§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. STANGER (Kensington, N.)
in moving that this Bill be now read a second time said: This Bill is similar to the one introduced last session by my hon. friend the Member for North St. Pancras, which was considered during the whole of one sitting. It is a Bill of which the aim is identical with that of the Resolution proposed in the first session of this Parliament by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil. This, therefore, is neither the first nor the second time in this Parliament that the principle will have been discussed, and, having regard to the number of discussions which have taken place out of doors, I cannot but think that there will be a general feeling that in the course of this afternoon we may be able to proceed to a vote. The object of this Bill is to remove the disability which at present attaches to women at Parliamentary elections. The section which provides for that I think requires no explanation. With reference to the second, section, I may repeat what my hon. friend stated to the House last year, 213 namely, that the section is rendered necessary by the decision of the Courts in a case where, in the matter of the municipal vote a married woman, a householder paying rates and taxes, living apart from her husband, and for all practical purposes single, was refused a vote because of her status as a married woman. I have nothing further to add with reference to the details of the Bill. The object is perfectly well known. It simply aims at the removal of the disability to which I have referred. I am aware that in presenting this Bill to the House I shall have to encounter not only what I may call legitimate opposition, that is the opposition of hon. Members who are not in favour of granting women the franchise, but the opposition of some hon. Members who, while they agree with me in supporting female enfranchisement, object to this particular Bill. I should like, before I come to what I call legitimate opposition, to address one or two observations to those of my friends who take that view. I desire to point out that when it is said that this is a limited Bill the description is not correct. Its object is to remove the disability which at present attaches to women, and it attains that object completely. Of course, if it is complained that the Bill does not aim at a number of other objects, that is a totally different point. I understand that in their opinion, the Bill, besides dealing with this one point, which to my mind should be dealt with quite separately, ought to contain a number of far-reaching provisions with which I heartily agree, and that I should attempt to induce this House to consent to the Second Reading of the Bill so overloaded. It appears to me that there are two objections to that course. In the first place, I am heartily in favour of all the suggestions of my hon. friends, for I know too well from my knowledge of the registration; laws that they are a perfect medley of legal conundrums and political anomalies, and I should like to make a clean sweep of them. I am in favour of a simple residential qualification, a shorter qualifying period, putting the lodger and the tenant on an equal footing, and abolishing plural voting; but let me ask hon. Members to consider what would happen on the Second Reading debate if I were 214 to provide for all these far-reaching matters in this Bill. We should have a discussion of a more, or less academic character, and even if we did get to a, vote, it would throw little light on the matter with which this Bill deals. We should have arrayed against us hon. Members who, while in favour of giving votes to women might be wholly opposed to these other provisions. I trust that before the end of this Parliament the Government will bring in a comprehensive measure dealing with all these questions of franchise and Parliamentary reform. Having taken counsel with others who are more versed in Parliamentary procedure than I am, I have come to the conclusion that if the Bill should receive a Second Reading this afternoon the tribunal to which it should be sent is a Committee of the Whole House. I, therefore, beg to say that if this Bill is read a second time I propose to move that it be so referred.
Coming to the legitimate opposition to this Bill, I am glad to think that the question has long passed that stage at which a burst of ridicule was thought to be a sufficient answer. Our opponents, or at least the more thoughtful of them, are; now agreed that a strong case can be made out—a strong prima facie case—but they contend that there are overmastering considerations which displace that prima facie case. They recognise as we do, that if a woman is called upon to obey the law, and to pay the taxes the law imposes, that if her welfare and the welfare of those whom she holds most dear are affected by the law, and that the question whether the law is well or badly administered is one in which she is deeply interested, a case is at once made out unless it can be displaced by overmastering considerations on the other side, that woman should have a voice in determining the people by whom the laws are to be made, and the taxes imposed, and to whose hands the administration of the laws is to be entrusted. I should like to examine briefly some of those so-called, overmastering considerations which displace this prima facie case, and I desire to say at the outset that I admit the validity of none of them, unless, it makes good one of these two propositions—either that the voter is personally unfit to vote or that 215 the exercise of the right will be attended by some public danger. Let us see whether either of these propositions can be made good. We heard when this question was in its earlier stages a great deal of two arguments, one of which was that the mental capacity of a woman was inferior to that of the average male voter, and the other that by some decree of nature, which it was blasphemy to contravene, a woman's sphere was very narrowly restricted, and that she ought not to concern herself with other than domestic affairs. I think the march of events has swept away both of these objections, or if I may vary the figure, they are outposts of prejudice which have been captured by women themselves. We have only to look round to see the number of occupations, not domestic, some of them public, or quasi-public in their character, now filled by women with credit and even with distinction. We have only to remember that in every other governing body except this—in all our local government arrangements—women can not merely exercise the vote as freely as men, but are qualified to sit on these governing bodies. Unless, therefore, one is prepared to condemn the whole trend of events in this direction, I do not see how anyone can with consistency bring forward these antiquated arguments. I know it is said that home is woman's sphere, and no doubt in a certain sense, and in regard to a certain number of women, that is true; but I know there are thousands of working women to whom home is merely the name of the place, often a very comfortless one, where she spends the short interval which divides one weary day from another. If you take other women who are more happily circumstanced, and to whom in a sense home is their sphere, let me ask this House to remember that our legislation is increasingly concerned with domestic matters. I need not go through the list of measures—education year after year, care of the young, the feeding of children, even the marriage laws which are at the very root and basis of home life, and if this is the case is it not a little pitiful that we should not only continue this exclusion, but imagine that we have brought forward some substantial argument in favour of it by repeating 216 these parrot phrases about home being the woman's sphere. Properly understood and properly applied the fact that home is a woman's sphere is a cogent reason for giving her the vote. In regard to woman's capacity there has been a strange distinction made between that which enables a woman to deal with municipal matters, and that which she would be called upon to exercise if she had to vote for a Member of Parliament. I cannot follow the distinction. What are these municipal matters as to which she is entitled to vote? And that is all the claim made here—all that we are asking here is, not that she shall make the laws, but that she shall be consulted as to who shall make them. In these municipalities enormous sums of money are spent, many of them are huge industrial concerns. Great questions have often to be discussed, and yet woman is fully entitled not only to vote for representatives, but also to sit and deal with these matters. But when we come to such questions as whether young people should smoke cigarettes, or whether there should be a reduction in the number of licensed houses, we are told that the purely municipal brain of woman is not able to grapple with matters of that sort, and that we must turn, forsooth, to the more towering masculine intellect of those voters who, we were told at a recent election, thought that free food meant food supplied at their own doors for nothing, and that the Government were responsible for the co sequences of a bad harvest. I cannot help thinking that the opponents of this principle had better do what has been done by one of the ablest of their number, and that is the Spectator newspaper. I find that in a recent number this admission was made, and it indicates the enormous advance the question has made during the past thirty years—It not because they are interior to men in morals and courage, in patriotism, or in intellectual powers. In heart and head the sexes are equal.It is said that women would become in some way degraded if they were allowed to take part in politics and vote at the polling booth. That is a mere sentimental objection. My point is that everything has already been conceded to women except the mere physical act of 217 going to the polling booth and marking the paper with a cross. You cannot go into any election without finding that women are taking part in politics. You invite them to take part in politics in connection with political associations and leagues. They form Liberal Associations and Primrose Leagues, they carry on the most vigorous propaganda. Many hon. Members come to this House by their assistance, and yet when it is proposed to make their power effective, you say, "Oh, it degrades them, and they will lose their refinement." I should like to take higher ground. I think the argument presupposes that women are more selfish than they really are, and that things which ought to be considered as mere temporary and accidental and unfortunate accompaniments of politics are their essential characteristics. We ought to look upon politics as one of the noblest objects in which either a woman's or a man's capacity can be engaged. What are politics but an attempt on the part of the State to solve those problems which press upon everybody—problems on the right solution of which the happiness and welfare of the people depend? I am quite sure that this argument of women losing their refinement by taking part in politics will not find an echo in the breasts of most women. They have a very sure instinct as to what is fitting and what is not. They know what they may touch without defilement, and many of the noblest of their sex would repudiate this argument with scorn. There is another favourite objection, and that is that women cannot work like men, nor fight nor perform the duties of a policeman. I wish to speak with all respect of this argument; but it is rather difficult to do so. There are a great many male voters who cannot fight. They would as soon think of flying, and I am not sure but that they would prefer to fly if they were called upon to fight. I do not know how many hon. Members in this House would be able to stand a navy's work for more than half-an-hour. I am quite willing to admit that some social service ought to be rendered by every member of the community, and women render many social services at which your navy or 218 your fighting man would prove himself a sorry bungler. But there are some voters who perform no social service at all, and what do you do to them? Do you disqualify them? Do you say they must not go to the poll? On the contrary, you often double and treble their voting power, and you place them on the illustrious roll of the plural voter, who, we were told the other day, is thrifty and industrious and deserves to be encouraged. There is one other topic which seems to impress the Spectator and a number of other objectors to woman suffrage. They say it is so difficult to grant the franchise to women because there are so many of them. It is a very curious notion of justice, that we should deny to women a right, not because it is not a just right, but because those who claim it are really too numerous. I should have thought the greater the number the greater the injustice, but the argument is followed up by the Spectator in the most ingenious manner. The writer in the Spectator imagines that if the vote was conceded to women a crisis must occur in which men and women might find themselves in the sharpest conflict. My answer is that it is the merest moonshine. If there was the likelihood of collision it would have occurred in municipal matters. I do not say, of course, that the results would not be more serious in Parliamentary matters, but human nature being the same, I say the tendency to that collision is just as strong in municipal matters as in Parliamentary matters; and I challenge my friends to point out any single instance since 1869, when the municipal franchise was given to women when such collision has ever occurred. I think these fantastic hypotheses do more credit to the ingenuity of their constructors than to the sturdy, masculine common sense on which men are wont to pride themselves. Then, it is said that there is no demand for the vote. There again I meet the statement with a point blank denial, though I am quite aware that a great many women do not desire it. It is perfectly certain that there is a demand both broad in volume and passionate in its intensity—and moreover, a demand which no Government can long afford to refuse. There is another argument sometimes heard: 219 that the women will all vote Tory. I think these forecasts are usually falsified by the events. One is reminded very much of the prophecies made in the course of the debates in regard to the extension of the franchise in 1866 and in 1884. But I do not see why we of the Liberal Party should take any lower grounds now than then, and refuse to concede what would otherwise be an act of justice merely because we are afraid that women would not exercise their vote in the way we should like. It is said, with great truth, that the demand cannot be conceded until the predominant partner is converted. True, but I think that that Conversion is proceeding very satisfactorily. I was very much struck by the fact that in the accounts of recent by-elections it has become almost a common form to state that both candidates are in favour of woman suffrage, and I am glad to find that in the election which is now proceeding the Liberal candidate has said that, subject to certain conditions, he is in favour of the extension of the franchise to women. I fully expect to find in the lobby in support of this Bill the hon. Member for South Leeds, the hon. Member for Worcester City, and the hon. and gallant Member for Mid Devon. How this House stands in the matter we shall know a little later when the vote is taken. I have been told that there are 420 Members in this House who have given pledges in favour of the proposal. Of course, I do not vouch for these figures, nor do I pretend to know the circumstances or qualifications subject to which these pledges were given, but I think that this is quite certain, that assurances have been given which have led women to expect, and reasonably expect, that a very considerable number of Members will support such a Bill as is now before the House. Let us see what is the kind of excuse which is given for not keeping these pledges. One is that the pledges given were of an academic character. Academic approval of a proposal is this that you approve of it just as long as there is no chance of its being carried into law. And a pious opinion is one which becomes an impiety directly it is translated into action I do not object to these qualifications but common honesty demands that 220 such qualifications should be made quite clear. It may be said that the action of the suffragettes affords a reason why those pledges should not be fulfilled. I should like to say something with regard to the action of the suffragettes. I have from the very first condemned certain of their actions. I have done it openly on the platform and in the Press—publicly and in private. The methods I mean are those of actual illegality, of concerted attempts to break up public meetings, and the invasion of the domestic privacy of Ministers. I hope that no words which fall from me will give the slightest encouragement to such methods in the conduct of the campaign. But what follows? I hope, that this House will not be guilty of the fault often imputed to the female sex, and to which men are not always superior, of letting their cal n judgment be overbalanced by a wave of emotion. I have always thought that the true doctrine is this, that if in the course of a political agitation excesses are committed, while you must preserve law and order, and punish the transgressors with suitable punishments, you ought at the same time to search out the discontent which lies beneath the agitation and apply the appropriate remedy. I fail to see how we on the Liberal side, who have preached this doctrine for so many years, should not apply it to the case of women in their demand for the franchise. After all, what they have done is no worse than cattle-driving! For my part, I refuse to set aside the convictions of a life-time because of these methods. I will not allow the suffragettes to intimidate me into doing the n an injustice. I hope we shall tare the 400 into the lobby this afternoon, or if not, that we shall take all that is left of them—left of 400! How it may be time will show. I do not desire to keep the House longer, and I thank hon. Members for giving such an attentive hearing to one of the most inexperienced speakers. ['Oh!"] This is only the second time I have endeavoured to address this House, and I thank hon. Members in all sincerity for their indulgence. I trust that in the warmth of debate on a matter on which I have felt very deeply and strongly for years, I have not for one moment overstepped the proper bounds 221 of Parliamentary discussion. I trust that in voting this afternoon we shall not be influenced by either prejudice or undue timidity, for I am convinced that by bringing women into the realm of politics we will promote new and nobler ideals which will tend gradually but surely to raise the whole tone and character of our public life. I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.
