§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]
§ Assimilation of Parliamentary franchise of men and women.
§ 1. For the purpose of providing that the Parliamentary franchise shall be the same for men and women, subsections (1) and (2) of Section four of the Representation of the People Act, 1918 (in this Act referred to as "the principal Act") shall be repealed and the following sections shall be substituted for Sections one and two of that Act:—
§ (Section to be substituted for the said Section, one.)
§ "—(1) A person shall be entitled to be, registered as a Parliamentary elector for a constituency (other than a University constituency), if he or she is of full age and not subject to any legal incapacity; and
- (a) has the requisite residence qualification; or
- (b) has the requisite business premises qualification; or
- (c) is the husband or wife of a person entitled to be so registered in respect of a business premises qualification.
- (a) must on the last day of the qualifying period be residing in premises in the constituency, or occupying business premises in the constituency, as the case may be; and
- (b) must during the whole of the qualifying period have resided in premises, or occupied business premises, as the case may be, in the constituency, or in another constituency within the same Parliamentary borough or Parliamentary county, or within a Parliamentary borough or Parliamentary county contiguous to that borough or county, or separated from that borough or county by water, not exceeding at the nearest point six miles in breadth, measured in the case of tidal water from low-water mark.
§ (3) The expression 'business premises' in this section means land or other premises of the yearly value of not less than ten pounds occupied for the purpose of the business, profession, or trade of the person to be registered."
§ (Section to be substituted for the said Section two.)
§ ". A person shall be entitled to be registered as a Parliamentary elector for a University constituency if he or she is of full age and not subject to any legal incapacity, and has received a degree (other than an honorary degree) at any University forming, or forming part of, the constituency, or in the case of the Scottish Universities is qualified under Section twenty-seven of the Representation of the People (Scotland) Act, 1868, or, if a woman, has been admitted to and passed the final examination, and kept under the conditions required of women by the University, the period of residence, necessary for a man to obtain a degree at any University forming, or forming part of, a University constituency which did not at the time the examination was passed admit women to degrees."
§ LORD NEWTON moved, in subsection (1) of the substituted Section one, before "age", to insert "electoral." The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment I hope that I shall be believed—although I rather doubt it—when I say that I move it with considerable reluctance in the regrettable absence of the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, who does not consider this place worthy of his notice. I was in hopes that this very important Amendment would have been put down by some weighty politician not attached, if possible, to either 409 of the two Parties, and whose opinion really would have had considerable influence not only here but throughout the country, and I waited until the last moment, but as nobody appeared on the scene I took upon myself to put this Amendment on the Paper feeling that it would be ludicrous if this House were to express no opinion upon this very important question.
§ I confess to feeling some slight encouragement from the fact that so far as I can ascertain this is the only proposal in connection with the Bill which meets with any support in the Conservative Party. I observe that when Ministers and their satellites address meetings in favour of the Bill their advocacy of the Bill is received in stony silence, but whenever it has been suggested that the principle embodied in this Amendment should be accepted, and that both sexes should obtain the vote only on reaching the age of 25 years, the enthusiasm is so great that the proceedings are temporarily interrupted. My noble and learned friend Lord Birkenhead, who, I regret, is not in his place to-day, exhorted us towards the end of his most illuminating speech to accept the Bill in a spirit of what he called "resolute resignation." It perhaps would have been more appropriate if he had adopted the phrase of one of his predecessors and asked the Party to accept it with sombre acquiescence. But I personally am not prepared to accept the Bill in either of these spirits unless the Amendment which appears in my name—[to give votes at 25]—is embodied in the Bill.
§ The noble and learned Earl, who told us incidentally that he had passed much of his life in giving good advice to his countrymen which in no case had ever been accepted, gave us his version of the genesis of this Bill. We all have our theories as to the origin of this Bill. I have my own, but I prefer to accept the explanation of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead. He told us that when the genesis of this Bill took place in 1918 everybody practically was mad, including President Wilson, and he explained that in the wave of enthusiasm created as the result of the Peace it was decided to give votes to men of 21, irrespective of any qualities which they might possess, in virtue of their having 410 fought. Then it was pointed out that if the vote was to be given to young men because they had endangered their lives it was only fair that the same privilege should be extended to women who had also endangered their lives in making munitions. Theoretically that is defensible enough. It is a very good reason. But it did not stop there, because there were a number of people in this country of sexes who did nothing in the way of fighting for their country or helping at all. Many of them devoted their abilities, such as they were, to preventing the War being brought to a successful conclusion. All those people got the vote, too.
§ The franchise was accorded—it fell upon the just and the unjust; and we have now arrived at the time when, as the result of embarking upon the slippery slope, we are about to enfranchise five millions of the opposite sex. The worst of arriving at the bottom of the slippery slope is that there is no means of retracing your steps, or of recovery. I remember that not so very long ago I was in a European country, and I was discussing with the Prime Minister the Constitution of that country. I asked him about the position of women. "Have women," I said, "got the vote?" He said: "They had it. They had it at the last Election." So I said: "if they had it at the last Election I presume they have it now" "Oh, no," he replied, "they are not going to be allowed to vote any longer because they voted the wrong way." That is a very simple and practical way of dealing with difficulties of this kind, but it is not one which we can follow in this country. In former days, a long time before many noble Lords whom I see before me were converted, I was converted to the principle of female suffrage. It always seemed to me that if a women was good enough to be mayor of a big city or to be a member of any of the learned professions and so forth, it was perfectly ludicrous and grotesque to deny her the vote. At the same time it never occurred to me for a single moment, and I do not suppose it occurred to many other people, that in the course of a few years we should see every woman, whether she wanted it or not, in possession of the vote at the age of twenty-one.
§ I should like to call attention to this remarkable fact, upon which up to now 411 I have heard nobody comment. I would like your Lordships' House to realise that whereas men, that is to say Englishmen, have been endeavouring for over six hundred years to obtain the full franchise, women have got it in less than ten years, and yet we ironically speak of them as the weaker sex. This Amendment, which I know to be thoroughly approved of by almost every soul who is sitting here this afternoon, is one which must commend itself to everyone of common sense. At the same time I can well understand the opposition to it on the part of certain parties. One of the eccentricities of 1918, to which the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, referred, was the obsession that all the prescience we have resides only in the young, and that the older and more experienced you are the more unfit you are to be put in a responsible position. I am not sure that this feeling did not date from before the War because, although they are much too polite ever to say it, I have a lurking conviction myself that my own family have looked upon me as being in a condition of senile imbecility for at least twenty years. What I have observed is a very strong tendency on the part of extreme politicians in this country to decry anything in the nature of age and of experience.
§ One of the speakers in the debate on the Second Beading of this Bill—I rather Chink it was my noble and learned friend Lord Sumner—expressed a certain amount of gratification at the thought that at all events this Bill was a final Bill, and that there would be nobody left to enfranchise as everybody would now have the vote, except prisoners, lunatics and members of this House. But I am not at all sure that my noble friend will be able to solace himself even with this consolation. I foresee the time when there may be a further extension of the franchise. I can conceive of the Labour Party, if things were not going well with them, saying: "Middle age and old age are things which we ought to take no account of at all. Experience is a thing for which we have no use. As a man gets older he grows more moderate. We have not any use for these retired business men, retired ministers and retired officials of one kind and another. We had much better get rid of them. Let us take the vote away from everybody who 412 has reached, say, the age of fifty and let us bestow it upon the bright young things of fourteen or fifteen who have just left school and have been properly schooled in Communistic principles." I am too old to witness this development, but I think it is quite a possibility that there may be those here who are young enough to see it brought into effect.
§ I will not waste time in discussing the question as to whether a person of twenty-five is more competent to exercise the franchise than one of twenty-one. It is such a self-evident proposition that it is almost an insult to my audience to dwell upon it. I prefer to call attention to another effect which will be produced by it if it is accepted. If it is accepted it will at all events keep the number of voters in constituencies within comparatively manageable limits, although the numbers will be very largely increased. Under this Bill I gather that constituencies will reach an average of something like 60,000 or 70,000 voters and that 26,000,000 people will have votes out of a little over 40,000,000 people in the country. What we are suffering from is not that the franchise is too small but that it is too big. The more you increase the franchise the less value people will attach to the vote, and the less value it will have. What is universal property is of no value at all. In a way the electorate of this country very much resembles your Lordships' House. It is overgrown. Our stock here, so to speak, has been so much watered, to repeat an expression which has already been made use of, that the political quality of it has largely diminished and there is a much greater want of responsibility with regard to politics than there used to be. I am not sure that it does not present rather an illuminating spectacle this afternoon. Here am I quite an unfit person to move this most important Amendment and there is a by no means representative House listening to my arguments. It might perhaps be argued that if a more responsible person had undertaken this duty there might have been a larger House; but it is plain at all events that the present situation is extremely unsatisfactory.
