§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
The circumstances which have given rise to this Bill are so fresh in the minds of hon. Members that I need only refer to them in a single word. In almost every year recently, except last year, Women Suffrage Bills have obtained a Second Reading by large majorities. In 1911 Sir George Kemp's Bill was read a second time by a majority of 167, and in the autumn of that year the Prime Minister promised to introduce a Manhood Franchise Bill in such a form as would allow of Amendments extending it to women, and he undertook that if these were carried in this House the Government would make them part of their measure. In January last Mr. Speaker ruled that that Amendment, if made, would be inadmissible, and the Government thereupon withdrew their Bill and proposed instead that the opinion of this House on the question should be obtained by means of a private Member's Bill in the following Session, and they undertook that no difficulties of time or procedure should be placed in the way of carrying such a Bill. In pursuance of this arrangement a Committee was formed to promote a Bill, under the chairmanship of the Solicitor-General, whose valuable assistance I acknowledge most gratefully, and they have prepared this measure which, at their request, I now present to the House. Whilst I will not discuss whether the opportunity afforded to us is better or worse than that of which we were deprived 1705 in January, I wish to point out that the ground is none of our choosing. We have no option but to embrace this opportunity, and we ask the supporters of Women Suffrage, notwithstanding the difficulties of the moment, to stand by us in our attempt to take the first step towards a reform which we regard as one of supreme importance, both to this country and to all civilisation.
I assure the House that we do not underrate the difficulties that we have to meet. It is true that the Government has removed all obstacles of procedure out of our way; but, even with what are called Government facilities, our means of defence fall far short of those usually at the disposal of a Government. We have no Junior Lord of the Treasury to stand at the doors into the Lobby with an eye like Mars to threaten and command. We have no reserves whom we call up to help us out of a tight place. We have not even the ordinary facility that a Government has of making Members vote against their own Opinions. We have only our own powers of persuasion to rely upon, and I assure the House that in my own case I am painfully aware of my shortcomings in this respect. The difficulties that are before me divide themselves into two parts—difficulties of principle and difficulties of detail. I propose to dispose of detail first, and, in as few words as possible, I will attempt to set before the House the effect of the present, Bill.
The drafting of the present Bill has been no easy matter. The Committee charged with this duty has had to have regard to various considerations. Hitherto opinions have been very divergent as to the best method of enfranchising women. On the one hand we have had the view of the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson) that the only course consistent with democratic principles is to give the vote to every man and every woman. On the other hand, we knew that the right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square (Mr. A. Lyttelton), who delivered a convincing speech in January in favour of Women Suffrage, is strongly adverse to enfranchising more than the existing municipal female voters. Between these we have had to steer our course as Ulysses steered between Scylla and Charybdis. We had, indeed, a worse task than Ulysses, for we have had to carry both the rock and the whirlpool with us. I do not yet know if we have succeeded, but 1706 we have made an earnest attempt to do so by a measure which is not merely a compromise but really stands on a principle of its own. The House will remember that in past years two schemes have been brought before it for enfranchising women on a more limited basis than that of adult suffrage. The first merely proposed to enfranchise women on the same basis as men. But this was open to several objections from Members sitting on this side of the House. It was pointed out that it introduced into woman's franchise all the objectionable features attaching to a property vote with which we are familiar, namely, a multiple franchise for those who occupy premises of high value, the possible enfranchisement as lodgers of the sons and daughters of well-to-do parents, the opportunity of creating freehold votes and, lastly, an augmentation in the number of possible plural voters. These objections were met by the second scheme known as the Conciliation Bill. Under it female freeholders, joint occupiers, and lodgers were excluded, and only the women who occupied a dwelling-house in their own right were enfranchised. Both of these proposals were oven to a further objection that they enfranchised only a very small fraction of the adult women in the country, not more than one and a half million out of fourteen million. This appeared to us to be quite inadequate. If we enfranchise women for the purpose of knowing what women's opinions and wishes are, surely it is well to enfranchise more than one woman in every ten. Also under both schemes married women were omitted.
We think it would be most inexpedient to deprive ourselves of the knowledge and experience possessed by the married women. They are the women who have, as a rule, the greatest stake in the country. They are directly interested in our domestic legislation, such as the law affecting education and public health. They have had the responsibilities and experience which attach to the head of a family, and which steady, and make a woman's character. In my opinion it would be folly, in constituting our electoral lists, to leave out this important section of womankind There has been the opinion of all other nations by whom the franchise has been conferred upon women. The married woman has always been included, and in the one case which resembles our own, namely, that of Norway, special provisions of the kind incorporated 1707 in my Bill were inserted in order to bring in the wife as well as the husband. It must be borne in mind that this exclusion of wives is due mainly to the social habits of English people. In the absence of special arrangement the husband is presumed to be the sole occupier of the house, whereas in actual practice the husband and the wife really occupy it jointly. If we were to remove the sex-disqualification and do no more, the wife could be a voter if the husband wished it, as he could constitute her the occupier or joint-occupier of his house; but it seems absurd to leave a married woman in this position of dependence on her husband's will, and so we consider that all wives should be as much entitled to the franchise as would be widows and spinsters. By proceeding on this principle we can set up an electoral system for women which not only enfranchises sufficient women to be really representative of the sex, but also is based on a franchise that is already recognised in the case of men, namely, the "household franchise," or as it has been sometimes called the "family" franchise. The "household" franchise is given to the occupier of a separate dwelling house who has lived in it for twelve months prior to 15th July. It does not include the freehold votes or the lodger, and, therefore, is not open to the abuses attendant on these franchises. On the other hand, it requires no standard of rental, and rich and poor alike take advantage of it. It is the enfranchisement of the head of the home; the bachelor, the spinster, and the widow will have it in their own right. The husband and the wife will have it jointly, being considered to be, as in fact they are, joint heads of the household.
Such a franchise I commend to this House as one that is reasonable in itself. It enfranchises indeed some four or five million women over and above those who now exercise the municipal vote; but it brings on to the register a stable and reliable class of women representing all grades of rich and poor, and sufficiently numerous to constitute a settlement of this question for many years to come. I ask hon. Members who are fearful of enfranchising too may women at once to bear this last argument in mind. I submit that it is more prudent to pass an adequate measure now than one of which the insufficiency will constitute a constant ground of complaint and of increasing agitation for its extension. And to my Friends on this 1708 side who ask why do we not have the courage of our convictions and enfranchise every woman, I reply: Firstly, we have not yet enfranchised every man; and, secondly, that the franchise has only been extended to men gradually, and at intervals of twenty or thirty years. Let us follow with women the same course and go step by step. Of course, this plan can be criticised, and perhaps riddled by those who oppose Women Suffrage in every form. This they would do to any plan. What is more serious to me is that it may also meet with dissent on the part of some Members who have hitherto been friends of Women Suffrage. To these Members I respectfully submit that it is perfectly clear from past experience that unless those who are in earnest about the suffrage are willing to meet each other half way it will be impossible to carry any scheme at all. I beg them to consider this before they vote against this Bill, merely on the ground that it does not completely meet their views. I know that some hon. Members are of opinion that we should have been wiser if we had reintroduced the Conciliation Bill. They do not, however, know all the objections that there were to that course, and I can say we have at any rate given our best consideration to this most difficulty question of policy, and have arrived at the conclusion that the plan most likely to succeed was to invite the House to give a Second Reading to a measure which offers a middle course, but which is capable—as this Bill is—of being amended in both an upward and a downward direction.
Having now disposed of the Bill, I turn to the difficulties which confront anyone who at this moment attempts to introduce legislation for enfranchising women. The greatest obstacle comes from those whom we are attempting to benefit. Whatever may be the results of the work of the Women's Social and Political Union in other directions, the suffragists in this House have nothing to thank them for. Ever since 1907 every effort we have made on behalf of the suffrage has been impeded by militant methods. People may think that nothing we could have done here would have effected the enfranchisement of women, but the fact is we have never been given a free hand or a fair chance. The militants started by making a mistake in not recognising that the main reason for which woman can claim a vote is that as civilisation advances reason must take the place of force. If force is to be for ever the only basis for political power, then woman must permanently yield to the 1709 supremacy of man. It was therefore the duty of woman to show that she relied upon reason alone to make good her cause. But when saying this it is only fair to point out that for over half a century women hayed urged their claims by reason and persuasion, and although they achieved great results they failed to remove the effectual block that this House presented. So far as regards the conversion of individual opinions, the agitation for women's franchise has had striking results in this country. I could give a long list of men of distinction in every walk of life who have accepted the justice of women's demand for political enfranchisement. In the Parliament of 1906 there was a large majority of Members who favoured it, and even in the present House, I assert that, whatever may be shown by the vote to-morrow, there are a majority of men who hold the opinion that sex of itself should be no disqualification.
At this moment we have a Cabinet of which at least one half support the enfranchisement of women, and a Ministry of which, I believe, nearly three-quarters are its supporters. The Prime Minister, it is true, opposes it, but his two most trusted lieutenants are on our side—[An HON. MEMBER: "Which?"] Perhaps I ought not have used the word "most," but said "trusted." I refer to the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Three out of the last four Prime Ministers have definitely approved of the enfranchisement of women. The Leader of the Opposition, I believe, holds the same view. With such a tale of political converts women suffragists may pride themselves upon the success of their propaganda. And the same process of conversion has been going on outside this House. In the last two or three years resolutions in support of the suffrage have been passed by no fewer than 182 popularly elected bodies, including the most influential councils in the Kingdom. Similar action is recorded of 1,500 organised societies, and thousands of meetings have been held in support of it in every part of the country. And further, if we look into what I may call the mirror of the public mind—the Press—we find a large preponderance of daily and weekly journals on the side of the women. I am informed that out of thirty-eight London papers thirty are in favour and eight against. Of 250 provincial papers, whose opinions I have ascertained, 211 are for and only thirty-nine against. And yet with all this the women have found it 1710 impossible to induce this House to give them what they ask for. Time after time they have been disappointed. At the last moment, having placed all their trust upon the pronouncement of the Government that there would be an effective opportunity provided for a free vote on an Amendment to the Franchise Bill, they found that even this chance was snatched from them by a technicality in our procedure. It is not to be marvelled at if patience has given out and if those who have all along preached that it is useless to rely only on reason have the upper hand for the moment.
I shall not refer to the deplorable outrages that have occurred, except to say one thing and to ask one question. Every friend of Women Suffrage must be glad that proceedings have at last been taken against the Women's Social and Political Union, and that the real criminals will be punished. I only hope that the investigations will be complete enough to disclose who are the offenders, what their number is, and from whom their money has been drawn. If it appears that that organisation comprises a very small section of the women suffragists in this country, then I say it will be a gross injustice to tens of thousands of law-abiding women if we refuse them rights which we should otherwise have given them merely in order to punish a few criminals whom the law is capable of dealing with. And the question I wish to ask is, Do you really believe that when you have prosecuted these people and shut them up in prison you will have silenced the demand for the suffrage? If there is nothing more than hysteria and self-advertisement behind this movement, then perhaps your repressive measures may succeed. If, on the other hand, this lawlessness is a symptom of some deeper movement, then your forcible feeding and your prohibition of free speech will only drive others to adopt methods which up to the present they have disapproved.
No one who has devoted attention to what is known as the feminist movement can fail to recognise that in recent years there has come about an enormous change in ideas as to the status and position of women all over the globe. There is not a nation in the world where the women's claim for more equal treatment is not making itself apparent. As the House knows, women have already won the suffrage in no less than eight of our Dependencies. It has been accepted in 1711 three (and probably soon will be in four) of the European countries. The Australian Commonwealth adopted Women Suffrage after full experience of it in its constituent Colonies. In America it has long existed in the Western States, and now it is spreading eastwards. In New York and in Michigan the legislative bodies have already agreed to the suffrage, and in the Presidential election Mr. Roosevelt inscribed it upon his new standard of reform. Even in Japan, Turkey, China, and Persia there are remarkable manifestations of the demand of women for political rights. In France, Germany, and Italy a widespread agitation is arising which, whilst at present contenting itself with demanding rights which we here have already granted to women, is rapidly developing into a definite claim for equal political power in every respect. Surely, in view of this universal movement, it is folly to assume that behind these ebullitions of disorder there is nothing more serious than hysterical sentiment, and I ask this House to regard this subject from a saner point of view than that from which an infuriated public now looks at it. Women franchise is said to be unpopular. So it is at the moment. But unpopularity and popularity are equally fleeting, and I believe that if we stick to our guns we shall find the heart of the people rings true on this subject as it has done in all other attempts to extend political rights.
Now we are legislating, not for the women of yesterday, but for the women of to-day and to-morrow, and we must remember that the status of women and our view of her proper position and functions are altering every year. We ourselves bring up our daughters in a totally different manner to that which prevailed in former years. At school and at home girls and boys join in their studies and their sports. They compete in almost everything, and when they go to college or enter professions or industries they find they can do their work almost, if not quite, as well as men. They discover they can earn their own living and go their own way. In fact, women are now being encouraged to become independent human beings. And along with this we have introduced them to new studies, to social problems and economic and political subjects, of which a few years ago a girl knew nothing. We enlist their assistance in all sorts of public work. We teach them the meaning of democracy. We preach, and, indeed, make 1712 them go out and preach on our behalf, that in a modern, civilised community power is no longer with the monarch, but with the people. We impress upon them that the way by which the people exercises its power is by the Parliamentary vote. When women have imbibed these tenets, is it likely that they will accept the further proposition that the power of the people is to, be exercised by only one-half of the people? She sees that the vote is a symbol of supreme power, the badge of equal citizenship, and she claims it as a citizen of the State equally with you or me.
It will be said that the nation has given us no authority to enfranchise women. The late Lord Chancellor has said that it would be a "constitutional outrage" for this House to do so. I submit, with all respect, that there is nothing in our Constitution which paralyses Parliament to this extent. I am sure that the Prime Minister will not say that we are constitutionally debarred from passing this Bill. In November, 1911, he pledged the Government to carry women's franchise into law under the provisions of the Parliament Act if this House inserted it in the Franchise Bill. It is inconceivable to me that he would have given this undertaking if he was then of the opinion that this Parliament had no right to legislate at all. In my mind there is no doubt that we have the power to grant the vote to women; the only question is whether individually we have sufficient authority to do so. I would point out that Women Suffrage is not a new subject or one that has been hidden from the electors. In 1906 and 1910 every voter knew that Women Suffrage would be raised in the House, and a very large number of candidates were returned who had definitely said they were in favour of it. In many cases these candidates were men who had already voted for it in this House. In 1908 a deputation waited on the Prime Minister, who undertook to introduce a Franchise Bill, and promised to leave the House of Commons free to insert Women Suffrage in it. He renewed this promise in December, 1909, and again in November, 1910. The "Times" referred to this on the 24th November, 1910, in the following words:—Women Suffrage on a democratic basis is an issue of this election, and if the electors confirm the Government in power, the new Parliament will be considered to have received a mandate on the subject of Women Suffrage.I admit, of course, that this was an over-statement of the case, but it justifies me 1713 in asserting that at both of the last elections men's minds were awake to the question, and the electors were ready for and expected the House to deal with it as it should think wise. The only way by which this question may be fairly settled is by a free vote of this House. Under our system of party Government it is impossible to obtain the decision of the electorate at a General Election because, as the Prime Minister has said:—The question of Women Suffrage stands on a footing entirely its own for the reason that it cuts athwart the ordinary distinctions of party.The House of Commons is the best tribunal to decide the matter, and, in my opinion, the country is quite willing that it should decide it. It is said that we are asking for something that the women themselves do not want. If by this you mean that all women do not want the suffrage, I agree. But even if some women do not care to claim their rights, why should this debar from enfranchisement those who do claim them? It is certain that there are a great number of women who do want the vote. In my own Constituency a canvass of one-half of the streets was made last winter, and over 2,000 adult women signed a petition demanding the suffrage. The canvassers told me that, though many declined to sign, whilst giving no reason, only about 12 per cent. of those visited expressed themselves to be distinctly hostile; and one canvasser wrote me that out of 190 requests she met with only one woman who refused to sign. In any case, I submit that if there are only 3,000 or 4,000 adult women in every constituency who ask to be enfranchised, it needs strong reason to justify us in refusing it to them. But will you consent to give to women an opportunity of saying whether they want it or not? You can do it in this Bill, if you wish, by making it inoperative until a vote given by the women has shown what are their desires. I have no fear of the result. Some persons ask, "Why do women want the vote? What good will it do them?" It will do women the same good that it has done for men. But it will do more. It will put them politically on an equality with men. The idea that woman is by nature below man's level is contrary to the teaching of Christianity, and has done incalculable harm to both women and men. The position of women, even in civilised countries, is still a disgrace to humanity. In a book written by Mr. Booker Washington, the distinguished head of a negro college in America, about 1714 his investigations into the conditions of the poor in Europe, entitled "The man farthest down," he records that, in his view, in London, as elsewhere in Europe, the man farthest down is woman. This is the verdict of a negro upon white civilisation, and we know that it is true. We talk of our having set woman on a pedestal, and of refusing to degrade her by politics. All the time we know that in every grade of society woman is subordinated to man, and that our whole social structure rests on a basis of low-paid, neglected, miserable humanity, of which the lowest and least cared for is woman. Women know this, and it is the unconquerable desire to lift her out of the mire that inspires them to undergo for her sake imprisonment and suffering—aye, and drives some to acts of desperation! Women hold—and I say they are right in holding—that in order to lift up woman you must make men see that she is their equal in the eyes of the State, and it is the vote alone that will give her this equality.
It is said that woman is unfit to exercise the vote. The arguments on both sides of this House have been worn threadbare, therefore I reply in three sentences. Firstly, this objection is one that has been used at every extension of the franchise and has invariably been proved to have been mistaken. At the time of the Reform Bill, a writer in "Blackwood's Magazine" said:—This numerous body of householders is incapable of rational opinion on public affairs.In 1884 Lord Randolph Churchill, speaking in this House, said:—He could say without fear of contradiction that the agricultural labourer was absolutely unfitted for the exercise of the franchise.People now say the same thing about women. Blackwood and Lord Randolph were wrong; so probably are they. Secondly, even if you think woman is unalterably inferior to man, it is impossible to argue that she is so far inferior as to be incapable of voting. We know what the vote is and what intelligence it requires, and we know that there are thousands of women quite as intelligent and able to exercise the franchise as thousands of men are. Thirdly, we demand no standard of intellectual fitness from men for the reason, as I believe, that our modern system of society has accepted the principle that supreme power rests with the whole people and that power is exerciseable by the vote. The vote is therefore becoming, and indeed has already become, the right of 1715 every citizen—a right as real as the right of liberty of the person—the right to freedom of speech and the other popular rights which have now come into recognition. Such a right takes no cognisance of personal intelligence, but only of citizenship, and if that is so, I submit that woman is entitled to it as well as man. Women certainly adopt this view. They urge that it is the logical outcome of all our democratic propaganda. On this they base their demand—a demand which must ultimately prevail. This House is very powerful; but there is a greater power—that of justice. I believe that no man and no body of men can permanently refuse justice to any class of their fellow creatures. Although you may reject this Bill to-day, you will be compelled soon, not by threats or by violence, but by the all-pervading pressure of justice, to yield to women what they claim to be their right as co-partners in the great society of the State. I cannot believe that there is a single Member of this House who views the present condition of affairs with unconcern. Whether we succeed or not by special police measures and by panic legislation in damping down the immediate lawlessness of the moment, no one thinks that the agitation itself will cease. Are we going on blindly seeking for new remedies when we have the one remedy, which will be effective, ready to hand? We cannot go on preventing women's meetings for ever. We cannot make forcible feeding a normal part of our prison regulations. We cannot spend our time here in devising extraordinary methods to meet unexpected developments. We can, however, apply the real remedy by removing the cause. We may enfranchise women now without any less of dignity, and without any admission that we are yielding to force. The time will come when we shall have to take the same course, but with less dignity. For this reason I earnestly beg this House to act without delay by allowing this Bill to be now read a second time.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
In seconding the Resolution, I confess to a feeling of considerable diffidence, because although it is a good many years ago since I voted in favour of a measure for female enfranchisement I have never taken any active part either inside or outside the House of Commons in this movement. I confess that in the irritated state of feeling 1716 there is at the present time I should probably have been consulting my own electoral advantage by lying low, but one cannot always consider exactly the prudent course; and I honestly and sincerely believe that we have at the present time arrived at the point when not only would it be an act of justice, but also an act of sound statesmanship to give a moderate extension of the franchise to the women of this country. It seems to me that it is not so much a question of accepting a new idea as a question of acknowledging an accomplished fact. In 1831, Macaulay, in his famous speech on the Reform Bill, pointed out that—a revolution had taken place in the country; new portions of society had risen into importance; that villages had become towns, and towns had risen to be important cities; that the new wine was everywhere bursting the old bottles.I cannot help thinking that a revolution has also taken place amongst us of late years. The industrial development of this country has transformed the status of women. It is really, I think, idle now to talk of the sacredness of the home when modern industry, mills, factories, workshops, offices, and warehouses are everywhere claiming thousands and thousands of young men and young women. Side by side with this important development there is also a movement, the strength and force of which we cannot deny. The whole of the working world is weary of the past, of being exploited by economists, and treated as machines, and are everywhere, with increasing persistence, demanding opportunities for freer development and opportunities for intellectual improvement for themselves and their children; also for better homes, and new, cleaner, and better surroundings. They have found out, and are finding out, that it is within their power by the expression of their own collective will as expressed in Parliament to obtain these benefits for themselves. So it seems to me the movement is a movement in which women are certainly fitted to take part. I for one do not for a moment allow that women are so markedly inferior to the male sex as to be incapable of taking this part.
The Prime Minister, I believe, himself allows that the admission of gifted and educated women would be a gain to the wealth of our electorate and Parliamentary forces, but he also holds that the admission of women as a whole would be injurious to the stability of public life and to national policy. With all due deference 1717 to the right hon. Gentleman I cannot help thinking that he is doing the married women of this country a very great injustice. I can never think of the mass of mean streets in my Constituency—which is a typical industrial constituency—I can never think of the rows of little houses, of the thousands and thousands of little houses, all kept in decency and order, and of the families reared in them on the narrowest margin—I can never think of this without a deep feeling of respect for the working wives and mothers, and for the fortitude and endurance which they display, or without feeling that so far from their being an unstable element in our society the working women of this country are, and have been the very corner-stone of our social order. I believe the reasonableness and moderation of the great mass of our working classes is due, to a very great extent, to their women. So far from their being an hysterical element in our public life I believe their common sense and sympathy would be of the greatest advantage to us in the solution of our social problems. If we want the hysterical element in our public life we need not go much further than to some of the male-owned journals of the present day. If we believe them this Island of ours is in far greater danger, and runs more perils than ever St. Paul was subject to. Last week we were in peril by air. The week before we were in peril from landings. The week before that we were in peril on the deep. This week we are in peril, I suppose, not from the landing of Germans, but of being overwhelmed by "the monstrous regimen of woolen." The reason I support this demand is that from observation since I have been in Parliament I am firmly convinced that the working women of this country will never get justice from Parliament until they get the vote. A very interesting and important article appeared in the "Times" two days ago, in which it was—allowed that the industrial position of the women of this country was profoundly unsatisfactory.The Insurance Act has brought to light that there are over 300,000 women receiving less than 2s. per day. A recent investigation by the Board of Trade also has brought to light the fact that in this country 15 per cent. of the women engaged in the clothing trade are receiving less than 10s. per week, and 67 per cent. of the women engaged in the same trade are receiving less than 15s. per week. Not only are the wages of these women miserably low, but these wages are subject to the 1718 most unjust and arbitrary fines and deductions. The hours of the women are so long that the fatigue engendered renders them peculiarly liable to phthisis and accidents. In a great many trades they have to carry such heavy weights that their bodies are twisted and contorted. These are not fictions of female imagination, but they are set out in Blue Books, and are the subject of recommendations and reports.
Notwithstanding all this, Parliament has never found time to deal with these questions. The other day working women went as a deputation to the Prime Minister. They were received courteously and kindly, and the Prime Minister assured them that if they had the time Parliament would be glad to deal with their grievances. That is just the point. Parliament never has had time, and never will have time, unless and until the women are in the same position as the men to be able to stand over the Government of the day with a thick stick and make them do what is desired.