§ MR. ACLAND (Yorkshire, Richmond)
, in seconding the Motion said that as that was the first time that he had ever ventured to say anything on the question of woman suffrage, he hoped the House would extend to him its indulgence. When the promoters of the Bill did him the honour late last night to ask him to second the Motion which hid been so ably proposed by the hon. Member for Kensington, they were candid enough, when he asked them the reason for their request, to say that they thought that they could trust him to be sufficiently brief, and that they could not say the same thing about other gentlemen. If he deserved that commendation at their hands, he had one other claim to speak on this matter, and to urge the claims of women to have the vote, and that was, that he was not doing anything that could possibly be of any political advantage to himself. He represented a constituency which returned him by a slender majority of 100, and that constituency contained hardly any working women who would be enfranchised by the Bill, but did contain many women who had retired, who were living on their independent means, who were samples of respectability and worshippers of the aristocracy, and who could implicitly be relied on to vote against him. The effect of this Bill in his constituency might also go against him in another way. The voters were mainly peasant farmers, and it might be found that faggot votes would be created by admitting the farmer's wife to a joint-tenancy in every case where it was sure they would vole for a Conservative candidate, while the landlord might refuse a joint-tenancy if any doubt existed on the matter, or if the farmer and his wife would vote for the Liberal candidate. If this Bill was carried there are two possibilities as 222 to what the effect would be. In the first place, the powers that be on whom they must rely in this matter, might think the question was already ripe for legislation, and that something should be allowed to be done within the limits of this Parliament. In that case it would be possible to amend the Bill fairly and simply so that no injustice such as those which he had mentioned would occur. For instance, it might be provided that whereas everyone now entitled to have a vote should continue to enjoy it as owner, occupier, or lodger, the wives or husbands of occupiers having a vote on those grounds should also be enfranchised. That would prevent the multiplication of votes on £20 houses, but would stop the possibility of more than one vote on £10 houses. If the other view were taken, that this question of extending the vote to women involved a great constitutional change, and could not be legislated upon until after a majority of men, or if you liked to look upon it from their point of view, a majority of women, had fairly expressed their views upon it, and therefore, until after another general election—even then it would be a great gain to get the Second Reading of the Bill carried, and have the matter really threshed out in Committee, and put in a practical form. Whatever Party might be bold enough to take the question up, and put it definitely before the people, it should be so treated that a practical proposal instead of a principle should be presented to the electors. The mover of the Second Reading of the Bill had so exhaustively dealt with the reasons why women should have a vote that it only remained for him to deal with the reasons put forward against it. People were exercising their brains as to what was likely to happen if women got the Vote, and they said the only logical basis of granting it was the basis of adult suffrage. With that he entirely agreed. He was in favour of adult suffrage. They also said that if it was brought on on this, basis, there would be more women voters, than men, and they would promptly combine together against men and by their majority would influence affairs entirely as they themselves desired. Hon. Members set up a terrible picture. They reminded them that women could 223 not serve as soldiers or sailors, and that by getting together and all going the same way, they would be able to decide matters of military service, for instance, or great Imperial questions, against the wishes of men upon whom the burden in those important matters must fall. There were some things, also, which men could not do, and it was at any rate, arguable whether the State would sooner come to grief if men ceased to bear arms or women children. The picture was drawn for them of women by their majority governing the country in their own way, and they were told that if that happened the Colonies which had set us so splendid an example in this matter would laugh at us and despise us for being governed by Women instead of by men. This country would never be governed by women, unless it was better that it should be governed by women than by men, and unless women became more capable of governing. Then these thinkers said they could not stop at simply giving women the vote, that they would demand to enter Parliament, and they drew a doleful and frightening picture of what might happen if women were once to sit in that Chamber. He would like to reply to all these thinkers and imaginers about what might happen if women all decided to take some common action against the wishes of men as John Stuart Mill did to someone when considering this argument about the Bill—The worst of these thinkers is that they so often think wrong.He held that there was no possibility of women all banding together and deciding matters their own way, regardless of the views of men, even if they obtained a majority. He could hardly imagine the Women's Primrose League joining hands with the Women's Liberal Federation or the Women's Co-operative Guild, or the Women's Tariff Reform League and the Women's Free Trade Union, making common cause, and adopting a fiscal policy which should, for instance, declare that the whole revenue of the country should be levied on cigars or snuff, and not on anything which women generally consumed. Things would go on much the same. Women would still be divided in politics. There was no fear, he thought, that by making common cause together 224 they would plunge the State into ruin. He believed this change would be good for men, good for women, and good for politics. He held it would be good for men because the grant of the vote to women would be the outward and visible sign that the days were over and gone when a woman could be treated as she had been, and was too frequently still by some men, as a piece of animated property to be abused as men pleased, or as they were by other men, as a play thing, to be shielded from all the serious questions of life. They had gone too far to be able to stand up for all these arguments now. They trusted women already far outside the domestic sphere, and relied on them for the most arduous and important work in local government, and in bringing up the rising generation. He thought it would be good for man that they should realise, by the grant of elementary rights of citizenship, that the old times and the old views of women had gone by, and that some new view must take their place. He believed the change would be good for women because it would stop once for all that appeal which was so often made to women's influence through their supposed power over their husbands or their sweethearts. They had all heard this appeal made time after time on public platforms. It was simply an appeal made to them, voteless now and only able to use their influence in this narrow way, to use their sex attraction. That appeal made any man who had a decent soul within him wince whenever he heard it. He believed that if they trusted women with the vote they would feel that their powers of reasoning and of deciding things as they thought right were put on the same level as those of man. They would get rid of these appeals for the use of sex influence, and that would be a great thing gained for women. He believed, finally, the change would be good for politics because it seemed to him that the matters of greatest importance in politics in future were those in which women were most vitally concerned. He often thought of what might be written about the beginning of the twentieth century by future historians. He thought they might not unreasonably say, in matters of housing and sweating, for instance, and education, and drink, 225 that it was an extraordinary thing that at the beginning of the twentieth century they trusted the hereditary aristocracy, which was composed of individuals who knew nothing about public-houses, and who had never sent their children to elementary schools, and that they did not trust the influence of women, whose everyday lives were vitally concerned with these tremendous problems. It was in the hope that that day's vote would, if only by a little, remove one of those anomalies from our system of government that he seconded the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney and Shetland)
said that the admirable speeches they had heard in support of the measure left nothing to be desired. Their moderation and the evident sincerity with which they were uttered did their authors the very highest credit. One remark made by the introducer of the Bill to the effect that 420 Members of the House were pledged to the measure reminded him of another matter which was also before the House and the country with regard to motor legislation, when they told him that practically every Member of the House of Commons was pledged to support the Automobile Club in any legislation that was proposed. According to election addresses, it seemed that out of 670 only sixty-one dealt either directly or indirectly with this question. He was not at all sure that pledges given in secret and surreptitiously were at all to be recommended as a reason why Members should support any such important measure as this. He objected to the measure—he was going to say for constitutional reasons, but when they talked about the British Constitution they often got into such a complete fog that it was as well to leave it out of the question. They had always held that property was not the foundation of the right to vote. From the earliest dawn of Parliamentary history, the men of the country assembled in concourse together and made the laws of the country. Property had crept on and crept on, and the landlords and ecclesiastics had gradually filched from the 226 people all their authority and their privilege, especially that right to vote. They who held those views and called themselves Liberals, who meant practical politics and not simply philandering philanthropy, were there to do what they could—they were but passing shadows, and their one and only ambition in being there was to try and leave the world a little better than they found it. They denied, as their fathers denied before them, that property was the basis of taxation as well as the basis of representation in this country, and they asserted, as their fathers asserted, that the only qualification for Members of the House was that of manhood suffrage. He would ask Liberals whether they were to be held up to derision as being an organised hypocrisy as had been said of another Party. Only last year they had passed a Plural Voting Bill, and when they addressed their fellows in the recess they had denounced the action of another place for interfering with that Bill. Now Members with a light and cheery heart proposed a Bill which would clearly increase the number of property voters in the country, the faggot voters, and the out-voters who practically controlled every election. He asked the House to consider whether this movement was founded on riot or revolution. If it was founded on riot, were they going to yield to clamour? If so, what an example was set before them. Many of them felt very keenly about vaccination, others had strong views about vivisection, and for himself he had specially strong views as regarded the iniquity of trawling and whaling in the Shetlands. Was he to be encouraged to bring his constituents down to break the Secretary for Scotland's windows and tie themselves to his railings? He did not hesitate to say that many of his constituents would gladly put in a certain time in gaol if they could bring any proper and due influence to bear on the Secretary for Scotland. He would not object to a few months hard labour himself if he could bring that pressure on the right hon. Gentleman that his constituents desired. If it was founded on riot, Members would see what a hopeless impasse they were in. If it was founded on revolution, this was one of the most revolutionising measures ever proposed in a great assembly 227 on a Friday afternoon by an absolutely irresponsible person. They were often told what a disaster it would be to the country if they had Home Rule or a great measure of tariff reform. Either Home Rule or tariff reform of the wildest description would be simply a gentle breeze to the tornado that would sweep over the country if they passed this Bill. One hon. Member had thrown out a remark about the action of our Colonial legislatures in this matter. But our Colonial legislatures had nothing to look after but themselves. They had grown up under our wing, and had no problems of defence or foreign affairs. They could do practically what they pleased. Let the House have regard to our responsibilities. Let them look at the responsibility which rested on, the shoulders of the Secretary, of State for Foreign Affairs, and hesitate long before they put such responsibility as that into the hands of an unknown quantity. Some people thought the millennium was at hand, or at least, they hoped so. Yet, not only did we know that Europe at the present time was an armed camp, but we had the great United States of America overshadowing Europe, and the great Eastern Powers overshadowing everything. Surely, then, this was not the time to call on our people to beat their swords into plough shares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Let the House think for a moment that in no responsible country that we knew of in the world, which had outside obligations, was there this franchise. They were not only concerned with domestic legislation in that House. If it were a question of temperance or factory legislation, he would be prepared to say that in such questions women reigned supreme. An hon. Member said to him the other day with regard to the Licensing Bill—I do not know what to do about this question, because I do not know how the women feel about the barmaids.Well, he himself did not know what the women felt about the barmaids, but he knew how he felt about them. If they had their way he believed ninety-nine out of a hundred Members of this House would vote strongly for the suppression of barmaids. [Cries of "No" and "Why?".] He would 228 tell the hon. Member why. Because they refused, to allow young, middle-aged, and old men to be tempted by their sexual instinct as well as their natural instinct of strong drink. Strong drink and sexual instinct were the two things most compatible and together made trouble. Let them take the position in France. Did anybody suppose that if women in France had a vote, France would be at peace as it was at the present time? He did not. He believed there would be a greater revolution there than had yet been seen. ["Why?"] Any hon. Member who had studied the history of France and knew what was now going on there would agree that it would be most undesirable for women to have votes at the present time. They all recognised and ought to recognise that force ruled the world. If they wanted to get into a strong man's house they bound the strong man first. It was only force that enabled us to lay down our heads on our pillows at night with an assurance of security that we should wake up in the morning and find them there. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hammersmith presided over a large meeting recently, and pointed out that women had encroached in all classes of business, and had proved slowly and irresistibly their capacity to take up men's work, and that it was time for the Conservative Party to consider whether they should have the vote. The conclusion at which the hon. Gentleman arrived was that, without votes, women would be treated badly, and driven to the wall. Who had ever treated women badly? They could not bring forward a single grievance from which they suffered, which if they could prove and make it plain hon. Members of this House were not too eager to jostle each other in their anxiety to remedy. The hon. Gentleman quoted Lord Beaconsfield, Lord Salisbury, and Mr. Balfour, and said that he believed the Unionist Party would gain by sanctioning women's rights in this matter. There was little doubt as to what the result of the enfranchisement of women would be, but he thought it was only right, if the measure was good, that it should be considered on its merits. He did not think they ought to consider whether 229 it was going to be to the advantage of one party or another. He thought everybody ought to do all they could to oppose it. He would point out to the House that all the time hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power, during the last twenty-five years certainly, when they had had almost uncontrolled power in that House, and in other directions, they had not moved a step in this matter. They had done many things which they ought not to have done, and they had left undone many things which they ought to have done, but they had never moved a step in the direction of woman franchise, although their great leader was in favour of it. There had been no organised attempts to break up Conservative meetings; there were no noisy women crying out like the horse leech. "Give, give." There were no beauteous maidens chaining themselves to the doorstep of the hon. Member for the City of London and other hon. Conservatives, crying out that they must have votes. Another point which he appealed to hon. Members specially to consider was this. They had a great and fixed belief in the sanctity of the Holy Scriptures, and there was nothing in the Holy Scriptures to warrant this measure. Indeed, they were against it. Hon. Members who went through St. Paul would find that his whole doctrine and teaching were against it. It was nobody's fault that providence had created a great difference between the sexes. What were they that they should complain? It was not they, it was not the Liberal Party who had done this thing, but providence But the facts were there, great historic facts were there, and they could not get over them, and he did not want to get over them if they could. Why this little Bill? It was not much of a Bill, a little cloud no bigger than a man's hand but they could not tell what it would bring forth. Another point was this. If the Bill gave a right to women to vote for a Member of the House of Commons, of course with that went the right to sit in that House and to be elected to an office in that House, even to that held by Mr. Speaker of controlling an assembly which was not always too orderly. Almost every one must shudder at such a possibility as that. He believed it was Dryden who told of a noble knight who, having 230 made too free with a maiden, was condemned to death by the ruling queen. He pleaded for mercy, and the queen said—Well, I will give you a year to go forth into the world, and. if when you return you will tell us the one thing women want above all things in this world you shall have your life and honour given back to you again.He went into the world for many years and one day he met an old dame who said to him—I am not fair to look upon, I am not comely, but if you pledge your knightly word that you will marry me I will, tell you what it is that a woman wants above all things in this world.He gave his promise, and she told him that the one thing which women wanted most was sovereignty, rule, power to put man under their feet and keep him there. Everyone knew that there was never a happy household, no matter what the importance of the household was, unless the woman was the supreme sovereign of the household. No one had a happy home, from the poorest to the highest, unless the woman ruled, absolutely, the household. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion had talked about women's work. There was no work which women could not perform. They could, and did do everything that man could do. In some parts of Scotland it was the common thing to hear: "Jean is going to be married. What can she do to keep a man?" There was not a field in which women had not distinguished themselves, but they could not have them in that House. There would not be happiness in the House if they did come in. If women were exceedingly desirous of taking part in the legislation of the country let them be sent to another place. He would give a willing vote to any proposition that would transfer them to another place, and gave them a share in the legislation there. He sincerely hoped the House would come to a decision on this matter. It was quite time that they knew who was on one side and who was on the other, and above all, those who had any doubt upon the matter. If hon. Members had not made up their minds; if they had not been convinced by the arguments that had been put before them, it must be left to the general electorate of the 231 country to determine. At any rate, that debate was not going to settle the matter. The Bill would have to go to another tribunal, and it must also be submitted to the electorate. He quite agreed that men who established the Primrose League and the Ladies Liberal League did wrong if, having used women for these purposes, they now refused to comply with their natural demand for payment for their services. But he warned the House that they could not have legislative peace unless they kept the sexes as far apart as possible. A candidate who was once desirous of getting returned to Parliament, sent his wife out to canvass for him, and her one cry was, "Do, please, vote for my husband, and take him away from home; he is never out of the house." That showed the divided responsibility. Each wanted to be supreme in his or her own way, and woman was absolutely determined to be supreme in her sphere. It was a matter of the commonest knowledge that they could not have something called platonism, and he never quite understood what it was—except that it led the experimentalist into trouble, and in the same way, they could not hive men and women associated together in politics without injuring both. In such a matter as this the women of the country ought to be able to make their voices heard. What was the use of giving them a vote if they did not want it? He read the other day that a large daily paper in the Midlands had sent out ballot papers, with the result that 9,000 had declared in favour of the vote and 14,000 against.
MR. CATHCART WASON
said the votes were given by women only. This was not a man's question. His contention was that the women did not want the vote, and were perfectly satisfied with things as they are. The agitation for the Bill was a bogus one, it would redound to the discredit of the Liberal Party, and it would constitute a grave peril and danger to the country. It was, therefore, with a full sense of responsibility, although accompanied by a feeling of 232 regret that he had to announce that he could not support the Bill and would move that it be real a second time that day six months.
