§ VISCOUNT ASTOR rose to move, That in view of the attainment of women to full enfranchisement, to membership of the House of Commons, to Cabinet and Ministerial rank in His Majesty's Government and in view of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, 1919, this House would welcome a measure admitting them to the House on the same terms as men. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg to move the Resolution that stands in my name on the Order Paper. I should like to say at the very outset that I do not bring forward this Resolution to-day as a scheme of reform of your Lordships' House. That does not mean that I am opposed to the reform of the House of Lords. I am very much in favour of it and I think it is a matter of the greatest constitutional urgency. I think we ought to give our attention to the reform of the Upper House as soon as possible. We had another instance of the necessity for it yesterday, when many 499 noble Lords had to decide not merely what their action should be on the merits or demerits of the legislative proposal which was before your Lordships' House, but also what the consequences might be of the rejection or the drastic amendment of that proposal. That is to say, they had to face the possibility of a General Election, not on the issue of the demerits of the Government's Coal Bill, but on the more difficult cry of the Peers versus the people.
§ Therefore, for that and other reasons, when the time comes I shall certainly be ready to support a scheme of reform. As your Lordships know, there are many proposals (I am not going to discuss them to-day) for reform of the Upper House—proposals to make it elected, or nominated, or to have its constitution on what I may call a mixed basis, partly hereditary, partly nominated, partly elected. But whatever scheme we adopt, all those schemes have one point in common, that they would exclude a certain number of your Lordships from the Upper House. What I am proposing to do would not exclude from your Lordships' House a single person now qualified to attend. It is not in any way a scheme of reform. I mention that because I think that any noble Lords who propose to speak or vote against this Resolution should do it because they are opposed to having the opposite sex represented in your Lordships' House and should not speak or vote on a false point.
§ We have been discussing the question of the reform of your Lordships' House for many years and I do not believe it is any nearer to-day than it was ten or twenty years ago. I wish it were. But it seems to me that we ought to discuss the particular point dealt with in my Motion on its merits. I do not propose now, in 1930, to spend any time re-stating the general argument in favour of the removal of sex disqualifications. The main reasons are set out—I purposely set them out—in my Resolution. All recent events, all modern developments, the whole trend of thought and legislation in this country for a long time has been in favour of removing the bar of sex as far as the holding of public office is concerned.
§ Take the Government of this country. You have only to study history to see 500 that we have been fortunate enough to have had on the throne at critical times in the history of this country Monarchs, there through hereditary right, who were Queens. They were not debarred on account of sex and their presence has been of value to this country. You have women serving on county councils and other local authorities, to the great advantage generally of this country. You have in the House of Commons an increasing number of women as Members of Parliament. The country evidently thinks it is to the advantage of the country to have women in the Legislature, as the recent by-election has shown. Addition is constantly being made to the representation of the other sex in the House of Commons. Both Parties have had lady Ministers, and at the present moment we have a lady Cabinet Minister.
§ I remember that, on a previous occasion when I raised this point, a noble Lord objected to my proposal on the ground that the woman's point of view was a different point of view from that of men. It is for that very reason that I think there ought to be someone here who is qualified to give expression to that point of view. Too often our debates here lack reality because opinion is too overwhelmingly on one side. After all, the proposal that I am submitting to your Lordships would not bring here at the outside more than, I think, twenty or twenty-two Peeresses. That is a small number by comparison, let us say, with the 100—or is it 200?—Peers who, I understand, have never even taken their seats. When we come to the legal profession, sex is there no longer a bar. Women sit on juries, they can be solicitors, barristers and Judges, and they can hold the highest legal office in the land.
§ Parliament has recognised increasingly that we should remove the bar of sex from the holding of public office. I was re-reading lately a public statement made by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Hewart of Bury, some time ago. He was referring to this question of the admission of Peeresses to your Lordships' House. He pointed out that in 1918, by the Representation of the People Act, women were given the vote, and that by the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, 1918, women had been enabled to sit in the House of Commons, and then he indicated that. in 1919 both Houses passed an Act called the Sex Disqualifica- 501 tion (Removal) Act which in his opinion, as I read his statement, did in fact qualify the opposite sex to be members of your Lordships' House. That same opinion was held by a Committee for Privileges which looked into the question, I think, in the year 1922. I quite admit that it was reversed by another Committee, but it seems to me that there is a growing feeling that the bar of sex should be removed and that, by removing it, we should be bringing ourselves into line with the whole trend of modern opinion in this country and in other countries.
§ On previous occasions—I think five times—I have brought an actual Bill before your Lordship s' House. I am not doing so to-day because I noticed that on those occasions opponents selected what I might call Committee points, and objected to the whole Bill on matters of relative detail. I have accordingly thought well to-day just to submit to you a particular question of principle, and I am merely asking you to deal with a declaratory Resolution affirming this principle. There are only two further points that I want to make. I hope that to-day, when the time comes to vote on this Resolution, we shall vote for it as members of the Upper House, with a full sense of our responsibility and of the fact that we are dealing with a political principle. I say this because on previous occasions I have noticed that a certain number of your Lordships spoke and voted as if we were, in fact, a club deciding whether or not to admit or to blackball prospective members of our institution. The question is not whether or not it will be a nuisance to have ladies in the library or using our public rooms. We are dealing with a great question of principle. The question is not whether we like or dislike the people who may be admitted. It is a question of political principle.
§ The only other point that I want to submit to your Lordships is that, since we last had this question before us, the Dominion of Canada has admitted women to the Senate. The matter was referred to the judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which delivered a Judgment. The opinion of the Judicial Committee was that a woman was a person and was entitled to sit in the Senate. The Prime Minister of Canada said that, if by any chance the decision had been given in the 502 opposite direction, he would have introduced legislation making it possible for women to sit in the Canadian Senate. The time has surely come when we in the Upper House in this country should not be behind our great Dominions. Canada has recognised that sex is no bar to membership of the Upper House, Australia has done so for some time and Ireland also has done so. The legal profession now admits women to all offices. For some time we have had women Ministers and we have a woman to-day sitting in the Cabinet. Accordingly I would move, in all earnestness and seriousness, that we bring ourselves into line with the Whole trend of modern development and modern thought. I am not asking your Lordships to embark upon any wild revolution, or to adopt something that has been done in Russia and nowhere else. I am merely asking your Lordships to agree that we should bring ourselves into line with the great Dominions and should adopt for ourselves the practice that has been adopted by the Cabinet and by the law, and has enabled women to sit, to the great advantage of this country, upon the Throne of England.
§ Moved to resolve, That in view of the attainment of women to full enfranchisement, to membership of the House of Commons, to Cabinet and Ministerial rank in His Majesty's Government and in view of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, 1919, this House would welome a measure admitting them to the. House on the same terms as men.—(Viscount Astor.)
§ LORD HANWORTH
My Lords, I rise to suggest to your Lordships that you should not accept this Motion. I was somewhat surprised by the terms of the speech that has been made by the noble Viscount in support of it. With many-statements made by the noble Viscount I am, quite sure that many, if not most, of your Lordships are in agreement. We may all recognise and pay our tribute to the fact that women—or may I prefer to call them ladies?—have succeeded in contributing to the work of public bodies on which they have sat. It may well be that their advice when sitting upon juries has been useful for the ascertainment of justice, and it may well be that in a great number of bodies on which they have sat—the county councils, the late boards of guardians' and the like— 503 they have found a place worthy of their powers and have contributed successfully to the deliberations and administration that have been entrusted to those bodies.
