HL Deb 27 July 1949 vol 164 cc581-623

3.30 p.m.

THE MARQUESS OF READING rose to move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House, without prejudice to any such change in the general composition of the House as may be subsequently effected, steps should be taken to obtain leave to introduce legislation, as soon as may be practicable, to confer upon women Peers, who under existing conditions are not qualified to take their seats in this House, the same rights, duties and privileges as are now enjoyed by male Peers having seat, place and voice in this House. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, the particular subject of the Motion standing in my name to-day makes no claim to any great novelty in the annals of this House; but the fact that an injustice is long established does not lessen the necessity to remedy it. May I make two observations by way of preamble? In the first place, I am far more concerned with the substance than with the form of this Motion, and if it should be thought that in any respect which does not alter its essential character the wording can be improved, I am open to suggestion. I say that in order to relieve any of your Lordships who may have been contemplating a close verbal scrutiny of its terms from the need for any such exercise. In the second place, the last debate on this subject took place some three years ago and I appreciate that, with this Parliament drawing to its close, the Government might well hesitate to accept an obligation to introduce the legislation involved within the lifetime of this Parliament. Therefore, as your Lordships may have noticed, I have within the last few days substituted for the words originally in the Motion— in the course of this Parliament the words: as soon as may be practicable. I trust that the amendment may serve to forestall any intention to dismiss this subject on the ground of lack of time rather than to discuss it upon its merits. I hope that the Government will see their way to accept the Motion in this revised form.

In spite of the encouragement given to me by a leader in this morning's Times, I desire to emphasise from the outset that I did not put down this Motion in order to promote an academic discussion upon the advantages or disadvantages of the admission to this House at some future time of ladies on the same terms as men, a principle which was broadly accepted in the conference of the leaders of all Parties which your Lordships will recall took place in 1947, although I do pray in powerful aid the fact that agreement was arrived at upon that particular principle as a basis for a reconstituted House. My Motion is directed to one practical proposition: that steps should now be taken to remove the disability upon some twenty-four ladies who, had they been men, would have been eligible to take part in the proceedings of your Lordships' House but who are excluded upon no better ground than that they chance to be women. I have already ventured to ex-press to your Lordships on other occasions an opinion on the subject of the hereditary system, but so long as that system pertains and is applicable to your Lordships' House, then at least it is logical that an existing anomaly of this kind should be removed with the minimum of delay.

Legislation will, of course, be needed, but it should, I conceive, be a short Bill, and if your Lordships are prepared to accept the Motion to-day it would be unlikely to be a matter of great controversy. Nor do I imagine that in a matter which is so exclusively the concern of your Lordships another place would be likely to contest a decision of this House, especially when it is consistent with all modern developments. Your Lordships have recently decided to relieve certain ladies of a disability under which they suffered from the fact that they were ladies—the restraint upon anticipation. I am inviting your Lordships this afternoon to remove another disability from a different group of ladies—the restraint upon participation in the proceedings of your Lordships' House. I have read all the pre-war debates which took place upon this subject, and I say no more for the moment upon many of the arguments raised in opposition except this: that though they might have been cogent in the Iron Age, they are not very compelling in the "Iron and Steel Age," and I doubt whether many of them will be repeated to-day.

As regards the debate in 1946, your Lordships will probably recall that it took place upon three Motions put down by the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, the first of which was concerned with the general principle of the admission of ladies to this House in the future on the same terms as men. And there was also upon the Paper a Motion in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, which was in purpose, though not in terms, directed to the same object as mine to-day. That Motion was in fact never moved, but, in anticipation of it, in the debate on the noble Viscount's Motion, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said this: …if your Lordships desire to adopt the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield's Resolution…if the House says it wants the change made, the Government is prepared to take it into consideration, given facilities for the necessary procedures. I am inclined to think that the words as there reported are that extremely rare occasion of a slight error in the actual terms, because it looks as if the words which the noble Viscount used were not …if the House says it wants the change made, the Government is prepared to take it into consideration, given facilities…", but, …if the House says it wants the change made, the Government is prepared to take into consideration giving facilities for the necessary procedures. The other is so clumsy a sentence that I am quite sure the noble Viscount was not guilty of it. That assurance was at a later stage of the same debate reinforced by the noble and learned Viscount upon the Woolsack. These ladies are hereditary Peers and, as such, as I conceive it, if they be the holders of United Kingdom peerages, they would be entitled, but for an accident of sex, to receive a Writ of Summons to attend the proceedings of your Lordships' House; and, if they be the holders of Scottish peerages, as some of them are, then but for the same disqualification they would be entitled to take part in the election of, and themselves to be elected as, representative Peers of Scotland.

The Sex Disqualification Removal Act was passed in the year 1919, and at that time there were many who thought that the operative words of that Act: A person shall not be disqualified on the ground of sex from the exercise of any public function… were wide enough to lift the ban upon the entry of these ladies into your Lordships' House. The matter was, however, tested in the case of one of them—Lady Rhondda—and, as your Lordships will remember, the Committee of Privileges of this House ultimately came to the conclusion that under the terms of their Patent these ladies had no right to receive a Writ of Summons and that all the Sex Disqualification Removal Act did was to relieve persons of a disability but not to confer upon them any right.

For the past twenty-seven years the matter has stood exactly where it was in 1922 and before, in spite of all modern developments. I confess that it seems to me that in 1949 the case on broad grounds for the admission of these ladies is overwhelming, and irrefutable, and I trust that at a later stage of this afternoon's proceedings a great majority of your Lordships will be seen to share that view. But it is one of the duties of an advocate to anticipate and, if possible, to examine in advance the hostile arguments likely to be deployed against him. My Lords, I do not pause to repel some of the arguments, however gravely advanced in past debates upon this subject, or to controvert the statement that the admission of ladies would gravely imperil the dignity of your Lordships' House; or that by the powers of fascination they would beguile the more susceptible of your Lordships into the wrong Lobbies; or that they have a different point of view from men—an argument which I confess seems to me to he strongly in favour of their admission, in these days of adult suffrage and the predominance of the female over the male amongst the population. Those were arguments which in the past have served their turn.

There seem to me to be only two main arguments which have to he seriously dealt with. It may be that there are matters concerned with the intricacies and antiquities of peerage law or with the precise considerations operating at a particular moment in the mind of King Edward I, but the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack said in the course of the debate three years ago that it was a feasible proposition, so far as the draftsmen were concerned, to carry this change into effect, should it be the wish of your Lordships' House that that should be done. Far be it from me to venture to dissent from that opinion. Of the two arguments which require consideration, I confess that I should have been doubtful about the first if I had not heard it advanced with so much vigour in the recent past. It is said that this is an extension of the hereditary system, that the hereditary system is unpopular with the country and that, therefore, before so momentous and comprehensive a change is made in the constitution of this House, it should be submitted to the electorate for their decision. I submit that that argument is founded upon a complete fallacy, apart from a certain lack of sense of proportion which it displays. The inclusion of these ladies is not in my view an extension of the hereditary system; they are Peeresses already. At most and within narrow limits it is an extension, of the application of that system in order to bring it into closer relation to the ideas and practices of to-day.

Does any one of your Lordships really believe that, whatever may be the issue at the coming Election, this, if it were left undecided, is likely to ',I; one? Can any of your Lordships envisage himself standing upon a platform addressing an enthralled electorate, to the exclusion of any question of the economic condition of the country or of the Iron and Steel Bill or anything else, on this absorbing and supreme question as to whether twenty-four ladies shall or shall not be admitted to take part in the debates in your Lordships' House? It seems to me to have no more validity than the other type of argument which is advanced: that some evidence can be derived from the fact that, by the terms of their Patents, these ladies are not qualified to sit in the House, and that therefore it must be assumed that no qualification was ever intended to be conferred upon them. My Lords, if we are going to stand for ever upon the basis of the fourteenth or fifteenth century, that may be a very good argument; but we happen, whether it be to our advantage or not, to be living with some difficulty in the twentieth. There is another argument which says that a Patent, once its terms are fixed, is sacrosant, and that by no method known to the law or to the Constitution can it be altered. Subject always to the sanction of the Sovereign being obtained (for it is, after all, a matter closely affecting the Royal Prerogative) there is, as I have already said, in the view of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack no impediment to the putting into legislative form of the proposal contained in this Motion.

