§ House again in Committee (according to Order).
§ [The EARL of KINTORE in the Chair.]
§ Discussion resumed on the following new clause (after Clause 4) moved by Lord BALFOUR of BURLEIGH—
§ "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, 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.
"(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.598
§ "(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 MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I desire, if your Lordships will permit one egotistical sentence, to say to the House that personally I regret the advent of woman suffrage. It is not that I take the extreme view which has been expressed on previous occasions during this Committee discussion. I do not think that the advent of woman suffrage means the end of the world, or even the end of the British Empire. I have a great confidence in the good sense and political instinct of my fellow-countrymen and of my fellow-countrywomen. But I believe that it is a step in the wrong direction. It is a step, that is to say, which may be taken to give the sanction of Parliament and of public opinion to the idea that it is the part of the woman to undertake public life rather than home life. I do not say that it will produce this consequence, but it tends in that direction; and, if that consequence did follow, then I think that this would be very serious and might deserve some of the strong expressions which have been used by the opponents of woman suffrage.
But although I regret the advent of woman suffrage, I voted against the noble and learned Earl, Lord Loreburn, the other night; and I did so, not upon grounds directly connected with the merits of the question, but because I thaught that the carrying of his Amendment would place us in a very difficult position in relation to the other House of Parliament. If we had negatived Clause 4 it might have laid us open to considerable misconception—namely, that the House of Lords did not admit in any circumstances 599 the principle of woman suffrage. I am not prepared to say that in the face of public opinion. It was also open to this difficulty, that it was a direct negative of a proposal made by the House of Commons. It was not an alternative proposal which we might send for their acceptance; it was a direct negative of a proposal at which they had arrived by a very large majority. I thought it was unlikely that your Lordships, on a future occasion, would adhere to the decision which the noble and learned Earl sought to persuade the House to adopt. In all those circumstances I recorded my vote in the other Lobby.
We have now to decide a different question. I think that nothing is more apparent from these debates—if it were not certain before—than the wholly precarious foundation upon which this proposal of woman suffrage rests. That was admitted yesterday by the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill (Lord Peel). His authority may in this one particular appear to be suspect, because, although he was not able to follow up his opinion by his vote, everybody knows that he is an opponent of woman suffrage. But a much more important witness was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster. He spoke the other day as a warm supporter of woman suffrage, and admitted in the frankest manner that this particular line which has been drawn, fixing the woman's vote at about 6,000,000, is a purely temporary line, and that nobody can possibly defend it on its merits. It follows from this that, if the country accepts the proposal as it stands, we shall be committed in effect to a woman's suffrage as complete as is the man's suffrage under the Bill. That is a very formidable proposal even for a man who, like myself, does not hold strong views upon the principle. It means that, by the decision to which Parliament may come upon this Bill, we are going to sanction an electorate in which the woman's vote will be not only powerful but predominant.
I was very much struck—as no doubt were all your Lordships—by the speech made the other night by my noble friend, Lord Lytton. He always speaks with the greatest effect and eloquence in this House, but on no subject has he spoken so effectively as upon this question of the woman's vote. The noble Earl's great point was that the woman's vote had been sanctioned over and over again by the electorate and 600 by public opinion. I thought that there was a great deal in that speech. The argument seemed to me to be very strong. It was subject, of course, to this deduction—namely, that people who attack are always more articulate than the people who defend. Those who wanted the change spoke much more readily and much more forcibly than the contented people who wished things to go on as they were. That is the perpetual handicap under which the Conservative Party always lies. But apart from that, it was even then to some extent academic. The proposed change was not absolutely imminent, and that involved yet another deduction from the cogency of the argument of my noble friend.
Apart from these two considerations, there is this other consideration which appears to me to be very much more weighty. The proposal to which public opinion was asked to assent in the years to which my noble friend was referring was a limited admission of woman suffrage. I was looking only this morning at the debate upon Sir George Kemp's Bill. I do not pretend to be as familiar with it as are some of your Lordships, but I think that was the last Bill which was voted upon in the House of Commons before the present measure. That Bill would have enfranchised 1,000,000 women. I do not mean to say that I have made the calculation, but I take it from Sir George Kemp's speech. That was the actual proposal before the country. Am I to be told that we can assume as a matter of absolute confidence that a public opinion and an electorate which were favourably disposed, if they were favourably disposed, to the admission of 1,000,000 women to the electorate may really be taken to accept a proposal which involves a majority of the electorate being women, to the enormous extent of 10,000,000 or 12,000,000 votes? That appears to me to be exaggerating the effect of those expressions of public opinion beyond all possible reason. I do not think that we can assume that public opinion which thought that a certain admission of woman's influence in the electorate was sound, necessarily meant that they wanted woman's influence in the electorate to predominate.
It is one of my chief complaints of the results of the Speaker's Conference that it has made a moderate solution of the woman question impossible. It was quite evident 601 that this would be the case if they adopted the Report which they have adopted. They were told so over and over again. If your Lordships were to agree, as the Speaker's Conference did agree, and as this Bill is now proposing, that manhood suffrage—for it is in effect manhood suffrage—shall be the law, then there appears to be no alternative, if you are to have woman suffrage at all, except an extreme form of woman suffrage. Lord Buckmaster explained it with great clearness in his speech the other day. He went through all the possible alternatives to the limited proposal of woman suffrage, and he rejected them all, admitting that there was no stopping place and that you must take this Bill as an instalment, a purely temporary instalment, which is to proceed at no very distant date to the complete admission of women to the franchise upon the same footing as men.
It seems to me, apart altogether from the merits of the case, that looked at merely from the point of view of constitutional procedure we cannot assume the consent of the electorate to this enormous proposal which is now made for your Lordships' acceptance. A proposal, therefore, is submitted by my noble friend, Lord Balfour, that we should have a referendum. It seems, on the face of it, a most reasonable proposal. If you do not know what the electorate really think, why should you not ask them? There is no country in the world excepting our own which does not put some safeguard in the way of a profound constitutional change. Every other Constitution insists upon special safeguards before there is a great constitutional change, and that without any reference made to what may be called amateur estimates of what may be public opinion at the moment. I think the American Constitution requires a two-thirds majority. [A NOBLE LORD: Three-fourths.] I find I have understated it. And this must take place whatever estimate politicians, or statesmen of the type of my noble friend Lord Lytton, may have formed of public opinion. Apart altogether from these estimates, the constitutional safeguards have to be observed.
My noble friend, Lord Balfour, proposes a very simple constitutional safeguard. He says, "If there is any doubt of what the electorate want, ask them." That is the simplest thing in the world. I notice that my noble friend, Lord Stuart of Wortley, 602 doubted whether this was a suitable subject for the referendum, and he did so upon the very remarkable ground that it does not divide the great Parties. He seemed to think that the only things which ought to be referred to the electors are questions upon which the two great Parties are divided in opinion. That seems to me a very arbitrary distinction. Why should not the poor electors have a right to speak upon other things as well? He thought Lord Balfour was extremely cunning in having produced this proposal for a referendum. I do not think anybody who knows Lord Balfour would suspect him of being "slim" in things of this kind, or in any respect. The truth is that my noble friend was not particularly cunning—that is what people often think but was only straightforward. All he said in effect was, "I have always been in favour of the referendum as a constitutional remedy, and this appears to be pre-eminently a case in which it ought to be tried."
The referendum proposal as it stands in Lord Balfour's name consists of two parts, and my only objection to it is not on principle, but it seems to me to be unduly cumbrous in these hasty days—first one referendum and then another. I observe that my noble friend Lord Halifax has placed an alternative proposal upon the Paper. It appears for the first time to-day, and it dispenses with a second referendum. I do not know what view Lord Balfour will take of that alternative proposal, but personally I should be quite satisfied if the House sees fit to take the smaller proposal rather than the larger one—that is, a referendum to the women alone. The noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, Lord Crewe, regarded this as an absurd proposal. He thought that if women were capable of answering the question which was put to them, they were also capable of having the vote. There is some truth in that, but, after all, the matter is very simple. We all believe—certainly the noble Marquess believes, if he is a true Liberal—in government by consent. Is it unreasonable, if you believe in government by consent, to ask people whether they do consent? It seems the most straightforward thing you can do. A number of women of great eminence and distinction come before us and say, "We are suffering from an intolerable wrong. We require the vote. We demand the vote in the name of our sisters." Is it unreasonable to find 603 out whether they really represent their sisters when they make that observation? It seems to me to follow almost as a matter of course, if there is any doubt. I dare say the noble Marquess has no doubts. He may be quite certain that all the women, or the majority of the women, in England would like to have the vote. If there is any doubt, however, surely it is not an unreasonable thing to ask the question. If there is any competence in your plea that the women want the vote, why not ask them? It seems so simple. There is no way of escaping from the logic of it.
Now, do the women want the vote? Well, my Lords, I do not know. My noble friend Lord Lytton told us of great organisations which had voted for it. I am sure he was entirely accurate in what he stated; but if I were to judge from the correspondence which has reached me since this matter was before your Lordships on the present occasion, I should certainly have come to the conclusion that there was a large body of women who did not want the vote. Your Lordships heard Lord Bryce tell us the other night of representations which had been made to him to the effect that there was a very large body of women who did not want the vote. What is very striking is the sort of language used by these ladies who do not want the vote. One of them said to me, "It would be degrading to be ruled by a majority of women." If a man had said that if he had been sufficiently rude to say that one would have understood it, but that a woman should say that it was degrading to be governed by a majority of women was an observation which very much impressed me, because it means that there is a certain body of women—how large, of course, we do not know—who not only are indifferent to the vote but who actively dislike it, and consider that women ought not to be part of the governing element of the community. That people should hold such a view, and that a great number of them should hold it—because that is undeniable—does seem to me to constitute a very strong reason for a referendum asking the women whether they do or do not want the vote.
What, then, should your Lordships do? I have frankly admitted to the House my own personal view, whatever value it may have; but, with that exception, I have tried to argue the question in a purely judicial spirit. What ought the 604 revising Chamber, the Second Chamber, whose business it is to see that no change in the law is carried except after due consideration and by the wishes of the people—what ought it to do in such circumstances? I am forced to the conclusion that your Lordships can do nothing else but vote for this referendum, or at any rate for the referendum proposed by Lord Halifax. One of your Lordships—I think it was Lord Crewe—asked what we were going to do on a future occasion, supposing the House of Commons did not agree with this view. It is quite right to ask us to look ahead, because we have had a good deal of experience of this sort of thing. I certainly am not going to say that there are not occasions when your Lordships ought not only to put an Amendment into a Bill but to adhere to it at whatever cost. I go further and say that unless when your Lordships put Amendments into a Bill you adhere to some of them, you might just as well not be sitting here at all.
But there are Amendments of another class—Amendments in the nature of proposals which we make to the country and to the other House. As to what we should do with such an Amendment if it is disagreed to in another place, that must depend upon the circumstances of the time and the position in which the question finds itself on that occasion. I would certainly not like to lay down anything beforehand, so far as I am concerned, as to what the action of your Lordships ought to be. For the present moment, and the present Division, which no doubt will ensue, I cannot escape from the logic of the considerations that I have ventured to lay before your Lordships, and if my noble friend goes into the Lobby I shall vote with him.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I think that the Amendment which stands in my name is substantially the same as that moved by Lord Balfour. The only difference is that it limits the referendum to women and excludes all reference to men. In view of what has fallen from the noble Marquess who has just sat down, and of what was said by the noble Viscount who is in charge of the Bill, and by Lord Lansdowne and Lord Bryce yesterday, I think that it will be convenient for me to say at once what I have to say in regard to my Amendment. Encouraged by what has fallen from members of this House, I believe that it 605 may meet with a wider acceptance than the larger proposal.
We are all agreed, my Lords, that the question before us is one of very great importance, and one the issues of which it is almost impossible to forecast. Opinion on the question is fundamentally divided. I am not going to enter into those fundamental differences on the present occasion, except to say that, so far as I am able to judge from the course of this debate so far as it has gone, much that has been said has been founded on the assumption that what holds right as to the relations between man and man holds right as to the relations between man and woman. I emphatically deny that, as I deny that the privilege of the franchise is a right. The franchise is a privilege and not an inherent right; and therefore, as it seems to me, the whole question is whether it is expedient in the interests of the State to grant this extension of the franchise.
All argument founded upon the inherent right of women to vote or upon the conduct of women during the war—and no one has more admiration for their conduct than I have—appears to me to be strictly irrelevant. In regard to the consequences, I cannot for bear saying that the suggestion that if the franchise is denied to the women we have reason to fear a recurrence of the outrages we all remember, suggests something which is neither a credit to the women nor a credit to your Lordships' House. I therefore limit myself strictly to the question whether it is not in the highest degree expedient, considering the issues which are involved, that we should ascertain the mind of the women themselves on this question. In regard to that, I have only two things to say. The noble Viscount, Lord Bryce, yesterday alluded to the very important document on this subject, containing the names of something like 2,000 women. I have made it my business to look carefully through that document. I know it has not been very widely circulated, and I think your Lordships' House will perhaps allow me to give a summary of its contents. The names were collected without hardly any organisation, and in the course of a very few days. Amongst these names are those of large numbers of women, illustrious and distinguished workers in the war; of women running their own hospitals and working in them night and day; members of important county organisations, and the like, 606 down to scores of nurses, V.A.Ds., clerks, munition workers, cooks, laundry workers in military camps, and numbers of others, and I have no hesitation in saying that all these women, who are doing admirable work in the war, will be deeply disappointed if your Lordships' House refuses to grant this referendum and allow them to express their opinion on a subject which vitally concerns them. And the more you admire their work, surely the more need there is that you should consult their opinions.
