§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill which stands in my name upon the Paper. I wish to begin by apologising to your Lordships for having had to postpone the Second Reading of this Bill twice. The first time the postponement was due to the General Strike and the second time to the fact that it coincided with the proposed visit of the President of the French Republic. Broadly speaking, the object of this Bill is to enable women to sit as far as possible on the same basis as men in your Lordships' House. As your Lordships know, it is quite a short Bill. The first clause provides that Peeresses in their own right shall be entitled to receive a Writ of Summons to Parliament and to vote as if they were men. The second clause provides that Peeresses in their own right holding Peerages in Scotland or in Ireland shall be entitled to vote at elections of Representative Peers in those two countries and also to be elected to represent those countries in your Lordships' House. The third clause proposes to put Peeresses in their own right on the same footing as Peers at the time of an Election—that is to say, they should no longer be allowed to vote.
This is the third time that it has been my privilege to bring this Bill before 569 your Lordships. We discussed it a year ago and also in the previous year. The main arguments for and against it are doubtless fresh in your Lordships' memories and I do not propose to take up very much time in dealing with its broad underlying principles. I want to be brief also because I know that there are many other Peers who wish to take part in the discussion. It is unnecessary to discuss the general principle as to whether women should sit in the Upper House because, as your Lordships will recollect, that point was really decided a year ago. Three of the principal opponents of the Bill last year, Lord Salisbury, Lord Birkenhead and Lord Merrivale, agreed that if and when your Lordships' House was reformed it was inconceivable that women should not form part of the membership of that reformed House. Accordingly it is not necessary for me to spend any time today in arguing whether or not there should be women in the Upper House. It is agreed that it is undesirable that an Upper House should exist purely on a sex basis; that is to say, by the exclusion of one of the two sexes.
The real points at issue, therefore, are: (1), whether women should be admitted here before such reform takes place; and (2), whether there is any other scheme which would give effect to this principle better than the one which I am now bringing before the House. What were the main arguments used against this Bill a year ago? The Bill would entitle, some twenty ladies to take their seats here if they desired. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Merrivale, speaking against the Bill, said that it would add twenty-two hereditary legislators without the shadow of inquiry into their qualifications and so would expose the hereditary principle to contempt. But it is purely by accident that the holders of these twenty-two Peerages are (women instead of men. If they had been born men instead of women there would have been no inquiry into their qualifications. The noble and learned Lord elaborated the point and said that none of them had, so far as he knew, attempted to stand for Parliament and that none of them contemplated doing so.
When one of our colleagues dies and his son succeeds him we do not conduct an inquiry to see whether ho is qualified 570 in our opinion to take his seat here. If the twenty-two holders of these Peerages had been men they would have been entitled to come and take their seats here and there would have been no question of any inquiry into their service or ability. As a matter of fact, if there were any inquiry your Lordships would find that one of these noble Ladies has recently been called to the Bar, that another one acts very competently as the director of big financial interests, and that they are quite as qualified as an equal number of men would be. Every now and then we have additions to your Lordships' House of men who have played a big part in public life or in politics. Occasionally we have here men who have played an important and a fine part in service in the Army or Navy, or who have shown outstanding ability in business. But in the main the overwhelming number of men who come to your Lordships' House come here purely and simply because they are their father's sons. There is no inquiry into their merit or into their qualifications.
The noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, also spoke against the Bill a year ago. He said that he opposed it on the ground that it would confer an exceptionally privileged position on a very limited class of ladies whose claims or rights were accidental. That is quite true; but so it is of all of us. We represent only a very small fraction of the total male population of the land. The overwhelming majority of us are here by accident of birth and exactly the same argument as was applied to these ladies should be applied to us. The overwhelming majority of the members of your Lordships' House undoubtedly occupy an exceptional and privileged position. What struck me most in listening to the arguments of the opponents of the Bill a year ago was that they were arguments against the hereditary principle rather than against the female sex. I do not want to raise that issue to-day, though it is a very interesting and important issue. This is not the time to raise it.
Another argument that was brought against this Bill was that the Sovereign and the Prime Minister when these Peerages were created did not contemplate that if and when they ever descended to women the holder should 571 have a seat in your Lordships' House. I agree entirely. Many of these Peerages were created in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Nobody then contemplated that there would be women in public life in the lower House or that they would occupy the great and valuable position and do the great public work that they do undoubtedly perform to-day. We have changed considerably since the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The position of women has changed completely. They have served on municipal bodies, they have been given votes, they have served in the House of Commons, and I suggest that the time is now ripe for removing this sex disqualification and distinction and including them in your Lordships' House. It is quite right to say that the Bill does intend to change the action or act of a monarch who lived several hundred years ago. Parliament has frequently done that in other and, it may be, less important matters.
Then the third main argument brought forward against the Bill was that it was being introduced by a private member. It was almost suggested that it was a crime that a private member should be dealing with this and not the Government. I am inclined to agree, but if the Government does not deal with it somebody else has got to do so. It was said in 1924 that a private member should not deal with it and that we ought to wait until a general, broad measure of reform was introduced by a Government. I ventured to say then that I did not think any scheme of reform was going to be passed by the Government. Exactly the same thing happened in 1935. I ventured to suggest then, although I was assured that a reform scheme was imminent, that we should see no such scheme. If the Government docs nothing year after year, are we also to do nothing year after year indefinitely? Surely it is an amazing theory to bring forward. We are supposed to be here to deal with matters of public interest and importance, and if the Government does not deal with them I venture to say that it is for your Lord-ships to act.
On this question of the reform of the House, I am entirely in favour of such reform of the Upper House. I am in favour of two Chambers and it is because of that very largely that I am in favour of reform. I believe that most of your 572 Lordships are also in favour of the principle of reform, but I am equally convinced that there is grave disagreement between those who are theoretically in favour of reform as to the nature and character of that reform, and I am absolutely convinced that we are not going to see any measure of reform introduced which will pass through both Houses of Parliament. I can conceive of a Bill passing through this House, I can conceive of another Bill passing through the other place, but I say quite frankly that I have seen no indication of any Bill being able to pass through both Houses. I hope I am wrong. If I am wrong, and if the Government is going to introduce and pass a measure of reform, then the passage of this Bill to-day will not do anything to hamper matters. The fact that we admit women into our midst will not, in itself, make any difference to the broader scheme of reform if and when it is brought forward.
If I am right, and if no such greater measure of reform is introduced, then by passing this Bill, by agreeing to the principle of it to-day, we shall have shown ourselves able to rise above prejudice, able to waive certain sex privileges which we undoubtedly possess to-day, and able to move with the times by recognising that the female sex is no longer a bar to service on public bodies. During the two previous discussions that we have had on this measure the word "dignity" has been frequently used. My Lords, there are two sorts of dignity. There is the false dignity which props up shams and there is a true and real sense of dignity which is associated with a big outlook, with a high sense of justice, and with a real sense of fairness. It is by an appeal to that sort of dignity that I ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading and move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Astor.)
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM, who had given notice to move, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months, said: My Lords, in rising to move the rejection of this Bill, I will follow the example of the noble Viscount and not detain you at any length. As the noble Viscount has rightly said, this Bill has been discussed 573 three times in the last two years and the arguments for and against it are well known to your Lordships. I will, therefore, merely give a short history and a short résumé of the arguments against the Bill. The noble Viscount has said that in the year 1200 or 1300 certain Peers were summoned by Writ to the House and that, owing to the custom of that day, the succession went in the female line as well as the male line, and the noble Lord has advanced the argument that the fact that six or seven hundred years ago ladies were not allowed to sit in this House is no reason why they should not sit in the House now.
§ The noble Lord has completely forgotten, however, that out of these twenty-two ladies there are a considerable number whose Peerages have been created, or who have succeeded to Peerages which have been created, in quite recent times. Take the case of Lady Rhondda. If your Lordships will take the trouble to go to the Library and read the Judgment which was given by the then Lord Chancellor, the Earl of Birkenhead, in 1922, you will see there set out the terms of the Patent under which Lady Rhondda has succeeded to her Peerage. The Patent distinctly says that Lord Rhondda and his heirs male and the heirs male of Margaret Haig Mackworth are to sit in this House. It then goes on to describe what are the privileges of Margaret Haig Mackworth in the event of her father having no heir male. She is to enjoy all the rights of a Viscountess such as have heretofore been enjoyed by a Viscountess and such as are enjoyed at the present time by a Viscountess, and therefore as no Viscountess has ever enjoyed the right of sitting in this House, she is not, to enjoy that right. The date of that Patent was not 1200 but June, 1918, only a short time ago.