I wish to make it perfectly clear that I have no sympathy with the militants. There is, I am sure, a great gulf fixed between them and the working women of this country. I have no sympathy with unconstitutional actions. I am an old Member of the constitutional party, and I am for constitutional action, not only for males and females, not only in Great Britain but in Ireland as well. But whether the militants get their way or whether they do not their "exaltation agonies and unconquerable will" has, at all events, made the Government of the Liberal party profoundly ridiculous. The Home Secretary may be acting strictly in accordance with the precedents of Home Secretaries, but if he has got any sense of humour he must see that his raids and coercions, his Cat-and-Mouse Bills, have made him supremely ridiculous. I was always under the impression that if there was one point upon which the Liberal mind was more clear than another it was as to the futility of coercion and of the absurdity of arresting the agitator instead of removing the cause of agitation. When I first entered Parliament I used to listen for many weary hours to eloquent denunciations of coercion as applied to Ireland. I must say it is now surprising to see the Liberal Government relying apparently upon nothing else but coercion and resolute government, and thereby forcing a legitimate political agitation into violent 1719 and outrageous courses. The National Liberal Club I imagine to be the very heart and centre of Liberalism, and I see that they passed a resolution:—That it is not desirable in the best interests of the Empire to grant the suffrage to women while the present disorder continues.It is not for me, who am a hardened, unregenerate Tory, to give the National Liberal Club lessons in Liberalism, but I must say I would like them to refer, for instance, to Lord Macaulay's speech on the Reform Bill, to which I have referred. He said:—The logic of misgovernment lies in this one sophistical dilemma: If the people are turbulent, they are unfitted for liberty; if they are quiet, they do not want liberty. Reformers are compelled to legislate fast because bigots will not legislate early. Reformers are compelled to legislate in times of excitement because bigots will not legislate in times of tranquillity.To come nearer our own time, I should like to refer the National Liberal Club to what Lord Morley said on presenting the Indian Budget soon after the riots at Rawal Pindi. He said:—The Government hold that to draw back on account of local or sporadic disturbances, however serious, anxious, or troublesome they may be, would be really a grave humiliation; to hesitate to make a beginning of our own policy to improve the administrative machinery of the Indian Government would have been taken as a sign of nervousness, trepidation, and fear.According to the newer Liberalism as enunciated by the pundits of the National Liberal Club, Lord Morley's action was a disaster. Mr. Gladstone's remedial legislation in Ireland was a mere truckling to crime and outrage. According to them Lord John Russell, after Nottingham Castle had been burnt down, and after the Bristol riots had taken place, should have refused to move the Third Reading of his Reform Bill. I see in a newspaper statement that the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of this Bill is referred to as "an angel in transparent disguise." I suppose that is because he gives the Government such an excellent opportunity of escaping out of a disgraceful and dangerous situation. That is not my object. I am quite indifferent as to the future of the Government. I do, as I said before, very honestly believe that this measure will be an act of justice to the women of this country, and will deepen and broaden our public life, that it will add to the stability of our institutions, and to the happiness and contentment of the people.
§ Mr. ARNOLD WARD
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
1720 The Noble Lord who has just sat down based his case in the main upon the industrial position of working women, and claimed that this Bill would give them justice. I think it is a pity that the Noble Lord did not explain in any particular how the conferring of the Parliamentary franchise was going to bring justice to working women. He gave absolutely no facts, figures or arguments to show how the conferring of the vote was going to raise their wages. In fact he raised a part of the case on which the prominent leaders of the suffragist movement have absolutely thrown him over. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London, speaking in this House only three years ago, said:—I do not believe that the enfranchisement of women will have any effect upon their material well being, and I cannot say I believe it will raise their wages.Not only was that the opinion of the late Leader of the Opposition, but the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of this Bill to-day is so far in disagreement with the Noble Lord who seconded, that, speaking to a deputation only a few profound contempt for the argument that profound contempt for the argument that the vote would raise women's wages, and that there was nothing in it. I submit to the House that the introduction of this Bill confirms everything that we, who are opposed to Women Suffrage, ever said about the thin end of the wedge, because only three years after the introduction of the Conciliation Bill by Mr. Shackleton, which provided for the enfranchisement of little more than 1,000,000 of female voters, we have a Bill introduced to enfranchise 6,000,000 of female voters, and supported by the undivided force of the suffragists of the Liberal party and of the Labour party, and by the more advanced of those in the Unionist party who believe in Women Suffrage. I desire this afternoon to ask those hon. Members who sit upon this side of the House, and who previously supported the Bill known as the Conciliation Bill, how they reconcile their attitude with their previous professions on the Women Suffrage by voting for the Second Reading of the Bill which the Mover told us was estimated to enfranchise between 5,000,000 and 6,000,000 of women. The previous history of the Conservative and Unionist party was that there has been a powerful minority who favoured the principle of Women Suffrage, but who favoured it only to a strictly limited extent, based upon property 1721 qualifications, and the result of bringing in this Bill to enfranchise 6,000,000 women has been to break up that powerful minority of our party who hitherto acted in favour of Women Suffrage. Some of them, I understand, intend to speak and vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, others will be absent from the House, and others whom we do not claim as opponents in principle of Women Suffrage intend to vote with us to-morrow evening.
The inference I want to draw from that is that this Bill has broken up one of the most important component parts of the sort of alliance which has existed between different sections of suffragists, and shows clearly that in a House of Commons like this you cannot have this relation on Women Suffrage. You cannot have a non-party Women Suffrage; you must either have a Liberal party form of Women Suffrage which this Bill embodies, put forward by a Liberal Government and supported by the undivided Liberal party, or you must have a limited and Conservative form of Women Suffrage in the same way put forward by a Government and backed by a homogeneous party. The women suffragists seem, I submit, in this matter to have shown sound political intuition when they claim that Women Suffrage, in order to be successful, must be made a Government measure. Is there any hon. Member in this House, whatever his views upon Women Suffrage, on whichever side of the House he sits, who thinks a private Member's Bill has or will have in our time any reasonable chance of passing into law. The history of previous private Bills is certainly not encouraging in that respect, and I submit that Women Suffrage cannot succeed until the question forces itself upon the Government of the day in the same way as other great controversial questions have forced themselves by organised force arising in the country and arising in Parliament, which is united on Women Suffrage as the leading issue, and which is prepared to go to the extent of voting to turn out the Government of the day in order to get the suffrage carried.
How far have we got in this House towards the formation of an effective Women Suffrage party of that kind? We have the record of a Division in the House last week on the Second Reading of the Plural Voting Bill, and there was found in that Division three hon. Members who agreed with the Bill who were in favour of the abolition of plural voting but who 1722 voted with the Opposition because they believed on Women Suffrage the Government had not satisfied the women suffragists, and they placed that before any party consideration. That shows that the effective women suffragists in this House at the present moment consists only of three Members, whereas there would require at least to be between 300 and 400 to have an effective majority. I wish to refer to that part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, in which he refers to the outrages which have been committed by the militant suffragists. The hon. Gentleman was very much concerned, and he deplored those outrages, but he did not tell the House that he, like many others who call themselves constitutionalists, has been quite recently an active associate of the militant suffragists himself. It was only the other day that the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of this Bill happened to be at a meeting of the Militant Suffragists' Society of the Women's Freedom League. He was the principal speaker on the occasion when one of the chief officers of the society, Miss Boyd, appealed for funds:—To help the Women's Freedom League to take continued militant action upon the lines of war upon law.The hon. Gentleman, though he indicated that constitutional suffragists deplored the action of the militants, did not scruple to enter into a working alliance with them in the interests of that body. The hon. Gentleman referred to the militant suffragists as being only a small section of the whole movement. I venture to think he cannot have looked carefully into the facts with regard to the number of militants. I have just been looking at the latest report issued by the principal militant society, "The Women's Social and Political Union," and, far from their supporters being a mere handful, as is alleged, far from being the few for whose sins the many ought not to be punished, I find in the list of subscriptions to this society, in the period from March, 1912, to 28th February, 1913—that is the year just closed—the list of subscribers with full knowledge of the criminal campaign of this society, and long after the disturbances of 21st November—there are no less than thirty-four pages of entries, and about 6,000 items are acknowledged. But the 6,000 does not in any way exhaust the number of subscribers, because it includes, in the first place, branches which send lump sums, which may represent tens and even hundreds of individual subscri- 1723 bers, and, in the second place, it represents collections that may also mean a large number of individual subscribers, so there is announced in this document a list with a number of supporters of this one society, something that may represent 12,000 or 15,000 persons. And the experience of those who have taken part in meetings connected with Women Suffrage confirms that calculation.
Several of us had the privilege last year of addressing a large number of meetings in opposition to Women Suffrage in the North of England and the Midlands, and these meetings were attended generally by large numbers of suffragists. I made the mistake in several of these meetings of referring to that lady, Mrs. Fawcett, as leader of the suffragists; and in Manchester night after night there were indignant cries of protest "It is false! she is not our leader; Mrs. Pankhurst is our leader," and so much confusion did the mention of her name cause, and so great was the amount of enthusiasm evoked amongst her supporters, that those who had to speak learned not to mention her name, just as at the last General Election we, who were Unionist candidates, did not refer by name to the Chancellor of the Exchequer because of the inconvenience And the enthusiasm which interruptions from Liberals caused. There is one other argument which may be used on this side of the House to induce hon. Members to vote for this Bill. It is an argument that if you have not strong and settled convictions on Women Suffrage, if your interest in it is the interest of an Opposition, you ought to vote for this Bill, not so much on its merits as in order to embarrass the Government, by taking up so much time of the House during the Session and profiting by the divisions which exist on that side in their ranks as in ours. Considerations of this kind are a strong and legitimate temptation to any Opposition. I have no authority to speak for any Member except myself, but I do believe that the general feeling is that we ought not in this matter to be guided by considerations of that sort. To alter a little a quotation, this thing is "too fatal, too august, too full of England's utter weal or woe," for that. Regardless of the consequences, either to the Government or the Opposition, we ought to give a straight vote on the merits of the Bill according to our conscience.
1724 In conclusion, I ask what is the gist of the evidence which has accumulated in the past few years? So far from Parliament having been blind to the interests of women, every year has seen the interests, both of women and children, carefully and tenderly considered by members of all political parties. I need only refer to some of the more important and recent instances, such as the Trade Boards Act, and the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which was moved last year by an anti-suffragist and carried through a Parliament of men with the consent of all parties. While Parliament has been proving its solicitude for women and children, the militant section of the suffragists have been giving positive disproof of their capacity for the vote. In this matter it is no part of our business to offer any testimonials to the Government, but I think that those on this side of the House who are opposed to Women Suffrage will desire to acknowledge the personal courage and consistency of the Prime Minister in his opposition to what he has described as a political mistake of a very disastrous kind. I venture to submit that a vote for this Bill at this time will be construed in the country as a surrender to violence and menace; I believe there is no decision which this House could give, which at this moment would more infuriate and disgust the whole nation; and I confidently ask the House to reject the Bill.
§ Mr. BECK
It falls to me to second the rejection of this Bill, and I can say, with candour, that it is no very pleasant task which I undertake. It is only the consciousness, in my mind at any rate, that if this Bill passes then this House has entered upon a course of the utmost danger, which leads me to take the step that I am taking. It is a little curious that the Noble Lord opposite (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) and myself, each of us seconding on opposite sides, should both be persons who have taken very little active part in the controversy we are now considering. I notice of all the suffrage arguments that they start practically with considering their case proved. It has been said that Parliament can do everything except to make a man a woman or a woman a man. The suffragists seem ill-content with this limitation of our powers. We who oppose Women Suffrage do not do it from any lofty pedestal; we do not consider that because we are men and have a vote we are necessarily superior to women; but we do it because we see that nature has made 1725 men and women different, and that, as a matter of fact, the commonest experience of life tells us that men have to do the greatest quantity of laborious and dangerous work in this world, that on their shoulders ultimately falls the future destiny of any State, and that it must be for them to have a controlling and guiding voice in the conduct of affairs. I ask the House to picture for itself the condition of affairs stated by the Noble Lord. All of us who have worked with the Noble Lord know how intensely he is interested in social questions, and how laboriously he works on behalf of many good causes; but really to picture the women of this country as pariahs, surrounded by selfish savages, without any protection from the law, without any time devoted to their interests by this House, is ludicrous and a misdirection of men's minds. As I conceive it, there is only one great argument which anti-suffragists have to meet, and that is the argument that women are not represented in this House, and that women ought to be represented in this House. I meet it personally (and I do not suppose that Members sitting below the Gangway will be convinced) by saying this, that I wholly deny that women are a class in the sense in which the working man is a class, or the rich man is a class. I say that men and women are divided into various classes; that as a democratic country all we are concerned to see is that each class, composed alike of women and men, is represented in this House and has a voice in the councils of the nation. To the best of my belief no one can make out a case in which women have a purely separate interest as opposed to men. Really I do not believe that the people who urge this Bill upon us have ever come to a very logical conclusion in their own minds on that point. Let us suppose a case, I do not say it will happen, in which men and women are really opposed. If my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. W. H. Dickinson) and the Noble Lord are right in representing women and men as separated in their interests, then there may occur a case in which they would be opposed. Of course, we all know that such a thing would never really happen.
§ Mr. BECK
My hon Friend beside me says "Hear, hear." If it was conceivable (it is a logical problem only) that all the women in the country took the one side and exceeded, as they do, all the men 1726 who voted on the other side by one million, I ask him as a responsible man, which side would he support? Would he under any circumstances hand the power of governing this country over to the women of this country. I think that is the foundation of the case we have to meet. Those Members who support the suffrage also say that it is desirable that women should be represented. I do not think any of them wish women to be fully represented, excepting the small handful of Members who sit below the Gangway; and I do not know that all of them are prepared to go to the whole logical extent of giving women a vote and to see women sitting in this House as Members of Parliament. Personally, I say this, that if it is really true, and I do not believe it is true, that women are not sufficiently represented in the councils of the nation, I would rather have women sitting here than have them voting for our representation, because I believe it would be a great deal less dangerous. We are told that many of us who were at one time indifferent or more or less friendly to Women Suffrage have been turned by the tactics of the suffragettes. It is not in the least, as the Noble Lord has suggested, because of violence; it is because of a far more real and serious peril that there is condemnation of the suffragette movement. These outrages we read of, this destruction of property, and so on, are not carried out, as were similar outrages in movements on behalf of men, by the lower section of the population; they are not carried out by the ignorant, the brutalised, the half-fed, or anything of that sort; they are carried out as part of a deliberate policy by women who themselves are of high education and high character, and I say as regards the leaders of this movement it shows that the inclusion of such women would strike an absolutely destructive blow at all Parliamentary government in this country.
I think we on this side of the House must admit we have given hon. Members opposite a rather trying time during the last seven years. We have done many things of which they most strongly disapprove, but they have not gone about burning things down. They have indulged in one exhibition of lawlessness as, I think, in the signing of the Ulster Covenant; but surely the greatest condemnation of that came from those Members who are now half excusing and half patronising the suffragette leaders. These same 1727 women, if they had a vote to-morrow, and if they found the majority of the country against them, would, I am convinced, pursue the same tactics as they are pursuing to-day, because although they have been appealed to by those whom we are told represent the great majority of women, not to continue those tactics, they have taken not the faintest notice of these appeals. Hon. Members say that not one person in a hundred among the women who desire to have a vote are suffragettes, but I say they dictate the policy. Even the two speeches we have heard from the Mover and the Seconder show the same sympathy for lawlessness running through them. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras (Mr. Dickinson) started by very strongly condemning the suffragettes, but when he came to his peroration he talked about people being goaded to desperation, about women being driven to brave prison for their sisters in the mire, about panic legislation, and all the rest of it. The Noble Lord talked about being one of the old constitutionalists, but his admiration of these women was far from being that of a constitutionalist. Personally, I am not going to say a word against these women except from a political point of view. I do admire their courage; I do think that many of them are driven by genuine and strong conviction, but if they show courage they show at the same time intense foolishness and absolute lack of the elements of political wisdom and expediency. That is why I feel that the granting of votes to women would be a mistake. I believe men have learned by a very long experience that it is necessary to proceed with reasonable caution. They certainly have in an old country like this. They have learned that it is necessary to be ruled by the majority. They have learned by many a bitter lesson that the revolt of the minority against what they believe to be an injustice is always doomed to failure. I believe that women have not yet had the opportunity of learning any of these lessons. I daresay that the idealism of the feminine mind and its deadly logic which we have all experienced in private life are qualities superior to those of men, but I do say that in governing a great country and in considering the problems which we have to consider every day in this House such qualities are not valuable, but destructive. I am quite prepared to be 1728 ruled autocratically by a good woman, but I am not prepared, without a struggle, to see this ancient country handed over to the power of a majority of women. I do not think women want it. I think that there would be no more unpopular measure among women than this granting of the suffrage to them. The Noble Lord talked about those women who make such a brave struggle in the small houses and cottages of this country. They are the very women among whom you find the strongest opposition to the suffrage. I have talked to many of them, and I have found, with very few exceptions, that class of women do not desire the suffrage.
You can never please the people who are asking for the suffrage for women. Those of us who oppose the suffrage for women are condemned on all sides whatever we do. We are told one moment that we do not consult women, and that we do not consider women, and another moment we are told that we make women work for the State and do not give them any reward. The Noble Lord talked about women being entirely left out of consideration in this House, and one of his leaders, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square (Mr. A. Lyttelton), speaking in favour of Women Suffrage, said it was a great scandal that we should ask them to serve on Royal Commissions and Committees of Inquiries and yet not give them the reward of the vote. I do not propose to go into the merits of this Bill, because it seems to me, if we are going to give the women the suffrage at all, that it is a good Bill, but let hon. Members remember that this is the very minimum which there is any chance of passing into law. If anybody thinks he can restrict this Bill in Committee and knock out so many millions of women he is profoundly mistaken. It is far more probable, if any change is made at all, that it will be in the direction of greatly adding to the number of women, and those of us who are opposed to Women Suffrage say quite openly and plainly that, if hon. Members who believe in the suffrage for women pass the Second Reading of this Bill, we will insist on the full extent of it being carried out as far as we are able, and we will let the country realise that at least 6,000,000 women, and probably a great many more, are going to be enfranchised. Personally, I hope that hon. Members will consider this seriously before they vote for the Second Reading of the Bill.
1729 I venture in all humility, to say that the women have one great cause of complaint, and that is the way the House has played with the question in the past. It is almost a disgraceful performance for any hon. Member to vote for this Bill if he does not mean it to go forward to a logical conclusion and see it placed on the Statute Book. The least the women of this country, who are interested in this question, can expect is that we should have the courage to give a plain Aye or No, and mean that the fullest logical conclusion shall follow upon our action. I, myself, was once guilty on a Friday afternoon, in the 1906 Parliament, of voting for a Universal Suffrage Bill, but the question is now directly before us, and we should definitely decide on which side we are going to vote. I have heard woman after woman say, "It is not so much the open 'antis' we are against, as the men who pretend to support Women Suffrage and who come on our platform and talk about being friends of Women Suffrage, but who always seek some means of killing the Bill secretly." I sincerely hope that this House will have the self-respect to face this question now once and for all. Obviously from my speech I shall vote without the least hesitation against the Second Reading, and I believe and trust that the House itself will show that it is not of opinion that this Bill should pass into law, but considers that we should be embarking on a most hazardous and dangerous task by enfranchising women. The masculine electors have not shown the least desire that such a momentous change should be made, and all evidence shows that the bulk of the women of this country are opposed to it.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Beck) has tried to frighten Conservative Members into voting against this Bill by telling us that it will mean and must mean the enfranchisement of many millions of women, perhaps even a larger number than those who would be enfranchised by the Bill in its present form. He appears to have followed the astonishing doctrine of the Colonial Secretary, that the best possible franchise is one in which no women have votes, but that if that is not possible the next best franchise is one in which all women have votes. That appears to me to be a perfectly illogical dilemma our opponents have chosen for us, and it is one in which we refuse to be placed. Speaking as a Conservative, I prefer what is known 1730 as the Conciliation Bill to this Bill, because, as a Conservative, I believe that a change of this importance should be made as gradually as possible, but I regard the Second Reading of this Bill as a vote on the principle of Women Suffrage, and such it is. The majority of the Members of this House stand committed by their pledges to some form of Women Suffrage. The question of principle is now before us. When we get to the Committee stage questions of detail will arise, and it will then be for us to settle the exact number we should enfranchise, whether it should he 1,000,000, 6,000,000, or 12,000,000. We therefore refuse to be placed on the horns of a dilemma. We think that our path is to vote for that number of women receiving the franchise which we believe would best conduce to the prosperity and welfare of the State, and we shall pursue that course undeterred by the threats of our opponents or the timidity of some of our rather lukewarm friends.
The only point that arises on the question of principle is whether the House of Commons has got a mandate to deal with it. It seems to me that we have as much of a mandate to deal with this question as we have to deal with, any other. Under our present system it is impossible to say exactly what the House of Commons has got a mandate for and what it has not got a mandate for, but it certainly does not lie in the mouths of the hon. Gentleman opposite to say that we have not got a mandate for Women Suffrage. We have, at any rate, as good a mandate for Women Suffrage as for Home Rule and other measures which are being passed by the present Government. Some of our Conservative friends may say that if we deny that the Government are justified in passing Home Rule we cannot admit that this House has a mandate for passing Women Suffrage. That is a fundamental misconception of the constitutional position of the House of Commons. It seems to me that we ought to vote for that which we think is right. That is the duty of the First Chamber. The duty of the Second Chamber is to refer questions of which they disapprove or which they think are not endorsed by public opinion to the verdict of the electors, and I see no reason at all why that procedure should be departed from in this case. It is not for the House of Commons to take upon itself the duties of the Second Chamber. We are the free representatives of our constituents. We 1731 stated our views at the time of the last General Election, and, if Women Suffrage seemed good to us then and seems good to us now, it is our duty to vote in favour of it, and, if the House of Lords, or whatever Second Chamber there be, refuses its assent, then I quite agree the matter must be referred, like all great political questions, to the ultimate tribunal of the people; but in our position, as free representatives of the electors of the country, we have no other duty than to vote for that which we think best and for that which we gave the people to understand at the time of our election we would vote. I appeal, therefore, to hon. Members on this side of the House, many of whom I know feel that this Bill goes a great deal too far, to vote for the Second Reading of it on the principle of Women Suffrage, because it is the broad principle that is at stake. It is the principle to which we are committed, and I believe that to adopt any other course would be contrary to our plain duty at this moment.
Our opponents in this Debate have spent more time in raising side issues than in directly dealing with the principle of Women Suffrage. We have had the red herring of militancy drawn across the path of the Debate already. I would venture to suggest to the House that it is our duty to turn neither to the right nor to the left because of these comparatively few irresponsible lunatics who have brought discredit on the cause of Women Suffrage. The last speaker has insinuated that we have some sort of secret approbation for the doings of Mrs. Pankhurst and her friends. I should like to repudiate all sympathy of any sort with the methods of the militant women suffragists. They are in numbers perfectly insignificant; but to say that the outrages committed by them shall prevent hundreds and thousands of law-abiding peaceable citizens from obtaining the vote appears to me to be nothing short of a great injustice. When we get to the Committee stage I would willingly vote for a proposal to disfranchise any woman who had been convicted of acts of militancy, for I agree that women of that kind, women like Mrs. Pankhurst, are not fit for the exercise of the vote, and there would be no objection to excluding such persons of both sexes from the privileges of the franchise. I have only one word more to say about the speech of the hon. Member who seconded the rejection of the Bill. To 1732 my mind he made a most valuable admission for the cause of Women Suffrage. He said that, in his opinion, the sexes would not be divided on hard and fast lines when it came to voting on political questions. I cordially agree with him, but if that is true, what becomes of the great danger and great terror which is felt by opponents of this Bill as to what would happen if women got the vote.
§ Mr. BECK
I imagine everybody in this House will agree it is hardly conceivable that an occasion will arise when all the men will vote on one side and all the women on the other. But there might be a case when the majority of men and the minority of women were face to face with the minority of men and the majority of women.