§ MR. MALLET (Plymouth)
in seconding the Amendment said he was afraid that he was taking the ungallant side on this question, but he felt bound to adopt this course. In the first place he would remark how much they all admired the ability with which the case in support of the Bill had been put forward by his hon. friend the Member for North Kensington; he only wished that these methods of reasoned argument and persuasion were more popular with the advocates of the Bill outside that House. Those who opposed the Bill did so in no trifling or disrespectful spirit; they did not base their opposition to it mainly on the details of the measure. Indeed, his hon. friend who introduced it had not dealt much with the details. He gave reasons to show how easily the male electorate were deceived; but was that a good reason for giving the vote to women? Most of them regarded the Bill not as one destined to pass through the House this session, but rather as an abstract assertion of the principle that they could sweep away the disabilities of sex by legislation, and that women were qualified by nature and training to do precisely the same public work as men. That was an abstract assertion of a large and very important principle, but it was nothing more. Still, on that basis the Bill might possibly secure a Second Reading that day. There was one point on which he was in complete agreement with the "suffragettes"—who had discovered, as they all had, that politics were a demoralising thing. This Bill, if proposed at all, ought to be a Government Bill. His hon. friend had practically admitted that, because in the early part of his speech he stated that our electoral laws stood in need of wholesale reform—such reform as could only be undertaken by a responsible Government. It would not be denied, he thought, that such a grave change in the franchise as was proposed in this measure ought to be proposed by the Government, and he put it to the House that they could 233 not add 2,000,000 voters to the electoral roll without throwing the whole electoral system into confusion. Some hon. Members dissented from the figure he had quoted, but 2,000,000, he thought, was well within the mark. The lowest estimate put forward in the debate last year was 1,250,000, and even if they accepted that figure he submitted that they could not at once add that number to the electoral roll, with the possibility of an addition of 8,000,000 or 9,000,000 later on, without throwing the whole system into the melting-pot. Why, 1,250,000 was more than double the number of votes added by the great Reform Bill! Again, any large reform of that kind must inevitably be accompanied by a redistribution scheme, and to try and slip this enormous legislative change through the House of Commons in a little Bill of three paragraphs on a Friday afternoon might be good tactics, but he ventured to say it was bad legislation. One grave objection to the Bill was that it would multiply the plural voter, of whom the Liberals had been trying to get rid for years. Under it every woman who had two or three houses would be able to secure two or three votes, and any husband and wife taking together a £20 house would be able to manufacture a double qualification. He very much doubted whether the new principle of one couple two votes would either appeal to the Liberal Party or make for peace and progress in the family. Then again the Bill would increase the influence of wealth rather than give votes to the working women of the country. He well remembered a very interesting passage in the speech delivered last year by the hon. Member for the Clitheroe division in which he told the House that he was the head of a great working organisation of 120,000 people, of whom 80,000 were working women, not a single one of whom would be enfranchised under the terms of the Bill. The measure, in fact, as it stood, would not increase the influence of working women, but ii would inevitably increase the influence of those middle-class spinsters with whom they were familiar in municipal politics, ladies whose interest in politics was remote, who dreaded the worry of politics, and who dreaded the rate- 234 collector even more—admirable women, admirable church-goers, admirable aunts, inarticulate, not because they ware down trodden, but because on the subject of politics they had really nothing to say. He submitted, therefore, that a very serious objection to this Bill was that it would work so largely in the interest of the propertied classes and must make against political change. The property argument was worth something, because it had always had some weight with many people on this question. If he franchise were only a question of property, if the vote really depended on having property alone, they could not reasonably refuse the vote to able and well educated women, and give it to the dull witted men whom they employed. If they looked back to the old debates on this question they would find that thirty years ago, in 1872, this idea of the franchise as a matter of property was very common in the country. If they looked back to the debates on the Women's Disabilities Removal Bill in 1872, when Mr. Jacob Bright raised the question in the House of Commons, and Mr. Henry James delivered against the Bill a speech of such striking power and ability that Mr. Disraeli was said to have asked his law advisers why the Bar never sent up lawyers of that calibre to reinforce the Tory Party—a question which the Leader of the Tory Party did not need to ask his law advisers now—they would find that Mr. Bright based his case on property alone. He declared indeed that women had more control over their passions than men—he had not the experience of some of our Cabinet Ministers to-day. He declared that he would not give the vote to married women—"he would not run his head against the common law"—his hon. friend who was a lawyer of distinction knew the law far too intimately to respect it so. But he based his case really on the fact that it was enough for him to assert the principle that "every house should have a vote." There they had a property qualification pure and simple. Mr. Bright and other supporters of woman suffrage claimed the franchise as a matter of property for every spinster who had a house of her own. If that were the sole object of the measure before them, it would not be 235 worth an hour's discussion in that House. If this Bill had any merit—he did not say it had—it was not because of its necessary qualifications, but because it was the first step in a great political change, in giving the same political rights to men and women without distinction of property or sex. He submitted to the House that, as a matter of fact, the franchise never had been a matter of property, and never could be. The franchise was a right or privilege personal to men or women, and surely it was a point worth some consideration by Members of that House, that hitherto in every sovereign state of which history had a record this right had been unanimously confined to men. After all, his hon. friends were not doing a light thing; they were undertaking a very serious matter. They were asking the House to reverse the rule of all the ages which, rightly or wrongly, had based the franchise primarily and inevitably on sex. The world might be all wrong in that matter; still the change did call for some consideration, more perhaps than they could give it in three short paragraphs of a private Member's Bill. Might he refer to the experience of the world on this question? It was often well to take their own initiative; still, experience of the world must go for something. Of course it was true that there were a few states—not sovereign states—which had tried this experiment of woman suffrage. If they went to the Colonies to which his hon. friend had referred, they found that they had got woman suffrage in Australia and New Zealand. There the vote was given to working women, but they did not give that in the present measure. He admitted most fully that the interests of working women ought to be defended and protected better than they were. But he denied that the interests of working women were neglected in that House by men merely because working women had not got the vote which this Bill did not propose to give them. He submitted that, after all, the interests of working women would be far better cared for and studied and represented by scores and scores of Members in that House, than by any single one of the ladies who went dancing on the doorsteps of Ministers of State. He admitted that 236 women had the vote in Australia and New Zealand. His answer to that respectfully was that these young Colonies with their limited political experience and their rather crude political methods—[Cries of "Oh!"]—
§ MR. MALLET
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland was one of the most admirable exceptions to the rule. But he submitted that these young Colonies, with their limited political experience—his hon. friends would agree with that—were not really better qualified to re-model our society than they were to re-model our economic laws. There was another precedent if they liked. Women had the vote in Finland, and no man with a spark of humanity could grudge them any privileges which they derived from it there. Women had the vote in the Isle of Man. If his hon. friend was going to restrict women to such powers and prerogatives as they enjoyed in the Isle of Man he admitted that some part of his objection would be easily removed. The last case was that the franchise was given in certain States of America. Might he ask the House to consider the American precedent for a moment, because it was really most important? In America they had a great nation whose women were at least as independent, as well educated, and as well endowed as the women of any country in the world. What was the experience of America? There had been a strong woman suffrage agitation there, but he did not think that it could be denied that in recent years the movement had had a definite set back. At any rate, in proof of that, he would suggest that whenever this question had come before the State legislatures in America lately, it had been defeated again and again. What were the suffrages given in America? They were of various kinds. First of all, there was the tax-paying suffrage. The women were allowed to vote on special loans and assessments—not a right which added very sensibly to freedom. Then women had the school suffrage in some States, and were allowed to vote 237 for school officers, but they often did not use it as a matter of fact. In Massachusetts only 2 or 3 per cent, used it; in Connecticut only 1 per cent. In Kansas they had the municipal franchise and they steadily refused to go beyond it in that State. Then in Massachusetts again there had been an attempt made lately to give women the municipal franchise. In Massachusetts the legislature wanted to know what really was the view of men and women on the question; and he would go so far as this to meet his hon. friend; if it could be shown that the majority of men and women had really thought about this question, and had made up their minds to face the change, then he would admit that they had gone a long way to prove their case. In Massachusetts, they passed a special Bill to take a referendum on this question and find out what the women thought. Leaders of the woman suffrage movement opposed that referendum. Why? Because they did not want to have the people of the State consulted. The Bill for the referendum was carried, and there voted for giving the suffrage to women 86,000 men and against it 186,000. Of the women 864 voted "no," and 22,000 voted "yes." Out of 575,000 women only 22,000 or 23,000, only 4 per cent., took the trouble to vote at all.
§ MR. SNOWDEN
You have about half a million, and the numbers on both sides are approximately the same.
§ MR. MALLET
But that surely proves my case, that the men and women were both largely indifferent. But there were, of course, four States in America where there was full woman suffrage. What were those four states which were to be an example to the world? They had full woman suffrage in Idaho and Wyoming. These two states comprised mining camps and cattle ranches, and. they had a very limited population—Wyoming contained barely one person to the square mile, and therefore votes had a special value of their own. There was full woman 238 suffrage in Colorado, one of the worst governed states of the Union ["Oh!"] Lastly, they had complete suffrage in the State of Utah. What an extraordinary example for the advocates of women's enfranchisement to choose! In Utah the Mormon Church, for obvious reasons, insisted on. woman suffrage on the principle, he supposed, that if a woman was limited to a portion of a husband she was entitled to compensations of a higher kind. He was prepared to admit that the state was well governed, but as a result of woman suffrage they had the election to an unwilling legislature of Mr. Brigham Roberts, who possessed three wives, and who was promptly expelled as soon as he got there. He suggested to the House that they could not contemplate the generous suffrages of these far western, States of America without dreaming dreams and seeing visions of state aided emigration for the suffragettes. Something had been said on that occasion about the genuineness of this demand. Those of them who opposed the claim did not deny its genuineness for a moment and, personally, he would like to say that he had the deepest respect for the convictions and motives of many of the advocates of woman suffrage, who numbered amongst them some of the very best and noblest women he had ever known. They did not deny that it was genuine, but they denied that it was widespread, and they challenged the promoters of the Bill before they thrust this social revolution upon them to prove that the country was behind them in any shape or form. It was very hard to get facts, but, taking all the woman suffrage societies together, what was the number of their membership? He would not stand by this figure, but he did not think that the members of these societies numbered more than 300,000. Let them take what was more easy to judge by, namely, petitions in this House. At the end of 1906 they had a return of the petitions on the subject for seventeen years going back to 1890. The total number of signatures appended to those petitions during the seventeen years was only 193,000, less than 1 per cent, of the adult population. He admitted that it was difficult to obtain signatures to petitions, and that when they were 239 obtained there was not a great deal in petitions; but if they looked back thirty years they would find that the number of signatures to petitions were much more numerous. Mr. Bright claimed that he had 250,000 signatures in his day, and in 1875 nearly half a million persons signed in favour of woman suffrage. If they were to judge at all by these figures he should say that the movement had had a distinct set back in the last thirty years. He knew that that argument would not weigh with the hon. Member for Blackburn, whom he looked upon as one of the most eloquent and candid supporters of that great movement. He thought it was the hon. Member who argued last year in this House that this movement was, after all, the work of a minority, and he justified this on the ground that minorities were always right. Yes, but they could not study the minority in this case without realising how astonishingly small the number was. Let them take these ladies who went promenading in their purlieus, were they more than a handfu1—a handful in every sense? The other day he went down to Brighton to attend a free trade meeting, at which the chief speaker was the President of the Board of Education. Some twelve or fifteen of these ladies travelled down also, determined, no doubt from the highest motives, to break up the meeting of his right hon. friend, who had always been an advocate of woman suffrage, pledged to it perhaps in immature youth, like other generous-hearted gentlemen, through an imperfect power of saying "No." They made their demonstration and then they travelled back again with them to London, to the infinite delight of his right hon. friend. But after all, if the women of Brighton as a whole had cared two straws about the suffrage, would it have been necessary to import these pioneers from town? If the women of London really were with hon. Members in this great movement, would it be necessary to import mill hands from Lancashire in order to intimidate their policemen? These scenes were painful and pitiful enough, but it was even more pitiful that any body of women should imagine that they could coerce them by exhibitions of this sort, exhibitions which showed all those qualities which unfitted the average woman for 240 public life, into voting for measures which they thought premature or wrong. He submitted that the very methods resorted to to run this agitation proved to demonstration the weakness of the cause. Surely they had a right to ask themselves before they acted that day, what was the state of opinion so far as they knew it, of the majority of men in this country. After all, this was a man's question as much as a woman's. Men had to decide it, and they could not shirk their responsibility by saying that it should be left to the women to settle for themselves. How many men how many voters of this country, were consulted at the last general election on the subject and had seriously considered it? His hon. friend had quoted some information to the effect that in only about sixty election addresses did he find any mention of the subject at all. He admitted it never entered his head to mention the subject in his election address, and he ventured to say that it never entered the heads of his constituents either that he should do so. He thought that the advocates of the Bill ought to chow what proof they bad what evidence they could show that the great majority of the men of this country had seriously considered the subject at all, or that the great majority of men in this country would be of their way of thinking after they had thought it out. The House must remember that it was not only a question of adding 2,000,000 more voters to the registers. It was a claim, a perfectly fair and very large claim, that women should be allowed to fill every public office which had hitherto been reserved for men alone. If it were granted they must be prepared to admit them to the House of Commons and the other House of Parliament. There might be something to be said for putting them in the other House, where they would have far less exacting duties, as well as-ecclesiastical society, which they regarded with respect. But although this question had its humorous aspect, it also had art aspect of a very serious character, and if the House passed this Bill, if they really launched themselves on this great social change, they must be prepared to reconsider all those deep-founded laws and customs on which at present sex relations rested. The hon. Member for Blackburn told them last year that this was a great 241 measure, not merely a franchise question, but a great moral question which would affect the whole moral, economic, and social conditions of women and the relations between the sexes. It was, he said, the greatest of all measures that Parliament could be called upon to deal with. He believed that to be absolutely frank and true, but was it not an overwhelming argument against asking this House to rush such a change through Parliament in three short paragraphs of a private Member's Bill? He submitted to the House that while the leaders of this movement perfectly well understood its bearings, the largeness and gravity of its issues had never been in the least considered by the men of this country. If the promoters of the Bill could convince that House that the great majority of women really cared to have the vote and use it, that the great majority of men saw the importance of the issue and were prepared to face so great a social change, that women themselves desired to discharge the same public duties as men and really preferred political work and agitation to the work they had done incomparably for generations, in forming the character and habits of the people and in governing the family which was the foundation of the State, then he admitted that they had a right to press the Bill. But until that could be shown, those who opposed it were bound to resist such legislation, and to ask hon. Members to weigh and weigh again objections which, after all, were rooted in the nature and the lives of women, and in the ancient, universal custom of mankind.
To leave out all the words after the word 'be' and to insert the words 'read a second time on this day six months.'
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. GLADSTONE,) Leeds, W.
