§ Sir ALEXANDER SPROT
I beg to move, in page 1, line 17, after the word "full," to insert the word electoral."
I am very pleased to find that the Amendment I have put down collies within your description of order. It deals with what I regard as a very interesting point and one which has been debated a good deal outside this House. I should like at the start to say that I am quite friendly to the principle of this Bill. I voted for the Second Reading of the Bill, because I have always recognised that the inequality which remained in consequence of the restrictions put on the women's vote in 1918 could not permanently be maintained. I am not against the leading principles of the Bill at all, and I only seek to try to improve the provisions of the Measure. In order that my Amendment may be quite clear, I should like to read the Amendment which I propose, and also a new Clause which comes afterwards, and which explains it. Just now I am moving to insert the word "electoral." On page 312 hon. Members will find a new Clause standing in my name and that of other hon. Members and reading as follows:A person, for the purposes of this Act, shall be deemed to be of full electoral age when he or she has attained the age of twenty-five years, or if he is a person whose name has appeared on the, register of voters for any constituency prior to the passing of this Act.It will be seen that I am not proposing to disfranchise anybody, not proposing to deprive any person of his vote. When, subsequently, we come to the new Clause it will be possible for hon. Members to propose any other age than 25. I would also like to make this further remark with regard to that, that it would be quite possible after a year or two to remove the restriction or to modify the restriction which I am seeking to impose. This proposal to limit the age is a popular one in many quarters. It is very popular outside this House. Let me give my experience in my own constituency. On very many occasions, both at party meetings and at public meetings, I have asked for an informal show of hands upon this particular subject—"Hands up for 25" 222 and "Hands up for 21," and I can assure the Home Secretary that in every ease there were hardly any hands at all for the 21. [HON. MEMBERS "Hear, hear!] It is rather ominous from the point of view of this party that those cheers should come from the other side, but, however that may be, I am only relating the facts. I have tested the opinions of those who support me, and there is no doubt whatever as to their opinion, and the keenest of all in rejecting the proposed age of 21 are the women. The women seem quite to have made up their minds on that point. I submit that my proposal is a good one, and, if there is any danger in the extension of the franchise to women, my Amendment will tend to modify it. I do not think my Amendment is contrary to any of the pledges which have been given by the Prime Minister. So far as my investigations have gone, I think the Prime Minister pledged himself to give the franchise to women upon the same terms as men. I take that to be the object of the Bill, and I am entirely in favour of that principle.
I will now deal with another important matter, although it is not the chief argument in favour of my Amendment. I would like to remind the Committee of what has just taken place in dealing with the Instruction which had for its object the limitation of expenses at the next election. May I point out that my proposal will have a similar effect, or at any rate it will tend in the same direction. If I may supplement what has already been so well put by other hon. Members upon that point, I would like to remind the House that there will be a tremendous increase in the number of electors at the next election, quite independently of this Bill, owing to the large number of houses which have been erected in various districts. In my own constituency, I believe the increase will amount to 10,000 or even 15,000 extra voters from that cause alone.
On the top of that, this Measure proposes to add a large number of women to the voters' roll. We should consider not only the expenses of the candidates, but also the expense of making up the voters' roll. I am a county councillor, and I know that already those in charge of the register are asking far permission to engage new clerks because they anticipate a very large increase in the register both 223 in the counties and boroughs as well as in the Parliamentary constituencies, in view of the large increase which this Bill is going to cause in the number of voters. I am endeavouring to make that number a little smaller. That is my first argument, but it is by no means my chief argument. I am going to ask the House to declare that it is desirable, when people are to be placed upon the roll, and when we are making up the roll or making laws with regard to those who are to have the privilege and the responsibility of a vote, that we should consider whether some experience of life is not desirable.
As a matter of fact, we are not now proceeding upon that principle. We do not make any inquiries, and we give the vote to everybody who comes along at a certain age. We hope that the result will be good, but there is a tremendous risk, as everybody will admit, and nobody can foresee the result of what we are now proposing. Under these circumstances, I submit that it is well for us to be prudent, and if possible we ought to limit the vote to those who have had some experience of life, and who have qualified themselves in some way to have a voice in the government of the country, and also in the Government of our great Empire. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad to hear hon. Members opposite cheer that remark. In order that I may illustrate my point, I will take the case of the Prodigal Son. He was evidently just coming of age when he said to his father, "Give me the goods that belong to me," and he took all the goods that were assigned to him and went off into a far country. We know what was the subsequent history of the Prodigal Son, and I have no doubt that with the experience he gained between the age of 21 and 25 when he returned home he became as good a citizen as his stay-at-home brother. That is an instance of what I mean by this Amendment. [Interruption.]
§ The CHAIRMAN
I hope the hon. Gentleman will be allowed to continue his arguments without interruption.
§ Sir A. SPROT
I have given that illustration to show exactly what I am driving at. I do not propose to deprive any person of a vote to which he is entitled at the present time. I do not put forward my proposal in any way as 224 a detractor of youth. I admire the youth of our country both male and female, but it does not follow that they ought to have the vote before they have had some experience of life and work in the world, or before they have shown that they are able to control themselves and win a certain position for themselves. If that can be accomplished, I submit that something good will be achieved. There is no doubt whatever that there is no demand for the changes which are proposed in the Bill we are now considering. I have only received one letter in favour of this Measure, but I have received a great many communications in favour of my proposal.