§ Viscount WOLMER
As the hon. Member qualifies his statement in that way it becomes entirely a question of degree. I think he will agree with me when I say that on general political questions as a whole men and women will not be found divided along sex lines, but they may well be divided along the lines of ordinary political opinion in this country. Therefore I cannot see that the introduction of women electors would make any radical difference on great questions of Imperial policy or on other matters of general national moment that come before the electors at General Elections. Our opponents may ask what good will Women Suffrage do? To my mind, it will do this great good: Whereas it is true to say that there is no sex cleavage on political questions I believe there is a sex cleavage on economic questions. When I entered this House a few years ago I was very much less keen about Women Suffrage than I am to-day. My short experience in this House has shown me at what a great disadvantage women are on all industrial questions by reason of not having a vote. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford, who proposed the rejection of this Bill, challenged us to show in what way the vote would improve the condition of women in the country. I would ask anti-suffragists to reflect on one or two instances which occur to my mind in answer to my hon. Friend. They may be small matters, but I think they show the way in which women are at a disadvantage under the present franchise. Eighteen months ago there was a Coal Mines Bill before this House, and, while it was under 1733 consideration by the Standing Committee, a provision was actually inserted abolishing the trade of pit-brow girls, a very important matter in a mining constituency. I believe it was actually proposed by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. W. E. Harvey). It was carried by the Standing Committee.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend opposed it, but at any rate the Standing Committee did pass a Clause that women should not be allowed to work at the pit mouth, removing pieces of rock—a trade which brings a livelihood to many thousands of women and girls in this country. Would any Standing Committee have inserted a Clause like that if women had had a vote? I do not think they would, and I venture to assert that the Labour Members, some of whom, at any rate, were in favour of that Clause, would have been found among its most strenuous opponents had women had a vote.
§ Viscount WOLMER
That may be so, but I am convinced that if women had had a vote that proposal would never have been made or, at any rate, it would never have been carried in the Standing Committee.
§ Viscount WOLMER
That is so, because a great tumult was raised in Lancashire, and 500 or 1,000 women came up from that county and processioned round Parliament Square. They made such a din that the attention of the Government was attracted to the matter, and the obnoxious Clause was removed. It is only by demonstrations of that sort that women can get their rights, and what we claim for women is a more constitutional method of getting their views attended to by the Government of the day. I may give another small instance, and it is just the straw that shows which way the wind is blowing. For the last two or three years I have introduced a Bill to enable women to be called to the Bar and to practise as lawyers and solicitors. This Bill has been blocked every night by hon. Friends sitting near me, who are lawyers, but who; I venture to say, are as good trade unionists 1734 as hon. Members opposite. No doubt they oppose the admission of women to the Bar from the very highest motives, just as hon. Members of the Labour party wanted, from equally high motives, to abolish the trade of pit-brow girls. I have another case also of recent occurrence. We had a Licensing Bill in this House, and it contained a Clause which would have abolished the profession of barmaid. That may have been a good proposal or a bad one, but I am sure that it was introduced with the highest possible motives.
I want, however, to know how it is that this House is always attempting to narrow down the sphere of activity for women in this country. How is it that the fields of labour and the professions are never being opened to women, but are always being closed by the House of Commons? It is because men have the vote and women have not, and it is in this direction that an answer is to be found to the hon. Member for Watford. On great Imperial questions there is no sex cleavage or danger, but on industrial and economic questions the women have interests which ought to be represented and which are not properly represented in the present House of Commons. All this talk about men's sphere and women's sphere is beside the mark. What counts is votes, and unless working women in this country have votes, their interests will be neglected by the House of Commons, whatever Government may be in power. The figures given by my Noble Friend the Member for Nottingham as to the conditions under which many thousands of women have to work, show that women are really in much greater need of the vote than men, they are naturally weaker, their labour market at the moment is overstocked, and they find much greater difficulty in combining. They are the people who really need assistance from the House of Commons, and, therefore, I think it would be but justice to give them the vote.
We are informed that this House of Commons has done many things for the women of this country. We are told it passed the White Slave Traffic Act. True, it did so, but it did it years too late, and if women had had the vote twenty years ago that Bill would have been passed long since. It was only passed into law as a result of great agitation carried on in the country for many years by many influential bodies. I ask Conservative Members to give this Bill a Second Reading. I believe the women of this country do 1735 stand in need of the vote, and that their interests will not be properly looked after until they have a vote. I believe, too, that what the House of Commons has done for women in the past has been totally inadequate, and, until women have the vote, they will not get justice from this House on economic questions. As to broad Imperial questions, there appears to be no division of opinion on either side that men and women will vote alike, and when we have the record before us of the many illustrious women who have played the part of great statesmen it seems impossible and absurd to say that women have not got, in a large degree, political capacity. For these reasons I support the Second Reading of this Bill and I would like to make an appeal to my Conservative Friends. The House of Commons has not dealt fairly in the past with the women who desire suffrage. Our record has not been a good one. A large majority in this House are pledged in favour of Women Suffrage. We are here to vote upon a question of principle. If we go back upon those pledges and upon that principle, then, indeed, it will not be an honourable day for the House of Commons or one to which its admirers will look back with much admiration or respect.
§ Mr. GRANT
The Noble Lord, in the interesting speech to which we have just listened, urged the House to deal with this question as one of principle and to avoid side issues. I have no hesitation myself in voting against the principle of giving the vote to women, and I shall carry out the desire of the Noble Lord and deal, so far as I can, with the main question. It is difficult to put arguments before hon. Members who believe in sex equality. The real point at issue is whether women have the same capacity for government as men, and whether they are possessed of the qualifications for ruling and government. We have heard many arguments as to why women should have votes; we are told that there are women with plenty of money who probably employ men or many men who have votes, and we are asked, "Why should not they have votes also?" We are asked, "Is not the intellect of women as acute as the intellect of men?" That is put to us with somewhat irritating consistency. Those questions and many others are beside the point with which we have to deal, namely, whether in the ordering of a mighty Empire like ours 1736 the voice of women should be heard. There are many Members in this House who look forward to the time when we shall have adult suffrage in this country. We must remember that there are more women than men in this country, and, when we are dealing with the question in the way suggested by the Noble Lord, I ask hon. Members if they contemplate with equanimity a preponderating female voice in the government of this country? I suppose that to those who believe in the equality of sex no argument is necessary to convince them of that, but there are few hon. Members in this House at present who are willing to set their seal on a measure which is a deliberate first step towards the consummation of that idea. To those hon. Gentlemen I would earnestly submit that in passing such a Bill as this we shall be taking a step which will lead to the ultimate enfranchisement of women, and giving the mastery and control of the government of this country into female hands. In controlling a vast Empire like our own, an Empire built by the mental and physical capacity of men, and maintained, as it always must be maintained, by the physical and mental capacity of masterly natures, I ask, "Is there a place for women?" We call ourselves civilised; we pride ourselves upon our progress; we talk a great deal about peaceful methods taking the place of barbarity and brutality, but when we come to the big things between nations, and when we have to deal with them, have we obliterated one letter of the old saying that "might is right?"
Force, or the capacity of exercising force, is behind all government. It is the supreme function of Governments, and in the exercising of force I do not see there is any place for women, and until there is a change in human nature I shall hold to that opinion. No doubt the earnestness with which hon. Gentlemen deal with this question is not so much due to a desire that women should have control in these great affairs, but that they should be able to deal with social questions. If you could separate the two questions, if you could have some scheme by which social questions could be taken apart from the others, you would have a totally different situation which could be dealt with in another light, but until some such scheme is put before us we have to deal with the question as a whole. I was glad to hear the Noble Lord deal with the inquiry made by my hon. Friend who moved the rejection of 1737 the Bill. My hon. Friend asked for a single specific case in regard to women in which their wants were not attended to. The Noble Lord reminded us of the occasion when the pit-brow girls came up to London to assert their desire in regard to their employment at the pit-head. Is not that instance an argument as to the capability of women to look after themselves at the present time? The Committee of this House in its wisdom passed an Amendment providing that women should not work any longer at the pit-head, but the House of Commons and the Government gave way as soon as they felt that the women were desirous of continuing their work. The same occurred with regard to barmaids. We have not had any evidence to show that the wants of women at the present time are not adequately regarded or that they have any real grievance which cannot be remedied in existing circumstances. Hon. Members might think that because a woman has money she has a right to say how that money should be expended. We hear a lot of nonsense in regard to women's rights. No man or woman has a right, unless it is backed up by legal authority. You may desire to give these people votes, but that would apply to people with money. If you are to deal with the question in that piecemeal way, as to whether this or that woman should have a vote, I admit that many of the arguments are unanswerable. But we cannot deal with it in that way; we have to deal with the question as a whole, and then we must realise that it will probably involve the total enfranchisement of the women of this country. When you are dealing with the question of women who have money, you must remember that in the vast majority of cases that money is man-made money. We know there are exceptions to that rule, but they are so rare that they only go to prove the rule.
The point which seems most difficult to answer in this matter is the fact that so many women and girls earn their own livelihood at the present moment. It is said that they add to the wealth and prosperity of the nation. It is a difficult thing to meet the claim of such people to have some say in the government of the country. I admit the arguments are strong and difficult to answer, but they carry with them the greater corollary of universal franchise. There is no limit to it. The House was shocked with the idea of these benches being filled with 600 women, but 1738 that is possible once you give the vote. If you break down the sex barrier, if you give the vote to women, you must give one seat or more seats. A step like that we are asked to take to-day is irretrievable, and leads straight to the greater question. With regard to the question whether women do or do not want the vote, I do not believe there is one hon. Member in the House who would venture to get up and say that he was not in favour of a democratic form of government. If we adopt the democratic idea with regard to women before taking action in this direction, we ought to know whether or not the majority of the women in the country want the vote. It is surely undemocratic to enable a minority of women who are in favour of the vote to force the vote upon an unwilling majority. Some hon. Members believe that there is a majority of women in favour of the vote, but I think the reverse is the case. I cannot conceive a greater abuse of the power of this House than to force female government upon an unwilling majority in this country. It is the bounden duty of this House, before taking any action in this matter, to convince itself beyond doubt that there is a majority of adult feeling in this country—not only of the electorate, but of the women as well—in favour of such a change in the franchise.
Another point in connection with this matter is the situation of hon. Members of the Labour party who, I believe, are almost universally in favour of this change. I do not know whether they think that such an alteration will really do good to their constituents, the working men of this country. The working man makes his honme and supports it by his wages. I do not know whether hon. Members have thought that if you have a Government in the future controlled by women it would make a serious difference, if not a revolution, in the existing state of affairs with regard to wages. It is not a great stretch of the imagination to think that in such a time the House of Commons may lay it down that a considerable proportion of the wages of men should be paid direct to women. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but it is not so very problematical, and it has to be considered by those who think seriously on the question. Let me in conclusion put one more argument—I am afraid that it is an entirely selfish one—the argument that men have the vote and the power at the present moment; I say for Heaven's sake 1739 let us keep it. We are controlled and worried enough by women at the present time, and I have heard no reason given why we should alter the present state of affairs. A clever woman said to me the other day, "if at the most critical period of a woman's life she has not got the sense to say 'no' to the man who proposes to her, how can you expect her to have the sense to give a vote on a great Imperial question?" I would urge hon. Members to consider seriously before they vote for this measure.
§ Mr. H. D. M'LAREN
I have listened very carefully to the Debate, and I cannot help feeling that though there are many signs of disagreement on this question, yet speakers on both sides of the House, and on both sides of the question, are at any rate in agreement so far—that hitherto on many occasions Members of this House have not treated women very fairly in respect of this particular question of the vote. And I think there is also fairly general agreement that on this occasion, at any rate, we should vote rather upon the merits of the question than allow any outside considerations to influence us. I have had an opportunity during the last few days of ascertaining the views of some of my Friends upon this Bill, and the conclusion to which this inquiry has tended has been that probably on few previous occasions have people been less disposed to vote for this Bill on the merits than is the case to-day and to-morrow. I allude, of course, to the very grave feeling of resentment that is being aroused by the militant tactics displayed by certain bodies. I should like to address a word or two to hon. Members on both sides who are allowing themselves, as I think, to be unduly influenced by this movement. Some of them wish to vote against this Bill, though they are in favour of the principle of it, in order to show that nothing can be accomplished by such violent tactics as are being adopted outside this House. It appears to me that it is a self-evident fact that these militant tactics cannot influence either the Cabinet or the House of Commons or the country in favour of Women Suffrage. It may attract a few friends, but for every friend that this movement attracts it also creates hundreds and hundreds of enemies. It is common knowledge that such hostility is caused by these tactics that if one did not know that those women who employ them are really 1740 sincere, one would be led to suspect that these militant tactics are adopted for the purpose, not of forwarding the cause of Women Suffrage but of wrecking it, and one would be almost inclined to think they would prefer that the Women Suffrage Bill should be defeated, because if it were carried their occupation, like Othello's, would be gone. The unpopularity and the lack of success of these tactics is so self-evident that I should like to appeal to those who, on general grounds, are in favour of Women Suffrage, to consider whether it is necessary to record further proof of their resentment of these tactics by voting against a measure such as this, which is supported by hundreds and thousands of women who have not adopted the militant tactics, and which has been advocated for years past by many women on constitutional and proper lines; and I will ask hon. Members not to vote against this Bill on these grounds, and so disappoint the expectations which these other women who are not militants enjoy at present.
But if, in one respect, owing to this militant action, the supporters of Women Suffrage are less well off perhaps on this occasion than they have been upon some previous ones, in other respects I think we are more favourably situated. We have been hampered on past occasions because the majority of supporters of Women Suffrage in this House have put the party question before the question of Women Suffrage. We cannot for a moment complain of that. There are many Members who think, for example, that the maintenance of Free Trade is more important to women than to secure the vote for women. There are hon. Members from Ireland who think that the securing of Home Rule for Ireland is a more important thing for women on the whole than obtaining the vote for women; and there are hon. Members on the other side of the House who think that it is more important in the interests of women to oust this Government from power than to give them a vote. One cannot complain of this attitude, but I think on the present occasion, when the Bill that we are asked to support is a private Member's Bill, when it is not likely to introduce any complications, when it is not likely to cause any embarrassment to the Government, and when it is not in the least likely to influence any of these other great questions one way or the other, I think, on this occasion at any rate, we might plead for a vote for 1741 this Bill, or against it as the case may be, unhampered by any party considerations. It is quite true that if this Bill becomes law you will have created an additional body of voters whose ideas in the exercise of their vote may make a difference in favour of one party or the other. But I agree that on the whole these votes will not be cast for one party particularly or for another. Votes will largely be cast as the votes of the classes are cast to which the women respectively belong. But if there is any particular direction in which women's votes will be cast on the great political questions which exercise us to-day, we may be sure that they will tend to be cast in the direction, firstly, of social reform—questions like housing will peculiarly appeal to them—secondly, of temperance; and, thirdly, of peace. Surely, every party in this House would welcome an addition to the electorate which would on the whole tend to cast its vote either on the side of social reform, or of temperance, or of peace.
There is one other excuse which is often put forward by those who favour Women Suffrage for not casting their vote in favour of any particular measure, and that is that there is no mandate at the moment from the country for it. I do not think hon. Members on either side of the House can throw stones in respect of this matter, because I think both before and after 1906, without going into any particulars, both Governments have lived in glass houses, and both have, on occasions, brought in measures which have not had that complete and full mandate which on theoretical grounds we should all wish to see. But this question occupies a peculiar position in relation to the mandate. In the first place, it is not possible for any one party to take it up, and under our present party system therefore you cannot get a General Election upon the question of Women Suffrage. I would also appeal to the House from another point of view. The mandate of a purely male electorate would perhaps be hardly conclusive on a question of Women Suffrage. I would therefore again urge those who vote on this question to put aside all extraneous considerations and to vote fairly upon the merits of the question. The hon. Member (Mr. Arnold Ward) in the arguments he used showed that he realised what was the most striking feature in regard to the merits, or the reverse, of the Bill. He argued that on the whole the questions which affected women were fairly treated by this House. I differ from him 1742 in that respect. There are many injustices to women which still await solution. If I mentioned one or two of them there would be not only the industrial questions to which the Noble Lord (Viscount Wolmer) referred, there would be the rights that married women have over their children as compared with the rights which their husbands have, there would be certain inequalities in the divorce laws, all of which need remedy, and which I expect in a certain number of years will receive remedy.
But there is one injustice to women which I think will never be remedied until they have a vote and the political power which a vote gives, and that is the very limited opportunities which women have to-day of earning their own livelihood compared with the opportunities that men have. I should be one of the last to deny that domestic life is not only the first duty but also the most congenial life's work of the majority of women. I do not agree with a distinguished writer, George Bernard Shaw, when he said that home was the prison of the girl and the workhouse of the woman. In fact, I rather think when he penned those lines the temptation to be epigrammatic overcame his inclination to be sincere. But there are a certain number of women who either have no inclination for the domestic or family life or who are unsuited to it. There is a much larger number of women who have not the opportunity of achieving a domestic and family life. The majority of women resent, I believe, the position that marriage is practically the only career for them in life. What are the alternatives if they have no husband to support them? They have a struggle for livelihood which is infinitely harder than the struggle which any man has. They start, in the first place, badly equipped. They are worse educated than their brothers as a rule, and their parents, as a rule, do not afford them the same opportunities of acquiring a profession. When they have secured a means of livelihood it is in nearly every case hard drudgery, without any of those prospects of success and power and wealth which, in the case of a man's career, do so much to lighten that drudgery of his earlier years. What is the remedy? I do not mean to say that Parliament can do everything in this matter, but at the same time there are many avenues which Parliament might open to them. There is the law—the two branches of the legal profession. They are closed to women by Act of Parlia- 1743 ment. There is the Civil Service. Except for a very few minor appointments, that is closed to women by the action of Parliament. There are those professions which are controlled by a council of their members. In most of these professions there are barriers placed upon the entrance of women. In the question of university degrees women are not on the same footing in any sense as men. Lastly, and perhaps almost more important than all, there is the fact that women have far less opportunity of receiving higher education in this country than men have at present. I should like to put it to the House, Will Parliament ever open to women these closed professions? Will they give women the same chance of earning a livelihood as men have? Will they do that while the Members of this Parliamen are dependent for their seats upon an electorate which is wholly a male electorate? To expect a question such as this, which so intimately affects men as well as women, to be pushed forward as it ought to be while Parliament remains as it is, wholly dependent on the male vote, is more than one can reasonably expect, and it is on this ground more than any other that I ask the House to vote in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Sir CHARLES HENRY
I have listened to the Debate, and I must say that no statement I have heard since I have been a Member of this House has given me greater astonishment than that of the Noble Lord (Viscount Wolmer) the Member for the Newton Division. In arguing in favour of the Bill and protesting against militancy, he said that if Women Suffrage would be wrong in certain cases he would be prepared to disfranchise Mrs. Pankhurst and those who act with her. Whether we agree with Mrs. Pankhurst's methods or not, it must be admitted that she has shown great vitality in connection with the cause of Women Suffrage. During the last two weeks the House has discussed certain proposals for the reform of the electoral laws. Those who opposed those measures based some of their arguments on the fact that no measure of electoral reform should be carried unless it received Government responsibility. For those measures the Government did give an endorsement. What is the position in regard to this measure? We are asked to give this Bill a Second Reading when we know that the Government as the Government is opposed to its provisions. I maintain 1744 very strongly that no change in the way of electoral reform should take place unless the Executive of the day is responsible for that reform. I know I shall be told that those who oppose this measure for Women Suffrage are desirous of shelving the movement. If there was sufficient driving force behind the movement, the Government could be put out of power if it refused its support, for the existence of the Government depends upon the carrying of important proposals of reforms to a definite result. What is the actual position? This question has been discussed, not only in this House, but in the country for the past seven years, and I do not think I can be accused of making a misstatement when I say that after its different aspects have been considered and after all the pros and cons., the advantages and disadvantages, have been laid before the electorate, there is far less enthusiasm and support for Women Suffrage now than was the case seven years ago.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Bosworth Division (Mr. H. D. M'Laren) endeavoured to point out that women were debarred from different avocations. I do not think, as regards the vote, he can conclusively prove that to anyone's satisfaction. Women for some time past have had the opportunity of voting for different local bodies, such as county councils, and also of becoming members of those bodies. I am one of those who are strongly of opinion it is most desirable that women should be represented on local bodies, and should have a share in the management of the affairs which are peculiar to those different bodies. What is the result? Recently we have had the county council elections, and as regards London, I believe I am correct in stating that, of the 120,000 women on the register and qualified to vote, only about 30 per cent. actually voted. I believe if the Returns for the whole country were taken it would be shown that, of the women eligible to vote, those who actually voted would not be more than 25 per cent. If there was a great desire that every woman should take part in the management of public affairs, would not women who are at present qualified to vote in connection with local bodies have striven to get them to vote at the county council elections? At the recent London County Council election only one woman was elected a member of that body. No one can state with any degree of fairness that the legislation passed through this House has been prejudicial to the interests of women. As 1745 long as I have been a Member of this House, I think every care has been shown, not only by this Government but by previous Governments, that women should have every consideration. No more important measure has been passed in recent years than the Old Age Pensions Act, and it is a striking fact that, according to the latest Returns, old age pensions are paid to 603,380 women, and to 362,628 men, and, therefore, of the £13,000,000 voted for old age pensions, practically £8,000,000 is given to women. I think that is conclusive proof that not only has the legislation of this country not been unfavourable to women, but also that the legislation has not done anything to curtail the longevity of women. In regard to the National Insurance Act, my hon. Friend tried to show that we have been remiss in dealing with the requirements of women. I think that on all sides of the House every desire was shown during the passing of the Act that women should receive every consideration, and I believe there is actuarial proof that, in proportion to the contributions they make, the benefits they receive are on a fair and liberal basis.
I think we have a right to know more definitely from those who support this measure what is the goal behind the extension of the Parliamentary franchise to women, because I do not believe that the supporters of this movement will say, or that a large section of the women would say, that the granting of the Parliamentary franchise to women would end their desire and meet the full scope of their demand. I believe it cannot be disputed that once you give the electoral power to anybody you cannot deny them the legislative function. We are told that in our Colonies the vote is accorded to women. In to-day's papers it is stated that in connection with the Australian Parliament women candidates have already placed themselves before the electors. Would anyone maintain that in those Colonies, which have granted the franchise to women, either the legislation is more perfect or the conditions are better than in those which have not granted the franchise to them? Would anyone say that Australia is more prosperous than Canada, or that New Zealand is more prosperous than the Cape? One of my greatest objections to this Bill is that it specially provides for the franchise being extended to the wife. Last week the House dealt with what was admitted to be on all sides an anomaly, namely, 1746 plural voting. I maintain that the anomalies which would be created by this Bill would be far greater than any we have in connection with plural voting. One of the greatest features in connection with this country is the responsibility of men towards women, and I would view with the greatest apprehension any step which would tend to relieve men of that responsibility. I maintain that if you give the Parliamentary franchise to a wife and to a husband, you cannot expect the husband to have that responsibility which the law now lays upon him. I am one of those who do not wish in any way to belittle the sincerity of those who support this measure, but I hold that they have not behind them the great national feeling of this country. I shall oppose this measure with the greatest confidence, and with the deepest conviction, because I recognise that in opposing the extension of the Parliamentary franchise to women, I am acting in accordance with the views of the majority of the men and women of the country, and in accordance with what I consider to be the best interests of this country.
§ Mr. JAMES PARKER
Altogether, apart from party exigencies, I am personally in favour of the extension of the Parliamentary franchise to women. I think some of the arguments of the hon. Member (Sir C. Henry) are not very convincing, and if I may say so without offence, coming from him, they do not impress me at all, because there was a time when a certain class in the community was as bitterly opposed to the extension of the male franchise as they are at present to the granting of the franchise to women. The Noble Lord the Member for the Newton Division (Lord Wolmer) put forward some arguments with respect to the necessity of granting votes to women which appear to me to be almost unanswerable. I think the statements he made proved conclusively that the withholding of political power from women is a distinct economic disadvantage to them. I know that in this House, and in the country to a certain extent, there is a prejudice against women having the franchise on the ground that they are not equal in capacity for the purposes of government, or that they are not equal in acuteness of intellect. That is not my experience, and after seven or eight years in this House, and after far more years of close association with women as well as men, I think that women are able to hold their own in these days. 1747 In so far as there are any cases where they are not able to do so, it is largely—I do not wish to put it too high—it is partially due to the fact that they have not had the same opportunities in the way of education which men have enjoyed. Take the arguments brought forward on the present occasion against giving women the vote. Members of this House appear to be afraid that because women are in the majority, therefore we are going to have in the future control of Imperial and national interests by one sex only. I believe that we shall not be ruled when women get the vote from the sex point of view, and, although I am a supporter of women having votes, I do not think that women will be at all revolutionary. My own view is that for a considerable time women, not merely women of property, but poor women, are really likely to be more Conservative and less Radical than the men portion of the population. I believe that they would take an interest particularly in questions of a domestic and social character.