§ When constituencies were of normal size a man's personality really counted 413 for something. A man got in on his merits. He got to be known and respected. But now how can personality tell? I believe you might go into a big constituency now and ask the first ten persons that you met, both male and female, who their member was, and not more than one would be able to answer satisfactorily. Everybody admits that this great increase of vast masses of ignorant voters will become the easy prey of the political "boss" and the political machine. I do not think there is any greater fallacy than to suppose the public generally is interested in politics. What chance has the ordinary person of learning anything about politics at all? He can only get it from studying the daily Press which records debates in Parliament. If the late Lord Northcliffe did nothing else he at all events effectually destroyed all serious interest in Parliament. Practically the only incidents in Parliament that are reported now in the so-called popular Press are ejaculations and scenes. The other day, out of curiosity, I looked at the organs belonging to two noble Lords, members of this assembly. I looked at the Daily Mail and I found five columns devoted to what is known, I think, as the Hyde Park case, and half a column or so to what had happened in Parliament. I looked at the rival organ belonging to the other noble Lord, Lord Beaver-brook, and I found, oddly enough, much the same proportion—eleven columns devoted to the Hyde Park case, two columns devoted to Parliament. That is the kind of political pabulum which is provided for the public.
§ It is in these circumstances that our light hearted Prime Minister, who I hope will not go down to history as a sort of British political Emile Ollivier, is going to add another five millions to the electorate, including some of the most ignorant and frivolous portion of the community. I may remark that he considers it is already done, because I observe he has already congratulated the young women upon having obtained the vote. That brings me to the concluding portion of my remarks. It is apparently obvious that the Prime Minister entertains very much the same opinion of this House as the noble Lord, Lord Rothermere—that is to say he ignores it altogether. I have sat here for many years, probably almost as long as anybody whom I am 414 addressing, and every year have I heard complaints from the Front Opposition Bench and every part of the House as to the way in which this House is treated by the two Parties, from none more emphatically than the noble Lord who is now sitting upon the Government Front Bench. I have often doubted in my own mind which Party really treated this House the worse. If you have a Labour or a Liberal Government in office, they are in deliberate antagonism to this place, and they make no mystery of it. They send up measures for the purpose of creating trouble and of provoking contest between the two Houses. But when it comes to a Conservative Administration we are treated in what is perhaps an even more galling way: we are completely ignored. We are looked upon as a sort of poor relation or humble henchman, whose business it it not to argue and debate, but merely to do what we are told. I am not sure this is not putting us in a rather more humiliating position than to have to encounter deliberate opposition.
§ I am always looking forward, and looking forward in vain, for a day on which we can show that we are really not a wing of the Conservative party, but a comparatively independent institution Here is an admirable opportunity. As a rule the excuse has been that the Lower House has unfortunately raised questions in which we are personally concerned, but that does not arise here. Here we are not personally concerned in the least. It is a plain constitutional question, and we have the good sense of the country behind us. If there is any noble Lord here who is meditating whether he should give me a vote or not, I would ask him particularly not to be intimidated by the fear of being described as a die-hard. "Die-hard" is a term which is more misapplied than any other term I can think of at the present moment. Anybody who has a definite opinion is described as a die-hard. Anybody who says what other people think but refrain from saying is equally described as a die-hard, and most people when they talk sense are also described as die-hards. I would venture to appeal to my noble friends—I do not know that my argument will have any weight with them—not to be intimidated by abuse of this character. I would ask them to give a vote for this 415 Amendment on the grounds that it does not deprive anybody, either man or woman, of anything which they possess already; it does not interfere with the local government franchise; it places men and women on an absolute equality: and, lastly, I know perfectly well that nearly everybody in this House, including everybody on the Front Bench, is in his heart entirely in sympathy with it. I beg to move.
Page 1, line 17, after ("full") insert ("electoral").—(Lord Newton.)
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I regret very much that on this occasion I am not taking the opportunity of proclaiming myself a die-hard and voting with my noble friend. I think the Amendment that he has moved may be approached from two sides. You may consider it on its merits, as to whether 24 or 25 is on the whole a better age for men and women to vote at than 21. I can conceive a great deal being said for the age of 24 or 25: indeed, at one time I thought myself it 'would be a good thing if we could settle it at that age as a way of meeting all difficulties and all prejudices on the subject. Undoubtedly it may be argued with a good deal of force that people are younger than they were—they grow up slower—and that the 21 of some centuries ago is not really a bit younger than the 25 or 24 of to-day. Against that I confess there is the argument that it would be a complete change from anything that we have recognised in this country up to now. That argument has always seemed to me very, very strong. Are we, for the first time in our history, to say that a man or a woman—a man in this case is the crucial point—does not grow up until he is 25, and is not capable of discharging public functions until that age? The anomaly that as the law is at present a man may be able to sit in Parliament when he is 21, but, if the proposal to raise the age is carried, would not vote for a Member of Parliament until he is 25, merely illustrates the very great difficulties into which you would get if you were to raise the age above 21 at the present time. But I do not think that all those arguments, important and interesting as they are, really are the deciding factor in this case.
416 I listened very carefully to my noble friend's speech, and I am sure that he, with his usual Parliamentary skill, used the arguments which he thought were likely to be most convincing in the present case. I noticed that he did not argue at all—he put it aside altogether—the question of whether twenty-one or twenty-five was the better age. His argument really was partly this: we have too many voters at present and we ought to reduce the number by any means that we can. That is, of course, if one may say so quite respectfully, an argument against democracy altogether. No doubt there is a great deal to be said against democracy, as there is against every other form of government. You may argue, and argue very cogently, that other forms of government are better. But is it really possible, for this House particularly, seriously to stand up before the country and to say that they think we ought to take a step backwards and against the democratic development of this country? Is that a practical proposal? May I put this to my noble friend and his supporters? It is quite plain that this Amendment will never be accepted by the other House. The majority against it was perfectly overwhelming. I forget the figures.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
359 to 16. It was overwhelming. I have often voted in very small minorities myself—I like doing it—but it is hopeless with figures of that kind to expect you would ever get the House of Commons to accept this Amendment. What, then, does my noble friend and those who support him contemplate? Does he contemplate that we should persist in the Amendment? Does he contemplate that we should go on and destroy the Bill? Is that what he desires? I suppose he has some idea, because, if I may say so very respectfully, I do not think any member of your Lordships' House is doing his public duty unless he looks forward to see what is going to be the next step to the step that he is about to take. Is he going to persist? Is he going to destroy this Bill by persisting? 1—because that would certainly mean destruction. No reasonable man can doubt that for a moment.
417 Does he really contemplate that we should go to the country—because the country would be the only authority which ultimately could decide, or ought to decide such an issue—and say that on the one side stands the House of Commons, the overwhelming majority of the Parties in the House of Commons, and on the other side stands the House of Lords, on an issue as to who are to be the electorate for the House of Commons, and as to whether it is desirable to cut down the electorate to a lower figure than that at which it stands at present at any rate as far as the male electors are concerned? I cannot contemplate doing anything of that kind. It seems to me quite clear that to take such a course as that would be to take a course which would be indefensible for any Second Chamber to take, and I am afraid I must say particularly in the case of the present Second Chamber that we have.
My noble friend said that he was anxious to show that this House was not a wing of the Conservative Party. I cannot say that I think the present opportunity is a very good one for making that demonstration. We should be acting in way mach more extremely to the right than the Conservative Party, by its official exponents and by the majority of its members in the House of Commons, thought right. Are we really going to show by action of that kind that we are impartial people, unmoved by prejudice of any kind, merely anxious to do our duty, as I am quite sure we are? Is that the best kind of issue on which to make a demonstration of that kind? Would it not be said that this only shows that the House of Lords is not really in touch with the public opinion of the day? It is very difficult to see what right a Second Chamber has to exist except in order to correct the vagaries of the First Chamber in accordance with the permanent views of the public opinion of the country. I cannot help thinking that to pass this Amendment and to persist in it would be madness. But to pass it and not persist in it—is that really a very dignified position for this House to occupy? I do not say when it is a question of detail, or when you are going to suggest something may have been overlooked by the other House, that it is not a perfectly right course to pass an Amendment, 418 but to pass an Amendment which is really understood to go to the very foundations of this measure, or at any rate to the very centre of the feeling about it, and then not to persist in it—I cannot help thinking that that is rather a futile and undignified proceeding for us to take.