I have already pointed out that my Amendment would tend to limit the number of new voters who are going to be put upon the roll. I do not believe myself that the young people would in any way resent having to wait a year or two longer for the franchise. Women would have nothing to complain of under my proposal because they are not enjoying the vote at the present time and up to a short time ago they had no prospect of enfranchisement and do not demand it. One of the arguments recently put forward is that there has been no demand for this legislation on the part of young women, and as far as the young men are concerned I believe they would be quite willing to wait a little longer. I would just like to go back to what I was like when I was 21, and I think hon. Members opposite, if they are sincere, would have to make the same confession. When I was 21 I and my companions took no interest in politics whatever, the time came after we had knocked about the world and made a certain position for ourselves when our attention was drawn to these matters, and then we became rather keen politicians. I submit that the young men of the present age would act in precisely the same way and their feeling of chivalry would come in. They would say to themselves. "In order that young women may enjoy the vote upon equal and fair terms, we are willing to defer our attainment of the franchise for three or four years." I am quite sure the young men of the country would look upon this matter in that light and would acquiesce.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Lanark (Sir A. Sprot) that the time has arrived when we should put women on an equal footing with men in regard to the electoral franchise. My own view is that the Government have lost a great opportunity under this Bill of once and for all putting the franchise on an absolutely unassailable and firm foundation. I believe the Government have made a very great mistake by the action they have taken. My hon. Friend who moved this Amendment, and a few other hon. Members, wish to amend the Bill. I am afraid we have not much hope of doing so. We want to amend this Measure so as to make it a much better Bill than it is at the present time. There is really no demand for this Measure. For many months past, I have made it perfectly clear what my opinion is in regard to the proposals of the Government, and with the exception of a communication from the Association for Equal Citizenship, I have not had a single letter of any sort from people either opposing or expressing themselves in favour of this Measure. If the Bill deals with a question upon which there is a strong public feeling, surely a person like myself who has expressed strong views would have heard something about those views from the people who are interested. I have had no communications or protests of any sort or description in reference to my action and my attitude in regard to this Measure, and I think that constitutes a prima facie case for the statement I make, that there is no interest in this subject outside the House. That being so the Government ought not to have brought in this Bill. If there were a demand for it it would be a different thing, but there is no demand for it, and we should get on very well without extending the franchise in the ridiculous way that is proposed.
First of all, I would like to say to the members of the Association for Equal Citizenship that I am entirely in agreement with them, that women and men should be put upon the same enfranchisement basis. I voted for the extension of the franchise to women after the War, and I quite realise that, having done that, the women must be given the same rights as men. After the War we were all highly strung and suffering to a certain extent from hysteria, and we went too 226 far in granting universal suffrage to men at that time. I submit most strongly to the Committee that 21 is too early an age at which to give the vote to either a man or a woman, and I maintain that that opinion is held by the vast majority of the people in this country. Therefore, I would ask the Government why they are forcing that age upon us. My right hon. Friend who is in charge of the Bill smiles at that statement of mine, but I assure him that it is a statement of fact.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I beg my hon. and gallant. Friend's pardon; it was a small irrelevant remark made by someone else in the Committee that caused me to smile.
I would ask Members of the Committee what has been their experience in their constituencies. Do they find any real desire that girls should have the vote at 21 years of age? I am perfectly certain that, if they told us what they have observed in their constituencies, they would say that that is not the case. What is the particular magic of the age of 21? It is quite true that that has been from time immemorial the age at which men have been legally assumed to have arrived at a state of manhood. Some age had to be adopted as the age when people would he able to do certain legal acts, and anyone will understand that it would he highly inconvenient to have more than one age for the entry of the young person into I he state of manhood—it would have been highly inconvenient to have different ages for different things. But there is no magic in that particular age of 21. I think that the majority of people will agree that it is too early an age for a person to exercise the responsibility of voting, and that it is a great mistake to go out of our way to give them the right, to do so.
It has been claimed that, since men already have this right, it would be a great hardship to take it from them, but I do not agree with that view. To begin with, as my hon. Friend has told the Committee, we do not propose that, the vote should he taken from such persons under the age of 25 as already have it, and I would ask whether hon. Members do not agree with me when I say that the youth of this country between the ages of 21 and 25 would not in the least 227 object to or regret the fact that they had not the right to vote. We all of us know of innumerable cases in the ordinary business of life in which, in this matter of deciding the age at which a young man or a young woman is to he given a responsibility, the legal age is not adopted. We know, for instance, that in the case of testators making wills leaving money or property or duties to people, it is very common for them to ignore the age of 21, and to leave property to people on attaining the age of, say, 25.
I quite agree; they can marry at even an earlier age; but it is wrong for them to be given the great responsibility of voting at that age when 99 per cent. of them are not fit for it and 99½ per cent. do not want it. Again, with regard to the supposed magic of this age of 21, I would point out in the opposite direction—it may appear that this is an argument against myself, but that is not so—that the law allows people of an even lower age than 21 to do certain things. We know, for instance, that the driving of a motor car, which is a great responsibility, is permitted to a youth or a girl 16 or 17 of age. [Interruption.] There seems to be a difference of opinion, but at any rate it is somewhere about that age. That is another case in which the magic of this age of 21 has been ignored, and a totally different age adopted as the correct one at which to allow a person to do something which involves a considerable amount of responsibility. My whole point is that there is nothing in this particular age of 21, any more than in the age of 19, 20 or 22, that makes it the proper age at which a person should be given the responsibility and the right of voting.
No; personally I would rather fix it at 26 or 27, and in choosing 25 we are making a concession to those who think that 21 is the proper age. I hope that the Committee will not think that this is an irresponsible or foolish Amendment. It is nothing of the sort. There is nothing that I regret more than that the Government did not 228 carry out what I understood was a sort of promise at one time, to have a conference of all parties in the House to settle this question of the age at which the right and responsibility of voting should be given to both men and women. I regret very much that that was not done, and I freely admit that, unless hon. Members opposite take the view that I take in this matter, 21 is bound to be the age sooner or later. Even if we were to succeed to-day in getting the age raised to 25, I quite see that, unless that were done with the consent and approval of hon. Members opposite, at a later date the age would be reduced to 21. It is a matter that must be dealt with by agreement, and I regret, from what I have seen and heard, that, even if this proposal were carried to-day, it would not be carried by agreement.
