HL Deb 21 May 1928 vol 71 cc160-206

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I desire to state quite shortly the principle to which this Bill is designed to give effect, and the method by which we propose that that principle should be enacted, and, finally, to deal in a few sentences with one or two objections which have been raised to the Bill in its present form, leaving, of course, other matters which may be raised by your Lordships to be dealt with at the conclusion of the debate. The principle which this Bill proposes to pass into a Statute may, I think, be stated in a sentence in the language used by the Prime Minister at the time of the last General Election when the Prime Minister stated that it was the policy of the Unionist Party to give equal political rights to men and women. That, my Lords—equal political rights to men and women—is the principle which this Bill embodies. I have stated it in the language used by my right hon. friend and Leader, but it would be only fair that I should add that both the other political Parties, the Liberal Party and the Socialist Party equally embodied in their Election programmes the same political creed. We have therefore a principle to which all three political Parties have declared their allegiance.

It ought not to require any lengthy argument to support its justice. Indeed, when this Bill was being debated in another place I observed that upon the Second Reading, there were in the Division Lobbies, I will not say ten just men but just ten men who were found to register their opposition to it. It is easy in debate to discuss whether or not women should be admitted to the franchise equally with men, but when once that controversy has passed into the realm of history, as is has in our own country, it is, I think, much more difficult to find any logical ground for saying that women who are to be held entitled to the franchise shall yet be given it, by reason of their sex alone, on some more limited scope than men. The method which we propose to adopt can equally be stated fairly shortly. There were, presumably, three possible ways of enacting this principle. You could, first of all, enfranchise women on the same terms as men. Secondly, you could disfranchise men to the same extent as women. Thirdly, you could combine those two alternatives and disfranchise some men and enfranchise some women so as to bring the two sexes upon an equality. The course which we have selected is the first of those three. We are proposing to give to women the same franchise that men at present enjoy.

Your Lordships will remember that at the same time that he originally declared this principle of equal political rights for men and women to be the principle of the Unionist Party, my right hon. friend went on to state that it was proposed to call a Conference under the presidency of the Speaker of the House of Commons to consider the electoral problems to which that principle gave rise. We may fairly be asked why it is that no such Conference has been held. The answer can easily be given. The Speaker of the House of Commons was approached with a view to the holding of such a Conference and he felt that whereas in 1918, when the circumstances were altogether exceptional immediately after the end of the Great War, it was deemed expedient that such a Conference should be held, if such a Conference were now summoned there would be too much Party controversy surrounding it to make it desirable that the Speaker should take a part. I think we shall all agree that that is a question upon which the Speaker's own opinion must be the decisive and determining factor. The result is that there are some matters arising out of the alteration of the franchise—such matters, for instance, as the question of the University vote, the question of the business qualification vote, the business of redistribution arising out of the enlarged electorate—about which there is no agreement between the Parties and which therefore we have not touched at all in the present Bill. But we have thought that the fact that there are some matters which are still in debate was no reason, although it might possibly be an excuse, for not giving effect to the broad principle upon which all three Parties had declared themselves to be in agreement. And accordingly we have in this Bill taken the course of merely placing the woman's vote upon exactly the same basis as the man's vote now is.

If your Lordships will be good enough to look at the text of the Bill, you will find that we have replaced the first four clauses of the 1918 Act and, by other language which gets rid of the limited franchise previously given to women, we give to all persons, men and women, without distinction of sex, the same franchise as the 1918 Act bestowed upon men. By Clause 1 of the Bill, which gives the Parliamentary franchise, the result will be that at the end of the qualifying period of three months any man or women of twenty-one years of age will have a vote in respect of his or her residence in that period in a constituency. Any man or woman who occupies business premises in a different constituency from that in which he or she resides of an annual value of £10, gets a vote in respect of those business premises, and the husband or wife of any person who gets a business qualification also receives a vote in respect of the wife's or husband's qualification. That last provision will add a small number of men, I think about 16,000 in all, to the register; but with that exception the Bill adds only women to the franchise.

Clause 2 of the Bill deals in the same way with the local government franchise and gives to men and women the rights of voting at local government elections which men at present possess. Clause 3 enacts only some minor and consequential amendments in the law. Clause 4 reproduces the existing law with regard to what is called the plural vote; in other words, that in addition to the vote at the General Election in respect of the residential qualification any man or woman who has any vote in any other constituency for something other than a residential qualification—that is to say, a University or business qualification—may use one but not more of those votes, so that he or she can use two votes in all. At by-elections, of course, any person can vote in the constituency who is qualified and on the register in respect of that constituency. In Clause 5 provision is made as to election expenses. Under the existing law the maximum allowed for election expenses is 7d. per head in the case of county constituencies and 5d. per head in the case of the boroughs. The Bill proposes that in future the 5d. shall be retained in the case of the boroughs, but that in the county constituencies the maximum shall be 6d. per head instead of 7d. That, I may tell your Lordships as a matter of history, was introduced in another place upon a free vote, and it may well be that your Lordships will think that people who are going to be candidates for Parliament are, perhaps, the best judges as to the amount which they might properly be allowed to expend.

In Clause 6 we have temporary provisions designed to deal with the immediate future. Under that clause the register will be made up to December 1 of this year in the case of England and December 15 in the case of Scotland; so that any one who has acquired the necessary qualifications on those dates will be entitled to be put on the new register. The new register will be brought into force on May 1 of next year, so as to ensure that in any Parliamentary election which takes place after that date the new register and the new qualifications shall have effect. Clause 7 deals with the local government franchise in Scotland and meets the situation created by the fact that the franchise there is not quite the same in the case of local government as it is in this country. I do not think your Lordships would desire me to explain that in detail on this stage of the Bill, and in Committee my noble friend the Duke of Sutherland will be able to give any explanations which are required.

I have gone through the clauses of the Bill and your Lordships may like to know what the result will be in figures if this Bill becomes law. At present there are roughly three millions more men than there are women upon the register. The result of the Bill will be to add roughly 5¼ millions of women to the register; so that in future the women will in the aggregate outnumber the men by just over 2 millions. There are, of course, individual constituencies where the disproportion will be greater or where, in some cases, the men will be still more numerous than the women. I am speaking of the aggregate effect over the whole country. Of those 5¼ millions roughly 1,800,000, just over one-third, will be women over 30 years of age. It will be interesting to hear from those who oppose this Bill, if there be such, whether they think it is right that whereas women over 30 are entitled to the vote, as they are to-day, yet they shall be entitled to it on a different and more limited scale than men of the same age.

Then, 1,700,000, again roughly one-third, will be married women between the ages of 21 and 30, and again it will be interesting to learn whether those who oppose the Bill think that those married women are not entitled to the vote. They are sharing with their husbands the responsibility of managing the household, providing for its daily needs, and of educating and bringing up their children, and it is a little difficult to understand why a woman who is supposed to be old enough to discharge all those functions should yet be regarded as unfit to express an opinion at the poll. Of the remainder, a little less than 1,200,000 will be women between the ages of 21 and 30 who are earning their own living. Again, one will be curious to see whether they are regarded as unfit for the vote. They are in some cases members of the learned professions. A woman equally with a man can become a doctor, a barrister, a solicitor, or a chartered accountant after she attains the age of 21 years. It is not easy to see why a woman who is allowed to do that should yet not be allowed to exercise the vote equally with her male colleagues.

Others are women who are working in shops, factories and workshops, competing in many cases on equal terms with men, providing themselves with food to sustain them, a roof to shelter them, and raiment to clothe them. They are equally interested with men in the effect upon their welfare of legislation in Parliament, and, one would have thought, are equally entitled to express an opinion about that legislation. Finally, the residue of some 400,000 are unoccupied women between 21 and 30 years of age, mostly belonging, I suppose, to what are called the leisured classes. In old days they may not, perhaps, have had such an education as to entitle them to great consideration in matters of franchise, but in these modern days, with school and University careers open to them, they are probably in some cases as well educated as their brothers to whom the franchise has been given without question for a very long time. That, roughly, will be the effect when this Bill becomes law, as I hope it may soon do.

It has been argued against the Bill that its result will be to produce an excess of women over men in the aggregate on the register and that that will give political power to women and is, therefore, undesirable. It is perfectly true as an arithmetical fact that there will be more women than men on the register by reason of the fact that, although more boys are born into the world than girls, more women reach maturity than men. Whether that is due, as some of our own sex are apt to contend, to the fact that the higher organism is always the more difficult to rear, or whether, as I think women would prefer to have it, it is an illustration of another great law discovered by a great Englishman, the survival of the fittest, I do not know; but whichever be the reason the fact that there are more women than men cannot, in my submission, be a ground for depriving women of the same vote as men if once you are conceding that that is the right and just thing to do.