§ These ladies, if they desire to legislate for their country, can go before an electorate and get elected to the House of Commons. My authority for that is no less a person than Lord Merrivale, who made that statement last year, and I have also looked up various statements made in the House of Commons when various Bills dealing with the admission of women to the House of Commons were passed. Although it is with great reluctance that I venture to give an opinion 574 on a legal question, I feel perfectly certain that Lord Merrivale is on this matter perfectly right. Why should these ladies wish to deprive themselves of the privilege of going to the electorate and endeavouring to win a seat in the other House? Let them qualify themselves by going to another House, if they can get in. They also, apparently, wish to deprive themselves of the right of voting for a Member of Parliament, which privilege was granted to them in 1918. It is quite evident that the House of Commons, at any rate, at that time did not contemplate that ladies would sit in this House or they would not have given them a privilege which your Lord ships do not possess.
A short time ago there was a meeting of delegates of women's associations and Lady Astor moved a resolution stating that as the House of Commons has changed very much since women members had been elected these ladies ought to be elected to this House. There was a certain lady present, who evidently has had a considerable amount of experience, who objected to this proposal, and this is what was said—
For Heaven's sake let the men have one place in the country where they can live in peace.
I think she was a very sensible woman and if I had a vote and she stood for any constituency I should be only too pleased to vote for her. Lady Astor did not say in what way the House of Commons had changed since women had entered it, but a few days later Miss Wilkinson, who is a member of the House of Commons, did specify how it had changed. She said that now men in the House of Commons are as rude to women as they are to men. That is the change. It does not seem to me to be a very good change.
May I, before I sit down, give one reason which I think is a very good reason why your Lordships should reject this Bill? It is a quotation from a speech of a noble Viscount who has much more influence than I ever had or ever shall have in this House. I mean the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood. An Amendment was moved in the House of Commons to the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Bill which would have had exactly the same result as this Bill. It was proposed that women should not
be disqualified for receiving a Writ of Summons to attend, sit and vote in the House of Lords. Speaking for the Government and not only for himself, this is what the noble Viscount, then Lord Robert Cecil, said:—
I approach this Amendment with the greatest sympathy for the general point of view which has prompted its proposal. There is something very attractive about saying there is no reason in the world why women should not sit in the House of Lords as well as in the House of Commons, and prima facie I should myself agree to that as a general proposition. But when you come to look at it closely it is not quite the same thing. As far as the House of Commons is concerned, what you are doing is to say that any woman who secures the suffrage of her fellow-citizens in the constituency shall not be excluded by her sex from the House of Commons. … If you make it apply to the House of Lords you are doing rather a different thing. You are there placing, by the operation of the Bill, a certain number of women in that House. I am told there are about twenty or thirty Peeresses in their own right. They would thereupon, by the passage of this Bill, be made members of the Legislature. That is a different proposition. It may be an equally good one, but it is different from removing the disqualification to be elected by the electors of this country.
On the Second Reading of the Bill, the noble Viscount said:—
The effect of inserting women in this Bill in the way that has been suggested for the House of Lords, I am afraid, would be immediately to place a certain number of women in that House without anything further being done. That perhaps is open to some objection"—
I quite agree—
because it means"—
I hope your Lordships will attend to these words—
when they receive, either by succession or creation, the dignity of a Peerage, that they receive one thing which is now going to be turned into a different thins; by an Act of Parliament.
I have often envied my noble friend his gift of eloquence, and those are weighty words. I think your Lordships ought to do as members of another place did. After hearing what my noble friend said they withdrew the Bill, and I hope your Lordships will throw this Bill out.
§ In conclusion, all I would say is this. I will not go into the question as to whether or not the prospects of the reform of this House are very rosy. Personally I am inclined to think that there will be a reform of this House, but it is 576 only my own personal opinion, which naturally does not go for much. But let me point this out to your Lordships. I think we are all agreed that any reform of this House must necessitate the reduction of the numbers, and yet at the moment when we are thinking of reducing our numbers it is proposed that we should add to those numbers twenty-two people whose Patents do not entitle them to come here, and who, if they are desirous of coming into this House, should wait until the reform of the House has taken place. I beg to move.
Leave out ("now") and insert at the end of the Motion ("this day six months").—(Lord Banbury of Southam.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD)
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Astor, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, referred to an observation that had frequently been made that it ought to have been introduced by the Government. There is one great difficulty in the way, and that is that the Government are not agreed upon this subject. I believe that has been the case with previous Governments which have had to deal with the question of women's enfranchisement in various forms, and in consequence many of the steps in connection with women's enfranchisement have had to be taken on the motion of unofficial members, either of this House or of the other House.
We are asked to give a Second Reading to this Bill, and I have always understood that on the Second Reading what has mainly to be considered is the underlying principle of the Bill. I venture very respectfully to differ from my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam when he treats the Bill as though it were mainly for the purpose of enabling some twenty ladies who are now Peeresses in their own right to sit in this House. He incidentally said that it was a hardship upon them because it would deprive them of certain privileges, such as that of sitting in the other House and voting for Members of Parliament. He will forgive me if I remind him that he and I have both voluntarily abandoned those privileges. But I do not think that this is the real principle of this Bill. I think it was more accurately stated by my noble friend Lord Astor. He said that 577 it was to remove the disqualification of women as such for sitting in your Lordships' House. That seems to me to be the underlying principle if you read the first clause, which is the most important clause. It simply says that a woman being a holder in her own right of any Peerage shall be entitled to receive a Writ of Summons notwithstanding that there is nothing in the Patent creating that Peerage which expressly confers upon her the right to sit. That is the main purpose—to remove the sex disqualification.
I agree with him that the main purpose has not much been contested either in the debates last year, or the year before, or by my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam. I will come to one solitary observation that he made on the subject a little later on. Two main objections have been raised. In the first place, it has been said that this ought to wait for the reform of the House of Lords. I confess that I do not feel so pessimistic as to the reform of the House of Lords as my noble friend Lord Astor. I hope and believe that the reform of the House of Lords will not be long delayed. I am very much in favour of it myself, but I cannot see how the passage of this Bill will in any way hinder or obstruct that reform, or interfere with it in the least. My noble friend quoted the observations which were made in the debates last year to the effect that in any reformed House of Lords women would have their place. I agree with him. I have talked to a great many schools of reform and that is one of the very few points on which they are all agreed—that women would naturally come into any reformed Second Chamber. Therefore, to put them into this Chamber, would in no way interfere one way or the other with any reform which would be carried out. Moreover, though I firmly believe that reform of the House of Lords will come to pass, it is impossible to say, unless you have the gift of prophecy, when that will take place. The sooner the better as far as I am concerned. But we all know the accidents that befall Parliamentary projects and it may well be that it will be postponed for some little time. If it be right—and of course that is the question—that the disqualification of women should be removed, why should we wait to remove it an uncertain time pending the intro- 578 duction of a general measure for the reform of your Lordships' House? I cannot think that that is a sound argument for rejecting the Second Reading of this Bill.
Then there is another argument upon which my noble friend Lord Banbury very much relied. He was good enough to quote some observations that I made on the subject in the House of Commons when a Bill for admitting women to that House was being considered. I wish to thank my noble friend for his great courtesy in letting me know that he was going to quote these observations. He gave me the somewhat doubtful pleasure of re-reading them in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I do not deny that there is some force in the objection. The objection, as I understand it, is this, that whereas your Lordships hold your seats in this House by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative either in favour of your ancestors or in favour of yourselves, it is proposed by this Bill that certain ladies who have Peerages already but do not sit in this House by law—because we must take that to be the law—should be given, by Act of Parliament, seats In this House without the exercise of the Prerogative, with all the safeguards which the exercise of the Prerogative involves. I think there is a certain force in that. I remember being struck with it last year and, even before my noble friend had excavated my observations in the other House, I had already come to the conclusion that something ought to be done to meet that criticism.