The most serious, perhaps because the most frequent, of the arguments against this proposition is that you should not attempt to reform the composition of this House piecemeal but should leave any alteration until such time as a general revision is made. If I saw any immediate and imminent prospect of that change being made I should not only rejoice in the interests of the preservation of a Second Chamber as an essential and influential part of the Constitution, but I should probably never have put down this Motion. But I confess that my faith in these matters has become a little tremulous with the passing of years, because I was not only brought up with this subject; I have indeed grown old with it. The subject "brooked no delay in 1912 and in 1925 it was described in a debate in these terms by the noble and learned Earl the first Lord Birkenhead, then Secretary of State for India: It is inconceivable that the present Government could be so negligent of their duty and their responsibilities as not to reform this House before they leave office. A little later the noble Earl said: It is our plain and indefeasible duty to bring proposals before you, before we leave office, for the reform of this House. That was in 1925. I confess I would rather adopt the reasoning in the same debate of the noble and learned Viscount, the first Lord Buckmaster, rightly described in the title of a recent biography of him as the "Orator of Justice," when he said that as against the argument, "Do not do it now because you can do it in the near future," he preferred the argument, "Why not do it now, if in the near future it is bound to come?"

My Lords, we are now in 1949 and after all those years what the grammarians call the paulo-post future of reform still remains the passive imperfect. Some of your Lordships may not share the view which I have expressed upon this topic. With great respect, I would ask those of you who are of hostile view, before you come to a conclusion to oppose this Motion, to delve deeply into your consciences and be quite sure that such arguments as you may adduce are not prejudices in seductive disguise. Although the proposition was violently contested in one of the earlier debates, this House is not, or at least is not primarily, a club, which may in the Pall Mall sense be described as "a voluntary association of persons determined not to associate with each other." It is the Upper House of Parliament and, as such, it should be as representative as its existing Constitution permits and as progressive in its own affairs as it is in the affairs of the nation at large.

I assume that this Motion will be left to a free vote of the House and I beg your Lordships to take this belated opportunity of ending a persistent injustice. My Lords, "the writing on the wall" is an oratorical cliché which I should normally seek to avoid; but there is inscribed upon the wall opposite me a legend too apt to be ignored. Therefore, in commending this Motion to your Lordships, I appeal to you to give heed to that gallant exhortation and "never be against ladies," especially when chivalry, reason and justice unite in support of their cause. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House, without prejudice to any such change in the general composition of the House as may be subsequently effected, steps should be taken to obtain leave to introduce legislation as soon as may be practicable, to confer upon women Peers, who under existing conditions are not qualified to take their seats in this House, the same rights, duties and privileges as are now enjoyed by male Peers having seat, place and voice in this House.—(The Marquess of Reading.)

3.54 p.m.


My Lords, before I proceed to express my views with regard to the matter that is at present under debate, there is one comment which I think it would be proper for me to make. In discussions on this subject the question of a Royal Prerogative inevitably arises. Of course there is no intention on the part of any of us, whatever we may say, of infringing the Royal Prerogative. All we can do is humbly and loyally to put forward our views for the gracious consideration of His Majesty. But the fact that we recognise this should not, I believe, inhibit us from expressing our minds. All matters which affect the public weal come properly within the purview of our consideration. It is in that sense that I feel sure we shall all speak this afternoon. There is one other comment that I would make, of a rather different character. I would also emphasise that in anything I say this afternoon I am speaking entirely for myself. I do not and cannot in any way bind other members of my Party who may quite possibly hold very differing views.

Now, my Lords, to come to the subject itself. This question which the House is discussing this afternoon is, as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has already said, not in any way a new one. It has been the theme of both Motions and Bills on many occasions during the last twenty years, and I think no one would complain that the noble Marquess has raised it again. For, as the Roman poet said, if I may translate him somewhat freely, "Times change and we must change with them." Evidently, therefore, there is ample justification for a further examination of all the issues involved.

I think there is no doubt that in the last quarter of a century there has been a considerable change in the general view, both in this House and outside, with regard to the position of women in every sphere of our public life. If one looks back, for instance, to a debate which took place in this House in 1925 on a Private Bill which was introduced, I believe, by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, one will find that the main opposition to the idea of Peeresses in their own right sitting and voting in this House arose from a general view in the minds of numbers of noble Lords that it was unsuitable, indeed almost improper, that women should take a personal part in the business of Parliament, and that the presence of women in your Lordships' House would have a catastrophic effect, both on its dignity and on its credit. This view it is interesting to see, was stated, quite frankly and boldly in that debate, by the late Lord Banbury when he said: If we have gone on for 800 years and maintained the great reputation which this House has always borne, I do not see why now it should be necessary to have Peeresses in this House. Other noble Lords who spoke did not voice this view quite so bleakly as that. They wrapped it up under a cloak of legal and constitutional arguments which no doubt can well be advanced.

There were some who said that it was somewhat absurd to add these ladies to the number of our legislators without the shadow of an inquiry into their qualifications. That was a view expressed by the late Lord Birkenhead. My Lords, one hesitates to question anything that emanated from that brilliant brain, but I must confess that that seems to me an extremely odd argument. Why should these ladies, and these ladies alone, be subjected to this intellectual test? It is not imposed upon male members of your Lordships' House; it is not imposed on members of the House of Commons. Indeed, one trembles to think what would happen if it were. Nor can I conceive how any such a test would in fact be carried out. For these reasons I cannot regard that particular argument as one which should carry any weight with your Lordships.

Another argument used by some was that when these special Peerages were granted it was never contemplated that the ladies to whom they descended should sit and vote in this House. That, I feel, requires rather more serious consideration. But, after all, should that fact entirely disqualify them in the circumstances which exist to-day? At the period when most of these Peerages were created —as I think the noble Marquess has said —it was not contemplated that women should sit in the other House, that women should sit on county councils, that women should become members of Royal Commissions, and so on. Noble Lords can multiply examples of what I mean. The position of women generally was, in fact, quite different from what it is at the present time.

Moreover, if it comes to that, I think it might well be argued with some force that it w as never contemplated, when your Lordships' House was first created in the form of the Great Council of the Realm in Plantagenet days, that the majority of members of this House would be men without any territorial influence. In those far off days, the original members were practically all great territorial magnates, without whose help the King could not govern. The reason why the right to sit in the Great Council passed at death to their sons was that these, in their turn, succeeded to their fathers' territorial possessions, and their support and counsel were equally needed by the Monarch of the day. The idea that a man with no territorial possessions, except possibly, say, a flat in St. James's Street, should succeed automatically to his father's hereditary legislative rights, would have seemed extremely odd to our medæval ancestors. That, however, in the view of most of us, on this side of the House at any rate, does not weaken the case for the hereditary system; for we believe that, as so often happens in this country, the institution has justified itself for other and quite different reasons from those which were originally in the minds of the people responsible for its initiation.

It has come to be realised, through the passage of the centuries, that hereditary tradition plays a considerable part in the contribution which we can all make to the life of our country. A miner who has been brought up over generations in the craft of coal mining is probably a better miner than a man who comes into the industry with no hereditary tradition at all. The same, I believe, may be said to be true of the craft of government. And so your Lordships' House has gradually evolved into something entirely different from what was originally intended. It has become a Senate, which is now, if I may say so, soaked in the hereditary tradition of government, and has become enriched, generation after generation, by the most eminent and distinguished men of the day.

I apologise to your Lordships for that digression, but I think it has some bearing on the problem which we are discussing to-day, for it strengthens my contention that the fact that it was not contemplated, when the special Peerages were created, that the female holders should sit in Parliament should not necessarily disqualify them now. At present, they are debarred from sitting either in this House or, so far as I know, in the other House. That must surely be wrong. I should be very glad if the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor would give an answer to that when he replies to the debate. We know that Peeresses in their own right—I believe I am right in saying this—can vote for Members of Parliament. Can they sit in the House of Commons? So far as I know, they never have done, and at the present moment, as I say, I believe that they are debarred from sitting in either of these two Chambers. For all these reasons, and especially in an age when women are excluded from practically no other body, when they can become Members of Parliament, when they can even become Cabinet Ministers in another place, I cannot believe that it is justifiable to exclude these ladies from your Lordships' House alone.