In truth, it was said a very long time ago by Montaigne—350 years ago, I think— … both male and female are cast in the same mould: instruction and custom excepted, there is no great difference between them. Plato calleth them both indifferently to the society of all studies, exercises, charges and functions of war and peace in his Commonwealth. A hundred years ago John Stuart Mill regarded the social and political subordination of women as the last remaining relic of a past and obsolete method of thought, which he hoped would sooner or later be swept away. Parliament itself, only nine years ago, by the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919, enacted that a person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function or from being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial office or post or from entering or assuming or carrying on any civil profession or vocation. I would submit to your Lordships that when once that has been declared to be the law, this function of the vote is one which women are entitled to exercise on the same terms as men. And, indeed, the argument as to numerical superiority is, I think, based upon a fallacy. It is based upon the assumption that on political questions men and women may be divided into two opposite camps. The possibility of such a thing was, no doubt, one of the reasons why in the experiment of the Act of 1918 care was taken to prevent women having numerical superiority. But in truth I think the experience of the last ten years has shown that that is not what really happens and that women, just as much as men, are divided into different schools of political thought and send their recruits to each of the great political Parties.

There is another argument, not used, I think, on political platforms, but exploited in some organs at least of the daily Press. We are told that this is a very foolish measure for the Conservative Government to introduce because it will have a disastrous effect upon the fortunes of the Conservative Party. I hope I may be forgiven for saying that I utterly decline to discuss this question from the point of view of Party expediency. It is perfectly true that we, the Conservative Government, are endeavouring to carry out the administration of the country according to the principles which we hold and which those who returned us share, and we should regard it as nothing less than a betrayal of the national trust if we were to use that power to carry out some sort of gerrymandering of the Constitution so as to ensure a permanent political ascendency for the particular side to which we belong. It is not on such a ground as that, I apprehend, that your Lordships will decide this Motion. Your Lordships will ask whether or not it is just that men and women should have equal poli- tical rights and, if it be just, your Lordships will ask whether they ought any longer to be denied that privilege.

It is sometimes canvassed whether the vote should be regarded as a right or as a responsibility. If it be a right, a right by which the voter can protect himself and his class from injustice or oppression, then surely women have as much need of that protection as men. On the other hand, if it be a responsibility, a responsibility for the proper government and administration of our affairs, then women have shown themselves no longer to be unfit to share that responsibility. For my part I look forward to seeing men and women together sharing a common ideal of citizenship, sharing equally the burden of Empire which rests upon our people, equal partners and coheirs in a democracy which has been slowly built up through the centuries and to which it is our privilege to-night to set the coping-stone. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)


My Lords, it may be convenient that I should state on behalf of those with whom I work on this Bench what our attitude is likely to be towards this Bill. We fully realise its importance. We are fully aware that it makes a great extension of the franchise and that it puts women in a preponderance on the electorate, but, very much for the reason which was given in eloquent language by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, we do not consider that the question is one to be ruled merely by expediency, nor do I feel myself in a position to say what expediency would dictate from the point of view of the Labour Party. I think it is impossible for anybody to generalise so as to say how womén will act as political voters. They are careful; they are on the whole meticulous about these matters, and what they may decide to do in the aggregate I do not think anybody can tell, or whether they will decide to do it in the aggregate at all, for I am not one of those who think that women are going to vote as a class apart or assert their preponderance in a mass. I think experience has already shown that in public affairs women act very much as men do and that their tendencies are governed by their individual opinions rather than by class opinions. What that may work out to when we come to practice remains to be seen. At least I do not feel myself in a position to make any prediction about it.

Nor in the short observations which I have to make to your Lordships, do I intend to go into abstract principles. We have all discussed abstract principles in connection with this question and more or less they have been decided for us by practice. Therefore it is not necessary to cite Montaigne or John Stuart Mill, the great authors who were eloquently referred to by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, because for the last ten years it has been an accepted principle that there should be equality in the position of women with that of men. It has been carried out, no doubt, mainly in regard to the professions, and only to a limited extent as regards the franchise, but the principle has not been doubted and when, the other day, the House of Commons by a majority which approached 40 to 1 confirmed that women should have the franchise on the same terms as men had it, it was a strong indication of what those who represent their constituencies have come to gather as to public opinion on the subject.

The true view, I think, is this: that our Constitution is not a static one. It is a Constitution which is constantly evolving itself and developing so as to meet new exigencies and new circumstances as they arise. The time has come when there is a demand on the part of public opinion so strong that it is no longer possible or practicable to withhold the franchise from women in the same unrestricted fashion as it has been extended to men. It would be an evil day for this House if we went against the voice of public opinion. It would be an evil day for the public also. It has been our tradition that, while we desire to be satisfied that there is an unmistakable opinion in the country demanding a step forward, when that opinion has been made evident then we should give effect to it. On the whole we have done so. We have very rarely refrained from doing so, and when we have I think we have always afterwards repented. Therefore I trust there will be no substantial division in your Lordships' House on the great question which we have before us.

Really I have said what is necessary upon the subject of the Motion before the House. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack gave a lucid exposition of the contents of the Bill. He has made it clear that the provisions are reasonable provisions and do not fall short of what is absolutely requisite, and no more than requisite, to give effect to the principle. If that is so, the consideration of subordinate matters may well pass to the Committee stage. What we are here concerned with is the main principle and the main principle is that we are asked to agree with a most decisive majority in the other House, a majority which has been proved to be expressive of the great mass of public opinion in the country, that this measure should be passed forthwith into law. Holding that view strongly and whole-heartedly I do not think it necessary to say more. I have always myself believed in the extension of the franchise to women. I have never thought that they would use it in a revolutionary way, nor have I been able to predict to myself in what particular fashion they might use it when they got it, but for the reasons given by the noble and learned Lord I do not think it is possible any more to doubt that they have made out a complete title to what this Bill proposes to give them. It is significant—I think very significant—that this measure should be brought forward by the Conservative Party and supported by the great majority of that Party. It is significant that they should have done so for the reasons which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has told us, reasons connected not with expediency but with a sense of the justice of the Bill. That being so it would ill become the Labour Party to be behind in doing what it can to bring about the accomplishment of a great aim and the laying down of a great principle.

LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM, who had given Notice to move, as an Amendment, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months, said: My Lords, I rise to move the rejection of this Bill. What is the history of the Bill? A Private Member's Bill was introduced in another place by a Socialist member on February 20, 1925. Before that there had been several Private Member's Bills introduced which had all been defeated with the approval of the then Government. At the last Election all the Socialist members and all the Liberal members, as far as I am aware, were in favour of a Bill of this sort, but I am not aware that any Conservative member of any prominence in the other place or any noble Lord in this place, when he addressed a public meeting, ever said he was in favour of a Bill of this sort. There was no reference made in the Prime Minister's address to a Bill of this sort, and unless I am misinformed there never was any mention made in the address of any prominent member of the Conservative Party at the last Election.

I believe that it is a fact that a communication was sent to a newspaper by the Prime Minister. That communication was as follows:— The Unionist Party are in favour of equal political rights for men and women and desire that the question of the extension of the franchise should if possible be settled by agreement. With this in view they would if returned to power propose that the matter be referred to a Conference of all political Parties on the lines of the Ullswater Committee. That has not been carried out. There has been no Conference. It is true that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said there had not been a Conference because Mr. Speaker would not agree to preside, but I presume there are other people who could have presided and that it was not actually necessary that Mr. Speaker should preside at that Conference. When this Bill was brought before Parliament in another place, what happened? A Motion to reject it was proposed by the Home Secretary and that Motion was called by members of the Labour Party a "shifty" Motion. The Motion was:— That this House declines in the early stages of a new Parliament to accord a Second Reading to a Franchise Bill, involving as it would a General Election with the consequent interruption of important legislative and administrative work, and records its opinion that a considered scheme of franchise reform should be brought before this House at a suitable period within the lifetime of the present Parliament. Is this a considered scheme? It is nothing whatever but the Bill which was introduced by the Labour Party on that date brought forward again.

The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has said—and if I may venture humbly to say so I quite agree with him—that he does not advocate it because it is going to be advantageous to the Conservative Party. I think I am not misrepresenting him. But that is not the view of all the members of the Government. Let me read what the Home Secretary said:— I think it would be all right for our Party. I have no fear. I am not at all afraid of mobilising the young women. The right hon. gentleman the member for Burnley concluded his speech by telling us we had mobilised all the old women at the last Election. I am not at all afraid of mobolising the young women, with, I think, equally good results. You will see that at least one member of His Majesty's Government has introduced this Bill because he thinks that it would be good for the prospects of the Conservative Party. Now, if I may venture to agree with the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, I think that the Home Secretary was quite wrong when he made those remarks. I do not know whether the women are going to vote for Conservatives, Liberals or Socialists. I do not care. My opposition is on totally different grounds. As regards giving the vote to people, the vote is not a right, it is a function, and it is given to people because it is supposed, not that they will vote for any one particular Party, but that they will vote in the best interests of the nation.

The speech of the Home Secretary on February 20, 1925, is very interesting reading, and I hope that noble Lords who are in favour of the Bill will devote a little time before we divide to-morrow to reading what he said. He argued that before the Bill was introduced we were ruled by a majority of men, and that now we should be ruled by a majority of women. Then he said:— … let us pass this Bill with our eyes open and realise what the position would be. He went on to show that there would be a majority of over 2,500,000 women over men. I should like to draw the attention, especially of right rev. Prelates on that Bench, to the twelfth verse of the third chapter of Isaiah. It runs:— As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths. The Home Secretary, in the debate to which I have referred, also said that the demand for redistribution was absolute, that it must come, and that any Bill, whenever it was passed, either then or in two or three years' time, must inevitably be followed by a redistribution scheme. Where is the redistribution scheme? I have heard nothing of it. Since I have quoted the Home Secretary, let me quote also some of the figures that he gave as to what would occur if this Bill were passed. He said:— When we come to the constituency of my hon. friend the member for South Kensington, there will be added to the good things which he has already no less than 25,500 new women voters. How my hon. friend would cope with that additional 25,500 women I do not know, but it will finally end by his having 44,600 women voters and only 18,400 men voters. That is the situation, in a great country like this. In a large, well known and important constituency there will be 44,600 women voters, and only 18,400 men. I think that this shows that, if this Bill is passed, a redistribution scheme is absolutely necessary.