We have listened to four very interesting speeches—two of ability and eloquence from the point of view of my hon. friend who has just sat down, but they have not 242 shaken my opinion that the speeches of the mover and seconder of the Second Reading of this Bill and the arguments they enforced left nothing to be desired. As the House may have anticipated, the Government take to-day the course which they pursued last year. I will remind the House that on that occasion the Prime Minister pointed out that there was no indication of unanimity in the House of Commons on this question, and that there were differences of opinion upon it to be found on almost every bench. For these reasons on this occasion our only course is to leave the decision to the views of individual Members. So far as I am concerned, I am entirely in favour of the principle of the Bill, but I am not going into the question of what it contains. I have pledged myself to vote on this question without reservation, and though this Bill may be imperfect, at any rate it removes a disqualification and an inequality which have been for so long a time a deep source of complaint with masses of people in this country. It is impossible not to sympathise with the eagerness and passion which actuates so many women in this movement. It is impossible also not to sympathise with their disappointments, past, present, and yet to come. Women have not had the franchise up to now; therefore, through no fault of their own, they have not passed through the hard school of what are called practical, but which too often in this country are unpractical, politics. Men have had to struggle for centuries for their franchise rights. They have had to fight from the time of Cromwell, and for the last 130 years the contest the warfare, has been perpetual, and full victory has not even yet been achieved on the question of male suffrage. On this question experience shows that predominance of argument alone—and I believe that has been obtained—is not enough to win the political day. We are in the region, in the stage, of what are called academic discussions, the ventilation of pious opinions, unaccompanied, it may be, by effective action not only on the part of the Government but of political parties and of the voters of the country. Members of the House reflect the opinions of the country not only in regard to the 243 numbers outside, but with regard to the intensity of the feeling in support of a movement, and the Government must necessarily be a reflex of the party that brought it into being. There comes the time when political dynamics are far more important than political argument. You have to move a great inert mass of opinion which in the earlier stages of questions of the first magnitude always exists. Opinion must be moved at the present time, not in Parliament Square, not by relieving Cabinet Ministers of the trouble of making speeches at public meetings, but by moving it in all the constituencies of the country, in the towns, villages, and hamlets. Men have learned their lesson and know the necessity for establishing that force majeure which actuates and arms a Government for effecttive work. That is the task before the supporters of this great movement. When I view the natural impatience of many of its supporters I cannot but recollect my own political experience extending over thirty years. We have been reminded that there are other important questions demanding attention, and perhaps I may mention one as coming before this question in urgency—Home Rule for Ireland. For the last twenty-five years we have seen the most strenuous struggles and the greatest sacrifices, not less great because unaccompanied by periods of enforced seclusion, on behalf of the Home Rule movement. In Ireland the question has been pressed to the front continuously for over a century, and every kind of action, legal and illegal, has been taken in support of it, while every kind of repression has been brought into force by Governments to keep the movement back. Yet after all these efforts and sacrifices our labours are not at an end, and all must recognise by experience that political and sectarian forces are immensely strong and can only be overcome by sustained effort. Therefore when I am, applied to to use my influence to move the Government forward, that is all very well so far as it goes, but the people outside must be mote actively influenced. It is, not enough for a Government to bring in a Bill, Lord John Russell and Mr. Disraeli four times failed to carry Bills 244 for the extension of male suffrage. No doubt there is a great and growing movement in favour of granting the franchise to women, but the movement lacks numbers. Looking back at the great political crises in the thirties, the sixties, and the eighties, it will be found that people did not go about in small groups, nor were they content with enthusiastic meetings in large halls; they assembled in their tens of thousands all over the country, not only in the big towns but also in the country districts. It has been said that men had to use violence before they could get what they wanted, and the Hyde Park railings have been mentioned. But the destruction of the railings was in the nature of an accident, and was due to the pressure of huge masses of people wishing to show their earnestness and to ventilate their opinions in the Park, when the authorities foolishly closed the gates. Of course it is not to be expected that women could assemble in such masses, but I am bound to say there is great force in what my hon. friend the Member for Plymouth has said, that it has not yet been sufficiently demonstrated that women in general desire to have the vote. The present Bill is part of the movement; it affords opportunity for interchange of opinion, it helps to organise and give form to the movement. Those who believe that the suffrage for women would be a good thing will individually vote for the Bill. Now comes the importance of political dynamics. The influence of constituencies on Members must be made more effective. I hope this debate at any rate will carry the movement forward and do something to show that so far as argument is concerned the day has been won for the advocates of this proposal. For the rest, the Parliamentary road should be engineered. Power rests with the masses, and through this power a Government could be influenced into more effective action than the Government could take under present conditions. For my own part, I believe the country would be made better and happier by the admission of women to the franchise. I believe the power to exercise the vote will stimulate the activity of women in a thousand ways, Will give them more confidence in themselves, will improve their present status, 245 particularly in the industrial world, and open to them new avenues of employment. I shall therefore gladly give my vote for the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. PIKE PEASE (Darlington)
The position taken by the Home Secretary is practically this: "I have no objection to your lighting the fire; indeed, I should like to see it lighted; but I shall take away the matches." The right hon. Gentleman says this is an academic discussion, and under the circumstances, having the opportunity of voting to-day, we shall be allowed to say whether we are in favour of the principle of woman suffrage, but we shall not be doing anything towards the consummation of our object. The right hon. Gentleman has concluded from the speeches to which he has listened to-day that the battle is won.
§ MR. PIKE PEASE
I do not want to misinterpret anything the right hon. Gentleman said. What I wanted to imply was that he considered that, as far as the four speeches which we have heard were concerned, the argument was won. I had an opportunity of listening to the two hon. Gentlemen who proposed and seconded the Bill, and I think very little can be added to their able speeches. Certainly, as one who favours woman suffrage, I do not propose to add other arguments to any great extent. Those of us who have listened to the speeches on this subject for the last ten years or so have always found that those who oppose a measure of this character put forward arguments of a somewhat frivolous character, such as those we have often listened to from the right hon. Gentleman who recently, sat for Northampton. Though I have listened with pleasure to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, I do not think he added any important arguments to the debate. But as regards the question as to whether women should or should not have the vote, I think, after listening to his speech, I should be rather more inclined than before to vote in favour of giving the vote to women. In reference to the able speech made by the hon. Gentleman 246 opposite, I think he has used some arguments in favour of not allowing Women to vote, but at the same time he has put forward a very large number of arguments that are fallacious. He says we should not take into account the figures relating to petitions, and at the same time he put forward a long list of such figures himself.
§ MR. MALLET
What I did say was, that we should take into account the figures of petitions, although we must not lay any unfair stress upon them.
§ MR. PIKE PEASE
All I can say in reference to that matter is, that I would guarantee that I would get petitions with 30,000 signatures on any problem on earth in a fortnight.
§ MR. PIKE PEASE
With further reference to this measure, I should like to say that the exceeding interest we see in the country at the present time, is not only due to the academic view of this subject, but also to interest in the question how far the recent trouble we have seen from day to day may have affected the opinions of members. The two chief reasons which I put forward in favour of a measure like this are, first, that it is illogical to grant the suffrage in connection with county council elections, and not in connection with the elections to the Imperial Parliament; and, secondly, that no real reason has ever been adduced to show why women are not worthy of the powers which they ask for. An hon. Gentleman to-day mentioned the question of the extension of the franchise to men, and gave some figures in regard to that. I think the Home Secretary to-day has forged a good many weapons to be: used' against himself, because he has said in reference to agitations' in the past, that a good deal has been done for a cause by riots of various kinds, but the right hon. Gentleman also said that so far as the general public is concerned, they have shown no real concern for woman suffrage. I think if the Question of the enfranchisement of men was taken into account, it would be found that 247 in days gone by the same argument was used in regard to them. Many people said that men did not want to be enfranchised, and if that argument had been successful, men would not have been further enfranchised. But if this question was put to a referendum, what would be the answer of the country? I think it would be found that a very large number of the women of this country would be in favour of the franchise, though it is perfectly possible some of them would not be inclined to vote. The question before the country, and before the House, is whether or not the women of this country should have power to vote for Members of Parliament. I have had an opportunity of listening on more than one occasion to speeches made by ladies in favour of woman suffrage, and I have always found the chief part of their argument was with reference to their ability to legislate in this Assembly. I had the opportunity the other day in the North of England of listening to two of the most interesting speeches I have ever heard in my life. One was made by a lady of great histrionic talent, such as we rarely see in any member of the male sex. Her speech was followed by another made by the able wife of a well-known Member of Parliament. In both these speeches it was plainly stated that the women have very great cause for disquietude at the present time. The lady to whom I refer stated that women have teen condemned because of small families in this country, but it was no use women bringing a female child into the world to be the slave of man. I noticed in a paper which was sent to me last night in reference to this woman suffrage movement, that the arguments which are adduced almost every dry are in favour of the qualification of women for sitting in this Assembly, and not so much for voting at election times. If I may be allowed, I would quote one verse of a piece of poetry published:Woman's voice ye never hear,In Councils of the State,Man-made laws shall govern ye,'Tis yours to stand and waitTill all men's claims are satisfied,Till all their wants are gratified,And till that day shall come,Be ye, oh patient-hearted,Like driven cattle dumb.248 The arguments which have been adduced against those who raise this question amount to this, that this is the thin end of the wedge. I am not moved by these arguments; they will not prevent me from voting for this measure, because I believe that experience his shown that it is quite possible to grant the suffrage to women without allowing them to sit in this Assembly. That has been the experience of Australia. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Plymouth spoke in reference to Australia, but he did not point out the important fact in regard to this matter, that when a Federal Parliament came into existence, the Australians, having had experience of woman suffrage in the minor Parliaments, at once adopted it in the Federal Parliament. I think that that is a very strong argument in favour of the measure we are asked to support to-day. But an argument which has considerable effect in the country, though perhaps not so much in this House, is that ladies have recently shown that they can act in such, a way as to make it impossible for the men of this country to grant the franchise. That is, that women's behaviour has been so bad in regard to the riots which have taken place lately that we ought not on that account to pass any measure for the extension of the franchise to women. I think that, though we may not agree as to the methods that have been employed, we must all agree that the intensity of their feelings has been shown by the willingness of these women to endure hardship, and also that many of these ladies probably are very well qualified to act as voters in this country. It does not follow that the whole class of women should be prevented from voting simply because a certain number of ladies act in a violent manner. If that were so, then it would be possible to argue that if there were a thousand criminals in the male class in this country all the men should be disfranchised. I will not detain the House on this occasion, I because many would like to speak on this important matter, but I should like to refer for one moment to the fact that the greatest ruler of the greatest country on earth was a woman, and those who vote conscientiously against this proposal and think that women should not 249 have this power because they are not born to fight, or for any other reasons, should look at the pages of history for women's work, and note as one great example the life of our late Queen. Those who have read the letters of the late gracious Queen, recently published, will agree that they show a depth of political wisdom which few of us fully realised before we had the pleasure of reading that book. I support the measure because I honestly believe it is for the welfare of the country, and I am very pleased to hear that it is almost certain that we shall be able to go to a division.
§ SIR WALTER NUGENT (West Meath, S.)
said that one thing which had struck him in all the speeches to which he had listened, both for and against this Bill, was that they all seemed to admit that there was no real demand on the part of women for this franchise. If there was no such demand, why did they introduce this Bill? Why did they try to force upon them what they did not want? Was it because a small and noisy minority were making the days and nights of Cabinet Ministers hideous with their howlings? If that was the case, much as he should like to see them enjoy peace by day and quiet slumber by night, nevertheless he did not think that that was sufficient reason to impose on the women of Great Britain a measure which they did not want, had not asked for, and never would use. It had been said that the result of the county council franchise had been for their benefit. In his experience, he had never met one who did not look upon it as a nuisance. He remembered that he went into a house one afternoon and asked a woman for her vote, and she said: "If you have nothing better to do but to go about the country asking women for votes, I have something more to do than going to vote for you." I said, "I think you are quite right, and hope you will throw a bucket of water over anybody else who comes in and asks you for your vote." If they supported this franchise for women, did they think of what they were doing for the number of women who wished to remain in peace and free from the turmoil of elections? These women would never get any peace by day or night at election time they 250 would be continually harassed by Tariff men, Labour men, and suffragists who wanted their votes.
§ SIR WALTER NUGENT
said he was perfectly certain that his hon. Friend represented the views of the women of East Glare. Why did the women of East Clare want a vote? Was it because they took a deep and burning interest in the questions of the day? No, they wanted it that they might show their appreciation of their hon. Member. All Members of the House were not so fortunate as the hon. Member for East Clare, and he would impress upon Members who represented the City of London that there was a vast difference between giving women votes in the scantily populated country and giving them votes in a city. Of course, what was now proposed was the thin end of the wedge, and if they gave a vote to women there would come a day when a demand for universal suffrage would be put before the House. A great deal had been made of the claim that the supporters of this Bill were championing the rights of women. He maintained that it was not those who were supporting the measure who were championing the rights of women. The opponents of the proposal would always have the courage to withstand intimidation and pressure until they were satisfied that a great majority of the women of Great Britain and Ireland were in favour of having conferred upon them the right to vote at Parliamentary elections.
§ MR. FLETCHER (Hampstead)
said the hon. Member who moved the Amendment had stated that he preferred to keep the sexes as far as possible apart. He strongly differed from that view, holding that no work in this world was properly and thoroughly done unless both men and women lent a hand to it. Men and women were never fully developed until they married. Until they married, the social and political worth of men and women was very much that of one half of a pair of scissors. Americans did not suffer from the terrible disease of shyness. 251 Boys and girls there were educated together; the boys did not grow up as hooligans as they did here. The boys were elevated by the society of the fair sex, and, on the other hand, the girls did not grow up as mere bread-and-butter misses. He contended that this question was settled twenty years ago, when a Conservative Government created the London County Council and most fairly and justly gave to women who paid rates the same right to vote as men. In his own constituency there was an unusually large number of lady voters, and he noticed that in the county council elections the party strength was not affected in the slightest degree. He did not think that the ladies on either side affected the strength of a party, and the inference he drew from their experience of women being allowed to vote in connection with county council elections was that there was nothing revolutionary in the proposal now before the House. The change would not be a great one, and in quiet times ladies would not vote in any greater proportion than men did. They should remember the terrors with which even leading statesmen regarded the introduction of the ballot in Parliamentary and other elections. It was feared that it would lead to hypocrisy, corruption, and the degradation of the electorate. The Act was passed, however, and was there one man in the country who would now suggest that it should be abolished? He took a great interest in the wonderful progress which had been made by the Dominion of New Zealand. He remembered that that great statesman, Mr. Seddon, told him that fifteen years ago when the vote was given to women in New Zealand he consented to it with some apprehension, but that ten years after the ladies got the franchise he declared that there was not one man in New Zealand who would lift, a hand to bring back the former state of things. Only last week he had had the pleasure of speaking with a professor and his wife who were Visitors to this country from New Zealand. He asked them what was the effect of granting the franchise to women there, and the answer was that it was entirely satisfactory. He put it to the professor, "Did it not lead to friction in families?" and the reply was, "Not at 252 all; families discussed politics and politicians just the same way as they would discuss the merits of plays and actors." The professor added that at one time there were in New Zealand a considerable number of undesirable Parliamentary candidates—men given to drink, who were living apart from their wives, or were unfavourably known on the Exchange. The grant of the franchise to women had been very beneficial in purifying politics, and women voted for men of greater sincerity and earnestness in public life. He himself had paid great attention to this question for twenty years past, and he was convinced that it would be greatly to the benefit of this country if women had the vote.