No doubt, other considerations would arise from the creation of new hereditary Peerages for women on an absolute equality with men because it might well be that such a proposal would give rise to all sorts of new and most formidable problems with regard to the whole law of primogeniture. But as I understand the position (the noble Marquess will correct me if I am wrong), that question and the question of life Peerages for women do not arise on his Motion, which is confined to existing Peeresses in their own right.


That is correct.


For the reasons which I have stated I personally have been driven to the conclusion that in principle the general proposition which has been advanced by the noble Marquess is right and in accordance with the developments of our time. I am very glad, however, that the noble Marquess has found it possible to alter the wording of his Motion and to omit the passage asking for the legislation to be introduced within the lifetime of this Parliament. I do not believe that that would have been either practicable or desirable. I do not think it would be practicable to raise an entirely new issue of this kind in the last months of a dying Parliament. Moreover—and here I am afraid I am not in entire agreement with the noble Marquess—I cannot feel that this is a question which ought to be dealt with in complete isolation. In any agreed scheme for the reform of the House of Lords, and in particular in any scheme for the reform of the composition of your Lordships' House, the question of the whole position of women, both as hereditary Peeresses and as life Peeresses, is bound to arise. If we are to have a balanced solution of this whole question, I suggest that it must be dealt with as one.

In spite of what the noble Marquess has said, I still feel that to tinker with it —to use his own phrase—in piecemeal fashion might well only lay us open to additional embarrassments in the future. The noble Marquess has, however, been good enough so to amend his Motion as to relieve the House of this difficulty. He now merely expresses the view that these ladies should be admitted to sit in your Lordships' House—to use his own words—"as soon as may be practicable." Personally, if he will allow me to say so, I interpret that rather wide phrase to mean "as part of the scheme of the general reform of the composition of your Lordships' House."


My Lords, I should like to make it quite clear that I did not say that.


I agree. Such an interpretation, of course, does not bind the noble Marquess. On the contrary he has made it evident in what he said that he envisages a special Bill for this purpose. But that is my interpretation of the phrase. It is a possible interpretation, and that interpretation is as far as I personally can go in this direction. I am not so pessimistic as the noble Marquess with regard to the reform of this House. In spite of our failure last year, I believe that it is bound to come. I hope that either the other Party or the Party to which I belong, if we are returned at the next General Election, may find some other opportunity when there appears to be sufficient common ground to tackle the matter afresh. I agree that it is right to wait until then.

I hope, therefore, that the noble Marquess will be willing to accept my support of the principle of his Motion on that definite understanding. If so, if a Division is challenged I shall be willing, on a free vote of the House—and on this question it is evident that the vote must be absolutely free—to go into the Lobby in his support. But the noble Marquess will understand that by doing that I shall not be binding myself to support the introduction of a new Bill. I could not do that. I believe, however, that the principle for which the noble Marquess is striving is right, and I should like to have the opportunity of voting in support of that broad principle.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Marquess for introducing this Motion today. My pleasure in supporting him is enhanced by my memory of my association on one occasion with his illustrious father. But there is this distinction between these two occasions: that whereas to-day I find myself in agreement with what the noble Marquess has said, on the other occasion to which I refer I could hardly have been expected to be in full agreement with his illustrious father, because it was then his duty (which, if I may be permitted to say so, he performed with ability and distinction) to argue that I should he found guilty of conspiracy in regard to the militant suffrage agitation and to have me imprisoned as a result of the trial then taking place. When we remember that women are now in business and that the Civil Service, the combative Forces, the professions, the universities and the other House have admitted women on something like equal terms, it is just silly for this House to debar their entry into our midst. The noble Marquess said, with truth, that the arguments which were used in days gone by had lost their appeal to the bulk of the people of to-day. He referred to one or two other considerations, which again he proceeded to show had no validity at the present time. I would put it to him that the real objection to the acknowledgment of full equality between the sexes is not now, and never was, mainly a matter of reason: it was an instinctive objection of men, who for the most part in their dealings with women are on an emotional plane, to admit that they could be coadjutors in an intellectual and administrative capacity.

I should like to remind the House of an event that took place during the last war. Your Lordships will remember the terrible situation with which this country was faced at the time of Dunkirk. An S.O.S. was sent out by the authorities to all who had sea-going craft to come to the rescue of our soldiers from that port. The response on all sides was magnificent. The authorities were rung up by a skipper, who asked what were the instructions for turning up at the rendezvous. The person who received the telephone message said, "Judging from your voice, you are a woman. You surely do not expect us to have a woman in charge of a boat going to rescue the soldiers." I am afraid the reply from the other end was rather violent. The answer was, "Sex be damned. I and my mate are willing. I am the skipper of this boat, and we can handle the craft with vigour and reality. I thought you wanted to rescue soldiers from Dunkirk. We can do it." They were allowed to go; and many of our soldiers owed their lives to the gallantry and efficiency of those two women.

I should like to recall two other incidents. I remember the time when a distinguished woman pilot made her reputation in a solo flight to the Antipodes. I was talking to my young chauffeur lad just after the event, and I found that it had entirely altered his whole view with regard to women. He said, "I did not think a woman could ever have done it." The other illustration is of a dinner given by the Royal Aero Club, of which I am a member, to another distinguished woman pilot who had flown from New Zealand to this country. The members were all assembled to meet this modern Joan of Arc, and an exceedingly feminine and most charming person arrived and proceeded to give a graphic account of her experiences. The men of that club were amazed when they contrasted this vision of feminine charm with the cool-headed pilot who had shown the utmost judgment and resource at an early age in facing the dangers of flying single and alone from New Zealand to this country.

I must mention briefly two remarks that used to be made about women in days gone by. In my youth it was a common remark that women could not keep a secret. Now we have almost every man of business confiding his most confidential matters to lady secretaries, while many others, including many of your Lordships, confide in their private secretaries. I tremble to think what would be the result if any considerable proportion of these young ladies were to "blab out" what they knew&! I think it would destroy the confidence of the world in the City of London, and might even injure the reputations of some persons in private life&! Again, it was sometimes said, "After all, women are so silly." In common candour we must admit that there are a good many persons of both sexes who come under that title. I know that we in your Lordships' House feel that our Chamber is far superior to other Chambers throughout the world by reason of our breadth of knowledge, our common sense and our sweet reasonable- ness; but I am afraid it would be a little optimistic to hope that all the people outside this House shared in the eulogistic view that we hold of ourselves. But, admitting that we are this superhuman body of enlightened persons, I do not altogether despair of finding women of equal ability to share our labours and our distinction. From what I know of the common sense of your Lordships I think there will be little objection to the principle of this Motion. It may be that some will regard the entry of women into your Lordships' House as a regrettable necessity. Others among us will look forward to the debates in this House being enriched by the contributions of illustrious women which will give immense pleasure.

I come finally to the question of time. Like the noble Marquess who moved this Motion, I take the view that as it is over thirty years since women were admitted to the House of Commons it is full time that women were admitted to be members of the House of Lords. Moreover, since the Parliament Act of approaching forty years ago has remained unchanged in main substance, and the complexion of this House has not been altered in accordance with the Preamble to that Act, it may well be many years before large changes will be made in its constitution. Therefore, I am on the side of the noble Marquess who moved the Motion, as distinct from the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. I do not think we ought to wait until there is agreement about the form of the constitution of the House of Lords to bring about this very small change.

I was one of those who greatly regretted the breakdown of the conference of a couple of years ago, which would have settled the reform of this House and would have brought great gain, not only to ourselves but to the country as a whole. But the disagreeable fact has to be faced that that conference did break down. I notice that in the manifesto of the Conservative Party the reform of the House of Lords is included among the probable matters to be dealt with in the event of the Conservatives being returned to power at the next General Election. But there are many slips between the cup and the lip in the matter of programmes put into an election manifesto. It may well be that their intentions will be frustrated; it may well be that when the time comes things will take a different shape from what they expect.