Your Lordships are probably aware that this will be the largest extension of the franchise that has ever been proposed, with the exception of the extension in 1918. In 1832, only 100,000 electors were added to the franchise; in 1867, only 1,000,000; in 1884, 2,500,000; and 1918, 13,000,000. You are now going to add another 5,200,000, with the result that, so far as I understand it, everybody who is twenty-one, will have a vote if he or she is not in prison or in a lunatic asylum. What has been the result of these additions to the franchise? Has it resulted in any greater interest being taken in political matters generally? I remember that when I was a boy at Winchester we used to read every day the debates of the House of Commons, which were reported at great length in the newspapers of that day. As for to-day, let us take what may, perhaps, be considered the newspaper which has the largest circulation—namely, the Daily Mail. I defy anybody who takes the Daily Mail to find out what has taken place either in I his House or in another place. What they will find is a good deal relating to sport, a good deal relating to betting, as much relating to divorce as Parliament has allowed the newspapers to report, and a good deal relating to murders: but nothing whatever relating to political matters. I venture to say that this shows that the extension of the franchise has resulted, not in causing any increased desire to share in, or any increased knowledge of, political matters, but in quite the contrary effect, with the result that a considerable number of electors do not take the trouble to go to the poll at all. If it is a wet day, or unless somebody comes in a motor-car to fetch them, they prefer to remain at home.

What are we going to do? I have unfortunately not had time to look up some remarks made by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, and therefore I am not sure that I may not be under a misapprehension as to what he said, but my recollection is that he was extremely doubtful as to what the result of this would be and, unless I am very much mistaken, he called it a gamble. Just consider for a moment what we are going to do. We are going to give 26,000,000 out of 44,000,000 people power to decide the fate of the Empire, and we are going to do it when there will be only a single Chamber. The pledge that was made in 1911 as to the reform of your Lordships' House has not been carried out, and when we have 26,000,000 electors, the majority of whom are women, what chance is there that the reform of this House will be carried out or that we shall have a Second Chamber which will have some power to act? As far as I know, in every country where there is a large democracy, as there would be here, there is a Second Chamber with power to act. Surely, before we add all these people to the register we ought to see that this House has some power of revising the mistakes or of consulting the electorate on mistakes which may be made by this enormous electorate. Suppose this House throws out the Bill: what will happen? There will be an Election next year. Is it not the fact that if at that Election it is clearly indicated that the country desires a Bill of this sort—I maintain that they have expressed no opinion upon it, except the Socialists and the Liberals—your Lordships would at once accede to the wishes of the country and pass the Bill. Therefore, all you are doing if you reject the Bill, is to give the country an opportunity of saying whether it is for or against the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Banbury of Southam.)


My Lords, like my noble friend who has already spoken from this side of the House, I rise to support the Bill which has been introduced by the Government—not, indeed, as a coping-stone upon our electoral system but, as I hope, a stepping-stone towards a more perfect system. It is very interesting to notice that the opposition to the Bill rather comes from the Benches behind the Government. It is to be observed that three noble Lords sitting behind the Government have put down Notices for the rejection of the Bill, and I also noted that in another place when a Division took place on the Second Reading of the Bill the absentees included three Cabinet Ministers and twelve junior Ministers. In fact the only opponents of the Bill are the Government's own supporters.

I venture to give a rather qualified blessing to the Bill. It is qualified for three reasons. In the first place this Bill multiplies the plural voters by two. It is true that the Lord Chancellor has spoken of 16,000 additional men being added to the register. I believe that all these 16,000 will be additional plural voters. I can understand that a man should be given a vote in regard to his business premises, but there is nothing to be said, as far as I can see, for giving an extra vote to a woman merely because her husband has business premises. You might just as well, even if you give an extra vote for business premises, only give the woman a vote for the home she manages. This is really a relic of the property qualification for the franchise and it is a qualification which I had hoped would have been abolished in the Bill of 1918.

Another thing which qualifies my blessing is the matter of the expenses of election. This Bill makes it still more expensive for some people in certain constituencies to become Members of Parliament. The Government have refused to accept Amendments limiting the increase of lawful expenditure at borough elections, which will be automatic with the increase of the voters. In most cases it will mean that the maximum allowable expenditure, which often means in practice the minimum expenditure, is raised by more than £200 per constituency. This is, therefore, yet another measure which increases the power of wealth under our electoral system. Finally (and this is more important), I do most pro- foundly regret the fact that there has not been inserted in this Bill a measure of electoral reform. We have now seen to it that in this country every adult man and woman has a vote, but we have failed to see to it that they will have an opportunity of getting the full value of that vote, and that each vote is of equal value.

The inequalities produced by the existing machinery are glaring. I know that I shall have no sympathy from the noble Marquess who leads the House because he has more than once expressed the view that minority representation, on the whole, is not a bad thing. I will not, however, refer to that except to take this opportunity of expressing our regret that the noble Marquess is unable to be present and also our hope that he may have a speedy return to this House. I make no great complaint of this inequality because I am philosophic enough to wait until the complaint comes from noble Lords who are now enjoying this inequality, for the time is sure to come when, through no great change, they will find themselves in just as small a minority as the other Parties are in at the present time. As a result of the last Election every Conservative member represented 20,000 voters, every Labour member 40,000 voters and every Liberal member 80,000 voters. In the English counties the Liberals received 1,303,000 votes and returned four members; the Conservatives received less than three times as many votes and held 180 seats. Labour had only 200,000 votes more than the Liberals and won nine times as many seats. It is evident that the existing machinery for representing in Parliament the will of the people is illusory and misleading.

The Lord Chancellor spoke of having been returned to power. It is true that he and his Government were returned to power, but it was by a minority of the voters in this country, and we need, it seems to me, to proceed yet further in electoral reform in order to see that we do get the exact wishes of the people represented in another place. In the last three Elections it worked out unequally and unfairly. The present system is a caricature of representation. This Bill broadens the caricature. Liberals in the past have fought for the will of the people to be expressed at the polling booth. We shall now have to consider whether it is not necessary to fight with the same intensity in order to see that the will of the polling booth is accurately reflected on the floor of the House of Commons. Therefore it is only a qualified blessing that I venture to give to this Bill, although, indeed, I can promise the Government that when they find the rebellion against the Bill on their own back-benches becomes formidable we will do our best to come to their support.


My Lords, there are, I think, three very good reasons why this House will be acting in the very best interests of the country in throwing out this measure. In the first place such a great constitutional change ought to have been placed before the country at the last General Election. Lord Banbury fully dealt with that aspect of the matter. Secondly, this Bill represents not the fulfilment of a pledge but the breach of a pledge, because the pledge was to call a Party Conference, and no one can imagine that if such a Conference had been held the Bill would have been produced in its present form. It is quite probable that the Bill would never have been introduced at all, because of opposition on the part of members of the Conservative Party. Even if it were introduced it would certainly have been accompanied by a redistribution measure. The Lord Chancellor said that the Conference could not be held because the Speaker thought it would be improper for him to preside. No doubt that is an excellent reason for the Speaker not to preside, but it hardly seems a conclusive reason for not holding the Conference.

The third reason which I venture to put is, I think, a better one still for rejecting the measure. In the debate in the House of Commons on March 29, on the Second Reading, the Home Secretary used these words. He said:— Is there any member who fears the consequences of the democratic vote as we established it in 1918? "That experiment," he added a little later, "has been amply justified." These assurances were echoed from every quarter of the House, and Mr. Snowden, representing the Labour Party, said that the Bill would facilitate the common task of grappling with the great national questions which it is the duty of enfranchised democracy to solve. I do not doubt for a moment the absolute sincerity of all these assurances, but I cannot help thinking that those who utter them must be a little blind to realities, a little slow to recognise what is happening around them, and particularly slow to recognise the facts, in their true bearing, of recent political history.

Let us just test these assurances of trust and confidence which we can have in the people of this country—and it is not only a question of trust and confidence which we can have, it is a question of the trust and confidence which, as a matter of fact, the political Leaders of all Parties actually have in the people of this country. We need go no further back than fourteen years ago. Less than fourteen years ago this country was flung into the Great War totally unprepared, the people unwarned. Why? Because, according to the Government of the day, the people were so blind, so prejudiced, so incapable of foresight, that you could not warn them. Not only could they not be warned, but it was considered absolutely necessary to deceive them, and they had to be told that the danger did not exist, and the efforts of those, like Lord Roberts and Lord Milner, who were trying to warn them, were decried and denounced. The Liberal Party come before us to-day assuring us that we can have absolute trust and confidence in the people. All I can say is that they had remarkably little confidence in the people of this country fourteen years ago. But the question which I ask myself, and which I think perhaps some of your Lordships will ask yourselves, is this: If it was impossible for the comparatively small and select democracy of 1914 to be prepared for a war, what prospect is there of a democracy swollen to three times that number, and consisting mainly of women, being prepared for such a great national emergency in the future?