It seems to me that we have two functions as a Second Chamber in dealing with a Bill in Committee. We can make suggestions which we hope and believe will be accepted, or which at any rate we are not confident will not be accepted by the other House. We can make suggestions with a view to obtaining their embodiment in the Bill. That is one course, and a very useful course, which we can take. Or we can say we will have a real issue with the other House on this Amendment. We know it cannot by any possibility be accepted, but we will put it in and persist in it, and if the Bill is destroyed we shall not be unduly sorry for that result.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
That is exactly the view which I should expect my noble friend to take, not only with regard to this Bill but every Bill.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (VISCOUNT PEEL)
Except the Currency and Bank Notes Bill. He praised that.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
He praised the Currency Bill. I hasten to make the exception. It makes me doubt whether the Currency Bill is quite so wise as I thought it was. But I do not think even my noble friend, whose courage I quite admit is marvellous, will think this Amendment a good fighting ground on which to challenge the House of Commons and the Conservative Party, and indeed every Party, before the country. It would certainly end in the humiliating defeat of this House. It is for these reasons, and for these practical reasons, that it seems to me that your Lordships, if I may say so very respectfully, would make a great mistake in inserting this Amendment in the Bill, and I trust that your Lordships will not do so.
With the latter part of my noble friend's speech I have, of course, a great 419 deal of sympathy, as possibly all of your Lordships have. I do think the position of this House in the Constitution is a most unsatisfactory one. It is perfectly true to say that no Government in the House of Commons, whether it is a Conservative Government or a Liberal Government or a Labour Government, pays very much regard to this House, and it does not do so because it knows quite well that the constitution of this House is such that it is very unlikely that if an issue comes between the other House and this House, the country will decide now in favour of this House. That is because, as I think, we are in urgent need of a reform of the Second Chamber. I think this is a scandalous condition of affairs. We have to admit that the Second Chamber is really powerless for any great or effective action in this or in any other Bill, and yet it continues in existence and we hold out to the people of the country the vain hope that there is a real harrier against violent and ill considered legislation. Such a barrier, in my judgment, no longer exists.
If this were a proposal for the reform of this House, and if my noble friend could show me that by accepting this Amendment we should promote the reform of the House of Lords, then indeed he would have a very strong argument in his favour; but I cannot believe that such would be the result of this particular Amendment. I think that it would only destroy our reputation and position in the country. I am quite convinced that there is at the back of this Bill a far greater volume of public opinion than many of my noble friends think, and I earnestly trust that we shall not accept this Amendment and, in so doing, adopt a course which I am convinced would be unwise and undignified on the part of your Lordships' House.
§ LORD GAINFORD
The speech of the noble Viscount in threatening that this Amendment would destroy the Bill leaves me somewhat cold. It seems to me to be absurd that the Government should think that, in the event of your Lordships coming to the conclusion that young ladies of the ages of twenty-one, twenty-two and twenty-three should not be given the vote at the present time, this is a matter on which a General Election would be fought. To me the issues are very much graver. I think of the time, 420 a hundred years ago, when there was a prolonged agitation in favour of the Reform Bill. The Reform Bill came, and something like 500,000 electors were placed on the electoral roll for the first time. In 1867 another 1,000,000 voters were added, practically on the ground that householders in the boroughs were competent to exercise the franchise. In 1854 came the equivalent measure giving the vote to householders in the counties, but only after very long-protracted agitation in the country and after the question had been made a real battle-cry at the Elections, and 2,000,000 more electors were placed on the roll.
Then we come to the period of the War in which the nation was called upon to make the biggest sacrifices that it has ever been asked to make. Men and women came forward and did work which revealed a capacity, an ability and a loyalty to their country which surpassed anything that the country had ever known before. It was impossible in 1918, when the Government proposed an alteration of the franchise, to resist it, and it was passed more as a war reward than on grounds of expediency or as an appeal to the political intelligence of the community. At that time there was no opposition in Parliament. There was a Coalition Government, and a great majority of the male electors were still in France. There was no great demand for the extension of the electorate. I ask myself to-day why we are invited to increase this enormous electorate which was swollen by 13,000,000 voters in 1918. Why are we asked now to increase it by another 5,000,000 or 6,000,000? Was there any demand for this at the last General Election? I never heard of it. I have looked at the record of the Parties, and I find no advocacy of the extension on the platforms of the country.
It is true that the Conservative Party did indicate in some general announcement that they were in favour of equal rights for both sexes, but they added that this could only be determined by a Conference on the lines of the Committee presided over by the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, which had previously met and reported to both Houses of Parliament. It does occur to me that, when there is no demand in the country for this extension and when the Government come forward and suggest adding 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 voters, they do so 421 with a view to trying to secure increased support from those whom they propose to enfranchise. The Socialist Party and what is left of the Liberal Party are advocating similar measures, and they hope in turn that they may get support from the additional voters who may be enfranchised. Going up and down the country as I do, and travelling a great deal in the train, I never hear anybody advocating this extension. So far as I can see, there can be no strong demand for it. It seems to me to be the duty of this House when there is no public demand for such an extension, at any rate to give an opportunity next year for the country to consider this question and for those who now have the vote to decide whether it should be extended to those who have not.
To increase the number of voters is a step which, to my mind, ought not to be lightly undertaken. I look upon the youth of the country as being very susceptible to impressions and very capable of being easily led astray. If your Lordships will allow me, I should like to read one or two passages that show the Influence of Moscow upon the youth of this country at the present time. Yesterday, in another place, the Home Secretary alluded to the £28,000 that has been distributed for Communistic purposes in this country and said that he was satisfied that this amount had gone through a particular bank. From information that has reached me, both before the General Strike and since, I am convinced that sums very much larger than that have been spent in this country in order to promote the General Strike and the miners' strike. Where has the money been spent? It is spent among the youths of this country who, from inexperience and through false idealism and lack of thought, are driven to take up these extreme views, which are detrimental to this country. Until they come to an age of discretion I do not think that they ought to be entitled to exercise the franchise and to do us harm. The noble Viscount alluded to the clock being set back. I think the extension of the franchise by the addition of a large number of people very susceptible to wrong influences is the way to set the clock back, but if you wait until they have had time for a little mature deliberation and have added two or three years to their womanhood or manhood, 422 they may be able to use a vote which will help the country, will tend to progress and prosperity and will prevent the unemployment upon which these extremists so often count.
I should like, if I may, to read two resolutions which were passed on April 13 by the Plenum of the Moscow Organisation. They appear in the international Press Correspondence which was published at Vienna a week later. The first of the two resolutions passed stated:—The wave of strikes which is growing on an industrial scale, and the extent and character of the economic struggles of the workers impart a special significance to the rôle played by the youth in these struggles.The second resolution was as follows:—The first preliminary condition and the best possibilities of occasioning fights and of attracting the young workers to join in strikes are a constant knowledge of the situation of the young workers in the factory and the timely setting up of demands.That is to say, they are to be influenced to promote strikes throughout Europe, and to do their utmost to destroy the well-being and industrial development of the country upon which their own prosperity very largely depends.
Then may I take the resolutions of the Young Communists League, which has been established in this country? They have had nine congresses, and at the last, which they held at Salford last October, they passed this resolution:—The League has not succeeded in consolidating all the gains it made during the General Strike and mining lock-out. It is to be noted, however, that the League is recovering from the wave of depression which followed the defeat of the miners and that the membership is now on the upgrade.…The campaign for the 100 per cent. trade union organisation of young workers must continue together with the campaign for full rights and youth representation on all trade union committees. Some successes have already been achieved in this direction. A significant development during recent months has been the internal youth conferences within different trade unions, and the setting up of special youth committees. This form of youth conference must be extended and developed. Conferences on a factory basis must also be aimed at. The formation of a youth department in the Minority Movement will greatly assist the League.When we come to analyse the objects of this Communist organisation we realise that their aim is to destroy all home- 423 life, all morality, all religion, all that which they call capitalism, and everything which is going to help the workers really in the long run. This is the organisation which is using its power in order to influence the youth of this country, and so long as the youth of this country is susceptible to this kind of influence, as it admittedly is, we ought to hesitate to enfranchise those of tender years who have not had experience and have had no time for mature thought.