These are the views which some of us—I am sorry to say that the number, apparently, is not large—bold to-day, and which we held a year age. I well remember discussing this question outside and inside the House, and particularly inside, and at that time it was very difficult to find any person who was in favour of the proposal of the Government, and yet the other day, as hon. Members know, when we came to vote on the question, we found that there were only 12 of the 615 Members of the House who carried their convictions into the Division Lobby. To-day, I hope there will be a larger number. Something has been said, although not so much as I should have liked to hear, about the supposed pledges of the Prime Minister. I say "supposed pledges," because I do not remember ever being conscious of any such pledges, and I would like to ask my right hon. Friend who is in charge of the hill for a little more information than we had during the Second Reading Debate as to the pledges which are said to have been given by the Prime Minister at the last General Election, and as to the pledges which were given by other Ministers. I suggest that it is really a monstrous thing that such of us in the Conservative party as are strongly opposed to the proposal to give the vote to women at 21 should he expected to do so because of some pledge given at the last General Election which I say, with a full sense of responsibility and with the utmost confidence, that I knew nothing whatever about at the time. I said 229 on the Second Reading that I believed that there were very few Members on this side of the House who were aware that any pledges at all had been given on the subject. Since then I have endeavoured to find out what these so-called pledges were, and I have failed. Therefore, I maintain that it is hard that we should be asked, from party loyalty, to follow our leaders in a course to which we have the most determined objection.
These are my reasons for supporting my hon. Friend, and I only trust that, even at this late hour, the Government may see their way to make some modification in this matter, knowing, as they do perfectly well, that there is no demand whatever for this low age of representation, and that, far from being of any assistance or benefit to those between the ages of 21 and 24, it will be looked upon by nine-tenths of them as a nuisance, and will be a sort of fish to he caught by the best electioneering agents at every General Election. Look-at what is going on among the youth of the present day, and looking back, as my hon. Friend did, to our own youthful days, I say with confidence that at least 99 per cent. of these young people who are just getting out of boyhood into manhood, or out of girlhood into womanhood, think nothing whatever about poltitics. Is giving them the vote at 21 going to make them think any more about politics? I am convinced that, if hon. Members will look into the matter, they will agree with me that people as a whole do not bother their heads about politics until they are 25, 26, or even 30.
That may be, but whether the fact that people who have arrived at the mature age of the hon. Member and myself know nothing about politics is a good reason for giving the vote to a large portion of the community who more or less admittedly know nothing about politics, is another matter. I heartily support my hon. Friend's Amendment, and I hope that we shall have a great many followers.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. NAYLOR
The two hon. Members who have brought forward this Amendment are to be congratulated on at least 230 two things, their courage and their conservatism; but we cannot compliment them on their good sense. They have repeatedly put to the Committee the question whether there is any demand for the vote at 21 years of age. As to that I can give my experience in my constituency, and it is not merely a recent experience, but one that has ranged over half-a-dozen Elections. It has been the subject of common remark by young men and women, many of them married and already having families, that they have no opportunity of voting as their neighbours have. That complaint is made at every Election, and to ask us to believe that there is no demand for the vote on the part of those on whom it is now proposed to confer it is a travesty of the facts. In every department of human activity we find that young men or young women are recognised as entering at the age of 21 into practically all the responsibilities of life that are open to them. Is the matter of voting at an Election so difficult a thing that we can withhold that prescriptive right from so many potential electors who are living at present? If you take industry, you will find that an apprentice becomes a journeyman at the age of 21 and is expected to carry out all the duties of men considerably his senior. You also find that women on reaching the age of 21 are treated as if they were the equals of others over 30 years of age upon whom the franchise is already conferred.
Not a word has been said by either hon. Member on the curious anomaly that already exists in the law in this respect, that young men or young women between 21 and 30, or even between 21 and 25, although they have not the right to vote, have the right to stand as candidates for this House, and they can become Members of Parliament even though they have not the privilege of being able to vote for anyone else in the same position. Surely that is an argument in favour of granting the vote and opposing this Amendment. Again, I should like to ask the two hon. Members who seem to think the youth of this country take no interest in polities whether they have ever been Members or attended the meetings of the Oxford or Cambridge Union. There you have large 231 bodies of young men who, I think it will he admitted by everyone, thoroughly understand what they are talking about. It is the same in other classes of society. Times have changed since the hon. Members were young men. They have cited themselves when they were young men as examples of what young men ought not to be. The young men and young women of to-day are far more intellectual then they were in the days when the two hon. Members were young men, though I would not be so uncharitable as to suggest that they are evidence of that fact. They are the exceptions that prove the rule. Still, the fact remains that there has been a great change in the intellectual and educational quality of our young people, and, just as in the Universities you find a greater interest being taken in political questions and political life, so also among the working-class, who are more largely affected by this Bill, yon will find greater intellectual activities and a far greater interest in all the questions that affect them so closely in their everyday life; arid it is a mistake of hon. Members to attempt to persuade the Committee that there is no interest among them and no desire on their part t secure the Vote. The two hon. Members have said very little about what is perhaps the most serious aspect of the Amendment. It proposes to take the vote away from large numbers of young men who already have it.
§ Mr. NAYLOR
Do I understand the hon. Baronet to say that young men of from 21 to 25 are to retain the vote?