The noble Viscount in his speech said that he did not introduce this as a scheme of reform, and he asked your Lordships not to deal with the matter as if you were members of a club, but as the House of Lords. It is on those very grounds that I ask your Lordships to reject the Motion. I would ask your Lordships just to take the trouble to read the Motion. It is this, if I leave out what I may call words of inducement:—That in view … and in view of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, 1919, this House would welcome a measure admitting them to the House on the same terms as men.I will ask your Lordships presently to consider for a moment what the terms are on which noble Lords sit in House. May I meanwhile remind the noble Viscount that when he rightly asks this House to come to a conclusion upon his Motion, and rightly asks your Lordships to come to a conclusion not as members of a club, he is rightly asking this House to come to a deliberate conclusion upon a Motion which as part of your Lordships' procedure is not unknown. It means that there should thereupon be action taken upon it.
It is common enough I think in the past, and in this House, that Motions have been accepted and thereupon Bills have been introduced in order to carry into effect your Lordships' determination upon Motions which have been accepted by your Lordships. It is an ordinary matter of Parliamentary procedure. It is more common in another place than in this House, but as the foundation of a Bill for the purpose of carrying into effect a conclusion reached it is entirely a well-known system of procedure. The Parliament Act was founded upon Resolutions. The ordinary Finance Act is founded upon Resolutions; and in this House, if I had had the time to turn up precedents, I have no doubt I should have found that the meaning of the acceptance of a Motion like this is that your Lordships have determined and decided that action should be taken in accordance with the Resolution; that is to say, that your Lordships would wel- 504 come the introduction of a measure admitting ladies to this House on the same terms as men.
What are the same terms as men? I am bound to say that, giving this Resolution a most benevolent construction, I thought it meant this, that your Lordships' House would welcome that some system should be devised, no doubt by legislative action, by which ladies should be admitted, say with life Peerages, or made able to attend as Ministers of the Crown and take their place at the Table, or that there should be some opportunity for ladies to come to the House for the purpose of adding to its deliberations. But the terms of the Motion are striking and remarkable. They are that ladies should be admitted to this House on the same terms as men. How are your Lordships admitted to this House? How is it that you have come here? It is not by some Statute creating the House, or by a Local Government Act which creates a county council. It is not by some statutory enactment, which gives a right to any of your Lordships to attend. Not at all. Your Lordships are here because there has been, either in the recent past or in the far-off past, an exercise of the Royal Prerogative, which is enshrined in words of which it is worth reminding your Lordships:It was declared long ago that it appertained altogether to the Royal Prerogative to give such honour, reputation and place to his Counsellors and others his subjects as should be seeming to the King's most excellent wisdom.In the very early days your Lordships were summoned as Barons by tenure. Later your Lordships were summoned by a Writ, and there are Peers sitting here to-day whose ancestors took their seat in accordance with that Summons in the early days of Parliament; and it is now known, in consequence of having taken their seats and in consequence of that Summons, they hold a right to a seat here.
Then in 1387 the first Patent was granted—for the first time a Peerage was created by Patent—and then the right was given to your Lordships to have "seat, place and voice in the Assembly." Then for a couple of hundred years your Lordships obtained the entry into this House either by Writ and seat or by Patent. It was in the time of James I that the system of being created 505 a Peer by Patent fully obtained; and since that time all Peerages have been created by Patent. What I am pointing out to your Lordships is that there has been no Statute creating your Lordships' House. There could be no simple measure by which there could be admittance of ladies to this House. They would have to be, and indeed the Resolution contemplates that they should be, admitted on the same terms as men. That could only be by the creation of Peerages, Peerages of ladies, and if they were to have Peerages on the same terms as men—I feel sure this is an omission or a little oversight on the part of the noble Viscount—if you are to grant admission to this House on the same terms as men, by creating Peerages for ladies in their own right, the succession would be to their heirs and their daughters, and not only to sons. You might have Peeresses created and daughters succeeding to them under this Motion as it stands, if they are to come here on the same terms as men. I quite appreciate that that may not have been considered by the noble Viscount, but before the House adopts with all its authority a Resolution of this sort, it must make itself master of the terms of the Resolution and the purpose and meaning of it.
I want to say a few more words because I see that the noble Viscount has recently altered the terms of his Motion, and introduced the words "in view of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act." It so happens that I was in charge of that Bill when it was presented to the House of Commons. It had this history. Of course it has been immensely effective, and rightly effective, in giving to ladies in many spheres full opportunity of exercising the functions that they desire to do. The terms of the Statute were these, that no lady should be disqualified by reason of sex from exercising any public function. It also said that they should not be excluded by sex from holding or being appointed to an office, and it gave them the right of entry into a number of places, such as the Bar, and of holding positions as well in our educational establishments as in our legal establishments. An Amendment was proposed to that in the House of Commons, that the words "exercising any public function" should be amplified by the addition of the words "including 506 the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords." That Amendment was carried in the House of Commons. It was rejected by this House, and the Commons did not insist upon that Amendment.
Thereafter the question was decided, as the noble Viscount has said, before the Committee for Privileges, as to whether or not even though those words had been left out, and knowingly left out—namely, "including the right to sit and vote in the House of Lords"—the terms of the Act still enabled Peeresses to take their seats. The matter was considered somewhat summarily before the Committee for Privileges and reported to this House, and thereafter it was remitted again to the Committee for Privileges, which was composed of no fewer than thirty of your Lordships, and, if I recollect rightly, by something like 22 to 4, it was determined that the Statute did not have that effect. Now, why did it not have that effect? It was not by reason of the noble Lords who served on the Committee for Privileges acting as members of a club, or anything of that sort. Careful opinions were delivered upon the history of this House, the divergence that existed between the Patents that have been granted to Peeresses and to Peers; and, after legal argument, a weighty and authoritative opinion was delivered that, so far as this House is at present constituted, it would be impossible to admit Peeresses to this House by what might be called the furtive way of the use of the words which are found in that Statute.
But there is another point. I had hoped, as I said before, that the noble Viscount would have developed his theme in saying that in view of the attainment of women to political enfranchisement, their membership of the House of Commons, and to Cabinet and Ministerial rank, there might be some ground for saying that certain persons holding certain positions might be admitted at any rate to this House for either debate or for statement; but I find that in effect the noble Viscount is concerned really with the purpose of his original Bill. which has been before your Lordships, I am sure, three times, but I think the noble Viscount said even more. Now, that Bill was a Bill to give a right to a 507 Peeress to receive the Writ of Summons, to vote at the elections for Peers of Scotland and Ireland, and to deprive them of their present right, which your Lordships do not enjoy, of voting at Parliamentary elections. But instead of that I find that what the noble Viscount is engaged upon is in once more admitting the hereditary Peeresses to your Lordships' House—a matter which has not only been considered in the case of Lady Rhondda, to which I have just referred, but over and over again when that Bill was before your Lordships.
The result of carrying this Motion would be a direct indication that a Bill ought to be introduced, and such a Bill as would be introduced must be really the Bill that was introduced by the noble Viscount time and again. Your Lordships have to consider in dealing with this Motion whether or not it would be right, merely for the purpose of admitting those ladies who are entitled to an hereditary Peerage, to admit them. That is not a reform. That is not advancing the matter further, and that is not really based upon the premises to which the noble Viscount calls attention—namely, the access of ladies to membership of the House of Commons, or Ministerial rank, or the like. It is merely an effort once more to ask your Lordships to give to certain persons of hereditary rank, a right to join in the deliberations of your Lordships.