sup>*/sup>SIR MAURICE LEVY (Leicestershire, Loughborough)
said that the hon. Gentleman who had moved the Second Reading of the Bill with earnest conviction had stated that he would content himself, if the Second Reading were carried, with having the Bill remitted to a Committee of the Whole House, which was practically admitting that he was prepared to have it slain immediately after its Second Reading. That action did not meet with the approval of the stormy petrels amongst the suffragists. Miss Pankhurst, in a letter to the London papers, had impressed on the Members of the House of Commons not to vote for such a Resolution, because the debate would then only prove to have been an academic discussion, and the expression of a pious opinion. His own opinion was that this was a bad Bill, it was a retrograde measure going back to the old reactionary days of the property qualification. It would not democratise the House of Commons, but make it less representative than it was at the present time. Under the existing electoral law nearly one-third of the adult population of the country was excluded from the franchise, and a simliar franchise extended to the women would include in the main just that portion of the women of the country least in need of the influence and power which the vote would give them, and exclude just that part who were more in need of that influence and power than any other class. Women numbered more than half of the adult population, yet 253 only 750,000 women were enfranchised for local elections, showing definitely and clearly that this Bill provided neither more nor less than a special qualification on a most corrupt basis. The Bill ought to be called a Bill for the purpose of setting up faggot votes; and he warned Liberals who were pledged to the abolition of plural voting, and who had on their programme "one man, one vote," that this Bill would make it impossible to have such a measure passed in this or any other Parliament. The Bill set up a qualification to give a vote to the rich women of the country, and to the daughters of the wealthy. If inquiry were made it would be found that the wives of the well-to-do men would immediately become electors, and if they had daughters they also would become electors on the property-owning or lodger qualification. In this way an enormous power would be placed in the hands of the wealthy and well-to-do classes in the nation. He asked, why not trust all women? He contended that those women who now refused to improve the electoral system by adult suffrage would, if they obtained power under a limited franchise, use that power and influence to prevent the franchise being given to their cooks, their housemaids, and their domestic servants, who were far more in need of votes than were their mistresses; and while they were doing that they would be at the same time using their influence to prevent the extension of the franchise to the adult male population of the country. If the question were looked at closely it would be found that under this Bill working married women would not be enfranchised, because the majority of them lived in houses under £20 rent per annum. For instance, the wife of a working man would not receive any vote with her husband if the rent of the house was 7s 6 d per week, but a woman living with her husband in a house the rent of which was 8s 6d per week would be enfranchised. Surely the House of Commons was not going to make such a blunder as that! Again, the number of women who worked in factories and mills who would, be enfranchised under this Bill would be infinitesimal. The House of Commons should pause before consenting to such a Bill. The suggestion that a limited fran- 254 chise was only a step was a delusion and a snare; he believed that the majority of women were absolutely hostile to such a franchise, that the bulk of them, if referred to, would say that the franchise should be extended to all women or to none. The Sheffield Independent issued inquiries recently to all the women householders in Sheffield, and put the question before them whether they desired the extension of the franchise or not; and the figures proved that of those who voted there were 50 per cent, more opposed than there were in favour of the extension of the franchise to women. 23,663 returned an answer, and of these 14,652 were opposed to the extension of the franchise to women, while only 9,011 were in favour of the franchise being granted. These figures proved that they were trying to convince the men before they had convinced the women. Let them convince the women and show the country there was a real and just demand, but the country would not be convinced by the noisy demonstrators whose idea of justice was the exclusion of the great majority of women from the privileges for which they were fighting, and whose notion of fairness was the unmannerly disturbance of other people's meetings. He believed that the agitation was a bogus one, that it was without numerical support, and that the noisy demonstrators represented a very small minority. No question was less urgent, in his judgment. Women had never suffered in consequence of legislation by men; at least, they had been as fairly treated by the legislation of this House as men had. Our legislation had been humane and largely in the interests of women. If the Factory Acts-of various Governments were referred to it would also be found that there had been humane and tender thought for the women and children of the country, and if they brought women right into the midst of the hurly-burly of politics they would be put into a position where these distinctions in favour of women would have to disappear. If they were brought on to the register they must necessarily be brought into that House, and no practical division could then be made between the employments of men and women. They had seen legislation of class against class, of sect against sect, but never, he believed, had there been legislation of sex 255 against sex. But if the women who demanded this Bill obtained it they would exclude a large portion of their sisters from the franchise, and there would be hostility of the female sex against itself. When this step of enfranchisement was taken it must be a step for the advantage to the whole body of women without restriction, by placing them on an equality as all men were placed with each other. If the vote were given to women, they could not be excluded from the House of Commons. Let him read what Mr. Gladstone said in his famous letter on female suffrage addressed to the late Samuel Smith, M.P., on the argument which many suffragists used that they would be content if women were only given the Parliamentary vote. Mr. Gladstone said—For a long time we drew a distinction between competency to vote and competency to sit in Parliament. But long before our electorate had attained to its present popular proportions this distinction was felt to involve a possible inconsistency, and accordingly it died away. It surely cannot be revived; and if it cannot be revived, then the woman's vote carries with it, whether by the same Bill or by a consequential Bill, the woman's seat in Parliament…Capacity to sit in the House of Commons now legally and practically draws in its train capacity to fill every office in the State.The promoters of the Bill, who seemed to be a few rich women would be allowed to have a vote and a seat in Parliament which at the same time would be denied to the bulk of the working women of the country. This was a question of a revolutionary character which should not be decided by a discussion of a few hours on a Friday afternoon at the dictates of a few women. If there was a just demand for the franchise for women, it was the duty of the Government of the day to take up the question and advise the House in which direction it should go. Until the Government took upon themselves the responsibility of dealing with this question, he hoped the House would refuse to pass such a Bill, which was in no sense a democratic measure, no one desired by the democracy.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said he would leave those who believed in the further extension of the franchise to women to deal with the question of whether it should or should 256 not be only on a property qualification. His object was to express his opinion as to whether women should have votes at all or not. He was bound to say that the hon. Member for Loughborough division went rather far when he stated that this was a bogus question. He thought that the matter had gone so far that it could no longer be treated as a bogus question, but must be dealt with as a serious political question. Up to the present time he had been a convinced opponent of woman suffrage, but he had come that day perfectly ready to be convinced by argument as to the propriety of changing his opinion, and voting for the Second Reading of the Bill. The ethical arguments by which the Bill had been supported were easy to adduce and very difficult to refute. He had listened with the greatest pleasure to the way in which the hon. Member for Kensington had introduced the Bill. The fault, if fault it was, that he found was that the hon. Gentleman's arguments were solely and entirely ethical. He had not heard in the course of the whole of the hon. Gentleman's observations a single argument which dealt with the real question before the House — the propriety of of a woman having a vote the same as a man. He had adduced one argument with which he (Colonel Lockwood) found himself in thorough agreement. The question of a woman lowering her status or character in the eye of man by going to the polling booth and putting her cross on the voting paper had never entered his head as an opponent to this measure. Nor did it ever enter the heads of those who were violently opposed to this measure. It was done at the present time in municipal elections, and he did not see anything derogatory to a woman in doing it. The hon. Member had addressed himself to the question of a woman's strength and spoke of her not being able to do a navvy's work. That again was an ethical argument and hardly worthy of the hon. Member. It was not an argument that he would use against this Bill. It was an argument impossible to refute. The position held by those who up to the present had opposed the Bill was, he confessed not logical, but he had known many positions strong and good 257 to hold that were not logical, and it certainly seemed curious that a woman, with education and property, or with a large number of employees, should not be allowed to exercise a vote while a man to whom she paid 14s, a week, and who might be barely able to read and write could do so. There were two ways of treating this question, the humourous and the serious. The temptation with many was to treat the question from the humourous point of view. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland had dealt with it from that point of view. He himself, however, desired to treat the question seriously, because he knew that to many at the present time it presented a very serious aspect. So far as the "Suffragettes" were concerned, he quite agreed with the hon. Member for Kensington. Such conduct as theirs, lawless as it was, could not be allowed to bias the votes of Members. But for years it had been regarded by some as almost necessary to violate the law in regard to a particular question before the question came into serious politics. He did not admit that argument. Such a thing never had any weight with him, but if it had he would never allow the misconduct of the few to affect the position of the many. If the House thought a particular thing was right they ought to support it, and he believed the majority of hon. Members would do so absolutely regardless of the consequences. He would now state in a few words the objections he had had in the past and which he still had to this extension of the franchise. In the first place, he had been unable to find any grounds for believing that the majority of women were in favour of it; he believed on the contrary that the majority of women were against it. He would acknowledge that those in front of the movement were thoroughly educated women and women whose opinion should have great weight with the community, but upon such a question as whether women should be given the suffrage, it was necessary to see if the large majority who would be entitled to it were in favour of such an extension. He very much doubted whether the large majority were in favour of it, and he awaited with some interest 258 any statement that would lead him to alter his opinion; The most serious point of all was the fact that if logic were followed and the suffrage given to women because the men in their employ had it, it would be impossible to bar them from any position the State could offer. He could not view with equanimity the possibility of women being admitted to this House, not because he thought they were not fitted to take part in the debates; he had often heard women argue most logically, most acutely, and most lucidly; but because he could not alter his opinion that this assembly should be an assembly for men and men alone. Once women were admitted to the privilege of standing for election to Parliament, then to them also must be conceded the position of Mr. Speaker's Chair and the privilege of being Ministers of State, Judges, counsel, and various other positions in various professions. He did not wish to turn this matter into ridicule. It would be a very easy matter to joke about it, but the House was really seriously considering it, and it was necessary to do so. He had not heard one word to convince him that such objections as he had on the subject were either false or ill-founded. To those who said the municipal elections offered a ready machinery for this extension, his reply was that the questions dealt with by such an extension would be Imperial and not municipal. There was another great objection, he would not say insuperable, because no difficulties were insuperable to Statesmen of the present day. It would be most dangerous to invite the opinion of women on Imperial subjects when the pronouncement of the House of Commons might have a most serious effect. Let those who were in favour of woman suffrage leave the ethical question alone and come to the actual facts. Let the House hear from them an earnest argument why this difference in the position of men and women should be suddenly brushed aside, and why women should be admitted to an absolute equality with man, and then possibly they would find many converts among those who were at present opposed to them. But while they kept to the sentimental and ethical reasons, which, while they were hard to refute, made he impression, 259 they would get no further. Sentiment and ethics had no weight with the House. It was figures and arguments alone that could have any weight, especially, with such an assembly as the House of Commons. He had no doubt when the division was reached the question would be raised to a position it had never reached before, but possibly by that time they would have heard further and more convincing arguments than had yet been put forward.
§ MR. KETTLE (Tyrone, E.)
said he rose more than anything else for the purpose of removing the impression that might be created that Irish opinion was against this Bill. It was not. Of course, the Nationalist Party, like others in the House, were divided on the question, but that was a conclusive reason why this should not be a Government measure. The arguments of the Opposition appeared to be self contradictory. One section was opposed to the Bill because it gave votes to any woman, and another because it did not give votes to every woman. Speaking for the democratic party, and giving what must be considered as their opinion, he desired to say that he was in entire agreement with the argument that so far as the property qualification was concerned the proposal was not sufficiently democratic. But this Bill did not set up a property franchise. He supported the Bill, because it marked a beginning, because it would embody in the Statute-book a principle that would grow and develop. Some hon. Gentlemen said that if this Bill were accepted the electoral laws would need to be re-organised; but they were all agreed that under present conditions the franchise laws ought to be re-organised. First came the hon. Member for Plymouth, who had a Motion on the Paper for a time limit for speeches, and who, he noticed, had exceeded his proposed limit on this occasion by about 300 per cent, but they were all interested in his speech. Then came the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, who appeared to have been a Member of the New Zealand Parliament until the women obtained the franchise there, but even the hon. Gentleman did not convince him. He had spoken of the absence of 260 political questions in New Zealand, but was there a single point of the Radical programme, from land tenure to woman suffrage, in which the self-governing colonies were not 200 years at least ahead of this country? There were other places besides Australia and New Zealand in which women had the Parliamentary vote, as, for example, Finland, in which it was admittedly exercised for the benefit of the community, and also in Norway, the best governed country and perhaps one of the greatest intellectual forces in Europe. The hon. Member who last spoke had frankly admitted that logic was against him, but had said that people who were governed by logic were nearly always wrong. He was glad to think that people did not think after that fashion in the country from which he came. They were always in favour of what was logical, whatever inconvenience it might cause. The refusal to admit women to the title of "fellow-citizens" threw a sinister light on the attitude of the opponents. Women were to be treated as some sort of inferior animal, fit to do everything except exercise the Parliamentary vote. So long as they taxed women of property or hanged them for murder or sent them to gaol when guilty of offences against property, or of knocking at the doors of Cabinet Ministers, so long as they imposed on them burdens and responsibilities, they were logically compelled to give them the Parliamentary franchise. The tone of the debate had been maintained at a high standard, and the House had not been treated to the customary witticisms. But the opposition to the Bill was founded on prejudices, one would have thought, the most ancient in the world if they had not enjoyed the advantage of hearing some of the jokes by which the prejudices were propounded. The hon. Member for Plymouth had taken the view that hon. Members in the House were too demoralised and that women ought not to be allowed to come there. He would not deny that one of the incidental consequences of giving women the franchise would be to allow them to become Members; but at least their entrance in the House would not depress its intelligence—because that was a thing that might not be possible—and it might 261 do something to raise its moral standard. The hon. Member had objected to women getting the vote because woman was an unknown quantity and also because she was alleged to be a temptation. He hoped that, despite the advances in literature to which her influence had largely contributed, woman would never cease to be an unknown quantity. If he thought this Bill would do anything to pluck out the heart of her mystery and make her a merely logical being he would be strongly opposed to it. If women were regarded as a temptation they must in their individual capacity be allowed to grapple with the temptation as well as they could. The hon. Gentleman had a last argument. He had said the reason he was opposed to it was that there was nothing about woman suffrage in the Scriptures. The Scriptures was a large and extremely interesting book, but it left a great many things untouched. There was nothing, for instance, about the comparative economic value of free trade and protection. There was nothing in it about the Tariff Reform League or about whaling in the Orkney and Shetland Islands. If, however, hon. Members had not texts on these and other questions they had with them in support of the Bill the entire forces of logic, which, after all, ought to have some infinitesimal effect on the minds of hon. Members. They had also the up-growing wave of democracy and experience flowing from the improvement of the laws, regarded from the point of view of social reform, that came to them from every country that had had the courage to take this step. He did not say it had not some risks. It had. Was there ever a great social change that did not carry risks with it? They could not remove every objection by argument. They were asked on this question to make a great act of faith in the future of humanity. He was prepared to make that act of faith, and he thought the House ought to.