The second point to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention is the fact, which I do not think has been sufficiently noticed in the course of this debate, that women already practically possess all the necessary means for bringing their influence to bear on important social measures in which we look for their help after the war. The other evening the Bishop of London alluded to Mrs. Humphry Ward in this connection. I venture to say that there is no woman whose opinion is more entitled to respect in this matter than Mrs. Humphry Ward. Nobody can accuse her of being retrograde; she is one of the most distinguished Englishwomen, and I am going to ask leave of your Lordships to read a portion of a letter which I have received from her. She writes as follows:—As the Bishop of London in his speech yesterday made reference to myself by name, and laid great stress—so far as I could hear exactly what he said—in connection with it on the questions of housing, schools, and infant welfare as specially requiring the concession of the Parliamentary vote to women, may I venture to submit the following considerations to the Lords Committee in reply? If women desire to affect the housing conditions of the large towns, in the first place this has been for many years past in their power as municipal electors. It was the London County Council, if I remember right, that cleared the Boundary-street area; and every one will remember the very interesting and far-reaching experiments in municipal housing of the Glasgow Town Council. The municipal electors are now to be increased fourfold. There will be a corresponding increase, no one can doubt, in the number of women elected on local bodies.Therefore the power of women in regard to municipal elections and on matters connected with municipal affairs will be largely increased. There will be no doubt a large number of women on these local bodies, and therefore Mrs. Humphry Ward says—I submit that the power of the women over conditions of housing and sanitation in our towns will be amply sufficient without the Parliamentary vote.607 I think we cannot deny that this is a fact; and so also with education, and with regard to the questions of infantile mortality, schools, infant clinics, play centres, &c. I do not want to enumerate all these matters to your Lordships, but in all these questions the co-operation of the local authorities with the Local Government Board and the Board of Education becomes more important, and, quite apart from the vote, women will have every kind of opportunity of exercising their influence in these matters.
There is one other point which Mrs. Humphry Ward mentions which I do not think has been referred to in this debate, and I should like to allude to it. The Bishop of London referred to matters of Criminal Law legislation. It is a very remarkable fact, in regard to marriage and divorce, that in the suffrage States of America there has been an enormously greater prevalence of divorce as contrasted with the non-suffrage States. The letter continues—Nine States adopted woman suffrage between 1869 and 1912. The increase in the number of divorces during that period, over the previous twenty-year period, was—for the whole of the United States, 187.7 per cent.; for the nine suffrage States 241.8 per cent.; and for the New England States, which have most steadily resisted the suffrage, only 68.8 percent.I do not know whether your Lordships are aware of the sort of statements that have been made with regard to the whole of that subject in America by responsible women. I am not going to allude to them any further to-day, but the fact that in the States which have adopted woman suffrage there is such a large increase of divorce is a very important one which we have to consider if we are to guard the morals of this country.
I would like to say one other thing on this subject. I understand that in Tasmania and New Zealand, where the suffrage has been given to women, it has not done anything particular for the women, but has largely played into the hands of the Socialists. There are Socialists and Socialists. There is Christian Socialism, with which I have a great deal of sympathy. There is a Socialism with which I have absolutely none. There are democracies which are good, and there are democracies which are bad; but no one who knows anything of the history of the world can deny that Socialism has a very great aptitude for captivating democracy and 608 working great evil in consequence. After this war is over and we are face to face with the enormous difficulties which will surround us on every side—difficulties in which the social question will play a very prominent part—do let us be very careful of what we do to increase those difficulties. Is it not in the very highest degree expedient that before we take a step which may land us in very great and serious difficulties we should at least take the trouble to ascertain what the women think in regard to this matter? I trust that your Lordships will, for the sake of the women themselves, agree that this matter shall be referred to them by such a referendum as I have the honour to propose to your Lordships' House.
THE LORD CHAIRMAN
We are still on Lord Balfour's Amendment, but I imagine that it will be perfectly competent to take the two together.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
If Lord Balfour is going to withdraw his Amendment in favour of that of Lord Halifax, would it not be more convenient for him to do it now?
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I rise at once in answer to that appeal. Personally I think it just to the men that they should have a chance of giving the vote to women if they choose. I am bound to say that it is extremely unlikely, if the woman's referendum went in favour of the vote, that the men would themselves refuse it. I thought it right, however, to put down the Amendment in a complete form. But if it is the wish of the House to take the vote upon the noble Viscount's Amendment rather than upon mine, there is no difficulty in allowing mine to be negatived without a Division. A Division could then be taken upon the noble Viscount's Amendment.
§ LORD BURNHAM
By the elaborate Amendment that has been moved by Lord Balfour of Burleigh, he seeks to reverse the smashing verdict given by your Lordships' House last Thursday. I would suggest to him that it would not be very fair, and I am sure that he would be the last to countenance anything of the sort, to reverse in a comparatively thin House 609 what was adopted by a very large House on that occasion. His Amendment is really an elaborate mystification, because it provides for a two-storied referendum without any steps between the higher and the lower storey. I do not understand that Lord Balfour has withdrawn it altogether, but I doubt whether any of your Lordships reading it can tell how that referendum would work as it appears on the Paper.
In regard to the other Amendment which is under discussion at the same time, tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, I would point out to your Lordships that it provides for a referendum of those who are now registered as local government electors, and is a simpler issue than that raised by the Amendment of Lord Balfour, and in some ways it is better adopted for discussion. May I appeal to the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill that, in regard to this Amendment, he and those who sit with him should support, what is really regarded now as a res judicata by the vote of Thursday last. Political neutrality does not earn or perhaps deserve very much gratitude, any more than does neutrality in a military conflict, and I do not think that it is a very dignified course for the Minister in charge of the Bill to walk out when the Division comes. The noble Earl who leads the House, Earl Curzon of Kedleston, did not obtain much gratitude for the magnificent speech that he made against woman suffrage on Thursday last. On the contrary, the very irascible body of ladies who espouse that cause have done nothing but abuse him ever since. It does not do to walk out of the House. One of the earliest of my political memories was that of the noble Viscount. Lord Haldane, saying some years ago that he would signify his disagreement with a Bill by walking out of the House. He was sitting next to the Speaker's Chair, and it was a crowded House and not a very effective exit. It never is an effective exit when a Minister or anybody signifies his disapproval in that way. I hope, therefore, that the noble Viscount on this occasion will accept the decision given in a full House and endorse it with his vote in the Division Lobby.
We have heard a good deal in this latter part of the debate of the doctrine of the mandate. The doctrine of the mandate is foreign to the spirit of the British Constitution, and I distrust and dislike it, but if there ever was a case where a mandate has been given by the electorate over a long course of elections (if discussion is the 610 principal condition), it was the case of woman franchise. The mandate is generally trotted out as a partisan argument by all Parties in turn. It is like a blunderbuss. It very seldom goes off, and when it does it generally hits the wrong person. The doctrine of the mandate applied to this is singularly inapplicable, because there has never been a single Election since 1868 in which the question of female suffrage has not been discussed on the platform. I have fought twelve contested Parliamentary elections, and in every one of them I was pledged either for or against it. I regard consistency as the weakest of all political virtues. You cannot cite a single case in which the country has been more seized of a subject or one which has been more fully discussed than that of woman suffrage, and I doubt whether any noble Lord thinks that at any General Election we could obtain a clean-cut decision on woman suffrage. After the war is it likely, with the multiform problems that will press for solution, that woman suffrage will be the one issue on which the electors will declare their views?
The answer, of course, of Lord Balfour of Burleigh and of Lord Halifax is that this is a reason for submitting here and now to a referendum. A referendum is a new-fangled and unknown machinery in our Constitution. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said that organic changes ought not to be made without authority obtained in this or some other way, but that would apply to the case of men just as much as to the case of women. When you are told that the women do not want the vote, throw your minds back to the time of the last Reform Act in 1885. You were then told exactly the same thing about the agricultural labourer, and yet nobody suggested that there should be a special referendum to the agricultural labourer to find out whether he desired the vote or not. And here you are going to create a special machinery totally unknown and hitherto totally untried for this special purpose. I can hardly believe that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, can realise what the difficulties would be.
It is true that the referendum has been used in this country for some small issues of local government. No borough council can introduce a Bill in Parliament without a local referendum, no public library can be set up without a local referendum. But these are small matters; and here you are 611 going specially to introduce a wholly new principle into our constitutional machinery for ascertaining what, I suppose, most of your Lordships think has at any rate been pretty fully discussed, and upon which we are all of us able to make up our minds, if we can make them up about any single subject. Besides, the referendum is usually accompanied by the Initiative and Recall. I find no proposal for either in the Amendment of Lord Balfour, or that of Lord Halifax. You are to introduce this referendum for this purpose only, and I do not quite make out to whom you are going to appeal. It is to be hung up for those who are to be registered under the Bill as local government electors, but they would not be the same constituency as that to which Lord Halifax appeals, because he appeals only to those who are separately qualified now.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I meant to state quite clearly that it is those who would be registered under the Bill.
§ LORD BURNHAM
Very well. In any case, this is to be put to them, and put to them alone, and although there is an organic change which amounts, we all admit, to a complete revolution under this Bill, no question is to be put to the men in regard to their further enfranchisement. You are going to have manhood suffrage without any referendum, but in regard to the women there is to be a special machinery set up which I venture to think very few of your Lordships have ever thought would be practically applied in this country. I do not know that you can say that it has been a success anywhere. At the present moment in Australia it has resulted in the most appalling confusion of politics, and has rendered the position of the National Government most difficult and obscure, and I hardly think your Lordships will be in favour of taking a revolutionary step of this sort in order to settle what, after all, if it is necessary, could be settled simply by the postponement of the Bill, if that is your wish. I think on the whole that would be the better way. Rather than set up the referendum it would be better to postpone this Bill until an appeal has been made to the electors. Those who are most Conservative in this House and most attached to the old forms of the Constitution will, I think, be wise to pause before they introduce a device that may be used in a very fatal way against some of 612 the principles which they hold dear, because there is no system under which the organised and manipulated vote of Labour can be so easily turned, if it is to be turned, to undesirable issues, as by the machinery of the referendum.
Lord Halifax appealed to the local government electors. He says that the women will do well enough if they obtain the local government vote. Has he considered the extent to which the action of local government has been crippled by the fact that women have not been represented in Parliament, which deals every year with private and public Bills extending the functions of local bodies. Why, at the present moment there is still under consideration the Public Health Bill. There is, I think, no subject in which women are so much interested, and none on which they are so fit to give an opinion. Whatever is thought of Mrs. Fawcett's general defence of woman suffrage, one cannot help feeling that when she says that the training of motherhood and the knowledge of what is, I believe, in these days called mother-craft, are very valuable for the assistance of the State in these social matters, it could not be better exemplified than here. And when Lord Halifax says that not enough has been done in the past, quoting Mrs. Humphry Ward, to use the machinery of local government for this purpose, he forgets that it is just these women, the mothers of those who are fighting, the wives of the working classes, who have had no vote in the past. That was the difficulty that met us at the Speaker's Conference.
It has been said by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, "Why not have stopped at what was called the Conciliation Bill?" The reason why we would not stop there was the manifest unfairness of the present system of local government franchise. By this the wives—that is to say, the most efficient of the woman—are shut out from the franchise, even for local purposes. There was another reason. I am not claiming that we ought to be dictated to by Labour, but there was not a single. Labour representative in the House of Commons who would accept that solution of the difficulty. They said it was a class franchise, and they would not be parties to inserting for political purposes a class franchise which they condemned for the purpose of local government. That is the reason why the Conference did not adopt 613 the framework of the Conciliation Bill with the further proposals which are now before your Lordships' House. I do not think that, in any case, we can reasonably adopt the doctrine that Lord Halifax laid down, that woman's influence tends to the slackening of the marriage tie or the growth of immorality. I doubt whether in any assembly of women suffragists or anti-suffragists he would care to make such an allegation or that he would receive a large measure of support. I do not think he quite meant it, when he said that in some States where woman suffrage prevails in America 187 per cent. of the marriages are dissolved. There must be some other figure which he intended to give; at the same time, all the available evidence on this subject in the United States and elsewhere shows that on the whole the influence of women in social legislation has been on the side of clean government. There is great truth in what he says that in regard to reconsideration of the marriage laws women ought to be heard, and they ought to have their part in arriving at the decision.
In any case, I hope that you will not reverse in a thin House what you accepted on principle in a full House last Thursday. You have heard prophecies about "leaps in the dark" at every successive stage we have taken in the development of our Constitution. There is nothing new about that, and you no more need to be afraid of the women than of the men. On the whole I think the women's vote will have a steadying influence on our electoral contests, just as I think it will diminish the bitterness of personal competition and personal controversy. What is more important, and certainly what you can ascertain without any new-fangled scheme of referendum, is the sense of the country, and I do not think anybody believes that the general sense of the country is not in favour of the recommendations of the Conference embodied in this Bill. The sense of the country is good sense, and I should very much lament it if your Lordships this evening, by a flank attack and by a side wind, were to take advantage of the fact that so many of the supporters of woman suffrage are not here to-night, in order, perhaps ineffectually, to set yourselves against a national settlement arrived at in an impartial Conference, against the decisions of which no adequate reasons have been given here this evening.