But it does not touch the principle of the Bill. The principle of the Bill is removing the disqualification of women. The question is whether in doing that you ought to go so far as to give, through this Bill, seats in this House to ladies who are already in the enjoyment of a Peerage. I think myself it would be a better plan to say that they should only be entitled to sit if the King, by Letters Patent, had signified his pleasure that they should do so—that is to say, had completed the grant of a Patent which he had made to them by expressly saying that this or that woman should be entitled to sit. I believe something to that effect would be very easy to insert; in fact, I have gone so far as to make an attempt—an amateurish attempt, no doubt—to draft a clause, and I see no difficulty in 579 inserting a clause to that effect, which would remove that objection altogether. There may be other ways of meeting the objection. It would not be right for me to discuss the details of that Amendment on the present occasion. It is not a question of principle. It does not touch the principle of the Bill. The principle of the Bill is to remove the sex disqualification. Whether you ought to apply that to the women who have already Peerages is a question for the Committee and ought to be dealt with in the Committee. The principle is the important thing which we have to settle on the Second Reading.
I venture very respectfully to say that on that principle it is not really reasonable to have any question at the present time. The question of women's political emancipation is really res judicata. It has been determined from the Throne down to a parish council. Every political position is open to women except a seat in this House. They have sat for years on the local government bodies, they have sat now for some considerable time in the House of Commons, and, as we know, they have sat upon the Throne from the very earliest period of our Constitution. I do not think that there is a single member of the House of Commons who would bring in a Bill to take from women any one of those qualifications. The opinion of the people of this country is, I venture very respectfully to say, settled on that point—that women ought to have political enfranchisement. I hope I am not trespassing on the respect which I owe to your Lordships' House if I say that I have some doubt whether it is the function of this Chamber to set itself against the established policy which has been accepted by the people of this country. Therefore, on the broad principle, I should submit that the desirability of giving to women this last political position is really not arguable.
Is there any special ground why, though they are fit for every other political position, they are unfit for seats in this House? Is there anything special about membership of this House that is particularly male and not female? I have heard it said that women ought not to go into politics because it makes too great a demand on their physical strength. I think a woman would be a very weakly creature if she could not stand the physical demand made by 580 membership of your Lordships' House. It is true that a novel argument was addressed to your Lordships by my noble friend Lord Banbury. He said: "For Heaven's sake let the men have one place … where they can live in peace." That seems to me an astonishing doctrine and an astonishing defence for the House of Lords; it has all the merits of complete novelty. I venture to say that the argument is all the other way, that though there may be a question whether it is desirable that women should sit in the House of Commons, though there may be a question whether it is desirable that they should be subjected to the rough and tumble of a contested election, though there may be a question whether it is desirable that they should sit in the House of Commons till two or three o'clock in the morning and endure the very severe strain which membership of the House of Commons undoubtedly imposes upon them, I cannot think that any of those arguments apply to membership of your Lordships' House.
Your Lordships have not, perhaps, so great a power over legislation as you once had, but you still have one great power, one great function, which everybody admires in your Lordships' House, and that is the power of giving advice to the Government and to the country by persons well qualified, speaking in the calmness and serenity that prevails in this House and putting into a common stock the fruit of your experience and knowledge. Surely this is a thing which women can do as well as men. There have been women in the past, and there are women now, who have very special knowledge, very special qualifications for giving advice on great social and educational questions to the people of this country—women whom it would be absurd to ask to undergo the difficulties of membership of the other House, but whose advice it is a great pity to lose in the best interests of the country. It is because I feel very strongly that it would be desirable in the interests of the country, in the interests of the House and in the interests of the women that they should have an opportunity, if His Majesty on the advice of His Ministers so thinks fit, to speak in your Lordships' House and take part in your Lordships' debates, that I hope you will give a Second Reading to this Bill, reserving 581 full liberty to put such Amendments into it as will guard it from infringing in any way the Constitution of this country or the Prerogatives of the King.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, I rise to follow the noble Viscount who has just spoken in support of the Bill. I would rather have heard some criticism upon it first, but as the noble Lord who was to have spoken before me does not appear to be here I shall detain your Lordships only for a very short time. This is now the third time that Lord Banbury has opposed this measure. He has really advanced no new reasons, excepting small ones, for his opposition, and those he has given have been already disposed of in two former debates on the subject. I cannot help suspecting that the real reason for his opposition can be summed up in the old rhyme:—The reason why I cannot tell:I do not like thee, Dr. Fell.Politically speaking the noble Lord does not like the idea of Peeresses sitting in your Lordships' House, though for my part I cannot see that this is a particularly logical reason why they should not do so, and I can hear my noble friend saying, if be thinks out the point, "Thank God, this country is not governed by logic."
He gave two reasons. One was that the ladies should first of all qualify in the other place before they were admitted here. I think they have qualified well, and so far as it is possible to do so. But how are they to get in here after they are qualified if he bangs and bars the door in their faces? It is hardly logical. Another reason that he gave was that a certain member of another place stated that the men were rude to them and that was a very strong reason why Lord Banbury thought the ladies should not be admitted to this House. He forgets that on the first occasion he spoke against this measure he said he did not wish women here because they exercised too much fascination. Perhaps he will tell us which is the reason.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
What I said was that Lady Astor had said that the House of Commons had changed in the time she had been there. She did not say how it had changed. Miss Wilkinson said the same thing, that it had changed, and she gave her interpretation of how it had changed. It has nothing to do with me.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
I was in another place with the noble Lord and I do not think he always suffered from over-politeness to his opponents. It was said about the House of Commons that the men were not prepared to be led away through fascination, but were quite prepared to stand up to the ladies and say what they thought. I think it will be the same thing here. Lord Banbury's principal point, and in my opinion the best one he has advanced, is that the whole thing is illegal—to use a general term—and he holds that Peeresses are expressly barred by their Patents upon sex grounds. If their Patents definitely bar them for that reason no one will suggest in this or any other Bill that that bar should be removed. The Patent may be made out specifically to admit of males only sitting in this House and if any such special bar in any special Patent of this nature exists, it would, of course, not be affected by this Bill; but such a special bar would not concern the general position so far as it affects other Patents not so barred, and the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act should surely entitle the holders of such Patents to sit in this House.
That the proposal in general made by the noble Viscount in this Bill is not against the law, and that it is possible for this House to pass it, is borne out by the fact that a number of our most prominent legal experts are here to-day discussing the subject. If the thing were legally impossible they surely would not be wasting their valuable, time and ours in arguments that were bound to be fruitless. The noble Lord, Lord Banbury, then advanced the theory that it is a matter affecting the Royal Prerogative. But as it does not touch the Patent, he is, I contend, in error according, at least, to the views held by more than one legal expert in this House. It is true that the present noble and learned occupant of the Woolsack expressed some doubt on this point in a former debate, but I think he also admitted that it was a matter of trial and that the only way to find it out was to pass the Bill at this stage and raise, the point of privilege at a later stage before it became law. Further, the noble Lord has raised the point that this should not be a Private Member's Bill because it infringes on the Royal Prerogative.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
Not to-day. I think it is one of the arguments against the Bill which the noble Lord has thought fit to drop. It is used-up ammunition, which did not get home. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, easily disposed of this point last year. In 1924 Lord Darling pointed out that four Queens had been members of your Lordships' House, which at least shows that there has been some precedent. The noble and learned Earl, the Secretary of State for India, last year complained of the extreme impropriety of a private member introducing this Bill. I am afraid that the introducer of the Bill, from his action to-day, is still quite unrepentant. Be that as it may, the noble and learned Earl did not say it was ultra vires and as it has been introduced again by a private member, I feel sure that the noble and learned Earl will agree that we who support the measure have as much right to do so as he has to oppose it.
I would respectfully ask your Lordships how a measure that does not touch Patents, or the rights of the Crown, but only enables people, if their Patents admit, of it, to exercise their rights irrespective of the bar of sex under the general provisions of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, which governs the whole country outside your Lordships' House, and which they would be able to do if such a bar did not exist, can be infringing the Prerogative of the Crown. Surely, if the sex disqualification is removed, as it can be without affecting the rights of the Crown, the Peeresses' prerogative to claim a Writ remains just in the same way as that of Peers does. In these days of the removal of sex disqualification one might almost say that by maintaining the sex disqualification in your Lordships' House not only is a special disqualification being done to the Peerage at large but the Crown is actually prevented from making the best use of the services of those on whom Peerages have been or may be conferred on account of what is now a purely arbitrary disqualification. Therefore, so long as the disqualification is maintained, the Crown is actually, one might say, prevented from making the full use of its own Prerogative.