MR. CLEMENT EDWARDS (Denbigh District)
said he opposed the Second Reading of the Bill because he was in favour of adult suffrage. The speech they had just heard was strongly 262 in favour of adult suffrage, but it confined not a single thing in favour of this pettif gging and ridiculous Bill. He had fought three elections without the slightest pressure being put upon him from any quarter, and he had in each of those elections advocated adult suffrage on the ground of democratic principles. But he was not prepared to support a Bill of this limited and property-mongering character. It had been suggested that certain ladies who had been taking part in a great agitation should give pause to those who had advocated an extension of the suffrage to women. He, for one, had not been in the least frightened by the boisterous and somewhat Olympic methods of the active crusaders whom he supposed they might correctly describe as belonging to the furniture vanguard of the suffrage movement. But he was surprised that this Bill should on two different occasions have found foster parents on that side of the House. It was quite clear that the two hon. and most lady-like Members for North St. Pancras and North Kensington had had their tender sympathies and simple hearts exploited by the "suffragette" agitation. It was a matter of history that the wise men did not come from the north. It had, however, been suggested that they ought to support this Bill as a beginning. He did not regard a Bill which simply clothed with voting power certain propertied persons as a beginning. He believed when the well-to-do women got the franchise they would do little or nothing to extend the same right and privilege to the working women of the country. This Bill professed to be a measure for enfranchising women. It professed, as the Bill of last year and the Bill of the previous year did, to give the vote to women under the same circumstances as to men. That meant that women might be put on as freehold voters, that they might enjoy the service vote, that they might come on as independent occupiers and as lodgers. It also meant that in certain circumstances they might be entitled to the vote as joint occupiers or joint lodgers. When one came to see what proportion of married women in the country were likely to be enfranchised by this measure he was perfectly amazed 263 that any man claiming to be democratic, and still more surprised that members of the Party below the gangway opposite, who professed to stand for and represent the interests of labour, could support a Bill which would shut out 89 per cent, of the married working women of the country from the possible enjoyment of the franchise. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Blackburn, for instance, it would be possible for only 6 per cent, of the married women to enjoy the vote. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Merthyr less than 4 per cent, of the married women could possibly have the vote; and taking the constituencies represented by the whole of the members of the Labour Party there was no single case where more than 12 per cent, of the married women could get on to the register, tae proportion varying from 12 down to 4 per cent. There was another aspect of this question, and one to which he was surprised that no attention had been drawn. Not only would this Bill fail to enfranchise the great mass of the working women of the country, but it would, on the other hand, have the automatic effect, if it became law, of actually disfranchising thousands of workmen. The case of the independent householder and of the single lodger was simple, but when they came to the case of the joint occupier vote and the joint lodger vote it only needed to consider one or two very simple facts to make it perfectly clear that the Bill as drawn, if it became law, would automatically disfranchise a number of persons now living in houses under the rent of £20 a year, or occupying lodgings of less than £20 a year value. He would like to call attention to the operation of the franchise law at present—first of all, to the case of the single occupier. It was a fact within the knowledge of the House that under the Representation of the People Act of 1867 no value qualification was required for a single person to get on for a dwelling-house, but it was expressly provided that there could be no joint occupiers for dwelling-houses; they therefore had to go back to the Reform Act of 1832 to look at the franchise there for the joint occupier. By Section 29 of that Act, in the case of joint occupiers, under this Bill a man and his wife, they had to do a compulsory sum in arithmetic. 264 They had to add the husband and wife, divide the amount of the rent by two, and if the yearly rent was not at least £10 for each of them, neither was entitled to go upon the register. What were the possibilities under these circumstances? In South East and East London practically the whole population lived in weekly tenancies, and there was no written agreement. What was to prevent the landlord from treating the man and his wife as joint tenants and thus not only prevent the woman being enfranchised under the Bill, but disfranchise the husband himself? To take a case of common occurrence in great industrial districts where hundreds of cottages were attached to a colliery, what was to prevent the owner of the cottages, in a spirit of political animus, insisting upon the husband and wife being made joint tenants and by the automatic operation of the Bill depriving the husband of the right to vote which he now enjoyed The Bill would not enfranchise a single one of the hundreds of thousands of agricultural labourers' wives, and it could be utilised by the landlord if there was political bias to compel husband and wife to become joint tenants and by that means to deprive the husband of the vote that he now enjoyed. But it was not in the case of the joint occupier that the danger was so great. It was much more dangerous and menacing in the case of the joint lodger. In the Act of 1878 provision was made for the joint lodger. What were the qualifications? Apart from the time qualification, there was the qualification that the rent paid must be of the clear yearly value of £10 for each of the lodgers in joint occupation. There were in London, as in most of the great industrial centres, a very large number of lodgings let to workmen and their wives. In the constituency of West Islington there were over 2,000 lodgers upon the register. Of these there were 1,500 workmen living with their wives in unfurnished lodgings rented at less than 8 s per week. How did that work out? At present the revising barrister, when a claim was made for a lodger vote, had first to ascertain what was the value of the premises occupied. If it was a question of there being more than one lodger, he at once divided the total value of 265 the premises by the number of lodgers There was no definition in any text-book or Act of Parliament of what a lodger was. In many cases the lodger had been treated as merely another occupant of the room. What happened now was, where there were, perhaps two brothers claiming, that the revising barrister at once divided the total value of the lodging by the number of lodgers and if, after dividing, there was not a clear annual value of £10 for each, then neither was entitled to be placed, on the register. Hitherto, the revising barrister had treated husband and wife as one. In the case of brothers he had not so treated them. If this Bill became an Act of Parliament, and the wife of a workman in such a case was made a separate voting entity, revising barristers would do precisely as they had done in the case of two brothers, adding the wife to the husband, dividing the total rent by two, and there would be less than the clear net annual value of £10 for each, and neither would be entitled to have the franchise, and the husband, who now enjoyed it, would be struck off the register. He hoped that side of the House, and those who had stood for the democratic idea, would not allow themselves to be carried away in support of this Bill. How came it that the Bill was of the same limited character as the Bill of last year and the year before? The Women's Co-operative Guild had pointed out its limited character. Why had not the admitted defects been corrected? Why ask them to vote this great revolutionary change in the Constitution by a measure which set up a narrow property franchise? If woman franchise was a good thing, as he thought it was, let the House face it and pass a Bill which gave effect to the full principle.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN (Blackburn)
said that this was the twenty-third occasion that the question of female enfranchisement had been debated since John Stuart Mill moved his Amendment to the Reform Bill of 1867. On each of those twenty-three occasions the same worm-eaten objections had been brought forward. In the intervening years those objections had been disproved by the hard logic of facts. 266 In Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania' Finland, some of the American States and what the hon. Member for Plymouth forgot to mention, in Norway also, women had the franchise, but in none of, those countries had the anticipations and fears which had been so often expressed been realised. The stockings still got darned, the baby was still nursed, women did not spend all their; time discussing politics, and the population continued to increase. But he rose mainly for the purpose of dealing with a challenge which had been brought forward in two or three quarters in the course of that debate, and that was for proof that a demand for women's enfranchisement existed. He wanted to prove that that demand did exist. It had been pointed out that there were more than 400 Members of that House pledged to women's enfranchisement, and he did not subscribe to the opinion which had been expressed as to the demoralised condition of politicians. He should assume that those promises were given after intelligent consideration of the question and were an expression of the honest conviction of the individual Members who made them. He had already said that this matter had been discussed in the House twenty-three times. Thirty-eight years ago a Women's Franchise Bill passed a Second Reading in that House, and twice subsequently a Bill had been carried through its Second Reading. The Liberal Federation or Council had repeatedly passed resolutions in support of the enfranchisement of women, and quite recently, at its meeting twelve months ago, by seventy-one votes to thirteen, it asked that the Government should at once take steps to press forward this reform into law. Last week, at a meeting of the Federation or Council, the question was again discussed, and in spite of the vehement eloquence of the hon. Member for Loughborough, it was decided by a large majority to continue to press upon the Government the extreme urgency of this question.
§ SIR MAURICE LEVY
said the amendment he objected to was not the one to which the hon. Member alluded.
§ MR. SNOWDEN
said the hon. Member objected to an amendment to the effect 267 that the meeting was of opinion that an extension of the franchise to women Should be passed into law at the earliest possible opportunity, and that was carried, but no vote was taken owing to the large majority in favour of the amendment.
§ SIR MAURICE LEVY
You stated that in spite of the vehemence of my speech the motion was carried, but I never spoke on the motion which was carried. I opposed the previous amendment in reference to woman suffrage which was defeated by a large majority.
§ MR. SNOWDEN
, continuing, said his reference was to the eloquence of the hon. Member against the enfranchisement of women resolution. He would like to point out the very different attitude which the hon. Member had taken up in that debate to that which he adopted a week ago at Leicester. Twelve months ago the hon. Member put down a Motion on the Paper of that House, or introduced a Bill, in favour of adult suffrage, and he spoke that afternoon as though he were in favour of adult suffrage, which, of course, included woman suffrage, but his chief reason a week ago at Leicester against the enfranchisement of women was that the question of woman suffrage had never yet been put before the electors, and that if it were he thought the people would say the time had not yet come for the men to surrender and hand over the government to the women. Then why did he introduce a Bill twelve months ago which was going to put women in a majority? However, before that digression, he was trying to show that there existed in the country a strong and rapidly-growing demand for a measure of this description, and he referred to the expressions of opinion given by organised Liberal forces in the country. At the last meeting of the National Union of Conservative Associations, he believed for the first time, they, without a division, passed a resolution in favour of the enfranchisement of women. Might he refer to a statement made by the Home Secretary in his speech that afternoon? He advocated that women should first convince the Government by their "methods that a demand did exist for 268 female suffrage. He ventured to submit and he thought the right hon. Gentleman would agree, that at his own public meetings in the last twelve months there had been no topic so exciting as the question of female suffrage He (Mr. Snowden) knew something of this agitation and he made this statement convinced of its truth—and; he was certain that every Member in the House acquainted with the agitation would agree with his conclusion—that there was not in the country at the present time, with the single exception of the Socialist movement, a movement which was so vigorous and so active, which carried on such persistent and consistent propaganda, as that for the enfranchisement of women. More meetings had been held in support of that cause during the last twelve months than on behalf of any other question, except, as he said, for general Socialist propaganda. Twice within the last few months the Queen's Hall had been crowded in every nook and corner with enthusiastic audiences, almost entirely composed of women, on that subject. Let them take the recent bye-elections. Many reasons had been assigned for the results at Mid-Devon and Leeds, for the decline of the Liberal vote, but he was convinced that the action of the women at those bye-elections had done more to change the disposal of the male vote than any other factor or influence. At Leeds the women got by far the largest meetings. On the Sunday before the election they had a demonstration which was described to him by a man from Leeds, who said that he had taken part in every big demonstration in Leeds for the last thirty years and had never before seen a demonstration equalling in numbers, enthusiasm, and unanimity, the demonstration the women had on that Sunday afternoon. On the eve of the poll—and if the hon. Member who was returned at that by-election would speak in that debate he would corroborate what he said—the women had a demonstration, and the local police calculated that 100,000 persons took part in it. He himself went to address the third meeting on the evening in a schoolroom which at 9.30 p.m had been placed at their disposal by the women, who had had, from 6.30 to that hour, the room crowded with women. 269 Did hon. Members think that that could go on without having any effect? All those women had husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, or sweethearts. Those who were opposed to the enfranchisement of women admitted the influence of women, and it was in that direction that the women were beginning to exercise their influence. He did not subscribe to the position as it had been stated in the course of the debate that it was necessary for those who supported the proposal to prove that a majority of women demanded the vote. They had never applied that proposition to any other piece of legislation. What would be thought of the reasonableness and the position of a Member who asked the Cabinet to prove that a majority supported the Education Bill or the Licensing Bill introduced that week? He did not care whether a majority of women in the country wanted the vote or not; it was enough for him to know that a large number of women did want the vote. An hon. Member had talked about imposing the vote on the women, but they did not do anything of the sort. They would not be compelled to vote, and even if a considerable number of women did not want the vote that was no reason why a smaller number of intelligent women, quite capable of rendering valuable assistance to the government of the country, should be any longer withheld from the opportunity of doing so. The hon. Member for Plymouth, in trying to minimise the importance of the franchise agitation, had stated that there were not more than 300,000 women associated with suffrage organisations. Might he put it like this? What was the number of men associated officially with Liberal organisations in the country? He ventured to say it was not more than 300,000. They all knew that the membership of an organisation was no criterion at all of the strength of public opinion. He had in this constituency more than 10,000 votes, and those votes were given at a time when the organisation of his party did not number 200. He would turn to the criticism of what was called the limited character of the Bill. The Bill limited nothing. It was not a Franchise Bill; it was simply a Bill for the removal of sex disability. Every 270 working women's organisation in the country supported the Bill. They were absolutely unanimous in demanding that the vote should be given to women on the same terms as it was, or might be, given to men; and he thought they were wise in confining their demand to that. They concentrated their demand at present upon the simple point of the removal of sex disability. An hon. Member had quoted a speech made in the House twelve months ago, but he quoted incorrectly, because it was not stated in that speech that the passing of the Bill before the House into law would not enfranchise any working woman. As a matter of fact, he (Mr. Snowden) gave figures, which had never been disputed, in the course of the debate last year, proving that by the passing of the measure at least 82 per cent, of the women enfranchised would belong to the working classes. His hon. friend had presented a petition from the textile workers in Lancashire, the majority of whom would not be enfranchised by the measure, but all the same they demanded a Bill of this kind, and they were wise, because they recognised that for all practical purposes the granting of the vote to a few women was the enfranchisement of the whole sex. He had only one more thing to say. The Home Secretary had asked for a majority in favour of the Second Reading as an indication of the growing sympathy with the cause in the House of Commons, but he did not think that that would quite satisfy the women outside. He believed a similar appeal was made when a similar Bill was under discussion nearly forty years ago, and they were not satisfied that mere platonic sympathy should be shown with such a measure. However, he hoped that at any rate the vote that afternoon would be of such a character as to indicate that inside that House, which after all was the last place in the country to feel the influence of public opinion outside, there had been since the last division on the question a very considerable advance.