Well, the War came. In order to conduct it successfully it required a measure of conscription and the enrolment of every able-bodied man either for service in the field or at home. We were again told that the people would not stand it. So little trust and confidence had we in the people that we had to wait for two years—years of confusion and chaos, in which ultimate victory was imperilled and the whole of the conduct of the War gravely impeded—before we could introduce that very necessary measure. And then a very curious thing happened. In spite of the fact that, on the showing of the Government themselves, the people were totally unfitted—so utterly incapable of exercising any foresight or of listening to any warning, so unready for any great national emergency—in spite of that fact, we were informed that the time had come to add no fewer than 13,000,000 voters to the electorate, principally women. Well, I should like to consider what was the real reason for doing this. As far as I can make out, the reason which has been given is that the women had rendered such remarkable services in the War, showing such patriotism and public spirit, that they were considered fit to have the vote. Many people who had previously opposed women's suffrage voted for it in 1918 on that ground, and that ground alone. It would appear that those people were so ignorant of history, so unfortunate, I must suppose, in the female society with which they had associated, that they had never dreamed for a moment that women were capable of exhibiting patriotism, or public spirit, or devotion to duty, or fortitude in adversity. Those things were believed to be out of the question in the case of such inferior beings. But, discovering their mistake, they thought the only appropriate reward for these virtues was to give them the vote. As a matter of fact, those reasons for opposing women's suffrage in the first instance, and for granting it in the second, might be excusable in a school-boy debating society, but hardly seem to be worthy of a debate in Parliament.

There was only one good reason for opposing women's suffrage, and that was—not that women were inferior to men, but that they were different from men. And incidentally I may remark that two things which are essentially different from one another cannot be equal, and therefore to talk about equality of the sexes is ridiculous. At all events, the theory was that a man and a woman, being different, had different functions in life to fulfil—not; only in domestic life, but also in the national life; that it was the function of men to exercise rule and authority directly by the vote, and the function of women to exert their influence, upon national affairs in less direct but no less effective fashion. It does not matter what we think of that theory; it has now been thrown overboard like a good many other very sound and sensible principles. But in any case, that being the only good ground on which opposition to women's suffrage could be based, it is absurd to suggest that the services which women rendered in the War are either here or there. They are not relevant to the matter at all. Moreover, as my noble friend has pointed out, the vote cannot be regarded as a reward for services rendered. The vote is not the inalienable right of every citizen, nor can it be a reward. The vote is a duty, a responsibility entrusted to those who are qualified to exercise it. What the qualifications may be is quite another matter. But patriotism and public spirit cannot be qualifications. They are the most elementary virtues displayed in the most primitive states of society, and even more conspicuous in the most primitive states of society than in the civilised. It is exactly as if you went to women in 1918, and said to them: "We are going to give you the vote, not because of your superior judgment or wisdom but because you displayed patriotism—the most elementary and primitive of all virtues."

Well, what was the immediate consequence of this lowering of the franchise? The first result of lowering the franchise was to lower the standard of political morality. In the opinion of the Coalition Government this vast inchoate mass of electors, swayed by every gust of popular passion and prejudice, and a prey to revolutionary agitation, could only be influenced by extraordinary measures. An enormous fund was therefore raised for the purposes of propaganda and for the control of the Press by the sale of honours on an unprecedented scale. Even supposing we put the most favourable interpretation upon that course of action—let us suppose, if you like for the sake of argument, that that was done from the purest and most disinterested motives, that at any rate the aim was disinterested, however discreditable the methods may have been—even so (and it is a very large assumption in view of what has actually happened recently) can it really be pretended that there was the slightest trust or confidence displayed in the people? Two very remarkable utterances were made by Ministers of the Coalition Government. Your Lordships will remember that the legislative programme of that Government consisted in making promises which cost an enormous amount of money, and therefore could not possibly be fulfilled. Mr. Churchill, speaking in the House of Commons, admitted the failure of this policy, admitted that these pledges had been given and could not be redeemed, and he gave this reason for it—he said that those who criticised the Government forgot that the people demanded a new world after the War, and therefore it had to be promised to them. The fact is that, owing to this vast increase in the franchise, if the people demand the moon you have to promise it.

Another most remarkable statement was made just about the same time by Mr. Austen Chamberlain, as he was then, who was then Leader of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons. Speaking on the Irish Treaty, he rebuked his critics who had charged the Government with inconsistency, and with abandoning Ireland, and with it the loyalists of Ireland, after declaring that they would never surrender to murder and outrage. He gave this as the reason for it. He said, in effect: "You forget that owing to the fact that the electorate in this country is constantly changing its mind, it is impossible for the Government to preserve or to maintain a firm or consistent policy." Sir Austen Chamberlain is now a member of the Cabinet which is asking us to enfranchise no fewer than 5¼ millions of women, I suppose by way of adding an element of stability, of firmness and consistency to the electorate, the absence of which he deplored in 1921. A poet once described women as— Uncertain, coy and hard to please, And variable as the shade …. I suppose he was talking nonsense, and that he ought to have said that they provided that element of consistency and certainty which is so lacking in the male sex.

When I read these admissions and confessions I am sometimes led to ask in what really does the science of politics consist. Does it consist in flattering the people and pandering to their ignorance and prejudices, and then turning round upon them and blaming them for every disaster? Look at the dilemma in which this House is now placed. We have ventured in the past, especially when a Conservative Government was not in power, to criticise the Government very severely, and we have always been told, as I have shown, that it was unfair to criticise too much because the Governmen had great difficulties to encounter, especially owing to the uncertain nature of the democracy. If we were to reply to-day, "Very well, in that case let us defer this reform, if you are pleased so to call it, until you can trust the democracy a little more," we should be denounced from every platform in the country as reactionaries, and as opposing the will of the people.

It must not be thought that these mistakes and failures and confessions of failure that I have mentioned were peculiar to the Coalition Government. What measure of trust and confidence has been displayed in the people since then? There has been one outstanding problem which has faced every successive Government since then—the problem of industrial unrest—which culminated two years ago in the General Strike. That strike was brought about by men whose objects were not industrial at all but political, who deliberately manœuvred the working classes of this country into a false position and led them to disaster. Never once in the whole of the period preceding the strike was the trust and confidence of the Government in the people sufficient for them to expose those designs or to warn the masses of labour. Those who were betraying the people of this country and the workers were accepted by the Government as true representatives of the workers. A Royal Commission accepted them as the representatives of the workers, and accepted their evidence and ignored their real aims. It was not until the General Strike was over and this disaster had happened and this almost irreparable blow to British industry had been struck, that Ministers stumped the country and denounced the miners' secretary and those helping him as agents of Moscow. There may be an excuse for the Government; I dare say there are many excuses. No doubt the situation was very difficult. But I cannot think of a single excuse which is compatible with the slightest trust or confidence in the masses of labour.

If such is the record of Conservative and Liberal statesmanship, what shall we say about the record of Labour statesmanship? What will be said of those Labour leaders whose abject fear of the men they led prevented any effective opposition to the extremists before the strike, who allowed themselves to be driven into it hating it, fearing it and knowing all the time that they were leading their men to disaster, and yet going into it, not daring to resist, and finally, when it was all over, excusing themselves by the wretched plea that they had to display loyalty to their deluded followers? Such is the record of those who claim to be nearest to the great heart of the people and to understand it best. If your Lordships can see any sign of faith and confidence in the people of this country displayed by any political Party, all I can say is that I cannot.

I submit that we can only arrive at one of two conclusions in considering these facts: Either that those who have been responsible for leading the people during the last two years are right in attributing all these misfortunes and disasters and occasional humiliations to them, in which case it is obviously highly undesirable to add a single man or woman to the electorate; or that it is not the people who are to blame, but that there must be something wrong with the standard of political leadership in this country, and that the task of guiding and controlling the destinies of twenty-two million voters is, at the present time, too high a task for British statesmanship. Whichever explanation is the right one, I submit that it constitutes an overwhelming argument against the admission of any other man or woman to the franchise and that there is only one question which your Lordships' House ought to decide tomorrow afternoon, and that is, not what the consequences of rejecting this Bill will be but whether this country will be more wisely or better governed after this Bill is passed than it is at, the present time. If the answer to that question is "No," then I submit it is the duty of this House to reject this measure.


My Lords, we have just listened to a speech from the noble. Duke which, as always in his case, shows lucidity, courage and conviction. I regret that in the circumstances I find myself in complete disagreement with the advice he has tendered to your Lordships, and with the arguments by which he supported his conclusions and advice. During the last generation and more particularly since the War, we in this country and the people in other countries have been considering whether or not we ought to re-adjust our attitude towards a certain number of great problems—international relations, the relations between capital and labour, our definition, it may be, of religion, and more particularly the relation of the two sexes to each other. To-day we are discussing the last of those questions. In listening to the speeches made this afternoon against this Bill it seems to me that in the main there are three grounds on which it is being opposed. First of all, there is the feeling that women belong to a politically inferior sex, and that they have not the ability and capacity to be as good citizens as men are. Secondly, there is the question of the pledges which may or may not have been given by the Government of to-day and the Prime Minister; and thirdly, there is the fear of what may be the consequences of adding to the electorate of this country some four or five millions more voters, more particularly women voters.