584 I naturally hesitate to cross swords with so learned a legal expert and so skilled a debater as the Secretary of State for, India, but when he advances the theory that when Baronies by Writ were first instituted it never entered the head of the authors—and this has been repeated with doubtful rhetoric, if I may say so, by Lord Banbury—that women would ever claim the right to sit, it appears to me to be just as logical to say that tanks in warfare are illegal and must never be talked about because the inventors of barbed wire entanglements never foresaw the genesis of the tank. Equally so, I am prepared to admit that the idea of women sitting in Parliament had never entered into the heads of those who recommended that in cases of special remainder women should carry on some special Peerage, but that surely does not mean that if there were no sex disqualification these posthumous honours to the memory of great men would never have been granted or never will be granted again.
The noble and learned Earl stated that he could visualise the time when sex would be no bar, when Peeresses might be created with a right to sit in your Lordships' House, and he could think of no logical argument against it. So he is prepared to see and possibly accept an avalanche, if I may so put it, of women, into your Lordships' House at some later date, because he can think of no argument against it, but is terrified of the effect of a small snowball such as is suggested by the noble Lord who brought in this Bill. It seems to mo a repetition of the saying about the gnat and the camel. Though it may be a matter of impropriety for a private member to introduce the Bill there is certainly no impropriety on our part if we accept it so long as the principle is good, and if the principle is good and right, and if justice is not being done to a certain group of ladies—or shall I say certain ladies in a group of ladies?—I cannot see how your Lordships' House can refuse to remove the disability now instead of having to wait for a time of general change when a far bigger question will be dealt with, a time that may or may not mature and in any case is not immediate.
I think we may pass over the other argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, that women will not lend 585 dignity to this House, except to thank him for the only little touch of humour that has been contributed in the three debates on the subject. As to his statement that women were unfit to take part in our deliberations, it does seem difficult to me to argue that when a woman is not debarred by reason of her sex from being Prime Minister or Chancellor of the Exchequer, or, as a reigning Queen, from controlling all your Statutes so far as is possible under a limited Monarchy, a woman is unfit to give; her opinion on a measure affecting the welfare of children which is being discussed in your Lordships' House. May I say in conclusion that so far as Scotland is concerned the matter will not affect us because—I have always thought, it an unjust act—we have only Representative Peers in this House and the matter would be in their own hands whether women were returned or not. However much some of us may wish, for quite different reasons, not to see women sitting in this House, I cannot see how, when they make a claim to do so, we can fairly and justly refuse it.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, I should have preferred to wait a little longer in the hope that some more voices would be raised against this Bill. I say "in the hope' in order that I might have something tangible to deal with. Up to the present time the only person who has condemned this Bill is Lord Banbury and he has seemed in the position of Athanasius contra mundum.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I am referring to the debate. When we come to the Division Lobby it will appear different. We had a very interesting speech from Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, a speech in which he intimated, what one would expect, that the Government was divided on this question and therefore did not wish to handle it; that they would prefer to deal with it when the reform of the House of Lords took place—a reform on which in principle they were agreed, but unhappily he could not furnish us with any indication of what that reform would be.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I have no doubt it would have been quite out of order, but it would have been very interesting, and we are so easy-going in the observance of our Rules here that we should have listened with great patience to the noble Viscount if he had broken our Rules. But we are not likely to hear for some time what form the reform of the House of Lords is to take or how the copious elimination threatened is to be put into operation. At least here are the women who will have to be somehow included. I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to this, that we are not dealing with anything like the same question as that which came before the Committee for Privileges in this House two or three years ago. Your Lordships may remember that at that time there were two Committees for Privileges, one which reported in favour of the right of Lady Rhondda and the other which reported against it. I was a member of both Committees. I took a very active part and voted in favour of the recognition of her rights to a Writ in the first case; but in the second case we were overwhelmed by numbers and the matter never got any further. That is over and done with.
What we are discussing now is not the technical case which arose before the old Committee for Privileges. We are now concerned with the broad question of principle. We are not discussing the merely technical question of whether the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 failed to cover the ground, but we are discussing the broader case, which the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, discussed. He came to the conclusion that this Bill ought to receive a Second Reading. He was in favour of it. He thought the arguments against it were not arguments which at this time of day ought to be accepted. Women have been admitted, he said truly, to every legislative asembly in the country of whatever order, with the exception of your Lordships' House, and he asked how, in face of the fact that they were in the Commons and in the face of public opinion, it was possible to maintain the principle that they should not be included here.
A more admirable speech upon the broad principle it would be impossible to hear. But then he came to something from which I must express my dissent.
587 He said that he would like to make the exercise of the Prerogative in the way of granting a Writ of Summons a reality, that he would like to regulate it. As I worked out in my head what he meant, it came to this: that it should come within the power of Ministers to advise the Sovereign not to grant a Writ. If the noble Viscount did not mean that, I am very much puzzled to know what he did mean. As I understood him, he wanted some control over the issue of a Writ.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am sorry that I failed to make myself plain. What I said was that, with respect to the women who are now the possessors of Peerages but have received those Peerages in circumstances which do not give them the right to sit in your Lordships' House, I thought it was reasonable to say that the King's pleasure should be required as to whether they should have a Writ. Once they have had their Writ, of course, they and their successors would be entitled to their Writ; and in any future Peerage created they would have the Writ as a matter of course, as a man does to-day. But since it is argued that in these cases they were not given the right to sit, I suggested that it was right that the Prerogative of the Crown should be preserved in that respect and that the pleasure of the King should be taken as to whether he desired a Writ to be issued.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Then it applies only to the twenty Peerages at present in question. I do not think that this makes it any better, certainly from the point of view that I wish to submit to the House. The right to a Writ is a right which the law recognises and which appertains to the status of a Peer. It is not in the discretion of the Crown, nor would it be in the discretion of the Crown advised by Ministers. It is a legal right, existing at Common Law and well established, and it is impossible to go back on it without a Statute. That was settled by your Lordships' House exactly three hundred years ago in the Bristol case. At that time the King refused a Writ to the person who had the status of a Peer as Lord Bristol, and your Lordships' House struck against the Crown and would conduct no business. The end was that the Crown had to give in, and since then it has 588 been a recognised part of the Common Law of this country that everybody who has the status of a Peerage is entitled to a Writ.
What prevented the present set of Peeresses from sitting was not that fact at all but the fact that it was held that the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, 1919, had not repealed the disability which the Common Law until recently imposed, preventing any woman from fulfilling a public function. That is quite another thing. That principle is repealed in terms by the Act of 1919, and it was that disability which prevented a woman from having a seat in this House and also, of course, from receiving a Writ. The purpose of this Bill is a very plain one. It is the broad principle to which the noble Viscount alluded in his speech—namely, to get rid of the disability which the law imposes upon women to enter this House and sit in it. As the noble Viscount himself pointed out, that is a disability which cannot be maintained any longer in the face of public opinion.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
May I interrupt the noble and learned Viscount for a moment to ask him whether he will tell the House if in his opinion the passage of this Bill would or would not entitle the present holders of Peerages, who are disqualified at this time by reason of sex, to sit in this House?
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I have not really considered closely the terms of this Bill, but, so far as I have been able to see, I think it would. It simply gets rid of the effect of the Common Law disability altogether and sweeps away the fact that it was held, rightly or wrongly, by the Committee for Privileges that the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, 1919—
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Which that Act still maintained. This Bill sweeps that away and declares in terms that a woman may sit in this House, so that I do not think there is any serious doubt that the Bill would be operative to that extent. But the point is that we are dealing today with the broad question of principle, of which Lord Cecil of Chelwood spoke with approval, and it is very difficult to 589 see how your Lordships can be justified in putting yourselves in opposition to the advance of public opinion and to the plain decision of Parliament that women are to take their part like men in the deliberations of public bodies.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, I ask your Lordships' pardon for intruding in this debate upon the second discussion of this matter, but the ground upon which the promoters of the Bill are now presenting it to the House has been, I will not say shifted, but sought to be shifted. My noble and learned friend opposite, in the very frank statement that he made, said that in his judgment this Bill if it becomes an Act will add to the membership of this House the nineteen ladies who at present are not entitled to sit in this House by reason of the terms of their Patents. That is the fundamental fact in this discussion, and for my part I have regretted to see the degree of ingenuity, rather than ingenuousness, with which it has been sought to shift the ground from the consideration of that question and to bring it to a ground either of principle or of sentiment, upon which that question does not depend. It is one thing to say that in the change of times it is desirable that women who are qualified to render public service in this House should be brought here by the exercise of the Prerogative of the Crown under the advice of Ministers of the Crown. I should feel ashamed of myself if I offered a word in opposition to a proposal that the Prerogative of the Crown should be enlarged so that, if a woman can render public service in this House, she should be called to sit here.