A great many efforts have been made from time to time for the purpose of the reform of your Lordships' House. It may be that a reform is possible, but your Lordships' House is based upon the hereditary principle—a principle which is very dear to English people. There is no unpopularity in the hereditary system. Go into your counties and into your villages, and see whether or not respect is paid to those who can say that they have been where they are from generation to generation. It is not a disqualification which is held by your Lordships' House. More than that, your Lordships have a great history behind you, a history of which no one need he ashamed; and in any effort that is made to reform the House care will have to be taken to safeguard both the history and the hereditary system of this House, for the illustrations which the noble Vis- 508 count referred to, such as Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, are all based upon the system of heredity.
No, this is a small and jejune effort to invite your Lordships to come to a conclusion without noticing that it ought to be the foundation of action, a jejune effort towards the reform of your Lordships' House, which may be a right course at some time, but which has never yet been successful. The great effort that was made in 1858 to enable Peerages for life to be granted failed. Earl Russell shortly afterwards made another, to similar purpose. Then efforts were made subsequently by Lord Rosebery on many occasions, but on all those occasions the difficulty has arisen as to how much to alter the system on which your Lordships sit and vote, so as to enable life Peerages or Peerages for ladies to be incorporated into the system. Your Lordships sit under an historical system, an hereditary system, and that system is one which is well defined at the present time. To suggest that your Lordships would welcome a measure simply admitting ladies to this House on the same terms as men would appear to me to make confusion more confounded and to prevent any sort of possibility of reform. At the same time it overlooks the principle on which your Lordships' House is founded, and overlooks the right which your Lordships enjoy to a Summons to the deliberations of His Majesty in Council in Parliament.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, my noble friend, having conclusively, I think, dealt with the technical and legal position, only in his last sentences alluded to a most important aspect of this question. The noble Viscount was most anxious not to be tied simply on technical terms. I will not trouble your Lordships with any observations on technical terms, but I would point out to the noble Viscount that this Motion seems, to those of us who would like to see the question dealt with most broadly, as ill-timed and unlikely to effect the purpose which he has in view. Twice in the last three years your Lordships have expressed your desire by a very large majority for a complete reform of this House. That has been based on the understanding in this House, which reflects to a large extent 509 opinion outside, that however much the action of the House and the equipment of its members for debate and for decision are to be commended, the distribution of Parties in this House is one which cannot possibly be justified. The fact is that at this moment there are 475 members of your Lordships' House who take the summons of my noble friend the noble Marquess below me; there are, I believe, 102 members who take the summons of the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp; there are from a dozen to fifteen who are admitted supporters of the Government, and there are a large number of members, including the occupants of the most rev. Prelates' Bench, who are independant.
But what would be the result of the noble Viscount's proposal? Would it deal with any of these anomalies? Not at all. It would reinforce them. The noble Viscount asked us to bring ourselves into line with other Assemblies, but the question which is exercising our minds and the minds of the people of the country is as to whether the whole of your Lordships' House should sit here in virtue of the hereditary principle. The noble Viscount proposes without any other change to reinforce the numbers who sit here under that principle and incidentally also to reinforce the very large, the exceptional—I was going to use another expression—majority which cannot by any possible means be justified. For those reasons alone I think it would be most inexpedient for us to attempt a partial reform at this moment.
Speaking from the point of view of some of your Lordships who have been desirous for years of seeing some change which, while leaving a real proportion of the hereditary element in this House, would add to it a number of members who would represent the existing views of the country, I would certainly ask that we should not adopt anything in the nature of a palliative. If at this moment the noble Viscount thinks this restriction ought not to be applied to ladies I will tell him that if somebody were to propose, as was proposed some years ago, that there should be an addition of twenty-five or thirty life Peers and no other change, I personally would do all I could to induce your Lordships to reject it. If a proposal were made that Ministerial members of either House 510 should speak equally in this and in the other House I think that would be a palliative which ought to be rejected on its merits. After this House has twice agreed by large majorities that a genuine reform is necessary, I feel that we have no right to admit small and partial changes which cannot redress the inequalities of the House and are calculated to retard the much more genuine reform which is necessary.
I assure the noble Viscount that I have not the slightest desire to exclude women from presence in this House when the circumstances and the changes in the House make it possible. No doubt if nomination is adopted to a large extent or if election is adopted women will be equally eligible with men. But I ask your Lordships not to deal with this question piecemeal, and certainly not to deal with it in the manner suggested by the noble Viscount which, I think, would tend neither to the dignity of the House nor to the degree of respect for its decisions which should exist in the country.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, this question has been before your Lordships' House on many occasions and under many forms. It has been the subject of definite Bills intended to secure by Act of Parliament that the disabilities of women which prevent their sitting here should be taken away. It has been discussed on more than one occasion when this House was considering the matter to which the noble Earl who has just sat down alluded—the method by which this Chamber might be reformed. It follows that arguments on one side or the other are apt to be threadbare and that their repetition may become wearisome. But to-day at least we have had, so far as I know, two totally new reasons advanced why women should not be admitted here. The first, elaborated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hanworth, was a question about the constitution of this House and the history of why we sit as we do. I could not help thinking as I listened to his speech that while it was true that during the last fourteen years much water has flowed under the bridge, as far as his bridge is concerned the water has flowed backwards.
511 I found myself unable to follow the reasoning that he put forward as to why you should not, if you are going to reform this House at all, reform it by the method of admitting women to its consultations. It is perfectly true, of course, that the Act of Parliament which was called the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act removed in general terms the disqualification of women, and what the noble Lord said about it and its history is accurate. But I do not think he added what I believe is true, that on the first occasion the then Attorney-General declined to argue that the Act failed to admit women into your Lordships' House, because he thought it was perfectly plain that it did. It was only on further reflection and after a Committee of your Lordships' House had decided in those circumstances that the disqualification was removed, that the matter went back to another Committee, of which I was a member, and upon full consideration it was proved to the satisfaction of the majority of us—I was one of the majority—that the disqualification had not been taken away.
What is the meaning of this Motion, the wording of which has been subjected to an amount of criticism that might have dignified some rule of procedure in the Law Courts? The real purpose of the Motion is simply this. To-day there are twenty Peeresses in their own right who, by reason of the fact that they are women, are unable to sit in this House, and the purpose of the Motion is that this disqualification should be removed and that they should be permitted to sit. I do not know how you would fashion the words. I am not in the least enamoured of the words of this Resolution. I imagine that if every member of your Lordships' House were asked to draw up, as he thought fit, a Resolution either for or against this proposal, there would not be any two of them that would be in agreement. Everybody who frames a Resolution frames it in his own way. Most certainly I should not have framed it in this way; but that does not prevent my seeing what is behind the Resolution, which is really the thing upon which your Lordships have to vote. To vote upon the words of this Resolution and to reject it because the words do not suit your artistic sense of drafting or for some other reason of the kind, appears to me to be paltering with a grave question. As far as the terms of the 512 Motion are concerned I do not intend to pursue the question any further. Nor do I intend to pursue the question of history, because, of course, the whole object of this Resolution is that the history should be changed. That, as I understand, is the object of every Parliamentary procedure. If it were not for that, there would be no reason for the House to sit. It is because something has to be changed that we are here.
Now in those circumstances is there any objection to saying that in the opinion of this House, having regard to everything that has happened during the last century, or certainly during the last fifty years, there is no adequate reason why women, who otherwise would be qualified to sit here, should not take their seats beside us? That is the real question. The noble Lord, Lord Hanworth, said "You have to remember that this is the same thing in fact as bringing in a Bill; if you do this it is a half-way step to legislation." I can only wish that some of the many Resolutions which I have been sufficiently fortunate to succeed in securing your Lordships' approval to had ultimately had the force of an Act of Parliament. I may be forgiven for thinking, as the majority of your Lordships thought, that the world would be a better and a happier place to-day had that been done. But we know quite well that the passing of a Resolution in this House does no more than express the opinion of the House upon the terms of that Resolution. It has no legislative effect, and it cannot compel, and, indeed, I have found it cannot induce to legislation upon the matter. Therefore I can conceive no reason why your Lordships should not express this opinion because of your fear that some Bill may suddenly be introduced to give it effect.