§ SIR RANDAL CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
said the mover of the Bill had intimated that if the House would agree to the Second Reading, he was willing that the Bill should be referred 271 to a Committee of the Whole House. That was a very adroit move and vote-catching offer on the past of the hon. Gentleman and the supporters of the Bill but he hoped Members, of the House would not be deluded by any such promise or offer. The hon. Member for Blackburn had asserted that there was a large and constantly increasing demand in this country for the enfranchisement of women, but the hon. Member adduced no proofs for his assertion. He thought, however, he would be able to prove that there was very little demand for this measure on the part of the women of the United Kingdom. Last year when the Bill was under discussion, he gave to the House information which he had obtained from the Petitions Committee. The figures which he had given on that occasion as to the number of signatures in favour of female suffrage had been increased since then, though slightly. The hon. Member for Blackburn had said that there was a growing desire on the part of women for the franchise, and there was some boast of their having an organisation numbering 300,000 members. If that were so, one would have thought that they would have taken the trouble at least to attach their signatures to the petitions presented to this House, because signatures to a petition cost nothing, and the signatures of such a number would have been evidence that there was a desire on the part of many women to possess the vote. But there had been nothing like 300,000 signatures to the petitions presented to the House. Since he gave the figures last year some 4,500 more had signed petitions. These figures were brought up to the day before yesterday. He had gone to the Petitions Committee to get the facts before making his, statement to the House, and there he found that during the last seventeen years, the total number of men and women, young and old, who had signed petitions to this House in favour of female suffrage was 198,403. He hoped the House would bear with him while he gave the number of adult women in the United Kingdom and contrasted that with the small number of women who had manifested any desire to possess 272 the Parliamentary vote. According to the last Census there were 10,500,000 adult females in the United Kingdom, of whom 198,403—presumably all adult women—had signed petitions to that House, He was quite willing to admit for the sake of argument that this number really did desire to possess the Parliamentary franchise, but if they deducted the 195,403 from the 10,500,000, they had 10,312,907 women who would not even take the trouble to sign a petition to that House in favour of woman suffrage. To him this was conclusive evidence that the little band of suffragists had no claim to represent the women of the United Kingdom. And it was not because they had made no attempt to obtain signatures. He repeated the statement which he made on good authority last year, and it had never been challenged, that they had employed paid agents to collect signatures; that they had given instructions to these paid agents—who were very liberally paid, he believed 8d an hour—to tell women in the factories of Lancashire that if they signed the petitions and got votes their wages would be raised. Yet notwithstanding these paid agents and the instructions given to them, they had only been able to secure the number of signatures which he had stated. He repeated that the evidence he had given was conclusive that there was very little desire on the part of the women of this country to obtain the Parliamentary franchise. Reference had been made to the recent attempt by the Sheffield Independent to elicit an expression of opinion in this question from the women of that city. The result of that effort was very remarkable. The number who voted were a small minority of the women of Sheffield. The Sheffield Independent was a Liberal journal which he believed supported woman suffrage, and the result of the census taken by that newspaper was that of those who took the trouble to record their votes 14,652 voted against women having the vote, and 9,011 that they should have the vote. The Sheffield Independent, in publishing these figures, made a statement which he commended to the serious consideration of those who supported the Bill or the extension, of the franchise 273 to women under any circumstances. That journal, in commenting on the efforts they had made, wrote—It did not occur to us that the canvassers would be met everywhere by the supposition that they were agents of the suffragettes, and as such, would be abused right and left and from time to time pursued off the premises. Amongst the vast majority who were opposed to the suffrage movement were a multitude who regarded it with most scornful disapproval. This fact was made patent at every turn. The women swayed by these feelings rarely had patience to vote. They burned the paper with contumely and were almost equally ready to burn the suffragettes.He commended this to the consideration of those who declared that the women of the country were largely in favour of extending the franchise to the whole female sex. It was quite true that a number of meetings had been held, but the same kind of people nearly always appeared on the platforms. The clever little band of suffragists who undertook to speak in the name of the 10,500,000 women of Great Britain, but who could only get the signatures of 189,000, reminded him of a stage army passing in front of the curtain. There were about a dozen of them, and, as soon as the head of the column reached the curtain, he ran behind and came on again at the tail. Thus the continual march of a dozen men was made to impress the spectators as representing a mighty host. That was exactly what these women did. It was the same family party continually rushing from place to place and meeting to meeting, and they had deluded some people into the belief that they were a mighty host. Whatever importance they had in the public eye was, he averred, without the slightest hesitation, largely owing to the way they had been boomed by the Press. The London Liberal journals had been the worst sinners in this respect. He did not know whether they expected that if women were enfranchised it would advantage the Liberal Party, but One could scarcely take up a London Liberal daily journal without finding portraits of individual suffragists or groups of them; and, when they were committed to prison, the same journals described their hardships, what they had for breakfast and dinner, what the chaplain said to them and what they said to the chaplain. It was wearisome, almost nauseating, to read the reports given about the 274 suffragists in the London daily Liberal journals. Was it surprising that, written about and pictured in the Press, they should have deluded not only themselves but their dupes into the belief that they were really heroines and martyrs in a great cause? Neither the hon. Member who introduced the Bill nor the hon. Member for Blackburn had given any proof that the women of the country laboured under any grievances which the House was not prepared to redress. It was not a question of grievances under which they laboured, but one of privileges which they enjoyed. Women, so far from having grievances, enjoyed a large number of privileges which were absolutely denied to what they called the mere male. He would give some of them. A woman, however wealthy, was not bound to contribute to the support of her parents, however necessitous they might be. A man, however poor he might be, was legally responsible for any debts his wife might incur even without his knowledge, but a wife was not responsibile for any debt of her husband's, although she might be a wealthy woman. A married man might be imprisoned for contempt of court if it was proved he had the means of paying either his own or his wife's debts and did not do so, but no such punishment could be inflicted on married women, however wealthy. If a married woman incurred debts she could not be made personally liable by being committed to prison for contempt of court if she failed to pay, nor could any of her property be seized in order to satisfy her creditors if that property had been settled on her in the usual way. She was thus in a unique and privileged position. No similar right was allowed to a married man. A bankruptcy order could be served against a married man, but not against a married woman, however much wealth she might possess, unless she was carrying on a trade separately from her husband. A wife might leave her husband without any risk and he could not compel her to return to him, but if a husband left his wife she could summons him for desertion and obtain an order for his return and her support. The wife might leave her husband, occupy a separate residence, refuse to let him in, and he had no remedy. 275 She could support herself on his credit and obtain an order for restitution of conjugal rights and maintenance, which order he disobeyed at his peril. If a man's wife slandered another woman and the woman was awarded damages the husband was liable to pay the costs of the trial and the damages while his wife escaped all obligations with impunity. If a man had a wife who spent his wages in drink and to get drink sold his home and deserted him and his children, leaving them without food and shelter, he had no remedy, but he could not leave her without the risk of being punished for desertion; and if a man behaved in such a manner towards his wife she could obtain an order for a judicial separation and an order compelling him to maintain her. He thought the facts which he had given, and which he had taken care to verify by consulting lawyers who were able to give sound judgment on questions of that sort, should be commended to the consideration of the House. He hoped that before this debate ended they should have some proof given to them that men enjoyed an equal number of legal privileges, and that a large proportion of women desire the vote. He did not say a majority of them, but such a proportion as would convince this House and the country that this great constitutional change should be effected. Before the Reform Bill of 1867 the railings of Hyde Park went down. He had played his part upon that occasion, having been one of the six men who organised that great demonstration, and therefore he spoke with knowledge of what took place, and of the multitudes that took part in that peaceful demonstration. If the women only gave this House the same kind of proof that they, "mere males," gave to the country before they succeeded in getting the franchise extended, that would satisfy him; but until they did that and proved to the country and this House that women laboured under the grievances, that they suffered under the hardships which they declared they suffered under, without giving a title of proof that they, the mere male brutes as they were described, were unjust to them—until they gave them this proof he for one should decline, not only on this occasion but as long as he had a 276 seat in this House, to give his vote in favour of extending the suffrage to women. He hoped hon. Members would bear this one great fact in mind, that this was a revolution of such a nature and character that had never been passed by any assembly. The inevitable outcome of this Bill must be the complete enfranchisement of women, and then there would be a million more female than male voters in the country. That meant a transference of the sovereign power of governing this Empire and of ruling the world from men to women, and he asked hon. Members before they went into the Lobby to put this question to themselves: Were they prepared to transfer the sovereign power of ruling the British Empire and governing the world from men to women? He for one was not prepared for such a mighty change, and he should go into the Lobby to oppose this Bill.
§ MR. BRODIE (Surrey, Reigate)
said that those hon. Members who were there to support the Bill were confident of the triumph of the principle which it embodied, that sex should be no barrier to participation in Parliamentary franchise. When they remembered that 400 Members had expressed themselves as favourable to giving the suffrage to women they could hardly doubt the issue of the day's debate in the division lobbies. In fact, in rejecting the Amendment and supporting the Bill the House would only reaffirm an opinion expressed on several occasions. He would have no doubt as to the result if they had only to meet the frank and open opposition of declared opponents, but he was afraid of the action of some of those whom he might call their lukewarm friends. There were, of course, always those people who were generally in favour of a reform until that reform became a question of practical politics. They had such supporters among them in every quarter of the House, and their support was of very little worth. There were also those timid people, not a few, who had been alarmed by the action of a few women—not bad women, but women to whom the denial of what seemed to them an essential and elementary act of justice had driven 277 to the adoption of methods of propaganda which were not new, not always unsuccessful, but which most of them disliked and deplored. He would ask hon. Members to turn their minds away from these women, who after all were few, at all events on the Liberal side, and indeed they had been twitted in this House on that occasion because they were few and it was therefore said that this demand was not a real one. To their timid friends he could only say that they should remember the great body of women of splendid and earnest character who worked for them at the last election, and take their courage in both hands, and it need not be a great deal of courage. They wanted all the help they could possibly get, because they had to meet the strong and powerful arguments which had been put forward in this House and in the country by hon. Members who conscientiously opposed the reform which they advocated. As to the Bill, it embodied a principle, and it was not fair of any hon. Member to say that he did not promise to support a particular Bill. What about the Education or Licensing Bills? He put it to his hon. friends that they could not be so wanting in courage, honour, and generosity as to shrink from sending this Bill to a Committee or better still considering it in Committee of the Whole House. They had all met men who admitted that they could sustain no logical or reasonable argument against this reform, but who yet remained opponents—The reason why I cannot tell,I do not like thee, Dr. Fell.seemed sufficient answer to them to anything that was said. If hon. Members unlocked their inner consciousness—a conscience they all possessed and generally suppressed—did they not recognise a small but penitent whisper which at least led them to doubt whether they had not reared this magnificent structure of argument against this reform, apparently so splendid and powerful, upon no stronger foundation than the prejudice openly confessed by less enlightened members of the community? At that hour he knew it would not be right for him to go through the arguments which, apart from prejudice, were urged against votes for women, moral, physical, and intellectual. He felt that everyone 278 who had known good and hard-working women could not feel that they were in any way incapable of exercising the vote. They were capable of giving a sound judgment, and the assertion that they were not was daily contradicted in the life of every household. But when they came to the best women, were they not capable of greater sacrifices than men? The faults which men found in women were the faults found in an oppressed people—want of frankness, occasional violence—due to the suppression of liberty. Those who had known good women, and they all knew them, must welcome the extension of the radiance and inspiration of the home to the State. It was said that the influence of women would be destroyed by politics, but he did hot think they could believe that, as man's influence had not been destroyed, but often increased. As to the physical arguments which were urged, they could be easily swept aside. Women bore a share in every war, and in the suffering which it entailed, and, not the least consideration, they had actually and personally led men to victory. Then they were asked how were they to enforce the law. Laws passed by men and women together would be enforced by men and women together, and the force of laws depended upon their acceptance by the community. They could not enforce the laws of the present or any Parliament if they were not generally accepted by the community. As to the intellectual argument, he might point out that women had competed successfully with men in any sphere open to them and the very exercise of the vote would do for women what it had done for class after class of emancipated men, while most women to-day were more fitted to exercise the vote intelligently than those men—and there were such men—who were swayed by a glass of beer. They were asked where, this voting by women would lead them. It did not matter where it would lead them. They should "be just and fear not." They should have no doubt and not be afraid. Women had influence to-day, and let them extend it. They were told that women ought to stop at home and look after their homes, but they could still do so just as many hon. Members took charge of their 279 businesses, and also attended the House of Commons. He did not, however, wish this House to extend support to this measure merely because it was just, but because it was expedient and desirable. Some people said it would make no difference, nor was it in any way likely to upset society. But it would make a difference greater than any of them could conceive, and that was why they wanted it. When they looked back upon the pages of history and realised how this world of ours groaned and laboured on from year to year and age to age, One civilisation rising and falling after another, and how very badly men who had hitherto had charge of the politics of the world had managed, was it not time they called in the women folk, especially when they considered that the countries and times in which women had most respect and consideration had shown the greatest advancements? Let women find their highest ideal and expression in womanhood and woman's work, but let not that expression be fettered by any sense of inequality; let both men and women share in the selection of their Members, so that through the exercise of the best brains of both sexes, they, might bring progress through our country to humanity.
§ MR. GUEST (Cardiff District)
said he did not rise for the purpose of adding any arguments for or against the Bill; the only thing he wished to say was this. He understood that it was proposed to move that this Bill should be committed to a Committee of the whole House. That reduced a vote on the measure before them to a mere expression of pious opinion which might have been done by Resolution. Under those circumstances many Members who were opposed to the Bill would welcome a division, although he did not know whether he could speak for everybody. They therefore did not propose to object to the closure being moved, because they were anxious to take a vote on this subject. They thought the time had come when the public should realise the serious menace which would be the result if women had a vote. For himself he believed that a vote on this occasion might have a very different effect in the country from that which the supporters 280 of the Bill imagined. He was entirely impressed with the fact that it was utterly wrong and indefensible to propose a change of this magnitude in the Bill of a private member, introduced oh a Friday afternoon. He believed the country would think so, and that there would be unanimity on this point, that it was a subject of sufficient importance to warrant its being discussed in the country at a general election before any step was taken. [An HON. MEMBER: Let it settle itself.] Did the hon. Gentleman opposite argue that it was possible for them as men to divest themselves of the responsibility of deciding this question? On what process of reasoning were they to stand aside and let the question settle itself? It was quite unnecessary for hon. Gentlemen opposite to assume that those who were opposed to this Bill were opposed to it on any ground which was ungenerous or illiberal. The debate had shown that whatever their convictions were, and however much they differed, they were honest convictions, and they were actuated by a desire to do what was best for women. He had risen simply to say it was not their intention to oppose the taking of a vote and for his own part the sooner that vote was taken the better.
§ MR. ATHERLEY-JONES (Durham, N.W.)
said he did not rise to take part in the general discussion He thought that every argument which had been used for the last twenty years had been advanced that day. Whilst warmly congratulating his hon. friend upon, perhaps, the ablest speech with which a measure of this kind had ever been introduced, he wished to express, not as an opponent, but as a supporter of the Bill, his deep regret that the promoters had thought fit to propose the reference of this measure to a Committee of the Whole House. The subject had been the subject of discussion in the House for many years past. It had received the sanction on more than one occasion of large majorities of the House of Commons, and he portested against the resolve to send the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House, because it would mean relegating the question to another year. The Member for Plymouth, in his most capable speech against the Bill, had abandoned 281 what had hitherto been the chief ground of attack—namely, the intellectual in capacity of women. Further, he had almost, if not entirely, abandoned the question of physical disability, and the only argument which he had advanced against the measure was, that, in the first place, there was an indifference on the part of women, and, in the second place, that this was a measure which should be brought in not by a private Member but by a responsible Government. He thought he was correct in stating that that represented the sum total of the opposition. Under those circumstances, why on earth should the promoters of the Bill deliberately choose to reduce the matter to the position of an academic question, and by resolving to refer the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House relegate it for an absolute certainty to another year of Parliamentary life? The Bill did not create a new franchise; it only said that women should enjoy the same franchise as men. He protested against the decision to refer the Bill to a Committee of the Whole House instead of sending it to a Grand Committee, and he hoped that even now the promoters of the Bill would consider his suggestion.