But that is not the question which is in discussion here. The noble Viscount, in moving the Bill, very frankly recognised this. He said that the disputed claims of these nineteen ladies did not differ in point of principle from the right of every Peer to sit in this House, apart from the question of sex. The noble Viscount said that these ladies were disqualified by sex, and he identified them. I was at pains last night, when perhaps I ought to have been otherwise occupied, to examine the list of Peeresses in their own right. I do not believe that the Peeresses in question are seeking the promotion of this Bill. I will not deal with the names of those Peeresses one by one, 590 but I will say this: If any Prime Minister in any time of which living men have knowledge had made it known that he had gone to the Sovereign and had proposed that this House should be amplified in number by the addition of nineteen ladies possessing the qualifications of the ladies in question, he could not have remained in office as Prime Minister, it would have been so preposterous.
It is irksome to discuss a personal topic of that kind with regard to ladies of ancient race and high reputation, and with all the qualities which ought to protect them from discussion, but let me refer without individual reference to two or three topics. Some of the noble ladies in question are wives of members of this House. Has anybody considered whether it is desirable, in the interests of the patrician principle, or of the aristocracy of England, that the phenomenon should be presented of the presence side by side of a Peer of comparatively modern creation and a Peeress whose Peerage dates from the Edwards or the early Henrys, or whether they should sit side by side, or pair, or deal with problems which arise in legislation Conceive for a moment a Bill to enfranchise nineteen noble ladies, without consideration of that kind of problem.
Another topic. Several of these noble ladies are holders of Patents of Peerage in which there are special remainders. By the terms of their Patents they are ineligible to sit in this House. Their ineligibility is prescribed in the Patent. Here, without any consideration, apparently, of the anomaly of dealing with the matter in this way, the noble Viscount comes gaily to the House and says: "Well, they will be as good Peers as the rest of your Lordships." He says there is really no difference; that it is a come-by-chance matter whether the holder of a Peerage, modern or ancient, a holder by succession, comes to this House. That is not the public judgment upon the hereditary principle, I believe. One reason why I am opposed to this Bill is that I cannot help thinking that it is as if this House should say to the Commons of England: The hereditary principle is said to have gone out of date; well, take notice of this, that without any consideration of qualification we add nineteen ladies because their ancestors in the time of the Henrys and the Edwards were 591 added to the members of this House. I venture to say to your Lordships that that is not the way in which a grave constitutional question should be dealt with.
Then my noble friend below me said you could amend the Bill. How did he suggest it should be amended? By empowering the Sovereign to grant new Patents, to issue Letters Patent to the noble ladies in question, so that they might sit here. That is not the proposal in this Bill. When some member of your Lordships' House proposes to your Lordships a Bill which will enable the Crown to select ladies to perform legislative functions, a question arises upon which there may be division of opinion, but as to which I have an opinion which differs totally from the opinion that I hold with regard to this Bill. Why does my noble friend Viscount Cecil of Chelwood trim up the Bill so that it appears to be what it is not? I suspect the object is to catch votes which would not be given for the Bill as it is. Why is it that noble Lords say that it is the principle of the sitting of women in this House upon which they insist? Why is that reiterated by almost every noble Lord who speaks in favour of the Bill, when in fact the operation of the Bill would be of a totally different kind? It is reiterated for the same purpose—namely, to disarm opposition to this particular proposal, to shift the ground of debate, and to induce members to vote for the Second Reading who could not by any reasonable inducements be persuaded to vote that the nineteen ladies in question should, by the fiat of Parliament, be seated in this House. I have taken up your Lordships' time too long, but I venture to reiterate in what I have said my opposition on many grounds of political principle to the Second Heading of the Bill, which is an abuse of the power to propose political reform.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, I have listened to this debate with great interest, in the hope that some serious argument might have been advanced in favour of the substantive proposal contained in this Bill. I am bound to make it plain that I have heard the debate with deep disappointment. I did really suppose that when a proposal had been so clearly and repeatedly con- 592 sidered in this House, and had been disposed of by the collective sense of the House more than once, if it were to be re-introduced it would at least have been reinforced by some new argument in its favour. Listening as I have done to almost the whole of this debate, I am unaware of any single new argument which could deflect, or which ought to deflect, the judgment of this House from its previously announced conclusions.
We have, indeed, had the advantage of hearing the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, propose the Second Reading of this Bill. It has been supported by the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl. I examine a little the pretensions of these Peers, both of them, if they will allow me to say so without undue social pretension, friends of my own, and I look at their position, and I see that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is very adequately represented in the House of Commons. No topic is ever raised there which lacks an eloquent voice. Then I look at the case of the noble Duke. The noble Duke can take perfectly good care of himself in this House, as also can the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and Her Grace the Duchess is one of the most graceful orators in the House of Commons; and I do not know exactly where these noble Lords place themselves. It seems to me that their object is to get the best of both worlds or of both Houses, and I do not know whether, if the proposal is acccepted, Lady Astor will be here or the Duchess there. I am sure, however, that we shall not lack representation of either of these noble families if these proposals are carried.
There is another consideration which is of some weight. Are we or are we not, in the vote we are about to give, anticipating the decision which we shall later necessarily take as to the reconstitution of this House? It is within the knowledge of most of your Lordships that the Cabinet Committee, after long months of inquiry, has presented a Report to the Cabinet, and upon that Report a decision must within a reasonable compass of time be reached. Does it appear to anybody to be a sensible thing that, anticipating that reform, we should not merely register an abstract resolution that women shall be entitled to sit in this House but that we shall say of twenty-five women that those women 593 shall at once and in this brief interim period be allowed to take their seats in this House?
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Merrivale, President of the Divorce Division, of whom I can say without the risk of being misunderstood that he has been much exposed to the sex, has exhibited the absurdity of this argument in. a very plain way. He said: Supposing it was left, as it ought to be left, to the Prerogative of the Crown, acting upon the advice of his responsible Ministers, to nominate twenty-five women in England at this moment to become members of the House of Lords, do you suppose that there is one single lady of those who are on the list upon which we are to pronounce to-day who would be nominated? I say without disparagement to any one of those ladies that it is within the knowledge of every one of your Lordships who is going to vote upon this question of principle in a few minutes, that there is no one of those ladies who would be nominated by any competent tribunal to sit in this or any other legislative assembly.
If that is not too exaggerated a claim—and I am sure it is not—surely the whole question is concluded. If it is desired to reinforce the debates of your Lordships by the presence of ladies; if it is so desired—I beg to doubt whether it is desired—but if it is, it can be done in a perfectly rational fashion, not in this irregular piecemeal fashion. It can be done in this way. I should assume that any intelligent reform of your Lordships' House would greatly enlarge the area of selection. I say quite plainly I have always been a pessimist in relation to schemes of reform of this House, because my experience of this House, comparatively short as it has been, has fortified me in the conclusion which I formed long ago that this House is very well content with itself as at present constituted, and will listen sympathetically but reluctantly to specific proposals which would very greatly alter its Constitution.
But supposing that I am wrong in that, supposing that your Lordships are prepared to admit of a far-reaching scheme of reform which will even in an unhappy moment admit the other sex to our counsels, upon what basis ought that selection to be made? The matter would appear to me to be too clear for 594 argument. The constituency from which you must select women representatives, if indeed we are to have them in this House, must be the whole constituency of the population of this country. They must not be limited to twenty-five ladies who by the accident of an accident occupy a particular position. And I hope without indelicacy that I may be allowed to examine what that position is and what the history of that position is. I can do it—though I rarely speak with dogmatism—I can do it with the confidence which springs from dogmatic certainty.
These ladies were made Peeresses in their own right for a reason which, from one angle of view, is creditable to their sex, but from another angle is an immense recognition of the superiority of the other sex. They were made Peeresses in their own right for one reason and for one reason only, that there was no prospect of an heir male unless they were made Peeresses, in other words the hope was founded upon their physical fecundity, it was their channel to their position as Peeresses in their own right. And observe the necessary and logical reactions of that view. The only reason that they were made Peeresses in their own right, being women, was the obscure and not certain hope that they might bring males into the world, and many of them, I am bound to say, have disappointed that reasonable expectation.