It is on those grounds that I think we are justified in restricting the franchise. I do not believe that many of these men and women want the franchise, and that, except as a first experience, many of them will not exercise it, or at any rate very few of them. I believe that the young people of this country are now in a position in which it is advisable that they should be given a little more time before they are given the privileges of a vote in connection with the great destinies of this country. I am not advocating any distinction between the sexes. I think it is advisable that a Bill of some kind should pass, but I think at this moment we might very well restrict the age to twenty-four, which I have put down on the Paper, or to twenty-five, if your Lordships so desire.
§ VISCOUNT SUMNER
I think it is difficult to carry the discussion of this particular Amendment much further—it is a very limited Amendment, as your Lordships were reminded (namely, that the word "electoral" be inserted)—unless we first clear out of the way, at any rate in our own minds, the singular speech made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood. I have heard in this House many discussions upon the subject of your Lordships' position in the Constitution—discussions that have brought but little comfort to my mind at any rate, but in which we were told many home truths, and made to understand how very little we really mattered. I do not, however, think I have ever before heard the matter put before us in the way in which the noble Viscount put it before us, and I think coming from him, I do not doubt a sincere friend of House of Lords reform, the matter is of a grave character, and one as to which we must make up our mind.? sooner or later. I think his speech ought not to be allowed to pass without some immediate examination.
424 What was it that the noble Viscount said to us in substance? I do not understand that he disputed that there was quite a good deal to be said for an Amendment which would raise the age of both sexes to twenty-four or twenty-five. He said he did not think the Conservative Party was so much against 21 as the mover of the Amendment had said, but he obviously admitted, with conspicuous fairness, that there was a good deal to be said upon the subject. What were we invited to do? We were invited to drop it. Of course the noble Viscount did not say: "Hush! Hush! Do not say any more about it," but we were invited to take care what we were doing, and to go no further, and we were reminded of the consequences which might follow upon the temerarious folly of taking an issue in the Lobby against the Government. We have been painfully conscious of the difficulties in which we stand on previous occasions. We have spent many hours in discussions, which have always been referred to in the newspapers as far better informed and far more authoritative than discussions in another place, or indeed in any other place, but when we carry the matter so far as to vote against the Government in power—I may say almost overwhelmingly in power—and succeed by a per-adventure, then it appears that from the point of view of our own interests and from the constitutional point of view we are entirely exceeding our functions, and doing that against which we ought to be warned by a sincere but candid friend.
What is to happen if your Lordships should be so reckless as to carry either the Amendment of Lord Newton or the Amendment of Lord Gainford, or any of the other Amendments? This Bill, we are told, must then be lost, unless we consent to submit once more to the humiliation with which we have been so familiar all the years that I have been here, and which the noble Marquess who leads the House has so often and so eloquently regretted—the humiliation of finding in the last days of the Session that here is another of the Bills upon which we are entitled to make a few of our hopeful Amendments, as to which there is a disagreement with our Amendments in another place, and we are to be invited not to insist upon those Amendments that we have made. We have done that before and I dare say 425 we could bring ourselves to do it again, but it is not a diet upon which your Lordships can either thrive or greatly pique yourselves. But it seems we are to contemplate now that whatever we may do this afternoon and with whatever success it may be met, that must be the end of the matter; or this Bill is dead. That is what we are told.
Now, of course, I know perfectly well that that is only the opinion of the noble Viscount. He does not speak in this respect for the Government. It may very well be that he speaks for himself only. At the same time we have known him long and well here. We know his long and distinguished service in another place, and I think we shall all agree that there are few members of your Lordships' House not in office whose judgment and whose anticipations upon the future course of a political question now pending in Parliament would deserve closer attention. It is his opinion, which he tells your Lordships as the result of his considerations, that the Government would not accept an enfranchising Bill from thirty to twenty-five or twenty-four, and that because they could not also at the same time enfranchise other women from the age of twenty-five or twenty-four to twenty-one, this Bill, so popular in the country, so desirable in itself, so demanded by abstract justice, must be thrown to the ground. If they cannot have the whole loaf they will not have throe-quarters of it—I am open to correction, the fraction may be somewhat different; but at any rate, if they cannot have all they will have none.
That is the view of the noble Viscount, and we are told that that is because this Amendment goes to the foundation of the Bill, that our insistence means its destruction, that it is not only a step backwards, but that there is no chance whatever of such an Amendment being accepted in another place, and that we should be exceeding our functions, because the noble Viscount asked, "What right have we to exist—exist—except to correct passing vagaries against the permanent opinion of the country?" I have the words almost exactly, I think. Who is going to decide that this Bill must be dropped if every line of it tines not pass through your Lordships' House unaltered Is it the Government, or is it their followers in another place? As 426 to the number of those who voted against this Amendment in another place, 359 to l6, no doubt the numbers are remarkable and impressive. But there are many who hope, and some who are confident, that the House of Commons, left to itself, is quite capable of revising its views, of coming to a better mind and deciding to the contrary effect of a recent decision; and there are those who look forward with hope—hope, I should think, which their efforts have done much to justify—that on Thursday night that experience will be seen in the House of Commons. I recognise the difference, of course, between a majority of 33 against and a majority of 343 against, but this is not an arithmetical problem. On the other hand, it is not beyond conception and hope that the members of the House of Commons might review their decision, or might perhaps, to put it rather lower, accept what they could get, and take something more in another Parliament.
Is it to be, then, the view of the noble Viscount, which we, if we are wise, are to act upon, that the Government will decide that they will have all or nothing, and that this Bill, which the country, we are told, desires, which justice demands, which does away with the injustice of 1918, shall go on for another year, or for as many more years, rather than that the limited but still substantial number of competent women voters should be enfranchised? It does not happen very often in your Lordships' House that a Government Bench, which accommodates, I think, about ten members at the most, is half occupied by members of the Cabinet at one moment. On this occasion such is the case, and I trust that not one only of them but all of them will repudiate the doctrine that it is already fixed and settled, and a thing upon which your Lordships must reckon, that there is no possible chance of this Bill being passed if your Lordships were to amend it in this respect, and that the only way in which your Lordships are to be treated is to be told at the beginning: "Now mind, talk if you like, but you cannot alter this Bill at all."
Of course, if that is the real position in which we are, I do not wonder that the noble Viscount asked: Is it a dignified position? I do not wonder that he said such was the powerlessness of the 427 House of Lords—and I agree with him—that we were in urgent need of reform. Some of us urgently desire that the pledges which have been given should be redeemed without loss of time, but we do, indeed, need something if our position is that at this stage of a Bill like this we are to be told that it is not much good talking, and it is no good voting at all. If that is really the constitutional Position into which your Lordships have now fallen, then I venture to say that, although you will never see yourselves reformed, you may easily, and soon, see yourselves abolished. Now, I hope that the noble Viscount's views are his own, and his alone. I hope that it is not yet decided that this question may not be, not merely discussed, but voted upon, without our being warned in a manner so serious by one whose words are never lightly heard by your Lordships.
May I now turn for a moment to the substance of the Amendment? It has been put on the Second Reading, it has been put in the papers—I think it is a favourite way of putting it to say women are quite as good as men and generally, it is added, they are rather better: age for age they are as wise, they are as honest, they are as self-sacrificing. They read the newspapers as carefully and they know as much, or as little, about polities as men do. But this Bill is called the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Bill and the principle, which I understand to be a theoretical doctrine of political philosophy, demands that in consequence of this equality of wits there should be an equality of representation given to them at the same age. The first thing to be remarked about that is that it is the exact opposite of the principle of the Bill of 1918, and that you condemn the Bill of 1918 root and branch when you found your argument upon the proposition that the injustice which that Bill did must now be redressed.
It was suggested—as it has often been suggested—by the noble Viscount that it was indefensible in argument to say that a woman was not capable of voting, or a man was not capable of voting, till he or she was 25, though one may be a Member of Parliament at 21. I think it is forgotten, when this argument is produced, that a man cannot be a 428 Member of Parliament even at 21 unless he is elected. Whatever the reason for electing him to-day, it is the most public and the most solemn form of selection you can have; whereas the principle of this Bill is that age, the possession of your wits, and the absence of any of the more degrading forms of disqualification constitute a qualification in itself, which is given to you by nature, and which does not depend upon any selection or any particular capacity whatsoever.