§ MR. REES (Montgomery Boroughs)
, who spoke amid cries of "Divide divide," said he differed from the view which had just been expressed by the hon. Member for Cardiff, and upon this subject his sentence was for open war. He thought it was their duty to oppose this measure going to a division, and also to oppose it if a division were taken. The hon. Member for Blackburn had said that there was a strong feeling in the country in favour of this Bill, but the only proof he put forward turned out to be that this was a subject in which he himself was interested and therefore, it must be a subject in which the country was interested. He said—Female suffrage and Socialism are my subjects, and they are the subjects the country has most at heart.That was a complaint from which other hon. Members suffered besides the hon. Member for Blackburn. He took the liberty to say that the opinion of an individual member on this question was worth as much or as 282 little as that of another, and his experience of the women he had come in contact with as to the principle of this measure was in a contrary direction to that which had been expressed by its supporters. Last year he had the honour to speak upon this measure for a minute or two, and since then, although the seven vials of wrath had been emptied upon his devoted head by the London suffragettes, from his own constituency only one lady had raised any objection to his action. It was true she was a very capable lady, and one whose co-operation and support he highly valued. This measure had been drafted with adult suffrage in full view. The hon. Member for Loughborough had said it would be disastrous to the Liberals to pass this measure, but he believed that it would be only less disastrous to the Conservative Party, and until it was brought forward by the Government as the pronounced opinion of the country, the House was not in a position to deal with it. This Bill contained within it the germ of a great revolution, and it should not be rushed through the House in this way. It ought only to be brought forward by the Government of the day after the country had pronounced in favour of it at a general election, and not upon the Motion of a private Member who happened to win the ballot, so that the matter came up as the mere accident of an accident. What was most amazing in regard to this question was that the House did not seem to take it altogether seriously. In his opinion no more serious matter could be brought before the House, and although the question lent itself to humorous treatment that was a mere incident in the case. Every hon. Member who had spoken had done so under a deep sense of responsibility, and he hoped that he would not be considered an exception. He would not take up any time with details. There was absolutely no ground for refusing the franchise to women except the hard and fast line of sex. They were as brave, intellegent, well-conducted, and ambitious, as men. Finland had been quoted as an example for this country to follow. It was a very nice little country, and there was very good fishing there; but why should we go there for a precedent? Simply 283 because a system was found there which gave colour to this claim, but he knew Finland, and the women there did as their husbands told them to do. Why, too, should we go to our Colonies for an example? Had any parents outside a lunatic asylum ever gone to their children for an example of government?
§ MR. REES
said the hon. Member was not entitled to question him without putting his questions on the paper. [Cries of "Divide, divide."] If women became qualified to sit in Parliament they would be qualified for such posts as Viceroy of India or Commander-in-Chief. The House could imagine a bearded Mahomedan in that case saying, "God is great, and the English are madder now than ever. The Secretary for War, indeed, had positively announced lately that he had appointed, approved, or countenanced a lady recruiter; but pretty women had been recruiters for the Army ever since the brave deserved the fair. Logic had been invoked to support this Bill. No doubt woman was a good thing, and suffrage was a good thing, but it did not follow that woman suffrage was a good thing. In the same way a petticoat was a good thing and government was, or should be, a good thing, but it did not follow that petticoat government was a good thing. Not one hon. Member would get up and say it was a good thing, in his own case and in his own home, and how in that case could it be good for the aggregate of homes which made the nation? He would like a reply to that from one of the subsequent speakers who might follow him in the debate. An endeavour had been made to make use of the authority of Scripture to favour the case. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland began to quote St. Paul, but stopped because, he supposed, he had forgotten the quotation. He happened to re-
§ member it. "Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man." He put that forward as a conclusive answer against Scripture giving any support to this claim. If Scripture was to be invoked, other passages might be found of an entirely opposite description. One passage was: "Jerusalem is ruined and Judah is fallen. As for my people, children are their oppressors and women rule over them." What kind of women were these? The prophet said, "Because the daughters of Sion are haughty and walk with out-stretched necks, therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Sion, and in that day the Lord will take away from them "—What? "The bravery of their tinkling ornaments, the "chains, earrings and bracelets, the mufflers, bonnets, and changeable suits of apparel, the smaller wimple, and the crisping pins, the hoods, veils, and fine linen." He did not infer from this that the prophet placed the women, who ruled over the men, in the front rank of their sex. [Cries of "Divide."]
§ Lord R. CECIL (Marylebone, E.)
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put"; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Question put accordingly, "That the word "now" stand part of the Question.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 271; Noes, 92. (Division List, No. 28.)287
|Abraham, William (Cork, N.E.)||Baker, Sir John (Portsmouth)||Barnes, G. N.|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Baker, Joseph A. (Finsbury,E.||Beale, W. P.|
|Alden Percy||Balfour, Robert (Lanark)||Beaumont, Hon. Hubert|
|Ambrose, Robert||Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight)||Bell, Richard|
|Armitage, R.||Barker, John||Bennett, E. N.|
|Astbury, John Meir||Barlow, Percy (Bedford)||Berridge, T. H. D.|
|Atherley-Jones, L.||Barnard, E. B.||Bethell.Sir J.H.(Essex,R'mf'rd|
|Bethell, T. R. (Essex, Maldon)||Gulland, John W.||Murphy, John (Kerry, East)|
|Black, Arthur W.||Gwynn, Stephen Lucius||Murray, James|
|Boland, John||Haldane, Rt. Hon. Richard B||Myer, Horatio|
|Bottomley, Horatio||Hart-Davies, T.||Nannetti, Joseph P|
|Bowerman, C W.||Harvey, W.E.(Derbyshire, N.E.||Nicholls, George|
|Brace, William||Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)||Nicholson, Charles N. (Donc'st'r|
|Branch, James||Hay, Hon. Claude George||Nield, Herbert|
|Brodie, H. C.||Hayden, John Patrick||Norman, Sir Henry|
|Buckmaster, Stanley O.||Heaton, John Henniker||Norton, Capt. Cecil William|
|Bull, Sir William James||Hedges, A. Paget||O'Brien, Kendal (TipperaryMid|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Helme, Norval Watson||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Henderson, J.M.(Aberdeen W.)||O'Brien, William (Cork)|
|Buxton, Rt. Hn. Sydney Charles||Higham, John Sharp||O'Grady, J.|
|Byles, William Pollard||Hobart, Sir Robert||O'Malley, William|
|Cameron, Robert||Holden, E. Hopkinson||Parker James (Halifax)|
|Carlile, E. Hildred||Holland, Sir William Henry||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Horniman, Emslie John||Pearson, W.H.M. (Suffolk,Eye)|
|Causton, Rt. Hn,. Richard Knight||Houston, Robert Paterson||Pease, Herbert Pike(Darlington|
|Cecil, Lord R. (Marylebone E.)||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Phillips, John (Longford, S.)|
|Channing, Sir Francis Allston||Hudson, Walter||Pickersgill, Edward Hare|
|Cherry, Rt. Hon. R. R.||Idris, T. H. W.||Price, C. E. (Edinb'gh, Central)|
|Clough, William||Illingworth, Percy H.||Radford, G. H.|
|Clynes, J. R.||Isaacs, Rufus Daniel||Ratcliff, Major R. F|
|Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)||Jackson, R. S.||Rea, Russell (Gloucester)|
|Collins Sir Wm. J.(S.Pancras W||Jacoby, Sir James Alfred||Rea, Walter Russell (Soarboro'|
|Cooper, G. J.||Jardine, Sir J.||Redmond, William (Clare)|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Jenkins, J.||Remnant, James Farquharson|
|Corbett, C H(Sussex, E.Grinst'd||Johnson, John (Gateshead)||Richards, T.F.(Wolverh'mpt'n|
|Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Jones, Sir D.Brynmor(Swansea)||Richardson, A.|
|Cotton, Sir H. J. S.||Jones, Leif (Appleby)||Ridsdale, E. A.|
|Cowan, W. H.||Jones, William(Carnarvonshire||Roberts, Charles N. (Lincoln)|
|Cox, Harold||Jowett, F. W.||Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)|
|Craig, Captain James(Down, E.)||Kearley, Hudson E.||Robertson, Sir G.Scott(Bradf'd)|
|Cross, Alexander||Kekewich, Sir George||Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)|
|Curran, Peter Francis||Kelley, George D.||Roe, Sir Thomas|
|Dalziel, James Henry||Kettle, Thomas Michael||Rose, Charles Day|
|Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan||Kimber, Sir Henry||Rowlands, J.|
|Davies, Timothy(Fulham)||Lamb, Edmund G. (Leominster||Runciman, Walter|
|Davies, W. Howell,(Bristol, S.)||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, W.)||Russell, T. W.|
|Devlin, Joseph||Lea, Hugh Cecil (St.Pancras.E.)||Rutherford, V. H. (Brentford)|
|Dewar, Arthur (Edinburgh, S.)||Lee, Arthur H.(Hants, Farcham||Rutherford W. W. (Liverpool|
|Dickinson, W.H. (StPancras N.||Leese, Sir JosephF.(Accrington||Salter, Arthur Clavell|
|Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||Lewis, John Herbert||Scarisbrick, T. T. L.|
|Dobson, Thomas W.||Lloyd-George Rt. Hon. David||Schwann Sir C.E.(Manchester)|
|Duckworth, James||Lough, Thomas||Scott, A.H.(Ashton under Lyne|
|Duncan, Robert (Lanark,Govan,||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Seaverns J. H.|
|Dunn, A. Edward,(Camborne)||Macdonald, J.M.(Falkirk B'ghs)||Seddon J.|
|Edwards, Enoch (Hanley)||Mackarness, Frederic C.||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel|
|Esslemont, George Birnie||Maclean, Donald||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley George D.|
|Everett, R. Lacey||Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Fardell, Sir T. George||MacVeigh, Charles (Donegal E.)||Silcock, Thomas Ball|
|Fell, Arthur||M'Arthur, Charles||Smeaton, Donald Mackenzie|
|Fenwick, Charles||M'Cullum, John M.||Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, East)|
|Fletcher J. S.||M'Crae, George||Snowden, P.|
|Forster Henry,William||M'Kean, John||Spicer, Sir Albert|
|Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||M'Laren, Sir C. B. (Leicester)||Stanley, Albert (Staffs N.W.)|
|Freeman-Thomas, Freeman||M'Laren, H. D. (Stafford W.)||Stewart, Halley (Greenock)|
|Furness Sir Christopher||M'Micking, Major G.||Stewart-Smith, D. (Kendal)|
|Gibb, James (Harrow)||Markham, Arthur Basil||Straus, B. S. (Mile End)|
|Gill, A. H.||Marks, G.Croydon (Launceston||Stuart, James (Sunderland)|
|Gladstone Rt.Hn Herbert John||Marks, H. H. (Kent)||Summerbell, T.|
|Glen-Coats, Sir T. (Renfrew, W.)||Marnham, F. J.||Sutherland, J. E.|
|Glendinning R. G.||Masterman, C. F. G.||Taylor, Austin (East Toxteth)|
|Glover, Thomas||Meagher, Michael||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Gooch, George Peabody||Menzies, Walter||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe|
|Goulding, Edward Alfred||Micklem, Nathaniel||Tennant, H. J. (Berwickshire)|
|Grant, Corrie||Middlebrook, William||Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen E|
|Grayson, Albert Victor||Mond, A.||Thomas, David Alfred(Merthyr|
|Greenwood, G. (Peterborough)||Money, L. G. Chiozza||Thompson, J.W.H (Somerset E|
|Greenwood, Hamar (York)||Montagu, E. S.||Thomson, W.Mitchell-(Lanark)|
|Gretton, John||Montgomery, H. G.||Tomkinson, James|
|Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||Morgan, G. Hay (Cornwall)||Toulmin, George|
|Griffith, Ellis J.||Morley, Rt. Hon. John||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Verney, F. W.||Watt, Henry A.||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|Villiers, Ernest Amherst||Wedgwood, Josiah C.||Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)|
|Vivian, Henry||Weir, James Galloway||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Wadsworth, J.||White, J. D. (Dumbartonshire)||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Walsh, Stephen||White, Luke (York, E. R.)||Wood, T. M'Kinnon|
|Walters, John Tudor||White, Patrick (Meath, North)||Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George|
|Walton, Joseph||Whitley, John Henry (Halifax)||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Ward, W.Dudley(Southampt'n||Wiles, Thomas|
|Wardle, George J.||Wilkie, Alexander||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Waring, Walter||Williams, Osmond (Merioneth)||Mr. Stanger and Mr. Acland.|
|Wason, Rt.Hn.E (Clackmannan||Wills, Arthur Walters|
|Waterlow, D. S.||Wilson, Hon. G. G. (Hull, W.)|
|Agar-Robartes, Hon. T. C. R.||Davies, David (MontgomeryCo.||M'Killop, W.|
|Armstrong, W. C. Heaton||Dewar, Sir J. A. (Inverness-sh.)||Maddison, Frederick|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.||Mallet, Charles E.|
|Asquith, Rt.Hn.Herbert Henry||Donelan, Captain A.||Massie, J.|
|Balcarres, Lord||Edwards, Clement (Denbigh)||Morgan, J, Lloyd (Carmarthen)|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Essex, R. W.||Morpeth, Viscount|
|Baring, Capt.Hn.G (Winchester||Evans, Sir Samuel T.||Murphy, N. J. (Kilkenny, S.)|
|Barran, Rowland Hirst||Ferguson, R. C. Munro||Nugent, Sir Walter Richard|
|Barry, E. (Cork, S.)||Fiennes, Hon. Eustace||O'Donnell C. J. (Walworth)|
|Beauchamp, E.||Fuller, John Michael F.||O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens|
|Bellairs, Carlyon||Gardner, Ernest||O'Shaughnessy, P J.|
|Belloc, Hilaire Joseph Peter R.||Gurdon, Rt Hn. Sir W. Brampton||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp|
|Bertram, Julius||Halpin, J.||Reddy, M.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis||Rees, J. D.|
|Brunner J. F. L. (Lancs., Leigh)||Henry, Charles S.||Robson, Sir William Snowdon|
|Brunner, Rt. Hn. Sir J. T. (Chesh.||Herbert, Col. Sir Ivor (Mon. S.)||Roche, John (Galway, East)|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Herbert, T. Arnold (Wycombe)||Rutherford, John (Lancashire)|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||Hill, Sir Clement (Shrewsbury)||Samuel, S. M. (Whitechapel|
|Burke, E. Haviland||Hills, J. W.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. John|
|Butcher, Samuel Henry||Hogan, Michael||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Cavendish, Rt. Hn. Victor C. W.||Hunt, Rowland||Tennant, Sir Edward (Salisbury|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Hyde, Clarendon||Valentia, Viscount|
|Chance, Frederick William||Kennaway, Rt. Hon. Sir John H.||Walker, Col. W.H.(Lancashire)|
|Cleland, J. W.||Kenyon-Slaney Rt. Hn. Col. W.||Warde, Col. C. E. (Kent, Mid.|
|Cobbold, Felix Thornley||King, Sir Henry Seymour (Hull)||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.||Lamb, Ernest H. (Rochester)||Whitbread Howard|
|Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Lehmann, R. C.||Whitehead, Rowland|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Levy, Sir Maurice||Younger, George|
|Crean, Eugene||Lockwood, Rt. Hn. Lt.-CoL. A. R.|
|Cremer, Sir William Randal||Lonsdale, John Brownlee||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Cullinan, J.||Lyell, Charles Henry||Mr. Cathcart Wason and Mr. Guest.|
|Dalmeny Lord||Mac Veagh, Jeremiah (Down, S.|
Bill read a second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—(Mr. Stanger.)