Let me deal with those three points separately. First of all, as regards the relationship of the two sexes to each other. The Bill which is before your Lordships to-day proposes to sweep away the last sex distinction that separates women from men for political purposes. Personally I support that proposal. I think that we should not base citizenship on sex. I believe that as we remove this distinction we shall have greater industrial and greater social equality between the two sexes. The measure, as I see it to-day, will remove what I consider to be artificial barriers—barriers which ought not to be brought into citizenship, into social relations, or even into industrial relations. I believe the Government have brought this Bill in because it is consistent with the development of Western civilisation. I emphasise Western by comparison with Eastern civilisation. Western civilisation has been accompanied by the successive and progressive emancipation of women. The East has not followed as rapidly or as generally. Moreover, I believe we are doing it to-day because it is consistent with the development of civilisation, as we, the Nordic people, have understood it.

If your Lordships will study history you will see the way in which the countries containing northern or southern people have been developed. Your Lordships will find that women occupy an entirely different position in what I may call the Latin countries. Women in the Latin countries—France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Rumania, South America—occupy a position of political, industrial and social inferiority. The only possible justification for such a distinction, for putting women in such a position of political inferiority, would be that in those countries there should be better government and greater morality, that those countries should, in fact, be among the leaders of the world. Exactly the reverse is the case. Three or four years ago the League of Nations set up a Commission to look into what is called the white slave traffic. That Commission reported to the League that in what I have called just now the Latin countries, where women have a special position—a position of political and social inferiority—there was more immorality and greater sex perversion; that is to say, that not only women but also men were less satisfactory citizens than in the English-speaking countries or in Scandinavia. The whole teaching, as I see it, of modern civilisation is that it is wrong to emphasise sex distinction in citizenship or in social relations within a country.

The Bill before your Lordships to-day proposes to remove and abolish finally the political distinction between men and women. I believe that when we do that we shall get a greater measure of responsibility, of service, of independence and of character among women as well as among men. The whole object of democracy, of responsible representative government, as I understand it, is partly that the will of the people as a whole should be reflected in the government and administration of the country, but also that by giving power and respon- sibility to individuals, whether male or female, you develop in the individual greater character, more backbone, a greater sense of self-respect and service. I believe that it is as necessary to develop this sense of service, of self-control and of backbone in women as it is in men.

It has been mentioned to-day, and it was also mentioned in the House of Commons, that this proposal if carried would give a majority of women electors—that there would be a majority of between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 women voters in the country. Either there must be periodically a majority of men or of women or we must attempt to gerrymander our franchise so that they are always on an actual numerical equality. I believe that to be impossible. I think it would be ridiculous to attempt to provide that at any given moment there should be a numerical equality as between men and women voters. The noble Lord, Lord Banbury, who moved the rejection of the Bill, indicated that in his opinion not only should there be a national numerical equality, but there should be the same numerical equality in each constituency. I think it would be perfectly impossible to devise any system which would do that. I welcome and approve this Bill, because it does mean that we are going to consider men and women as human beings and not separated on what I consider to be an entirely false basis.

Reference has been made by previous speakers who oppose this measure to the pledges or the absence of pledges contained in the programme of the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party at the last General Election. On this I propose to be guided by what the Prime Minister said only the other day in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister dealt with this question of pledges and said:— We decided after much consideration …. that we would fulfil our pledge as to the franchise…. From 1922 onwards the Leaders of the Party which I have the honour to lead at this moment had given in no equivocal terms that famous pledge about the equality of the vote. … No objection was ever raised to that pledge as given either by Mr. Bonar Law or by myself. … If you go on stating that you are in favour of a certain measure some day you will be called upon to redeem your promise. The time had come, in our judgment, when that promise should be redeemed, and this Bill is the result. That is to say, that in the opinion of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Party to which the noble. Duke and I both belong, not only had he given a definite pledge but his predecessor, the late Mr. Bonar Law, had also given a definite pledge, that his Party would, at an early date and as soon as possible, remove the sex disqualification.

On the question of a Conference the Prime Minister made it perfectly clear that there was no need to have a Conference as between the three Parties when the three Parties were agreed on the simple issue as to the removal of the sex disqualification. The Government decided, for reasons which he did not give, and with which, therefore, I cannot deal, that they would not attempt to deal with the question of redistribution, and as the Government were not dealing with that particular aspect of the question there was no need to have a Conference. As regards the attitude of the voters in the country there is to-day no substantial opposition to this Bill. If there had been any substantial opposition to the Bill it would have been manifested at the by-elections; it would have been manifested at public meetings; it would have been manifested by hecklers and interrupters and in the public Press and in the other ways in which one is able to test public opinion. At the present moment the Bill, I am convinced, does represent the general desire of the overwhelming vote of the electors and voters of the country.

The noble Duke, speaking just now, indicated—I think Lord Banbury did, too—that a measure such as this should be delayed until we were prepared to deal with the reform of the Upper House, and that we should deal with the constitutional question as a whole. I agree entirely with the noble Duke that the present situation is unsatisfactory. I believe I am almost as keen as he is to deal with the reform of the Upper House. I believe I differ from him as to the exact way in which it should be done, but I agree entirely that we have now a most unsatisfactory position. But he knows, as I know, that we are not going at an early date to get such a measure of reform. We can only reform the Upper House if there is some measure of agreement between the different Parties. The reason reform is delayed is that at the moment our Party are not prepared to bring in a scheme which would get any considerable measure of support from the other Parties. I believe it is only possible to effect a great constitutional change by consent and not on a purely Party basis.

I would make one appeal to the noble Duke who has just sat down. He dealt with the fact that some time within the next twelve months there is bound to be a General Election. I am speaking now purely as a member of the Conservative Party. I do earnestly suggest to the noble Duke that if he is able to persuade enough Conservative Peers to reject this Bill, that if this Bill is in fact rejected by your Lordships, our Party would go to the poll at a very serious disadvantage. I should say that at the present moment we would be returned. As far as I can see, looking at things quite apart from this Bill, there is no reason why we should not win the next Election, but if this Bill—which, as I have tried to show, has the general support of the people—were to be thrown out by a majority consisting entirely of Conservative Peers, I am convinced our Party would go to the polls at a serious disadvantage. It would not be then a question of what the House of Lords had done. In every constituency it would be suggested that it was the Conservative Peers who had thrown out this proposal. I believe that that might result in the loss of a sufficient number of seats to bring about that very catastrophe which I believe the noble Duke fears very much—namely, the return of a Labour Government.

I can understand people before the War having been justified in fearing any wide extension of the franchise, in fearing the enfranchisement of women on a large scale, but I cannot possibly see how such a fear can be held now. In 1918 we made a big extension of the franchise. We gave the vote practically to all men of twenty-one and we enfranchised a large number of women. Since we did that in 1918 there have been four General Elections. At each one of those Elections the young men and such women as had been enfranchised indicated clearly that the majority of them were for constitutional Government, that the majority of them were against any extreme or revolutionary Party and against proposals which would endanger the fate of this country. We have been through particularly trying times since the War ended. There was the disillusionment of the post-War period. There was the fact that literally millions of people were looking for work and were unable to find it. Through all that time the young men who had votes and the women who had votes proved steadfast. How can we, in regard to the young women of twenty-three or twenty-two or twenty-one, whom we called upon to help us during the War, and those whom we called upon to help during the General Strike and who rallied round and helped us to defeat the General Strike in the same way that they helped to save the War, how can we deny to them the right which they see is given and the privilege which they see is given to younger men, may be, working next to them, doing the same work in the factory and in the shop? To deny to the women of twenty-three or twenty-two or twenty-one this right, this obligation, this privilege of citizenship, would, I am convinced, run counter to that sentiment of fairness and fair play which is one of the main characteristics of the British people.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships' House more than a minute or two. I have no intention of following my noble friend into his researches with regard to the standing of women in the Nordic and the Latin countries, but there are certain peculiarities, if I may say so, about this Bill which seem to me perhaps worthy of momentary attention. I do not think, in spite of the ingenious speech made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, that it can be honestly denied that this is a Bill which is deliberately cribbed from our political opponents. It is no good trying to get out of it. It was an article in their programme. The stealing of clothes is a well-known practice of politicians, but if you are going to embark upon an immoral practice of this kind it is just as well to steal from our opponents something which is useful instead of taking something which is useless. What we have done is to appropriate an item in their programme which is going to be of the greatest disadvantage to us. It is very much as if a man who was going to compete with another man in a race should ransack the wardrobe of his opponent, pick out the most inappropriate and the most embarrassing garment, wear it himself and then announce to the whole world that he felt still more confident of winning.