One hon. Member asks, "Where is there a place for women in politics?" I submit that there is, and it would not frighten me if I knew that the giving of women the vote meant that women were going to stand for constituencies and ultimately find a place in this House. Why should they not? What is the argument against it apart from prejudice? I can understand these questions coming from persons who are Conservatives—for all the Conservatives do not sit on the opposite side of the House—that they are afraid of any change whatever; but on what ground, apart from prejudice, can you withhold the vote from women? One hon. Member said that it was argued that women with money should have a vote. I want to make it clear that the women without money—and it is for them that I am most anxious—should obtain the vote, not because I believe that they would vote for my party. I know full well that my party is in an enormous minority in this country. We represent a growing interest, but still a fringe of the total electorate. Our numbers in this House prove that. Nor do I think that they will increase our number. But apart from these personal and party considerations, I maintain that the poor women of this country are in need of political power in order that by that political power they may do for their sex what men are doing for their sex— 1748 that is raise their social and economic standard. Take the position to-day with regard to unemployment. The hon. Member for Wellington (Sir C. Henry) said that this House had passed legislation which has been beneficial to women. I dare say that the intention of this House is always to pass legislation which shall be beneficial to women, but who are to be the best judges of that question? Looking to the future, I am by no means sure that this House shall not undo some of the legislation which has been passed with regard to women, and open some of the doors which it has closed to women's employment. There is scarcely an industry in this country where women, who are doing identically the same work as men, are not paid a lower price for it, and, though the granting of the vote is not the only thing necessary for altering that, still the giving of political power would materially assist women to obtain the same remuneration for similar work.
There is a whole sheaf of questions which particularly apply to women. Take the education of girls. This House has taken a one-sided view with regard to the matter, and until you give women political power you are not likely to get the kind of education for the girls of this country that would best fit them for their work and their future life. There are two classes of opposition in this matter of extending the franchise to women. The first is the enormous prejudice on the part of those who are bitterly opposed—as, I may say, that I myself am—to militancy, and because of that militancy they will not look on this question as something apart from the mere handful of people who are in favour of the militant propaganda. Then we have the opposition of that section who are always afraid of extending the franchise, who talk of democracy but always do everything they can to keep it back; who say they are in favour of the people being enfranchised, yet withhold every conceivable opportunity of this being done. I believe that we have no right to withhold political power from the women of this country. If it is argued that it would be a good thing to give it to the taxpayer and the ratepayer, the woman who is a holder of property, or a householder, as the case may be, I maintain that every woman who works, at whatever kind of employment she may be engaged, is just as much a taxpayer as any Member of this House. I maintain that the girl working in a Yorkshire and Lancashire mill, and 1749 earning 15s. or 16s. or £1 a week, who pays her contributions to the household, is just as much a ratepayer and a taxpayer, and it is especially so in the case where she is a lodger, because the amount which she is herself charged for her board and lodging includes a profit which goes to the landlord, so that she is really as much a taxpayer and a ratepayer as the rest of them.
If we really do believe in democracy in this House we should give the Vote to the whole of the people of the country. Nothing stands in the way except our fear that if we give the whole of the people political power they would in some way want to go faster than many hon. Members in this House want to go. I am going to vote for this Bill because this Bill is capable of amendment. I will vote for it all the way through if it should pass its Second Reading. I will try to obtain adult suffrage if that is possible. Failing that I will accept the principle of the Bill, and even if I cannot get that, as far as I am concerned, I will vote for the most limited franchise that is proposed within the four corners of the Bill. I hope that this House, in spite of the things that may happen outside, will stand up for doing the thing which is right, and will do it because it is right. I say that it is right that the vote should be accorded to women and that they have a right to political power equally with men, and I do not doubt that if we give them that political power they will use it to the best advantage of the nation.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
I have been in favour of a limited franchise for women, but this is a totally different proposal. The present franchise I understand affects some 7,000,000 of people and this Bill would nearly double that number. I am not prepared to do that. I am not prepared to see women in this House. You may call it prejudice if you like. I call it something else. If you give women the vote to such an extent as this you must be prepared to see them in this House on the Front Bench governing the country, and on the Opposition Bench opposing the Government. The Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord Robert Cecil), and the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) are in favour of this Bill. I ask them are they prepared to see women holding benefices in the Church of England? I think not. Are they prepared to see a woman an archbishop? If not, why not. If this Bill implied that I am perfectly 1750 certain that they would oppose it, but my hon. Friend below me (Mr. Parker) said, "Why should we not have women in Parliament?" I will tell him why. This is a commercial and industrial country. I am not going to say that it is the fault of women. Far from it. It may be the result of bad training which has lasted for several generations. I dare say that that is so. But it could hardly be hoped that women could govern and manage our commerce and industry. I do not say that they would not have been qualified, if they had been properly trained for several generations. I do not say that they will not be qualified in three or four generations afterwards. But the fact remains that the whole of our ships are built by men and manned by men. Our engineering shops are worked and managed by men. Our railways and mines are worked and managed by men. Our commerce is managed by men. So it is with all the industries of the country. They are all governed and managed by men, and if we were to have women in this House they would be legislating for these commercial industries of the management of which they know nothing. Some hon. Members do not object to that, but I am only stating my view why this should not be granted.
There is another very important reason. This question has never been discussed before the constituencies. I have fought three elections, and if you ask me the opinion of my Constituency on this subject I could not tell you except that I have a strong notion that if we had an election on this subject alone and I supported it and was opposed by one who was against it I should be turned out. I cannot tell. But hon. Gentlemen are just in the same position. They cannot tell. And I put it to them: Are they justified in making this change? I take my own case. I represent 11,000 electors. By passing this Bill I am reducing their powers of voting by 50 per cent. or 40 per cent. without having ever consulted them. Am I justified in doing that? Many hon. Gentlemen know perfectly well that what I say is true, that in their constituencies, if they fought on this subject alone, if it could be dissevered from every other subject, they would be defeated. Have they the right, then, to reduce the voting power of the constituencies without consulting them in the matter? I feel that I am not justified in doing so. The hon. Member below me referred to the subject of legislation, and I have been trying to think what legisla- 1751 tion could have been passed in the interests of women that has not been passed by Parliament. I have read their periodicals and their writings, and in one paper, not an organ of the militant suffragists, but a moderate publication, I saw that the Prime Minister was violently described as an old fossil, and they actually charged him with conniving or conspiring with Mr. Speaker to defeat the Bill which was previously before the House. What can you say of people who exhibit such a want of judgment, and such a lack of perception of actual facts? The only question I could see discussed in the writings which I perused was that of divorce. So far as we in Scotland are concerned, our withers are unwrung, because the law in Scotland in regard to divorce is precisely the same for the man as for the woman.
I cannot see any question on which, if women had had votes, they would have obtained any better results in this House than have already been achieved. My hon. Friend said the vote would enable them to secure the same wage as men. [An HON. MEMBER: "For equal work."] If women do equal work they get the same wages. [An HON. MEMBER: "No," and "What about teachers?"] There may be something to be said in regard to teachers, but as a matter of fact where the female teacher is found to be more valuable than others she gets bigger wages. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] In regard to education, women students are admitted to the universities of Scotland alongside the men, and every opportunity and chance is given to the female students that is given to the male students. I see nothing to improve there. Then it is said that prejudice exists on this subject. There is no prejudice as far as I am concerned. I should like to give women as much power as possible in domestic affairs, but I solemnly object to their taking part in Imperial matters. I should not have the slightest objection to women being members of a local Parliament to deal with local affairs, and when Home Rule is obtained in Scotland, as well as in Ireland, I should have no objection to their having seats in the local Legislature. It follows as a matter of course that if we give women a Parliamentary vote, you cannot resist their taking seats in this House. I, for one, am not prepared to see that. While I am prepared to support a 1752 reasonable franchise for women, I cannot see my way to support the proposal now before the House.
§ Mr. GOULDING
I rise to support a Second Reading of this Bill. Unlike the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, in the six elections in which I have taken part I have always answered without reservation that I thought it only an act of justice that a certain measure of franchise should be given to women. I do not for a moment hesitate to say that if I had my choice I should much prefer to vote for the more moderate proposal contained in the Conciliation Bill previously before the House; but my voting for the Second Reading of this Bill will not in the least prevent me from supporting an Amendment to be moved to reduce the Bill to the more moderate proposal. I am afraid the hon. Member opposite has not looked very carefully into the proposals of this Bill when he talks about 14,000,000—a figure which is ludicrous. The very outside estimate of the number of those who would be enfranchised under this Bill is 6,000,000.
§ Mr. GOULDING
I am sorry I mistook what the hon. Gentleman said. The Bill, as the hon. Member now says, is one to extend the franchise to some six million women. In supporting this Bill from this side of the House, I am glad to recollect that the recognition of the just claim of women that they should have some share of the franchise has been steadily supported in the past by some of the greatest leaders of the Tory party. The late Lord Salisbury was a consistent supporter of it, and, in my opinion, the greatest leader the Tory party ever had, Benjamin Disraeli, was also a supporter of it. If it was right in their time to extend the franchise to women, in my opinion it is a thousand-fold more right to-day. We are living in a period of social unrest unparalleled in the history of our country, and I do not hesitate to say that to broaden the basis upon which our franchise rests by extending it to a certain proportion of women must tend to the stability and welfare of the State, in which women have as deep an interest as men. No doubt in the recent past deplorable acts on the part of certain militants have created prejudice. But even now I do not hesitate to say that if you take the revolutionaries or extremists in any one hundred men, and 1753 a number of revolutionaries or extremists in any hundred women, the women would be in very much the smaller proportion. I am perfectly certain that if women were included in the franchise it would add to the stability of the State, and for those reasons I support the Bill.
We are told that if we enfranchise women we will withdraw from them some of the privileges which the law confers upon them to-day. I know of no privileges which the law confers upon them beyond that they are irresponsible and dependent beings. That which man confers upon them will exist as long as nature exists, And no law and none of the mischief that sometimes emanates from this House will be able to interfere with the relation which exists between the sexes. It is idle to tell women that if they attend to their duties as county councillors and guardians they are within their province; that they may depart from their homes for several hours in the week to discharge their duties in the administration of the laws, but that they are to have no part whatever in influencing the votes of those who may amend and alter those laws. But if women once in every three or four years attempt to put a cross upon a Parliamentary ballot paper, then they are torn from the sphere they adorn. Women may canvass day after day in some of the roughest quarters on behalf of a candidate without being unsexed or any harm done to them whatsoever; but for them to vote for the candidate in whose behalf they are canvassing would be perfectly demoralising. Such an argument has only to be stated to show its absurdity. I support this Bill because I believe that the interests of an unrepresented class are apt to be overlooked. As a first and immediate result of the enfranchisement of the agricultural labourers, the Government of the day were defeated on the famous "three-acres-and-a-cow" Resolution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings). Ever since that day there has been competition among the parties in endeavours to improve their lot.
I do not think there will be any difference in any part of the House when I state that I believe the enfranchisement of the agricultural labourers did more than anything else to expedite the carrying out of the Old Age Pensions Act, one of the finest pieces of legislation ever passed by this House. If that be so, what is the position to-day? Are we to believe that, when Members on both sides of the House to- 1754 day are engaged in their minds in considering the wage of the agricultural labourer, their interest is not stirred up by the knowledge that there is a large agricultural vote in those constituencies. In the Insurance Act we had a very remarkable proof of this contention. Take the case of the outworkers—the married women, whose husbands had votes, had special consideration of their grievances, while complaints of the unmarried women were entirely ignored. Women are more and more being engaged in industries as breadwinners for the family, and I believe that women are more likely to know than are men what is best in the interests of their own sex. No one can honestly contend that the condition of this country in regard to the homes of the masses is satisfactory, and we must remember that it is solely the work of men. The one bright spot, the thing that astonishes all who closely examine the facts, is the ability of the housewife, especially in the homes of the poor, to overcome her difficulties and obstacles and make ends meet on the mere pittance which she gets. In Australia, where the vote has been extended to them, women have not become unsexed; chivalry has not declined; homes have not been neglected. On the contrary, infant mortality has shown a steady decline since women have had a voice in deciding upon the provisions for public health and housing, to the advantage of their own class. This House has had before it, and will shortly have before it again, a Bill for the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales. Does any single fair-minded man on either side of the House contend that women are not deeply affected by, and deeply interested in, that Bill? I do not hesitate to say, it matters not whether it is a church or a chapel, that at least two-thirds of every congregation are women. Yet they are to have no voice in regard to this question, and are considered unworthy of effective consultation. The matter is to be settled by men alone, many of whom know the churches and the chapels from the outside only, and have never been frequenters of the services or enjoyed the advantages of Communion. I take again the question of education. In a short time this House will be called upon to consider the question of education, and surely that also deeply affects women and interests them, they being over half the 1755 nation, and yet on this Bill, which is going again to touch a thing which is vital to the ordinary woman, namely, the quality and quantity and degree of religious education which is to be imparted in our elementary schools, here again, women, who are half the nation and deeply interested in feeling on this question, are to have no say, or no voice, or no influence. What an anomaly that is. We allow women to administer the Act, and we have had even recently a woman chairman of the greatest educational authority in the country, namely, the Education Board of London, and yet there are those women who are not allowed, with their experience and knowledge, and services, to come forward and effectively influence legislation of that kind, and to alter and amend those Bills according to the experience they have acquired. There is another argument, and that is what is known as the physical force argument. We are told that women have no business with votes because they are unable to bear arms. I venture to say that ever since the franchise has been passed the predominance of physical force has always lain with the non-voters. Even under our laws that exist to-day enlistment is almost a disqualification, and those who serve in the Army and Navy are, as a matter of fact, almost always excluded from exercising their vote. I would even say this, that there is hardly a time in our history when predominance of physical force did not rest with the non-voters, and it was in their power, if they should so exercise it, to come and control the proceedings of this House. Again, Members know perfectly well that there is a great number of men who are perfectly incapable from infirmities, such as sight, hearing, teeth, or other bodily defects, bearing arms, yet whoever has heard a proposal put forward that those individuals, because they were incapable of bearing arms in defence of their country, were to be disqualified from voting?
I may go even further, and I am afraid I must include myself amongst those who are disqualified, in my recollection since 1895 a vast majority of Members of this House have been incapable of bearing arms for the defence of the country, and yet will anyone, for one moment, suggest that those Members should be disqualified or denied their vote much less the right of sitting in this House. There is no doubt whatsoever that the avocations of women 1756 are widening enormously as civilisation advances, and none of us can be blind to the excellent services women have rendered in the defence of their country by their attitude as nurses in the field of war. No one can forget Florence Nightingale, and no one can ignore what has been done by women in the South African War, and none but the most blind can forget what has been done by women in this very recent war, which has yet hardly ceased, the Balkan War, where women risked their lives and went in amongst enteric patients, and disease of many kinds, and attended to those diseases and succoured the wounded. I am told that the suffrage is to be refused to women because a small and windy minority attacked private property. No doubt they have shown their sympathy in a very stupid way, stupid for themselves and wrong, and also stupid for the cause they are attempting to help. Do not let us as men who are boasting of our impartiality in this question be unfair on that account. How have men in the past in similar positions acted? How did the majority of men act at the time of the great Reform Act of 1831, when they marched through the streets smashing windows and carrying destruction everywhere and attacking the House of the late Duke of Wellington, or even in Bristol, where they went and sacked the Mansion House and burned the Bishop's Palace and committed other outrages.
That, you may tell me, is ancient history, but let us recall what happened in 1886 and 1888. We had our demonstrations of men in London as regards grievances they were complaining of, and they were led by a gentleman who is now President of the Local Government Board. Did we say, because they committed outrages, because they broke windows, because they marched down the West-End and did everything that was unlawful and violent, that their grievances were not to be considered and enquired into, and that if wrong was being done, that that wrong should not be redressed. On the contrary we at once set to work to right some of the very grievances those men were complaining of, although they took part in the very acts of violence which women are doing to-day. What happened in my own country, in Ireland? Who can forget there the great land agitation? Nothing that these women have done can compare with the horrors and outrages which were committed there during the land campaign—horrors which 1757 revolted all our feelings and which we detested in our heart of hearts. Did we say that nothing should be done? On the contrary, both parties, Liberals as well as Conservatives, tackled the problems and spurred their intelligences to find a solution, and they did find a solution, largely by the passing of great land legislation. I do most sincerely hope that the recent tactics will not hopelessly prejudice the minds of Members of this House. I do hope that they will remember that when prejudice is strong judgment is sometimes weak, and because those few women have committed crimes which all of us detest, that they are not going to punish the multitude of women who have been silent, patient, law-abiding citizens during all this crisis. If they do so those very men who claim their impartiality are going to show that women have not the monopoly of emotion.
Lastly, I would like to make an appeal to the House. A hundred years ago there were four classes of people outside the franchise. Civilisation has secured the enfranchisement of three—the working classes, Roman Catholics, and Jews. The fourth class—women—await redress, who in their thousands to-day are breadwinners for the family, and who ask for recognition, and the instrument for obtaining legislation.
I detest the campaign of arson and anarchy that is going on at present. It is the action of folly and despair. But I equally dislike the present cruel and horrible battle, which is a discredit to our country. I ask them in voting not to vote because they are going to punish certain individuals who have done wrong, but to vote on this measure on its own merits and as to whether it is right or wrong. Is it right that women who participate in all the liabilities of the State should be shut out from the vote? Again I ask, does any single individual suppose if this Bill is rejected to-morrow night that the question then ends? No sane man can possibly huddle such a comfort to his mind. The movement is too strong, and the mass of thinking men and women drawn toward the support of this campaign too numerous to permit it to end there. Men are determined as well as women to see justice done in this case, and if you defeat this Bill all you are going to do is to postpone the settlement of the problem and to leave it to worry and harry administrators. That may not affect the majority in this House, but doing 1758 that is also going to put back the clock in regard to those social reforms, which, I believe, the vast majority of Members on both sides of the House are anxious to see Parliament apply themselves to. I vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, and if the Bill receives that Second Reading I shall then, if opportunity is afforded me, vote for an Amendment to give that lesser extension of the Franchise that was contained in the Conciliation Bill, and I most respectfully address this observation to such Conservative Members as are good enough to listen to me now. They cannot get out of the pledges given to the women at their election, when they said they would vote for the Conciliation Bill, by simply voting against the Second Reading of this Bill, and not giving themselves the opportunity, which is apparent to all if the Second Reading is carried, of voting for an Amendment which would give them the opportunity of fulfilling the pledges which they gave to their constituents.
§ Sir J. D. REES
The hon. Gentleman who addressed the House from the Labour Benches gave us an interesting discourse on the different brands of democracy, and upon his premisses I could not help wondering in which category he places the Prime Minister. Then the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House in his very interesting discourse must have overlooked the fact, however his speech was meant, that it could not be other than a strong encouragement to the militant Suffragists. When he spoke about military forces having no vote, I confess I did not understand him. There is nothing to prevent the soldier qualifying for a vote, and I believe there would be no difficulty for arranging generally that he is able to exercise it. However I am more concerned, since not only parties but even representatives of cities are divided upon this point, with the speech made by the Noble Lord the Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Bentinck). He said it was idle to talk about the sacredness of the home in connection with this Bill, but the country and the State is an aggregation of homes, and I believe that this Bill, which will enfranchise man and wife and introduce strife into the house, which it has previously been without, and encourage women to take to politics whenever they are on bad terms with their husbands and fight them, will do greater harm to the homes of this country than anything else that could possibly be imagined. The Noble Lord said women 1759 are not inferior to males. I heartily agree, but they are inferior as workmen to males. My Noble Friend, like every other speaker to-day and on previous occasions, entirely ignored what is the root fact of the whole situation, and that is that women are physically inferior to men, and are physically unfit for performing the work of males. He dwelt upon the cleanliness and order of many streets in Nottingham. I am, like him, familiar with them; but when he spoke and argued as to that, he did not stop to reflect that those houses are kept in that clean and orderly conditions under political conditions under which women have not got votes.
I submit that hon. Members who argue as he has, have no ground whatsoever, as was pointed out by an hon. Gentleman opposite, for believing that their constituents, men or women, support them in supporting this Bill. I admit that we who oppose the Bill are equally unable to say that our constituents support us, but I shall give some reasons for thinking that they do. My Noble Friend, with others, takes it for granted that the passing of this Bill will improve the wages of women. There is absolutely no proof of that. In American States which have adopted female suffrage, do they pay higher wages to women; on the contrary, the exact reverse is the case. The wages of women in the civilised states of New England are far higher than in the more backward States which have adopted female suffrage. My Noble Friend quoted Lord Macaulay. The fact that Lord Macaulay was always positive is no proof that Lord Macaulay was always right. He was a great failure as a politician in this country, and I should argue that he was equally a failure when a politician in India. I think it deplorable that this Bill should come forward at a time when the supporters of Women Suffrage are engaged in conspiracies to break the law and to worry and harry their fellow citizens. These are critical times. I am far indeed from agreeing with my Noble Friend on that score. I believe that these are extremely critical times in the history of this country; I believe in the perils in regard to which my Noble Friend indulged in some harmless witty chaff, and I deeply regret that at a time when the nations should all be prepared to fight for their own, it should even be possible for this House to be considering a measure which, if passed, will be a cause of rejoicing to the enemies of England 1760 and of regret to those who think, as I do, that this country is being ruined by the sickly sentimentality which at present poisons our public life. I see it not only in this Bill, but on all sides. I believe, with all my heart, that it is the canker of the country at the present moment. I deeply deplore that the Unionist party is not agreed upon this point, and that it should be prepared in some measure to pass the most revolutionary proposal ever brought before this House. Whether it is good or bad, it is revolutionary, and it is proposed to rush it through without allowing the constituencies to have a voice upon the subject.
It is no use speaking on this matter if you do not dwell upon what is, or at any rate, what you believe to be, the really crucial fact in the situation, which for some reason or other, partly on account of that very sentimentality which I deplore, is suppressed when dealing with the subject. I refer to the fact that the difference between men and women is one of physical fitness; that women cannot fulfil their engagements; that they cannot undertake work; that they cannot, week in and week out, month in and month out, year in and year out, work like men; and that it is perfectly hopeless to attempt to put them upon the same footing, either politically or economically. If the House passes this Bill and once abolishes the sex bar, the whole flood-gates will be open, and it will be impossible to stop until this country has more women than men voters. I take no interest in philosophy—none whatever; I do not believe in it; but hon. Gentlemen opposite, who argue this matter out on academic lines, probably do. I therefore wish to refer to the works of a man who has written upon this subject an epoch-making work, a work which is acknowledged to be such all over the Continent of Europe. Heaven knows, I do not argue that men are any better in any respect than women, except one—the all-important point of physical strength. In ability, eloquence, and surely virtue, they are, at any rate, the equals, if not the superiors, of men, but they are not their equals in physical strength. I should like to refer to a work of Dr. Otto Weininger. Anybody who takes the slightest interest in the literature of this subject on the Continent will realise that his is the most reasoned work which has appeared in recent years on this subject. He says that there is not a single woman in the history of thought who can be truthfully compared with 1761 men of second rate genius, and that women are tremendously accessible, extraordinarily impressionable, noted for the adoption of any new thing, and for the easy acceptance of other people's views. Are those qualities which fit women to rule over the home and foreign affairs of a mighty Empire?
§ Mr. PONSONBY
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that writer committed suicide through madness at the age of twenty-four?
§ Sir J. D. REES
I am quite aware that he committed suicide; so also did Socrates, Cato, and various other people. Socrates' suicide may not have been altogether voluntary, but Cato's was, and I am not sure that this gentleman may not have been driven to it by suffragists. Take the occupations in which women are supposed to be superior to men. Even in regard to needlework, sewing, and the like, if a woman wants anything specially good—a habit or so forth—she goes to a man. In regard to a cook, a man might be quite content with a female artist for his own table but if he had to entertain any illustrious personage, he would immediately engage the services of a man cook. Even in such arts as these I do not know any in which, given equal work and equal time, a man is not superior to a woman, because of his greater strength, and in which he does not get and deserve higher wages, a fact which deprives the argument of my Noble Friend of all its force. Then take the easy assumption that large numbers of women want the vote. I have fought elections in England, Scotland, and Wales, but I have never found many interested in this subject. There may have been much flag-wagging and so on, but nobody has asked me, as a candidate, what I intended to do on the subject, or at any rate nobody pressed me very much about it. What has happened to candidates who stand upon this ticket? What about the candidate who received thirty-five votes out of 10,000 in Glasgow, or the candidate who received twenty-two in East St. Pancras? What about the late Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who walked up the floor of the House and shook his fist in the Prime Minister's face—all on account of Women Suffrage? He stood for re-election, and was allowed no further opportunity either of shaking his fist in the Prime Minister's face or of opening his mouth in the House of Commons. I will not trouble the House 1762 with figures, as they have already been gone over, but there is one very simple census which every hon. Member can make for himself. Let any hon. Member who thinks that large numbers of women really want the suffrage consider how many of the women whom he knows are in favour of it. It is the smallest possible proportion.
