§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, in asking you to give a Second Reading to a Bill which a very short time ago was regarded by every one as of a revolutionary character, I am well aware that I am recommending to your Lordships that the degree of 892 encouragement which Second Reading involves should be given to many proposals which will demand careful and even critical consideration by your Lordships. It is, perhaps, sufficient to say generally that the Bill is intended to fulfil the pledges given by various members of the Government during the General Election, to remove such obstacles as prevent the appointment of women to public offices and the fulfilment by them of public functions. A Bill with the same professed objects was introduced into the House of Commons by Mr. Adamson, and passed through all its stages in that House, and it is down for Second Reading in this House on Thursday, in the name of Lord Kimberley. I have been considering how I can best assist your Lordships in explaining the scope of the present Bill, and it appears to me that a useful method would be to compare this Bill with Lord Kimberley's Bill, clause by clause, so that the House will be well aware of the character of the present proposals and at the same time be in a position to establish a mental comparison between its proposals and those in Lord Kimberley's Bill.
Lord Kimberley's Bill, by Clause 1, removes any disqualification of a woman by sex or marriage from holding any civil or judicial office or place of profit or trust under the King or any body deriving powers from any Act of Parliament, and so forth. I am bound to say, giving the best consideration I can to the language of that clause, that I am unable to give you any assistance on this point, as to what the effect of the clause would be if passed into law. It is drafted in a manner which I do not understand, and in a manner which in my judgment is very unlikely to carry out what are the obvious intentions of the sponsors of the Bill. It does not purport to open the door to such professions as those of barrister or solicitor. It neither enables nor compels women to serve as jurors, and probably if women by legislation outside that Bill became barristers or solicitors the effect of the clause would be to enable them to hold judicial office. But it may be doubted, and I doubt, whether if the legal professions were thrown open by Statute to them it would be necessary expressly to throw open those offices the qualification for which is membership of one or other of the professions.
The Civil Service, as the House is well aware, is not closed to women, as is made 893 clear by the fact that many hundreds of women hold posts in the Civil Service to-day. Nor is the teaching profession closed to them. I form the conjecture that the promoters of the Bill have in mind some confused idea that, because women are not in fact admitted to certain Civil Service examinations, statutory authority is necessary to enable them to be appointed to the offices entrance to which is obtained, under the existing practice, by those examinations. The clause purports to remove disqualification by marriage. No such disqualification, so far as I am aware, is known to the law, but in the Government service and in the service of the local authorities women, for reasons that are perhaps obvious, are usually required to leave the service on marriage. This, however, hardly amounts, as your Lordships will see, to a disqualification which is readily removable by Statute.
The Government Bill, on the other side, opens to women all those professions entrance to which is barred or supposed to be barred by law. The professions of barrister and solicitor are, of course, both comprehended in that clause. Our Bill enables women to hold any office the qualification for which is membership of any such profession. It enables them to be created justices of the peace and to act as jurymen. That is, of course, a grave provision, and it will receive no doubt the very careful consideration of members of this House before your Lordships reach a conclusion upon it. But I confess it seems to me that if it be the sense of the House, as we know it, that women should be admitted to practise in the Courts for emoluments as solicitors and as barristers, it is reasonable that they should discharge the obligations which are imposed upon men in respect to jury service; and this Bill accordingly imposes the same obligations upon women as rest upon men, subject to the reservation that in any particular case a woman may be released from service on a jury which is to try a case that is unsuitable, in the opinion of the Judge, to be heard by women. I do not know that that reservation is entirely logical, but your Lordships will understand its object and will form a judgment upon it. The clause in our view further makes it clear that women can be appointed to posts in the Civil Service. Power is given in this Bill to regulate the mode in which they may be so admitted and the conditions under which they are to serve, but it allows the 894 exclusion of women from the Indian Civil Service. I do not debate that exclusion at this stage, but your Lordships will observe it and form an opinion upon it.