That is one peculiarity, and another peculiarity about this Bill is its origin. We have heard a good deal about its origin this afternoon. I have my own theory as to its origin. My firm belief is that the origin of this Bill proceeded from the fact that the Home Secretary, in replying to some questioner, blurted out that he thought young women ought to have votes in the same way as young men. The Prime Minister, who, I believe, was seated beside him or near him, made no attempt to check him, and somehow the Party has unconsciously drifted into this position. Now Ministers are in the position of trying to make out that they are only too pleased to find that they are in a position to carry out this beneficent reform. It is almost as if a person were to contract some malady and to go about boasting amongst his friends that he felt all the better in consequence. I do not in the least believe these statements. I do not wish to say anything rude, but I am not in the least convinced by these statements of Peers that they are heart and soul in favour of the Bill. I make an exception of the noble Lord who has just spoken, perhaps, but I have not encountered anybody, official or unofficial, on my side, with few exceptions, who appears to be in favour of this measure.

I did not really rise to make these comments. It was in order to express something totally different. I am oppressed at the present moment by a sense of disappointment amounting to the deepest dejection. I came down here expecting to follow the opposition of the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, who, after all, is the leading opponent of this Bill, and who is to a great extent responsible for the opposition. I came down here hoping to see him hurling his thunderbolts upon the miserable occupants of the Front Bench and demolishing them. Instead of that I find what I may call the automatic action of my noble friend, Lord Banbury of Southam. I purposely use the word "automatic" because it is the most natural thing in the world when anybody introduces a Bill for my noble friend to put down a Motion for its rejection. For days, for weeks, for months, I have read in the organs of the noble Viscount statements to the effect that this Bill really, so to speak, threatens the foundations of society, that the British Empire and the whole social structure are in danger of collapse; and yet, to my indescribable astonishment, when I come down here I find that the noble Viscount is not only not going to vote against the Bill but that he has not even taken his seat.

It is difficult to conceive a more remarkable position. I feel myself almost in the position of the Priests of Baal calling upon their absent deity. Where (I feel inclined to ask) is the noble Viscount? What is he doing? Of what is he dreaming? Here we have the earth, so to speak, shaking beneath our feet, the world crashing around us, and yet the noble Viscount cannot take the trouble to come down here and record a vote against this Bill. There are only two possible explanations that occur to my mind. I wish I could hope that the young ladies upon whom the vote is going to be conferred ale going to imitate the absence of the noble Viscount, but I am afraid that there is no chance of that. They will, no doubt, use their opportunity to the best of their ability. The very simple explanation that occurs to me is that the noble Viscount has arrived at the conclusion that the seat of Government does not rest at Whitehall, but is firmly fixed at Carmelite House.


My Lords, I think the House will consider that the speech which my noble friend has just delivered has effectually relieved this debate of the blemish of which I am quite sure that we were all conscious in its earlier stages. It, at any rate, is not disappointing, since he has favoured us with remarks which, however distant from the point, were at any rate interesting and enjoyable. But if your Lordships will consider that this is the discussion of the vital stage in a Bill of the first magnitude, dealing with one of the political questions which only a few years ago excited, and were bound to excite, more agitation, more antagonism and sometimes more enthusiasm than any other, and if we consider the course that the debate has taken and the attitude that the House has adopted towards the Bill, I think we shall come to the conclusion that there is something very changed with regard to this topic since extensions of the franchise were last mooted.

My noble friend expressed some dissatisfaction with the course of the debate, and said that he was disappointed with it. Why is it that we all have reason to be struck—I will not say disappointed—with the general tenour of the debate? The Lord Chancellor, in what I hope is only the first of a series of majestic speeches, addressed us upon this subject in a manner that left us no doubt whatever as to the principles upon which he was recommending the Bill. He advanced them with dignity and with no needless reference to the earlier opinions of Leaders of his Party. But it is impossible to say that he displayed any enthusiasm. He was followed by the noble and learned Viscount who leads the Opposition, who refrigerated the discussion by the calm and cold support that he promised to the measure. The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, on behalf of those for whom he acts as well as for himself, picked holes in the measure because it does not contain a great many things which, of course, have been carefully excluded by its exceedingly limited title, the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Bill. That is exactly why it is called by that name. The noble Earl said, in a phrase that I cannot hope to better, that he bestowed on it only a qualified blessing, and I am sure that if the Government need a blessing from a Party which sometimes oppose them, but which on this occasion are going to favour them with support, they would desire that there should be fewer qualifications and rather more warmth in it.

Then the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, addressed himself to the merits of the subject in a way which throws a great deal of light upon the real position of this Bill in the country. He triumphed, not with pride but with melancholy, in the final destruction of the doctrine that women are a politically inferior sex; he asked eloquently how we could deny the vote to women who had served us in the War and in the General Strike; and he asked, with a sense of close and intimate contact with the sentiments of those who are to be enfranchised, whether it was possible that a young maiden of twenty-one or twenty-two or twenty-three should tolerate that she alone should not have the vote, being what she is, when the young man of twenty-three or twenty-two or twenty-one working at the bench or the machine next to her had it. He concluded by saying that there was no opposition that he knew of in the country.

I am inclined to think that in those words the noble Viscount hit upon the explanation of the whole riddle. Why is there so little, if any, opposition in the country? Why is there so little enthusiasm in this House? Why is it that even the advocates of this measure have to content themselves with dry propositions about the right of women to do what men do and the justice of recognising their claim, and also with disinterested disclaimers of any anxiety whatever as to the effect that this Bill may have upon votes? I think the explanation is simply that the country is bored. I do not believe that the silence of the new voters that has been noticed has anything to do with their conviction that they are now going to get what they want and to enjoy that which will make life worth living. I think that, as the franchise has been extended and more and more people have got to know how little it means, and as the people who are going to get it now have come more and more into contact with those who have it already, they have all come to the full realisation of the truth that this immense watering of the stock makes each individual vote of less and less value and importance, and that the privilege of taking part in a cheering procession to the polls, wearing the portrait of one candidate or another, is one of those privileges which, in a country like this, has very little attraction.

I know that popular enthusiasm for mere politics may go very far, and that you may see ten thousand business men of New York marching along Broadway in a solid column at the busiest hour of the day, chanting out some slogan like "What is wrong with Jones?" or something of that kind. But I do not see a multitude of our working classes giving their dinner hour in order to throng round a platform where they will hear one or other of the candidates who seek their suffrages, and I do realise what a very large proportion of them will stay away from the polls if they can. All this will perhaps explain why I feel as little enthusiasm and excitement upon this subject as the most ardent of the Government's supporters. But the Bill has one recommendation, which I think has not been mentioned hitherto. We get down now to 21. If you get much further down you will get to the age of consent. I cannot help thinking that whatever else is said of the Bill we may thank goodness it is the last, and we shall be able to say that we have wiped out from current political discussion one of the great topics of the nineteenth century, and can start afresh on more serious ones, which I think is probably a very great advantage.

May I ask your Lordships to consider some of the consequences of this measure, because, frankly, I assume that it is going to pass. A Government which waves its hand and is supported by both bodies of its opponents, a Government which in the House of Commons had only ten of its own supporters in the Lobby against it, is a Government which I imagine can rest quite confidently on the assurance that this Bill will pass its Second Reading to-morrow. Consider, however, one or two of the new factors that will be introduced into politics. I understand that the electorate will number about 26,000,000 under the Bill, and although I do not profess to know anything about vital statistics, I assume that out of a total population of 44,000,000, after you have deducted the people under 21 and the people in the gaols, and the lunatics, and your Lordships, pretty nearly the whole lot of them will be entitled to vote.

This is a fact which I believe everybody interested in the welfare of this country at present ought to brand upon his mind, and never forget it as long as he lives. The people who pay the direct taxes of this country are the Income Tax payers, and the people who pay the Super-Tax, the people who in substance pay the Death. Duties—perhaps I am wrong there, for they are dead and have got out of it, but somebody else pays out of what they have left—and the people who pay sundry other minor imposts. The people who are charged to Income Tax number some 2,400,000 persons. About one in ten of those who vote will bear the burden of the direct taxation that may be involved in the result of the vote. They are scattered about in all constituencies. I do not suppose there is any constituency in which they are sufficiently numerous to make any impression upon the voting, and although I am not making any attack on this ground upon the intelligence or virtue of those who vote and do not pay, the result is that when new legislation involves, as it constantly does involve, new expenditure and, what is more serious, permanent expenditure, you will find that it will be imposed by the votes of the 26,000,000 voters, minus 2,400,000, upon the pockets of the 2,400,000 tax payers. That is the way in which our system is permanently carried on. It is quite true that there is a large body of indirect taxes, but what a very large part of that is contributed by wine, beer and spirits! The taxes on wine are mostly contributed by the 2,400,000 and their families. Beer is one of those sources of revenue which it is almost indecent now to allude to and which is perpetually being held up as one of those plagues of society which all good persons, and women particularly, are concerned to destroy.

Personally I think the woman's vote is quite as good as the man's. In saying that I do not wish to be understood as expressing very great admiration for it, but I have not been able to see why, in the same classes and at the same ages, women are to be expected to vote more disastrously for the country than men, except for one thing, that as a rule they are not quite so directly engaged in the earning of their livelihood as men are, although even that is not on so large a scale as to matter considerably. Women have, however, certain general characteristics. They have warm hearts and quick emotions, and they are anxious to do good without considering too long whether they are on the right track or not. I deprecate very much the necessity of discussing the peculiar characteristics of the two sexes, but you cannot get on without doing so.