§ VISCOUNT CHAPLIN
It may be within the recollection of your Lordships that on the Second Reading of the Bill I made a suggestion in the hope that it might be possible to arrive at something in the nature of an agreed position with regard to the differences which exist amongst us on the question of granting the suffrage to women. It was for that reason that I was glad when the proposal was made for a referendum; and I was still more pleased to hear the speech of my noble friend Lord Halifax, because I thought that his proposal presented a greater likelihood of that agreement being arrived at which I had suggested than perhaps any other course that could be taken.
The noble Lord who has just sat down appears to consider that, in consequence of the Division and the rejection by an immense majority of the Amendment to Clause I, this question has now become a res judicata; and he altogether objects, if I understood him rightly, to anything which might be considered to be in any way a flank attack upon woman suffrage in your Lordships' House. That, I think, is an entire misapprehension. As I understand the Amendment suggested by Lord Halifax, it is intended to further rather than to prevent the concession of votes to women according to the numbers laid down in the Bill. I cannot understand, nor am I able to follow, the objection of Lord Burnham. The noble Lord says that this question has been before Parliament since 1868, and therefore that gives to women some right to expect that we should give them the vote. I remember in 1875 moving and carrying in the House of Commons, an Amendment which was ultimately successful in rejecting the Bill after it had passed its Second Reading. Your Lordships may be aware that in those days in the House of Commons we had the same privilege as that possessed by your Lordships, of moving an Amendment which would destroy a Bill on its going into Committee, I cannot see that Lord Burnham has any legitimate justification for asking your Lordships to have nothing further to do with the attempt to come to a settlement with regard to a referendum.
I pass to some more general considerations. Whether it is because of the fate which attended the Amendment to Clause 4 the other day—which in my opinion was 615 entirely due to the announcement made by the noble Earl the Leader of the House after presenting what I thought was a most powerful indictment of woman suffrage in one of the ablest speeches I ever heard—whether it is owing to that or not, at any rate up till last night I thought that the debate in support of the referendum had certainly gone very much against those who were in favour of it. Be that as it may, that would not have deterred me from doing all I could to rally those who opposed woman suffrage, and endeavour still to maintain our views and to give effect to them, subject, of course, to the consideration I have already mentioned. I was not in the least surprised at the effect of the announcement made by the noble Earl. I think it took the House—it certainly took the supporters of woman suffrage—entirely by surprise; and, although I am certain that my noble friend acted in entire accord with what he conceived to be his duty, his defection was as great a loss to the opponents of woman suffrage as was the wholly unexpected loss of Russia to the Allies in the great war in which we are now engaged. The former is, of course, a very much smaller matter, but it has had very much the same effect as had that other larger and more serious defection.
I wish to say that I entirely adhere to the position which I have taken up from the outset—namely, that controversial legislation is now entirely out of place. This attitude has brought down upon me the judgment of my noble friend the Leader of the House, and, as I have had no opportunity since his speech of saying anything in reply, I am now going to say it. The noble Earl proved my case for me. He quoted the words of the Minister who was responsible for the original statement. On February 3, 1915, Mr. Asquith said in the House of Commons—It would not only be idle, but I think it would be offensive to the good sense of the nation, to proceed at such a time [i.e., during the war] with controversial legislation.Mr. Asquith could not have said anything stronger than that. It was then, and I believe is still, "offensive to the good sense of the nation." It is certainly offensive to my sense and to the sense of a great many others who agree with me. The proof of the truth of what Mr. Asquith said is that the matter led to the most violent controversy in the House of Commons 616 before this Bill left that Assembly. Not only that, but in this House we were warned by my noble friend Lord Selborne that if we persisted in the course which some proposed to take we should split the nation from the top to the bottom. Could there be a stronger condemnation for departing from the original understanding? We in this House are the last revising authority, and when new proposals of this gigantic nature are made it is our bounden duty to examine them most carefully, and to take any steps in dealing with them that we may deem to be right. We ought to be guided, in my humble opinion, by the merits of the case and not by fear of the House of Commons or the objections they may take to any course that we think it right to pursue in a particular matter. Many of the members of the House of Commons who were so anxious to see this legislation have been guided by what seems to them to be a favourable opportunity of pressing their own particular hobby, and I cannot see that that does not leave us with a perfectly free hand to take whatever course we may think either right or desirable in this matter. When my noble friend Lord Curzon endeavoured to pooh-pooh what I said and remarked," You are referring to a Government which was in office three years ago," my reply was that both the present Prime Minister and the ex-Prime Minister were equally parties to the proposal made at that time, that either one or other of them had been in control of the British Government from that time till now, and that they were responsible and are responsible still; and I shall always maintain that we in this House had every right and every justification for making the complaints we have done upon this ground and for taking the course which we have taken.
I do not forget the speech made by the most rev. Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury upon this question, which had, I think, second only to the speech of Lord Curzon, the most powerful effect in deciding the judgment of this House upon the Amendment moved by Lord Lore burn. He referred to the enormous majority in the House of Commons. And how did he describe it? Not as Members representing their constituents, but as "a specimen body of representatives of English citizens." I should like, my Lords, to give the answer to that in the words of a distinguished member of the Government and of the 617 House of Commons. This was the admission that he made at that time—I made up my mind, as I know other members of the House did, that they were to abandon their opposition to this concession of the franchise to women if the recommendations of the Conference were accepted in their entirety by the House of Commons. I am not sure that I should have arrived at that conclusion except upon the severely practical basis that I thought, whether the conclusion were right or wrong, whether I continued to oppose it or not, the women may get the vote. I make no secret of that. I may be quite right or quite wrong, but, if I am right, it affords some practical justification for the course I have adopted.That was an open avowal on the part of this specimen of the British citizen that he was giving his decision, not because he thought it right or was not still opposed to the proposal, but because he was afraid of losing his seat by the votes of the women, who were quite certain shortly to get the vote.
I am afraid I must ask this other question—I am bound to do so because it is upon the authority of the enormous majority in the House of Commons that this is being crammed down our throats—How many members of that House were guided by the same consideration as this distinguished gentleman, who is the Attorney-General? I know something of the members of the House of Commons. I have a vast number of friends there, and have consulted them repeatedly, and I am greatly afraid that on this particular occasion their decisions have undoubtedly been largely governed by the same consideration—not the merits of the case, not whether they think it right that women should have this enormous concession, not whether it would be to the advantage of the country, but whether or not opposition to it might not imperil their own positions in the future. I am afraid that the lack of independence—a lack which has been growing for years, I grieve to say, in the House of Commons, and which creates a different atmosphere altogether from what it was when I first had the privilege of joining that Assembly—is more the cause of votes being given in the way they are given than the actual merits of the cases to be decided.
When I know this and feel it as strongly as I do, I should be failing in my duty if I were afraid to get up in my place and tell you why I do not attach that importance which has been attached to it by so many other people to the fact of the enormous 618 majority by which this thing was carried in the House of Commons the other day. Excepting upon that ground I have heard very few arguments on the merits of the case, save only in the speech of my noble friend, Lord Selborne, who, I think, in the course of all the years since 1875 during which I have been considering the question, made the only one powerful appeal that I have ever heard in support of the proposal to make this enormous addition to the voting power of the country. As regards the Amendment now before the Committee, I understand that Lord Balfour of Burleigh is quite prepared to withdraw his Amendment if the House desires. If that be so, as far as I am concerned it would give me the greatest possible pleasure to support Lord Halifax in the Amendment which I understand he proposes to move in its place.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Before the discussion proceeds, I wish to say that I understand that it might technically arise that, if my Amendment were negatived, Lord Halifax's Amendment might be thought to be out of order. In those circumstances and upon that ground, and to simplify the procedure, I beg at this moment to ask the leave of the House to withdraw my Amendment, in order that Lord Halifax's may become the substantive Motion.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment moved—
§ Insert as a new clause:
§ ".—(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, at a date to be fixed by His Majesty in Council, 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 under this Act for the purpose of ascertaining whether they are in favour of those provisions.
"(2) The question put to the voters under subsection (1) 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.
§ "(3) If a majority of the women local government electors voting on referendum as aforesaid 619 shall reply to the question in the affirmative, the said provisions of this Act shall come into operation forthwith.
§ "If a majority of the women local government 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."—(Viscount Halifax.)
§ LORD BERESFORD
Lord Burnham told your Lordships that he had fought twelve contested elections, and that his opinion on this question had been divided—sometimes he was for and sometimes against. I fought seven contested elections. In five of them I was directly approached by the women as to what line I would take on woman suffrage. I opposed it, and I told them I would oppose it in the most uncompromising manner if I were returned to Parliament. I gave them my reasons I said that a woman, when she makes up her mind, is far more consistent and far stronger than a man. She is more obstinate and more determined. She keeps her object in view, and does not look to the right or the left. In this respect she is far pluckier than a man. She would go to the stake with a smile on her face. I am perfectly certain that suffragists in late years would have been perfectly ready to stand against a wall and be shot for their views. My argument was that all diplomatic and political questions must be matters of give and take, and that the fine characteristics of women which I have described debarred them from having the vote.
I think the women have been greatly deceived in the past. They have been led to believe that Members would vote for them in the House of Commons and that they would obtain the franchise. When I was in the House of Commons I talked to various Members on the subject, and I was astonished several times by the remark, "It is all right. What we do here doesn't matter. The House of Lords will throw it out." Whether the women supported me or not, I do not know—I got in by large majorities as a rule—but they always said to me that they would rather have an honest opponent than a false friend.
There has been some talk about women's consistency. There is no consistency in politics. If there were consistency, what would become of the Unionist Leaders now? What is the meaning of the word "Unionist"? One of them, I believe, is going to conscript capital. So I read in the newspaper; During my long Parliamentary career since 1874 I have never, 620 with one exception, met a consistent politician. The exception is the right hon. gentleman the Minister of Munitions, and he has always been consistent in the capacity for failure and the promotion of chaos wherever he goes. He is now engaged in inviting strikes in industrial undertakings. I mention him as the Only consistent politician I have ever met on either side of the House. If women do get the vote I do not believe they will vote on the same side. They will be divided in exactly the same way as men are divided.
There is much in the Bill that is most illogical. The measure cannot be permanent when you give votes to women only after they reach thirty years of age, while you give votes to men when they are nineteen. The ultimate result of the Bill will be that women will be in the majority. Logically, I do not see how they can be kept out of this House if it should become elective. They certainly cannot be kept out of the House of Commons, and we may look forward to the time when we shall have heated debates with women in the House of Commons, while the men will sit in the Speaker's Gallery with the grille restored. There is an old saying that it is better to be ruled by a Queen than by a King, because when a King rules he is governed and guided by women, and when a Queen rules she is guided by men. I do not know what position we shall be in in this country when the women rule guided by women, as will no doubt be the case in the future.
I intend to vote for the Amendment of Lord Halifax, because I think it is sound. At any rate, it is democratic, and if we are a democracy surely we ought to ask those people for whom we are going to legislate whether they approve of the proposal or not. I did not support Lord Loreburn. Being a sailor I am accustomed always to look ahead, and I am perfectly certain it is not safe to run your fleet over a minefield. I believe that if the House of Lords had thrown out the clause after the majority which was accorded to it in the House of Commons, the country would have been torn in twain, and this House would have been placed in a most invidious and humiliating position. The Commons would certainly have sent the Bill back, and the House of Lords would have to pipe down and accept it. I do not think it is wise, 621 either in fighting or in politics, not to recognise that there is a great question of expediency in both. In political life it is a question of expediency more than anything else. I think it would be wise to support this Amendment on the doctrine that Lord Salisbury laid down. He suggested that it was more in the nature of a proposal on democratic lines to the House of Commons that the people should be consulted. The only way they can be consulted is by a referendum; and if the House of Commons will not have it, I do not think the House of Lords would be in the same position in giving way on the question as they would have been in if they had adopted Lord Loreburn's Amendment. I think it is very unwise not to look ahead in regard to this question. It would be dangerous in the future if without a referendum we now pass an Act that will be absolutely irrevocable and the result of which was so clearly explained by Lord Curzon.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
My noble friend who has just sat down has made a striking speech, and he intimates that he proposes to vote for the Amendment proposed by Lord Halifax. In what I desire to submit very briefly to your Lordships I hope to confine myself entirely to the point now in view. I approach it if possible in the spirit of the noble Marquess who initiated this evening's debate, as a constitutionalist; and in the spirit of a constitutionalist I hope to be able to persuade your Lordships that it is an absolutely unconstitutional, novel, and indefensible proposition which is put before your Lordships by Lord Halifax.