I come to Clause 2 of Lord Kimberley's Bill. This grants to women the franchise on the same terms as men, thereby removing the age limit imposed by the Representation of the People Act, 1918. This clause was consistently opposed by the Government during the passage of the Bill through the House of Commons on grounds which were repeatedly made clear and which I may summarise. In the first place, the franchises for men and women were settled last year by the Representation of the People Act as the result of the Speaker's Conference, which was representative of all political parties. In preparing the Coalition manifesto which was issued during the General Election Ministers certainly had no intention whatever of reopening the franchise questions which have been so recently settled and after such full discussion. The sex inequalities which they had in mind include those which it is the object of this Bill to correct. In the next place, it is contrary to the constitutional practice to extend the franchise in the first session of a new Parliament. To give women the same Parliamentary franchise as men at this moment would involve the addition of some 5,000,000 new voters to the electorate, and a General Election certainly ought., if we adhere to constitutional precedent, to follow closely upon the passing of a measure which had produced so great a change in the existing constituencies. The Government may be right or they may be wrong, but they have a full programme of legislative and administrative measures of reconstruction, and in their view a General Election, unless untoward and unanticipated events arise, should not take place until the country has had some further time to settle down after the war. I have only to add, in summarising the grounds which led the Government to oppose this change at this moment, that the Government are proposing an Inquiry into the question of legislative devolution and the delegation of powers to subordinate Parliaments, and the question of the electorate must necessarily arise in connection with that Inquiry. For these reasons the clause finds no place in the present Bill.
I may, perhaps, remind the House that the Bill which I introduced recently to re- 895 move the disqualification which prevented women from becoming justices of the peace as originally drafted said that any woman could become a justice of the peace as soon as she had attained a legal majority, but your Lordships inserted, rather against the wish of the Government, an Amendment to the effect that no woman could become a justice of the peace until she reached the age of twenty-five years. The proposals of the Government restore the franchise to the same term of years as the Bill which the Government presented to your Lordships' House for dealing with the qualification for justices of the peace.
I come next to Clause 3 of Lord Kimberley's Bill. That clause provides that a woman is not to be disqualified from sitting in the House of Lords if a Peeress in her own right. I should like to make it plain what the view of the Government is both upon this proposal and upon the substituted proposal which finds a place in the present. Bill, and which I will presently explain. The Government recognised at once, as any sensible people must, that your Lordships are principally concerned in this grave, momentous, and far-reaching decision as to whether under any circumstances—whether by the proposals of Lord Kimberley's Bill or by the proposals of the Government Bill—Peeresses shall become eligible to sit in your Lordships' House. The particular clause which deals with this proposal is not put forward as a Government proposal, though the rest of the Bill is a Government Bill for which as a Government we accept responsibility. That part of the Bill which deals with the position of Peeresses and the question of their admission to your Lordships' House is one in which as a Government we shall take no part, and which every member of your Lordships' House will decide according his conviction. It follows that the Government Whips will not be put on in Committee dealing with the matter. But in order to give the House an opportunity of expressing its views, the course has been adopted of drafting a clause which in our judgment would most conveniently and reasonably give effect to this change if your Lordships, on consideration, were to sanction so remarkable a reform. Accordingly Clause 2 of the Bill has been put in which puts the proposal making it possible that women should sit in the House of Lords in its proper form. The creation of Peers having a seat in Parliament is, of course, a matter of Royal Prerogative, and 896 both on constitutional and other grounds it is improper, in my judgment, that the ladies who at present possess Peerages in their own right should be seated in the House automatically without the King on the advice of his responsible Ministers having considered the matter in each case. The intention of Clause 3 in Lord Kimberley's Bill appears to be that upon the passing of that Bill all those ladies who now hold Baronies by writ or Peerages in special remainder will automatically become members of your Lordships' House. I greatly doubt whether here, again, the draftsman of that Bill has been completely successful, and I am by no means sure that the clause is effectual for its purpose. The effect of the clause in the Government Bill, if it should become law, would be to enable the King, upon the advice of his Ministers, to insert in ally Patent granting a Peerage to a woman, by special remainder or otherwise, a grant of a seat.
