themselves in great difficulties were such an Amendment as this moved.
Perhaps the most subtle portion of my noble friend's attack is that in which he said the advocates of female suffrage suffer from unavowed doubts as to its acceptability in the country. That is a very subtle form of argument, because it is difficult to meet it except by the expression of personal views. It is my opinion, and I believe it is the opinion of most of the advocates of female suffrage, that we do already know what the country thinks about it. In this connection let me meet what was said by the noble Viscount who has just sat down—that he attributed supreme importance to the proposed vote from the women alone. Some of us advocates of woman suffrage regard the vote of women alone as not only unnecessary but irrelevant. To my thinking, this sex distinction for political purposes has always been a false classification. Surely when every day sees us placing further obligations upon and exacting further services from women, accompanying them by no further privileges, this is not the time to say that we are entitled to regard them as anything but residents, inhabitants, and citizens.
We have seen and had made known to us the resolutions of various organisations in favour of woman suffrage, and we have seen the absence of anything like a spontaneous agitation against it. The length of time that has elapsed without legislative effect being given to this feeling, which we believe to exist—the failure to translate the movement into legislative action—is due entirely to the fact that it cut right across the lines of Party cleavage; you could never get a united Ministry in its favour; it never became the subject of a Government Bill, and never could be successfully pressed upon the attention of the Legislative House. Now we have such an opportunity.
This Bill, and the proposal to legislate in favour of woman suffrage without reference to the country, arose from what I may call a wave of feeling in the House of Commons, of which I was then a member. When discussing registration we were led 591 on to discuss franchise, and from franchise to discuss the extension of the franchise to other classes than those who had enjoyed it before. The desire was expressed on the spur of the moment, that all these questions should be deferred to an impartial inquiry and made, if possible, the subject of general agreement. You may say that waves are things of an unsubstantial character and soon expend their force, but of that wave I can say one thing—it was influenced entirely, and chiefly, by the desire to place this and other like questions at once outside the realm of Party disagreement and controversy. If you ask me anything else about this wave, of which I was a witness, I will say that it resembled exactly that wave of feeling which led to the barring of all controversial subjects from the operation of the Legislature during the time of war. We are all in the realm of paradox at the present time, and this Bill is itself to a great extent a collection of paradoxes, being a constellation of compromises.
I do not altogether assent to the idea that the House of Commons, which has sat for more than seven years, is necessarily the most unrepresentative House of Commons we could possible have. I have a recollection of something like ten contested elections, and at no time in my Parliamentary career did I feel a more delightful sense of freedom to take what course I liked than in the first few months after one of the contested elections, when you had five solid years to look forward to before you rendered your account. Whether it be five years, or seven years, or a longer period, there does come to members of the House of Commons a certain intuition, a certain instinct, when they have sat for a long time in the House, and have corresponded with constituents and had an opportunity of making acquaintance with those, not the least worthy, members of their constituency who do not always take part in contested elections. For all the time there is creeping on that fateful hour at which they have to give their account. It is in these circumstances that the present House of Commons has given this tremendous decision by so gigantic a majority, and has taken the opportunity of reversing the judgement which, in totally different circumstances, it had so recently pronounced. These are some of the grounds on which I base my conviction that we have the country with us in this proposal.
And in these circumstances I tell my noble friend who has moved this Amendment 592 that I cannot support him, although, like himself, I am an advocate of the referendum. I am an advocate of the referendum in appropriate cases, of which I do not conceive this to be one. My advocacy of the referendum in 1910, as now, was and is limited to cases where, as I conceive it, the matter is in doubt as to what the electorate of the country really desired; and, secondly, as a means of solving all the difficulties arising from cases, of which this is not one, in which the two Houses of Parliament have come to a disagreement. In view of the agreement which was, happily, arrived at a few nights ago, I trust that your Lordships' House will not interpose a further delay in the satisfaction of claims which we believe to be just and well-founded and entertained by the majority of the people of this country. I hope your Lordships will bear in mind that the advocates of woman suffrage have already suffered quite enough in the way of having their hopes rendered apparently futile by the adoption of dilatory tactics.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I should like to say a word or two, and only a word or two, before a statement is made from the Government Bench. The position taken up by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh seems to me to be unassailable in argument. Throughout these discussions we have contended that there were grave reasons for doubting whether this immense change was desired by the electorate of the country and, more than that, whether it was desired by the women themselves. We seek to put these questions to the test, and the only test to which they can be put—namely, a direct appeal limited to the particular matter at issue. And, let me say, I am glad to learn that my noble friend is prepared to limit the reference which he desires to make to an appeal to the women, because I think if the women gave an unambiguous vote in favour of what is proposed it is improbable that the electorate would turn against them. I say that the referendum is not only a good way of ascertaining how the women of this country regard the matter, but it is the only way in which we can really get at their opinions. This procedure is, to my mind, specially attractive because it seems to me that by resorting to it we meet effectually the argument, so constantly used in debate last week, that we were offering what was called an insult to the women.