I am not discussing the general sex problem at all, I am prepared to meet the claim that women in a reformed House of Lords should have the same right in equal conditions with men. When that claim is made I no longer oppose it because I recognise, as a noble Lord earlier in the debate said, that that cause is lost, and I will not fight it if and when, in the general scheme of the reconstitution of this House, it is revived. But I am dealing with the case of twenty-five individual ladies. We are asked now that we should admit them to this House when nobody pretends that any one of them would be elected, either by an exercise of the Prerogative of the Crown or by a democratic vote in the constituencies. Above all, do not let us confuse ourselves with a large general sex problem. Sex problems are always tiresome, and they always provoke controversy. It is very easy for anybody who recommends this Bill to adopt the 595 kind of stupid argument which says: "Are we going to be the only place in the country that does not admit women?" Well, I am not sure that if we took even that attitude it would be extraordinarily unpopular. But let us put it upon a rather broader basis. We are not placing the controversy upon the line that this is the last place in the whole country which disputes the claims of women. Let no one use that false argument. It is absolutely unfair in relation to the decision which we are called upon, and which I hope we intend, to take.
In common with every reformer of this House whose conversation I have had the opportunity of hearing, I say plainly and frankly that if this House is reformed, if you ever obtain the consent of this Government or any other Government to the reform of the House of Lords, we must prepare ourselves to confront great changes, but I am entitled to say that in this matter in my judgment we should make a great mistake if we thought that the complete reform of this House was likely to come very suddenly or very swiftly. I have gone through all the phases of this struggle. I see the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, opposite to me. I heard him thirty-three years ago in the Oxford Union, resisting a proposal to reform the House of Lords. I think he has spent all the rest of his public life making speeches in the opposite sense. I remember myself assailing—I fear with much less than the respect that I owed to him—my noble friend Lord Salisbury, the Leader of the House, because he delayed that reform of the House of Lords, which, when I was a Coalition Minister, he had assailed me with eloquent contempt for postponing. I have gone through a great deal of this, and I have come to the conclusion that we may, or may not, be reformed. We may be reformed earlier, or we may be reformed later, but it is going to be a very difficult business, and it cannot be done without our consent.
Observe that a very considerable qualification is introduced in the whole discussion by that indisputable circumstance. I know exactly all the existing proposals, because I happen to be a member of the Cabinet Committee, but I do not discuss them here further than to say that it is possible there may be a proposal that some portion of your Lord- 596 ships' House may be recruited as the result of election. This is where the ladies have their real chance. If and when the House is reformed, let them go to the constituencies and point out how many topics there are on which women are better able to give good advice than men. Let them establish upon a democratic basis their right to sit in this House, and—I know not when the moment will come—if and when the moment comes when the Government proposes and your Lordships accept the proposal that women shall be available for membership of this House, how instructive, how educational it will be that they should put their claim forward on its merits, on the sex merits—let us be perfectly plain—and how important it would be that a number of ladies should sit in this House. If they can persuade these vast and unknown constituencies, which alone can support an election to this House, if we ever get so far—if they can persuade those constituencies, with what pleasure we shall welcome them to this House, not as nominees of accident, not as merely the accidental conduit pipes established in the hope of making permanent male succession, but we should recognise them as women who, on their merits, had made good. On that basis I say we will welcome them to this House.
But until that day comes is there anything to be said for this proposal? Surely every argument that has been used shows the absurdity of this. We have heard this House described, I think quite unjustly, as a caste. I think, having regard to the most generous reinforcement of the aristocratic principle which the last fifteen years have afforded, we might at least have been protected from that taunt. But if we are a caste what is there to be said of the caste that is to be created, the feminine caste that is to be created, by the proposals of this Bill? I will enter a protest on behalf of the ladies who are affected and who are to be made into a kind of special caste. Who are they? As I have said, they are ladies who were made Peers in their own right, many of their Patents of Peerage most expressly saying that in no circumstances must they be anything but what they are, and in the face of that, having been appointed for a special purpose, we are told that now, when the reform of this House is the subject of active dis- 597 cussion, we are to take these twenty-five ladies and say to them that they are to be for all time, as far as I can see, a caste to be enabled to take part in the debates in your Lordships' House.
I say plainly that is the decision we are taking. I listened, as I almost always listen, with deep respect to the observations made by my noble friend Lord Cecil on this point. In my judgment they were less lucid than I generally find his observations. I do not even know that I understood them, but if I understood them aright he wishes to ask the King to exercise some discretion. It will be very disagreeable to any Sovereign to exercise any discretion among people of the opposite sex. I should think that it was a most infelicitous proposal that such a responsibility should be placed upon the Sovereign of this country. Nobody can say the House of Lords is reactionary in this matter. When such a reform of this House is recommended by the Government and the country as will afford women a place in this House we will agree, but we will never agree prematurely, before those reforms are recommended, to a special privilege being given to a small and illogically-constituted privileged class. We are told that we are in this House rather unsympathetic to the claims of women. I respectfully disagree. It may be only a symbolical circumstance that as I happened to come into this House for the purpose of making an inadequate contribution to the debate I looked at the windows in the Prince's Chamber. I know not how many windows there are, but I saw that at least six were devoted to the wives of King Henry VIII. It cannot, at least, be said that we have failed to commemorate conspicuous women in our history, and their commemoration marks the admiration of the House for conjugal virtue, however imperfectly repaid.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, the subject of this Bill has been before your Lordships now, after recurring periods, for over seven years and it would be surprising if a Bill which purports to base itself upon a general principle of justice and fairness as between men and women should be able, after the lapse of seven years, to discover any novel argument in its support. The novelty of the argu- 598 ments in this matter has at last been, reserved for the opponents of the measure and I am bound to say that they have struck me as being without that charm which is generally supposed to be attached to things that are new.
I heard the noble Lord, Lord Merrivale, say that this Bill was an abuse of the procedure of the House. I heard him say that no great constitutional question ought to be dealt with in this way, although I have yet to learn by what means constitutional questions are to be approached except through the medium of Acts of Parliament and Bills passed through both Houses. The noble Lord omitted to tell us what was the method that he suggested when he devoted himself to his invective and said that this Bill was an abuse of the procedure of your Lordships' House. That struck me as an unpleasant, even if it were a new, argument, but I am bound to say that some arguments that have been used by my noble friend the Earl of Birkenhead struck me as even more strange. He once more repeated that when this House was to be reformed the right of women to sit in it would no longer be challenged, and he said that therefore the right course is to wait until then. And then, so far as I understand, they are not to be entitled to sit by virtue of any hereditary privilege, but they are to be entitled to sit by virtue of being elected by the constituencies. I can only tell him that if his reform of the House of Lords is going to proceed upon any such discriminative, unjust and selective basis as that it will at least have one sincere and humble opponent.
But in truth the greater part of the argument was devoted to the suggestion that we ought to wait. It was suggested that the time is very near when this House will be reformed and these ladies can wait until that is accomplished. Is the time so near? The most remarkable thing about the reform of this House is that nobody seems to seek for it except the members of this House themselves. They are always passing Resolutions and calling upon the Government to come down and reform them. Yet there are probably not three members in this House who agree together as to the way in which the reform is to be effected. The noble Earl, who was promising us that this reform is to be carried out, 599 allowed us to believe that it is not going to secure the valuable support of his ardent convictions because he observed in his speech that the House was very well content with itself as at present constituted. What a pleasant frame of mind in which to introduce a Bill which is to secure that it shall be constituted in some other manner! As long ago as 1919, when this matter was again being discussed before your Lordships' this same argument was used and the noble Earl said:—I entertain no doubt whatever that the intention is sincerely entertained by the Government at a comparatively early date to introduce proposals with the object of reforming the Second Chamber. Such hopes have been sincerely entertained in the past and have proved delusive. I hope they will in this case not prove delusive.That happened seven years ago.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
You will remember that the Government was defeated very shortly afterwards.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I have very pleasant recollections of your Government being defeated in this House. Are you sure it will not be defeated again?