When first Parliament began reforming the franchise, it was dealt with as a matter of class, and the arguments in 1832 naturally largely turned upon the concentration of power in the hands of a limited class, the deprivation of large, flourishing and intelligent communities, newly grown up, of any voice in the matter, and then, of course, the well remembered crop of abuses that were attached to that system. In 1867, under the various Bills of Lord Palmerston, Lord John Russell and, finally, Mr. Disraeli, so little was it a question of classes that distinctions were drawn between £10 and £7 as a qualification according to the rent paid by a tenant, a thing that had nothing whatever to do either with capacity or class qualifications, which were purely personal and which rested upon no satisfactory basis.
Then, in 1885, I remember, there were a lot of phrases which caught the popular ear and, like many phrases that caught the popular ear in those days, there was one which, I believe, was invented by Mr. Gladstone. We were told that there were millions of capable citizens waiting to be enfranchised, and so I dare say there were. But capacity is, according to the nature of the word, a question of what a man or woman is, what brains has he or she, what strength, what experience, what knowledge, what prescience. It is an individual matter. But when you come to an extension of the franchise it is always spoken of as though it was something that came in a lump at a certain age, as though a man could grow a moustache at 21 and it, therefore, made him a person suitable for a cavalry Commission or something of that kind. We talk a great deal about the right to vote, but we never attempt to discuss, because I do not think we can discuss it, the possibility of discriminating between one 429 person and another when you are counting them by millions and millions. It seems to me, therefore, it is of no use to assume that because a person of 21 can do things as well as a person of 31 therefore all persons of 21 should have the same public rights as a person of 31. It is a matter, I will not say of logic because I think the logic is all one way, but it is a matter on which tastes must differ and a million persons who think one way are, of course, better than an equal number of persons minus one who think the other way.
I would ask your Lordships to remember that, for whatever reason, the Legislature decided in 1918 that men should be enfranchised at 21 and that women should not. Their capacities and their claims were perfectly well known. Many of the men had fought and, alas, many of them had died at and before the age of twenty-one: could they be deprived of the franchise when there was to be an extension of it? That was the argument. But it was equally the argument and equally true that hundreds of thousands of women had done, if I may use the word without offence to the other sex, yeoman service irrespective of their ages in munition factories. Yet, for some reason, Parliament, perpending the matter, I suppose, with that profound care that always was given to similar legislation in the crises of War, decided that at 30 the franchise should be given to women and, as the Bill went through in circumstances that certainly made it appear to be an agreed Bill, as it was prefaced by a Conference, launched by the recommendations of the Speaker's Committee and accepted practically en bloc, I think we may take it that not only was Parliament satisfied that it should be so, but that many who voted for enfranchising men at 21 did so because they were not at the same time called upon to say that women ought to be enfranchised below the age of 30. You cannot tell now to what extent the fact that at any rate the extension of the suffrage to young women was negatived was not a leading consideration in the ready assent which was given to the extension of the franchise to those men who were as young as 21.
Whatever the reason of Parliament was in those days matters very little indeed, because Parliament is not bound by its 430 predecessors, nor are Ministers. Therefore, it may well be said in 1928 that something is an injustice which was the very foundation of an important measure in 1918. Do not, at any rate, let us bemuse ourselves by saying that as men have the franchise at the gage of 21 therefore it is unjust and calamitous to refuse women the vote at the same age. I suggest to your Lordships, in hearty support of my noble friend's Amendment, that it is really logical to enquire whether at this stage we cannot, and ought not, to endeavour to make this great extension of the franchise more workable and more reasonable. It was rightly said that one of the greatest difficulties that will face the electors and those who seek their support under this new régime is the increase in the numbers and the vast size of the constituencies. I think there is a further disadvantage. You not only have increased numbers, but you have added a class of persons of whom, if you can say anything of any class, it is safe to say that it is quite uncertain whether they will take an interest and vote, or take none and keep away from the poll.
It is bad enough now to be uncertain and unable to tell to what extent we may expect the people whose names are on the register to turn up and vote at the polls; but it will be worse then because you will be unable to tell to any close calculation to what extent many of them will be effective voters and to what extent many of them will be, by their own choice, dead-heads. It will also be increasingly difficult to know how to appeal to them, how to get into touch with them, how even to meet them; and as the increase in the numbers who vote is not accompanied by an increase in the amount that can be said, and as the polling is all on one day, I think the result will be that the mode in which the individual voters can be got at will more and more he by addressing them through the newspapers, because it would be the only practicable and most probably the only successful method of doing so. The result is that you will put more than ever the control, or at any rate a controlling influence, in Parliamentary elections into the hands of newspapers interested on either side. I do not wish to bring personally into the discussion 431 any of the proprietors of newspapers who adorn this House in absence, or any of the proprietors of newspapers who are not members of your Lordships' House at all, but it is, I believe, the view of most people who think the matter over that it would be very much better if the candidate and those who support him could get direct personally, by speech, to those who have to vote instead of its being necessary to get what is really his work which he desires to do done for him vicariously by a Press which has its own and other interests to think about. I think, therefore, that it would be a positive advantage to diminish the extension of franchise to the extent which is proposed by my noble friend.
He does not propose to take the vote away from any one who has it. The fact that there will be a number of young men under twenty-one who have to live a little longer before they get the vote—till twenty-four or twenty-five—is one which does not appear to me to outrage political justice. I am certain it will not wound those youthful minds in the least degree, and when we have found out how this new system will work there will still be plenty of time to extend the franchise down to twenty-one, which no doubt would be perhaps as soon as a Government felt in itself that quickening feeling of hope which is generally considered to indicate that the great heart of the people is throbbing behind them. Beyond saying, as has been said already, that we would rather have twenty-four than twenty-one and would rather have twenty-five than twenty-four—for such reasons as have been given—I do not think there is very much more to be said about the matter and I ask your Lordships fearlessly, even reckless of the consequences to your Lordships' House, to give your minds to this question between now and the time when we take the Division and to vote as your reflections lead you to do.
If we fail we fail. We are quite accustomed to it. If we succeed we shall probably fail and we have gone through that ordeal often enough, but if peradventure some new spirit should move in another place and they were to say to themselves and to their leaders: "We represent the country and the country 432 wants this Bill and the country does not see why it should lose this Bill because there may be a smaller number enfranchised than was originally intended"—it is not a matter of amour propre—it it is not a matter upon which the pride of the Government may be in the least ruffled—I hope that in that event the Government would see its way, being no longer under the influence of the Cassandra warning of the noble Viscount, to accept a portion of the loaf and agree to this proposal.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD HAILSHAM)
I think it is probably true that there is a certain superficial attraction attaching to this Amendment. I hope to be able to satisfy your Lordships' House that it is only a superficial attraction, and that that attraction disappears if you attempt to analyse this proposal on its merits. I am fortified in that hope by the fact, which has already been referred to, that in another place, after full discussion, the Amendment was defeated by 359 to 16, and of the 16 one at least of the members who voted in the minority made a speech in which he explained that the Amendment was a thoroughly bad and indefensible one, but that he thought it might kill the Bill, and upon that ground, and on that ground alone, he supported it. I hope that in this House, at any rate, no such motive would influence any of your Lordships, because I am confident the decision taken on the Second Reading is one which the House accepts and desires to carry into effect and that our only purpose in Committee is not to try and kill the Bill by a side wind but to make it as good a Bill as possible.
My noble friend Lord Newton, in moving the Amendment, naturally, with that Parliamentary skill which he is known to possess, took that line of attack which was most likely in his judgment to appeal to your Lordships' House. I hope he will forgive me if I say that a great deal of his speech seemed to me to have very little to do with the merits of the particular proposal which he was advocating. He told us that he had always been in favour of woman suffrage and he showed the ardour of his faith by going on to describe it as a means of giving the vote to the most ignorant and most frivolous part of the population. He deplored the genesis of the Bill 433 in 1917 or 1918 as having been conceived in a moment of madness. He regretted the fact that when we reached the bottom of the slippery slope there was no means of retracing our steps. He deplored the fact that some influential organs of the Press gave less attention to political matters than they probably deserve, and he finally appealed to your Lordships' House to assert your independence by voting in favour of an Amendment which could not be said to be one in which your Lordships had any personal interest because it was one which no Party in the State desired and which was universally condemned outside this House.
Those arguments certainly seem to have captivated the admiration of my noble and learned friend Lord Sumner, because he devoted a great deal of his speech to explaining the importance—an importance which I entirely agree with him exists—of reform of the Second Chamber, but he will forgive me for saying that really there is very little about reform of the Second Chamber involved in the qualifications of the franchise for electing the Lower Chamber. In fact, when one comes to examine this proposal in the light of the arguments which have been advanced with regard to the general scheme of the Bill there is, in my submission, very little to recommend it. It has been said against the Bill that one result will be to produce an excess of women over men electors. It is quite true. But that objection is just as strong if this Amendment be carried. The women outnumber the men under the proposal of the Bill, I think in the proportion of 1,167 women to 1,000 men. If the Amendment be carried they will outnumber the men in the proportion of 1,175 women to every 1,000 men.