The question is, do your Lordships approve of it or do you not? The noble Earl, Lord Midleton, appeared to me to take rather a strange view upon that. He said, and I agree with him, it is essential in the national interests that this House should be reformed, and as part of the reformation that women should be admitted—that is to say, that this House should have women in it. He said: "I will never consent to a Resolution which accepts that principle unless it be embodied together with a largo number of 513 other provisions some of which may be for it and some not for it. I ask for your whole-hearted approval upon this question of the reform of this House." I am in principle entirely in agreement with the noble Earl, but where, to my very sincere regret, we part company is here. He believes that it is possible to effect that reform at one sweep, by one breath, at one action. I do not share his view. I believe the only way this House is ever going to be effectively reformed is the way we have reformed every other institution in this country, and that is by one step at a time. I think one of the first, and certainly one of the most advantageous steps we can take in that direction would be the introduction of women who are otherwise qualified to sit here. That is all I propose to say about the two speeches that have been delivered against this proposal.
May I just say one or two words in its favour? When the last Bill was before this House it was objected to upon this ground, that the reform of this House was imminent, and, therefore, because of the imminence of the reform there was no reason to proceed with that Bill then. But the imminence of the reform has vanished. It is no longer imminent. This House may be violently convulsed by outside action, for it is impossible to measure the possibilities of the future. It may even be destroyed, but its reform is no longer imminent, and the reason therefore, that was then put forward as one of the main reasons why the Bill—not a Resolution but the Bill—should not be accepted in this House, is a reason that has passed. If that reason is taken away, what is there that is left? Why is it that we say women qualified by virtue of holding Peerages in their own right should not sit here? There can be only one reason, and that is the disqualification of sex, the very thing that the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was intended to remove. Why should the disqualification of sex affect women sitting here when it does not affect their sitting in another place, and does not affect them sitting, I fancy, in every office in the country that is now open to them?
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
May I point out that the Patent prevents some of the ladies the noble Lord refers to sitting in the House at all?
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
May I beg the noble Lord's pardon for one moment? What I rather think is the true position is that the Patent does not entitle them to sit. I sat on the Committee, and my memory may be wrong, and I accept the noble Lord's accuracy in these matters, for I know he is a careful student of them. But I do not much care whether it is that the Patent does not permit it, or whether it is that the Patent prevents it. In either case the disability wants to be removed. It seems to be perfectly immaterial as to which view you take of the matter. The thing that puzzles me is that the argument against women seems to be based upon this. When once you have proved they cannot sit, then there is an end of the Motion. But it is the very fact that they cannot sit that renders the Motion necessary, and that is why it is we ask that it should be supported. As I have said, women are now qualified, to discharge, so far as I know, every duty that a man can discharge. The world is open to them. They are free to go in and try. Whether they will succeed or not is another matter. They ears try, and I cannot conceive why they should be prevented from sitting here when we are discussing matters upon which we need the expression of a woman's opinion just as vitally, just as sincerely as they do in another place. I hope, whatever view your Lordships take of this Motion, that you will disregard all vain and verbal criticisms of its terms, and that you will direct yourselves to the real substance that lies behind it. Do you or do you not desire the disqualification which admittedly exists now to be continued in the future or not? If you do not desire its continuance, I trust you will support this Resolution.
§ LORD DICKINSON
My Lords, if I venture to make a few observations on this Motion it is because of the fact that during ten years in another place I had the honour of acting as the Chairman of a Committee of Members formed for the purpose of advocating women's suffrage, and by whose efforts women's suffrage, so far as the House of Commons is concerned, was ultimately attained. I may perhaps be allowed to say a few words upon my own experience at that time. Amongst the experiences I had—pleasant experiences—was one of listening to several speeches made by the noble and 515 learned Lord, Lord Hanworth, in another place on precisely the same lines as those which he has followed on this occasion.
I noticed that he drew the attention of this House to the fact that this Resolution proposed to admit women on the same terms as men. He asked your Lordships: "How did you come here? I will not venture to suggest how the majority of the members came here, but I know how the noble and learned Lord came here. He came here not merely because of the Prerogative of the Crown, but by reason of the supreme merit that he himself possessed. His learning and his devotion to work entitled him to a high place in the Courts of Justice as Master of the Rolls, and I would like to ask him now, supposing there was a lady qualified, as he was, to hold the post of Master of the Rolls, would he refuse to her a place in this Chamber? That is not a fanciful suggestion. There are many brilliant young women barristers practising at this moment, and they will in a very short time rise to positions of distinction. It is evident that before long we shall find women Judges on the Bench, and surely there is no reason why we should say that because of their sex they are not entitled to sit on these seats.
During the time that we were at work in the House of Commons there was one very noticeable thing—the immense change in opinion that took place. When first we began to promote Bills—and Bills were promoted for women's suffrage every year—they were looked upon as absolutely academic. Nobody cared very much about them. Sometimes they were passed by small majorities, sometimes they were not passed. It was not until 1906 that the matter became serious and the moment it became a matter of serious politics it became evident to those who were at work in the House of Commons that we would never get a majority of members who were in favour of women's suffrage. We knew very well—you know how measures can be taken to find out what are the views of members—that we were never able during ten years to count upon a majority of members for a Women's Suffrage Bill. Therefore no Bill was passed.
But you must remember that during those ten years many things were happening. I will not trouble your Lordships 516 with all the story of the fight that went on at that time, but changes were rapidly coming about in public opinion. The change in public opinion was chiefly affected undoubtedly by the War and by the fact that women proved themselves immensely valuable under war-like conditions. At any rate after the War, when this question came to be voted upon by the House of Commons, instead of being in a minority, as we always thought we should be, we were able to have a Division in which 385 Members of Parliament voted for women's suffrage and only 55 against. I venture to give those figures to your Lordships because I think they show a gigantic change of opinion, not only in the House of Commons but also throughout the whole country, and I may say almost throughout the whole world. It is really a marvellous thing that in the House of Commons it should be possible to carry by a majority of 385 to 55 what was ten years before considered to be a hopeless proposal. I believe the reason for that was that the great majority of the Members of Parliament had come to realise that public opinion outside was in favour of women's suffrage. The House of Commons is a marvellous mirror of public opinion and I am certain that that was the reason for the great change that took place.
I think that was also proved by the fact that immediately after women's suffrage was given there were other changes. Women were put on juries, women were elected to the House of Commons, women were made Ministers. And all that was done with public support. There was no real public opposition to any of these changes. That was brought about, I believe, because we were able to show that women's suffrage and women's rights were based not merely upon the question of whether they should have a vote or not but upon the fundamental principles of equality and liberty. We were able to show the people of this country and others that really it was a question of equality. The question was: Were women to continue in a position of inferiority which they had hitherto been bound to accept? The suffrage was not merely the right to vote for Members of Parliament. It was much more. It was given as a symbol of equal citizenship, and it was because we were fighting for the great principle of equal citizenship 517 that this question became popular and was accepted by masses of people not only in this country but outside this country.