My reason for dwelling upon the matter is this. At a General Election there are two dangers which stand between a candidate and a voter—the vast size of the constituency to which he has to address himself, and the immense driving force of small bodies of highly organised and determined persons, who, though relatively small in numbers, are able to command in each constituency a formidable number of votes, and who under the banner of their cause can say: "The price of our votes is your vote for our cause." In the case of total abstinence I think the experience of the United States warrants one in saying that the strength of the agitation at the polls, for prohibition or extreme restriction of the liquor trade, will be largely carried on by the preponderating body of women voters, organised, inspired and led by the pertinacious, determined and resolute leaders in whose hands that cause is.

Suppose by a well-managed series of operations at a General Election, at which the issue is uncertain, a sweeping demand were made by well-distributed voters for prohibition, in some form or other, and, as candidates must get votes or be rejected—which is a contingency they are not prepared to face—suppose the candidates were to say: "Of course, we will adopt and vote for this excellent proposition." Suppose a young House meets and the Government is supported by a considerable majority of people on both sides, who number among their constituents voters who can only be appeased by support for their particular nostrum; suppose that the Government therefore adopts, as a measure of moment, a prohibition measure. It is quite certain in my mind that in those circumstances such a measure would secure an immense amount of support. Then suppose the Bill passed in another place. What is the power of your Lordships to stand between the immediate passing of such a measure as that, due very largely to the animation and zeal of women voters, and the completion of the campaign? What effective power have your Lordships now to prevent the passing of such a measure, which, in the circumstances I am indicating to your Lordships, is a hasty and ill-considered measure, because no time has been given to it by most of those who vote for it?

I think the real thing that we ought to bear in mind, and carry away from this Bill, is this, that, if a Bill introduced without pledges is a justifiable measure to extend the Constitution in one direction, another Bill which rests upon the most positive pledges already given, pledges to be performed within the lifetime of this Parliament, ought also to be passed as an indispensable concomitant, in order to preserve the balance of the Constitution and to prevent disastrous legislation, which no one will regret more than those who have for the time being been led away by it. On the one side, such a measure as that, which I am now taking as an example, sweeps indispensable millions away from the revenue which cannot be replaced; on the other side, it confiscates property, which those who own it are entitled, according to our existing notions, to retain. As long as you have a Constitution in which there is no sufficient liaison between those who find the money and those who find the policy and give the votes, so long you will always be exposing yourselves, with these gigantic, amorphous, unmanageable electorates, to unnecessary and ill-considered legislation, which in the long run can do nothing but harm.

Those are considerations which, like most of the amendments which the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, desired, are outside the title of this Bill. I hope, however, they are not considerations that your Lordships will wish to banish from your minds upon this occasion. I hope also that if any single voice in this minor branch of the Legislature can have any effect at all, it will have its weight with the Government. A new Session begins next November. The lifetime of the present Parliament has still, bar accidents, many months to run. A Bill of three or four clauses would place your Lordships' House in a position to do its duty effectively by the new electorate, as I think in the main it has done by the old, and I trust that we may demand and expect that the Government, in honouring one pledge by this Bill, will not fail to recollect that there is another which urgently demands to be honoured by another.


My Lords, I agree with what was said by a previous speaker with regard to the lucid speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and I cannot think there is anyone who will differ, so far as his explanation is concerned, about the principle of the Bill. But I must say I have always looked upon the great Conservative Party as a great Constitutional Party, and I think that up to the present time it was a just claim which it could make; but I cannot understand how a large majority of the Conservative Party could agree in bringing in this measure at the present time. There has really been no demand in the country for it, and I think that it has always been customary, when any great change has been made in the Constitution of the country, to put the proposal into the address of the Prime Minister at the General Election. Not-withstanding what has been said by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, I am quite satisfied in my own mind that we have not the authority from the country to carry out a measure of this kind.

And, after what is being done, what will be the position of your Lordships should a Socialist Government get into office? They will bring in all kinds of measures, wild measures many of them, which they consider ought to be passed, but which have not the authority of the country behind them. What will be the position of your Lordships then? As the noble and learned Viscount has just said, you have no power to check that. And surely you should pause before you add five and a quarter millions of young people to the electorate—and young people are very often impetuous and impulsive, and have, to a certain extent, to be kept in check. We have had many illustrations of that kind. Rehoboam, when he succeeded to the Kingdom of Israel, consulted the old men, who gave him very wise advice, then he consulted the young men, who gave him very foolish advice; and unfortunately he followed the advice of the young men and practically lost most of his kingdom. That is not the only instance that comes to my mind. I am largely interested in industrial matters, and again and again strikes have taken place which would not have taken place had it not been for the young men, who have not sufficient experience in dealing with these matters. Take your Lordships. How many of your Lordships make provision in your wills that none of those who succeed you must come into their estate until they are twenty-five years of age? Surely that shows clearly that it is a very unwise thing to admit to the franchise all these millions of women under thirty, without having the direct authority of the country to do it.

Personally I am opposed to it. When you consider that you are giving the majority of women control over the vast interests of this great Empire, what will be thought of us by many countries which we at present control if they get it into their heads that they are controlled and managed by women? I have a great opinion of women, but it is not so very long since they got the franchise and surely you ought to give them time to be educated in these matters. If you pass a Bill like this it practically means that you are governing the country, not by the intelligence of the country but simply by numbers. Depend upon it, if you do that, you will find that you create grave disasters. I cannot think that there was any pledge given for this Bill. There are other things for which pledges, and strong pledges, were given. One was economy. What has the Government which is so anxious about its pledges with regard to the franchise, done to redeem its pledge of economy? I admit they are going to discharge a large number of officials from the public service; but that does not take place for some considerable time, and I consider that they have not carried out their pledge.

What is the position regarding the reform of the House of Lords, which is of vital interest to this country? I was very glad indeed to hear what was said by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, and I think I ought to call your Lordships' attention to a letter which he wrote to the Morning Post some six months ago, in which he put the case very strongly and in much better language than I can command. This is what he said:— They know that as the House of Lords stands at present they might effect in twenty-four months if the Socialists came into office the abolition of the Second Chamber and the Peerage, the disestablishment of the Church, the abolition of testamentary bequest, and the nationalisation of all or any forms of property from lands, minerals, and railways to banking and insurance business, and the drink trade. That statement was not made by a rabid politician. It was made by one of the ablest and one of the most sane and level-headed of the Judges upon the Bench. It seems to me that to pass a measure which might make the proper reform of the House of Lords almost impossible, would be to go against the interests of the country, and it is entirely upon that ground that I oppose this measure. Give the young people time to understand political life, and to learn about political questions before placing these great powers in their hands. Everybody who has to do important work in this country has to be trained to do it. You do not jump into experience; it is a thing of gradual growth, and you may depend upon it that until this question has had sufficient consideration your Lordships will be doing a very unwise thing in passing the Bill.

What will be the effect of the Bill? I cannot tell what majority may result from it, or who will be able to form a Government. It is very difficult to judge of that, and opinion is worth very little; yet, there are some able men who never hesitate to offer one. Mr. Snowden, speaking at Slaitwaite, near Huddersfield, on May 6, is reported to have said that the Conservatives would get no electoral advantage from the full enfranchisement of women. He believed that the remarkable growth of Labour since the partial enfranchisement of women had been largely due to the women's vote, and that this enfranchisement was likely to be to the advantage of the Labour Party. That is the opinion of Mr. Philip Snowden, who is probably the ablest man in the Labour Party. If a Socialist Government came into office with a reasonable majority it would be able to carry on its work, and what would be the end of it? Are you prepared to allow them to have the power of dealing with all these questions that were referred to by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner? I think it is a very serious matter indeed.

Again, what an enormous number of voters there are already. It is a privilege to have a vote, but I am afraid that a great many who have that privilege do not realise that it is their duty to vote. Before any extension of the franchise is made, the Government ought, surely, to do something at all events to insist that those who already have the franchise should make use of it. The political apathy of the upper-middle and middle classes is scandalous. So little do they seem to realise their responsibilities that before the Government proposes a mea- sure of this kind it ought to do something at all events, if it means to obtain the actual views of the country upon various important questions, to compel those who have the franchise to exercise it or lose it. Every extreme person in the Socialist Party registers his vote. And considering, both in municipal and Parliamentary elections, how small is the number of voters compared with those who have the vote, that question ought to be dealt with before any attempt is made to add to the difficulty by giving votes to another 5¼ millions of people. I do not think the Government is doing its duty in that matter and I hope it will realise that it ought to be attended to.

What of the financial situation? I was interested in what was said on this point by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner. These 5¼ millions of people will pay very little in the way of taxes, but they will have power over the fixing and the spending of those taxes. Having regard to what is going on in connection with the "dole" and other matters, I think your Lordships ought, if possible, to insist upon all these things being gone into before the evil, which exists to such a serious extent at present, is extended. I remember when I was a boy there was a general cry of: "No taxation without representation." What is the position to-day? It is representation without taxation. The bulk of the electorate do not pay taxes, except in an indirect way if they drink beer or smoke tobacco. Surely, that is not the extent of the responsibility they ought to have.