Then it is said that the electorate is an unwieldy electorate and that this Bill will add additional numbers to an already swollen body. It is true, of course, that the electorate is in these days very large. It, is true, too, that if you fix the age of qualification for the suffrage at twenty-four or twenty-five instead of twenty-one, you do not make it quite so big as if you fix it at twenty-one, but you do not reduce the unwieldy electorate because we have already some 22,500,000 electors. The effect of fixing the age at twenty-four, I think, is to add something like 1,500,000 and if you take the age of twenty-five it comes to about 1,750,000. 434 Whether you have 24,000,000 or 25,000,000 electors does not seem to me to make such a very vital difference from the point of view of the individual elector getting into touch with the individual Member. Lord Sumner attached importance to the position of a candidate being able by argument to appeal directly to his voters instead of having to rely upon the Press or upon a written communication. If Lord Sumner had had my experience in elections—my own electorate at the last Election was something over 50,000—he would realise that, however hard you try, you probably cannot ever get into touch with more than 10 per cent. of the electorate. Therefore, for 90 per cent. at least you must depend on some other means of communication. When we are told that this Bill will correct that unfortunate result of dependence upon written communication, I would remind your Lordships that the average electorate to-day is something like 37,000 electors and that under this Bill it will become something like 45,000—I am speaking in round figures, both of them less than my own electorate at the last General Election and both figures being in excess of what any candidate of any Party could hope to influence by personal persuasion or personal canvass.
We are told—I think Lord Newton said it—that the quality of the electorate depreciated as its numbers increased. I am sorry to hear that coming from a member of the Conservative Party when I remember that ever since the increase of the electorate in 1918, which is so much attacked, the Conservative Party has had at every Election much the largest single vote in the country. Then it is said that people at the age of twenty-five are more mature than they are at the age of twenty-one. Lord Newton referred to that as a self-evident fact which he would not condescend to argue. It is quite true that people at the age of twenty-five are more mature than they are at the age of twenty-one. It is equally true, I suppose, that people at the age of thirty are more mature than they are at the age of twenty-five, and indeed the exact age at which the process of maturity ceases and that of decay commences would vary, I imagine, according to the age of the particular person who was forming a judgment at the moment. The test, in truth, is not whether people 435 at the age of twenty-five are more mature than people at the age of twenty-one. The question is: Are they at the age of twenty-one sufficiently mature to be entrusted with the franchise?
That is the only question that really arises upon the present Amendment and in that connection I should like to remind your Lordships of one or two facts. First of all, although the qualifications for the vote have varied greatly in the centuries, the one fact has always remained true in this country that the age at which the qualification commences, the age at which the qualified person is deemed to be old enough to exercise the vote, has always been twenty-one years. Secondly, I would like to remind your Lordships that this is not only true as a matter of the history of this country. I do not seek to go outside the Anglo-Saxon English-speaking race, because it may be that some continental people have wholly different systems from our own, but taking the great Anglo-Saxon English-speaking section of the world, in every State of the United States and in every Dominion of the British Empire the age at which the vote is acquired, whatever the condition be upon which it is acquired, is and always has been twenty-one years and nothing else. Therefore, you are seeking to depart from what has been, and is, the accepted rule throughout the whole of the English-speaking world.
There is another fact, my Lords. We are here dealing in this Bill merely with the question of the assimilation of the franchise as between men and women. It is hardly, I submit, a suitable opportunity for reviving the question of when it is that man becomes fit to exercise a man's functions. But if it is material to consider that point on this Bill then I would remind your Lordships that not only this function of the vote but every function pertaining to man's estate, is one which the citizen has always reached at the age of twenty-one years. He comes of age for all purposes at twenty-on, years, and it seems a little anomalous that we should say that, although he is grown up for all purposes at that age, he shall henceforth for this one purpose of voting not be allowed to be old enough to exercise his privilege until he becomes twenty-five. Lord Sumner has said that this Bill is a departure from the principles of the Act of 1918 because 436 in that Act women were given the vote at the age of thirty and men at the age of twenty-one. But you are just as much departing from the principles of that Act if you put the age at twenty-five for both sexes as if you fix twenty-one for both sexes. That is a good argument on Second Reading against the Bill, but it is no argument in favour of the particular Amendment we are discussing.
Lord Sumner went on to say that, although people are old enough to stand for Parliament and become Members of Parliament, as some of them do, at the age of twenty-one, that was no reason for treating them as old enough to vote because, he said, election for Parliament is a matter of selection, but this right of franchise is a right which is conferred by age and we are foolish enough to have no selective process. But whether you fix twenty-one or twenty-five as the age you are not exercising any selection. The logical deduction upon Lord Sumner's argument would be that you should no longer allow people to have the vote at any fixed age but only on some process of selection, which I suppose would vary according to the particular Party which was in power at the moment. In truth, it is impossible without reversing the whole of our modern political history to go back on the principle that gives to all people who satisfy certain conditions, one of which is the attainment of a certain age, the right to vote and refuses altogether to exercise any selective discrimination between those who are supposed to be sufficiently desirable to be put on the register and those who are not to be included.
Then Lord Gainford put forward an argument based upon some resolution which he read out from the Moscow meeting and the Young Communists League of this country. I think I may claim to have a fairly intimate knowledge of the workings of Communism in this country and outside. It was my privilege to be instrumental in securing the conviction of the leaders of the Communist Party in this country and in that connection I had to make, necessarily to make, a detailed and careful study of the Communist doctrine and the Communist propaganda here. It is perfectly true, as Lord Gainford says, that the Young Communists League makes an appeal to 437 youth. It is equally true that the Junior Imperial League makes an appeal to youth. I do not know whether the Liberals have abandoned all hope of securing support from the younger members of the community, but at any rate the Conservative Party, just as much as the Communist Party, relies on securing the youth of the country in their support as the best foundation of their hopes for the future.
It is not true to say that the Communist Party is dependent only upon the youth of the country. It is not true to say that the £28,000 to which the noble Lord referred was money spent only on corrupting the youth of the country. It is not true to say that the Minority movement and the Communist movement in the trade unions consist only of the younger members of the community. No doubt they try to capture the younger members of the community, and I should have thought that, if there were any danger of their succeeding in that endeavour, there was no more certain way of encouraging those people who are attracted by Communist doctrines and by the idea of revolution and of confirming them in Communist principles than to enable the Communist to say to them: "You, at any rate, are given no right to exercise your vote; you are given no choice in the management of the country and, so far as you are concerned, it is revolution or nothing." Nothing would be more certain to encourage Communism among our youths than the knowledge that we, the Conservative Party, were afraid to entrust them with the vote until they reached the age of twenty-five.
I am afraid that I have spoken at greater length than I ought in a discussion in Committee, but this is a matter of vital interest and importance to this Bill. Lord Sumner denounced—I think that is hardly too strong a term—the speech of Lord Cecil of Chelwood when he pointed out that the adoption of this Amendment in effect killed the Bill. He said that the Conservative Party would be foolish if they refused half a loaf because they could not get the whole loaf. But that is not the proposal. It is not a question of merely saying whether women down to twenty-five shall be enfranchised or down to twenty-one, it is a question of whether you are to 438 say that men up to twenty-five are to be disfranchised in the sense of being hereafter refused the vote, or whether you are to retain for men the privileges that they have to-day and to bestow upon women exactly the same privileges. It is because no Government would venture and, in my submission, no Government could venture to say that, against their own judgment, against the will of all the great Parties in the State, they were going to disfranchise all men till they reached the age of twenty-five in order to give women the vote after that age, it is because that is an impossible attitude that those in another place avowedly held that this Amendment was designed to kill the Bill, and must kill the Bill, if it were passed.