§ Sir J. D. REES
I freely admit that amongst the women in favour of Female Suffrage are many of the most able, most eloquent, and most admirable of their sex; but that does not in the least prove that they are representative of their sex. Let any Member make a census of the number of women whom he knows who are in favour of this measure, and he will be bound to admit that the number is small, probably that they are not representative women, and that there is little peace, light and refreshment about them, but continual agitation, worry, and trouble. I attach very little importance to petitions. It is quite easy to get them up on either side; but you will find that many more women have petitioned the House against Women Suffrage than have petitioned the House in its favour. I do not think that it is fair or sufficient to object to this measure that it is bold, and that it adds a very large number to the list of voters. If it were a good thing that women should have the vote, I would say the more the better. It is not fair to object to it, simply because it is a bold measure. Reformers have always been bold, from Moses to Mahomet, and from Mahomet to Mrs. Pankhurst. What hon. Members should consider is, as my Noble Friend said, whether the measure in itself is just and expedient. If it is not desirable that women should have the vote, it is desirable that none of them should have it. If it is desirable that women should have the vote, it is desirable that they should all have it. The case must be argued on the ground whether or not it is desirable that women should have the vote. It is urged by several Members that women, if they are enfranchised, will be a moderating and conservative influence in politics. That is a very curious argument to come from Socialists, and extreme social reformers. It seems hard to believe that it can be a sincere argument, but at any rate they put it forward. I wonder where they find proof of that statement. Were the women politicians in the Revolution, the furies, the tricoteuses, moderating politicians? Were 1763 the petroleuses of the Commune a moderating influence? Are the women who are destroying letters, biting and kicking warders, and attacking policemen, a moderating influence in politics? Even if they are right, it seems an amazing thing to argue that they can possibly, under any circumstances, be considered a moderating or conservative influence. I think, on the contrary, that they have shown in the past, and are showing now, that their influence is not a moderating one. If it is really argued that they will be a moderating, conservative, or stable influence in politics, how does it happen that the only party which, as a party, supports them is the Socialist Labour party, which certainly does not affect to be moderate or conservative?
I will not touch on the question of other countries, previous Members having done so. But how different is the case in our Colonies! As if we should learn from our Colonies! As if an old woman should go to her young children for advice as to how she should walk! Moreover, there the women are in the minority, and not in the majority as they are here. The problems with which they have to deal are not larger than the problems of the London County Council, in the decision of which—I think it is a mistake—women are already competent to participate. As to the point in this subject indicated by the hon. Member opposite: the economic condition of women being raised and improved by the granting of the vote, let me say that there is a book, which perhaps some hon. Members have read, by Miss Somers, which shows that in Colorado, for instance, one of the earliest States of America to give the suffrage to women, their wages are very low. The woman's vote is dragooned and controlled by women whom no one would put forward, though they might palliate their condition, as being the properly chosen representatives of the sex, because they follow an ancient if not an honourable profession. That is very much to the point upon this subject. In the States of America which have Female Suffrage, social legislation, so far from being more forward, is more backward than it is in the other States. I must quote the learned doctor again—although he did commit suicide, though I do not know that that invalidates his views or makes them less valuable. He says—and this is very much to the point—The connection between industrial progress and the women's question is much less close than is usually 1764 realised by the Social Democratic group. The struggle for the material necessities of life has nothing whatever to do with the struggle for intellectual development and a sharp distinction must be drawn between the two.There are many arguments that might be used against the granting of Women Suffrage which I will omit to use, although I believe in them, because if a speaker uses these arguments, women are very apt to think that he is not treating their claim with that respect that is due, and is trying to turn it into ridicule. So far from trying to turn this matter into ridicule, I regard the Bill before us as a red revolutionary Bill of the utmost gravity, and I would not willingly say a word which might induce anyone to think that I, at any rate, desired to treat it as having less than that supreme importance which I really think attaches to it. But I was very greatly surprised at the speech of the hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill. So little did he care for facts that he actually stated that this great movement was world-wide, and that at present it was to be found in China, in Persia, and in Turkey. That certainly would be a very great change in those three Oriental countries, but I really wonder that it did not strike the hon Member that China is engaged in shedding her provinces, that Persia is in a state of utter anarchy, and that Turkey, after being a great empire for 500 years, has fallen in the dust; and it is at this period of the history of these empires that the hon. Gentleman says that female suffrage is becoming popular in these three kingdoms! At any rate, they are full of Parliamentary government and of social reform! The hon. Member next amazed me very much when he put forward the contention that if a certain number of women want the vote, why should they not have it? It was a matter that concerned themselves! It amazes me that so shallow an argument should be put forward. We cannot give the franchise to a few women, and they cannot exercise it only in relation to their own concerns. It is a question of who is to govern the Empire! You could give the vote to some women, and they will use it for governing everybody, whether one likes it or not—that is, they will do so in so far as their votes are concerned. When once the principle of sex is abandoned it is impossible to stand out on any other contention. For my part, I have one and only one objection to women having the vote, and that is that they are women, and that it 1765 should be their glory to fulfil their natural functions which are of equal if not of greater value than those of men—and, indeed, without them none of us would have been here to vote at all!
The hon. Member who introduced the Bill said that this withholding of the vote from women was contrary to Christianity. That is amazing. Amongst the twelve disciples four used to hold up their heads. The four evangelists were supreme. Amongst the apostles—some of the disciples were apostles—Saint Paul was the most eminent, and he was the most modern-minded, the most dialectical, the most logical of the writers of the Books of the Bible, and he said that—Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man.How is it contrary to Christianity to carry that out? St. Paul also said that:—He suffered not a woman to teach, nor for the married woman to have authority over her husband.How is that contrary to Christianity? On the contrary, if we are really to take the Bible as our guide—and I am quite prepared to do so—we should hear very little more about this Bill for the enfranchisement of women. The fact is that the more women are in favour of female suffrage the less representative are they of their sex. I am not saying that they may not be cleverer or more advanced. They may be all that, but they are not more representative of their sex. I would quote once again the work to which I referred as the greatest work that has yet been written upon this subject. The doctor says:—The emancipated woman is not a normal but an abnormal woman. It is not a natural but a perverted type ….I submit that is absolutely true. I will not read any more of what the doctor says, because that conveniently summarises his creed. That is the conclusion at which he arrives upon the argument, put in a manner which I will not attempt to follow him in. That is his creed, and it is, I submit, exact and actual fact. As the able woman, the doctor, the woman who is able to perform surgical operations—is she representative of the woman? Admirable woman, if you like, and perfect woman, but not representative. No one, I think, not even the Noble Lord, will suggest that these women are representative of their sex. Such a woman may be the representative of an advanced faction; she may be better even than her sisters; what I submit is that such a woman is not repre- 1766 sentative. I should like to read this one more passage:—It cannot be denied that there are a good many women amongst whom there exists a real craze for emancipation and the higher education. These set the fashion and are followed by others who get up an agitation, and many otherwise admirable and worthy wives use the cry to assert themselves against their husbands.The practical outcome of the whole matter would seem to be let there be the utmost scope for the women of a more or less masculine character. This House has allowed them to become doctors; perhaps it will also allow them to become barristers. If they are fitted and have the physique to undertake them let them proceed to fulfil those masculine occupations which would be ordinarily closed to them, but which they wish to enter. But here again they are not representative of their sex but unrepresentative. The doctor speaks of—the whole woman movement with its unnaturalness, its artificiality, and its fundamental error.I will not detain the House any longer, though I am intensely interested in this subject. In spite of the empty benches, in spite of the condition of the House, I feel this to be a matter of the most supreme importance, and I believe the vote in this House to-morrow on behalf of this Bill will be a matter for rejoicing to all those who think the star of this country is waning—and I believe there are many signs and portents in the air and hope that they will not be added to. The hon. Gentleman opposite said that it was contrary to Christianity not to allow women to vote. What woman is held up as excellent in the Bible? It is the domestic woman, the one who "rises early in the morning while it is yet dark and giveth food to her handmaidens"; she is the woman "whose children rise up and call her blessed, and whose husband praises her in the gate," saying "she bath excelled them all." If the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Pancras is going to base his case on the Bible, I will accept his challenge, and if we were to take the Bible for it there would be no case whatsoever, and this Bill, I think, would not have any supporters. On the contrary, those who support it are driven to say that a new world has been created—not sufficiently new for them, they want a world much newer still. It is only upon that ground that it is possible to find arguments with which to support this Bill. What is said in the Old Testament?:—When Judah was ruined and Jerusalem had fallen then was the time that children ruled over them.1767 There was one deeper degradation. Children were their oppressors—and women ruled over them.If the hon. Gentleman is going to take the Bible, he is beaten both in the New or the Old Testament, and, for my part, I am perfectly prepared to base my position upon either the Old or the New Testament. The hon. Member cannot do it. He has got, first of all, to call his Bill social reform, a question-begging name, which, in the eyes of some, redeems any injustice. An hon. Gentleman who addressed the House from near me—I differ from him in everything he said, but I join with him in this: in imploring hon. Members not to consider those nebulous pledges to their constituents—
§ Sir J. D. REES
They have been wrung from them by complacence or importunity. They do not apply to this particular Bill. If hon. Members feel that they have a duty to their immediate constituents, I think they should feel that they have a still greater duty to their country, and have to consider whether or not the removal of the sex bar is good or not for the British Empire, and not whether or not they are exactly right with their own individual constituents.
§ Mr. STUART-WORTLEY
I desire to support the Second Reading of this Bill, and I do not wish to make any exciting contribution to this Debate. I feel that questions of Debate, to a large extent, are past, and that we have reached a point at which any general or abstract considerations have little further interest. We have reached a point at which speeches consist, as I am afraid mine now must consist, of definitions mostly of personal attitudes and possibly of rather cynical positions. It has been argued more than once in this Debate—and I am not surprised at it—that the present House of Commons has no right or power to decide this question at the present time. Personally, I am not disposed to dispute that, for indeed I think it highly possible that a very large number of Members in this House are entirely free to vote "Aye" or "No" for the Second Reading of this Bill. But because they are in the enjoyment of that freedom that gives them no right whatever to conjecture what the feelings of their constituents may be on this Bill. It seems to me that 1768 it would be quite otherwise if there was a majority of this House returned which had actually given express pledges to support some measure such as the present Bill. There are some such Members, and I am one of them, and in supporting the Second Reading of the Conciliation Bill in the past Session, and in supporting the Second Reading of this Bill conceive themselves to be, as I conceive myself to be, discharging no more than the bare duty which I promised to the women in consideration of which promise I have received value in the shape of the great honour of being elected to this House Now I quite frankly own that my own support of this measure is not quite of the sentimental kind as is the support of some hon. Members. I have a very strong sense of the gradual divorce in this country that is going on, between the bearing of financial burdens and the exercise of power. I have never made any secret of the fact that I wish to see women admitted to the Parliamentary franchise much upon the same terms as that on which they are admitted to the municipal franchise, and I support that view mainly, if not chiefly, in the interests of public economy rather than from sentiment, or from any sense that women suffer any substantial injustice in the present distribution of electoral power in this country.
I cannot say, after a long Parliamentary career, that I think the exclusion of women from the franchise is any great practical injustice done by this House to them as a sex. I have seen a series of Married Women's Property Acts passed; I have seen a series of Factory and Mines Acts passed; and I have seen drastic Amendment of the Criminal Law in the interests of women as a sex, and in all these cases I am bound to confess that I think this House went quite as far in exercising its power as if it were influenced by an electorate in which women had a share. These are not my reasons. I do think at the same time, and I expressed that view in 1895 when a Factory Bill was before the House, that it seemed strange that in a Bill in which we were regulating and restricting the right to live and the right of women to dispose of their own labour as they might think fit, that we were arrogating to ourselves the right of imposing those restrictions and decreeing those regulations in a Parliament in which women had none but an indirect voice in our counsels. And at that time there was no doubt a 1769 good deal of ground for saying, and there may be still, that trade unions of men in their jealous desire to keep up the value of the labour of men were pressing unduly against the claims of women in the disposal of their labour and in the earning of wages in competition with men. I do not say the action of men as trade unionists, such as it was described, was justifiable or not. It was enough for my purpose that the suspicion existed, and you will not allay that suspicion entirely without giving some element of electoral power to the women who may have a claim, if this suspicion were well founded. There has been an argument used which asks us whether we are prepared to allow women to sit in this House, to allow a woman to become Archbishop of Canterbury, and to exercise high administrative functions. I am not frightened by these arguments; we have allowed women to occupy administrative positions, which are less influential and powerful only than those which were occupied by Members of this House who are Ministers. And women in past history and in the happiest possible instance of our own recent history have been allowed to occupy positions even higher than those.
But if you are not going to allow women to legislate and vote, or to hold power such as I have described, why do you not prevent them from holding land? It must be remembered that, in the case of the Throne, the power is enjoyed in circumstances the most calculated to excite prejudice against those enjoying and exercising power by virtue of the principle of hereditary descent. The same in the case of the holding of land, and no one can deny the feeling that in the case of the holding of land in large quantities under any system of law, the supreme power of the owner over the lives and comforts of the persons who have to live upon that land must be far greater than that which is exercised by many persons exercising important administrative functions, and you cannot check that power except by the putting of heavy taxes upon the shoulders of the owners, in which case you only increase still more the right and claim of those owners to be represented in the government of the country, and in the disposal of the sums raised by the taxes which Parliament imposes. As I said just now, my main reason for consenting to give women the vote is in the interest of public economy. I support the giving of that vote upon the grounds which I admit may be described as old-fashioned, 1770 but which I think have, perhaps, too much neglected—I mean the desirability of linking up the conscious contribution, and I lay stress upon the word "conscious," to the public burdens with the exercise of political power. I am not deterred by what I must call the argument of the slippery slope, which tells me that if you go this far you will be carried forward beyond where you intended to go. My belief is that in politics, as well as in morals, it is best to find out where is the right place to stand, and to try and stand there. There are those who are rather afraid to do that and who try to remain at the top, and they will probably find themselves carried further down than those who, seeing the right place, take their stand there. The only reservation I ever made—and I have done it at three elections, and I have been a supporter of Women Suffrage for a good deal longer period than that—was I said I would not vote for any Bill for extending the franchise to women in any circumstances in which it could be suggested that my vote might be considered to be a concession to public violence. Is that the case now?
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members being found present—
§ Mr. STUART-WORTLEY
I was saying I would not give a vote for Women Suffrage that might be regarded as a concession to violence, and I was asking is this that sort of occasion? It might well be you might have organised mobs defying the law which prohibits riotous assemblies within a certain distance of this House, and you might see the representatives of provincial constituencies being attempted to be terrorised by Metropolitan mobs into doing certain things, or abstaining from doing them which they had a right to do. It seems to me to deflect my course, to neglect my pledges, to change my political action because of the criminal acts which have been done would in itself be paying attention to these criminal acts and would be doing the very thing I said I would not do. This Bill gives me perhaps the only opportunity I shall have in the rest of this Parliament for fulfilling the pledge which I gave, that I would vote for a limited extension of the franchise to women, and though it may be that this Bill goes further than I should be inclined 1771 to go, I could not go back to the constituency which returned me and which received my promise, and by drawing a technical distinction seek to justify my change on such an occasion as this. If anyone asks me whether in future I am prepared to go further than the Conciliation Amendment which will be moved in Committee, my answer must be deferred to a future Parliament, for the very good reason that I said I would vote for the Conciliation Bill, and said in express terms, and on three successive occasions, that further than that I was not prepared to go.
EARL of KERRY
My right hon. Friend who has just sat down told us he was one of those who was pledged to his constituency to support this measure. I think if everyone who supports this measure had equally put the matter before their constituents and equally pledged themselves as my right hon. Friend has done, a good deal of the ground would be cut from under the feet of those discussing it, but the matter has not been put before the electorate of this country, and Members of this House who have supported this measure cannot claim to have any popular mandate. My right hon. Friend in his speech I think also cut away the ground from the feet of those who support this measure, for he said, in most emphatic terms, he did not think the women were suffering any very practical injustice in not having the vote. What becomes of most of the speeches we have heard this afternoon which have been based purely and simply upon the injustice which women suffer from being deprived of the franchise? My right hon. Friend began his speech by saying he had no fresh arguments to bring forward. I venture to think he did himself an injustice, because he did bring forward one fresh argument which I do not think I ever heard before, and that was that be considered the admission of women to the franchise would mean very much in the interests of public economy. Like many more assertions made in favour of this Bill, my right hon. Friend did not advance any proof.
§ 8.0 P.M.
EARL of KERRY
It is quite possible my right hon. Friend is right, but certainly the onus of proof rests upon those who make the assertion, and so far 1772 we have no proof that that would really be the case. I rise to oppose this measure, and I certainly must confess that I cannot produce any fresh arguments against it, but I make no apology for repeating some of the old arguments against it, for most of them seem to have remained up to this moment unanswered, and until they are answered in a conclusive way it appears to me, at all events, that the necessity for a change so momentous as this change is admitted to be remains to be proved, and that the existing state of our franchise for the present holds the field. I do not want to waste the time of the House by discussing the abstract question whether the vote is a duty or a right, or what is, at present at all events, the abstract question whether it would be an advantage to this House if women were sitting here with us upon these benches; or, again, the economic question whether it is true or not that women suffer economically by non-representation in this House, or whether they are, as some would have us believe, a down trodden section of the population who, if they had the vote, would be able to raise the economic condition of their fellows and to secure better wages for the women of the working classes. Again, I do not propose to discuss whether the social status of women would be raised or would be lowered if they got the vote. These, no doubt, all are important matters, but I will be prepared to make a present to the supporters of the measure now before the House of any comfort they can derive from their answers to these questions. I think we should this evening consider what I think are the more important questions which lie at the very threshold of the matter. It seems to me that the supporters of any form of woman's franchise have upon them the onus of establishing and making good three assertions and proportions. First, I think it lies with them to show that it would conduce to the better government of the country if women had the vote, and when I say better government I do not mean merely better government in the sphere of economics, but also better government in the sphere of administration, and the defence of our shores, and in the sphere of the government of the British Empire beyond the seas, not only the British Empire at home. That is a matter which never should be lost sight of in discussing this question. Secondly, I think that they ought to show 1773 that the votes which they propose to give to women are desired by the women who would get them, or, if you like to say so, the majority of the women in the country. The vote is looked upon as a privilege. It is surely obvious that it is not desirable to give that privilege to those who do not consider it to be such. If the vote is regarded as a duty I do not think it is any more desirable to give that duty to those who would not be inclined to exercise it. In the third place, I think that the supporters of Female Suffrage have to show that the change is approved by the majority of the present male electorate for the country. After all, we are sent to this House to represent the male electorate. We are not all of us, like my right hon. Friend who has just spoken, pledged to carry out the wishes of our constituents. I certainly have not heard any Members get up and say they are prepared to support this measure and at the same time to admit that it is contrary to the opinion of those who sent them here. I firmly believe that if they take this Bill and submit it to their electors they will find a great many of them against it. None of these three propositions seem to me to have been in any way established except in the sense of a negative up to the present time, and I should have thought that that ought to settle it from the point of view of the House of Commons.
I know that a great many Members on both sides of the House, both those who support it and those who oppose the Bill, set great store by the number of women who would or would not be enfranchised by this or by some other measure of Female Suffrage. Perhaps their motives are somewhat mixed in the advocacy of one or other measures of woman's franchase. But, for my part, that really does not make any difference; it does not matter whether we are discussing a measure like this or the smaller measure of last year, or the larger measure which we may have in the time to come. It is true that many arguments which are used against Female Suffrage would, if they are true of the smaller measure, apply a fortiori to the larger measure, but, after all, everyone knows how difficult it is to establish a frontier and to hold that frontier in a matter of this sort. Although my right hon. Friend said he did not agree with that argument, and that he did not agree with the argument that we were descending upon a slippery slope, I venture to disagree with him. The lessons of 1774 history show that in a measure of this sort once you give up the principle it is difficult to know where you will be landed in the long run. And the old argument of the thin end of the wedge, although no doubt somewhat hackneyed, does seem to me to apply very forcibly in this case, because it is not a question of surmise only—we are able to see the whole way. We know exactly what the extreme advocates of Women Suffrage want. We know how some of them were for a time prepared to accept the smaller measure, and without any subterfuge or deceit they accepted a smaller measure only as an instalment of the larger one which they wanted to get in the future. For my part, I think it does not matter whether we happen to be discussing a larger or a smaller measure of woman franchise, so long as the three propositions I have mentioned remain unapproved. If and when they are approved, the time will come in my opinion to settle which of the various schemes which have been put forward, whether we are to admit one million of women electors, or six million, or a full number of possibly eleven and a half million. I sincerely hope that the House will not assent to this measure or any other measure of Female Suffrage that may be brought before it. I hope it will not stultify itself, as I think it would do, by accepting the larger measure this year when it refused the smaller measure last year, and that it will do nothing which might even have the appearance of yielding to the militant tactics with which we have all been familiar during the last few months. I shall accordingly give my vote in favour of the Amendment which has been moved against this Bill.
§ Mr. CLOUGH
I rise to support the Second Reading of this Bill. In the first place, I want to try to address myself to a matter about which some of us have been curious—the exact number of women who are likely to be enfranchised supposing the Bill passes through all its stages unscathed in its present form. I was very curious on my own part and I have been doing my best to get information from the Members of the Government with very doubtful results. Clause 1 reads:—
And it goes on to say that these shall be entitled to be registered and to vote as Parliamentary electors.
- "(1) Every woman who—
- (a) if she were a man would be entitled to be registered as a Parliamentary elector in respect of a household qualification within the meaning of the Representation of the People Act, 1884; or
- (b) is the wife of a man entitled to be registered in respect of a household qualification."
Clause 2 says:—A woman shall not be entitled to be registered unless she has attained the age of twenty-five years.Then I put these two Clauses together and I then framed a conundrum which I placed before the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, the Secretary for Scotland, and the Chief Secretary for Ireland. I asked each of them if they would state the number of women who had attained the age of twenty-five years, and (a) if they were men who would be entitled to be registered as Parliamentary electors in respect of the household qualification within the meaning of the Representation of the People Act, 1881, and (b) who were wives of men entitled to be registered in respect of such household qualification. All the replies have one characteristic—they all began to make excuses. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland said:—There are no statistics available from which the information desired by my hon. Friend can be deduced with any close approach to accuracy, but as a very rough estimate, necessarily based upon arbitrary assumptions, the total of the two classes to which I understand him to refer may be put at about 600,000.The President of the Local Government Board hurled a lot of statistics at me, and left me to sort them out myself. He said:—I am afraid there are no data on which to base an estimate of any value. I can only say that at the Census of 1911 the number of women in England and Wales returned as of the age of twenty-five years and upwards was 9,750,264. Of these, 6,206,112 were returned as married. The number of male occupation voters in England and Wales in 1912 was 5,507,134, but it is impossible to say how many of these were married.That reply certainly left an aching void. I could not get what I wanted to be at, and I had to put a further question and ask once more, "If he will state the number of female occupation voters in England and Wales in 1912," and I received the following reply:—I will send my hon. Friend a copy of the only Return available showing the number of women entitled to vote at county and borough council elections in England and Wales. Information as to the number of female voters in 1912 is not available.The Return which accompanied this reply was for December, 1908, and it showed the number of women in England and Wales 1776 who were qualified to vote in county council and borough elections.