The first part of the proposal of Lord Balfour of Burleigh is intelligible and consistent. What is a referendum? A referendum, according to usage and according to precedent and argument, is, I think, looked upon as a reference from the body which is invested with legislative power to the power that created that body and of which that body is a representation. It is supposed that the body possessing the delegated power has made a mistake, or has exceeded its mandate, or has misconceived what has been wished, and you refer back to the original authority in order to discover whether a mistake has or has not been made. In most Constitutions, as was said by Lord Salisbury, there is provision of some kind or other, not always by referendum, which shall check an error made by the delegated authority. I have 622 argued in this House in favour of a referendum under special circumstances and to meet occasion, but the arguments are wholly addressed to the question of going behind the delegated authority to the nation which gave it that power The first part of the proposal of Lord Balfour of Burleigh, which he has abandoned, embodied that conception. He proposed to go from Parliament to the creator of the Parliament—the electors—to see whether they did, or did not, approve of what had been done in their name. That was a perfectly legitimate and proper position, provided that there is an adequate cause and sufficient ground for the suspicion, or provided a case has arisen in which it is much more desirable that under some Standing Order or Regulation such an appeal should be made. If Lord Balfour of Burleigh's proposition were now before the House I should endeavour to show to your Lordships that there was no case for its acceptance. There is no doubt of the conformity of the decision of the House of Commons, confirmed by your Lordships' House, with the sentiments of the nation, and by the nation I mean the power which creates and sustains the House of Commons—namely, the electors.
The speech which perhaps struck me most in the discussions on the Amendment moved by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Loreburn, was the speech of the most rev. Primate. He put, in the fewest and plainest words, what appeared to me a convincing argument, that the nation was agreed upon the proposition which then stood before your Lordships' House, and that it would be acting in violation of what everybody knew to be the sentiment of the electorate if you attempted to put aside what had been sent up to you by the House of Commons. In the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Chaplin, there was undisguised animosity towards woman franchise, and there was stress laid upon the departure from the supposed league of neutrality upon political questions; also a confession that the House of Commons was not acting freely but was under a certain compulsion from without, and that a power behind it was pushing it forward. There was a confession that if there was an appeal the same answer would be made as has now been made by the House of Commons as it stands. I have no doubt, if an appeal were made in regular form, a real referendum to the electorate, you would get substantial corroboration of what has been done.
623 What is the proposition before your Lordships now? It is not an appeal to the nation at all. It is not an appeal to the electors. It is an appeal to a certain number of qualified women in order to ask what they think of the proposal to give the Parliamentary vote to all women as proposed under the Bill. That is not a referendum. It may be useful to ask them for their opinion, but they have no authority to speak for their sisters, and it would be very imprudent to indulge in a reference to them in order to ascertain what other women think. There is a certain irony in this appeal to women. The question is whether women as a whole are sufficiently endowed with political knowledge, observance, judgment, foresight, balance of argument, as to be able to decide upon political questions involved in the choice of candidates to represent the people in the House of Commons. These are considerable demands from the women, no doubt, and I should be slow to say that every woman is qualified to satisfy them. I should be slow to say it also of men. Men too often fall short of the political qualities which you desiderate in the electors for the House of Commons. But you are asking women this question, Are you and your sisters fit to pronounce political opinions? If they say, "Yes, we are"—then you say you do not believe they are; you deny them the vote; it is only the verdict of women. How can women say women are fit to vote? The women you ask are a mixed body of women, and you are going to ask them whether women as a whole are fit to vote. If they say they arc, it proves nothing.
§ LORD COURTNEY OF PENWITH
Consider that suggestion now. You are not to ask them whether they are fit to vote; that is a political question beyond your power to decide. You are to ask them whether they wish it for themselves or for their sisters. No one will be bound to vote for the enfranchisement of women. Are you going to ask those ladies who do not wish the vote to say whether the women who wish it shall not be entitled to it? That is an intrusion of domination. I confess I have very little sympathy with those who come forward and say that their brothers or sisters are not fit to receive this or that mark of public confidence, or to be endowed with this or that public 624 function. I never could stand, in the days of the enfranchisement of men, those persons who came forward and said, "You propose to give the vote to one class, like the educated mechanic; believe me, my fellows are not fit to vote." It did not seem to me to be right that any one who did not desire enfranchisement should condemn those who had the same faculties, even the same education, and the same qualities as himself, because they had political desires to which he appeared to be dead. As for the women, the eminently qualified women, the women of title and good position, of education and experience, who exercise so many functions, public and private, who do so much good, why should they take this sort of superiority over their sex and say their sisters are not entitled to do that which they themselves are doing—namely, to pronounce political judgment. This is a curious kind of referendum and really does not deserve the name. You will find nothing like it in any of the books dealing with the subject. It is an absolute innovation, and only suggested to gratify the taste of those ladies who themselves shrink, apparently, from public duties and do not wish their sisters to exercise public duties or to be granted public functions.
One reason why I have always advocated the enfranchisement of women is that, by the use of the suffrage which you give them, you will make them more and more fit, as men have been made more and more fit, for the exercise of political functions. Women are not all now of first-class qualities; nor are men. They are much as my noble and gallant friend suggested just now. You will not find all women voting together. They will go as men have done. I believe that you will not find in such records as we have had of the voting of women in the past any really trustworthy evidence as to what the balance of opinion among women is as compared with the balance among men.
Let me refer to one thing which was mentioned in the previous discussion on this point by the Leader of the House, whose absence we regret so much. Earl Curzon referred to the referendum which had just been taken in Australia. I watched the progress of that referendum with great interest. It was a referendum on the question of conscription, and the result, as your Lordships know, was a refusal of conscription. The first numbers returned gave a majority of 180,000, or something like that, 625 against conscription, and it was said—and this was repeated by the noble Earl, Lord Curzon, in the debate—that that result was the effect of the women's votes, a great majority of them, it was alleged, being against conscription and over-balancing the judgment of the men. But nobody can tell that; it is all guess-work. I believe that the enemy of the woman's franchise always puts down any bad result to the woman's vote. But no one can tell with exactness how that vote is cast. In this particular instance of Australia, there was this remarkable way of testing the matter. I spoke just now of the first return. That was supplemented afterwards by the returns which came from the men in the field. There you got the men voting alone, and it was found that the votes of these men absent in the field confirmed, in about the same proportion, the votes of the men and women at home. In other words, there was a reasonable deduction that the men in the field thought as did the men and women at home. There was no great divergence between them, and the decision against conscription had no reference to the balance of the sexes. I believe that this will be the case in our future political history.
I do not, however, raise this to argue the question of the propriety, or policy, or impolicy, of granting the woman's vote, but I do wish to put in a word to show what appears to me to be of extreme importance—namely, that in the pursuit of this idea of consulting women alone, or a certain class of women, as to whether women should be allowed to vote, you are not pursuing the idea of a referendum at all. You might compare it in this way. You have a country where all the women go about veiled, the law requiring them to be veiled. It is proposed to pass a law that women should be able to go about without wearing veils. It is an emancipation. They may, if you pass the law, go about veiled or not as they please. You are, therefore, consulting them only as to whether some desire to go about unveiled—and you call that a referendum!
As I spent some time not long ago in Australia, where, as your Lordships are aware, women have the vote and where the referendum is a part of the machinery of the Government of the country, I trust that your Lordships will allow me to make a few observations in this debate. I would say first of all, 626 both perhaps to the keen supporters and to the keen opponents of woman suffrage, that the Australian experience is a little disappointing, because I think that it was generally held there that it had not made much difference either one way or the other. I believe that it was considered by some political experts that it had rather strengthened than otherwise the vote of the Labour Party. Possibly that may have been so, but in recent years the Liberal women in Australia have taken steps to improve their political organisation, and therefore I do no think the advantage of the Labour Party, if indeed they have had an advantage, will in the future be so great as it has been in the past.
I think that I can also assure the House, from such experience as I have had in Australia, that some at all events of the fears of the opponents of woman suffrage are not well-founded. There was my noble and learned friend, Earl Loreburn, for example, who feared that women would not be qualified to give an opinion upon questions of Imperial policy. Elections took place not very long ago in Australia when subjects like compulsory military service and the formation of an Australian Fleet Unit were some of the principal topics of discussion, and I have never heard it suggested that the vote of women was given unwisely or indiscreetly upon these and other important questions. Nor have they banded together, as my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh appeared to fear, against the opposite sex. I think that fear, from Australian experience, is also entirely ill-founded. On the whole, I believe that woman suffrage in Australia has worked well, and I think the same has been the experience—perhaps my noble friend Lord Islington will confirm it—in New Zealand. That is one reason why I gave my vote against Earl Loreburn's Amendment in the Division which took place in this House last week.
I would like to say one or two words with regard to the referendum. I was not favourably impressed with what I saw of the working of the referendum in Australia. I think that it is worth noting that the referendum in that country was introduced into the Constitution for one purpose, and for one only, and that was to enable the electors to give their opinion if it were desired to make an alteration in the Constitution. I have not the exact figures, but the general effect of this referendum 627 has been as follows. Where the referendum was taken apart from a General Election, very keen interest was not shown in the proceedings. I think that somewhere between 50 and 60 per cent. of the electors actually voted. But in those cases where the referendum was taken concurrently with a General Election rather a similar result was obtained as for the election of the various candidates, and rather a similar percentage of votes was given; in fact, one may say that a fairly straight Party vote was given on the issues submitted at referenda which were held concurrently with a General Election. Therefore, I doubt whether the referendum has been of so much value as its advocates in this country would have us believe, although no doubt it has been of a certain value in Australia.
There is one exception to what I was saying about a referendum being taken in that country for the purposes of altering the Constitution, and that was the referendum on conscription. But that was taken under a special measure, the War Precautions Act, which is somewhat similar to our Defence of the Realm Act, and it was taken no doubt, as a special war measure. I do not desire to say a word on the direct result of that referendum. Australia has given her decision on that point, and it is for us to accept it: but, as my noble friend, Lord Burnham, very properly said, when you look at the confusion that it has made in the political life of Australia, when you look at the fact that my right hon. friend Mr. Hughes and his Government have been obliged to resign, and that really a somewhat difficult and delicate position has been created, I do not think advocates of the referendum in this country can quote this particular instance as a good example.
Therefore I can say, from such slight experience as I have had, that I am not particularly enamoured of the referendum. Lord Balfour of Burleigh, in the powerful speech he made yesterday, particularly disliked what he called being under the thumb of the wire-puller. If you have frequent referenda in this country, or a referendum every year—and a referendum, after all, is a General Election in miniature—if you are going to have, that and General Elections every five years I think we shall be absolutely under the thumb of the wire-puller, who will be enthroned in a position of power which he has never held before, and I hope never will hold in this country.
628 Then I come to the particular referendum which Lord Halifax would have taken on this clause of the Bill. I am bound to say that that appears to me a most amazing proposal, because you are going to ask women whether they really want something which is obviously of advantage to themselves. There is an old proverb, "You do not look a gift horse in the mouth." To bring it up to date, "You would not look a gift motor car in the gas bag." Really I cannot conceive why women should not accept this privilege which it is proposed to offer them. Of course they will. My noble friend Lord Salisbury says, "If they want it, why not consult them?" I will endeavour to answer that question. In the first place it seems to me entirely superfluous. Naturally, women will want the vote if you offer it to them. In the second place, by setting up the machinery for the referendum you will delay and possibly endanger the passage of this Bill. I understand it is held that there are other reasons why this measure should pass into law as soon as possible. Further, it seems to me that by a side-wind and on a side issue—because, after all, the main issue was decided in this House in the Division last week—you are going to introduce this really gigantic alteration in the Constitution of this country. That does seem to me rather a reckless proceeding for this House to take. I must say I was surprised above all at hearing my noble friend Lord Bryce, whom we all know to be such a great constitutional authority, saying that he would support this particular proposal.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
I said I supported this particular proposal because it was entirely unlike the ordinary referendum, this being a proposal to consult those who had no constitutional means of expressing their opinions at a General Election. That is the reason why I support the proposal of my noble friend Lord Halifax. It is not going behind the House of Commons; it is consulting people who have no other means of stating their wishes and opinions.
Of course, my noble friend speaks with very high authority indeed. I can only say that I entirely differ from him on the particular point at issue. There is one consideration which, in conclusion, I would submit to your Lordships. At the present time, as you are all aware, there are under consideration proposals for 629 the reform of your Lordships' House—proposals at present under discussion in a private Conference, but I think a good deal will be heard of them in the future when that Conference reports. I am one of those who would be glad to see somewhat wider powers given to a reformed Second Chamber than this House at present possesses under the Parliament Act. For my own part I would hope to see many noble Lords present to-day members of a reformed Second Chamber. But it is perfectly idle to deny that there are a great many people in this country, a great many Liberals, for example, who do not hold that view. They are perfectly content with the powers of this House under the Parliament Act, and they are indifferent to its personnel. In the Labour Party it is a matter of common knowledge that there are a great many who are single-Chamber men, and who would prefer, if they had their way, to see this House done away with altogether. My noble friend Lord Beresford said that expediency governs politics in a good many respects, and I think it does, and I doubt whether it is entirely expedient at this time, when proceedings in this House will be closely followed in the country, to pass this Amendment, which would raise up a large number of enemies for this House, because naturally women who see the passage of this Bill endangered will not be likely to be well affected towards us. Therefore for that reason, as well as for the others that I have mentioned, I would respectfully ask your Lordships not to pass the Amendment which Lord Halifax has moved.