§ Mr. NAYLOR
The hon. Baronet is proposing to make a distinction between young men between 21 and 25 and young women of 21 to 25.
§ Mr. NAYLOR
This Bill is an attempt to put youth on an equality, and to preserve the equality at the age of 21 to 30, and it seems to me to be a very serious proposition indeed that these two 232 hon. Members should tt.11 us that young men and young women of 21 to 25 are not capable of exercising the vote, and for that reason alone the Committee will he fully entitled to reject the Amendment.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
When I put my Amendment on the Paper, I thought that it would be in order, but I quite understand that it is very difficult, owing to the Title of the Bill, to move any Amendments to carry out our opinions. I therefore find myself in rather a difficulty. I am not whole-heartedly in favour of the Amendment that is being discussed at the moment. I shall vote for it for the simple reason that I would vote for any Amendment which would prevent the Bill passing. But, purely on the question of this Amendment, it is a very difficult problem to try in the future to disenfranchise all those young between 21 and 25. I would have the impudence to suggest, though I have no doubt I should be in a minority of one, that a short time ago, when I was 21, I myself was capable of exercising the vote.
But my opposition to the Bill is not on the question of youth at all. I think the Government, in proposing a Bill which is going to increase the electorate by 5,250,000 voters so soon after the Act of 1918, is taking a tremendous chance and risking a great gamble with the Constitution. Young men between 21 and 25 are in quite different circumstances from young women between 21 and 25. I cannot conceive how it would he possible for the House, after passing a Bill which included this Amendment, in the case of another war, which, although we hope will never come, may come to pass in another generation—with a Government only put into office by the votes of those over 25, logically to determine to send young men to the front between the ages of 21 and 25. Of course, that argument holds perfectly good if it is carried to its conclusion by saying the vote should be conferred on all those over 78, but I think the young people who, after all, have to face that last call of duty have some right to be heard in our councils. I think they stand in a totally and absolutely different position from the young women of the same age. I thought on the Second Reading that there were two 233 great arguments against the Bill. One was that women would be put in a preponderating majority in 70 per cent. of the constituencies. In my opinion, that was a very bad thing, purely on the question of equality.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I cannot help thinking the hon. Member is rather getting away from the question of age.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
I only meant to pass from the argument for a moment, because I was pointing out that that was the principal argument against the Bill on the Second Reading. But there was an equally powerful argument against it in that the more you increase the size of the electorate the more impossible it is for Members to keep in touch with their constituents. There is an argument that can be followed on that line. There is no doubt whatever that at present the larger the electorate the greater the power of the executive. Throughout the history of the country and of our Constitution the House of Commons has played a memorable part. I am talking about the House of Commons entirely distinct from the executive or the Cabinet. The House of Commons on numerous occasions has taken decisions entirely on its own account. It has taken responsibilities upon itself. Individual Members have acted upon their convictions and upon principles which they hold dear to themselves, irrespective sometimes of party ties and of what Government was in office.
This Bill is a direct advantage to the party managers and to the executive Government, as distinct from individual Members of the House of Commons. I should like to see increased individuality on the part of Members of the House of Commons. I think proper government can only be carried out if individual Members of the House of Commons express the views they themselves really hold, which are very rarely heard in the House to-day, or the views which they know their constituents hold. I cannot see, first of all, how in a great number of cases they can express their own views because of the power of the party machine, and, secondly, I do not see how, with a huge electorate, they can express their constituents' views, because I do not understand how they can get to know 234 the views of their constituents. In the old days it was no doubt very easy for Members to find out the views of their constituents. They only had a certain number, and they could easily get into touch with them. How are they going to do so to-day? Most constituencies will have an average, if the Bill is passed, over the age of 21 of 60,000 or 70,000 electors, and in some cases, I believe, as many as 90,000. Even with the aid of the loud speakers and the wireless, of which a great deal too much is being made, how is a Member going to keep in touch with his constituents? [Interruption.] An hon. Member suggests that we may keep in touch with the Press, but the power of the House of Commons is being deliberately passed from the House of Commons by the Press themselves, and the larger you have the electorate the less power is going to be held by individual Members of the House of Commons.
The Home Secretary quoted from Disraeli that the franchise should be put on a broad popular basis and should be given to the largest possible number of people. I suggest that when Disraeli made the statement it was wholly irrelevant to the discussion, because the views of a. statesman however eminent during the past century, is scarcely applicable to the set of conditions that exist to-day. The whole tenor of his speech at that time was purely that the franchise should be given to those who paid either direct taxes or who paid rates. We have long since left that state of affairs behind in this country, and probably the majority of the people who exercise the franchise at the present moment are not the people who either really pay direct taxation or rates. This vital question of the size of the electorate should be seriously considered by hon. Members in this House. Gibbon, in his "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," said that when under democratic government the powers of sovereignty are given to the citizens, those powers will first be abused and then taken away if given to an unwieldly multitude. I think that this Bill, which in itself is a revolution, will lead eventually to further revolutions in order to take away the powers that have been given to the electorates to-day, and, as the Home Secretary knows, it is very much easier to give than to take away. We have had many 235 Bills pass through this House in the past seven or eight years which Governments that have succeeded have endeavoured to repeal.