I went through the returns and extracted these figures: Those who are qualified to vote for county councils, 605,906; for county boroughs, 265,862; and for non-county boroughs, 137,324, making the total number of female occupation voters 1,009,092. If we add the number of married women who are twenty-five years old and upwards, 6,206,112, we arrive at the total of 7,215,204. I think we may safely reduce that number to 6,000,000, and say that is the number for England and Wales, for certainly more than 1,000,000 of these married women will not necessarily have married men who are entitled to vote. Then, I asked the same question of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and he positively refused to lay hands on the women or to apprehend any of them. His reply was short, sharp, and decisive:—This information is not available.After an uncompromising rebuff like that there was nothing else to do but to sit down and make a rule-of-three sum. If the Secretary for Scotland had made a very rough estimate, necessarily based on arbitrary assumptions, and had arrived at 600,000, at the same proportion I came to the conclusion that we might put down 525,000 for Ireland. If we add these numbers together, Scotland 600,000, England 6,000,000, and Ireland 525,000, the only safe conclusion of the whole matter that we can come to is that while their name is Legion they certainly cannot possibly exceed 7,125,000. The Press, I notice, put it at 6,500,000. The whole business simply resolves itself into a more or less intelligent guessing competition, but whether you put it at 6,500,000 or 7,000,000, my own opinion is that not half of them will go to the poll. There has been a good deal said about the women being qualified to vote. I wonder how the question of qualification arises with respect to the feminine relatives of Members in this House. All hon. Members within sound of my voice are bound to admit that their mothers are quite capable of wisely exercising the vote; every hon. Member must acknowledge that his sister, born of the same parents, is in no sense inferior in spiritual and intellectual gifts to himself; and there is not an hon. Member present dare tell his wife to her face that she is either educationally or socially inferior to himself or unfit to exercise the vote. There is not an 1777 hon. Member of this House who will entertain for a moment the notion that his daughter compares unfavourably with his son either in domestic attainments or all-round common sense. I want hon. Members to face the situation like men. If they do, they will be driven by the force of circumstances and by stubborn fact to admit that at all events their mothers, their sisters, their daughters, and their wives are as fully entitled to the Parliamentary franchise on absolutely equal terms as their fathers, their brothers, their sons, and themselves; and, if this be established with regard to the female relatives of hon. Members of this House, it logically follows that it consistently and justly applies in every home throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.
During our very brief recess last autumn there passed to his reward one of the greatest saints of modern times. I refer to William Booth, the chief of the Salvation Army. On 1st September I attended a memorial service in Llandudno conducted by a very able Wesleyan minister, and during his address he dwelt on one or two points. He said that the great discovery of John Wesley was the discovery of the lay or local preacher, and there are no members of the Methodist Society in this House but are quite well aware that the work of the local preacher has been just as much owned as that of the travelling minister himself. It was yesterday my privilege to sit twice beneath an old gentleman getting on for four score years of age, and he and his father before him have covered more than a century upon the plan of the Keighley circuit as local preachers. We admit that the local preacher does as much and as good work for the Methodist Society as the ordained minister, and we make full use of him. That was John Wesley's discovery; he did not get beyond that. Yesterday I also had the privilege of listening to a choice address by a young woman in a Sunday school. We welcome the co-operation of women in our Sunday schools as teachers and as class leaders, and we send them to our quarterly meetings, but we draw the line at the pulpit. We do not allow them even as local preachers in our pulpits, and, if when the Wesleyan Conference assembles at Plymouth next July a woman were to present herself to be ordained, the whole conference would simply be horrified. This reverend gentleman pointed out that the great discovery of John Wesley was 1778 the lay or local preacher, and he went on further to point out that the great discovery of William Booth, General of the Salvation Army, was that of the female preacher or evangelist. We shall all admit in this House that the work of Salvation women has been a success, and that they have been instrumental in spreading the kingdom of heaven upon earth. The moral of this is that it remains for this democratic age to discover the female politician and the female statesman. It has been a great loss to the world at large that religion and politics for so long have been presented only to the public by the masculine mind and through men's spectacles, and it is because this measure may lead to the great discovery in our public life that William Booth made in the realm of pure and undefiled religion that I cheerfully support the Second Reading of this Bill both by voice and by vote.
There has been much speculation as to what will be the result of the Division to-morrow night. The optimists and the pessimists are about equally divided; there are six of one and half a dozen of the other. For my part, I hope that the optimists will win their way through. I want to point out that the Second Reading of the first Reform Bill on 22nd March, 1831, was carried, in a full House of 607 Members, by a majority of one. Lord John Russell, in his old age, wrote, describing that scene:—I never saw so much exultation expressed in the House of Commons as upon that occasion. One Member threw his hat up in the air, and the vociferous cheering was prolonged for some minutes.That first Reform Bill was defeated in Committee by a majority of eight. Then there was a Dissolution. They went to the country on the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill, and the Second Reading of the second Reform Bill was carried by a majority of 136. The moral I want to draw from this little bit of history is that we must carry the Second Reading of this Bill to-morrow night, no matter how small the majority: let us have a majority no matter what the size may be. If it is only one there will be no going back, and the Second Reading once carried the Bill must go forward to ultimate victory. I desire to make an appeal to hon. Friends who, along with myself, were first elected to this House in 1906, and who, during their campaigns as prospective candidates, and who also possibly in their first election addresses willingly con- 1779 sented to the principle of Women Suffrage—I should like to appeal to them to stand by their sturdily avowed convictions in those stirring, breezy, and bracing times. I do not want them to forsake their first love. The principle is unchanged; it is as good in 1913 as it was in 1906. I do not want them to be led away from the narrow way of principle, settled convictions, and conscience, which leads to life, into the broad road of passion, petulance, prejudice, opportunism, expediency and tactics which leads to destruction. I do not want them to allow their earlier and their better judgment to be warped by the unmannerly and unwomanly females who have passed from a state of temporary to one of chronic insanity. I do not want them to be led astray by the unworthy sneers of such as Mrs. Fawcett and her satellites:See that the design is wise and just!That ascertained, pursue it resolutely.Do not, for one repulse, forego the purpose,That you designed to effect.It is universally admitted that the situation to-day is serious, difficult and critical, and calls for patient care. It calls loudly for sound statesmanship of the highest order, which, with one hand, will firmly suppress disorderly violence, fanaticism, and crime, and will bear in mind that force is no remedy, and which, with the other hand, will just as discriminately redress upon their merits all grievances and remove all sense of injustice.
§ Sir CHARLES HUNTER
I am very glad indeed that I am not called upon to give a silent vote on this very important occasion. At all time silent votes are very apt to be misunderstood and misconstrued, and I feel perfectly certain that that would be the case as far as I am concerned. Hitherto I have supported Women Suffrage, but on this occasion I have every intention of voting against the Bill. I quite agree with my right hon. Friend, the Member for Sheffield, in what he said. Really everything that is to be said for or against Women Suffrage has been said over and over again and, therefore, there is no need to repeat it. Most of us are really concerned in trying to show to our own constituents who have sent us to represent them in this House, that we are acting in accordance with our principles and with the pledges we have given. I have in no way altered my view as regards Women Suffrage. But what has happened is this, that those who are responsible for this Bill have totally and 1780 wholly altered their Bill. That is really the cause for my voting against it. Rightly or wrongly, I firmly believe that women ought to have a vote in a modified form. I believe it would be beneficial to the State if they had it in that form. But this is not a moderate Bill, it is a very extended Bill, actually leading up to nothing less than universal franchise. Again and again I have said I will vote for the Conciliation Bill. But I am equally opposed to any wider Bill which would lead to universal franchise. My change of opinion is not in any way biassed by the performance of the militants—these women who, on all and every occasion, not only defy but break the law. I am heartily and sincerely sorry for that much greater body, the larger bulk of the women of this country who have used in the past, and are using at the present moment, all the constitutional means in their power to carry their policy into effect. I feel sympathy for them in the position they are plunged in at the present moment, feeling as they do, undoubtedly, that a large number of people may have their feelings changed or upset by the action of these fanatics—actions they disapprove of just as much as we do. Some hon. Gentlemen have urged that we could vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, that we could amend it in Committee, and that then we could vote against the Third Reading. I say most emphatically that I do not think that is an honest and straightforward policy. It is a policy that would not be understood outside the walls of this House. People do not understand your voting for a Bill of which you are not in favour, and then voting against it on Third Reading. Here we have a definite Bill. Either it is a good Bill or a bad Bill. If it is a good Bill, then it ought to be supported by every possible means, and if that were so I should certainly vote for it, but as I think it is a bad Bill, I certainly intend to vote against it.
§ Mr. WALTER REA
I am very sorry to learn from the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that he proposes to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill because he does not approve of all its details or because he thinks it goes too far. I would ask him to remember that last year or the year before some of us were faced with the same difficulty, in that a Bill was introduced from the other side of the House which to our minds 1781 was equally unacceptable, but we felt it was amendable in Committee, therefore a number of us, somewhat against our principles and knowing full well that our action would be misrepresented to our constituents, took the responsibility of supporting that Bill with the view, which, unfortunately, failed of fulfiment, of getting it amended in Committee, and without having committed ourselves in any way to supporting it on Third Reading. I would submit to the hon. Gentleman that if he is, as I have no doubt he is, a keen and convinced supporter of Women Suffrage, he should reconsider his attitude between now and to-morrow night, and see whether he cannot give his vote in favour of the principle of the Bill, which will enable us to get it into Committee, hammer out the details, find out what is practicable and what is not, and then, if necessary, he can vote against the Third Reading. I ask him to enable us to take advantage of the unprecedented offer we have had from the Government of the time to discuss this Bill in Committee. I did not rise with a view of controverting the view of the hon. Gentleman, but to say a word or two upon the speeches which fell from the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment. I listened to both speeches with the greatest attention in the hope of hearing at length some new argument against the project put forward in the Bill of enfranchising a certain number of women and removing the sex barrier. I confess I was disappointed. The arguments put forward were the old familiar arguments—what I may call the timidity argument, the argument that there were more women than men, therefore this country would be ruled by women; and the other old argument that because women cannot fight, therefore women cannot vote. As regards the timidity argument, it was fairly summed up by the hon. Member for the Egremont Division of Cumberland (Mr. Grant), who in the conclusion of his speech said he was glad to say we had got control at present, and for Heaven's sake let us keep it!
That is not a very exalted argument, and perhaps not one altogether worthy of this House. I should like to say in regard to it that it would have been equally applicable to any proposal put forward many years ago for the abolition of slavery. That was equally taking a risk, and there was a chance of those who had hitherto been in the privileged position of slave-owner being over-run by the freed serfs, 1782 yet the experience of the world has been that so far from there being any risk in such a liberal movement, it has proved to be one of the necessary steps forward in the world's progress. Therefore that is an argument to which we need not devote any large amount of time. We come to the second point of the opponents of this Bill, that it would never do for this country to put itself in a position where it might be ruled by a majority of women. My answer to that, in the first place, is that under this Bill there would not be a majority of women, although, as the last speaker said, it is possible, if we pass this Bill, that there may be a further extension of the franchise, and it is no use blinking the fact that in this country at the present time there are more women than men. But I would ask the House to consider on what conceivable subject could the whole number of women be found to vote on one side, and the whole body of men on the other? They are not even agreed on this question of demanding the suffrage. If on that they are divided, still more would they be divided upon any conceivable subject that could come up for decision in this country. Is it conceivable that there is a subject within the range of practical politics upon which all the Primrose dames and all the members of the Women's Labour League are going to vote alike? Is there any view specially applicable to women and totally opposed to men on Home Rule, Disestablishment, or any of the other problems we are about to consider in this Parliament? There is only one point upon which there is any possibility of a large number of women giving their vote on one side as against the votes of men, and that is the question of divorce. I put it to the House whether in such a case as that is it not the women's view that ought to be considered rather than that of the men? Little chance as there has been in the past of women taking up a sex attitude as opposed to men, that is growing less and less possible in the future, because, owing to economic forces over which modern civilisation seems to have no control, women, for good or for evil, are being driven more and more into the occupations hitherto monopolised by men.
§ Mr. REA
I shall be very glad to take up that argument on a future occasion. I am anxious that the hon. Member should have an opportunity in a few minutes of 1783 reconciling his position in regard to Women Suffrage with his well known Tariff Reform views, and I therefore refrain from dealing with it at the present moment. I was saying that as women are being driven by economic necessity—I hope the hon. Member will allow me to use that phrase—into business and into competition with men, so their interests are growing more and not less identical with those of men, and the cleavage is less between sex and sex, and more and more between those who have and those who have not, between those who are oppressed and those who are oppressing them. The only way in which I can see a possibility of a feminist party arising in this House is if this House were to continue for very long to deny what I believe to be their just rights of representation. If women are kept under very much longer there is a dangerous possibility that a feminist party may grow up in this country. That is a position which I should view with considerable alarm. We come to the third point of the hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of this Bill—that the vote depends in the long run upon force, and that as women cannot fight, therefore they are not entitled to vote. I might perhaps refer to some recent events to ask whether it is so certain that women cannot fight. I do not want to lay stress upon that view of the matter, but I want to remind the House that, of any rate, if women do not actually bear arms and take upon themselves to fight, they do in a very large degree bear the burden of war, both in privation and in suffering, and therefore war is a matter which concerns women just as much as men. It is a matter on which they are equally entitled to be heard in the election of representatives to this House.
I go further and say if it is necessary for the good of the State that there should be men ready to bear arms in its defence, equally is it true that no State can continue to exist without the willing service of its women. We are told that the most necessary, the most honourable, and the most dangerous service is the bearing of arms, yet I would ask whether the bearing of children is not equally necessary, and equally honourable and a more dangerous profession and a more dangerous risk for a woman to undergo than is undergone by a man who marches out, with all the glory, to war, and whether there is not some 1784 reward at any rate to be paid to the women who take at least equal risks for the benefit of the State, as do the men. The fact is that in this, as in so many of the questions that come up for consideration, we are dominated by the old warlike tradition which no longer applies. It is perfectly true that formerly Parliament was concerned chiefly with matters that affect men. We were concerned in foreign affairs, in making war and peace, in maintaining the Army and the Navy, and policing the nation, and we left all the home affairs to be looked after by the women. That is true no longer. The home affairs which were left to the women included the care of education, the care of the sick, the supervision of sanitation, everything connected with the preparation and the supply of food, and even spinning and weaving were the privilege and the concern of the women. But these are the things which occupy most of the time of this House at present, and they are the things which will more and more occupy the attention of the House, as we turn our attention more and more to social legislation and to domestic reform. Indeed, even at this present moment we cannot get along without calling into our counsels all the women who have the knowledge which we so sadly lack in these matters. We call them on to our Royal Commissions; we put them on our Departmental Committees; we never fail to ask their aid when We are fighting a contested election. The fact is that we are dependent upon these women and their services for everything we do right up to these very doors, and it is only at these doors that we deny them an equal chance of taking the responsibility and receiving the honour with us.
So much I wish to say upon the objections which have been raised by hon. Members who have opposed this Bill. I should like to say one or two words on the Bill itself, and so far from sympathising with the hon. Member who preceded me in objecting that this Bill goes too far, I, at any rate, welcome it the more, because it includes, not only the propertied women, the privileged women, who already are well able to take care of themselves, but it includes, perhaps, the most important and the most neglected class of this community—I mean the married women of the working men. We are told that the woman with property is the most suited to exercise the franchise. I deny that absolutely. I believe that the married women, and particularly the working men's wives of this 1785 country, are the best of their sex, in the broadest sense the best educated, and those who can give us the most valuable aid in our legislation. At any rate, if they are not the pick of their sex, they are at least the picked. They are the ones that have been chosen as the most suitable by the men who at present exercise the franchise, and I believe it is necessary, if we are to do justice in performing our functions here, that we should call into our counsels those who know most and who are most affected by the laws which we enact here, and which they will have to obey, and which will very largely affect their lives. I saw the other day a quotation from a well-known statesman bearing on the subject which struck me as particularly apposite to the present situation. In the letters of Lord Acton to Miss Gladstone he wrote:—Laws should be adapted to those who have the heaviest stake in the country, for whom misgovernment means not mortified pride or stinted luxury, but want and pain and degradation and risk to their own lives and to their children's souls.Those are the wives of the working men of this country, and, therefore, those are the women to whom, in my view, we should first, and not last, give the Parliamentary franchise.
Then I come down to the mere question of Parliamentary practice and tactics in regard to this Bill. I am free to make confession that I do not believe this Bill is going to pass into law at present. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] I am aware that my hon. Friend has confidence in the House of Lords. He is also strong in the fact that even the advocates of Women Suffrage are not altogether united in their aims. We do not all mean precisely the same thing when we say we are in favour of Women Suffrage, but I ask the House to give us the opportunity of carrying this Bill one stage further, so that we may be able to hammer out our differences, to work out what is practicable and what is not practicable in regard to granting Women Suffrage. I would ask the House also to remember that it has not altogether a clean record on this subject. It is true that for very many years past platonic Second Readings have been given to Women Suffrage Bills after a more or less humorous Debate, and the matter has gone no further. I am thankful to say we have got past that, at any rate, and at least Women Suffrage is treated as a serious subject worthy to be discussed as a matter of practical politics. But I am not satisfed to leave it at that. I believe, 1786 if the frequent expressions of sympathy mean anything, if we are to prove to the women that we have not been merely playing with them, that we mean in time to carry the matter forward and to give them the justice they demand this time, we must carry it at least one stage further. We have had many Second Readings, but we have never had an opportunity of considering the Bill in Committee. I fully recognise the generosity of the promise given us by the Prime Minister, and I am not going to cavil at it because it is not more. I accept gladly what has been offered, but I ask that we should take advantage of what has been offered and use the opportunity afforded us to carry this Bill into Committee, and I, appeal to those Members—a majority of the House—who have given pledges in favour of Women Suffrage. I do not ask them for a complete fulfilment of those pledges, but I ask them to give us this instalment at any rate, whether they approve of this Bill in detail or not, to vote for the Second Reading. Let us get the Bill into Committee, and let us at least get one stage further on the very long road that has been travelled, so that we may get, if not to our goal, at any rate within sight of our goal and realise that there is at last a possibility of some women having the franchise.
§ Mr. HUNT
The hon. Member who has just sat down said women now more and more contended with men in various industries. I think he rather challenged me to say why. Allow me to tell him that the reason of it is that the unfair competition of the present so-called Free Trade system causes more women to be employed in various industries because they will accept lower starvation wages than men. I really think these are the actual facts, whatever Women Suffrage may have to do with it. An hon. Member opposite said force was no remedy. I do not want to be discourteous, but I think that is about as silly a remark as I have ever heard made by anybody anywhere.
Does the hon. Member know the author of that? It was John Bright, the great Unionist.
§ Mr. HUNT
John Bright, a great Unionist! I believe on one particular subject he did see the error of his ways late in life. I do not think the hon. Member put it in that way. John Bright was a Unionist, but he was also a very strong 1787 Radical, and it does not make any difference whether he made the remark or not. The remark is absolutely absurd. If "force is no remedy," why have you hundreds of these magnificent gentlemen in blue outside the House of Commons to prevent the gallant Suffragists from coming in here? Is force no remedy there? Of course, anybody who has learned history, and who has got ordinary common sense, must know that force is the only ultimate remedy. It is by force that we are allowed to be in this House and to discuss the various subjects that appear of interest to the country. If it was not for force, we certainly could not do so. When you are sitting in your garden under your tree, it is force that guards you. There is no doubt about that.
The question of Women Suffrage has really never been seriously considered by a large majority of Members at election times. At all events, it has not been mentioned in the election addresses of any considerable number of Members. Personally—this is rather against my party—I cannot understand how either our present leader, or our late leader, or any Unionist, can possibly back this Bill at the present time. It was certainly not put forward even to so little an extent as the Home Rule question and the Welsh Disestablishment question at the last General Election. Therefore, I cannot see how any Member of our party can back it without any sort of mandate from the people of this country. Although it was not before the country at the last General Election, and although the Prime Minister himself is dead against it, yet for some reason or other it is allowed to be a non-party question at the present time, and that, notwithstanding the fact that the far more important question of compulsory military training is not to be allowed to be a non-party question even at the next General Election. This question of Women Suffrage is allowed to be decided without any mandate from the people at all upon a non-party vote, although the Prime Minister said that it would be disastrous to the country. I cannot understand how hon. Gentlemen opposite—I know they would vote for nearly anything—can on their own principles vote for a Bill before they know what the country thinks about it. I do not think any hon. Member could get up and say that he honestly believes the majority of women in the country want to have the vote at the present time. 1788 This is allowed to be treated as a non-party question without consultation with the people. The people are not to be allowed to judge for themselves even at the next General Election on this question. The Prime Minister truckled to the Irish, to the Suffragists, and to the Welsh, for the sake of votes, but he refuses the people free discussion on this question, which is a matter of national importance. That is the sort of Prime Minister with whom hon. Gentlemen on the other side have to deal [An HON. MEMBER: "Will you explain that?"] The Government played with the question, and as long as it did not matter much they did not wish to alienate women's support, but when it appeared that the country was angry they put their foot down. They sent the police to put them out of their chief office.
Surely it cannot be right, from any point of view, to force a Bill of this sort through Parliament without any mandate, unless the people of the country are manifestly in its favour. In this case the signs, at all events, are entirely the other way. If you want to give a certain number of women votes, you are perfectly certain to have the temptation all over the country to give votes to the rest. I do not think there is any doubt about that. I am not disputing the probability that a certain number of women might act a great deal wiser in casting their votes than a certain number of men. It is greatly to be hoped that for the benefit and prosperity of the country the Liberal Government will be out of office for another ten or twelve years. Supposing the Liberal party ten or twelve years hence had a chance of getting back into power by giving votes to women, judging by their past history they would not hesitate to give a woman two votes for a man's one if they really thought it would get them into power. Therefore, I think it is a dangerous thing for the prosperity of the country that you should begin in the way proposed to give votes to women. If you once give votes to women they could undoubtedly sit in this House. You could not prevent it, and whether rightly or wrongly they could be War Ministers or anything else. There would be nothing to prevent them being Speaker. We might have to address the Chair as "Mrs. Speaker, Ma'am," for all we could tell. If women had votes in the same proportion as men, you would have more women voters than men, and I cannot think that that would be a good thing for 1789 the country. There are obvious disadvantages about having women in Parliament. I do not know what is going to be done about their hats. Are they going to wear hats or not going to wear hats? If you ordered them not to wear hats, you might be absolutely certain that they would insist on wearing them. How is a poor little man to get on with a couple of women wearing enormous hats in front of him? Then suppose that the women passed legislation of which the men did not approve, you could not enforce it against the majority of men, because we come down to physical force, and Nature has made men superior to women in strength. But I agree with the hon. Member who spoke last on the opposite benches that it is not fair for anti-suffragettes to say that we must not give women the vote because they cannot defend the country.
That is an entirely wrong position for anti-suffragettes to take up, because the huge majority of men in this country have no more idea of defending the country than have the women themselves. They really would be more useless, because they have no idea of nursing the wounded, and everybody knows that every woman has, at all events, some idea of nursing wounded men. Therefore, I have always said that that argument would not do at all. I am rather inclined to agree with the American who came over here about a year ago and spent some time studying conditions in this country. He said that the country was "going to the devil as fast as ever it could, but that the women, with their quicker instinct, found out that things were very wrong, and that they were kicking up, in consequence, a tremendous row about votes for women." But he added that what was really wanted was a few real live men. I think that he was perfectly right, and although I do not see any of them here, I would respectfully commend this to the notice of the Unionist Front Bench. I think that what we want are fighting leaders and a definite fighting policy. More than anything else, we want a league for national defence. If disaster comes, the people will not excuse the Unionist leaders because they were afraid of making national defence a party question. I think that a great many of the difficulties that the women have created have been because men have not been sufficiently manly. I think that our men lately have had a tendency to deteriorate, and I think that that 1790 is to a great extent the reason why women have kicked up such a tremendous agitation for the vote. I get a great many letters from very charming ladies on this question. I was threatened with a deputation of several of them in this House in the autumn, but, fortunately for myself, I happened to be away in the country. I do, however, get a great many letters from them, and I venture to write back to them, saying that ladies would be much better employed, in my humble opinion, in seeing that every man was trained to defend himself and his country than in struggling to get the vote, which would probably do them no good at all, and I generally end up by saying that, if they succeed in doing that and saving their country in that way, we, as men, could hardly refuse them the vote.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
I was rather disappointed at the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down. I always understood that we had in him in this House an intense admirer of the great queen of this country in past history—I mean Queen Boadicea—and that in consequence of his admiration of that lady we should find in him an ardent supporter of this Bill. In fact, he might have referred to her in support of the theory that women were perfectly capable of fighting, because I believe that that redoubtable queen led the British Army into battle herself in her war chariot. But I am afraid that the hon. Member is equally unhappy at present about his leaders as I have known him to be in the past, and I am sorry that I cannot help him in this matter. I can sympathise with him. It does seem very hard, when you have been endeavouring to persuade the country for a long time that the Government have not a mandate for anything, to have your own leaders getting up in this House and supporting a Bill for which apparently you can find less mandate than for other Bills which are before this House. I am one who has never believed in the theory of mandates, which I think is entirely contrary to the whole of our constitutional practice and entirely contrary to the dignity of the House of Commons. Personally, I am not affected by any of the statements which we have heard as to having a mandate or not having a mandate for this Bill, for the mandate theory is one which would reduce Members of this House to being nothing more than legislative machines. You might just as well have little printed tickets 1791 which could be used when the Division comes on, as to have people coming here themselves, if the theory of mandate were to govern our actions. Surely this House has led public opinion in the past and should try to lead it in the future. Besides, what evidence have those who oppose this Bill, except the breaking up of a few meetings which was largely engineered by young boys, of all this indignation against Women Suffrage which has been spoken about over and over again? Members of this House have passed the Second Reading of Women Suffrage Bills. Many Members of this House have persistently, for many years, voted in those Divisions. I am not aware of a single Member of this House who has lost his constituency or failed to be returned to Parliament because he has voted for Women Suffrage.