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE EARL OF CRAWFORD)
I will follow the example of my noble friend Lord Denman and confine myself strictly to the question of a referendum and the Amendment which is now before the House. I think that the discussion has been, perhaps, somewhat simplified by Lord Balfour having withdrawn his Amendment. I confess that if that Amendment had been carried it would have produced a very cumbrous and, perhaps, a very paradoxical state of things; and by its withdrawal the debate has been made more easy. But it seems to me that Lord Balfour, in withdrawing his Amendment, has cut from beneath his own feet one of the main arguments upon which he and his friends had relied in opposing woman suffrage—an argument to which Lord Chaplin alluded at length 630 this afternoon namely, the unrepresentative character of the present House of Commons.
In the Amendment submitted by Lord Halifax the referendum is to be withdrawn from men as such; it is women alone who are to settle this matter, as though it affected women alone. And women, in the first Parliamentary vote which they are offered, are to be given the right to override the decision of the two Houses of Parliament, and of the Statute, if they wish to do so.
I oppose this Amendment. I want your Lordships to realise what the Amendment is actually and technically going to involve. It is very easy to say, "Let us have a referendum, and that settles the matter; the women will fight it out amongst themselves, and the responsibility, for good or for ill, will rest with them. "That is not beginning to consider the nature of the problem, and, above all, the effects of a referendum at this present crisis of the war. I wish to direct your Lordships' attention to that particular point, on which no stress has been laid by those who advocate a referendum now, as though it were the simplest thing in the world. What is involved by it? If we put this referendum in the Bill the first result will be that the women who want the vote—and there are many scores of thousands of them who do want it, and who are extremely active people—will set about throwing their whole energies into forming the new constituency. There is a chance of 5,000,000, or 5,500,000, or 6,000,000 people being enfranchised under the local government franchise of this Bill. The first thing that they will do will be to devote the whole of their energies to forming a constituency friendly to woman suffrage. That is a form of energy into which I confess I should regret women's activity and power being thrown at this juncture of the war. It will take months and months to form this great constituency. The country will be thrown back again into the throes of propaganda on this question of female suffrage. It will not be propaganda directed to the men. Thank goodness that, for the first time, the males will be absolved from that. It will be propaganda by women amongst women, and, nominally, on behalf of women. It would be a point of honour to the women, as such, to make certain that the vote freely offered to them by 631 Parliament was accepted by women and not brushed aside; and I am convinced in my own mind that if a gift, or a privilege, or a right, of that character is offered to women they would be very unwomanly if they refused to accept it.
But what is the turmoil that is going to be involved by that? Lord Salisbury, speaking a short time ago, referred to the highly controversial and contentious aspect of suffrage, not as between men and women, but as between women and women, and he quoted the case of a woman who had said (I forget the exact words) that she considered it would be an insult if Parliament enfranchised women, and if women were in a majority and so governed the State.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
What I quoted was the statement by this lady that it would be degrading to be governed by an electorate containing a majority of women.
THE EARL OF CRAWFORD
Yes. I, too, have heard women say that—and feel it deeply. These women are going to state their case; and we are going to have six months or eight months of bitter intestinal controversy between women as to whether they are to have the vote or not. I myself had hoped that, after the House of Commons had passed this question by a large majority, and after we had done the same, we should not have to reopen a controversy which I, for one, hoped had been closed once for all. Having formed the constituency, and having conducted a campaign of propaganda which, as time goes on, will become more embittered and envenomed, for eight months, until the date of the election—the General Election of women themselves is to take place in July or August—there may be 5,000,000 to 6,000,000 women who will have to vote upon this subject. A referendum under those conditions is going to be identical with a General Election to which many of your Lordships were accustomed in the old days when we were members of the House of Commons.
Think of the cost, of the paraphernalia, of the ballot boxes; of the waste of time, of energy, of money, and of activity—and the, result, in my opinion, a foregone conclusion in favour of the vote, That is the first General Election. That has to be followed immediately by a second General Election in which the men and the women 632 are to vote together; and if—as is possible if we assume that Lord Chaplin was correct in his analysis of women's desires on this subject—if, as we may assume for the purposes of argument, there were a narrow majority either for or against woman suffrage in the first Referendum General Election, you would have the whole of this woman suffrage case thrown back upon the electorate as a whole, men and women; and, with the previous election fresh in one's mind, I cannot help thinking that this would really become the dominant theme. That is the last subject that I, for my part, wish to be discussed and to be the subject of conflict at the moment when the whole attention of the electorate ought properly to be directed to urgent and to pressing problems of reconstruction. There are two elections, but, if one examines the Amendment with care, it is quite possible that if the dates fall inconveniently the election of the women might not be in time to affect the General Election of men and women afterwards, and that would involve a third General Election; in other words, the Parliament after this, assuming women to say that they desire the vote, would not be qualified to continue in power because women would not have voted for it, whereas by a subsequent vote it was shown that the women desired the vote and by Act of Parliament were entitled to it.
Lord Balfour, by a passage in his speech with which I cordially agree, deprecated a sex contest on political matters. I share his view to the full, but he, in his Amendment, modifies or compromised the matter by having two sex contests, one by the men and one by the women—two referenda. It is true that the referendum for the women which he proposed was a mere farce, because it had no effect upon anybody. But Lord Halifax's proposal to my mind is much more dangerous. He has suggested that women as such should be appealed to alone, without consulting the men at all, either separately or in combination. Lord Halifax is suggesting to your Lordships that we should have a sex vote on a sex question. Is that a precedent that Parliament would be wise to establish? I confess I view that aspect of Lord Halifax's Amendment with very marked anxiety. On broad grounds I feel, much against my own predilections, that women have been promised this vote and that it is unwise to try and postpone its exercise, possibly, as I have indicated, until the Parliament 633 after next. It seems to me that the bettor course, whatever our predilections may have been, is frankly to accept the decision of Parliament on the main issue, and to treat the two votes which, after a full and fair scrutiny and discussion, have been come to in the two Houses of Parliament, as final, and meanwhile to do our utmost to ensure that the new voters, whether they be
§ men or whether they be women, shall be as fully equipped as possible to fulfil the new responsibility which Parliament is going to place upon them.
§ On Question, whether the proposed new clause be here inserted—
§ Their Lordship divided: Contents, 62; Not-Contents, 90.633
|Argyll, D.||Bryce, V.||Gisborough, L.|
|Northumberland, D.||Chaplin, V.||Glenconner, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Grenfell, L.|
|Cholmondeley, M.||Falkland, V.||Hylton, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Halifax, V. [Teller.]||Inchcape, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Iveagh, V.||Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)|
|Knollys, V.||Kenyon, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Mersey, V.||Lamington, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Northbourne, L.|
|Cottenham, E.||Annesley, L.||Parker of Waddington, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Balfour, L. [Teller.]||Plunket, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Barrymore, L.||Robson, L.|
|Ilchester, E.||Beresford of Metemmeh, L.||Roundway, L.|
|Jersey, E.||Carnock, L.||Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)|
|Lindsay, E.||Charnwood, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Loreburn, E.||Cheylesmore, L.||Savile, L.|
|Morton, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Colchester, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Scarbrough, E.||De Mauley, L.||Sydenham, L.|
|Shrewsbury, E.||Dinevor, L.||Weardale, L.|
|Strange, E. (D. Atholl.)||Faringdon, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Wicklow, E.||Gainford, L.|
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Churchill, V.||Forbes, L.|
|Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.) (L. Privy Seal.)||Cowdray, V.||Harris, L.|
|Devonport, V.||Hothfield, L.|
|Falmouth, V.||Islington, L.|
|Marlborough, D.||Gladstone, V.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Sutherland, D.||Haldane, V.||Knaresborough, L.|
|Camden, M.||Harcourt, V.||Leith of Fyvie, L.|
|Crewe, M.||Hardinge, V.||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|Lincolnshire, M.||Knutsford, V.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Milner, V.||Muir Mackenzie, L.|
|Ancaster, E.||Templetown, V.||Newton, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Bangor, L. Bp.||Parmoor, L.|
|Cairns, E.||Lincoln, L. Bp.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Chesterfield, E.||Pontypridd, L.|
|Grey, E. [Teller.]||Airedale, L.||Ranfurly, L. (E. Ranfurly.)|
|Hardwicke, E.||Anslow, L.||Ranksborough, L.|
|Harrowby, E.||Barnard, L.||Rayleigh, L.|
|Howe, E.||Basing, L.||Rhondda, L.|
|Lichfield, E.||Blyth, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Boston, L.||Rowallan, L.|
|Lonsdale, E.||Buckmaster, L.||St. Davids, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Burnham, L. [Teller.]||Sandys, L.|
|Lytton, E.||Carmichael, L.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.)||Southwark, L.|
|Minto, E.||Colebrooke, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)|
|Morley, E.||Colwyn, L.|
|Reading, E.||Courtney of Penwith, L.||Stuart of Wortley, L.|
|Russell, E.||Crawshaw, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Denman, L.||Tenterden, L.|
|Verulam, E.||Digby, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain.)||Faber, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Canterbury, V.||Farrer, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
THE LORD CHAIRMAN
My Lords, since I have been in the Chair this afternoon 635 two notices of proposed new clauses, to be moved by Lord Clifford of Chudleigh have reached me.
THE LORD CHAIRMAN
The first is clearly out of order. As noble Lords have not seen the terms of the other Amendment, perhaps it will be well if I read them. The noble Lord proposes, at the end of Clause 4, to insert as a new clause: "Notwithstanding anything that may be implied or expressed herein to the contrary, the granting of the franchise to women shall not be taken to carry with it the right to contest a seat or to be elected as a Member of Parliament."
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
In moving this Amendment I would point out that, in ordinary conditions, if no such clause is inserted, women will be eligible to sit in the House of Commons, if they are entitled to the franchise. Only on one occasion, I believe, has a woman been successful in attaining Parliamentary election in Australia, but in municipal elections it has been very common. I do not think it advisable that ladies should have seats in Parliament. Personally, I am opposed to the franchise, not because I think ladies are inferior to men, because I, like all men, have always put them on a pinnacle far above ourselves in many ways. In intellect, ladies excel us to a very large degree, but I have always noticed that they are guided by love and sympathy rather than by duty. When it comes to a question of duty, I am afraid the ladies cannot equal us, although they undoubtedly excel us in ingenuity, cleverness, and sympathy.
At the end of Clause 4, insert as a new clause:
Notwithstanding anything that may be implied or expressed herein to the contrary, the granting of the franchise to women shall not be taken to carry with it the right to contest a seat or to be elected as a Member of Parliament."—(Lord Clifford of Chudleigh.)
§ EARL LOREBURN
May I raise a point of order? I submit to the Committee 636 that this Amendment is not in order. It is an Amendment to say that, notwithstanding what is contained in the clause, a woman shall not have the right to be elected. This clause does not give women the right to be elected. You might, therefore, exclude anything else, whether it is relevant to the Bill or not. I submit to the noble Lord that this is not in order.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
I raised the point because the High Courts of Australia have decided that the right to vote gives the right to sit.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think it would save the time of the House if I remind your Lordships that, whether the Amendment is in order or not, it is wholly unnecessary, because a woman is disqualified by Common Law.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 5:
§ Special provisions for persons serving on war service.
§ 5.—(1) A person to whom this section applies (in this Act referred to as "a naval or military voter") shall be entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector for any constituency for which he would have had the necessary qualification but for the service which brings him within the provisions of this section.
§ The right to be registered in pursuance of the foregoing provision shall be in addition to any other right to be registered, but a naval or military voter shall not be entitled to be registered for a constituency in respect of an actual residence qualification in the constituency except on making a claim for the purpose accompanied by a declaration in the prescribed form that he has taken reasonable steps to prevent his being registered under the foregoing provision for any other constituency.
§ (2) The statement of any person, made in the prescribed form and verified in the prescribed manner, that he would have had the necessary qualification in any constituency but for the service which brings him within the provisions of this section, shall for all purposes of this section be sufficient if there is no evidence to the contrary.
§ (3) This section applies to any person who is of the age required under this Act in the case of that person and is not subject to any legal incapacity, and who—
- (i) is serving on full pay as a member of any of the naval or military forces of the Crown; or
- (ii) is abroad or afloat in connection with any war in which His Majesty is engaged, and is—
- (a) in service of a naval or military character for which payment is made out of moneys provided by Parliament; or
- (b) serving in any work of the British Red Cross Society, or the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in England, or any other body with a similar object.
§ (4) A male naval or military voter who has served or hereafter serves in or in connection with the present war shall, notwithstanding anything in this or any other Act, be entitled to be registered as a parliamentary elector if that voter at the commencement of service had attained, or during service attains, the age of nineteen years, and is otherwise qualified.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY moved to omit from subsection (1) the words "for which he would have had the necessary qualification but for," and to insert "in which he was residing at the commencement of." The noble Marquess said: Clause 5 is the clause which provides for the Register of the military and naval voter, and my Amendment raises the question of the method under which the naval and military voter will be qualified to vote in a particular constituency. The terms of the Bill are very remarkable, because the naval and military voter is to be qualified to vote in am constituency "for which he would have had the necessary qualification but for the service which brings him within the provisions of this section." It is a sort of hypothetical qualification. There is nobody in this House who wants to deprive the naval and military voters of their franchise, but this particular method seems to me to be open to the most serious criticism. How is to be determined the constituency for which the man would have had the necessary qualification but for his service. It is not merely that that has to be the decision which has to be acted on by the registration officer; it is a decision which the man himself has to give. The method is that if he makes a statement as to what constituency he would have been qualified for, in the absence of other evidence that is to be conclusive.