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
It is because of that postponed reform which may never be realised that you are going to deny to these women a right which they would inevitably possess if they were not disqualified by their sex. That lies at the foundation of the whole of this Bill. In some of the speeches the fact has been overlooked that the claim of these ladies to sit originally arose under the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, which provided that sex should not bar a woman from exercising any public functions. The whole question was whether their right to sit in this House was a public function, which the removal of their disability would permit them to exercise. Lord Banbury said it was so plain that it was not that it was hardly possible to consider the other side. The present Lord Chief Justice of England thought it was so plain the other way that he would not argue against it and there were at least two very eminent and very learned Lords of Appeal and one ex-Lord Chancellor who took the same view. Although I did not take the same view, because in 600 my view the construction of the Statute did not permit it, it really is not dealing fairly with the question to say that it is so plain that these people are excluded that no person with the least intelligence could urge that they were entitled to sit. The truth is that this Bill is designed to provide that which a Committee of this House decided had in fact been omitted from the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act.
That is the whole foundation of our scheme. It has nothing to do with selecting these twenty ladies and saying that they are the ones of all women whom one would most like to sit. Do your Lordships really flatter yourselves that you are of all men those most desired to sit? The truth is that for good or for evil, and it probably has weight both ways, the right of sitting in this House is removed from selection. There is no such thing as personal selection except in so far as Peers are from time to time created by the King. When one noble Lord said that the proposal to appoint these ladies as Peeresses would cause any Government to be dissolved amidst the ridicule and opprobrium of the nation, I would ask him to remember how the power to create members of this House has been exercised in the past. The truth is that to try and change this Bill from being what it is into being an attempt to give special privileges to a selected class of ladies and then to attempt to examine their qualifications for the post is both an invidious and—I cannot help saying it—an unfair and not a very courteous way of considering such a measure.
The real reason that lies at the back of this Bill is simply this. One way or the other, for ill or for good, and some of you think one way and some the other, it has been determined that women shall no longer be debarred by virtue of their sex from discharging the public duties that have hitherto been reserved to men. That determination has been followed by good and beneficial results, as I believe everybody agrees, and it was not the least surprising part of the speech of the noble Earl to hear him say that apparently one of the reasons why women were not to sit here was that two had distinguished themselves in the House of Commons. Our Constitution proceeds on the footing that the people 601 who are governed have not merely a right to say by whom they shall be governed, but they are entitled to submit themselves to take part in the Government and that right is exclusive of sex. If that be so, why, when this House of Parliament is constituted exclusively by the hereditary principle, should women be excluded if under the hereditary principle they would be entitled to sit? It has been suggested that they were never selected for the purpose. But the most honoured names in the House are held by people who were never selected for this purpose, but whose ancestors were selected for the purpose, and it was just as great an accident as to what their descendants would turn out to be as whether it would be a man or a woman who would be entitled to sit under and by virtue of the Patent.
I had hoped that, whatever decision you gave upon this matter, it would be at least free from the personal element which I think has been most needlessly introduced. You are not considering the qualifications of these ladies and if you were I venture to say there is hardly one of you who would express an opinion upon them. That is not before us and should form no part in determining the way in which your vote will be given. There is a tradition which comes down from a very remarkable Book, which relates how the Pharisees asked when the Kingdom of Heaven should come on earth and the answer was, "When the man shall be as the woman and the woman shall be as the man and both shall be one." We are a long, long way from realising that profound truth, but this is, at least, a small step forward and I ask your Lordships not to be afraid to take it.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, this Bill is represented by the noble Lord who has just sat down and by other supporters as a measure of long delayed justice for which all right-minded people in the country have been clamouring for a long time and which, in addition to that, is going to add to the efficiency, the amenity, and even the attractions of this House. If it is a question of justice, of abstract justice, I am not at all sure that the arguments are in favour of the supporters of this Bill. I do not profess to be able to form an opinion upon the legal opinions which have been expressed 602 by various learned Lords this afternoon, but there is one thing I am quite clear about and which I can understand, and that is that it is by a pure accident, by what would be vulgarly called a "fluke," that these ladies are able to put in a claim at all and get anybody to support it. For these reasons I prefer to leave justice out of the question altogether and to devote what few remarks I shall make solely to the question of expediency.
I was a convinced supported of female suffrage long before the occupants of both Front Benches here and elsewhere were tumbling over each other in their efforts to give women more than they ever asked for or ever hoped to attain. I was in favour of it for perfectly obvious reasons. It seemed to me an absurdity to try to stand in the way of women trying to obtain the Parliamentary vote when they were at the same time entitled to occupy the highest civic positions in the country. They were able, as far as I know, to become Judges, if they were so disposed, and yet it was contended that they were unfit to put a cross on a ballot paper. But whilst I was in favour of this principle I never suffered any illusions with regard to it. I never for a moment imagined that women were going either to swamp the country or swamp the House of Commons, or that women were going to outvote men by voting for each other. We all know perfectly well that women are much more unchristian-like in their characters than men, that their prejudices are much stronger and that in few circumstances do they prefer to vote for their own sex rather than for a man. But at the same time these women had a perfectly plain, clear right to enter the House of Commons.
I cannot see any analogy whatever between the claim of these women in the past—I am speaking of ten or fifteen years ago—and the claim of these ladies who are clamouring for a vote now and are represented by their champions as a sort of out caste, or—if I am not risking perpetrating a pun—the Peri waiting disconsolate outside the Parliamentary Paradise. Not only am I not able to get up any sympathy on behalf of these ladies, but I can see very good reasons why their claim should not be entertained. One objection—I think it has already been alluded to by previous speakers—is that we are actually 603 solemnly proposing to add to our numbers. The great defect of this place is that it is much too large and it is much too large because of the indiscriminate application of the hereditary principle. Far from desiring to increase the number of the members of this House I am, and always have been, in favour of reducing the number. At least half the present members of this House ought to be got rid of, and I am under the impression that they might be got rid of without their ever ascertaining that their services were dispensed with. Yet, in the face of this predominant weakness of this House, it is calmly proposed to add twenty odd ladies, who, so far as I know, have not manifested any aptitude whatsoever for political life.
It has been claimed at various times that if we admit these ladies we shall introduce a new element which is going to add to the efficiency of this House. I would like to ask people who believe in this theory what efficiency have female Members of Parliament brought to the House of Commons? What effect have they had there? They have not even improved the manners of the place. What influence have they had upon legislation generally? And has any particular female Member of Parliament shown herself in any degree superior to an ordinary male Member of Parliament? What they have done is this: They have attracted a certain amount of attention in the Press, which nowadays devotes no attention whatsoever, if it can possibly avoid it, to Parliament, and they have forced their way on to the Front Bench, and there they will remain.
It is perfectly obvious they are there permanently, because when one Prime Minister has included women in his Government naturally his successor feels bound to do the same. If one Prime Minister puts half a dozen women in his Government his political opponent, when he succeeds to power, will be obliged obviously to put at least six in his Government, because otherwise it would be worked up against him in the country as an intolerable insult to the sex. Although, as I say, they have succeeded to this extent, that they have forced themselves into the Government of the country, I ask what good are they going to do us here and how are they going to add to our efficiency? I will admit 604 that occasionally their opinions might be interesting. We are fond now of discussing social questions. Their opinions, doubtless, would be interesting on divorce and birth control, but, on the whole, those opinions would be far better expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, and the right rev. Prelates.
Then there is the fresh air theory, the theory that you are introducing a totally new element into this Assembly. What becomes of that? Perhaps, if you were proposing to admit a selection of highly gifted women who were experts upon one thing or another, this theory might be seriously entertained, but what you are going to do is to introduce a certain number of ladies who belong to the same class as we do ourselves, who have been brought up more or less in the same way, who, like most of us, are imperfectly educated and who are not going to supply us with any new ideas at all. What becomes of the theory of fresh air?
There is another argument adduced in favour of admitting these ladies, a very astonishing argument used by a noble Lord on the Front Opposition Bench. He said: If you can only secure the ennobling presence of these ladies you will attract a large number of young men who at present will not come near the place. You must have sunk pretty low if you are reduced to endeavouring to make this House resemble a casino for the purpose of attracting young bloods who prefer occupying themselves in another manner. But I do not think that even this theory will hold water. I do not believe the presence of these immaculate and probably middle-aged ladies would prove such a strong attraction after all. I am inclined to think that if you really want to induce reluctant young bloods to come here and take part in the debates it would be more efficacious if you could secure ladies of the chorus from the theatres.