§ Sir A. MOND
Hundreds of Members in this House have voted for Women Suffrage and have been returned again. Let me refer to the junior Member for the City of London.
§ Sir A. MOND
I was referring to the senior Member for the City, and was not thinking of the hon. Baronet.
§ Sir A. MOND
It is very frequently overlooked that there is a very large body of organised opinion supporting Women Suffrage. During the year 1911 no less than five county councils petitioned Parliament in favour of Women Suffrage, and no less than 108 city and town councils, including Birkenhead, Birmingham, Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Hull, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield, and York of all, passed resolutions and petitioned Parliament in favour of Women Suffrage. Political organisations of both parties have frequently passed resolutions in favour of Women Suffrage, including such bodies as the Scottish National Union of Conservative Associations, the Scottish Liberal Association, 1792 the Liverpool Liberal Federal Council, the Manchester and Salford Liberal Federal Council, and the Lancashire and Cheshire Union of the League of Young Liberals. The most remarkable thing in this movement is the almost unanimous support it receives from the working men of the country through their trade and labour councils. They have supported the movement for a long time, and have passed resolutions in favour of it. A great number of the largest trade unions passed resolutions during 1912, and also have done so in this year, in support of this principle. Then we are continually asked how we can show that the majority of women are in favour of this proposal. Why is it that we do not hear from those who oppose the Bill any figures as to the number of women who are against giving votes to the members of their sex. All we know is that those who support Women Suffrage have been able to raise extraordinarily large sums and to organise extraordinarily enthusiastic meetings, whereas those who oppose Women Suffrage are practically entirely run and financed by men and not by women at all.
The National Union of Women Workers, which is the largest body of working women in the Kingdom, are solidly in favour of Women Suffrage. The Women's Liberal Federation, with no less than 140,000 members, are in favour of Women Suffrage. The National British Women's Temperance Association with 155,000 members, the Scottish Women's Temperance Association with 110,000, the Women's Co-operative Guild with 28,600 members, and a number of other women's organisations, such as the Association of Head Mistresses, the Association of University Women Teachers, the Incorporated Society of Assistant Mistresses in Secondary Schools, the International Council of Women, the Railway Women's Guild, the National Federation of Women Workers, and the Women's Industrial Council, have all passed resolutions in favour of Women Suffrage. Wherever women are occupied and organised we find an overwhelming proportion of them in favour of this proposal. How is it that we never get figures of this kind from those who oppose the Bill? We have done our best for years past to produce figures and get resolutions from organised bodies of women in favour of the women's franchise, but in every Debate we have had in this House we have heard only the vague allegation that the majority of women do not want the vote, though we never get any real figure in 1793 support of that allegation. I am convinced myself that the majority of the women of the country are absolutely in favour of the Bill, but if those who oppose it can show that it is otherwise I should be perfectly ready to listen and to accept any proof. But even then it would not be a conclusive argument. I do not suppose, when the agricultural labourers were enfranchised, that anybody was asked to show that the majority were in favour of it, nor again, in 1832, was the question asked whether the majority were in favour of the franchise. An enormous number of people are entirely apathetic to their civic duties; and are we to be told that a large body of thinking and working citizens, who seek an improvement of their condition, are not to have their opinions acted upon because a large body of the people are apathetic and indifferent? It is the most unjust and monstrous doctrine ever propounded.
A canvass of the municipal women voters in six Liverpool wards proved that, of 77 per cent. of those who had the opportunity of signing a petition in favour of Women Suffrage, only 23 per cent. were against the proposal. The argument that women do not want the vote is not based on any substantial ground. What are some of the arguments we have heard to-day? Some hon. Members made the discovery that women are not the same as men. Really it is rather elementary and late in the day to advance that proposition. The fact that they are not the same makes it immensely important that women should have the vote. If you are merely going to duplicate the male votes now existing, I think the State will gain much less than it would gain by introducing another mental attitude towards the questions which come up for discussion. What you must assume, in opposing the Bill, is that women are constitutionally incapable of forming any opinion on any subject. Unless you assume that, I do not see on what the case for the opposition to the Bill is based But even those who oppose the Bill would not have the hardihood to make a statement of that kind. The hon. Member opposite referred to the quick instinct of women in America. Why should not that instinct in our women be brought into the service of the State? Why should the intuitive and imaginative qualities of women be allowed to lie dormant and never utilised in dealing with those questions? We are too fond of thinking that our process or what we choose to call our logical and objective 1794 manner of viewing questions is the only way in which they ought to be viewed, but in Debates in this House questions are often viewed in the subjective and emotional manner.
In countries where women have the vote it is found to be important to get a question viewed in a different aspect. In education, housing, temperance, or land, in any question in which this House has been engaged, not excluding even the question of National Defence, women are as vitally interested as men. Does anybody mean to say that women have no interest in the defence of the country? Obviously they must suffer from invasion, and indeed it is much harder for those who stop behind, while their husbands and brothers are far away fighting, to suffer the anguish of waiting for news. I would myself a thousand times rather fight than wait to hear news of somebody dear to me fighting in another country. Therefore I say that war is quite as serious a question for women as for men. I read a speech made by the Colonial Secretary last night. He seemed to think it was a conclusive argument against Women Suffrage to say that we would never allow people who could not go out to fight themselves the power of deciding whether or not the men of the country were to go out to fight. It seems to me that such an argument does not carry the matter any further.
We base all our theory of government on government by consent, and the consent of the Government to be governed. Therefore, in order to govern by consent, you must also have legislation by consent, and you must allow adult, grown-up people not merely to be legislated for, but to have their own voice in legislation. When one hears about a majority of women defeating the men voters, that is a most extreme hypothesis which will never arrive. Then we are told it would be impossible to enforce laws passed under those conditions. After all, we do not know now when we pass a Bill through this House of Commons whether the majority of the electors who return the Members who passed the Bill have the physical force to beat the minority. I can imagine now with one political party having out of millions of voters a majority of about 300,000, that if it came to a question of physical violence the minority might beat the majority. Nobody has used that argument about legislation by men. Go back to history and you will find that force has usually been 1795 exercised, not by majorities but by individuals. Many tyrants have succeeded excellently in keeping whole countries in subjection because they had command of the armed forces, though the majority of the population was against them. The idea that we are going to decide political questions by brute-strength force is merely one of those red-herrings which is so frequently dragged across the Women Suffrage question. One of the most striking things in to-day's Debate is the statement by some hon. Members that they do not believe that there are any questions in which women want legislation which this House is not ready to deal with. It seems to me that that amazing statement shows how very necessary it is that the women should have the vote, and shows the most profound want of knowledge of the question of legislating for women. Does anyone mean to say if women had the vote that the Report of the Divorce Commission would lie up neglected not to be dealt with this Session or next Session, or possibly in this Parliament? If there were women electors, does any man in this House think that they would be denied an Act of elementary justice to women in this country long overdue?
There are many injustices which would have been remedied long ago by legislation if women had votes, and if they had been able to exercise political pressure. Why should we be so intensely hypocritical in this matter? We all know the questions that interest politicians, and we know of the pressure applied to Governments, and we know also of the policy of following the line of least resistance, and therefore we are perfectly aware that those things are most likely to be attended to most rapidly about which the greatest pressure can be applied. That being so it is useless for any hon. Member to pretend that the people who have not got the vote are as likely to have their claims attended to as the people who have, or even to receive the same attention from the Members and from Parliament. Our whole experience and knowledge is totally contrary to that proposition. Human nature being what it is, and the pressure of political life being what it is, it is useless for working women, who know these things much better than Gentlemen here can know them, to be told that they are just as well off economically without the vote as with it. Let me give one instance. The women engaged in State service in the 1796 schools, the Post Office and the telephones complain, and I dare say rightly, that there wages are much below what they ought to get in comparison with men. They know that in Australia after women got the vote the wages of men and women were put on an equal basis. What is the use, then, of telling all these women here that having the vote would be no advantage from the point of view of wages when they see what advantage it has been to Australian women. Some hon. Members may object to women being able to get their wages raised, which I could understand, but I cannot understand the policy of the ostrich laying his head in the sand and imagining that keen-eyed women, struggling for a livelihood, are going to follow and put their heads in the sand, and accept what they know not to be accurate.
Speaking of Australia you have there the great Commonwealth in which this great experiment has been made by people of our own flesh and blood, and the descendants of women who left these shores, and where you have had sufficient time in order to see whether the experiment succeeded or failed, whether the woman are unsexed, whether the hearths are deserted, whether the children are neglected, and whether the domestic differences which we are told will ensue occurred in Australia, and whether marriage has been affected, and whether all those dismal prophecies which we hear here have had effect. We have the Australian Senate passing the following Resolution:—That this Senate is of opinion that the extension of the Suffrage to the women of Australia for States and Commonwealth Parliaments on the same terms as men has had the most beneficial results. It has led to the more orderly conduct of elections, and at the last Federal Elections the women's vote in the majority of the States showed a greater proportionate increase than that cast by men. It has given a greater prominence to legislation, particularly affecting women and children, although the women had not taken up such questions to the exclusion of others of wider significance. In matters of defence and imperial concern they have proved themselves as far-seeing and discriminating as men.The hon. Member for Ludlow surely will be pleased to hear that even after the introduction of Women Suffrage Australia adopted a form of compulsory service.
§ Sir A. MOND
The women had the vote in Australia a long time before that country had military training, something like ten years, I think. The resolution to which I have referred proceeds:—Because the reform has brought nothing but good, though disaster was freely prophesied, we respectfully urge that all nations enjoying Representative Government would be well advised in granting votes for women.I instance this resolution because after all here you have a people of our own flesh and blood who have had this experience and found that those prophecies which we have had in this country have not proved to be true. We were told on the last occasion by the right hon. Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) that the geographical distribution of women in Australia was not the same as in this country. That does not affect the question, because we have evidence here that the introduction of women votes in Australia has been beneficial in the conduct of elections and in the public life of the country. I know of no country where Women Suffrage has been adopted which is desirous of abolishing it or of which it can be said that it produced any evil results. Why, then, in this country, the Mother country of representative government, and the country, I venture to say, in which women take a greater share in politics, and know more about politics and are more active politicians than in any other country in the world, do you say that women should not have the vote and that if they had that the women of this country would suddenly become unsexed. Every hon. Member who to-day has spoken against this Bill has wanted the women to go on with their municipal work. These very women who are sitting on the county councils are becoming aware of the defective legislation of this House, and could make valuable proposals for remedying local legislation; they are to carry out our bad legislation, but they are not fit even to vote for Members of Parliament to improve it. For the so-called logical sex, illogicality could scarcely go further. You would confine women to municipal work, which takes up a great deal more time, thought, and energy than the occasional exercise of the Parliamentary vote could ever do, but you say that they must not be given the Parliamentary vote because it would destroy their domestic felicity. It is said that women do not vote at municipal elections. I have had the figures taken out in my own Constituency, and it is interesting to 1798 note that, while 73 per cent. of the possible male voters polled, the percentage of possible women polling was seventy-one. County council elections are not really a fair test. The number of men voting is very small; there is very little real interest taken in them, and little attempt is made to organise women. If you take the municipal elections in the North of England, where people really take a keen interest in them, you get a very different figure.
§ Sir A. MOND
At any rate, it is not fair to base a general conclusion on the experience of one small part of the country, and, after all, a large city is only a small part of the country. I hope that those who have supported this cause in the past will not shrink back now. I am more firmly decided in its favour than I have ever been. Because a certain number of keen enthusiasts have adopted a line of action which can only meet with the severest condemnation of right-thinking people, which is a crime against the people, and a blunder of the first magnitude against the cause they advocate, that is no reason why we should give up a principle which we hold to be just, or disappoint the hopes of millions of women who have been perfectly quiet and constitutional. Nor is it fair to judge in any way the capacity of English womanhood to exercise the vote by the extreme action of what is after all only a handful of women. On these lines you would condemn all classes and all people; you would condemn all reforms, and refuse to redress any grievance. We maintain that there is a grievance, that it has perpetuated a great and grave injustice, that you are refusing the elementary right of citizenship to half, and by no means the worse half, of the population. We ask the House, in this Bill at any rate, to make a start by giving the vote to a reasonable number of women—a number large enough to give the women of this country so much voice in regard to matters that come before this House that their views may be put forward with more responsibility, sincerity, earnestness, and knowledge, than they can ever be until this reform is carried. You may delay, but you cannot defeat this cause. You can postpone it, but it is bound to come. Why you should keep an agitation which divides this House on unexampled lines, or 1799 continue an opposition to something which is as certain to come as that to-morrow morning daylight will follow night, is inconceivable to me. There is no reason except the somewhat belated mass of male prejudice which still exists. All arguments against extensions of the franchise have always been the same, and yet the franchise has always been extended. All arguments against greater equality of the sexes have always been the same, but they have always been defeated. Whatever may be the fate of this Bill to-morrow night, nothing is more certain than that we who support it are on the side of victory and those who oppose it on the side of defeat.
§ Mr. GODFREY COLLINS
The hon. Baronet (Sir A. Mond) has directed the attention of the House to Australia, and has urged that because woman have the vote in Australia they should have it here. May I ask whether he approves also of the compulsory service and the high tariff of Australia? In the closing part of his speech the hon. Baronet referred to the militant action of female suffragists. I believe I am correct in saying that the patience of the public has been worn out by the importunity of these women. Whether the result would have been different if militancy had not existed may be open to argument, but so far as this generation is concerned I think the question has been considered and rejected. The tide has turned against Women Suffrage, the ebb has set in, although the wave of militancy is still seen. In Great Britain there exists a deep, strong feeling in favour of constitutional methods. In 1885 a certain section of the Irish people used physical force to further their cause, and thereby killed the passage of a Home Rule Bill during their generation. It was not until there had arisen a new generation, which only knew by hearsay of this action, which the public were prepared favourably and calmly to consider the question of Home Rule for Ireland. I desire to draw the attention of the House to my reasons for voting against this Bill, and to refute one of the main propositions advanced in favour of Women Suffrage. The principle of Women Suffrage does not raise the question of women's superiority or inferiority. There are countless channels still untapped in public life for women's influence and for women's power. The difficulty arises in drawing a line of demarca- 1800 tion. No one denies that many women would exercise the vote more reasonably than many men, but once you grant the principle you are not dealing with certain individuals but with the whole mass of the female population. Every man worth his salt consults, and has regard to the opinions of the other sex; but am I not stating a fact that is writ large on, and proved by every page of history, and experienced almost daily by every Member of this House, when I say that women's predominating guide in life is not her reason but her instinct and intuition?
Intuition is far more largely developed in women than in men, but instinct and intuition, although good guides, are not the best masters so far as Parliament is concerned. This is the quality, either of feeling or emotion, which would impress and make itself more distinctly heard in this House if this Bill became law. Parliament is the ultimate seat of authority, where grave questions have to be decided, where men have to use their reasoning faculties which they have gained either in college, business, or commercial life; those reasoning faculties which they have purchased through centuries by hard and bitter experience. Parliament exists for the very purpose of opposing feelings, fancies, and inclinations by reason. The cold light of reason has been and should continue in the future to be the one guide so far as Parliament is concerned. If you ask me why and how women have instinct and intuition more largely developed than men, I cannot answer; psychologists might be able to answer. I can only state a plain, undisputed matter of fact. It is for that reason that I oppose the granting of Women Suffrage. Large numbers of men and women whom one meets support Women Suffrage because—rightly or wrongly—they think—and this is one of the main arguments and has been referred to this afternoon—that the grant of the Parliamentary franchise will tend either, directly or indirectly, to improve the wages of women, this practical improvement in the daily lives of women being more important in their judgment than the abstract right to claim the vote. I readily admit that the wages of women in many trades are too low, but I disagree with the supporters of Women Suffrage as to the remedies to be applied.
Supporters of Women Suffrage will agree with me that the rate of wages paid to either men or women are determined largely by three main governing considera- 1801 tions:—(1) Supply and demand, (2) organisation of workers, and (3) the industrial efficiency of those concerned. Let me test the arguments of the supporters of Women Suffrage by these three guiding rules, and see how far the granting Parliamentary franchise to women would influence any one of these factors. Scarcity of labour or raw material always has, and always will cause the price of labour or raw material to rise, as the converse works in the other direction. The principle of supply and demand fixing the rate of wages has been modified and modified, I think, successfully in recent years by Parliament, establishing by law the principle which secures a fixed minimum wage to every man and woman in certain trades. The first Bill which dealt with this subject—the Trade Boards Act—dealt primarily with women workers, and, as the advantages of the Act become apparent, I hope that not only will the rate of wages be raised, but that the Act will be extended to include all trades where women receive low wages. When the boards under the Trade Boards Act fixed a lower rate wage for women and men, they well knew if they made an equal rate they would be doing a great disservice to women. Parliament has, therefore, already dealt with these low-paid women workers, and the machinery exists to deal further with the problem. My second point is that organisation can do much to raise and keep up the rate of wages. The machinery of the Insurance Act has, however, placed in the hands of women for the first time, full opportunity to combine and act together in each trade when the various societies are properly started. The members can, if they so desire, contribute a penny or twopence per week towards "strike pay" fund, and by that means form the nucleus of a trade union so as to force up their wages in the same way as trade unions have done in the past.
In the third place, efficiency of labour has much influence on the wages of labour. How can the grant of the Parliamentary franchise improve industrial and economic efficiency of labour? This has to be attained by better housing conditions, and so improving the physique of the people and better education. It is just in these very matters where the municipalities have such unrivalled powers to cope with these evils, and where women could influence by their vote these bodies, that we find what? Broadly speaking, throughout the country 1802 a supreme contempt by women to lend their aid to contend with these problems. Until women show a distinct tendency to deal with these matters lying at their own doors, their claim for the Parliamentary franchise lacks definite reality. Their disinclination to use this power which Parliament has entrusted to them and placed in their hands is doubtless due to the belief—doubtless they think rightly—that men can deal better with these matters. The same result would happen if the Parliamentary franchise was granted to women. One real cause of the present low rate of wages amongst female workers is not the lack of the Parliamentary vote, but that their labour in the world of industry is not continuous. The number of women wage-earners over twenty-five years of age is only one-third of the total number of women employed. Twenty-five per cent. of the women employed are under eighteen years of age, another 40 per cent. are under twenty-five, and the remaining one-third over that age. These figures are taken from the Report of the Census of Production and the 1901 Census. This is one real reason why wages are at their present low level. Wage-earning is not their life's work, and they know it, and to argue that women should have the vote so as to raise their wages is to lose sight of the fundamental features of the position. I have endeavoured to show that if you analyse the claim made by supporters of Women Suffrage—that to grant the Parliamentary franchise would raise the rate of wages paid to women, by these three governing considerations: Supply and demand including a minimum wage—organisation—industrial efficiency. The grant of the franchise would not tend to bring the desired result a day sooner.
§ Mr. ARTHUR LYNCH
I spent most of yesterday in reading the most famous opponents of women's rights, and that has fortified me to rise to-day and speak in favour of this Bill. These opponents range from Aristotle to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Walton (Mr. F. E. Smith), and I propose very briefly to deal with the question within that wide range of history. I will deal with Aristotle first, and for this reason, that I am convinced that a great deal of the opposition and a great deal of the prejudice which has arisen in connection with this matter dates back to the old sources of the Greeks and the Romans—the Greeks by virtue of their 1803 literature, and the Romans by virtue of having given us those laws, admirable in many respects, that really determine the civilisation of Europe since their time.
I could give many admirable passages from the "Politics" of Aristotle upon the various infirmities of women, principally mental, but I was greatly struck with one small passage, in which he said:—Slaves have no capacity for deliberation, but women have capacity for deliberation, but it is small.He also said:—That if a roman were to speak as much as a modest man she would be considered a prattler.I can hardly conceive that Aristotle could realise that in 1913 we would have women of great intellectual capacity rushing into the forum to deliver speeches on the theme that woman's sphere is the home. In respect to his other remark, that slaves have no capacity for deliberation, but that women have some small capacity, I would indicate that the slaves he was considering there were ourselves, the barbarians of Western Europe, excluded at that time from the Greek Republic; but now at the present day there is the descendant of one of those slaves ruling in that capital of Athens in which he spoke. Galileo destroyed the authority of Aristotle simply by dropping two pellets from the leaning tower of Pisa. I think that if one could seize that great thinker and plunge him into the middle of this century, that would be sufficient to dispel his illusions on the woman question; because all the arguments he adduced there are not aguments against women as a sex, but were arguments directed to those of inferior education, as the slaves of that time were. But when the centuries rolled by, the great teutonic races have developed in their intellectual power and education, and have transcended even in his special domain the great work of that mighty thinker.
In his time, however, or probably before his time, Socrates and Plato gave their views, and Plato went so far as to suggest that women should be allowed even to sit at public tables; and one can contemplate what that meant in that day, and transcribe it into a modern parallel, which would mean that Plato was in favour of women being elected members of the Jockey Club. And that Socrates, whom we are accustomed to look upon as a severe and elevated thinker, really is revealed in this question as more modern even than my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil 1804 (Mr. Keir Hardie), who would greatly resemble him in his appearance and his wisdom, if my hon. Friend were also animated by the freakish spirit of George Bernard Shaw. Socrates, 2,300 years ago, was not merely in favour of Women Suffrage as we know it now, but he was in favour of women entering upon military service, and also in favour of community of wives.