§ I ask your Lordships to consider a concrete case, and the great difficulty of deciding for what constituency the soldier or sailor would have qualified for but for his service. Take for example the case of the navvy, a man who, in the course of his trade, has to go away for long periods from one part of England to another. He may 638 be engaged in making a railway, and may be away for six, seven, eight, or nine months, not by himself, as he takes his wife with him, and they take a cottage in the neighbourhood. That is commonly done, and it is true of other men engaged in similar work. That is the navvy's position at the beginning of the war. He enlists; how is he to say what constituency he would have had a vote for but for his service? He had not the least idea what constituency he would have been in; how can he tell? It is purely a question of opinion, an hypothetical question to which there is no certain answer of any sort.
§ Take another example of a totally different kind. Take the case of a regular soldier, of the old type, who has been in the Army for twelve years. How is such a man, or the registration officer, to answer the question as to what constituency he would have had a vote for but for his service? It takes him back a period of twelve years, and how is he to know; how can he come to any definite conclusion on the subject? It seems to me that the clause is wrapped in the most impenetrable mystery. Let me take another case in order to show how very difficult are these hypothetical considerations involved in the clause. Take the very common case of the man who is engaged in some industrial employment, say, in the city of Leeds—a young man, living with his people, and unmarried. He has enlisted in the Army, voluntarily or compulsorily it does not matter, but after he has gone, and is fighting in France, his people move—it is done in thousands of cases—in pursuit of munitions work, let us say, to Manchester. This young man at the Front is to be enrolled as a military voter, and the question is, what constituency would he have had a vote for but for his service? His industry and work was in Leeds, but, on the other hand, his home will be in Manchester, and how can he possibly answer the question as to which place he would have had a vote for but for his service. If he had not enlisted he would have gone with his people to Manchester, or he may have continued in his old industry at Leeds. It appears to me almost impossible to decide which constituency he would have had a vote for.
§ Then, as I ventured to tell your Lordships, the only way in which these difficult issues are decided is the statement of the man himself. I think that is a very faulty 639 arrangement. I do not see how the registration officer is to act in the absence of a statement. In a great number of cases he will know nothing about the man. Take the case of the last man I mentioned, whose home has been moved since he has been abroad. The registration officer, under the terms of the Bill, going round from place to place, will not know that he has ever lived in Leeds, and will have no reason to suppose it. Therefore he will have to wait for the man's statement. I am afraid the only effect of this will be that the statement will not be rendered, and that in an enormous number of cases the soldier will never get his vote at all. Again, what is to be the nature of the evidence if the statement is rendered, and it is opposed? What is to be considered good enough? The clause does not say "sufficient" evidence; the clause says "evidence," and I suppose it means sufficient evidence. For example, supposing it is contested, as it may very well be before the registration court, that the man's home had been moved from Leeds to Manchester. I find no certain ground for any answer.
§ I have dealt hitherto with the residence vote, but when you come to the business vote the questions are even more difficult. How can a man say what business vote he would have had but for his service? It depends on circumstances entirely. Take the case, of the man who is in a small way of business. The son enlists in the Army, and after he has gone to the Front the father finds that his business has dissipated. What answer is the young man going to give to the question as to where he would have had a business vote but for his service? He may say that if he had been in England he would have taken over his father's business in the ordinary way, and would have had a vote in the ordinary way. The fact that he is serving in the Army has made that impossible. It appears to me almost impossible to answer the question.
§ Take another case, that of a man who has a small business with premises of less than £10 value. He does not have a Parliamentary vote, but his business may have been very thriving, and one which was likely to be enlarged. He puts to himself the hypothetical question, "Would I have had a vote for this business if it had not been for my service?" I think that in the ordinary common sense of language he would probably have been able to answer, "Yes, my business would enlarge; I should have got above the £10 limit, and 640 I should have had the vote." I think that if he had made that statement it would have been a perfectly true one, and one which it would be very difficult to upset by any evidence under the proposals of the Government. The truth is, the phrase which the Government have used is one with which we are very familiar. It is a colloquial phrase which is used to describe what we all want—namely, that a man should not be deprived of his vote in consequence of his service. I have used the phrase myself in the Memorandum which preceded the Bill that I ventured to submit to this House two years ago. I used it because it conveyed colloquially what we mean; but I maintain that it is not suitable for an Act of Parliament, because it is not capable of precise definition. If I may say so, it is very careless drafting.
§ I do not make these criticisms without offering a suggestion in their place. What you want is not something hypothetical, but to give the man a vote for the place in which he definitely lived before he enlisted. That is a thing which is capable of absolute proof. When I use the word "reside" I mean "within the meaning of this Act." There can be no doubt about where a man resided before he joined the Army. It is a fact which can be proved up to the hilt. Exactly the same is the case with the business vote. I have not, as a matter of fact, included the business vote in my Amendment, because I wanted to make it as simple as I could, but if your Lordships approve of the Amendment the business limb of it could be added in three words. It appears to me to be much the simplest and most straightforward form in which to give the vote. I do not make this proposal upon my own authority alone. It formed part of the Bill for which I was responsible, and which I did not draft altogether when it was submitted to your Lordships' House and approved by you. I believe it to be much the best proposal and I venture to submit it to the Government as one to be preferred to their own.
Page 4, line 39, leave out from ("constituency") to the first ("the") in line 2, page 5, and insert ("in which he was residing at the commencement of").—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
There are some technical questions involved in this Amendment. The noble Marquess has made some severe criticisms of the Government drafting, and submitted some suggestions of his 641 own. He criticises the drafting of the Government as careless. I think that is hardly an expression to be used, because this point was very carefully considered, and, as the noble Marquess knows, being an expert or these points, it is a difficult one.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
As the noble Marquess is aware, the Amendment that he has put on the Paper is a very limiting one indeed, because it cuts out the hypothetical business vote entirely. I understand that he wishes to introduce words to secure the business vote.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I have the words ready, and the moment that the Government approves I would propose them in another Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I have to say, on behalf of the Government, that there are objections to the noble Marquess's words, and there are advantages in the Government drafting which he has not fully appreciated. On the business point I will only say, as regards the Government form, that in one sentence—and, after all, that is good drafting—it embraces several things which the noble Marquess wants to put in what is, I understand, a rather longer sentence. Another difficulty about the noble Marquess's Amendment is this. He has done a thing which I think is very remarkable this afternoon. He has forgotten all about the women. If the words of the noble Marquess were adopted he would cut out the women, because the women's vote, as we know, depends upon the vote of the nurses and other classes of people who are abroad. I am sure that the noble Marquess did not intend that. I state that only to show that the drafting of the Government was not so careless as the criticisms which he passed upon it.
I contend, further, that the Amendment of the noble Marquess is a limiting one, and that so far from making it more easy to put soldiers and sailors on the Register it will make it more difficult. On the other hand, the Government drafting is not careless in this respect, being far wider than that of the noble Marquess. What are the words of the Government—"would have had the necessary qualification but for the service which brings him within the provisions of 642 this section." First of all, I think my noble friend has to some extent misunderstood the exact procedure. He says that this vote is a matter entirely of claiming on the part of the soldiers and sailors. On the contrary, it is the duty of the registration officers to put all these men on the Register as far as they possibly can, and, after careful consideration of the whole matter, the conclusion is that the registration officers themselves ought to be able to put on at least 70 or 75 per cent. of these naval and military voters. Therefore the claim that is to be made will be one to be made by something like only 25 per cent. or 30 per cent. of the voters. The Amendment is more limited than the noble Marquess thought.
The noble Marquess says that he wants to limit the right of the naval and military voter to be put on the Register for the place where he was actually residing when he went on service. Rut what an extraordinarily inconvenient thing for him to do. He may have been living with his parents, and his parents may have moved somewhere else, and it may be very convenient for him to be put on the Register, not for the place where, he was residing, but for the place where his new home is, and where he would be residing in all probability but for the war. It is exactly the same with the married man. His wife moves the home, and, according to the noble Marquess, the man must be put on the Register for the old home, perhaps a third or fourth home back, which he had before the war, whereas under this "careless" drafting of the Government he is able to select the new home—the very place where he would want to go. I am not sure, therefore, that I have not said enough to show that the Government proposal is far wider, that it gives a more fair interpretation, that it has greater flexibility, and that under it the registration officers will have a far larger opportunity for putting on the naval and military voters where they want to be. I, therefore, am bound to oppose the noble Marquess's Amendment.
§ LORD GAINFORD
There is one small point which may impress the noble Marquess who moved this Amendment. It is this. In many cases the wife has removed from one constituency to another during the service of her husband at the Front, and in these cases the natural tiling would be for the woman to be qualified as a voter 643 in the constituency in which she has made her own home. But in that case her husband will call upon her to be his proxy, and, as all elections are? on one day, it might be necessary for the wife, not merely to record her own Parliamentary vote in one constituency, but, by the Amendment, to travel possibly across the country in order to vote as a proxy for her husband. I think that that obviously would take place in a great many cases if the Amendment of the noble Marquess were accepted, and it would be a pity if that should be so.
Has my noble friend got other words which will define what he means by "residing" because at present his Amendment is a very sweeping one? The man may have enlisted at a place where he resided only the night before, and that would be his residence. There may be vast numbers of our men who were residing the night before at the place where they enlisted
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am not so careless as my noble friend thinks. I was very anxious to know what "residing" meant. Therefore I raised the question on the very first line of the Bill, and asked the Government what they meant by residence. I was then told by the. Lord Chancellor that there was no difficulty whatever, that the thing was settled by a long series of determinations, and therefore, very humbly following the injunctions which he laid down, I did not follow it up any more, and left the matter alone. If the Lord Chancellor knows the law—and of course he does—then "residing" is fixed. If not. I hand him over to my noble friend.
As regards the criticism which has been made, I understand that wherever a wife moves after the husband has enlisted would be the place he would have been qualified for but for his service. The wife, of course, would never have moved at all but for his service. This really illustrates the immense difficulty of the words which the Government have employed. Observe. The, husband enlists. Up to that time the household had lived very happily in a particular industrial town, and might have gone on living there for the rest of their lives. That is where the man would have a qualification but for his service. But, as I understand, because the wife moved, entirely because of the war—that is, because of the man's service—the Government reserve him the right of saying that he may have a vote in the new constituency.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
But is his vote to be determined in any part of England that he chooses? That appears to me to be a most astounding way of determining where a man is to vote. He is to say, "I wish to vote for the constituency in which my wife lives." Well, why do you not say this, instead of speaking about the place where he would have had a vote "but for the service." It is not at all the same thing. The place where he would have had a vote "but for the service" means the place where he would have had a vote if the war had not taken place. My noble friend must see how very loose is the wording. And if there is any question, the statement may be challenged upon evidence; this is provided in the clause. The opposing registration agent would say at once, "He claims the vote for Manchester, but his work before the war was in Leeds; that is where he would have had a vote. I challenge the vote." The evidence would be that he used to live in Leeds. Why should not that evidence prevail? Does not the noble Viscount see that you are multiplying points of litigation? I know it was said in the early stages of this Bill that the great thing was to get rid of all the paraphernalia of Party agents and Party expenses. Why, you are multiplying them. An agent who knows his work will challenge everything which he thinks is going to be against him. Why do not the Government have words that convey precisely the effect in a way which cannot he disputed?
I admit that in one particular the noble Viscount has me on the hip. I had not provided for the women, and if the noble Viscount is not convinced by my reasoning. I should not press the Amendment in the absence of the proper words to cover them; but I rather hope that perhaps my pleading may have made some impression upon the noble Viscount. I would ask him to consider, between this and the next stage, whether some more precise words ought not to be used.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Does the noble Marquess really think that in the case of the military voters any of the Party agents are going to do their best to get them off the Register? I think if they do they will do it at the cost of great unpopularity.
In the case of the old standing Army, of which an enormous number of men were at Aldershot, would not every one of those men be qualified to vote at Aldershot? Thus you would get an immense vote at Aldershot. The object of the noble Marquess is, I think, to find the place to which the soldier really belongs, and to give him a vote for that constituency.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think the noble Lord is on another point, This affects only soldiers and sailors who are abroad. As soon as they come back, as the noble Lord knows, under another provision they can be qualified in the ordinary way.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER moved to amend subsection (2), after the words "The statement of any person," by inserting "or if that person is abroad, of the wife, husband, parent, or of the brother or sister (if of full age) of such person on his behalf."