I remember very well that at the beginning of our fight I was speaking at a public meeting in favour of women's suffrage and a man exclaimed: "You will never give the vote to my old woman." That was the opinion of the mass of the people at that time. It is no longer their opinion. Men go to the poll now with their wives recognising absolutely that equality for which we fought. We fought for it because we thought that it was the right thing, to show that men and women were to be put on a plane of equality, because until this was done we could not hone to see women escape from the shackles which had been framed around them all over the world. It was this knowledge which inspired people to fight, it was this that made victory possible and it was this which caught on amongst men and women elsewhere, because, although I am not venturing to suggest that the action of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords at that time had really any immediate effect upon the public of other countries, there can be no doubt that indirectly the granting of the suffrage to British women struck a new note all through the world.
Since then we have witnessed a great change in the position of women. We have seen it in India. We can see it in Constantinople, where you will not find a single veil at the present moment. The position of Turkish women has changed. Why? Because public opinion all over the world has had its effect. We see it in China and in Africa in the case of slave women. It has been the means of liberation for women all over the world. It is for that reason that I appeal to your Lordships to allow the principle at any rate to be accepted that sex of itself shall not prevent a woman attaining the highest distinction in this House. After all, almost all the other Senates of the world have admitted women. We are almost the only Second Chamber which says it will not admit a woman simply because she is a woman. It may be because we are conservative. We are all conservative. I am conservative in many things. I love old clothes and other people, including I dare say some noble 518 Lords, do the same. But, if a man allows an old cloak to become too frayed, too full of holes, he becomes ridiculous without his knowing it, and I venture to suggest that it is time now that we should recognise that public opinion is ripe for the change. It is a change which the great mass of men, and certainly the great mass of women, will accept, if we allow women to sit on these Benches with the same freedom and right as they are now allowed to sit on the Benches of the House of Commons and indeed en the benches of almost every other legislative assembly in the world.
I hope I have not spoken too long or Leo strongly on this matter. It is a question to which I have given a great deal of my time during my Parliamentary work, one in regard to which there has been a certain amount of success, and I do feel that here we are at the last stile, the very last. It may be said that the Peeresses concerned in this particular matter do not wish to be members of this House. It is not a question of their wish. It is a question of their duty. By becoming members of the House they would immensely strengthen the position of women all over the world. It is because we believe that they have a duty that I appeal to them to accept the obligation, if it is put upon them, in the same way that women have accepted the obligation to serve on juries. In any case it ought not to be possible to say that it is we who have prevented them from assisting in the public work for which they are really as well qualified as are men.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, said with great truth that this topic had been so much exhausted in the course of debate in this House that it was very difficult to add anything new to the various arguments that had been canvassed and answered. That is, no doubt, true, but none the less I think it would be the desire of your Lordships, even if he too suffered somewhat from this disadvantage, to congratulate a new member, as I understand it, of your Lordships' House on what I think must be a very early occasion of his intervention in our debates. The noble Lord is perfectly accurate when he says that he 519 for many years introduced this topic to the attention of the House of Commons, and he is quite entitled to claim that he himself, greatly assisted by a combination of almost inconceivable chances, was one of the instruments by which this success was ultimately attained. I am not able to share the gentle enthusiasm which inspires the noble Lord as he looks backward upon these many triumphs. I am not able to share his sure and certain conviction that it has been a great advantage to the State that women should receive a vote. In fact, if one were to examine the arguments which we attempted to use in days gone by and were to illustrate them, either by way of praise or of condemnation, in the light of the experience which we possess to-day, I greatly doubt whether the view of the noble Lord, whose fancy plays in a lambent and pleasing way upon these questions, would be re-echoed by many members of your Lordships' House.
Have the advantages of the female vote been so unquestionable, are they proving themselves so unquestionable today? I lately read an article by a lady whose name, I regret to say, has at the moment escaped me, but who somewhat inconsistently, though otherwise laudably, earns her living, I believe, by writing for the capitalistic Press, speaking with great contempt of the standard of oratory which exists in your Lordships' House. We may speak badly or we may speak well. For us, perhaps, the last word upon such a topic is not to be spoken. But I may at least be permitted to observe that I must part company with the arguments of that lady when she says that our standard of speaking would be highly improved if ladies sat upon our Benches and took part in our debates. To every man opinion is free, and I occasionally visit the House of Commons. If it be true to say that the presence of ladies and their intervention in the debates in the House of Commons has improved the quality of those debates, I can only be permitted the observation that our debates were even worse than I thought they were at the time; and I had a low opinion of them even then. It was quite unusual, for instance, for the repartee to be considered either successful or brilliant in the House of Commons if a Member suddenly ejaculated the 520 word "tripe." To start with, I do not know that we should have appreciated its relevance to any topic with which we were engaged, unless it had to do with the entrails of certain animals; but I have had occasion to observe in the course of the last three or four months that this somewhat offensive term—certainly not a helpful term—has been ejaculated more than once with an air of triumph which, to the ordinary spectator, has been a little surprising.
I am told that, because we objected some time ago to women having a place in this House upon the ground that proposals would shortly be forthcoming for the reform of the House of Lords, it is a bad argument, now that those proposals have evidently failed, to contend equally that they ought not to have a place here. Here again I find myself at very distinct variance with those who use this contention. I am not responsible if ill-informed people reject good proposals which I bring forward. I was a member of the Government which brought foward proposals which, on the whole and in relation to the difficulty of the topic, we thought were very good ones, for the reform of this House. Certainly, so far as the concessions to be made by this House were concerned, they were altogether of a remarkable character. No enthusiasm whatever was shown for them by my noble friends who sit on my right. I remember, for instance, that Lord Beauchamp, I believe in terms, opposed them. I remember that Lord Haldane, who at that time led the Opposition, was equally opposed to them, and candour compels me to add that a number of inexperienced young Conservative members in the House of Commons equally expressed their opposition to those proposals. We were not, therefore, precisely overwhelmed with support from any quarter. So much must be conceded.
But the point is, of course, that we, with the responsibility which belongs to any Government, had formed the view that a reform of this House was required in the public interest. Does anyone suppose that we hold that view less plainly to-day than we held it then? Why should we be told, therefore, that we ought to surrender those views, which were based, and expressly based, upon the opinion to which we still adhere? A more illogical argument could not have 521 been brought forward. It might, of course, be said: "There will be still a reform of the House of Lords, but it will not be the kind of reform of the House of Lords to which you and your friends will adhere." All that is very likely true. We live, as I have frequently had occasion to point, out, in an imperfect world. All that may easily happen, but because we are to be offered a scheme ex hypothesi inferior to ours, in which methods, again ex hypothesi, inferior to those which we would have adopted are to be brought forward in relation to women, for it to be contended that when we have the opportunity of voting against giving the vote we should neglect to avail ourselves of that opportunity is surely the last word in the absence of logic. I at any rate shall repeat the vote which I have so often given. I shall repeat it without any feeling that I am giving an illogical vote, and I shall repeat it, on the contrary, in the conviction that the argument which influenced me before ought to influence and will influence me today.
It is not the fact that votes ever were given to women in this House upon the grounds upon which votes were given to women elsewhere. It is a strange and historical circumstance which ever led to the giving of the family vote, quite distinguishable from the conditions under which, so far as they are known to me, they exist or have existed in any deliberative assembly in the world. I am not here to defend them. I am here only, so far as I appreciate, to explain them, and as I understand those conditions the vote was given to women in this House in cases where the national exploits of the male members of the family had been of a character so meritorious that it was judged by the Sovereign undesirable that that family should die completely out, although no male representatives of it might remain. Therefore a wholly exceptional line of succession was adopted, that women by way of family succession should be enabled to receive a Patent for certain strictly limited purposes, not in any other circumstances conceded. So clearly was this recognised that if a son emerged from the marriage of this lady if ultimately she became married, that son took his place as a member of this House. It was not even 522 the case that the lady, the Peeress in her own right, sat in this House during a period of interregnum. She sat elsewhere merely as a conduit pipe in order that due provision might be made for the representation by a male member of a highly meritorious family, according to the conceptions of those days, in this House.