I hope that this measure will not be agreed to by your Lordships. I do not say that I am against the franchise, but this proposition has come too soon. We ought, first of all, to see how the old franchise operates, and to deal with many of the injustices which exist at the present time before attempting to extend the vote to all those young people. I listened to the debate with great interest, and I confess that the speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was very telling. But I should like to have heard him taking the opposite side. In all probability he would have been just as interesting and his arguments would probably have been stronger against the Bill to which he is asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading. I hope that as time goes on reasonable action will be taken regarding the reform of the House of Lords and the carrying out of those measures of economy to which the Government pledged themselves so deeply, and not only the Government but almost every Conservative candidate.


My Lords, the thing that interested me most in the speech to which we have just listened was the suggestion of my noble friend that the Government should do something to make voters realise their responsibility. I am reminded that that is indeed one of the outcomes of advanced democracy. Certainly in some South American States voting is compulsory. There are heavy penalties for neglecting to vote. The result is that voters are made to realise that a vote is not a right or a privilege but a duty of citizenship. I have felt for a very long time that something of that kind would be a good thing in this country to correct a great many misapprehensions that exist on the subject. In the House of Commons the Second Reading of this Bill was passed amidst cheers and laughter by a majority so overwhelming that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, was able to allude derisively to the fact that only ten members were found to vote against it. Contrast that enthusiasm and that hilarity with the attitude of your Lordships' House. There is no large attendance, there is no enthusiasm, there is certainly no hilarity, but in spite of this apparent apathy and the general tenour of this debate, I am profoundly convinced that your Lordships' House is this evening more faithfully reflecting the opinion of the country than the other House was doing when the Second Reading of this Bill was passed.

May I explain as briefly as possible why I intend to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill? I have one reason, and one reason only, for taking that course—namely, my conscientious belief that we in this House shall be failing in our duty towards the nation if we do not give the existing electorate the opportunity of saying whether or no they wish for a proposed extension of the franchise involving, as it does, a preponderance of political power for women. I am not a subscriber to the doctrine that nothing should be done in Parliament without a so-called mandate from the people. That doctrine is clearly incompatible with some of the exigencies of government and it is not in accordance with the true principles of popular representation in Parliament. Nobody disputes the right of the Government to act without a mandate in cases of urgency and manifest necessity, but an extension of the franchise never has been, never can be and never will be such a case.

On the other hand, those who already have the vote have a peculiar right to be consulted in any case of a proposed alteration or extension of the franchise. Nothing will persuade me that the overwhelming vote with which the Second Reading of this Bill was carried in another place represents the declared will of the people. Nobody in his senses could even imagine it was so. All the facts are to the contrary. The introduction of the Equal Franchise Bill was a complete surprise and even a shock, not only to the general public, but also to most Members of Parliament outside the inner circle of the Ministry, and even among His Majesty's Ministers there were some who did not hesitate to admit that they had not yet made up their minds and that they were very doubtful as to the expediency of this measure. There has, indeed, been no public demand for any extension of the franchise, and it was only a few insignificant suffrage societies who were pressing for the so-called equalisation of the sexes. The measure which is before us was not proposed at the General Election by any member of the Party now in power. It only figured in the programme of the Socialist Party.

There are circumstances in which it is the duty of any self-respecting and efficient Second Chamber to impose delay on legislation, and thus to afford to the electorate an opportunity of considering the action of their representatives. In my humble opinion there never has been a clearer case for such action on the part of the Second Chamber than we have in this Bill, and more particularly because all three Parties in the elected Chamber have agreed together to pass it. The House of Commons does not always represent the opinion of the nation. That is evident on every occasion when, as the result of a General Election, the Party in power is turned out of office and replaced by its opponents. The period immediately preceding such a General Election is obviously a period in which the House of Commons has ceased to be a faithful mirror of the will of the people. The Press is supposed to represent public opinion, but it may be that that is not always the case. It is, however, certain that the Press as a whole has not reflected any marked approval of this measure. As individuals we have each and all of us some opportunity of gauging public opinion. So far as my own limited experience goes—and I move among all sorts and conditions of men and women—I can only say that I have not come across any person of either sex who really wishes for this extension of the franchise, or thinks that the time is opportune for any further alteration in our electoral laws.

I have always been opposed to female suffrage on principle and altered circumstances have not modified my opinion in the least degree, but it is not on that account that I oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. My ordinary instinct is to accept accomplished facts. I hate voting against my own Party, but there are higher duties than those of Party allegiance and it is solely because of my irresistible conviction that the duty of this House towards the nation is to delay, at any rate, the passing of this Bill that I am speaking or voting at all. The easier course would have been to stay away, but my conscience would not allow me to do that. I have sought only to explain my vote and also why I do not think it necessary to inflict my views upon your Lordships to any further extent by commenting upon the origin, conduct, purpose and probable effect of this Bill.


My Lords, I do not intend to detain your Lordships more than a moment, but I should like to ask the noble Lord how we are to obtain a mandate from the country which he says is so desirable. Should we postpone this Bill until after another General Election, I still do not understand how the country will have any opportunity of expressing its opinion on the matter. The Labour Party, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party are all now, and presumably at the next Election will be, in favour of the extension of the franchise to young women. The election of any of those Parties would prove nothing in this respect whatever. It is true there are some people who very violently oppose the extension of the franchise to women. There was such a gentleman who became a candidate at several by-elections. I do not think he proved any very strong public antipathy to the extension of the franchise. A further objection to the Bill has been that in the present state of apathy among the electorate it is very unwise to embark on any extension. I myself have never regarded apathy so seriously as it is generally regarded, for if a man is uninterested in politics, is so lacking in interest that he will not trouble to record his views, surely those views can be very little worth while recording. People who actually vote are probably those who have taken the trouble to devote some attention to the problems which are set before them and there are many young women—I am speaking now of my own knowledge and experience—and many young men who have taken the trouble to think out political problems. I think you will find quite as large a proportion of thoughtful persons under thirty as in any other period of life.


My Lords, I trust you will pardon the intervention in this debate of a newcomer to your Lordships' House. I feel that I have a very unpleasant task to perform because I have always been an extremely warm supporter of the present Government. It is, therefore, with great reluctance that I rise to oppose this Motion. At the last General Election there were three Parties angling for the votes of the electors. There was the Liberal Party who made some vague and airy statements as to the relations between the casting of votes and the results of them; there was the Socialist Party who very definitely stated that they desired votes for women at 21 on the same terms as for men; and there was the Conservative Party. I scanned very carefully the manifesto of the Conservative Party, but I could find no mention of any kind about giving women votes on equal terms with men. There was in one paper a promise of a Conference, that if the Conservatives were returned to power they would call a Conference on the lines of the Ullswater Conference. That was a perfectly definite statement. The result of the Election was that the Conservative Party was returned to power with the biggest majority ever known and I, for one, was extraordinarily thankful for it.

On February 20, 1925, the Home Secretary in another place again gave a pledge in very definite terms about a Conference. Yet, despite his assurances, we have this Bill before your Lordships without any Conference having taken place. I would ask the Government for a good reason—I say a "good reason"—why this Conference has not been called. The Home Secretary, in introducing this Bill in another place, said that this was the final extension of the franchise. It seems to me that when you have a final extension of the franchise there could not be a better time to hold a Conference to go into the whole question of the final redistribution of constituencies, the question of plural voting and also the question of election expenses. I was present in another place when the Prime Minister wound up the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill. I will not trouble your Lordships by quoting his words, because they were almost the same as those used by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, as to the reasons why Mr. Speaker did not desire to preside over that Conference. I would seriously ask the Government if that is a good reason. I would ask the Government if there was not one other man out of the whole of the forty-five millions of the population of the British Isles who would have been prepared and competent to preside over that Conference.

I maintain that the Government have broken a pledge in this respect, and are taking part of the programme of a Party which was before the country, which was weighed in the balance and was found wanting. I am convinced that the supporters of the Government did not return them to power to legislate according to the wishes of defeated political opponents. The Government are making life extraordinarily hard for their supporters. I have always been brought up to understand that the Conservative Party is the Constitutional Party in this country. Yet, by introducing this Bill and passing it into law, the Government are making a precedent whereby legislation of the most vital importance can be rushed through Parliament without a mandate from the country. I have here a booklet issued by the Party which the Government represent. It is called "Three Years Work: a Record in brief of the Conservative and Unionist Government." In this booklet it is recorded that on June 20, 1927, the Government brought forward proposals as to the basis of House of Lords reform. We have heard no more about that. It then goes on to say that they did not intend to repeal the Parliament Act, but only to modify it. It would seem to me that legislation to reform your Lordships' House and make it an adequate revising Second Chamber would be a fitting preliminary to the addition of five million voters to the register.

Your Lordships will appreciate that at Election times, when the country is seething with excitement, the glib and silver-tongued orator may attempt to play, and probably would be able to play, on the feelings of these mobs of voters—for they are mobs of voters—which the Government are going to enfranchise, so that they might well assent to a course of action which, on reflection after the heat of battle is over, they might regret, and, even though your Lordships should rightly object, a strong Government could force such measures into law. The noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, when replying to a noble Lord on the Liberal Benches, said that all wise Governments legislated for posterity. I can only suggest that this Government will not be wise but wilfully foolish if they rush this measure through without any safeguards to our Constitution. Therefore I urge your Lordships not to assent to the Second Reading of a measure which makes more dangerous an already dangerous position, a measure for which the Government have no mandate, and a Bill which is the deliberate breaking of a pledge.


My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned till to-morrow.—(The Earl of Midleton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.