§ The noble Earl said: I think that if some words such as I suggest are not inserted after the word "person," a large number of soldiers would stand a very good chance of losing their vote altogether. I believe it would be impossible for a man who was serving, say, in Mesopotamia, or perhaps a sailor serving on the China Station, to get on the Register unless somebody is allowed to fill up the necessary forms for him. It may be argued that this may lead to a certain amount of fraud, but I do not think it is very likely, because if you will read the clause you will find that the statements have to be made and verified in a prescribed manner. I believe this point was raised in the other House, and I think Mr. Hayes Fisher answered to the effect that other persons might claim on behalf of the soldier. He quoted the Electoral Disabilities (Naval and Military Service) Removal Act, 1914, as proof of this. But if your Lordships turn to the Schedule you will see, on page, 149, that this Act happens to be the last which this Bill repeals. I therefore think that, unless words such as I have suggested are put into the Bill, when it comes to filling up the necessary forms at the time of registration you will have to allow some near relative, or some other responsible person, to do it for soldiers serving, say, in Mesopotamia, or at any rate some distance from home.646
Page 5, line 13, after ("person") insert ("or if that person is abroad, of the wife, husband, parent, or of the brother or sister (if of full age) of such person on his behalf").—(The Earl of Ancaster.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think that this Amendment proceeds to some extent on the same misapprehension of the general provisions of the Bill as that moved by Lord Salisbury. Something like 70 or 75 per cent. of these naval and military voters would be put on in the ordinary way, through the registration officers making their inquiries, which inquiries would be very much assisted by the statements of wives, nephews, sisters, cousins, aunts, and other relatives. The reason why this particular form is put in the Bill, in the case of the claims being made by the men themselves, is that these men are ex hypothesi abroad; and it is necessary that a statement sent by post, by some man whom you do not see, should be verified in a particular way. It is not necessary to have anything of this kind for people at home, because they are on the spot and the registration officers know who they are. It is the view of the Government that the suggestion made by the noble Earl would have precisely the opposite effect to that which he desires that is to say, the registration officer might hold himself precluded from putting the man on the Register, or from taking any evidence from his relatives, unless it were put in the prescribed manner. The effect, therefore, of the noble, Earl's Amendment—which I am sure he does not wish—is to make it more difficult for the naval and military voter to get on the Register than would otherwise be the case. As the matter stands in the Bill it is much more flexible and easy, and the registration officer can see and cross-examine the relatives, and eventually put the man on the Register. I hope that the noble Earl will not insist upon this severe formality.
§ THE EARL OF ANCASTER
If the noble Viscount is of opinion that absent soldiers are more likely to get on the Register under the words as they stand in the Bill at present, I am prepared to withdraw my Amendment. But I should have thought that there were a good many cases where questions would have, to be filled up by men who were serving a good way away from home, and that there was some risk of their being left off because of their distance 647 from England. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Page 5, line 23, leave out ("or military") and insert ("military or air").—(Viscount Peel.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ LORD GAINFORD moved to omit from paragraph (a) of subsection (3) the words "or military," and to substitute "military or air." The noble Lord said: Is there any reason why the words "or air" should not be incorporated?
Page 5, line 20, leave out ("or military") and insert ("military or air").—(Lord Gainford.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think there is a reason why those words should not be incorporated, because in the previous paragraph allusion is definitely made to separate Services—to the naval service, to the military service, and to the air service. In this case you are using "military and naval" as of a general character to cover all forms of fighting.
§ LORD BURNHAM
How would it, affect men in the Colonial forces who were living in England before the war, and who are not being paid out of funds provided by the House of Commons?
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn
§ LORD GAINFORD moved to omit from paragraph (a) of subsection (3) the words "for which payment is made out of moneys provided by Parliament." The noble Lord said: This is only a small point, but I would point out to your Lordships that it is the service which is of importance rather than the pay. I have put down my Amendment to meet the few cases which exist where men are serving voluntarily in a military or naval capacity. I do not see why these men, who are subject to naval and military discipline wherever they are serving, should not have their votes just as much as those who are in receipt of pay.
Page 5, lines 26 to 28, leave out ("for which payment is made out of moneys provided by Parliament").—(Lord Gainford.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The noble Lord will notice that there is an Amendment lower down standing in my name by which these gentlemen will be included. I am moving the insertion of a new paragraph (c) as follows: "In any other work recognised by the Admiralty Army Council, or Air Council, as work of national importance in connection with the war." I think there is some objection to the noble Lord moving the omission of the words in his Amendment, because it makes the subsection vaguer than would otherwise be the case.
§ LORD BURNHAM
Will the noble Viscount now answer the question which I put to him a moment ago? How would this affect Dominion soldiers who resided in England before the war, but who have been serving in the Dominion forces and are paid out of funds provided by the Dominion and not by the Vote of the House of Commons?
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
They would clearly come under paragraph (c). Would they be claiming a residence vote?
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I know cases of men who, for family reasons or because they had previously resided in Australia or in Canada before compulsory service came into force, joined the Australian or Canadian contingents although resident in this country.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I think that case would be covered by paragraph (c). I will look into the matter, however, and if necessary bring up words to meet it.
§ LORD GAINFORD
It is a point which should be safeguarded. The only point which I make in connection with those who are giving voluntary service is that they should have their vote as a right, and that it should not be necessary for them to make a special application in order that they might be brought in by the approval of either the Admiralty or the War Office. As the noble Viscount has said that he will look into the matter before the Report stage, I hope he will bear this in mind, together with the suggestion of my noble friend.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
It will not be necessary for people to make any claim of this sort, because it will be the business of the Admiralty and the. War Office to declare the hind of work.
§ LORD BURNHAM
In the one case you will have to do it by Regulation, which is undesirable: and in the other case they will get their right by Statute, which is what they ought to have.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The cutting out of the words proposed to be omitted would have other undesirable consequences.
§ LORD GAINFORD
I will withdraw the Amendment, and perhaps the noble Viscount will look into the matter before the Report stage.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD BERESFORD moved to amend paragraph (a) of subsection (3), after the word "Parliament," by inserting "or as a merchant seaman, pilot, or fisherman, including the master of a merchant ship or fishing boat and an apprentice on such a ship or boat." The noble and gallant Lord said: I think it must have been due to some oversight in the drafting that the words which I wish inserted were not placed in the Bill where I now wish to put them, I desire to give a status to the mercantile marine. According to the wording of the Bill, at the place where I wish to insert my Amendment, the naval and military voter is mentioned, as is also the British Red Cross and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. A status is given to those bodies, but the mercantile marine is omitted.
§ If your Lordships will allow me, I should like to show you in a few words what the mercantile marine has done, and point out the right it has to have a status in this Bill on the same footing as the naval and military voters. Their services have been incalculable during the war, and they have always been loyal to their duties during peace. In the most patriotic manner they have carried out their work of ensuring the punctual and certain delivery of our food supplies. I will not repeat what they have done during the war, but the noble Earl who leads the House, a short time ago went through the extraordinary performances of these men and stated what they had done to help us win the war. When the war 650 started our trade routes were, unprotected and our ships were unarmed, but these officers and men went out and faced what in many cases was almost certain death. They never wavered. They have been blown up by thousands; and the first tiling a man does after he has come home, although he has seen his shipmates blown to pieces, is to sign on and go to sea again. I have seen men I have shaken hands with them and spoken to them whose ships have been blown up seven times in carrying out these duties. In addition to that, we must remember that during the time our merchant marine has been carrying out these duties its members have been subject to most barbarous and atrocious attacks. I need only quote the "Lusitania" and the hospital ships. Women and children have been murdered, and I could quote a long roll of missing ships which no doubt were blown up through German influence, and I could quote the last one, the "Abasso," in which case 300 men, women, and children were left struggling in the water with the Germans looking on.
§ Through the loyalty, enterprise, and devotion to duty of the mercantile marine it will be possible for us to win the war. Our mercantile marine has lost over 10,000 officers and men, and considerably over 4,000 of them are prisoners in Germany at this moment. Still they never flinch from the call, and have really done their duty unto death. There is no doubt that if the merchant seamen had had the vote in days gone by many of those very necessary reforms which have been carried out lately would have been effected years before. In my Amendment I want to bring in the pilots, the mine-sweepers, the fishermen, the masters, the skippers, and the apprentices. The pilot now has very difficult duties to carry out. Every seaman knows how much more difficult it is to bring a ship into harbour when all the usual bearings and soundings are altered. As to the mine-sweepers, your Lordships know how magnificently they have done their work. They have faced certain death every day and night in order to keep the fairways clear. The apprentices also, and the skippers of our merchant ships, I should like brought in too. The fishermen have also helped us by providing food, and enormous numbers of them have been killed or taken prisoners.
§ If my Amendment be accepted, there would need to be some consequential 651 Amendments later on, with regard to which I might speak privately to the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill. Without the loyal co-operation of the mercantile marine with the Navy we could never have got as far as we have at present. The Royal Navy quite appreciates what these officers and men of the mercantile marine have done, and I hope that after the war the two Services will be brought much more closely together than in the past. I hope also that in the future the Articles of War will be amended so as to run, "Upon the Navy, in the Providence of God, and the Mercantile Marine, the safety of this Realm doth depend."
Page 5, line 28, after ("Parliament") insert ("or as a merchant seaman, pilot, or fisherman, including the master of a merchant ship or fishing boat and an apprentice on such a ship or boat").—(Lord Beresford.)
THE LORD BISHOP OF BANGOR
I should like, if I may, to associate myself with what the noble and gallant Lord has just said. I have tried in former years to put before your Lordships some of the grievances of our merchant sailors, and I am delighted to hear that the much more powerful advocacy of the noble Lord is bringing before your Lordships the great debt which we owe to our sailors. One may hope that after this some of the hardships from which our merchant seamen have suffered will become things of the past.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My noble friend Lord Beresford has been known for a great many years as the great champion of the mercantile marine. It would be, of course, presumptuous of me to say anything about the services which our mercantile marine have rendered, but the Government associates itself with all the statements of the noble and gallant Lord. I am not sure, however, that the noble Lord has taken quite an accurate view of what this Bill does, or why the vote is given. He rather seems to speak as if getting the vote is a reward for service, or a sort of certificate of virtue or courage. It is, of course, given to all sorts of scoundrels as well as to the virtuous. Moreover, the noble Lord spoke as if merchant seamen were not already provided for in the Bill. He said, "If only they had had the vote in years gone by"; and the suggestion seemed to be that they would not get the vote unless an Amendment were accepted to this Bill. I do not think the noble Lord has cast his mind 652 sufficiently far forward, because he will see, if he looks at Clause 21, that so far from merchant seamen having been excluded, not only merchant seamen but pilots and fishermen, who are fully defined, can go upon the Absent Voters List and then vote by post, or, if they so desire, by proxy. Therefore they are specially mentioned in Clause 21, and I am sure the noble Lord is not so meticulous in his criticism as to say that it is material whether the merchant seaman comes under one part of the Bill or another. Therefore the mercantile marine is provided for. It must be remembered that a great number of them will come in also under the words "in service of a military or naval character for which payment is made out of moneys provided by Parliament." If I may criticise the form of the Amendment, it will be seen that the words in the clause, "in connection with any war in which His Majesty is engaged" might possibly limit the vote for merchant seamen, instead of extending it, were the Amendment inserted. I am advised that it might make the vote rather narrower in character than it is.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Under the Absent Voters provision. As regards the further question which the noble Lord raised, there is to some extent a distinction between the merchant seaman and these military voters, because a far greater change really is made in a man's life by compulsory military service than is made in the life of the merchant seaman. Except that, of course, his work is a great deal more dangerous and calls for a display of heroism, to which attention has been called, the merchant seaman is doing practically the same work and drawing the same pay, excepting those men who are getting special pay for particular services. I do not think the noble Lord can show that the merchant seaman will not get the vote in all circumstances in which he is entitled to get it. This Clause 5 does not create any new qualification. All it does is to secure that those people who have a qualification shall not lose it by reason of their service. My contention is that the nature of the employment of mercantile seamen will not make them lose, by reason of service, the vote which otherwise they had, but that Clause 21 to which I have referred, makes it more easy for them to exercise the vote which they possess. Therefore I do not think that the Amendment of my noble 653 friend, even if it were altered, would really add anything to the facility with which the merchant seamen can exercise their votes. I have no doubt, if it were passed in its present form, that it would probably rather limit than increase the extent to which they could make use of their votes, I hope my noble friend will be satisfied with the explanation, and will not press his Amendment, although I appreciate the way in which he has introduced it.
§ THE EARL OF VERULAM
There is one point to which I want to call attention. This Amendment is in respect of the registration of the naval or military voter. The noble Viscount said that Clause 21 had the same effect. I read this, that "a person whose name is entered on the Absent Voters List, if he satisfies the registration officer" of certain things, is registered. That is a different thing from saving he is entitled to be registered.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
But the merchant seaman would have some place in the country where he could be registered. He goes, no doubt, on board ship—
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Is my noble friend quite sure that there is not the parallel which my noble and gallant friend behind me has drawn between the case of the merchant seaman and the naval and military voter? It is true that if the merchant seaman or fisherman is engaged at this moment in the Navy and is receiving pay from moneys provided by Parliament he would, I presume, come under the heading of naval and military voter. That disposes of a large section of those for whom the noble Lord spoke. There are, however, the other men, those who are not serving in the Navy but are performing that magnificent service which is the common admiration and pride of the whole nation. These men are performing that service under very different conditions from those that prevail in times of peace. I am not alluding only to the dangers, but also to the conditions of continuous employment. In limes of peace a man generally belongs to a particular port. He 654 has his home in that port, and be signs on, whenever he does sign, to a ship sailing from that port. That, I believe, is the common practice of the merchant seamen. He cannot do that now. The ship on winch he is serving conies back to an unknown port, wherever the Admiralty may direct it to go at the last, moment, and as often as not the ship turns round as quickly as possible, end the seaman goes off again in her or signs on with another ship in that port. I submit that you cannot argue confidently from the peace conditions that a man will get a vote by the ordinary provisions of the Bill. Therefore I hope that my noble friend in charge of the Bill will look more carefully at the argument addressed to him, and will consider whether there are not special circumstances in connection with the merchant seaman's vocation at the present moment which bring him within that class of case for which this clause is to provide.