We know how difficult it is, if you confer any sort of right, however large or however small, to try and repeal the Measure and to take away that right, because when once people receive a right they will not give it up again. Therefore, if the Government confer this right upon the electorate over 21, they will be doing something that no succeeding Government can probably ever take willingly away from the people to which it has been given. They are weakening, in my opinion, the Constitution at the present time, when, if they were returned to office to do anything, they were returned to strengthen it. By giving the vote to this vast number of people over the age of 21, they are preparing the way for any sentimental impulse or wild theory which may be proposed at the moment, and I think that the Home Secretary and the Government should most seriously consider, before they reject this Amendment. I think that hon. Members of this House should vote for this Amendment, and they should vote for it because by so doing they probably will not, if they accept the age of 25, increase the size of the electorate at all. They should vote for this Amendment, because they should use every endeavour to prevent this Bill from becoming law. I am quite certain that any hon. Member who thinks of the past will not think only of what effect his vote is going to have in his constituency at the next election but will look at the whole broad aspect of the question, will look to the strengthening of the Constitution, and to the upholding of the traditions of this country and of this House, and I am firmly convinced that if that be done, his Amendment will be carried and we shall, at any rate, have prevented the Government who were not returned to power to produce a Bill of this kind and who are meddling with subjects they were not returned to meddle with and who at the same time are leaving undone things which they were returned to carry out, from enlarging the electorate. I think that if they turn their minds to those urgent principles and policies which they put before the country at the election—
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
I am sorry, Mr. Chairman, if I have offended against your Ruling. In confining myself entirely to the Amendment upon the Paper, I do hope that hon. Members, when they vote, will vote freely, and I ask the Home Secretary that on this particular vote, if he finds it possible, he will take the Whips off and allow the Committee to give a free vote upon the question, because I am perfectly certain that, if that be done, he will find an overwhelming majority in favour of this Amendment.
§ Miss BONDFIELD
I hope I can assure the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Harmsworth) that, as far as Members on this side of the Committee are concerned, we shall, every one of us, vote freely against this Amendment, and we shall vote with the backing of the constituencies that we represent. This discussion has revealed, as discussions often do in this House, two schools of thought. The Mover and the Seconder of the Amendment dealt with the age of 21 as being an age bordering upon childhood, and I can quite understand that point of view. I wish we could all feel like that. I wish all our children had a youth at which education is not supposed to end until the age of 25. But, you see, we represent almost, I was going to say, a different kind of civilisation altogether. We in the main consider this from the standpoint of the vast majority of our population whose children begin to get their experience of knocking about in the world, of which the Seconder spoke, at the age of 14 years. By the time they get to 21 they have suffered most of the hardships of unemployment and all the difficulties and troubles of a very severe life bordering upon poverty or only just above poverty. It is that section of the community that is interested in politics, because politics interests itself in them. Laws which are passed in this House, while they may be matters entirely outside the consciousness of the sons and daughters of those who can afford to keep their children at school or at college until they reach mature years, are definitely concerned with the lives of those whom we represent here. It really is absurd to talk about young 237 men and young women of 21 years; of age as having no experience of life. It is that, difference in the environment and experiences between working-class people and people of leisure that sometimes makes us appear almost to be talking in a different language. It is because this Bill does enfranchise, in the new electorate, a very large proportion who belong to the class of people who have experience of life, that we welcome the age of 21 in the Bill.
There is one other point, which I should like to make, and it is in regard to the surprise which some Members have expressed that the Government have not put the age of 25 in the Bill. I understand that surprise, because, when the Prime Minister made his speech last year promising a conference, I think he gave an indication that at that conference the Government would probably suggest the age of 25. It should be recognised as a very significant fact that 21 has now been put in the Bill. I think that I am not exaggerating and assuming too much when I say that it is in consequence of the knowledge of what the country really expects that the Government, have put in the age of 21. It is because Members on the opposite side of the House, Members who represent the Conservative party, have been made aware of the fact that nothing short of the age of 21 will satisfy the demands of the country as a whole. The point made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet—the only point, it seems to me, that requires at all to he dealt with, because I think that when the hon. Member reads his speech to-morrow morning he will find that he largely cancelled himself our—was his argument as to the necessity of enfranchising men at the age of 21 on account of war. Surely, he has forgotten already that when war comes, as war came before women will be part of the war machine as much as men. God forbid that we should have another war, but it is no use blinking the fact that if we have another war, war in the air will be no discriminator of sex, and it will be a question of the whole nation at war. So that argument as an argument in favour of any differentiation in age between the sexes, ceases to have the slightest weight with people who have very seriously considered the question.
I am very anxious indeed that we should proceed with the Bill. I am sure 238 that all those Members in this House who have made up their minds are anxious that we should get this Bill upon the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment and that we should get this age of 21 settled once and for all. I am entirely in agreement with Members opposite who fear this Bill because there will be large numbers of people who will not take an interest in politics. I do not dispute that for one moment. The point we desire to make is this: Where you have a large democratic nation like ours, you will inevitably have, both with men and women, certain persons who are politically-minded, certain persons who have a perfect genius for administrative and legislative affairs. What we are aiming to secure in this Bill—what we aimed to secure in the Bill which our party drafted in 1924—is that there shall be no harrier in the way of those who are politically-minded functioning to the fullest extent in the interests of the country. There always will be large numbers of men of all ages entirely indifferent to politics and large numbers of women entirely indifferent to politics —they will be a sort of dead weight—but because we cannot afford to shut out those who have a genius for Politics and the qualities necessary to help to create the political opinions of our country we must have the franchise broadly based and based upon an age which is known in law as the adult age.