This may or may not be a very mediæval theory. It may or may not be a theory which would recommend itself to the framers of our modern constitution, but it is at least an intelligible theory, and it is a theory, give me leave to add, which is wholly destructive of the argument which is laid before us to-day. The matter is argued to-day as if it was identical in its governing considerations with the conditions in which women sit in the House of Commons, or sit in deliberative assemblies in other parts of the world. It is, of course, nothing of the kind. It bears no resemblance of any kind to the matters which I have been discussing, and if we are to deal with the matter logically at all we have to face a wholly unparalleled case unknown in any country in the world, in which what I might almost describe as a temporary occupation or convenience has been found by ladies, who during the discharge of that office, and for certain honorific purposes afterwards, have been allowed to call themselves Peeresses in their own right. I entirely decline to be carried away by the general argument which is attempted to be applied to such a limited and singular state of circumstances as this.
We are told, as by the last speaker, of the benefits that have resulted from votes being given to women. I think that the last speaker went the length of saying that there was no office, not even the highest in this House, which could not in existing conditions be held by women, and he pointed out for the confusion of my noble friend, the Master of the Rolls, or his supposed confusion, that in such a case arising, so far as his family was concerned the position would be open to the relevant member of that family. I do not think that is true, although I have not examined the matter as closely as no doubt the noble Lord has examined it. He has special qualifications to speak with authority, but I should be very much surprised to hear that if the cir- 523 cumstances otherwise permitted of it a woman could be Archbishop of Canterbury in any existing conditions. It requires very great and long consideration before we lay it down either that women are suitable for the purpose proposed or that they have so greatly improved our tribunals.
First of all, as to their suitability. A long discussion took place not very long ago as to whether a female medical officer of one of our local institutions could properly be compelled to demit or lay aside her office because she was about to pass through a period of pregnancy. I believe that the decision, warmly disputed by her possible fellow-sufferers, was that no penalty of any kind could be or ought to be imposed upon her. I should be very slow to assent to that view. After all, there are certain duties to be performed requiring the discharge of certain physical functions in their highest competence, and if there be a male person capable of discharging them without these interruptions available for the purpose, and there be not a female person, that in its own case requires close consideration.
And equally I will say, I hope without giving offence, but quite plainly, that there are notorious differences between the two sexes in other matters. I rather think, unless I misunderstood him, that my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster a little understated those differences. The political life is an extremely strenuous one, even without the interruptive faculty to which I have already referred. The all-night sittings, the possible discharge in another place, though not here, of the office of Speaker or Deputy Chairman of Committees and so forth appear to me to make demands upon the other sex which it is by no means certain that they could discharge without very considerable peril to themselves, and without some risk of jeopardy to the high functions which are committed to them. And therefore I for one, whether you examine matters of this kind, which are in the main partly mental and partly physical, upon the less robust side of physical activity, or whether you examine them from the point of view of the much more clearly physical side—take for instance the case of the woman policeman—am by no means so 524 convinced as is the noble Lord that our progress has been so great as he imagines by reason of the reform to which he has called our attention.
And at any rate we are entitled to form our own view. That is a circumstance which is very well worth our consideration. We are not bound to take our opinion of this matter from the House of Commons or from the board of guardians. We are a very ancient Assembly, with very great experience, and me are entitled to form our own views. And when the noble Lord says that we may in time come to observe the highest liberty of this House in titular position belonging to the other sex, well I shall not be accused, in spite of a long professional friendship of any undue predilection on behalf of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, but on the whole I would rather see him sitting there than a woman. And, if I may be perfectly plain, I could generalise that observation and apply it to all the officials of this House.
To what do these considerations tend? In the first place, they lead us clearly to the conclusion that some time or other, by us or by others, there will be a very considerable reform of this House, and if I am to attempt a prediction on that point the more considerable will be that reform if it is undertaken by our opponents than if it is undertaken by our friends. So that in logic we must apply our minds to this question with the knowledge that, either by a very extreme measure of reform or a very considerable measure of reform, changes will be effected in the character and constitution of this House. Does anyone really imagine that, as an element in those changes, Peeresses in their own right are not to be introduced into this House?
Is there any one who has thought so little of what is probable as to imagine that, if we were to make those changes, a fortiori if those changes were to be made by our opponents, we should see them coming down to this House in the present year and saying: "Because in the year 1440 it was considered desirable that the combative quality should be passed on, so that a member of this House should be elected and continued because he possessed it in so remarkable a degree, 525 therefore we will not allow the old rule, or the new rule which is applied to the election of women in every other assembly, to hold any sway here. On the contrary, we and we alone, of all the deliberative assemblies in the world will at the moment of our new reform go back to the spirit and the principles of mediævalism"? Greater nonsense was never talked, and noble Lords, with great respect to them, who have held out to us, or are going to hold out to us, this as a prospect which we are likely to see realised in their time, have as little contact with the present, for which there is some excuse, as they have contact with the past, for which there is no excuse.
Therefore, my advice for what it is worth to your Lordships would be perfectly clear. There will be now or hereafter a reform of this House. It is an institution which, often threatened, has lasted long. It is an institution which may even survive our sons. But that there will come a day when that change will be effectively made none who has studied the progress of our democratic institutions of recent years can seriously doubt. If, then, we believe that such a change is one day imminent, even the most sanguine of us can hardly hope that we shall be successful in excluding women. Even, my noble friend Lord Brentford, who made so notable a contribution to our electors not very long ago, could hardly hope that some future Lord Brentford will not, borrowing strength from his example, make still further efforts. This, at any rate, is certain—that if and when that change takes place, women will become eligible for membership of this House if, indeed, there be a House for them to be eligible for at all. Is it not equally plain that if women are to be eligible for this new House of Lords if and when it comes, they will be eligible upon terms at least comparable to those which are observable in other deliberative assemblies in other parts of the world? If that be so why now, for the sake of one brief illogical period, shall we sweep away a history of our long past? Shall we import into our midst ladies mho, however agreeable their visit may he, must be spending a very fugitive one, or shall we, on the contrary,, say: "We do not know what the evils that lie in front of us may be: if and when they develop let us support 526 them like men, but in the meantime do not let us import to their decision the illogical qualities of the very sex whom we are attempting at this moment to repel from our midst"?
§ LORD DANESFORT
My Lords, the noble and learned Earl who has just addressed us is, as he always has been, the unrepentant protagonist of opposition to the principle involved in this Resolution. He did not, indeed, offer any very strong arguments that I could follow in support of his opposition, nor did he attempt for one moment to reply to the very powerful arguments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster. He did, indeed, lift the veil a little when, in explanation of his opposition, he told us how strongly he had always been opposed to granting suffrage to women. Apparently that opposition which he felt to granting suffrage to women gives the key to his present opposition to allowing women to sit in your Lordships' House. The noble Earl went a little further. He talked about his opponents in this discussion being guilty of talking, if I remember his words aright, the greatest nonsense possible. Those are strong words to use of opponents in your Lordships' House or elsewhere and, as I heard him, I felt strongly inclined to address to him the words used by Job in answer to his three false friends. Job said: "No doubt but ye are the people and wisdom will die with you!" I have some hesitation in quoting the other words used by Job in addressing his friends lest I should incur the resentment of the noble and learned Earl, because Job went on to say: "You think I have no understanding. But I have understanding as well as you; am not inferior to you." That would be an utterance which the noble and learned Earl would probably not tolerate.