Such, in brief, are the proposals which are contained in this Bill. To many they will prove, I anticipate, surprising, and to many extremely disagreeable. The only observation which one may, perhaps, venture to make is that the current and development of events have plainly so proceeded as to produce, whether we wish it or whether we do not wish it, a complete revolution in the position of women. The general acceptance of the conditions on which women acquired the vote, the obvious reflection that the concession of the vote to women carried with it all kinds of implications which at the moment. it was not possible to work out to a definite conclusion—these considerations will, I anticipate, reconcile many of your Lordships to most of the proposals in this Bill. The time has gone—in the judgment of the Government, gone for ever—in which it is possible to justify the exclusion of women from the various fields of activity which are opened out to them in this Bill. And, in moving the Second Reading, I am sure that the Government may expect a friendly, if critical, consideration of the proposals in the Bill which it is my duty to lay before the House.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has truly said that this Bill introduces no novel principle, but is rather the working 897 out of a principle which was adopted—far beyond the limits of this House, far beyond the limits of the other House—by the nation on the occasion when the whole matter was recently before it. The Bill does to some extent work out and apply that principle, and, in so far as it does it, it does it, I think, well. The first part of Clause 1 is in such proper form as will open the professions to women and give effect to the principle.
But I have risen, not for the purpose of discussing what is a trite subject, but for the purpose of pointing out that there are two very serious drawbacks to this Bill in detail—one a very substantial one, and the other less important, but still an important one. The first to which I refer is in subsection (a) of Clause 1—the proviso that by Order in Council Regulations may be made. It is called prescribing the mode of admission to the Civil Service, but it is really taking away the right which is given in the initial part of Clause 1, going back on the principle there expressed, and saying that so far as the Civil Service is concerned women are not to be eligible to it in the same way as they are eligible to other public positions. I can quite well understand that there may be certain posts in the Civil Service which it is desired to reserve for men. But surely that can be done in a very different fashion from the way it is done here. To enable Regulations to be made (I suppose by the Civil Service Commissioners or by some body which it is very difficult for Parliament to influence) which may exclude women altogether from admission to a very large part, of the Civil Service is, I think, very serious; it is a serious thing that that should be done by a matter of discretion and judgment in dealing with individual cases. The clause as it stands runs counter to the Reports of several Committees, and to the Minority Report of one Royal Commission on which my noble and learned friend Lord Muir Mackenzie served. The only support I know for it is the support of a Committee which recently reported, and the Report of which is in conflict with the great body of testimony on this subject.
The other point is what the Lord Chancellor has alluded to about Peerages. I take it that it will not be used for your Lordships to deny the application of the principle which now covers the other House to this House. In principle and in theory, at least, I do not see how you can justify 898 excluding women from sitting in this House; and there I sympathise more with the Bill of my noble friend Lord Kimberley than I do with what the Government have done. Because the Government have simply laid down that the King may include in the Letters-Patent for the creation of a Peer the power to a woman to take her seat in this House. The Lord Chancellor said that this was a matter of grave principle and that it should be reserved for the decision of His Majesty, advised by his Ministers. But surely now is the time to give a decision as to whether women may be made members of this House, and, if that decision is taken, it is taken on a principle which extends equally to women who are already Peeresses. I see no ground or justification upon which Clause 2 is restricted in the fashion it is, and I much prefer the principle as it is put in the other Bill.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
My Lords, it may I think, be argued that those of us who opposed the extension of the suffrage to women a year ago are not necessarily obliged, logically and consistently with the views expressed then, to make any opposition either to the admission of women to the various professions contemplated in this Bill or to your Lordships' House. The two questions seem to me to stand upon a totally different footing. The ground on which many of us opposed the grant of the suffrage to women was that we believed the very large majority of the women in this country did not desire to vote, and we thought that the very large majority of women in this country had not given sufficient attention to public affairs, nor had they sufficient knowledge to be well qualified for that function.
But these arguments do not apply here at all. I think it may well be argued that if there are women (and we all know there are) who are well fitted by their acumen, by their knowledge, by their familiarity with the conditions of life in various classes of the community, to sit in your Lordships' House, there is no valid reason for excluding them, and they might give wise counsel and add to the intellectual strength of the House. So far, therefore, as I may venture to express a personal opinion, I should not oppose this Bill on that ground at all. But when I come to the provisions of this Bill itself, I see some difficulties which I should like respectfully to submit to your Lordships.
899 The Lord Chancellor, I notice, has not advanced any arguments of principle in favour of the Bill, beyond saying that he thought it followed upon what had been done already. In fact, the principal argument I understood him to advance in favour of the Bill was that, although it was revolutionary and disagreeable to a large number of persons, it was not nearly so bad as the Bill standing in the name of Lord Kimberley; therefore, for fear we should have to put up with that Bill, we had better accept this one. I presume we may take it that by the power which is given under Clause 2 of this Bill there would be nothing whatever to prevent a husband and wife holding separate Peerages both sitting in the House and exercising the functions of speaking and voting. I am confirmed in that view by recollecting the case of Lady Beaconsfield. Lady Beaconsfield, as your Lordships will all remember, was first of all created a Peeress; then after that her husband was created a Peer; under this Bill they would both have sat in the House if she had been included in the Patent.