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
I am probably more affected by this Bill than any other hon. Member, as I represent a larger number of women than any other hon. Member, and I am glad to have an opportunity of saying a few words on this Amendment. Of the electors in my constituency at the present time, 19,000 are men and 21,000 women. I am advised that if this Bill Passes, I shall have added to my electorate between 20,000 and 26,000 women. Many of them are 30 years of age and over, women who ought to have had the vote long ago. My constituents will, under the new arrangement, total 47,000 women and 19,000 men, a grand total of 66,000 electors. I do not suggest to the House that I wish to alter that discrepancy between the sexes. Whatever age we fix as the age for the conferment of the new franchise, I maintain that women and men who are of that age ought to have 239 the franchise at that age. I support what has been said by other hon. Members as to the unwieldy nature of the constituencies which are being created by the addition of 5,500,000 new electors. It is a very serious thing that hon. Members will cease to have that personal touch with the electors which they are able to have at the present time. Certain hon. Members say that the Press is already exercising too much control and too much influence on the electorate but this proposal will greatly add to that influence, because the Member himself will not be able to reach many of his electorate.
I do not pretend that there has been any direct voting on this question by large numbers of women in my constituency as to whether the age of 25 or 21 should be chosen, but I was present at a great meeting in the Albert Hall when the Prime Minister, on the 27th May, 1927, addressed 8,000 or 9,000 women on the subject. In that speech he said:I am quite aware that there is a strong feeling, which has shown itself in many associations, that there should be a franchise for both sexes at the age of 25.The meeting rose almost as one person and cheered the Prime Minister for several minutes when he made that statement. It was emphatically the greatest cheer the Prime Minister had at that meeting when he said that both sexes ought to have the vote at 25. It was the greatest meeting of women that I have attended for a very long time, and that view in favour of the age of 25 was unmistakably expressed at that meeting.
Sir WILFRID SUDDEN
Can the hon. Member say how many of the 21-year electors were present at that meeting?
§ Sir W. DAVISON
I did not ask the ages of the ladies. There were 8,000 or 9,000 representative women present, and that was the view of the women at that meeting. I do not say that it was a definite pledge, but it certainly was understood on the part of many of those present at that meeting that the question of the age would be left to a free vote of the House of Commons. That is very important. After the cheering had subsided, the Prime Minister said:I can quite understand the feeling"—that is, the feeling which was shown by 240 the cheering of the statement that both sexes should have the vote at 25—and it may well be that were a Government giving the franchise to-day to the people of this country for the first time, that would be a proposal worth thinking of. If there be a strong feeling in the country that this would be a better thing to do, there would be full opportunity for their representatives to express their opinions in the course of the Debate when the Bill is in Parliament.That may not be a definite pledge to leave it to a free vote of the House, but it was very near it. Certainly it was the understanding of a large number of the women present that it was the intention of the Government, as long as they secured equality of the sexes, to leave the question of the age to a free vote of the House. This is not a party question. This is not a question of the parties trying to show that they will benefit by it. As the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) has said, there is not likely to he any further franchise proposal before the House of Commons for many years to come, and it is very desirable that we should carry a good Measure into law which can stand the test of time for some years to come.
The question of expense has been dealt with at length on the Instruction, and, therefore, I will not trespass further on that point, beyond saying that the additional expense that will be caused by this very large number of new electors will be a very serious thing for Members of Parliament. Unless the amount that can be spent is restricted, it will prevent a number of people from getting into Parliament who otherwise would get in because they will be in the dilemma of not being able to afford the additional expense or not being able to get their opinions known to a large number of the electors. On that ground, it is not desirable to increase so largely the number of electors. Moreover, the vote already possessed is not properly appreciated. We find that only 60 per cent. 70 per cent. of the Parliamentary electors vote in election after election. In the municipal elections we find that the percentage of voters is sometimes as low as 17 per cent., while from 18 per cent. to 25 per cent. is a common thing. That shows that this wholesale franchise, which gives to everyone the right to vote 241 at 21, is not appreciated. To fix the age at 25 would tend to increase the dignity of the vote. It would be something that would be worth waiting for. It would make the dignity of our franchise more like the dignity of the old Roman citizenship: "I am a Roman citizen." It would increase the dignity of the vote. We should get people educating themselves and equipping themselves for the vote, and when they got it at the age of 25 they would exercise it proudly.
I am going to call to my aid an entirely dispassionate supporter, namely, the Registrar-General, on the question of prudence and responsibility. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield) rather indicated that it was absurd to say that young people of 21 were less responsible than people of 25. On that point I would like to draw attention to some very remarkable paragraphs in the statistical review of the Registrar-General for England and Wales which was published last year. In dealing with the question of accidents, and in giving a table of accidents, especially in connection with drowning accidents, he points out that of the total number of deaths 84 per cent. occurred to persons below the age of 25 years.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
I am dealing with what the Registrar-General says with regard to accidents to people below the age of 25. The Registrar-General says:It looks almost as if prudence in matters of this kind were a faculty suddenly acquired at or about the age of 25.In confirmation, he refers to the rule of the London General Omnibus Company that drivers are not to be taken on until they are 26 and conductors not before 24, as experience has shown that in these two years young men generally acquire a greater sense of responsibility. He goes on to say:It seems odd that prudence and responsibility should be faculties suddenly acquired at any age, and, further, that this acquisition should occur for all men, whatever their environment, at much the same age; but the evidence of bathing deaths and of bus-driving accidents is strangely harmonious in pointing to 25 or thereabouts as such a critical age, when the man, as it were, really 'grows up.' so far as prudence and responsibility are concerned.242 This is entirely independent evidence from the Registrar-General, and the experience of the London General Omnibus Company, who have to deal with the safety of tens of thousands of citizens every day and who for sonic reason or other, which they do not pretend td define, have come to the conclusion that the age of responsibility and prudence is reached between the ages of 24 and 26. As a rough-and-ready figure, it seems to me that everything points to the age of 25 as the age at which prudence and responsibility are conspicuously shown. Are we going to say that it is a matter of less responsibility and requiring less prudence to govern the British Empire than it is to conduct an omnibus? That is the conclusion to which one is driven by the proposal to enfranchise both sexes at 21. There is really no demand on the part of these young people for the vote.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
There is no evidence whatever. I admit that there is a demand for equality, but there is no evidence whatever of a demand that the vote should be given to both sexes at 21 as opposed to 25.