593 You cannot possibly contend that we shall be offering an insult to the women if we give them an opportunity of saying themselves whether they desire the franchise or not. Nor am I at all intimidated by the argument used just now by the noble Marquess who leads on the other side of the House, Lord Crewe, that in his opinion it was an anomaly to ask the women themselves whether they desired the franchise or not. I fail altogether to see what the anomaly is. We make a challenge. You express the view that the change is desired. We doubt it, and we ask you to appeal to the only authority which can give us a decisive finding upon the question.
The question which naturally occurs to one is whether, by supporting the Amendment of my noble friend, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, we shall, from the practical point of business, advance our cause. Let me examine that for one moment. Those of us who are opposed to female suffrage are anxious to do what we can to prevent it, and, if we cannot prevent it, at any rate to make our protest in the most decided manner possible. So far as our protest is concerned, I doubt whether anything could be very much stronger than the protest which some of us made on Thursday of last week. The speeches made by my noble and learned friend Lord Loreburn, by the Lord Chancellor, by Lord Curzon himself, up to the point when he announced his intention of not taking part in the Division, were protests as strong as any Parliamentary protest could be. Can we do anything more, not by way of protest, but as a practical step to prevent a change which we believe to be a disastrous one? I think that it is true to some extent that the position was compromised by the Division of last week, and I think it also quite possible that the forces arrayed against us may be reinforced by the vote of some members of this House who are strongly opposed to the referendum. We shall, I suppose, be given to understand again that the House of Commons has spoken, that the House of Commons is in no mood to listen to arguments of this kind, and that His Majesty's Government cannot do anything to influence the action of that House, and therefore we shall be told that we are obliged to accept defeat. That is, as far as I understand it, the attitude of the noble Viscount who is in charge of the Bill.
I do, however, submit to your Lordships 594 that the issue to-night is a different one from that which was before us last Thursday. On that occasion we were frankly seeking to deprive women of the vote. To-night we are not seeking to do that. On the contrary, we imply as distinctly as possible that if the result of the referendum should show that the franchise is desired by women we are ready to abide loyally by the verdict. In these circumstances, even if it was reasonable for my noble friend the Leader of the House, whose absence we all regret, to stampede the forces opposed to the clause by the speech which he delivered on Thursday night, it does not seem to me equally reasonable that the same kind of argument should be allowed to prevail upon the present occasion. I cannot help hoping that if any more be said from the Government Bench we shall be told that His Majesty's Government recognise the fact that we are not debating to-night the same issue which we were debating last Thursday, and that, if the majority of votes cast here this evening should be in favour of the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Balfour, His Majesty's Government will do what lies within them in order to bring about elsewhere the consideration to which our arguments are entitled.
Let me say—this shall he my last word—that although, as the noble Marquess opposite suggested, there may be technical difficulties in the way of applying machinery with which we are not familiar, and although those difficulties may not be inconsiderable, yet any difficulties of that kind seem to me absolutely trivial and negligible compared with the immense gravity of the issue which we are called upon to decide.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am not quite sure whether your Lordships are desirous of coming to a decision on the Amendment at this moment, but I should like to ask leave to say a few words so that I may not give a silent vote.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
I understand that a good many of your Lordships desire to speak on this subject. In those circumstances perhaps it would be for the 595 general convenience if the noble Marquess would himself move the adjournment of the discussion on this Amendment until to-morrow.
§ On Question, House resumed, and to be again in Committee to-morrow.