I notice, however, that His Majesty's Government in drawing this clause have, after all, not been complete or consistent in their application of the doctrine of the absolute equality of men and women. They have gone so far as to make women eligible, by Clause 1, for the offices of Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice, but they have not gone so far as to make the grant of a Peerage carry with it as of right the function of sitting and voting in this House. I may be wrong—I shall be corrected, no doubt, by the noble and learned Lord, or any other legal luminary, if I am—but my impression is that it has not been held to be within the competence of the Crown to create a Peer without the right of sitting and voting in your Lordships' House. I think that just as it was held some sixty years ago that the Crown could not create life Peers, so it has been held that no Peerage call be created which does not also carry the right of sitting in this House. If that be so, it is clear that this is not done by this Bill; because I understand Clause 2 to mean that it is in the power of the Crown—in fact, the noble and learned Lord said so—to create a woman a Peeress with or without the right of sitting and voting in this House. There you have a very clear case of inequality and I should like to know what justification is advanced either for this departure from consistency 900 or for creating the new doctrine that a person can be created a Peer without the right of sitting and voting in the house of Lords. That, way we should have two sets of Peeresses in future—the Peeresses with a seat in this House and the Peeresses without it; and I gather that it would require a special creation to enable those who are already Peeresses in their own right to have a. seat in this House.
I have, however, a more serious objection which I desire to place before the House. His Majesty's Government have promised that in the next session they will bring in a Bill to reconstruct this House, or, as they express it, "to create a new Second Chamber." That promise will have to be fulfilled—the Government are so very scrupulous regarding their Election pledge;—within the next twelve months. Now, why is it necessary at this moment to deal with the constitution of your Lordships' House when a far more complete and sweeping measure is promised to be brought in so soon? Would it not have been very much better to wait until the question of the future constitution of this House comes to be dealt with and then to have dealt with this question of women? I should see no objection whatever to making women eligible to sit in this House if it is placed upon a new basis, but I can see no object for beginning to nibble at the question when we have a large measure so near in prospect. Also, when the hereditary principle, as we are told, is one of the obstacles in the way of our reconstruction which it is desired to diminish, why increase the number of hereditary seats in the House? This proposal is not a democratic proposal; it is not a proposal to increase in any way the power of the people in legislation. On the contrary, it is a proposal to increase the power of the Executive.
Clause 2 proposes to enable the Prime Minister of the day to create a large number of new hereditary Peerages, and to create them by bestowing them upon a class which has hitherto been excluded from participation in legislation. We shall have not only the legislator but the legislatrix, and that apparently without any limit. That is a very sensible addition to the power which the Crown has hitherto enjoyed, and I cannot understand that it can be represented as being in any way a proposition of a liberal or democratic character. If His Majesty's Government at any time wished to swamp this House 901 this will increase their facilities for so doing; they will have a much larger area over which to go to look for persons whom they want to put under pledge to give a vote to support and carry a measure which they desire to carry without waiting for the delays interposed by the Parliament Act. I submit to your Lordships that this is not only (as the noble and learned Lord said) a remarkable reform, but it is a reform backwards. It is reform not in the direction of increasing the rights of the people but of increasing the rights of the Crown.