§ Viscountess ASTOR indicated dissent.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
If the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) had been present— possibly she was—at the great meeting of 8,000 women at the Albert Hall, she would have heard a practically unanimous expression of opinion, the opinion which I am now expressing, that 25 is the age of prudence and responsibility, and that that is the most fitting time for both sexes to have the vote. I warmly support the Amendment, for the reasons which I have given.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
From some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Kensington South (Sir W. Davison) it would have appeared that this was a Bill which was going to make young women into omnibus drivers and conductors. I am supporting the Bill as it stands. I think the Government are quite entitled to introduce this Bill. I question very much the competence of the Parliament of 1918 to introduce the Franchise Act, because under the Parliament Act it was legally dead in 1915. However the Par- 243 liament of that day enormously increased the franchise of its own volition, and the country was so stunned by the effects of the War that it did not know what was happening. Having done that, and having fixed the age of 30 for women, there was no getting out of the necessity of making the franchise equal for both sexes. I was at one time of the opinion that when the new franchise was introduced in 1918 the Government ought to have made the age 25 for both sexes, and that every serving soldier and every young woman who had been at the Front, no matter what their age might be, should have the franchise. That would have been carried, but apparently the Government never thought of it. It is too late to go back now.
This question of the franchise was brought up at meetings in my constituency, and I said that the franchise ought to be given at the age of 25, or on marriage. My constituents were rather puzzled when I used the words "on marriage," and they asked me for an explanation. I said that if a young man of 21 gets married, by the time that 12 months have elapsed he will be, at least, 25 years old in wisdom. Later on, one of the ladies asked me what would be the position of a young woman who married, and I said that if she had clone her duty, within 12 months she would be at least 35 years old in wisdom. Why are hon. Members so afraid of this proposal? It will put the franchise on a broad and universal basis. It is said that it will enormously increase the number of electors, but that is because there are far too many people in these islands, and is no argument in support of the claim that they are not entitled to have the vote. When the young women have the vote they will see to it that we have a better system of emigration and a better distribution of the population of this country in the waste spaces of our Dominions. Tie shall have more enterprise in the land when the young women have the vote. Hon. Members who oppose it say that the proposition is revolutionary. I say that a proposition to raise the age would be much more revolutionary.
Who is it now that carries out revolution in any country? It is the youths at the end of their teens, the young 244 men under 25, aided in many cases by the young women, and if you take away the constitutional right of expressing their opinions, if you do not give them some sort of safety valve in a free franchise, you are much more likely to spread revolutionary ideas than by giving the vote at 21. Surely we ought to take guidance from those parts of the world, the Anglo-Saxon parts, where it has been tried. It will not do to go to any European country, because Parliamentary government is an exotic plant in most countries on the Continent. It has failed all over Europe. We have to go to the Anglo-Saxon countries of the world, and if you take the most typically British Dominion, New Zealand, where 97 per cent. of the population are of British stock and extraction, they have had universal women's franchise since 1893, and only yesterday an ex-Minister of Justice of the Commonwealth of New Zealand, Mr. Wilford, was in this House, and he showed me a document which I have submitted to the Press. He says that when the Bill to enfranchise women was introduced in 1893 a great many people in New Zealand were very doubtful as to the wisdom of giving the franchise to young women as well as to young men but that his experience of over 32 years has been that the average young woman of 21 has more discernment, common sense and judgment than the young man of the same age. I think that is the experience of all of us. Many hon. Members of this House have expressed the view that in the industrial areas the young women will do exactly what the young men will tell them to do. I think that shows a lamentable want of knowledge on the part of those hon. Members. My view is that the young men will do exactly what the young women want them to do.
In New Zealand since 1893 the young women have availed themselves very largely of the privilege of voting, and there has been no revolution. I quite agree that young women who have worked in industry since they were 16 or 17 years of age, who have been up against the hard realities of life, acquire a great deal of commonsense and wisdom, and are the last people in the world to go in for anything in the nature of revolutionary or Socialistic disorder. They would be the first sufferers, they would be the first to 245 lose their jobs. I am somewhat amused at the rapturous cheers which come from the Labour benches in favour of this proposal, because, in my view, it will not favour their particular proposals. While we ought not to consider it from the point of view of party prospects, I am quite satisfied that with the innate conservatism of the women of this country, it will be a bad look-out for Socialistic nostrums when they get the vote. Mr. Wilford has himself said that the general conduct of the young women of all classes during the general strike in this country was such as to justify giving them the vote. They did not make fools of themselves like many of the young men. There is another aspect of this question, which, I am sure, will not appeal to the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor). One result of the universal franchise to women in New Zealand has been that no woman has ever yet succeeded in getting a seat in the House of Representatives. Women there do not vote for women, but, apparently thinking that it is a man's job, they vote accordingly. I do not say that this is my view, but that is the consequence of women having the vote in New Zealand.
§ Mr. B. SMITH
Can the hon. and learned Member tell us the disparity which exists between men and women in New Zealand?