Therefore, I say this. I think women have been put off long enough in the matter of this reform. Just as there was a disagreeable situation in the country owing to the continued refusal to honour pledges to bring women into political life in the matter of voting, so I think it is highly undesirable that they should be put off much longer in this respect. When I was compaigning with the women's suffrage movement we used to put forward this slogan from Through the Looking-Glass on the promises that were made: The rule is, jam to-morrow…hut never jam to-day. I am sure that this vulgar simile will not appeal to the careful mind and legal conscience of the noble Marquess who moved the Motion, hut I stand with him in not putting off this change until tomorrow, and for having the jam to-day.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself in somewhat of a minority to-day—not that I quarrel for one moment with the eulogies of the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, on the virtues and vicissitudes of the female sex, but I think that if the noble Marquess who moved this Resolution with his customary charm and forensic skill presses for individual legislation on the subject, intricate and piecemeal legislation will be produced, whereas if the reform of the House as a whole is brought about there will be the chance of the conclusion of a really workmanlike measure. It has to be remembered that not merely the Peeresses in their own right are concerned but also a large number of women who may be, and no doubt will be, represented in this House. I should hate to be interpreted as a diehard anti-feminist; it seems to me that the presence of women as members of this House is probably inevitable, possibly desirable. Indeed, as a lover of order in your Lordships' House, I look forward with a degree of pleasure to hearing from the Woolsack the potent appeal for order that would come from a noble and learned (and possibly charming) lady on the Woolsack. I am sure it would have a great deal more effect than many of the appeals that are made nowadays&! There are many other functions, perhaps not so arduous but more persuasive, which women can do equally with men.

There are, however, two points which I should like to mention. The first is that there is a constitutional question involved. Nobody has touched upon it this afternoon. I confess that when I saw this Motion on the paper I cudgelled my brains as to how best could contribute from what I ought to have learned when I was the Officer of tie House looking after Peerage matters. I have read memoranda; I turned up the Report of the Sumner Committee of 1926; and I even took down the well-thumbed Stabbs' Constitutional History. that rather alarming bible of the student of the subject. In every avenue I turned down I was brought up against the same point—namely, that without a Writ of Summons there has never been a sitting in this House; and, further, that no personal Writ of Summons has ever been issued to a woman. That, to me, is a constitutional argument against this proposal which has to be considered. Certain play has been made by historians about Writs issued to Abbesses in 1295. There is a long list of Abbots summoned in 1306 to attend the Council of Edward I, and that list contains the names of four Abbesses who received the same summons. But nobody ever thinks they were personal summonses to women; the Abbesses were summoned by virtue of the benefices over which they presided, the ecclesiastical baronies. The same can be said of military summons. The fact remains that research has never revealed the issue of a personal Writ to a woman.

So it goes on down through the ages, and we come in 1674 to the case of the Clifton barony which after all, established the female right to be an heir-general. But there is still no Writ of Summons. That is an objection which no doubt I shall be told can be overcome by legislation, hut it relates to a portion of history that has to be carefully watched in these days, when it is so easy to ignore the constitutional principles on which this House has been built. I shall probably be answered that that ought to be done by legislation.

I turn to some of the consequences which will flow from the noble Marquess's Motion. The text books give the names of twenty-four Peeresses in their own right—that is, eighteen English and six Scottish, and there is one Irish which is in some doubt. That may be so, but that is by no means the end of the story. Your Lordships may know the terms of the Sumner Committee on Abeyances. The second finding of that Committee, in which I confess to having had a hand, laid down that no abeyance could be terminated in a case where the first commencement of the abeyance dated back more than 100 years from the presentation of the Petition. That limited the number of abeyances. But outside of that, recent research has revealed a very large number of abeyances. I never give numbers unless I can prove them, but one of the greatest peerage authorities gave me his opinion the other day that there were over fifty peerages in abeyance that could emerge from abeyance at any moment.

With the existing Peeresses in their own right it means perhaps seventy-four altogether. Add to that the fact that a number of your Lordships sit by one title and possess baronies as well. If a Peer sitting in the right of a higher title dies without male issue, any of the lower baronies (if I may so call them) that he possesses can be called up in favour of a female. Add again to that the acceleration of a Peerage, where a son or a daughter can be called up, in fulfilment of one of the junior baronies attaching to a senior title. I need only point to a very happy instance for this House in the person of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition: his father's barony was accelerated in order to bring him to this House. All these considerations have to be weighed when one speaks of a small number of Peeresses in abeyance. I have no doubt they have a right to be here; I have no doubt it is a hardship that they are not here; but it is not a question on which we can gaily say, "Let them come in," because what would be happening, in effect, if that were done would be that the right to sit would be granted to a much larger number than the twenty-four Peeresses whose names appear in the books.

I have not much more to add, except to say this. I have been lucky enough to see a certain number of these schemes for the reform of the House, and I do not think I remember one in recent years which has not contained some clause for the admission of women to the House. It is obvious that it ought to be so. But let us have a coordinated and deliberate scheme of reform, and not piecemeal legislation which would probably need a good deal of amendment after being passed, because to my mind the subject is far more intricate than the noble Marquess has indicated.

I take for one moment the Scottish Peerages. It is, of course, well known to all your Lordships that the Scottish Peerages are arranged under the Act of Union, and that that Act is also a Treaty. That means that legislation would be required to deal with the Act of Union to enable the Scottish ladies to sit in this House; and I do not imagine—I see the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, quickly turns his head—that Scotland would like to be left out of her share of 'the bargain. It would be interesting to know what machinery the noble Marquess has worked out in his mind for the election of Scottish Peeresses. It is probably well known that the Scottish Peeresses have never claimed a right to vote at the election of Scottish Representative Peers. Again, there is no abeyance in Scotland, so there we are faced with an entirely different proposition. I need not deal with the Irish Peerages, because since the 1922 Act the machinery for the election of Representative Peers for Ireland has been inoperative, and if the position of Irish Peers vis-à-vis the House is dubious, a fortiori that of a Peeress in her own right is still more so.

It seems to me that the noble Marquess is asking the House to recommend to the Crown a quite indefinite enlargement of the purely hereditary basis of membership of this House. If it could be confined to certain members I should not be so unhappy about it. But I would ask the noble Marquess whether he would not treat this application as an interim injunction, and leave all those arguments which he has adduced to-day until another day, when we have a complete scheme for the reform of this House, and then ask on that occasion for a final decision.


My Lords, I am a little puzzled by the speech of my noble friend who has just sat down, because I thought we had all agreed that we were not going to settle the details of the admission of women to this House. That was not the point at all. The point was merely to say whether, if they have the other qualifications which would enable them to sit in this House, the fact that they are women should necessarily be a disqualification. That is a point of view or a pure question of principle, and not a question of how their admission should be secured. I agree with my noble friend that when we come to deal with any of these questions in actual detail we are up against a number of difficulties which will have to be solved, either in this way or that, when those matters come to be considered.

I propose to occupy your Lordships' attention for only a few moments. To my mind, particularly after the changes which the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, has made in his Motion, the actual point involved seems to me to be an extremely small one and entirely a question of principle. It is not a question of any drastic change which is proposed at this moment. I am afraid I look at it from a rather elementary point of view. There are a certain number of people in this country who are called Peers and are members of the peerage. I ask what that means, and it is said that that confers upon them certain rights and duties, and certain disabilities. The essence of it is that, in principle, all Peers are equal—I presume that that applies to the women who are Peers, as well as to the men. Then I find that by reason of their sex, certain of these Peers are disqualified from sitting in this House. It seems to me that that is very difficult to justify if you accept the general principle that the peerage confers equal rights on all who are Peers.

The only question is: Are there really positive reasons for saying that no woman is capable of being, or desirable as, a member of this House? I put aside, of course, all questions of principle and prejudice—and they exist—because one cannot argue with principles and prejudices: one accepts them or rejects them. When it comes to the question of the capacity of women for sitting here, we have a large mass of experience on the subject. In the last century, at any rate—or perhaps even the last fifty years—we have made elaborate experiments (if I may put it in that way) as to what women are capable of doing. They have been admitted to the legal profession, and I see that a certain number are already King's Counsel. They have been admitted to the medical profession. Everybody admits that some of them are of the highest eminence and have the highest qualifications as doctors, and even as surgeons. They have been admitted to sit on a great number of local bodies. The have been entrusted with a great deal of administration, not only in Royal Commissions but in discharging various duties of local government. They have been authorised and, indeed, encouraged, to lake an active part in politics.