It is for the same reason that the Government, who do not desire to kill the Bill but desire it to be passed, resist this Amendment with all their strength. I agree entirely with Lord Sumner that your Lordships ought to decide upon this Amendment upon reflection, upon your judgment and upon argument, and not upon prejudice; and I venture to think that the arguments are in favour of rejecting the Amendment for the reasons that I have given. I ask your Lordships, if you think that there is a case made out against the Amendment, not to be misled in voting in favour of it in the hope that you may produce some sort of conflict in the two Houses, and so establish your own independence and the proud position of refusing to the country something which every Party in the State desires.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
I rise for a very few moments to make one or two observations upon the speech to which we have just listened. The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, has told us in terms that if we dare to pass this Amendment the Bill is killed. I want to know whether that is one of the arguments for or against the merits of this particular Amendment, upon which we are called upon to reflect before we make up our minds into which Lobby we should go. I should have thought that, without loss of dignity and even without humiliation, one might consider the merits of this particular Amendment and of nothing else, and that brings us to the 439 question whether it would be better to give women the vote at twenty-one or at twenty-five. It is said that, if you are going to have equality between the sexes, that will mean that men must also have the vote, not at twenty-one, but at twenty-five. I agree, but, when the Lord Chancellor says that it is disfranchisement, I am bound to say that I feel rather surprised. If not giving a man something that he has never had is the same thing as taking away from a man something that he has already got, then the English language is more flexible than I had supposed that even politicians considered it. One has to come to the question whether or not this Amendment is a good one, not in relation to some particular Government policy or whether we ought to support them for some ulterior motive, or to prevent them from being in difficulty in another place, but on the ground of whether or not we believe in our conscience that it is a good Amendment.
I have seen one speech against an Amendment of this kind to which I think that attention might be drawn. It was made by an ex-member of the late Labour Government, to whose speeches one always gives the greatest attention and the greatest respect. I refer to Miss Bondfield's speech in another place. Her objection to this Amendment was on these lines: that it might be true that, in what she called the leisured classes, a man or girl of twenty-one has spent so much time in education as not to have met the raw facts of life and these might not be fit and proper people to vote on such vital matters as the election of Members of Parliament; but she added, speaking for her own class, that she was thinking of children of fourteen who at that age had had to face the hardships of life and to earn their own living and who, when they came to the age of twenty-one, knew a great dea about politics because politicians had interested themselves in these particular people. This is a point which seems to me to require considerable reflection, but if you look at it you will see that it really helps the argument for this particular Amendment. It is only human that a person who, from the age of fourteen, has been seeing the hard facts of life and earning his living should be bound for a consider- 440 able time to look at life from only one angle. Such people could not take a broad view of things at first. Later on they will do so. In exactly the same way the person of the leisured classes who has been to a public school and perhaps on to the University may know a great deal about theoretical economy and about the classics, but he has never met the facts of real life and looks at things from one angle only. It comes to this, that you ought to get for the electorate the person who has reached an age when he or she can take a broad view from different angles.
You cannot take a logical stand on the actual age of twenty-one, twenty-four or twenty-five. It is quite true that, until the noble and learned Lord, Lord Darling, prevented it, a person at the age of twenty-one was entitled to receive moneylenders' circulars, but even that privilege has been taken from him now. You really cannot take any logical attitude as to what the fit and proper age should be. What you have to aim at is that, when a person becomes a fit and proper person to be an elector, he should not still have upon him the curse of Ephraim—namely, that he is a cake baked only on one side. Even a little browning on the other side would be acceptable. There was another speech in another place on the same subject which did strike me as having some very sound sense in it. It was pointed out that a very responsible and very well-known company, the London General Omnibus Company, had come to the conclusion, after much experience, that as they were responsible for the safety of the public travelling in their omnibuses, they would not have drivers who were under the age of twenty-six. That is a very remarkable decision. Every profit was on the other side for them—the younger men would take a smaller wage—and when you find that large company, employing so many men and looking after the interests and safety of the public, deliberately deciding that it is worth their while, as guardians of the public safety, not to employ as drivers men under twenty-six years of age, it does seem some argument, and I think a very strong argument, in favour of the contention that the age of twenty-one is too young for any person to take up the responsibility of electing the rulers of this country.
441 On the merits of the case, I submit to your Lordships that we have an overwhelming case in favour of raising the age. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, assumed that it was so. Lord Cecil, I think, also assumed it, and Lord Gainford gave instances of it, and so did Lord Sumner, and the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack does not seem to have based any of his arguments upon the fact that it would not have been a very good thing to have raised the age; only the Government found themselves in an awkward hole and could not do it. Whether it places the Government in an awkward hole or not I feel it my duty to vote for the Amendment.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
I should like to say one word before your Lordships come to a decision, and especially to enter my protest against the position in which Lord Cecil has endeavoured to place your Lordships in regard to this discussion. Lord Cecil, as was to some extent pointed out by Lord Sumner, treated this question as if it were an attempt on the part of your Lordships to dictate to the House of Commons upon a particular point, and he used all his eloquence to establish the entire undesirability of your Lordships, in any circumstances, challenging a decision come to by all Parties, as he said, in the House of Commons. I have listened not as a member of this House, but from the steps of the Throne, to many eloquent speeches made by one who had the greatest possible position in this House, and enjoyed the greatest respect—namely, the former Prime Minister, the noble Viscount's father, and I know of no question which would have aroused his feelings so acutely as any statement that this House was accountable in regard to its actions in differing from the House of Commons.
The feeling with regard to the action of this House has been, and I hope always will be, one of great respect for the opinion of the country, but the one great purpose for which this House exists is to correct any misapprehension of the feelings of the country by members of the House of Commons. Speaking from that standpoint, even the eloquent speech of the Lord Chancellor—which differed from the somewhat cynical analysis given by Lord Birkenhead of the responsibility of Ministers, which did not 442 carry conviction—did not attempt to show that there was any sort of feeling, as expressed by public meetings or by petitions, or any other form, that the country, anxious as it is for equality between the sexes, is concerned for this Bill or is opposed to this Amendment. I think we have a right to ask on what ground the Government hold that we should defer absolutely to the opinion of the House of Commons on a matter upon which nearly half the members of the House of Commons did not take the trouble to record their votes.
If there were indications that the country had made up its mind, or if the action of the House of Commons at this moment were, as it usually is, on a great Bill or important Amendment, anything except that of comparative apathy, I should not stand here to ask your Lordships to vote for the Amendment, but I do most strenuously protest against the doctrine that whenever a haphazard decision, as I may call it, has been arrived at by the House of Commons, on a matter which has never been submitted to the country at all, your Lordships are not quite free to exercise your own power. I hope my noble friend will understand that while ninny of us are willing to vote in favour of the insertion of the word "electoral," which opens the question of age, we nevertheless hold ourselves quite free to support afterwards the Amendment of Lord Gainford to make the age twenty-four, and that we shall not deem ourselves tied in any way to vote for the age of twenty-five. I take twenty-four as having one great advantage, that it is reducing two-thirds of the present inequality, and raising for a very short time the period for which men would have to wait in the future.
I have listened with all respect to the speech of the Lord Chancellor, but I venture to say that upon three points he has not answered the arguments which were put forward. In the first place, the Lord Chancellor, I think, said it mattered very little whether you were enfranchising twenty-four or twenty-seven millions. Ten or 12 per cent, is a difference that would carry every Election in this country, and has carried for generations past almost any Election in a great number of constituencies. Therefore I think 443 it is very material. The second point is the increased hiatus which is to be established between the ultra-democratic composition of the House of Commons and any reform of the House of Lords. Upon that I think we have heard practically nothing. The pledges of last year have evaporated. The third point which I press very strongly is the question of the overwhelming majority of all Parties. We are really dealing with a House of Commons in which there was not a free vote and in which a very large number of members, including, as I pointed out on the last occasion, several Ministers, were undesirous of recording their votes. For those reasons I hope that those of your Lordships who are in doubt will not accept the view that any change of this Bill must mean the loss of the Bill, but will give the Government and the country an opportunity of considering the increase of age.
§ LORD JOICEY
I do not intend to occupy more than a few minutes in discussing this matter, because I have already had the opportunity on another occasion of giving my view. I listened to the eloquent speech made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and I confess that the arguments he put forward were very strong arguments indeed so far as they concerned the matters he dealt with. But I take a different view from that which the noble and learned
§ Lord takes about this Bill. What we are doing by this Bill is to give a majority of the voting power to women. That is something new. I do not know any country in the world which places itself in that position, and to change the balance of power—because it does change the balance of power—is a most serious matter which ought not to be settled without the approval of the country. I know that people say that women will vote just the same as men, but there are many questions which will come forward upon which the feeling of women is very much stronger than it is at the present time, and they will have the power to deal with these questions regardless of what may be the opinion of men. I have the greatest objection to this Bill, and I for one will certainly not hesitate to vote in favour of the Amendment, because I think we are pursuing a foolish policy. We are admitting to the franchise about five and a quarter millions of young women who pay very little of the taxes, but who will have the control of the spending of the taxes. This Bill embodies a policy which ought not to be pursued by any Government without the full approval of the country, and the Bill has not had that.