§ LORD BURNHAM
I think my noble friend (Viscount Peel) is quite unconsciously misleading the House, because he says that Clause 21 covers the case of the merchant seamen, who have the same claims as soldiers and sailors, claims certainly as high as those of persons who work with the Red Cross. Clause 21 gives certain facilities for voting which will apply only to those engaged in the short sea trade. It does not cover the case of the long sea trade at all. This clause is a qualification and it is admitted by common consent that these men in the long sea trade have done war service which is as true and as real as that of soldiers or of those who are serving in the Royal Navy for the period of the war or in other ways. I think it is quite clear that they ought to have the same qualification, so that their opportunity of voting should not be a matter of chance whether they were in the short sea trade or the long sea trade.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I am grateful to the noble Earl opposite for pointing out that in his opinion a very large number of merchant seamen are already covered. He does, however, raise the point that there is a difference in the nature of their employment because the voyages are longer, the seamen are longer away from their homes, and they come back to a different port from the usual home port, and the vessel turns round very quickly.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
At any rate, if the vessel is not turned round they are urged to sign on for a new ship that is ready.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The point of the noble Lord opposite is somewhat of the same kind. It is suggested that I have not appreciated the difference between short sea and long sea voyages. Is there any real difference in consequence of these changes? After all, take the case of the married man. The mere fact that he goes home less than he otherwise would does not make him less a resident. He would still be qualified as a resident. He would have the right to return to his home whether his absence from home was longer than before or not. I do not think his residence would thereby be affected. He would still be entitled to come upon the Register. Of course, this clause does not in the case of the naval or military voter or the merchant seaman, affect to give a new qualification. In fact, I have an Amendment further on in order to take care that that is not the case. I think the point mentioned by the noble Earl has been considered. Certainly the view of the Government was that the qualification would still be the same.
§ LORD GAINFORD
Is not the qualification only one month in the case of military and naval voters and six months in the case of others? Therefore it is very material that the qualification of seaman should be the same as for the other voters.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I am afraid that is quite a different point, if I may say so. The noble Lord has commented on the length of time necessary for qualification, which is one month in the case of returning soldiers. In the case of a married man, if he were away for the whole of the six months, he would be all right. The question of a month is another point.
THE LORD BISHOP OF BANGOR
The people who have perhaps the hardest life of all are engaged on the sailing ships. These ships come back to other ports than those from which they set out, and they do not go in the same way as the steamers, backwards and forwards. These men drift about from port to port. They are in one port one day and another port the next, and they are the people who want the protection most urgently. I cannot help thinking that they should be in a place of honour. The reasons given by the noble Marquess with regard to soldiers who have been for twelve years without a home except their regiments applies just as much to these sailors, who, if not in the Navy, sign on at one port and when they are paid off at a different port sign on again.
§ LORD BERESFORD
I am not satisfied with my noble friend's explanation, and I should like to press the Amendment to a Division. I think my noble friend misunderstood my remarks. I never made the reference to the heroic deeds of these men for the purpose of arguing that they should have the vote as a reward. I only wanted to show what right they had to the vote.
§ LORD BERESFORD
The fact of the matter is that putting them in the Bill at a later stage does not give them the status I want them to have, and which they would have if we put them in here, in the circumstances I must ask the House to divide.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I hope the noble Lord will not divide, and for this reason. As I pointed out, the Amendment, as drafted, will not carry out what he desires.
§ LORD BERESFORD
Does that place me in the position of having to draw up a new Amendment? I will put in any necessary words on Report.
§ On Question, whether the proposed words be here inserted—
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 52; Not-Contents, 17.657
|Northumberland, D.||Devonport, V.||Farrer, L.|
|Iveagh, V.||Gainford, L.|
|Bath, M.||Kintore, L.|
|Crewe, M.||Bangor, L. Bp. [Teller.]||Lamington, L.|
|Lincolnshire, M.||Lincoln, L. Bp.||Leverhulme, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Anslow, L.||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|Avebury, L.||Parmoor, L.|
|Ancaster, E.||Barnard, L.||Rayleigh, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Beresford of Metemmeh, L. [Teller.]||Ribblesdale, L.|
|Camperdown, E.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Grey, E.||Blyth, L.||Roundway, L.|
|Harrowby, E.||Buckmaster, L.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Howe, E.||Burnham, L.||Southwark, L.|
|Lichfield, E.||Charnwood, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)|
|Morton, E.||Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.)|
|Plymouth, E.||Cheylesmore, L.||Stuart of Wortley, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Sydenham, L.|
|Verulam, E.||Colchester, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Faringdon, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Finlay, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Lytton, E.||Colebrooke, L.|
|Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.) (L. Privy Seal.)||Elphinstone, L.|
|Farquhar, V. (L. Steward.)||Harris, L.|
|Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain.)||Hylton, L. [Teller.]|
|Chesterfield, E.||Peel, V.||Islington, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Muir Mackenzie, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Annesley, L.||Stanmore, L. [Teller.]|
§ EARL GREY moved to omit from paragraph (b) of subsection (3) the words "or any other body with a similar object." The noble Earl said: I have no wish to move a limiting Amendment. I thought that this would give the noble Viscount a chance of explaining what these words are intended to cover. They seem to me to be a rather large blank cheque to draw, and it is not clear who is to fill in that blank cheque. The other two bodies mentioned in the subsection are bodies whose devoted services are regularly recognised as dealing with nursing abroad. I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to inform us who the other bodies are intended to be which are to receive the franchise under this subsection.
Page 5, lines 31 and 32, leave out ("or any other body with a similar object").—(Earl Grey.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The reason that these words were put in was that there are other similar bodies, such for instance as the American Red Cross, in which British subjects may be serving, and unless these words are inserted those serving in that way would be cut out from the vote. I believe that there are different bodies of that kind working in various parts of the military field. There were, for example, some in 658 Serbia, The second question asked by the noble Earl was, "Who is to decide this?" It will be decided by the registration officers. The claim will be made and if the claimants can show that the work which they are doing is of the same character no doubt their claim will be admitted.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord who usually sits upon the Woolsack whether he is entirely contented that this should be left to the registration officer to decide. I want to ask two questions. First, would "any other body with a similar object" mean only bodies who were serving in the care of the sick and the wounded. Would it be limited to them or would it have a wider scope? The second question I want to ask is, Is it really satisfactory to leave thed ecision of this question to the registration officer? I should have thought that there was a vagueness about these words which might well attract the attention of His Majesty's Government and they might be looked at before Report and changed.
Could not the bodies intended be put in a Proclamation in the Gazette, or in some other way made known officially?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD FINLAY)
With regard to the first question, I think it is clear that "any other body with a similar object" would be construed as meaning that the objects of the body must be of the nature of those of the bodies specified—the Red Cross and the Order of St. John and be in some ways connected with the care of the sick and the wounded, not in the same mode of carrying it out, but, speaking generally, having the same objects and the same nature of work. With regard to the registration officer, there would be an appeal from him to the County Court, and then, on a point of law, from the County Court to the Court of Appeal. I do not see how any more suitable way could be found of dealing with the question of whether the other body is of the same nature as those enumerated in the Bill.
Could not the work done by other bodies similar to the Red Cross and St. John be recognised in a similar way? There are other bodies having the care of prisoners of war and of comforts for soldiers. There are numerous other bodies doing war work other than the care of the sick and wounded.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I should have thought it would be better, as Lord Sheffield suggested just now, to proclaim by an Order in Council, or some instruction of that kind, the bodies that were to be included. The present words are very vague. I know that the Government do not mind vague words in this Bill, but I rather suggest that they are a mistake in a Statute. It would be quite possible to put in words making it the duty of an Order in Council to prescribe which particular bodies are contemplated, instead of leaving it to be decided by the registration authority. One of the difficulties would be, of course, that one registration authority might decide in one direction, and another registration authority in another.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
There are only two courses to take. You can put in words such as "any other body with a similar object," or you can proceed by a process of enumeration. If you adopt the latter course your Bills become of considerable length. That is really the alternative. May I call the noble Marquess's attention to an Amendment that I have later—a new paragraph (c). It is the next Amendment 660 and runs: "In any other work recognised by the Admiralty, Army Council, or Air Council, as work of national importance in connection with the war." That covers another large branch of work, and in that case it is work recognised by the Admiralty or the Army Council. I suppose that it would be possible to include all the other work under that definition. It might possibly be a mistake not to mention the bodies which have been already stated in the Bill.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Nobody would advocate leaving out the British Red Cross or the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, but I do suggest that "any other body with a similar object" could be covered by paragraph (c). It would be possible, as the noble Viscount suggests, to entrust somebody to determine what is a similar body and whether it had the necessary status, and also whether it really carried out the same object as the Red Cross and the Order of St. John. I am sure that the noble and learned Lord must feel that the words as they stand in the clause are exceedingly vague, and that if they can be more defined it would be of advantage generally and avoid possible inconvenience.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The suggestion has been thrown out that the bodies might be specified by an Order in Council. There is a difficulty about that. A man may be away, engaged on work in connection with a society, and nothing may be known of it in this country. Yet as soon as he made known the nature of the work he had been doing it would become plain that he had been engaged in similar work, and it would be very hard if that man should be cut out.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
It may be. On the other hand it might be said that paragraph (c) is a classification of its own, intended to acknowledge naval and military work not before enumerated.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
If the word "other" were left out, and the words ran "in any work" you would get over that difficulty.
Surely, if there is possibly one odd man or woman who may be engaged in a similar service you could find him out and put him in the Gazette from time to time. It is far better, when you are enfranchising 8,000,000 or 9,000,000 people, not to make your Bill loose because some odd man or woman might not get a vote.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The reply to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, is that there might be some objection to the suggestion that we should leave out the word "other," because there might be some difficulty between the two subsections. But we are impressed with the difficulty which has been pointed out, and we will consider it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved to add a new paragraph at the end of paragraph (b).
Page 5, line 32, at end insert ("; or
(c) in any other work recognised by the Admiralty, Army Council, or Air Council, as work of national importance in connection with the war").—(Viscount Peel.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 6:
§ Qualifying period.
§ 6. The qualifying period shall be a period of six months ending either on the fifteenth day of January, or the fifteenth day of July, including in each case the fifteenth day:
§ Provided that in the application of this section to a person who is a naval or military voter, or who has been serving as a member of the naval or military forces of the Crown at any time during the said six months and has ceased so to serve, one month shall be substituted for six months as the qualifying period.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL moved to omit from the clause, where they secondly occur, the words "or military" and to substitute "military or air."
Page 6, line 6, leave out ("or military") and insert ("military or air").—(Viscount Peel.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ LORD SALTOUN moved to omit from the proviso the word "month," and to insert "day." The noble Lord said: As the provision in the clause is now, a discharged soldier or sailor would be in a 662 worse position than a civilian voter. The civilian can claim succession from one constituency to another over a wide area, while the discharged soldier is required to reside for a month in a constituency before becoming entitled to a residential qualification. When he is serving his country in a naval or military capacity that should surely entitled him to immediate registration.
Page 6, line 8, leave out ("month") and insert ("day").—(Lord Saltoun.)
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
This Amendment is intended to provide that the sailor or soldier should have a qualification if he resides only one day, instead of one month, as is suggested in the clause. What I wish to point out is that this one month is a very great advantage for the soldier. In the case of the ordinary voter he has to have a residence of six months, whereas in the case of a soldier it is one month, so that he gets an advantage of live months. Moreover, I should be very unwilling to disturb this arrangement in the Bill for two reasons. First, it is the arrangement suggested in the Speaker's Conference, and although there is no sacredness about the Speaker's Conference this is the result of discussion and compromise and was accepted in another place. Secondly, one day to qualify is really too short. If a man comes for one day, and then changes his residence the next day, he can hardly be said to be in residence at all. So that what the noble Lord is really doing is setting up a qualification that does not obtain anywhere in the Bill.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I think the proposed Amendment goes a little too far. But there is this difficulty. A soldier who is serving and then is discharged within the month preceding the prescribed day—that is to say, within the month before January 15, or the other month as the case may be—would, if he had remained in the Army, have been a voter as a naval or military voter. If he had come out in time, one month would have been sufficient residence to qualify. If he comes out in the middle of the month, he falls between two stools. He ceases to be qualified as a naval or military voter but does not get sufficient residence to qualify as anything else. That is really a hardship. I do not say that the Amendment is the best way of dealing with 663 it. I should like the Government to consider it, however, because, a very little alteration would probably cover the point.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I ought to point out to the noble Marquess that the hypothetical discharged soldier who conies into residence on January 1 will be on the Register, and therefore will be able to vote for the next Election for which the qualification of January 15 is the qualification. He will be able to vote, therefore, until April 15, and the period for which he will not be qualified will be very short. Of course, there may be a specific case in which he might not be able to vote in that way. But I think to alter the qualification into one day would be a very serious change.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.
§ House resumed; and to be again in Committee to-morrow.