I am not sure that all that is a good plan, but I think the remedy for any defect is: do not let them take an irresponsible share in these matters. It they have a power, lei them be responsible for it. I have no great admiration for the old Duchess of Devonshire, who kissed voters in order to persuade them to vote for Mr. Fox. That seems to me to he a poor form of wohien's suffrage. But if they have the capacity to serve the State, why on earth should they be excluded because they are women? I must speak very carefully w ah regard to what I am about to say now, but, after all, we have tried the experiment with the greatest Office in the State. We have had no fewer than five ruling Queens and I venture to say, with absolute respect, that those five Queens showed themselves possessed of at least as high an average ability as that of any five Kings one could name. In fact, two of them are generally admitted to have been amongst the greatest Sovereigns that we have ever had in this country. It seems to me fantastic that we could find a woman to be a Queen but cannot find a woman to sit in the House of Lords. That seems to be fantastic nonsense, and that part of the objection to women sitting here ought not to be part of the general political view.

It is for that reason, and that reason alone, that I am going to vote for this Motion. I recognise that we are not going to compromise in any way further questions of the reform of this House or anything of that kind. We are not even going to settle the very difficult questions which the noble Lord, Lord Badeley, has raised. They will no doubt be considered when there is a definite proposition before this House to admit women to sit here. Until that time comes, I feel that we should all feel happier and better if we did not talk nonsense about women being essentially and naturally disqualified from taking part in our debates.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to say but a few words on this subject. I speak as a Scottish Liberal. I think I can say that Scottish Liberals are generally in favour of this proposal. We have recognised for a long time that there is room in this House for better representation of various spheres of life. When the many great questions which concern women and children come before your Lordships it would be a great help to us to be able to hear the women's view at first hand. Therefore we feel that we could have a better representation from the point of view of women and children when these great measures come before us. We have also felt for a long time, as I say, that we might have better representation from some other spheres. I have said on a number of occasions that when the question of the reform of this House really arises we should consider the representation of the Scottish Churches, the Scottish universities and so on.

When it comes to the presence of Scottish Peeresses in their own right sitting in this House, the question arises, how will they appear here? Most of the Scottish Peeresses will no doubt be holding Scottish titles; and if they hold Scottish titles, then I think they should be elected by the Scottish Peers and Peeresses sitting together. We have in your Lordships' House sixteen Scottish Peers, sitting by election among ourselves, and we feel that Scottish Peeresses holding Scottish titles should have to go through the same procedure of being elected from among their number. We are anxious that any women coming from Scotland to sit in this House should render in this House service that is first-class in value. We may, moreover, have to consider the number of Peeresses. We Scottish Peers, as I say, number only sixteen, and we are of course representatives. I mention this point only in the hope that, if there should be a measure introduced on this subject, the noble Marquess will bear the matter in mind.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I do not know whether I ought to announce my personal interest in this matter. If the noble Marquess's intention were translated into fact my mother and my aunt would be joining this House, thus producing the almost unique effect of four of us—including my uncle also—sitting simultaneously in this Chamber. I am rather disappointed with the noble Marquess's Motion, because I had hoped it would include ladies who were created Peeresses. I agree with everything that has been said to-day on the great value of women joining this House, not only in general debates but particularly, of course, in those debates in which they have a special interest—women's affairs, matters concerning children and so forth. But, unfortunately, the noble Marquess's Motion is more limited than that. It seems that it refers only to hereditary Peeresses. And because it is so limited I am afraid that I must vote against it.

I am sure that this is no time to be enlarging the privileges of heredity. I know that the noble Marquess said we were not enlarging heredity, because there are already Peeresses. I agree. But we are enlarging their privileges; and that I think we should resist until a general settlement is made. When that general settlement is made I think we must decide whether we are to have hereditary Peeresses and Peers at all in this House. If we are going to have hereditary Peers let us have the hereditary Peeresses. If, as I believe, we should not have them, then we must not have the hereditary Peeresses either. For those reasons, if this question is taken to a Division, I shall vote against it, because the Motion is to my mind far too narrow. If the noble Marquess had included the possibility of creating women as Peeresses, I should have been tempted, for the sake of the one proposition, to include the other; but since it is so narrow I shall vote against it.


My Lords, I shall not detain you for more than a minute. I shall vote for this Motion, but with the distinct qualification that the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, made in his speech: that this matter should be dealt with in a Bill for the reform of the whole House. With that qualification, I propose to support the Motion.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity of saying a few words on this subject, because I differ from both the noble Lords who have just spoken. Lord St. Davids says he is quite opposed to the hereditary principle—and I am entirely in favour of it. Lord Teviot has said that he prefers the thesis of Lord Salisbury to that of Lord Reading. Therefore I want to have the opportunity of saying that I do not agree with this universal idea expressed from all sides, that the right way to rectify anything which is wrong with this House is by a wholesale measure of reform on a large scale. It is because this point of view has not been expressed that I think I must refer to it just for a moment. First, I want to give your Lordships two reasons why I wholeheartedly support the noble Marquess's Motion. The first is that I profoundly believe in the hereditary principle. The second is that I am equally a profound believer in equality of opportunity for women. I do not think it is right to deny women equality of opportunity, and for that reason I shall certainly support the Motion. But on the wider question of the reform of the House, I would remind your Lordships that there are more ways of killing a cat than by drowning it, and more ways of reforming this House than by bringing in some great measure setting up some new Chamber on entirely new principles.

Your Lordships' House is a plant of very slow growth, and I would remind you that the House of Lords to-day is unrecognisable as compared with the House of Lords of 500 years ago, 100 years ago or indeed fifty years ago. Moreover, the method of your Lordships in dealing with business to-day is, as a result of the passing of the Parliament Act of 1911, entirely different. Who could have believed, in 1911, that your Lordships' House would have dealt with measures brought in by a Socialist majority in another place in the way in which your Lordships have dealt with them in the last five years? I believe that the reform of your Lordships' House is proceeding extremely satisfactorily, and that the way to promote that process is not to ruin the Chamber by some entirely new ad hoc body, composed of people voted for by heaven knows whom, but to let the process of gradual reform that has been going on for hundreds of years continue.

I think there is only one immediate step which is necessary—I am afraid I may have urged this upon you before—and that is, to enlarge greatly the creation of Life Peers. I believe that that, in itself, would, by degrees, produce almost everything that is necessary for the complete reform of your Lordships' House. Along with that proposal, I would accept the proposal to do what tie noble Marquess now suggests—that is, to give women Peers equal right to sit in your Lordships' House. I am not greatly impressed by the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Badeley. One is that no woman has ever had a Writ of Summons. It is quite possible to get here without a Writ of Summons. I sit here myself without a Writ of Summons. Scottish Representative Peers do not have Writs of Summons. Therefore, I do not think that argument will apply. The broad principle that women are now admitted to equality with men in almost every sphere of life is accepted and I think we should therefore agree to their admission here. But I beg your Lordships to beware of the idea that the reform of the House of Lords on some: laborate basis is going to be successful. I do not want to repeat myself, but I beg you to reflect upon the history of the House and consider whether we would not he wise to give the evolutionary process a chance by allowing the creation of Life Peers, agreeing to this Motion and not thinking it necessary to provide an elaborate scheme which would produce such drastic and far-reaching changes that within a very few years the House would be unrecognisable and much less serviceable than it is to-day.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend the Leader of the House has asked me to express the view of His Majesty's Government, and accordingly I do so. The first thing I want to say is that we think this is mainly a matter which should be left to an entirely free vote of the House. We do not seek to give anybody any guidance, still less to exert any compulsion to vote in any particular Lobby. The fact that the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition has interpreted this I Motion as he has makes me, speaking for myself, all the mere ready to accept it. After all, when the Conservative devises liberal things, the Liberal should be the first to rejoice. The sense in which the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition expounded his understanding of this Motion relieves me from any difficulty that I might otherwise have felt, for I confess frankly that I should have felt this difficulty. On the other hand, I am entirely in favour of women being treated on exactly the same basis as men. I see no reason whatever against it. Yet, on the other hand, I am not in favour—and here I differ from the noble Lord who has just spoken, Lord Balfour of Burleigh—of the hereditary principle. Consequently, this Motion in part is wholly acceptable to me and in part is not acceptable, which leaves me in a position of some difficulty.