§ On Question, Whether the word "electoral" shall be there inserted?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 41; Not-Contents, 87.445
|Argyll, D.||Banbury of Southam, L.||Illingworth, L.|
|Biddulph, L.||Joicey, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Cawley, L.||Lamington, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Charnwood, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Monkswell, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Newton, L. [Teller.]|
|Malmesbury, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Doverdale, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Ypres, E.||Forester, L.||Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)|
|Allendale, V.||Gainford, L. [Teller.]||Sempill, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Greenway, L.||Shandon, L.|
|Sumner, V.||Harlech, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Younger of Leckie, V.||Hemphill, L.||Strachie, L.|
|Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Ashton of Hyde, L.|
|Hailsham, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Exeter, M.||Birkenhead, E.|
|Zetland, M.||Bradford, E.|
|York, L. Abp.||Buxton, E.|
|Shaftesbury, E. (L. Steward.)||Cranbrook, E.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Airlie, E.||Denbigh, E.|
|Ancaster, E.||Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)|
|Sutherland, D.||Beauchamp, E.|
|Grey, E.||Clinton, L.||Lovat, L.|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Cochrane of Cults, L.||Manners, L.|
|Lovelace, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Cushendun, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Danesfort, L.||Mildmay of Flete, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Darling, L.||Muir Mackenzie, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Daryngton, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Stradbroke, E.||de Clifford, L.||Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)|
|Yarborough, E.||Desborough, L.||Parmoor, L.|
|Dynevor, L.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Astor, V.||Ernle, L.|
|Burnham, V.||Faringdon, L.||Rayleigh, L.|
|Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]||Roundway, L.|
|Elibank, V.||Glenarthur, L.||Rowallan, L.|
|Haldane, V.||Gorell, L.||Ruthven of Gowrie, L.|
|Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore)||Hanworth, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Hardinge of Penshurst, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Peel, V.||Harris, L.||Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)|
|Ullswater, V.||Hawke, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Southwark, L. Bp.||Hindlip, L.||Tenterden, L.|
|Worcester, L. Bp.||Howard of Glossop, L.||Thomson, L.|
|Jessel, L.||Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)|
|Arnold, L.||Kylsant, L.||Wraxall, L.|
|Askwith, L.||Lambourne, L.||Wyfold, L.|
|Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Loch, L.||Wynford, L.|
On Question, Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Resolved in the negative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 2 to 5 agreed to.
LORD STRACHIE moved, after Clause 5, to insert the following new clause:—
. In the case of the first register of electors to be made after the passing of Lids Act there shall be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament to the council of ally county or borough in aid of the fund or rate out of which any registration expenses are paid by the council in accordance with subsection (1) of Section fifteen of the principal Act, and in addition to the sum payable to the council in respect of such register in accordance with subsection (4) of the said section, one, quarter of the amount so paid by the council in respect of the additions made to such register by virtue of this Act.
§ The noble Lord said: The object of this Amendment is to meet some part of the additional expense of making the register, consequent upon the passing of this Bill, which will fall upon the local authorities. Under Section 15 of the Act of 1918 a contribution of 50 per cent. is made towards the expenses of registration by the Treasury. That contribution amounts at present to £307,000, or half the total amount of £614,000. I rather think that the cost of the new register will be somewhere in the neighbourhood of £890,000, and the resultant increase to the local authorities 446 would, therefore, be about £140,000 or 45 per cent. The present position is that the local authorities find £307,000 and the Treasury find £307,000. The total increase under this Bill would be a sum of rather less than £280,000 out of which, if my Amendment is accepted, the Treasury would find £210,000 and the local authorities £70,000; that is to say, the Treasury would contribute £517,000 altogether, and the local authorities £377,000. Surely that is a large enough sum for local authorities to have to pay in respect of the preparation of the electoral list for Parliamentary purposes. Expressed in percentages, under my proposal the Treasury would pay 57 per cent. of the cost and the local authorities 43 per cent.
§ This does not seem to me to be an unreasonable proposal, having regard to the fact that it is in respect only of the first new register after the passing of the Act, and does not apply to any subsequent register. It would be very hard upon local authorities if they were called upon to provide their full share of the cost of preparing this new register, seeing that they have no control over its preparation. It is true that the clerks of county councils and borough councils make the electoral rolls, but they perform that part of their duties under the authority of the Treasury, they are paid by the Treasury, and have entirely separate staffs for the work, who are not paid by the local authorities directly, but towards whose 447 salaries the local authorities contribute indirectly by having to pay 50 per cent. of the expenses. As noble Lords are aware, the ratepayers, whether in agricultural or industrial districts, are already heavily burdened.
§ I may be told that this is a privilege Amendment, but that is no reason why it should not be discussed in your Lordships' House. Your Lordships are aware that privilege Amendments are made in this House, and if the Government are willing to accept such an Amendment there is no difficulty about it at all. All that happens in another place is that a member of the Government moves that the House does not insist upon its privilege. If that is accepted, the Amendment is considered on its merits and agreed to or not as the case may be. As I have already said, if the Government are ready to accept this Amendment there will be no difficulty at all in another place. A member of the Government there, in making the Motion that the House shall not insist upon its privilege, will explain that it is not thought desirable to place on the local authorities in respect of the new register any further charge beyond 25 per cent. of the increased cost of the first new register. If that is done and privilege is waived, there will be, as I say, no difficulty about the matter. I beg to move.
Page 4, line 33, at end insert the said new clause.—(Lord Strachie.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
As the noble Lord in moving this Amendment has said, this is, of course, a privilege Amendment because it imposes a charge upon the Exchequer. As he also points out, of course, that is not a reason why it should not be discussed in your Lordships' House; but it is a matter which renders it a little unlikely that it would be dealt with effectively, because I think there can be no doubt that the Commons would insist on their privilege, especially a this is not merely a matter of imposing a charge on local rates but of actually imposing a charge on the National Exchequer.
Apart altogether from the question of privilege, the Government are unable to accept the proposal on merits. May I remind your Lordships, very briefly, of the history of this matter. Before the 448 year 1918 the whole cost of registration was defrayed from the local rates except a contribution towards the expenses of the revising barrister. Then came the Speaker's Conference in the year 1917 which investigated the whole electoral field, and which recommended that in future the cost of the registers should be shared equally between the Exchequer and the local authorities, and Section 15 of the Act, 1918, made provisions accordingly. All we are doing at present is to continue that proportion.
The noble Lord wishes, with regard to the first increased register, to alter the proportion by making the Treasury bear three-quarters of the increase. If it were true that the acceleration of the register—that is to say, the bringing it into force in May of next year instead of October—was the reason why extra cost was incurred, then I think theme would be a great deal of force in his proposal, because he might say the acceleration was in order to ensure that the new register should be in operation at the time of the next General Election, which was a matter of Parliamentary government and not of local government. But in truth that is not the fact. Although it is quite true that the new register is to be accelerated—that is to say, it is to come into force in May instead of October—when it once comes into force it will run for its full normal period; that is to say, it will remain the register until October, 1930. It will remain, therefore, the register for local government equally with Parliamentary elections during the whole of that time and the cost would be just the same, or practically just the same—I think exactly the same—whether it were to come into force in May or whether it were not to come into force until October, 1929.
There is, therefore, no reason for differentiating between this first new register and all the registers which will annually follow it, or of disturbing the proportion which was fixed, after full consideration, in 1918, as to the comparative cost to be borne by the Exchequer and by the rates. Your Lordships will remember that the reason, or one reason, why the Speaker's Conference so recommended was that, although no doubt the Parliamentary register contributes a considerable proportion of the total cost of preparing the register, yet the local government register, which is made at 449 the same time, is one which is used much more often that the Parliamentary register because it is used for all the various local government elections for boards of guardians, borough councils, county councils and so on. Therefore the Speaker's conference thought it right to say the cost should be borne equally between the Exchequer and the rates, and there is in our view no reason for making any alteration in that rule with regard to the first register any more than there is with regard to the subsequent registers. For those reasons the Government are unable to accept the Amendment which has been moved by the noble Lord and 450 I hope very much that he will not press it to a Division.
§ LORD STRACHIE
The Lord Chancellor having said that the Government cannot accept it, it is hopeless to Proceed further with the Amendment and I ask leave to withdraw.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Bill reported without amendment.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes to seven o'clock.