In reading the debate in your Lordships' House on a previous occasion I find that the noble and learned Earl furnished what appears to me to be the strongest argument, or one of the strongest arguments, for this reform. Speaking in your Lordships' House on May 21, 1925, he said that if in connection with the reform of the House it was proposed to admit women either nominated or elected, he could not find any logical answer to oppose it. What does that mean? Is it not an admission on 527 the part of the noble Earl—and I think the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, said much the same—that women are fitted to sit in this House if they are nominated or elected. If so, why are they not fitted if they succeed by hereditary right the same as many of your Lordships?
The noble and learned Earl on that occasion was somewhat pressed about the admission he had made, and he sought to get out of it by saying that the reform of this House was imminent in the immediate future and, therefore, he thought that the proposal under consideration was premature. The reform of this House has not taken place yet, and I am exceedingly sorry to think that it is not at the moment imminent. I trust it will come, but it cannot be said to be imminent at the moment. But can it be said, and will the noble and learned Earl assert, that if this reform, this modest step towards reform were carried out in the early future, it would be any restriction or any interference with the larger reform which we contemplate in common with him and with many others?
I am very much obliged, as I am sure your Lordships are, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, for having recalled your Lordships' attention to the really simple question before the House to-day. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hanworth, indulged in some extremely interesting historical and legal reminiscences as to the origin of the right of your Lordships to sit in this House by Writ of Summons, by Patent, by new creation and so on. Surely, the real question before your Lordships to-day is that this reform is really the removal of a disqualification. It is not the conferring of a privilege; it is the removal of an existing disqualification. In view of the fact that all disqualifications of sex and all discrimination against women on account of their sex have been removed in the exercise of practically every function with the exception of the right to sit in your Lordships' House, is it not time that the sole remaining disqualification was also removed?
We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that within the last twenty, or thirty years perhaps, the position, the status, the rights of women have undergone a fundamental alteration. In former years, either by Statute Law or by Common Law, women were disqualified from exercising practically any public function 528 whatsoever. As the noble Viscount who introduced this Motion and others have pointed out, that has all been swept away. That disqualification has been abolished with the single exception of the right to sit in this House. Women now sit in the House of Commons, they sit on municipal bodies, on county councils, they act as magistrates, jurors, barristers, solicitors, in fact every career that you can conceive of in this country is open to them subject to this single disqualification which we ask your Lordships to take the first step to remove to-day.
Reference has been made, and most properly made, to the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919, and it has been pointed out that many eminent lawyers thought that that Act had removed the Common Law disqualification of women to sit in this House, and they say so still. But the second Committee for Privileges which considered the matter decided by a majority that that Act, whatever its intention was, did not remove that Common Law disqualification against sitting in this House. Therefore the present position has arisen, and the disqualification cannot be removed except by Act of Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Hanworth, said the right of your Lordships to sit in this House is not a matter of Statute. That is perfectly true. The disqualification of women to sit in this House is not a matter of Statute, it is simply a matter of the Common Law, and in that state of things I do ask your Lordships to say, having regard to the present status of women in practically every position of public service and public life, that the time has come when you should carry out this small reform and remove that single disqualification which now exists.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, if you will allow me to say just a few words to explain the vote I propose to give in favour of this Motion, I shall be grateful. Let me first of all explain what I understand by this Motion, because we had a very elaborate examination of it from my noble friend Lord Hanworth, and I personally thought that he wholly misunderstood what was intended by the Motion. I understand the Motion simply to mean this, that for the future the disqualification of sex shall not alone prevent women from sitting in your Lordships' 529 House. The actual terms of the Motion are drawn from the phrases which were very common in the original discussion upon the enfranchisement of women when it was asked that they should have the vote upon the same terms as men. I have very little doubt my noble friend had those precedents in mind when he used that phrase. The phrase is, I think, sufficiently intelligible. It is that, as far as membership of this House is concerned, the two sexes should be upon equal terms. That is the Motion, and it is that Motion that I am prepared to support.
The case for it is so well known, so obvious, that I should not be acting with due respect to your Lordships if I were to repeat it at any length. It is perfectly plain that at present, under the existing condition of the law, every position from that, of Queen to a crossing sweeper is open to women, except membership of your Lordships' House. There may be some other obscure exception of which I am not aware, but substantially that is true. That has not been the result of one single act of the Legislature, or of the electorate. It is the result of a whole number of changes in the law which have gradually built up that position. If it is possible to say that the opinion of the country has been declared on any subject, I venture to say with great respect that you must admit it has been declared in favour of the equality of men and women in respect of public positions. Your Lordships have often boasted, with very great force, that you only desire to represent public opinion in your public actions. There is no case that I am aware of where it would be so clearly in accordance with the opinion of the day as the acceptance of this Motion would be. I am not going to add to it.
What are the arguments against it? I have listened very carefully to all the speeches that have been made. My noble friend Lord Hanworth raised certain legal difficulties. I think he hears me at this moment, and but for the great respect I have for his office I am afraid I should be sufficiently bold to have differed on some points of law which he laid down. But what did it all come to? It all came to this, that in his view the terms of the Motion were not sufficiently clearly drawn. I do not know what harm he thinks that would 530 do, because, obviously, it is not a proposal of legislation. It is a proposal, like any other Resolution, to induce your Lordships to express an opinion upon a very grave question of public policy. Beyond that, I may have misheard him, but I heard no argument adduced by him against this Motion. There was an eloquent peroration about the hereditary privileges and traditions of this House, which did not seem to me to have any bearing whatever upon the actual proposal now before your Lordships.
And there was my noble friend Lord Midleton, who, indeed, did give a reason—a reason which has become almost hackneyed, if he will allow me to say so, in the discussions on all these questions of women's enfranchisement for many years past. The opponents of women's enfranchisement have never said: "We are against it on its merits." It has always been: "This is not exactly the right time to do it. This is not exactly the right way to do it." If my noble friend will forgive my saying so, that kind of opposition is more offensive and more enraging to women than direct opposition to the Motion on its merits. Why is it out of time? What is the proposal? To open membership of your Lordships' House to women on the same terms as men. Why should that affect any question of reform? It is wholly disparate from the question or whether the hereditary principle should be preserved, whether there ought to be nomination, whether there ought to be election, and all the rest of the questions. It has nothing to do with them. It is quite a separate question, and has always been treated as a separate question. I cannot conceive why my noble friend should think that by passing this Resolution he would be retarding the advent of House of Lords reform. It seems to me a strange view which, I confess, I am altogether unable to follow.
Then there was the speech of my noble friend Lord Birkenhead, whom we are all so very glad to see back in his place after his recent illness. I venture to say that the most formidable argument that he produced was that women were physically not so strong as men, and he feared very much the strain on their strength which would be imposed by membership of your Lordships' House. I confess I know a, 531 good many women who would be capable of enduring that strain without very serious injury to their health. Those are the arguments, as I have heard them, that have been introduced in this debate; but my noble friend Lord Birkenhead really made a reply to all of them by saying he relied on the previous arguments that had been adduced.