With regard to the matter of the competence of women, it seems to me, with the greatest respect, that those who doubt the competence of women to play their part in his House are regarding women as they used to be regarded in Jane Austen's days, as clinging females who have the vapours from time to time. It bears no relation whatever to the facts as we know them to-day. Anybody who knows the services that women rendered during the war will realise that. I am quite unable to bring myself to approve any intellectual test being applied to women that is not applied to men. I deny entirely that the presence of women in your Lordships' House would have any adverse effect upon its deliberations. I have seen women come into my own profession, I have seen women sitting on the Bench, and I have no doubt at all in saying that what they have done has improved things; and so they have, I think, in any other sphere in which they have taken part. On this somewhat public occasion I must not reveal Cabinet secrets, but I have had the honour of sitting in a Cabinet with a woman and, if there was some eminently practical question to be considered—for instance, as to how much of a certain commodity a normal household ate—it was the woman to whom we all turned. She knew the answer when the men did not. I have no shade of a doubt but that women have a distinctive contribution which they might make in your Lordships' House.

The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, who on this occasion is my leader too, asked me some rather difficult questions about the position of women Peers in their own right, and as to their right to sit in another place. So far as their right to vote is concerned, there can be no question in that regard. That is expressly provided for by Section 9 (5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1918, which is as follows: Any incapacity of a Peer to vote at an election arising from the status of a Peer shall not extend to Peeresses in their own right. Therefore, so far as voting is concerned, they have the right. By reason of the Act of Union with Ireland, an Irish Peer can, of course, sit in another place. Formerly Palmerston did, and at the present day Earl Winterton does. They are illustrations of that fact. But that is not so with regard to Scotland, since there was no corresponding section in the Act of Union with Scotland. It has never happened yet that a Peeress in her own right has tendered herself at the Bar of another place, claiming to be elected. We must remember that the Committee of Privileges in another place might have something to say about that. I would not for one moment assert one way or the other what the true position is. I am glad to think that it will not be for me to decide it—at any rate, not without a great deal of care and consideration.

We now come to the question of the hereditary principle which is enshrined in this Motion. Here I want to call your Lordships' attention to this fact. It is interesting sometimes to re-read our old debates. We had a discussion on March 4, 1946, when a series of Motions were on the Paper. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, moved two, at any rate, and I think three, but two of them were these: That women should be eligible to be made Peers on the same terms as men. and, secondly, That it is expedient to create a limited number of Life Peers to sit and vote as Peers in this House. Lord Chesham countered by a Motion, That it is inexpedient to decide upon isolated proposals for changing the composition of this House. and Lord Mansfield had a Motion on the Order Paper: That Peeresses in their own right should be eligible to sit and vote in this House. With regard to that last Motion—that of Lord Mansfield—Lord Addison, before it was moved and in anticipation that it would be moved, stated that the Government would accept it and do their best to give facilities for a Bill. At a later stage I said the same thing: that we would accept it and give facilities for a Bill to carry it out. But Lord Mansfield never moved it, and although the noble Viscount the Leader of the House pointed out that somebody else might move it for him, and he looked around at the Benches opposite and his own Benches and everywhere else to find if some noble Lord would rise and move the Motion which stood in the name of Lord Mansfield, not a single person did so. That is the fact—not a single person rose to move the Motion which stood in the name of Lord Mansfield, and consequently the noble Viscount the Leader of the House moved that the House be adjourned. If any one wants the reference to that debate it will be found in Volume 139 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, Column 1064.


Might I ask a question on that point? Is it suggested that it was because nobody was in favour of the Motion, or because nobody knew what the procedure was in the case of a Motion not moved and standing in somebody else's name?


I hardly think that is so, because, as the noble Viscount the Leader of the House pointed out, we were sincerely desirous of ascertaining the views of the House on this matter. We were not ourselves prepared to move it but it was hoped somebody else would. The noble Viscount said: As far as I understand, what has happened is this, that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, does not propose to move his Motion, and no other member of the House proposes to move it. I therefore move that the House do now adjourn. That is how the matter was left.

Neither Lord Addison nor I desire to retire from the position we then adopted; we both said that had the Motion come up on that day we would have voted in favour of it and done our best to see that legislation was devised to carry it through. But since then the whole situation has undergone a completely revolutionary change. What is the Position to-day? After that, we had the meetings with regard to the Parliament Bill, at which Lord Addison and I were two of the delegates. I have always thought that we very nearly succeeded; we just failed, and I think it was a great pity we did fail. I think we missed a very great opportunity (I am not blaming anybody at all) and if it ever comes again—things have a nasty habit of not coming again in this life—I hope we may succeed. We were not there to agree, we were there to formulate an agreement which the three sides undertook to submit to their respective Parties as part of an entire agreement regarding powers, composition and everything. I select the material points here: The present right to attend and vote based solely on heredity should not, by itself, constitute a qualification for admission to a reformed Second Chamber. When that had been submitted to the noble Marquess's Party, I am afraid Lord Balfour of Burleigh would not have approved of it, but it at was what we were going to do.


I should accept that part of it absolutely.


I am very glad to hear that. Another point was: Members of the Second Chamber should be styled Lords of Parliament and be appointed on grounds of personal distinction or public service. That certainly is not hereditary. Women should be capable of being appointed Lords of Parliament in like manner as men. That seemed to me the right line on which to tackle this problem, and at that stage we certainly would have submitted those proposals to our respective Parties for their agreement. But, as I have said, that opportunity was lost. It is not for me to say what the position is to-day—I express no opinion on it at all because I do not know—but I do say that, so far as my Party is concerned, I am perfectly certain a they would not agree to any principle of basing a Second Chamber, whatever its powers may be, on the hereditary principle.

Therefore, if we are asked now to take the first step to reforming this House by adding some twenty-four people, or whatever the number may be, based on the hereditary principle, it seems to me we should be taking a step which is in the right direction in that they are women, but in the wrong direction in that the proposition is based on the hereditary principle. If the Motion had been to allow in certain women Life Peers by reason of their services and distinction, then I would be entirely in agreement with it. Therefore, when I read this Motion I felt in a difficulty. I am completely in favour of the equality of the sexes but I am not in favour of hereditary. It is not for me now to make any promise or to give any guarantee as to what may happen in the future about the composition of the House of Lords. I am in no sense qualified to do that and I am not holding out any prospects. Then it was that the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition expounded this Motion in the generous and liberal sense which I have indicated, and all my difficulties disappeared. I humbly venture to regard myself in this as his disciple, and I accept the Motion in the same way as he does; for my part, I should most certainly, on a free vote, vote in favour.

There is only one other matter I want to add and that is in deference to the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Badeley. He knows far more about this than anybody in this House. I do not think that the legislation would be by any means simple; if we had legislation I believe it would be difficult. I think we should have to come to some very difficult decisions, for instance, about the Scottish representatives, and also about the possibility of peerages being called out of abeyance, and so on. But I said on the last occasion, and I repeat now, that our Parliamentary draftsmen are very competent people. "Where there is a will there is a way," and although I am confident that it would not be an easy piece of legislation to draft, if we decided that such legislation should be drafted I think it could be done.