From the Greeks I pass to the Romans, and I will give one passage from Cicero, Pro Murena, in which he says that women on the ground of their infirmity of judgment have been placed by our forefathers in the power of their tutors. There, again it is on the ground of the infirmity of judgment. It is always the one argument of infirmity of judgment, and so it is ever since these remote times. It is that which dominates our prejudice to-day. Then, looking abroad for a moment to other countries, where women's rights are most bitterly opposed, I have come across notable examples. One is in Turkey, where only about twelve months ago there was a violent agitation against the women of that country, and where the cry was raised, "Back to the harem." Women were insulted and maltreated in the street, and the cry was that if women forsook the veil it would mean the destruction of the Turkish Empire, the dissolution of marriage, the breaking up of the Turkish constitution, and other nameless horrors and disasters. The point of view there was not that if women were given the vote all these horrors would have followed, but simply if women refused further to wear the veil. In this country women do not wear the veil; they have the privilege of walking unveiled, and none of these terrible disasters have in reality happened. Another country which has raised itself into the first rank of modernity—Japan—at any rate, in one direction that of organising human slaughter—had also its woman-question. This question was brought up in the Japanese Parliament, and it was bitterly opposed on this significant argument. And remember it was not a question of giving women the vote; it was a question simply of allowing women to attend public meetings; and the man who introduced it said we can freely accord this right to the Japanese women, for they are not like the impudent hussies of Europe; and the reason was, he explained, that many Japanese statesmen, in addition to their lawful wives, supported two or three concubines, and the women 1805 of Europe would object to such an institution. He cited that as an example of the superior docility of the Japanese women, and the inferiority of the impudent hussies of Europe. That was a question not of the vote, but of allowing women to attend public meetings, that which is freely accorded to them in this country and following which none of these disasters has really happened. The right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Walton (Mr. F. E. Smith) referred to this subject. I always listen to his speeches with real pleasure because when I happen to agree with his opinions they add a real spice to the enjoyment of life, and when I disagree I remember after all that there is behind these epigrams very little fund of thought. One of the great points made by him in his most interesting speech was really a quotation from a distinguished writer, Mr. Wells:—The whole trend of evolutionary forces through the centuries of human development have been towards differentiation. The adult white woman differs more from the white man than the negress, or the pigmy from her equivalent male. The education, the mental disposition of a European or Asiatic woman, reeks of sex; her modesty, her decorum, is not to ignore sex, but to refine and give point to it; and her costume is clamorous with the distinguishing elements of her form.The right hon. Gentleman has a fine literary taste, and no doubt he was attracted by that phrase "clamorous with the elements of her form." It may be interpreted more concisely by saying they dress loudly. However, what I was particularly struck with was this, why he should have made the quotation at all. He seems to me like a small boy who was suddenly brought to the ocean and whose mind in view of that immensity was so overcome as to deprive him if not of articulation, at any rate of consecutive thought; because I think that no argument is more cogent in favour of conferring upon woman the vote than that which is contained in the evolutionary doctrine set forth by Mr. Wells. That argument has also been set forth by men of far higher mental endowment even than Mr. Wells—M. Perrier, Director of the Museum in Paris, and Sir Almroth Wright. Mr. Perrier, in a reasoned scientific argument, says that woman is different from man even from the very beginning, not merely in the adult stage; but he finally reaches a conclusion which is altogether different to that which has been reached by most of the opponents of the Women Suffrage Bill. He says:—The trend of this argument is that so far from there being a necessity for organising woman's work so that it shall make her on equal terms with men, the organisa- 1806 tion should be directed rather to eliminate from woman's life all those troubles and trials of the service of the world, that woman should be exempt from that, and should be protected by man so as to be better able to carry out her own special functions.Then there was the letter of Sir Almroth Wright to the "Times," in which he spoke of , which means the unwritten laws of the Gods. He hurled this vague if portentous phrase at our heads in order to induce us not to vote for the Bill. But the main argument of Sir Almroth Wright is this: that women are subject to periodical disturbances of health, that their bodily constitution is more unstable than that of men, and that their mental faculties partake of the same kind of instability. That is the biological argument, which in the minds of some might be the inarticulate argument, but when developed by scientists is called the biological. It is an argument which appeals to the deep-rooted prejudice of the male, and which dispenses with further reasoning. After all when I read yesterday again that powerful appeal from his point of view I folded the paper and reflected Sir Almroth Wright is a great bacteriologist. That does not affect his right to speak on that subject, but it does not make him an authority on the science of social dynamics. In gratitude for the teaching I received at his distinguished hands, however wasted it was upon me, as a bacteriologist, I will endeavour from my place here to enlighten his mind on social dynamics. Recently in the American Journal of Psychology, I read an article which carried the war into the camp of the enemy, in which the whole theme was the periodic disturbances in the mind of man; and it was equally lucid and scientific. With regard to man himself it showed that he is very unstable, liable to change his opinion from day to day, and liable to those disturbances not less in force, and not less in severity than those of women. Of the men who have ruled the world, it may be said that those who have reached even the highest degree of command have had in them much of the feminine characteristic which has distinguished them from the ordinary race of men. Cato, speaking sneeringly of Cæsar himself said "that woman," and even Napoleon Bonaparte had many feminine characteristics. He was not at all the cold, bloodless, impassive conqueror that we are taught in the inferior histories; but he was remarkably sensitive; he had a highly-strung nervous organism which tended to break down 1807 even in violent convulsions in the great crises of his life. The same argument has also been used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) in which he said the reasons against the franchise are not that women are inferior to men, but that women are different to men, and that is really, when it comes to the last analysis, the only valid argument in the whole arsenal of the anti-suffragists. I do not wish in any degree to minimise that argument, because we all feel it in the instinctive nature of the male. I am not one who has been brought up in sympathy with the attitude I now hold. Rather, in spite of my instincts and in spite of my feelings, I am endeavouring to overcome prejudices and to allow the light of reason to prevail. I remember when I first came across John Stuart Mill and his great example, the effect was not to convert me to Women Suffrage, but rather to give a shock to my admiration for John Stuart Mill, from which, indeed, to this day I have never entirely recovered. It seemed to be a weakness in the man. I believe that weakness really existed. It struck in this forcible way upon one of those deep chords of nature which resound on solemn occasions and of which we feel the reverberations for the rest of our lives. Although I was shocked in my appreciation of John Stuart Mill, yet as I entered more and more into this question, especially in the development of our modern life, I was led on the way by that cold light of reason of which the hon. Member who has just sat down spoke. I can quite contemplate a kind of civilisation, of which perhaps the Turkish civilisation is one of the best examples, where women have no political rights such as we understand them to-day, but where, on the other hand, because women have no political rights, they have been protected by men and cherished by men far more effectually than in the Christian countries of the West. That is the land of which Byron writes:—Know ye the land of the cedar and vine,Where the flowers ever bloom, the beams ever shine;Where the light wings of Zephyr, oppressed by perfume,Wax faint o' the garden of Gül in her bloom.In reading those lines I feel entranced. My own recollections of Turkey come back and I feel the fascination not only of that country and of the life, but of the women of Turkey too. I can imagine much may be made of the citation of that example of 1808 those beautiful women of Turkey; but, remembering—Where the light wings of Zephyr, oppressed by perfume,Wax faint o' the garden of Gül in her bloom.I say are those "garden of Gül in her bloom," the pitbrows where the pitbrow lassies work, orthe land of cedar and vine, Where the flowers ever bloom, the beams ever shine,is that Whitechapel? Have you brought into your modern life the protection and regard for all that is lovely and fine in women in your treatment of pitbrow lassies, of nail workers, or of the costermongers of Whitechapel. No, I say you have no right to use an argument of that kind, as you have no right to use the argument of chivalry. I can cite you another quotation from the poet I have just mentioned. He says:—But as to woman, who can penetrateThe real sufferings of their she-condition,Man's very sympathy with their estateHas much of selfishness and more suspicion.Then he goes on to finish the stanza by saying:—Their love, their virtue, beauty and education,But form good housekeepers to breed a nation.I suppose he speaks with more insight as he wronged so many women. He was hardly a supporter of women's rights and was not actually in love with this type of woman, for he said:—Ye lords of ladies intellectualConfess it truly: they've hen-pecked you all.Passing through the Robing Room of the House of Lords the other day I noticed one of those pictures of chivalry which remain there as a perpetual instigator to our own deeds of to-day—the picture of "Sir Gawaine promising never to be against the Ladies." That is a picture of chivalry. But as every age must respond for its own civilisation I will ask what if in that same Robing Room on one of the vacant panels, as a companion picture to that of Sir Gawaine, we put a picture of "The Home Secretary feedeth the Suffragettes." I am not blaming the Home Secretary in his personal capacity. I have no doubt he was placed on the horns of a dilemma, and driven by the exigencies of the situation to do what he did. He may, of course, put forward completely unanswerable reasons for his action. He calls it justice: it may be justice, but if we are going to found our action on justice then cease to speak of chivalry. I can imagine a man driving the argument of justice home to its bitter end: I can hardly imagine him at the same time 1809 putting forward the argument of chivalry. When one thinks of the many women starving in London to-day, the many women driven out into the streets, the many women sweated, the many women on whose labours and underpaid toil colossal fortunes have been built, and how men have climbed to fame and fortune and high places even in our own legislative Chamber on the bones of women whose very lives they have sacrificed, how can our moderns dare to speak of chivalry?
Before closing, I will approach what is perhaps the most difficult subject of all—the most dangerous, at any rate—and I will deal with those women who have even gone to the extent of outrage. That has never caused me to waver for a moment in my allegiance to this cause—to this demand for justice, because, after all, Legislatures must legislate not for a week or for a year, or for ten years, but for a long period of time; and I have no doubt when this Bill gets on the Statute Book—as it undoubtedly will—it will never again he removed by the Legislature of this country. So that we have to consider these mere temporary disturbances not in their immediate effect on the sense of the community but as demonstrating the underlying character of the women who are the instigators of them. I rather think from this view they fortify my position. Whom would you rather go tiger hunting with? The wild, desperate character who, under the influence of liquor, has painted the whole town red and flung out bodily from the saloon in which he was drinking, those who endeavoured to pacify him, or the pale young man who is fed upon a glass of milk and a bun, who holds up his hands in horror and protests against the illegality of the proceedings? I think, if you went into the jungle and found yourself in a tight corner, it is the man creating the trouble in the saloon whom you would prefer to have shoulder to shoulder with you. In the same way, dealing with these women who instigate outrage, I will say this. Hitherto women have been a great mystery. I have looked at them through a veil and seen them, perhaps,Not as men, but as trees darkly,and, gazing into their eyes, even into the limpid orbs of innocence, I have felt that behind those bright and glancing eyes I have been unaware of the thoughts that were passing through their brains. An outrage of this kind reveals the sex, and it reveals them as having passions similar 1810 to our own, as having energy, determination, and many qualities which, if turned to proper uses, we should be the first to respect. The question of women's capacity has been debated again and again. Many famous women have been cited who reached a high degree of intellectual power. I would cite only three, if only to enforce the argument of respect. The first is Sonia Kovalevsky. Those who, like myself, have been fascinated with mathematics as the queen of all the sciences, know that amongst the highest and most difficult problems are those of differential equations; and in this exalted region you will find the name of Sonia Kovalevsky, perhaps the highest intellect the race of woman has yet produced. Another name I will cite is that of a young lady still living in Paris, Mdlle. Miropolski, who not long ago was admitted to the Paris bar. I had an opportunity of a conversation with her, and I was able to admire, I think I can say discreetly, as I visited her at the house of her father, not only her wonderful physical beauty, but the clear precision of a logical mind, which delighted my very ears with the play of her lucid eloquence. I would say that Mdlle. Miropolski was fit to sit even in this exalted Assembly. The third woman of genuis whom, since the name of Mahomet was mentioned, I will venture to call the Mahomet of the female cause, is Christabel Pankhurst. I remember, after returning to London some years ago, that I strolled up to Hyde Park, and there, standing on a cart in the park, addressing rather a small number of auditors, I saw a young woman, endowed with every grace of physical faculty, becomingly clad in a light green garment, which swayed with the graceful motions of her body. [Laughter.] These are matters which fix their impression on the mind. Still more than with her physical appearance was I delighted with the cogency of the argument, the force of expression, and the power of the speech of this young woman. I inquired from one of those whom I thought to be an auditor but whom I have since found to be Miss Annie Kenny, who was the speaker. She tossed back her head with an air, something of pride and something of defiance, and in a rich voice replied "Christabel." But consider the achievement of that woman and all you who are politicians may take it to heart, even those who are leaders of parties. Think that a few short years ago that party did 1811 not exist although for generations women had been following precisely that same course of gentle argument and constitutional movement which has been recommended to them again and again. But Christabel Pankhurst arose, and by her genius, by her determination, and by her devotion she not only rekindled that movement but has made it one of the greatest powers in this Kingdom to-day.
Now, I would ask the House to contemplate this. We have in the remote past had a prejudice against women. We have, as the years advance and as the centuries roll on, accorded a continually greater endowment of liberty to women, a continually growing scope of education of women, and with that greater scope of education and endowment of liberty we find, according to that very evolutionary argument cited by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. F. E. Smith) that women have become more and more refined, more and more differentiated in their sex qualities, without losing anything of their attractiveness, while gaining in their intellectual power. If yon contemplate for a great series of years that great movement you will find that that stream is growing, that movement is increasing in depth, in intensity, and in breadth; and if at one period in the remote past it was found impossible to stop that movement, now that it has gathered so much in volume as even in your own eyes to be almost irresistible, then will you put up a dam and say, thus far and no further? No. That movement is destined to go on, and you know that it will go on, and you know that it will eventually triumph, that it will be recognised in the Statutes of this land, and ten years after even those who have most bitterly opposed it will claim that very Statute as an example of the high intelligence and wonderful deliberative power of the British people. A great physician, who had great experience of life, was accustomed to terminate his lectures by saying, "Gentlemen, I have only one more thing to say to you, and that is, Be kind to women, because they suffer much." I would say to the House: Give reins to your generosity, give wings to your chivalry, and when you have reached the highest point of your generosity, and stand on the very pinnacle of your chivalry, you may rest satisfied that you have only attained justice.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
The hon. Member has accomplished that which no other 1812 Member of the House could have accomplished, for into the short space of forty minutes he has crowded the history of 2,500 years, and it is not surprising that, seeing that this question has been discussed for all that period, the theoretical arguments for and against women in public life are becoming rather threadbare from use throughout the centuries, and most of the speakers in this Debate have really rather avoided the discussion of the first principles of the movement and have quite properly directed themselves to the present political situation, and how far this Bill should at the present time be passed into law. The hon. Member (Mr. J. M. Henderson) argued that the Bill ought not to be passed and women ought not to have votes because the work of the nation is done by men. I do not know that the hon. Member really holds that view, but it seems to me absolutely contrary to the fact. The fact is that all the men and all the women of the nation practically work hard all day long. It is a very small section of the nation, men or women, who do not have to work, and certainly the men of the nation do not monopolise the work. The hon. Member referred to the coal industry, the iron industry, and the shipping industry, and said that men alone do the work in these, but why not go on to refer to others—the woollen industry and the cotton industry? Who does the teaching of the nation, and who does the nursing of the nation? If women do not go into certain professions and certain manual occupations, it should be remembered that all the time they are doing the work of the homes of the nation, and I do not see how any Member can with justice, in view of these facts, vote against giving the vote to women. Indeed, all the old arguments for granting the franchise, which have been worn threadbare, are being strengthened by reason of the tendencies in legislation.
Some hon. Members talk about keeping women remote from politics. The truth is that politics pursue women in their homes and industries. More and more, we are interfering by the regulation of labour. More and more, we are interfering by Act of Parliament with the wages of labour, and it is unjust for this House, representing men alone, to impose on women conditions as to wages and hours of labour without giving them a chance of expressing their opinions through the vote. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. Godfrey Collins), made a very in- 1813 teresting speech. It was very interesting to me, because it came from one who, until recently, was a supporter of Women Suffrage in this House. He voted for it in 1910, he paired for it in 1911, and he is so recorded in the annals of Women Suffrage. To-night he has furnished us with a reasoned argument to show that the possession of the vote would really be of no value to women for bettering the conditions of labour and wages, and he pointed out other methods they could use. But I did not understand him to deny that the vote was a possible method of influencing the conditions of labour. It is a weapon that men have used for the very purpose, and I cannot see how he can deny women workers the right to this weapon for their self-protection, and for improving the conditions under which they work. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill used the same argument. He said that women's wages would not rise as the result of giving them the vote. I do not know that they would rise, but it surely would be a weapon in their hands in addition to what they have at present. I do not understand on what ground of justice you can refuse women the use of that weapon. Then the argument is put forward that women have no need for the vote, because men will look after their interests. That argument is a very familiar old friend in franchise debates. It was used to the full in the Debates of 1884. It was said, with a great deal of justice, "What do these ignorant agricultural labourers know of politics? We who are Members of Parliament know better than the labourers what is good for them. We understand the conditions governing employment. They will be rash and foolish. Let them trust themselves to us; we will do them justice." I think that hon. Members who say that to-day about women are perfectly sincere in so speaking. We do not consciously do injustice in this House, but we are not capable of doing justice to a class which is not represented here. With the best will in the world we do not understand, and they are not trained to present their own needs before the country, and until they have the vote you do not really get the expression of their wants, and we are not able to interpret them, however much we may wish to do so.
The hon. Member for Saffron Walden, who seconded the Amendment, said that we are making a mistake; women are not 1814 a separate class; they have no separate interests from men; what is represented in the House of Commons in the electorate is different classes of the community; you do not need therefore to give women the vote, because the men drawn from the different classes through the votes of the electors represent them in Parliament. But the hon. Member did not say why men should always be chosen to represent the needs of each class. If a class consists of men and women, why not have women vote to represent the wants of men, the same as men vote to represent the wants of women? The hon. Member said that women lack training, and that men have learned to go slowly and not to press their beliefs to a logical conclusion. I think that there is some force in that argument, but the answer is that until women have the vote they will not be trained in these matters. It is unreasonable to expect them to be trained, and it is no advantage to the State, the community, to draw into the public life a large mass of people who have not yet the training or responsibility. The training will only come when you have conferred the vote upon them. I cannot forget a conversation to which I listened in a drawing-room in Washington twenty years ago between Speaker Reid and a Washington fine lady. There was a great deal of discussion about Women Suffrage in Washington at that time. Mr. Speaker Reid was the strongest man in the Republican party at that time. "You do not really mean, Mr. Speaker," she said, "that you are in favour of Women Suffrage? You do not want women to have votes?" "Of course I do," said Speaker Reid. "It would do them good." And the answer, brief, sharp, and very much to the point, seemed to me to sum up the great argument in favour of Women Suffrage, that it will raise the status of women by training them and making them altogether superior to what they are under the present system. Indeed, all through the Debate to-day I could not help feeling that hon. Members who are fighting this Bill feel that they are defending a lost cause.
The issue is no longer whether or not women should come into public life and have a vote. That I regard as a settled question. One-third of the Unionist party has declared itself in favour of giving votes to women. More than three-fourths of the Liberal party in the House to-day have voted for giving women the vote. Only a very small proportion of Members 1815 of the party have not at one time or another voted for giving women the vote. I have been at pains to make a list of those Members who have consistently opposed it. The hon. Member for Greenock is not in the list. Neither is the hon. Member for Saffron Walden. There are only about fifty Members on this side of the House who have consistently opposed Women Suffrage. The whole of the Labour party are in favour of extending the franchise to women. The truth is that those who are setting themselves out still to bar the way are blocking an inevitable and necessary development of democratic tendencies and forces. The question which the House has to determine to-day is not the question of Women Suffrage. That is settled. The question is whether it is to be to-day or whether we are going to wait a few years longer. I want, in the remainder of what I have to say, to point out that this method is the right method of conferring the franchise and that the present is an appropriate time for the purpose. The Bill is a compromise between the different views held in this House on the subject. A large number of Members on the Labour Benches logically say that every adult person should have a vote and a fair share in the Government of a democratic country. I can see no answer to that logical position. But hon. Members of the Labour party, at any rate, have found by experience of public life that it is necessary to go slowly, and they do not, because they do not get what they wish, go the whole length of saying that they will not vote for this Bill; on the contrary, they are going to give solid support to the Second Reading. On the other side of the House a large number of Members of the Unionist party think that the franchise should be extended only to those women who at present have the municipal franchise—practically single women, or independent women who have no head of the household to vote for them. I should have hoped that those in favour of the Conciliation Bill would have seen their way to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. I think they ought to do so, because the Second Reading, after all, commits them only to the affirmation of the title of the Bill that the vote should be conferred on women. It will be open to them to amend the Bill, which is so drafted that one Amendment would change it into what was called the Conciliation Bill. A large number of those 1816 who feel that to be the limit to which they can go in conferring the Franchise on women, can record their votes for the Second Reading, and then in Committee test the strength of Members as to the true form of the measure. They would have a fair opportunity to do so, and I think they would find it very hard to reconcile their professions of devotion to the Women Suffrage cause, if they abstained from voting for this Bill, or voted against it.
§ Sir F BANBURY
Does the hon. Member think there would be the slightest chance of carrying such an Amendment?
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
No, I prefer the wider form. But suppose hon. Members were unsuccessful in getting the present Bill altered into the form of the Conciliation Bill, there would still be the Third Reading stage, and hon. Members in combination with the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), who is opposed to Women Suffrage in any shape or form, could vote against the Bill on that stage. I am convinced that the sensible course for those who supported the Conciliation Bill would be to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill when we take the Division to-morrow, and then seek to amend it in Committee. We have been told that whatever may be the merits of the Women Suffrage question, this is not the time for extending the vote to women, because of the violent outrages which have been committed by the militant section. They say, "We must not yield to the show of violence." I thoroughly respect that argument; it is one in which there is a good deal of force; it would be deplorable were it supposed that we were conferring the franchise upon women because of outrages which have been committed. Still, I am bound to say that it is an argument which some of my hon. Friends sitting around me should exercise some discretion in using. I think it is one which no Liberal, no historical Liberal should really use. There is no reform which has been granted by the Liberal party, or indeed by the other party, which has not been associated, among some section of its supporters, with violent tactics and militant methods. Catholic emancipation was carried by the 1817 Duke of Wellington, who did not believe in it, on the deliberate plea that any longer to refuse it meant something like civil war in this country. The Duke of Wellington yielded there in a case which he hardly believed to be just because of the danger of civil war. The Reform Bill of 1832 was granted by Liberals after there had been great violence and uproar and much crime in the country. Hon. Members from Ireland cannot use this argument at any rate. Already a reference has been made to the outrages and crimes which were committed in the name of Irish nationality—outrages and crime with which I do not associate the Irish Members. I speak perfectly clearly. I have been a consistent Home Ruler from the beginning of my political life, but those who use the argument that you must not grant reform because it is accompanied by outrage on the part of some of its advocates would never have been supporters of Home Rule in 1885 and 1880.
And even in this Parliament since 1906 we have had reforms in India granted by a courageous Indian Minister like Lord Morley at the very time when anarchist outrages were being perpetrated in India, and where, if anywhere, you would have thought it was dangerous to grant reforms apparently as following upon outrage. Therefore, I say this argument that you must not grant reform after outrage is one which no Liberal can wisely use because they are liable to have it thrown in their teeth that they are parties to granting Home Rule, and that they were instrumental in granting reforms to India following upon outrages far worse in character than any that have been committed by these women. It has been the boast of the Liberal party that while they maintain order at the same time they investigate causes of disorder and grant redress of the grievances complained of. Another point in that connection is this, that the militancy of the suffrage movement represents a very small section of the supporters of the movement. The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Arnold Ward), who moved the rejection of this Bill, tried to show that there was a very large number of subscribers to the Women's Social and Political Union, which is mainly associated with those outrages, and he quoted as proof of the fact that there were about 6,000 different items in the subscription list which he showed. He did not say how many of these items 1818 overlapped one another and how many subscribers gave more than once. He assumed they had 6,000 subscribers, but what is 6,000 out of the women of this country. There are some twelve or thirteen million adult women in this country. Somebody talked about 1 per cent. or 1½ per cent., but 6,000 is not only not 1 per cent. nor 1½ per cent., but it is not 1-20th of 1 per cent. Even assuming that every one of those who gave subscriptions sympathises with all the methods of this militant society, this militant movement is an excrescence upon the real suffrage movement in this country. It is but some seven years old. The hon. Baronet the Member for Shropshire spoke as if the suffrage movement began seven years ago. He implied in successive sentences that Mrs. Pankhurst had put vitality into the suffrage movement, and in the next sentence he asserted that Women Suffrage was less popular than it was seven years ago. I do not altogether disagree with him.
Ever since militancy began in this country it has been injurious to the cause which it professed to serve. I must assume that these women are devoted to the cause of Women Suffrage, but had they been its deadliest enemies their tactics and methods would not have been very different. I remember the very beginning of disorder in this House. The present Mr. Justice Evans was speaking about ten minutes to eleven o'clock. We were hoping for the Closure on a Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil. Mr. Samuel Evans was a fluent speaker, to whom the House delighted to listen. But that night he was not at all fluent; he had an unsympathetic or hostile audience, the great majority being in favour of Women Suffrage; he had no new arguments; he was absolutely "gravelled" for matter. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for Women Suffrage, an impatient voice burst forth from the Gallery; Mr. Evans took fresh life, saying, "That is what you have to expect if women have the vote." As a result, we got no Division that night, and the cause has suffered ever since from militant tactics. It is not to us supporters of Women Suffrage that the argument against militancy should be addressed. The militants have been no friends of the suffrage cause. We have also been told that we have no mandate for dealing with this question. I do not think that that can be maintained; certainly no proof of it has been offered. The 1819 constituencies have had warning that this was an active, living question certainly at the last two, if not three, General Elections. Ever since the Prime Minister promised an opportunity of amending the Franchise Bill in the direction of Women Suffrage it has been known that it was the intention of suffragists to use that opportunity. Two General Elections have passed. Many of us put Women Suffrage in our election addresses. I myself have always done so; therefore I vote for it with the full authority of my Constituents. I believe that there are somewhere about. 200 hon. Members in the same position. Again, I say, that you must not test the matter by election addresses or even by speeches. That argument must not be used by Members on this side. If it is true about Women Suffrage is it not also true about. Home Rule? I believe that we have a right to vote upon this measure, and that the time has come when the House should settle the question. An hon. Member said that women had some ground of grievance against this House, because we had played with the question. He himself is not guiltless of the charge, because he has voted for Women Suffrage in past times, and has only recently gone against it. I ask the House to play with the question no longer, but in all seriousness to vote for the Bill and invite women to stand beside men as full citizens of this country.
§ Sir J. COMPTON-RICKETT
We have been asked to compare the enlargement of the franchise on other occasions with the present proposal. There is a very marked difference between the two cases. Never before have parties been divided amongst themselves in proposing and opposing the enlargement of the franchise. One party has introduced it and the other has opposed it. We have to explain, first of all, why the extraordinary spectacle is seen of able and sensible men and politicians, who have every reason to act and to vote together, are absolutely divided upon this question.
§ It being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned; Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Tuesday).
§ The Orders for the remaining Government business were read, and postponed.