Perhaps the most curious feature in connection with the proposal to admit these ladies is that amongst its strongest supporters are the noble Lords who sit upon the Front Bench opposite. I have always understood that opposition to the hereditary system was one of the chief articles of faith of the Labour Party, and indeed of the Liberal Party, and yet these noble Lords are actually going to vote for 605 what is literally nothing else but a reductio ad absurdum of the hereditary principle. It is the unlimited application, as I have already said, of the hereditary principle, as resulting in all sorts of unfit persons being entitled to come and sit here, that has been our undoing and that may possibly eventually destroy this House altogether, and I can only interpret the remarkable attitude of the Labour Lords opposite by the theory that they are impelled by some Machiavellian intention to discredit this House and to make it look more ridiculous than it is already. When I say that it is ridiculous already, I mean only that it is ridiculous in the sense that there are a large number of people who belong to it who ought to be got rid of at the earliest opportunity.
I have refrained from mentioning the strongest argument, an argument which, indeed, is absolute, irrefutable, against the inclusion of these ladies—namely, the imminence of the reform of this House—because that has been dealt with by other speakers. I do not share the doubts that were expressed by my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster. The reform of this House is a thing that nobody wants. They may say that they want it, but they really do not want it in their hearts. At the same time I am absolutely convinced that it is coining. It is one of those things that are inevitable, and we have to make up our minds that it will come, and before very long, unless some untoward accident should upset the present Government. In those circumstances I put it to the supporters of the Bill that, even if they are successful, if they triumph on this occasion, their triumph will be of a singularly evanescent character. If, as the result of this Bill, these ladies are to sit here, they will obviously be able to sit here only for a very short time. I give them one or two Sessions at the outside, because, after all, reform will come, we shall all be, so to speak, in the melting pot, and I think that if one thing is more certain than another it is that the latest arrivals, supposing these ladies get their way, will be the first to be excluded when the opportunity arises.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, may I ask one question for my own information and for the guidance of your Lordships before you give your votes in a Division? 606 I wish to know whether, if this Bill becomes law, its operation will be confined to these nineteen or twenty-two ladies who have been so frequently referred to, or will it then be within the Prerogative of the Crown to create Peerages for other ladies who, when created, will have seats in your Lordships' House? I do not know whether the noble Viscount has thought of that point and can give me an answer, or whether some legal authority can tell us whether, under this Act, other ladies than those now in question will be able to be called up and have seats in your Lordships' House.
§ LORD WRENBURY
My Lords, in a book that I was reading a day or two ago there occurred a sentence which struck me, and, although I cannot reproduce it with verbal accuracy, it was to this effect: that there is no better test of the progress of civilisation in any society than to observe the way in which it treats its women. Of course the whole history of mankind has been that the woman was originally considered a very inferior being, little better than a beast of burden, that we have gone upwards, and that as civilisation has progressed we have arrived at what for the moment is the climax reached in the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, 1919. That was an Act which recognised that sex equality was accepted by this nation. Down to the time when that Act was passed, no doubt, many of us held very different opinions as to what was the right course as regards sex equality. The nation has now pronounced in favour of it and one cannot go back upon it. There is now equality as between the sexes, and in regard to this Bill the only question is whether, in respect of this particular matter of sitting in this House, a woman is to be disqualified when she is not disqualified elsewhere.
I was a member of both the Committees for Privileges which sat upon Lady Rhondda's case. The first Committee, as your Lordships will remember, was in her favour. In the second case I was one of a small minority. I erred, at any rate, in good company. I thought, and I still think, that that decision was wrong, but it does not matter whether it was right or wrong, for the question before the House now is, not what under 607 the law is the position of woman, but the position which she ought to occupy and what legislation ought to be passed in order to give her her rights in regard to exclusion from the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. In all the arguments to which your Lordships have listened today I think you will find that this Bill has been treated as if it were a Bill to confer something upon women. I submit for your consideration that it is nothing of the kind. It is not a Bill to give something, but a Bill to remove something. When the King appoints a Peer, there flows from that appointment the right to sit in this House. His Majesty, I apprehend, by virtue of his Prerogative, could not appoint a Peer and withdraw from him the right to sit in this House. Whether he is entitled to sit here or not is a question for your Lordships in Committee for Privileges. The King, of course, creates the right when he creates a Peer, but whether a man is to come
§ and sit here or not is a question for your Lordships and not for any one else.
§ The whole question in regard to this Bill is whether or not there shall be a removal of the disqualification to enjoy that privilege which necessarily flows from the act of the Sovereign when he creates a Peer—namely, the right to come here, to sit here and to vote here. Hitherto that right has been excluded by reason of sex. The operation of this-Bill is simply to remove that disqualification. It grants nothing, but it removes something; it enables a woman to do that which, if she were of the other sex, she would be entitled to do. I shall certainly support the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ On Question, Whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 80; Not-Contents, 126.609
|Marlborough, D.||Hereford, L. Bp.||Jessel, L.|
|Lincoln, L. Bp.||Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll.)|
|Dufferin and Ava, M.||Newcastle, L. Bp.||Kylsant, L.|
|Lincolnshire, M. (L. Great Chamberlain.)||Rochester, L. Bp.||Meston, L.|
|Southwark, L. Bp.||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|Reading, M.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Aberconway, L.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Cavan, E.||Aberdare, L.||Mostyn, L.|
|Chesterfield, E.||Arnold, L.||Northbourne, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Askwith, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Grey, E.||Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Rowallan, L.|
|Huntingdon, E.||Boston, L.||Ruthwen of Gowrie, L.|
|Iveagh, E.||Buckmaster, L.||Sackville, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Chalmers, L.||St. Levan, L.|
|Manvers, E.||Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.)||Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)|
|Munster, E.||Danesfort, L. [Teller.]||Sandhurst, L.|
|Powis, E.||Daryngton, L.||Savile, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)||Shaw, L.|
|Sondes, E.||Derwent, L.||Stafford, L.|
|Strange, E. (D. Atholl.)||Digby, L.||Thomson, L.|
|Yarborough, E.||Emmott, L.||Trevor, L.|
|Farrer, L.||Vestey, L.|
|Astor, V. [Teller.]||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)||Vivian, L.|
|Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Gorell, L.||Wargrave, L.|
|Chelmsford, V.||Hardinge of Penshurst, L.||Wester Wemyss, L.|
|Haldane, V.||Harris, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Hampden, V.||Hemphill, L.||Wrenbury, L.|
|St. Davids, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Lansdowne, M.||Beauchamp, E.|
|Zetland, M.||Birkenhead, E.|
|Argyll, D.||Bradford, E.|
|Bedford, D.||Shaftesbury, E. (L. Steward.)||Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)|
|Portland, D.||Airlie, E.|
|Sutherland, D.||Albemarle, E.||Durham, E.|
|Wellington, D.||Amherst, E.||Eldon, E.|
|Ancaster, E.||Haddington, E.|
|Bath, M.||Bathurst, E.||Harrowby, E.|
|Howe, E.||Avebury, L.||Lamington, L.|
|Ilchester, E.||Banbury of Southam, L. [Teller.]||Lawrence, L.|
|Leicester, E.||Lawrence of Kingsgate, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Biddulph, L.||Leconfield, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.)||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Lovelace, E.||Carson, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Macclesfield, E.||Charnwood, L.||Merthyr, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Monson, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Mowbray, L.|
|Mayo, E.||Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.)||Muir Mackenzie, L.|
|Morton, E.||Crawshaw, L.||Newton, L.|
|Mount Edgcumbe, E.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Oranmore and Browne, L.|
|Northbrook, E.||Desart, L. (E. Desart.)||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Onslow, E.||Desborough, L. [Teller.]||Phillimore, L.|
|Scarbrough, E.||Dynevor, L.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Spencer, E.||Douglas, L. (E. Home.)|
|Stanhope, E.||Doverdale, L.||Queenborough, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.)||Rayleigh, L.|
|Allendale, V.||Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)||Revelstoke, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Forester, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Churchill, V.||Gainford, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Cross, V.||Gisborongh, L.||Sempill, L.|
|Devonport, V.||Hampton, L.||Sherborne, L.|
|Falmonth, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)||Southborough, L.|
|FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Hastings, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Hood, V.||Hindlip, L.||Strachie, L.|
|Inchcape, V.||Hothfield, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Peel, V.||Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Sidmouth, V.||Hylton, L.||Sydenham of Combe, L.|
|Younger of Leckie, V.||Illingworth, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Joicey, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Worcester, L. Bp.||Kenlis, L. (M. Headfort.)||Treowen, L.|
|Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)||Waring, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Ashton of Hyde, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Atkinson, L.||Lambourne, L.||Wittenham, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative and Amendment agreed to accordingly: Bill to be read 2a this day six months.