Your Lordships will remember that at the last General Election no woman was elected in any constituency in Great Britain. One was elected in Ireland; and it was a very remarkable case; it was the case of a lady who played a leading part in the Sinn Fein Rebellion and who, immediately after that Rebellion, was convicted and imprisoned. Therefore there cannot be any very great zeal so far on the part of people in this country for the exercise of this power; and I think it might have been just as well to wait and see what the electors did in returning a new House of Commons before we began to try these experiments upon your Lordships' House. However, I suppose the Government feel that they are bound to give effect to their Election pledges—they are very scrupulous upon that subject; but I would suggest that they may well satisfy their conscience by fulfilling the pledge next year as well as this year, and that this House might be allowed for one year more to retain its ancient character. I do not suppose that His Majesty's Government, are likely to be deterred, by the revolutionary character of the change, from submitting it—in fact, it is submitted—although we are told it is not submitted on behalf of the Government and that every member of the Government will be free to vote as he pleases. I respectfully submit to your Lordships, however, that it would be a great deal better when we come to this clause to drop it out and to let the question stand as res integra until the large subject of the reconstitution of this House comes to be dealt with.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, I am rather at a disadvantage because I was not in the least prepared to hear my "baby"—my Bill—torn to pieces by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack to-night. I thought that probably next Thursday it would receive that castigation. The noble and learned Lord spent most of 902 his speech in referring to the Bill that I have charge of nest Thursday. I quite agree with him as to a part of Clause 1, and one or two legal friends of mine have pointed out the same defect in it as the noble and learned Lord has. Naturally it rather surprises me, because this Bill has been through the other House, where there are a great number of very able lawyers, and I should have thought they would have pointed this out and seen that it was amended and pm into limper language. It surprises me that, if the Government disliked the Bill, they did not put a quietus upon it long before. They waited till the Third Reading, and then it was passed against their will.
Now the noble and learned Lord brings in a small addition to my Bill. I merely say that any Peeress who was a Peeress in her own right should have the right to sit in this House. It seems most extraordinary that under the Government's Bill you are not to give Peeresses who are Peeresses in their own right a right to sit, but you add a clause that in any future Peerages that are created—that is how I interpret it—the Crown may, but not necessarily, put in the right of female succession, and if there are no male successors the daughter will succeed, and the grand-daughter eventually; she will have a right to sit in your Lordships' House. It is a most extraordinary anomaly that Peeresses who are Peeresses now in their own right should be excluded and daughters of future Peers may come in, if it is in the Patent, and sit. I feel certain that that must be open to amendment; if you are going to give the future Peeress a right to sit, you should also give the present Peeress a right to sit in this House.
The unfortunate clause to which the noble and learned Lord takes great exception in my Bill is merely to give every woman a vote. There was a Conference, and at that Conference it was decided that women should only have a vote at thirty years of age. How long is the decision of that Conference to last? The law is full of anomalies. A woman can sit in the House of Commons at the present moment, but I understand that a married woman of twenty-four or twenty-five cannot have a vote where her house is or where her husband's house is. She is fit to sit in the House of Commons, but she is not fit to vote for another member of the House of 903 Commons. It was done, I suppose, in a hurry. Here you have a married woman; she may marry at twenty-one; she may have five or six children, and be a very able woman, but she cannot have a vote about all these things until she is thirty.
The argument is that you will have 5,000,000 more voters. I do not understand that there is any reason why you are obliged, when you enfranchise a great number of women, to give effect to it at once. You may pass an Amendment to say that this franchise shall not take place until a General Election, and that it shall not take place at a by-election. If my memory serves me aright, when the Ballot Act was passed they did not have a General Election upon it, but at each by-election as it came along the Ballot Act was adopted. You can order it the other way. You can say that the women can have a vote, but it shall not be till the General Election. Personally, I think there is nothing more favourable. I have seen two alterations in the franchise, and I have seen directly afterwards a General Election, and usually it is a snap election. It certainly was so the last time, and it certainly was more or less in 1885. You have an alteration in the franchise, and then you are in a great hurry to have a General Election. People do not know which way they are going to vote or what they want. You had an alteration last year, and then you suddenly had a General Election.
I do not think women ought to wait. The question is the increase of the franchise. After all, it must come. The noble Lord's Bill is one small bite at the cherry. If he will only take my Bill on his hands now as well, he can put what Amendments he may like into it. Your Lordships may defeat the clause which gives every girl a vote, and those of you who have daughters may go home and say, "No, you cannot have a vote, because you are not old enough." Yet in the last four years these girls have done all kinds of things in connection with the war. They were fit to go and do nursing; they were fit to undertake all kinds of arduous duties to help in that war which is now happily ended; but they are not fit to have a vote—they must wait till they are thirty. I think it is rather hard. I did not know that I should have to defend my Bill to-day. I have done my best. But I hope that the noble and learned Lord will in some way meet me and take charge of these two Bills.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I suppose it may be assumed that the House will not refuse a Second Reading to the Bill of the noble and learned Lord. So far as the first clause in it is concerned, although it does not carry out what is called, I believe, the emancipation of women so fully as the Bill of my noble friend (Lord Kimberley), which will, as I understand, come before the House on Thursday, yet I think there will be general agreement that, after the grant of the suffrage to women, the wide qualifications offered by Clause 1 are reasonable and desirable. How far it is necessary to embody in that clause the possible restriction to which my noble and learned friend Lord Haldane took exception, I will not attempt to argue at this moment, because he will probably desire to raise that question I in Committee.