Now may I just remind your Lordships of what were the main arguments that have been adduced against these proposals in previous debates? There was first the question of the imminence of the reform of your Lordships' House. It was objected that it was no good discussing a subject of this kind, since we should have to discuss it all over again on another measure which was likely to come before your Lordships' House in a year or two. That argument has gone. There is no prospect whatever, as has been pointed out, of any such measure being presented to your Lordships' House in the near future. Then there was the suggestion that a measure of such importance as one dealing with the enfranchisement of women in this respect ought to be presented on the authority of the Government of the day. I always thought there was a good deal of force in that argument as far as an actual Bill was concerned, although I did not think it conclusive. I thought it was a forcible argument because after all to pass a Bill in your Lordships' House is perhaps rather an undignified process if you know that it can get no further unless the Government take it up. That, at any rate, does not apply to a Resolution. It has been the practice of your Lordships—and, if I may be allowed to say so, a very good practice—to pass Resolutions on all sorts of subjects which any member of your Lordships' House desires to bring before your Lordships. No one has ever suggested, I think, that Motions of this kind should only be made with the authority of the Government.
Lastly, there was an argument always used, which I think was a powerful argument, that you were going to enfranchise women by the force of a Bill—I say enfranchise, but it should be give them a seat in this House—and that that was really a matter which ought to be reserved for the Prerogative. There is a good deal of force in that, but this Motion leaves that question undetermined. The 532 question of exactly how you are going to remove the disqualification of women is a matter to be determined by the promoters of the Bill, if a Bill ever is brought before your Lordships' House, and it would be for your Lordships to say exactly what provisions that Bill ought to contain. Therefore I venture very respectfully to suggest that all the old arguments, the arguments which really were relied upon by those who opposed this measure in the past, no longer apply to this particular proposal.
What remains? There really is nothing else except the general view that women ought not to have the same share as men in the public work of this country. That is the fundamental belief which underlies all the speeches that I have heard made against this proposal. I venture very respectfully to ask your Lordships whether it is really consistent with the attitude which your Lordships have always taken up in regard to great public questions to rely upon that argument now. It might have been a perfectly good consideration thirty or forty years ago when the proposal was first made to give women a position on county councils. Then the question was whether women ought to have a share in the public life of this country. But it is not an open question now. It has been determined by a great mass of legislation, and for your Lordships to say: "Yes, it is right, or at any rate we do not propose to make any effort to change the provisions by which women vote, by which women sit on various local authorities, by which women sit in the House of Commons, by which women sit in the Cabinet, by which women discharge these functions amongst others, but we do say that women should not sit in this House and advise on questions on which they have special and expert knowledge"—that that position alone should be withheld from women, is, I venture to think, not a logical position, and I hope your Lordships will accept this Motion.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I should like to say one or two words in support of what has been said by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil. Really the only question before your Lordships at the present time is whether a person otherwise qualified to be a member of your Lordships' House should be disqualified 533 on the ground of sex or, if I may put it in the way in which it was put by Lord Dickinson—who, I think, put it with admirable clearness—has it not been established in modern times that equality of sex in a matter of this kind should now be recognised in this House, which is the last place where it has not already been recognised as far as I know? Surely you are standing in the way of what is now acknowledged to be a real development of progress if you attempt to maintain this disqualification of sex applicable to this House only.
I should like to say one or two words upon what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, whom we are very glad to see here this afternoon. In 1925, he expressed the view, which was endorsed by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, that there was no objection in logic to the admission of women qualified to sit in this House, but his objection was that a general reform of this House was at hand and this matter had better stand over. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, referred to that, so may I read one other statement made in support of that position by the noble Earl on that occasion? His argument was, as I say, that this particular reform ought to wait for the general reform, and then he added this:—… I say plainly, having regard to my experience of politics, that it is inconceivable that the present Government"—that, of course, was the last Government; he was speaking in 1925—could be so negligent of their duties and their responsibilities as not to reform this House before they leave office.The noble Earl has himself, I think, explained to-day the disappointment—whatever the cause might have been—which arose after he made that statement.
I think it is perfectly clear—although I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, upon the general question in many respects—that at the present moment we cannot expect any general measure of reform dealing with the whole constitution and status of this House. I wish I thought it were possible, but I do not believe it is possible at the present time. May I say that the noble Marquess opposite (Lord Salisbury) referred to the matter on the same occasion in 1925? He said then:— 534… you could not have a constitution in which, of all Assemblies in the country, this should be the only one in which women should not be entitled to sit. I think he"—that is the Earl of Birkenhead—is right. I do not think the thing could be argued any longer. So far as that main principle is concerned the matter is decided.I think that is conclusive, and I am bound to admit that apart from the byplay as regards general reform or the recognition of the justice of women's claims, I think the matter is decided. Really, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, pointed out just now, the objections have been answered. Woman's claim has been sustained, and in why should this House, which boasts in many directions its power of liberal outlook and liberal thought, why should we, of all bodies in the world, deny in what is, I think, on clear grounds the just allowance to women of a right to sit here on the same basis as men?
I do not want to refer at length to the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hanworth, on the historical aspect, as to which there may be a difference of opinion. It is true that in 1306, I think—this is going back to the beginning of our Parliamentary life—Abbesses were summoned by Edward I in order to take part in the discussion when he desired a levy to be raised on the occasion of the Knighthood of his son. I will, not go back to other matters, because if we go into history we are very far away from the one question which we have to discuss at the present moment. I want to say without any hesitation on my part—and I think the same view is held by noble Lords who sit with me in this House—that we agree wilt what the noble Marquess said, that the matter has been decided, the disqualification ought to be removed and the equality of the sexes in this matter ought to be established. This would have, an effect not only in this country but, as has been pointed out, in a far wider area throughout the world, where the progress of women to equality is one of the great steps of a progressive civilisation which we are watching in this age.
§ On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 49; Not-Contents, 55.535
|Sankey, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Leverhulme, V.||Greenway, L.|
|Parmoor, L. (L. President.)||Aberdare, L.||Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.)|
|Abinger, L.||Hemphill, L.|
|Reading, M.||Alvingham, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Ker, L. (M. Lothian.)|
|Clarendon, E.||Arnold, L.||Kylsant, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Balfour of Burleigh, L.[Tellers.]||Marks, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Marley, L.|
|Graham, E. (D. Montrose.)||Boston, L.||Melchett, L,|
|Plymouth, E.||Buckmaster, L.||Meston, L.|
|Powis, E.||Camrose, L.||Moynihan, L.|
|Russell, E.||Cushendun, L.||Noel-Buxton, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Danesfort, L.||Passfield, L.|
|Darling, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Astor, V. [Teller.]||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)||Sanderson, L.|
|Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Dickinson, L.||Thomson, L.|
|Elibank, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)||Vivian, L.|
|Argyll, D.||Bertie of Thame, V.||Gainford, L.|
|Bedford, D.||Churchill, V.||Hanworth, L.[Teller.]|
|Wellington, D.||Cobham, V.||Hardinge of Penshurst, L|
|FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)|
|Exeter, M.||Hood, V.||Lawrence, L.|
|Linlithgow, M.||Mersey, V.||Leigh, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Novar, V.||Lloyd, L.|
|Shaftesbury, E. (L. Steward.)||Annaly, L.||Pentland, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Auckland, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Birkenhead, E.||Banbury of Southam, L.||Sempill, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Biddulph, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Brancepeth, L.(V. Boyne.)||Strachie, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Stratheden, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)|
|Malmesbury, E.||Desart, L. (E. Desart.)||Teynham, L.|
|Midleton, E. [Teller.]||Desborough, L.||Wavertree, L.|
|Morton, E.||Dynevor, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Spencer, E.||Fairlie, L. (E. Glasgow.)||Wraxall, L.|
|Westmeath, E.||Forester, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.536
§ House adjourned at half past six o'clock.