I do not want to trouble your Lordships with the history of these Peerages by Writ. It is an odd thing, and I think every historian now agrees that they are really founded upon a complete historical misapprehension and based upon a legal fiction. The idea that the summoning by Edward I, or his successor Monarch, in those early days, of a particular individual to attend him at his Parliament at Westminster, or wherever it might have been, meant that he thereby intended (if the man sat, but not otherwise) the peerage to be inherited either by males or females, is really a complete fiction. But there it is. These ladies are Peeresses in their own right. I leave the matter in this way. I say, quite sincerely, first, that I believe the presence of Peeresses in our House would not only not detract from the work we do but would improve that work. Secondly, I do not want to take the first step towards reforming the House of Lords by adding a number of other Peers or Peeresses based on the hereditary principle. I believe that this matter ought to be taken into consideration not by this Parliament within the last year of its life, but at some future occasion, if and when the general topic of reform of the House of Lords is introduced.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to cover at any length the points with which the noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have dealt; but obviously there are one or two matters which I should briefly discuss. As regards the speech of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, I hope that in the course of my speech I made it quite clear that I realised nothing could be done until the matter had been submitted to the Sovereign and his sanction obtained to any steps that were taken. As regards the noble Marquess's somewhat qualified acceptance of this Motion, it might be worth while to look at the terms of the Motion itself—namely, To move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House, without prejudice to any such change in the general composition of the House as may be subsequently effected …". Pausing there for a moment, may I say that those words had a good deal more efficacy when the Motion stood in its original form—namely, with the inclusion of the words "in the course of the present Parliament," rather than as it stands now, with the words "as soon as may be practicable." The words without prejudice to any such change in the general composition of the House as may be subsequently effected"— mean, surely, that the carrying of the Resolution to-day that "steps should be taken" will not prejudice any further or other arrangements that may be made in revising the general composition of the House as regards Peeresses in their own right. The phrase steps should be taken to obtain leave to introduce legislation as soon as may be practicable is rather a question of opinion. It generally is. The noble Marquess may take one view and I may take another. But what I want to make quite clear to the House—and it is right that I should—is that although at the moment the House might not think it right to do so, supposing no steps were taken to introduce legislation for the reform of this House within what I regarded as a reasonable time, it would be open, on the terms of this Motion, for me or anybody else to propose to this House, since a reasonable time had expired and no steps had been taken to reform the House, that the matter should be considered as a separate piece of legislation.


May I interrupt the noble Marquess? I am not quite happy about it even now, because the proviso which he read, namely: without prejudice to any such change in the general composition of the House as may be subsequently effected, indicates that steps should be taken as soon as practicable, and would precede the general scheme of reform which would subsequently be effected. That creates a difficulty. I wonder whether the noble Marquess would agree to leave out these words without prejudice to any such change in the general composition of the House as may be subsequently effected. The result of leaving out those words would be that we could interpret as soon as may be practicable as we thought fit. If he felt that he wished to bring in a separate Bill he would be entitled to do so, but it would not bind us, if we did not consider the time appropriate, to support that Bill when it was introduced.


I think I said that in my view the words which the noble Marquess has read out bear less validity since the Motion has been amended than they did before. I would be prepared at this stage to leave out those words "without prejudice" and so on, because I think the ground is really covered by the words "as soon as may be practicable." The question of what is practicable is largely a matter of opinion.


May I say that it would be quite satisfactory to us if the noble Marquess would move his Motion with those words omitted?


My Lords, then I want to say only one word on the antiquarian disquisition of my noble friend Lord Badeley. The fact that no Writ of Summons has ever been issued to a woman carries very little weight with me. There was a time when no woman under a Writ of Summons ever presented herself for admission to the House of Commons. That situation was cured by Statute, and I am reassured by what the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has said, that it can be cured no doubt as a result of some research by a legislative enactment to-day.

My Lords, the noble Lord seemed to be afraid that there was a danger that the principle would be extended to include far more than twenty-four ladies, and it might result in this House being swamped by a regiment of women. After all, there are some 880 members of this House, and we can afford to have that number of twenty-four considerably increased without the extraneous relation between the male and female population of this country being reproduced within the walls of this House. Certainly I did not propose—and far be it from me to attempt it—to say whet should be the exact method of enabling Scottish Peeresses to arrive as members of this House. In the course of the few years that I have been a member I have learned never to lift up my voice on any matter which could be even remotely and indirectly interpreted as affecting Scotland, and I will leave that for other persons better qualified to discuss.

I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, found himself unable to support the Motion. I did not quite follow the grounds upon which he formed his view. It seems that he would be in favour of a large number of people coming in, but that he it; against a small number of people coming in first. However, he indicated that that, as he quite rightly said, was not within the four corners of my Motion.

The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack made some reference to the debate on the Motion that stood in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, and a subsequent Motion in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, in 1946. I did not intend to go in any detail into the history of that and I do not propose to do so now, particularly in the absence of the noble Earl. But my recollection of what happened was that although the noble Viscount the Leader of the House had made a statement on Lord Mansfield's Motion in anticipation of his moving it, in fact the noble Earl took the somewhat unusual course not only of not moving it but of saying that he was opposed to the contents of it—that he had put it down as a blocking Motion. In those circumstances, I think many members of the House were placed in a situation in which they were uncertain as to the procedure when one noble Lord put down a Motion and then elected not to move it. There were noble Lords who certainly supported the contents of the Motion but who did not know whether they were entitled, or perhaps did not presume at short notice, to step in and take over responsibility for the Motion.


My Lords, I rise only for one moment to say that I entirely agree with what has fallen from the lips of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. I followed that debate carefully throughout because I was closely concerned with the matter myself. By the time it became possible for anyone to move Lord Mansfield's Motion there was a general feeling in the House: "We do not want to hear any more about this; let us get away."


May I make a brief contribution to this controversy? In Column 1062 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of that debate the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, is recorded as saying: The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has told us he is not prepared to move that Motion. Therefore we cannot proceed with that unless somebody else moves it in his place. I am not sure how the Rules of Order stand with regard to that matter, but I doubt whether anyone can take up a Motion which has not been moved unless the mover is willing that that should be done. On the next page we find it recorded that Lord Addison said: I am advised that the noble Earl's Motion could be called on, even if the Motion to adjourn the debate on the noble Viscount's Motion were accepted; it would not prejudice the noble Earl's Motion being moved. So far as we are concerned, if nobody moves it, we will understand that nobody wishes to move it. … So the matter was made quite plain by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. Clearly, he spoke after having obtained advice, as it is always wise to do in such matters.


On this matter may I add one contribution? In Column 1064 of the report of those proceedings your Lordships will find the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, reported as saying: May I point out that because the Motion has been withdrawn, it must not be assumed that therefore the House is against it? I have referred to this merely to bring out that, as I think noble Lords who were present at that debate will recall, there was—designedly, I think, on the part of some persons—an atmosphere of confusion in the House at the failure to move the Motion, and this led to the matter lapsing and not being pursued.

The noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack has said that he does not believe in reforming the House by extension of the hereditary principle. With all respect to him, I doubt whether that is a very convincing argument. We have discussed in the not 'very recent past what most of us mean by "reforming the House." We did not mean by "reforming the House" the inclusion of twenty-four Peeresses in their own right. What was shown by the agreement achieved at the conference of the Leaders of the three Parties was that Parliament believed that something a great deal more comprehensive and drastic was intended. To say that this is a first step in general reform of the House is not, I think, entirely in accord with what most of us would understand by the general reform of the House.

I have said before, and I would repeat it only briefly, in answer to what the noble and learned Viscount said, that this is not, in my view, in any way an attempt to begin upon a general reform of the House. It is merely an attempt to remove an anomaly which has existed far too long, by ensuring, at least in the present composition of the House—not the future composition of the House—less anomaly and more logic and justice. I am in a little difficulty because opposition to the Motion has shown itself, though possibly present, certainly silent. At the same time, if there are those who desire to show their opposition to the Motion I think that they should be given an opportunity of doing so. I think that the opinion of the House should be invited so that those who oppose the Motion may at least have the chalice to register their opposition and those in favour of it may, I hope, set a precedent which some Government may put into active operation in the not too distant future.


My Lords, may I ask for some clarification about this? Are we being asked to vote in favour of a separate Bill giving these Peeresses the right to sit in the House, or are we being asked to say, if and when reform of the House is considered, that the claims of Peeresses should be considered on the same level as those of male Peers? I should vote for the one but should vote against the other, and at the moment I do not know which it is we are being asked to vote on.


I had hoped that I had made it clear. May I read the Motion as I now propose that it should be moved? That in the opinion of this House steps should he taken to obtain leave to introduce legislation as soon as may be practicable, to confer upon women Peers, who under existing conditions are not qualified to take their seats in this House, the same rights, duties and privileges as are now enjoyed by male Peers having seat, place and voice in this House. I now beg leave formally to withdraw the original Motion and I will then move it in the new form.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House steps should be taken to obtain leave to introduce legislation as soon as may be practicable, to confer upon women Peers, who under existing conditions are not qualified to take their seats in this House, the same rights, duties and privileges as are now enjoyed b3, male Peers having seat, place and voice in this House.—(The Marquess of Reading.)