With regard, however, to Clause 2, I confess that there I find myself in far more agreement with my noble friend Lord Kimberley than I do with the Government Bill—that is to say, that if here and now Peeresses are to be given seats in the House there can be no question, as it seems to me, that the holders of existing Peerages who are women ought to be included. My noble friend mentioned that certain ladies hold hereditary Peerages. He did not mention two bearers of the great military Peerages last created before the present war—Lady Roberts and Lady Wolseley—both of them most honoured bearers of the great names to which they succeeded. It seems impossible that the stipulation in the Bill, if it ought properly to be applied at all, cannot be applied to the holders of hereditary Peerages in the female line.
But I am bound to say that I am in full agreement with my noble friend below the gangway (Lord Bryce), who anticipated the protest I have always contended should be made against touching this question at all at this moment. We all know that His Majesty's Government are under a pledge to undertake the reform of your Lordships' House. I ventured more than a year ago to express some scepticism as to when that intention would be implemented, as they say in the north. It appeared evident that no such attempt was likely to be made until a General Election was imminent. His Majesty's then Government refused to undertake the task, as they might I think have undertaken it, before the last General 905 Election, and we shall, therefore, no doubt have to wait some little time before it is undertaken now. I most heartily agree with my noble friend Lord Bryce that it is an aimless thing to do to attempt to invent what is really a new type of Peerage during this short interval, as it must be.
What is intended, I suppose, is this—that every patent of Peerage will now contain the special remainder which was adopted in the two cases I have mentioned, those of Viscount Wolseley and Earl Roberts, two very distinguished public servants, each of whom had a daughter but not a son. It may be understood now tint in the creation of every future Peerage what has hitherto been a special remainder will be included, authorising daughters to succeed to the Peerage as well as sons. It is rather curious to consider what the form of that special remainder will be. Will it be in the form of the old Baronies by writ in England, in which, where there is more than one female heir, the Peerage falls into abeyance, or will the analogy of the old Scottish Baronies and some other titles be accepted, by which the eldest daughter succeeds to the Peerage as though she were the eldest son? I confess it seems to me most unwise to touch this question at all at this moment, and, though I for one fully accept and hope that to the reformed Second Chamber of the future women will be eligible as well as men, just as they are to the House of Commons, yet to attempt—before that Second Chamber has, I suppose, even been contemplated by His Majesty's Government—to invent this new class of Peerage appears to be in the highest degree unnecessary and unwise.
§ LORD MUIR MACKENZIE
My Lords, the two main propositions in this Bill concern matters with which I have had to deal all my life. Therefore perhaps the House will forgive me for detaining it while I make a few observations on the Bill. I gather that the question before the House is whether this Bill should be read a second time. I gather also that there is no doubt whatsoever that the first clause, which includes, in very general terms, what some people call the "emancipation of women," is one that the House will accept, and I imagine that no criticisms which have been passed to-night will prevent the House voting generally for the Second Reading of the Bill.
906 When I said that the first Clause was in general terms—and therefore, if I may say so, in terms with which I sympathise as strongly as I possibly can—it did occur, to me on reading the Bill that there were qualifications made in the latter part of the clause which rather alarmed me. I was, as the noble Viscount opposite has remarked, a member of the Royal Commission on the Civil Service which sat for three years and laboured very hard, and though the particular proposition as to what was desirable in the way of appointing women to office was not arrived at unanimously, there was a strong feeling throughout the Commission as to the employment of women and a strong minority of the Commission went very far in that direction. J cannot help being a little apprehensive at seeing that there is now put into this Bill power for the Civil Service Commissioners—for that is really what it comes to—to lay down Regulations as to the way in which women shall enter into the Civil Service at all and as to their appointment to certain posts. That, of course, looks very like as if they are not getting to the highest posts. I do not know whether that is so or not, but I think the language is very wide and somewhat unfortunate. I should hope it would be very carefully examined in Committee. There is, of course, a very troublesome proviso a little further on with reference to juries. I will not go into particulars about that. It is a very difficult subject and this also no doubt will have to be very carefully examined in Committee.
Now we come to the clause upon which almost the whole of the debate this evening has been directed—Clause 2, about the Peerages. When the question is raised whether the subject should be dealt with at all, that is a very important consideration, but I imagine it does not go so far as to be a suggestion that this Bill should not be read a second time, It really is a Committee question, though it goes very far when it proposes to leave out the subject altogether. I do not profess to be able to give an opinion of any weight on that subject, though my own sympathies are, infact, in favour of the subject not being dealt with at present. But as to the more technical matter—namely, whether this is the right way to do it—I venture, as having had to deal with patents of the Peerage all my life, to express the very strongest opinion that this is done in the right way. Although there are those 907 difficult questions raised—such as the position of Peeresses in their own right and other points where it looks as if anomalies might arise and, as the noble Marquess opposite has said, a new class of Peeresses may seem to be created—I believe that all those difficulties can be got over, but that the real principle is the right one which is contained in the Bill—namely, that it is a matter of the prerogative of the Crown, and that it is not a matter where persons, either existing persons or persons in the future, should be given seats in this House by direct legislation. I venture to think that in Committee it will appear that the principle contained in the clause of the Lord Chancellor's Bill is the right one. I have tried to limit my observations to your Lordships to points on which I have practical experience. Otherwise, I should not have ventured to intervene in the debate.
§ LORD SHANDON
My Lords, there is much in connection with this Bill in regard to its application to Ireland which T desire to suggest to the consideration of the Government. It may be quite right that women should take the burden if they get the benefit, but in Ireland there is a singular and practical difference in the application of the law dealing with juries from that which obtains in England. The qualifications, roughly speaking, are much the same. There is the income of £10 at least from freehold land not held in trust; there is also the leasehold qualification. But there is this practical difference, and it has given rise to considerable trouble and will be aggravated unless some modification is inserted in Committee. The conversion of land in Ireland from the ownership of large landlords to the ownership of small peasant proprietors has resulted in this curious fact, that the number of persons qualified by reason of interest in freehold land has been increased, roughly speaking, to thirty as to one. That is, wherever there was one landlord there are now thirty small peasant proprietors, all of whom are qualified to serve on ordinary common juries.
The result is that in counties like Donegal, where transit facilities are not great, and in a large county like Cork, when the Assizes come on, you have a number of wretched men who possess this qualification, some of whom cannot afford to pay the railway fare if there was a railway, who therefore have to walk into the city, neglect their business for several days whilst waiting for the 908 Assizes, and then walk back as best they can. If this obligation is extended to women this curious result will occur. Your Lordships may not quite understand the custom in Ireland and the peculiar nature of the character of rate qualification. It has produced this result. Although the qualification for a juror is nominally having an income of the necessary amount, it is practically always determined by the Poor Law valuation. A valuation of £10 for the Poor Law is very small, and the chances are ten to one that a person will be a juror. If you add women to that number, widows, who are in possession of these small holdings supporting small families, you will compel them to tramp long distances to attend Assizes in obedience to the mandate of the Sheriff. It would be very hard. I would suggest that the point should be considered and that some words should be inserted which would mitigate the hardship.
My Lords, I have listened to what the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition said, and I think his observation deserves consideration. It is quite possible that a daughter may be the eldest born child, and why should she not succeed instead of the son? That is an important point which should be considered.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, may I reply briefly to some of the points which have been raised during the debate. I desire, in the first, place, to make it quite plain to Lord Kimberley that I intended no discourtesy to him by not giving him notice that his Bill would occupy some place in my observations. I confess I supposed that Lord Kimberley would not be unaware that my Bill was to be discussed to-day, and it would seem obvious that I could neither discuss nor recommend my Bill to your Lordships' notice without entering into a somewhat comparative examination of his Bill. I hope his amour propre, as the Parliamentary parent of his Bill, will not be hurt. I suggest for his consideration that it may be a matter worth bearing in mind whether the changes which he desires to make in the law could not be effectively made, if Your Lordships were inclined to take his view instead of mine, by moving Amendments to my Bill on Committee stage. I am inclined to think that there is no point of variance between the noble Earl and myself which could not be put to the test of discussion and decision in the form of an Amendment to my Bill.