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, may I too ask the noble Marquess for some clarification? I have said that I am prepared to vote for the Motion, whilst being against the hereditary principle, and I should desire to see this matter considered as it has been put by the noble Lord who has just spoken. When the whole question of reform comes up we shall certainly treat women on the same footing as men. Would the noble Marquess consider—I am asking him this because it is difficult, on the spur of the moment, to realise the effect of leaving out the words which he is now omitting from his Motion—that by voting for his Motion as it now stands I am in any way committing myself to the hereditary principle? That is what I am not willing to do.


You would not be committing yourself to the hereditary principle. But I should take it that you were committing yourself to supporting the proposition that steps should be taken to obtain leave to introduce legislation as soon as may be practicable to confer upon hereditary Peeresses the rights End privileges now enjoyed by male Peers. When, "as soon as practicable" may be is a matter which we may have to discuss in the future. What I want to make clear is that I should not consider myself or anyone else debarred by this Motion from bringing in a Bill in the terms of the Motion if the Government take no action. If, happily, reform of the composition of the House makes that unnecessary, so much the better.


My Lords, I think we are getting much nearer to an understanding of the position. I gather that the noble Marquess would not feel debarred from introducing a Bill. But if some of us voted for the Motion now, on general principle, but in the future refused to support such a Bill, on tie ground that we did not think there was practical utility in introducing it at that particular juncture, may I take it that he would not feel we had gone back on our vote to-day?


My Lords, the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, epitomises very clearly the dilemma which, quite frankly, I feel. If this Motion means that we are in favour of the introduction as soon as may be practicable of a Bill that would bring into this House, as members, women who are Peers by heredity, I am against it. If it means that in any subsequent reform of the House women Peers, whatever their qualifications, will be treated on the same basis as male Peers, then I am in agreement with it. But I am afraid that as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, interprets the Motion, it means the former. If so, I must vote against it.


My Lords, the situation is getting a little intricate. I will endeavour, having in the past tried to apply cross-examination to other people, to stand up to it as well as I can myself. I am not prepared to accept the interpretation which the noble Viscount has put upon the Motion. As I said at the beginning of my speech, it was not intended to be a Motion which should serve as a basis for an academic discussion as to whether or not women should be admitted on the same terms as men. That I have ruled out from the beginning, and after this debate has taken place I could not possibly accept it now.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, may I add a word I hope by way of clarification?—though I am not sure that it will be. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, states the position as I see it myself and the grounds on which I shall vote on this Motion. As I see it, the situation is much simpler than has been suggested in the observations made from various points of view. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, to whose speech I listened with great attention, felt that no doubt in the near future there would be a general reform in the House of Lords. He thought that the admission of women on equal terms with men would form part of that reform, and whether the present Government or another were in office, he felt pretty confident that it would come.


I was not so persuaded as the noble Marquess, Lord Reading. I hoped and willed that it would come up again. I did not say that I was confident it would come up.


Of course not. The view the noble Marquess was taking to-day was that he had at the back of his mind that before very long the whole matter would be dealt with, so that this particular question would be swept in and dealt with also. I remember my late Leader, Mr. Asquith, saying that the reform of the composition of the House of Lords "brooks no delay." That was in the year 1911 or 1912—thirty-seven years ago&! To-day there has been quoted a speech by Lord Birkenhead in this House in which he said it was inconceivable that the Government then in power would leave office and face a General Election before the House of Lords was reformed. That was twenty-four years ago. Suppose the hopes of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, are not fulfilled; that year after year goes by, and ten years hence it is found that no change has been made in the composition of the House of Lords, failing an agreement, perhaps, on powers. Are we to say that it would be a good thing, during all the ten years intervening between now and then, that there should not be any women in this House?

The matter is very simple. Ought there to be women in this House or not? In the old days the members of this House were all landowners, but it was said, "Bring in finance, commerce and industry," and they were brought in. Then it was said that it was a class assembly, with no people representing the working class. They have been brought in. Now there is still no one here representing the greater half of the population; and for that reason this House fails to be as representative as it might be. It would be a great advantage to our work to have ten or twenty women members, as they have twenty to thirty Members in another place. We are voting now on whether we are in favour of the principle that this House should deny equal rights, whether hereditary or non-hereditary, to women. So long as it remains a hereditary Chamber then this principle applies to hereditary Peeresses. If it ceases to be hereditary, or if after a time it becomes partly hereditary, then, similarly, women will be equal. What we are now voting on, to my mind, is whether we think the Sex Disqualification Act shall apply in terms and in principle to the membership of the Second Chamber.


My Lords, it is an odd thing that whenever we debate this subject we get into a frightful muddle. The reaction on me is this: having announced in my speech that I was going to vote in favour of the Motion, I think now I will vote against it.


My Lords, would the noble and learned Viscount advise those who oppose the introduction of Peeresses into the House in any shape or form to vote against the Motion or to support it?


I think the noble Lord's task is an easy one.


My Lords, I do not think the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, would go so far as to say that there should be no introduction of a Bill, by him or somebody who agrees with him, until a general scheme of reform of this House comes along. The only thing most of us feel is that while we are in favour in principle of the introduction of these ladies as part of a scheme of general reform, we do not want to be tied by voting for this Motion to support an individual Bill which the noble Marquess proposes to introduce. The more we look at this, the more our difficulties become clear. The difficulty I find is the word "practicable." The noble Marquess would take that to be as soon as it is practicable for him to draft a Bill and bring it in. I take it to mean "as soon as it is practicable for the general composition of this House to include ladies." I do not want it to be thought that by voting for this Motion I am in any way hound to support the introduction of any individual Bill. If we can have that absolute assurance, we shall be happy.


My Lords, the position has been clearly put by my noble friend Lord Samuel. So long as there is a hereditary system, the

hereditary Peeresses should be included. When that system changes, the whole position of women should be reconsidered. I am perfectly prepared to give the assurance for the moment which the noble Marquess requires.


My Lords, like the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, I am most anxious. I heard his speech with great relief. As the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said, the situation is very confused. I understand now, from the interpretation of the Motion, that if we vote in favour of the Motion we vote in favour of the introduction—either here or now or as soon as is practicable—of a Bill authorising these women, Peers by heredity, to be added to the membership of this House, without reform otherwise of the composition of the House. I cannot possibly agree. I understand it to mean that and that is the only reason I shall vote against it.


My Lords, I hesitate to enter this debate because everybody who speaks appears to make the issue more confused. My poor simple mind never had the least difficulty about this Motion. It seemed to me to be in English and to have a clear meaning. I cannot imagine why it should be thought that by accepting the Motion I am bound to anything further. I am bound to the Motion and nothing else, It does not matter in the least what other people wish to do; that we shall have to deal with later, I hope we shall now vote simply on this Motion, without any interpretations, which are worthy of theologians but not worthy of men.

On Question, Whether the said Resolution be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 45; Not-Contents, 27.

Rutland, D. Allenby, V. Fairfax of Cameron, L.
Camrose, V. Gifford, L.
Reading, M. Cecil of Chelwood, V. Hailey, L.
Salisbury, M. FitzAlan of Derwent, V. Harlech, L.
Willingdon, M. Samuel, V. Howard of Glossop, L.
Simon, V. Layton, L.
Beatty, E. Marley, L.
Cromer, E. Ailwyn, L. Milne, L.
De La Warr, E. Amherst of Hackney, L. Monkswell, L.
Fortescue, E. Balfour of Burleigh, L. O'Hagan, L.
Gainsborough, E. [Teller.] Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.) Pethick-Lawrence, L.
Graham, E. (D. Montrose.) Carrington, L. Polwarth, L.
Perth, E. Chorley, L. Rea, L.
Ypres, E. Dowding, L. Rennell, L.
Sempill, L. Teviot, L. Wolverton, L. [Teller.]
Strathcona and Mount Royal, L. Trent, L. Wright, L.
Jowitt, V. (L. Chancellor.) St. Davids, V. [Teller.] Faringdon, L.
Stansgate, V. Grenfell, L.
Addison, V. (L. Privy Seal.) Hawke, L.
Audley, L. Holden, L.
Brooke and Warwick, E. [Teller.] Badeley, L. Llewellin, L.
Broughshane, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Dudley, E. Charnwood, L. Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, L.
Iddesleigh, E. Cherwell, L. Mancroft, L.
Munster, E. Craigmyle, L. Morrison, L.
Crook, L. Shepherd, L.
Long, V. Ellenborough, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Resolution agreed to accordingly.