909 I am a little interested to observe that no opponent of the principle has declared himself this afternoon, unless I detected, under the smooth language of the noble Viscount below the gangway, a desire to oppose this Bill. The noble Viscount was, in my view, a little ambiguous as to whether he carried his unfavourable criticism of the Bill to this length. He indeed, that it is not a democratic Bill; it is not a Bill which adds power or influence to the people. Strange as it may seem, that was net the object of the Bill. Its object was not to add power or influence to the people, nor, using the word in its political sense, was it intended to be a democratic Bill. What the Bill purported to do was to remove in the economic and other spheres certain patent disabilities which to-day affect women and hamper their activities.
I thought. I almost detected a touch of sarcasm in the noble Viscount's observations, because he said that no doubt the Government would be scrupulous as to carrying out its obligations. This assurance of the noble Viscount's opinion of the Government is valuable, though it was hardly necessary to make it three times. But, if it is right we should attempt to carry oat our undertakings, then it may well he, if your Lordships share his favourable view, that that will be a point deserving careful consideration when we come to Committee stage. But if the noble Viscount was using this language in the sense that he thought the Government would not carry out, or could not carry out, its obligations—the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, also indicated some doubt as to whether the Government would be in a position to carry out this reform—if they are right, then of course the value of their argument on merits is greatly diminished. If they really believe that the Government will not attempt, or be in a position to at tempt, the reform, then the substratum of their argument is dissipated.
§ VISCOUNT BRYCE
I entirely intended to convey the opinion that I expected that the Government would carry out their promise and bring in a Bill dealing with the constitution of this House next session.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I had forgotten that the pledge was so specific that the Bill is to be introduced next session. I am obliged to the noble Viscount for reminding me of it, but. I am a little doubtful still whether he is correct. The 910 noble Marquess, who was evidently sincere when he spoke of the difficulty of the reform of the House of Lords and of the chance that such reform may be delayed, I readily concede, is well able to judge of these probabilities, because he himself, and those with whom he is associated, found that it took a considerable time to carry out the terms of the Preamble, with the language of which we are very familiar. Therefore we must undoubtedly bear in our minds the risk that it may not be possible to effect this change in the period which some of us would desire; but I may and I do tell your Lordships that it is undoubtedly the intention of the Government to bring forward proposals to your Lordships with that object. The other points are really points of detail. My noble and learned friend Lord Haldane indicated, with reference to Clause subsection (a), a fear that the conditions under which regulations may be framed for the admission of women to the Civil Service, might be of such a character as to deprive our provision of its operative value. It may be; but I suspect that when the matter has been fully discussed, although some Amendment may be found to be necessary, your Lordships will be unwilling to remove tire words altogether. It is unnecessary that I should add anything more.
I will now cone to the vexed question, which is the subject of discussion, as to the position of Peeresses—as to whether you think A wise to sanction a change so great. I made it plain, in recommending this Bill to your Lordships for Second Reading, that I was myself at this particular moment not enamoured of the proposal, which I plainly stated that the Government only placed before your Lordships because they thought it right to do so, in order that it might be the subject of discussion and decision by your Lordships. There is a great deal—to be said for the view which was pressed by Lord Crewe and by other speakers, that if Peeresses were to be made eligible for membership of this House at all those who at this moment are Peeresses in their own right should not be debarred but, as Lord Muir Mackenzie pointed out., the matter is debatable. There is a distinctions—the distinction that in the case of the existing Peeresses nobody's mind was ever directed, at the time the patents were made out in their favour, to the possibility that they might sit in this House.
911 Here again the Government certainly are wedded to no view, while on the main principle they remain entirely in the hands of your Lordships. I admit quite plainly that full weight ought to be given to the prospect that much wider reforms will, if matters pursue their normal course, be recommended to your Lordships by the Government, and if that anticipation is sufficient reason for postponing any such change as that contained in Clause 2, then your Lordships will give effect to the views which you will form upon that point. This debate has ranged over a considerable area, but I hope that I have dealt with most of the points that have been taken. The noble Lord who has just sat down raised an interesting point which, if he will resume it on the Committee stage, I will then deal with. The same observation applies to Lord Shandon's remark with reference to juries in Ireland. I am not acquainted with all the details, but the points shall receive consideration before the Committee stage. I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.