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I have not got the figures, but I take it that the men outnumber the women there, and I think that one of the results of giving the franchise to women here will be that we shall get much more sensible schemes of emigration and some provision for larger numbers of women to go out to these remoter parts of the Empire, where young men are plentiful. It has been said that a young man of 21 does not think of politics. There are no doubt a great many young men like that. Many people take the view that young men and young women at 21 should be thinking of one another and. not of politics at all, but I Can assure hon. Members from my own experience that as a matter of fact the position is entirely different in very many eases. Mr. Wilford says that for 29 years his constituents have continuously returned him to Parliament. He has been opposed by many able Labour representatives, but 246 the Socialistic utterances of his opponents have never made the young women lose their heads. He says:No man who plays fairly with his constituents need fear the women's vote. If the representatives of the people here could appreciate the attitude of the young women in New Zealand towards Empire they would realise that they are real assets in our great Commonwealth even before they are twenty-one years of age, and can [...]e trusted in any emergency to keep their heads and run straight. Yes, women of even twenty-one understand men tar better than men of that age understand men or women.That is his view from practical experience in his own country. What is the use of calling in theories and prophecies? You have to take note of the practical experience of those British countries which have already tried this experiment, and I am perfectly satisfied that the passing of this Measure is going to solidify and stabilise the constitution of the country and place it on a far more stable basis than is possible while the present preposterous anomaly exists. I tell hon. Members opposite that I do not think it would be a good thing for their party; it will be a very good thing for ours, but that is not the reason why I am voting for it.
§ Mr. GROVES
The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) assumes that the Labour party is afraid of the extension of the franchise to the young women of the country. Let me remind him that the progress of the Labour and Socialist party—
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The hon. Member has misunderstood me. I do not say you fear it. You welcome it, but that is because you do not understand it.
§ Mr. GROVES
There is an old saying that nothing succeeds like success, and the progress of the Labour and Socialist party has been in proportion to the extension of the franchise in the country. It has been said that there is no desire in the country for giving the franchise to young women at the age of 21. The experience of those who have any knowledge of industrial areas is that the young women in these areas, who have received some of the kindly attentions of the present Government, are very anxious and eager for the day when they can use their votes in order to help the Socialist programme. Our experience in industrial areas is that the young men and women take a keen interest in social and political movements and understand their 247 objective. Politics is the science of government. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment said that the younger generation does not know exactly how and why conditions of poverty have been imposed upon them. They have not learned it in the scholastic way, nor in the way suggested by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Harmsworth), who ought to have known better than impose such mediæval theories on the House. Our young folk have learned from bitter experience that from the cradle to the grave they are enveigled in economic conditions imposed on them by the system of government of the country. Our young people have demonstrated their keen interest in social and political questions. Just as the young men in the Army were prepared to fight for what they considered to be right, so the young women are prepared to vote for the introduction of those Socialistic proposals which they believe to be right.
This is assumed to he a non-party question, and we should not approach it from the point of view that any party is going to gain by it. It is the right of all citizens to be able to utilise their personal force in any direction in which they feel the country should be guided. In industry, at the age of 21, young men are turned out into the world, as I was myself. In an industrial sense they are fully-fledged workpeople, capable of doing a certain amount of technical work. In other words, they have proved their utility. It is therefore reasonable and right that such persons should have sonic say and influence as to the way in which the country should move politically. That is in regard to the young men. Now, with regard to the young women. There are very few industries in which young women are not called upon to perform the same work as men. Instead of men and women being separated, as in years past, they are now in a sense brothers and sisters in a great cause, that is, to make this country better than it was in the past. During the past 40 years the country has made certain strides forward, but every movement for reform has been met by the cry that it will mean the breakdown of the Constitution. When Sir William Harcourt introduced the Death Duties they were heralded as a constitutional revolution. No attempt 248 has been made to change or widen the Constitution of this country without old-fashioned people saying that it would mean ruination. We meet those things by telling them that new occasions teach new duties. We realise that just as the older men and women of this country have done their duty and done their best to make this country as great as it is, so they must recognise that the younger men and women who have followed in the footsteps of their forbears are just as interested in making this country great and free of poverty and immorality, and just as eager to do their duty to the nation as were their elders. I think that they have proved it. The young men proved their worth in the War, and the young women have proved their worth in industry and in the home. I say emphatically that in the Borough of West Ham—the same thing could be said by my hon. Friend (Mr. J. Jones), who represents Silvertown—young men and women have been brought face to face with realities and facts, that their fathers have been denied bread, that their brothers and sisters have been denied help by the Ministry of Health, and they are longing for the day when they shall have the right to turn out of office those who sit on the Government Benches now. [Interruption.] I believe that we on the Labour Benches sit here because our party is the right party.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is now travelling a little wide of the question of the vote at 21 or 25 years of age.
§ Mr. GROVES
Yes, but I was drawn into it, and it was not entirely my fault. If the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) will be as orderly as we were before she arrived, I shall not be upset by interjections. An hon. Member has laid great stress on the fact that there was no great demand for the vote for women at the age of 21. I can assure him that if he will take a visit to the East End of London and hold a few meetings and ask the younger women to register their opinion, he will find that they are as eager about, and as able to take an interest in, government, legislative or administrative, and that they will do their duty as sincerely and 249 loyally, as those who have gone before. There has been on break in the constitution of the country that has not been due to the introduction of a new idea. We younger men realise that there is no shock to our elders like the shock of a new idea. If this be a new idea, do not let us take it that it is unconstitutional, but rather that it is in proportion to the degree in which those who are to benefit have sacrificed themselves for the good of the country, and that the country is merely making a return to them as adequately as possible in granting the right to take an interest in the government of the land which we all proudly call our native land.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I have listened with very great interest to the Debate, which has been full of interesting speeches well worthy of the grave question that is under discussion. In the last two speeches, both of them full of interest, I have got a little confused, because my hon. and learned Friend tie. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) said, first, that it was desirable to give young people votes in order that t hey should not be revolutionary, and then later that they were so little revolutionary that he thought they would all vote Conservative.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
There is no inconsistency in that. By refusing a young man the vote to which he thinks he is entitled, you may make him entertain revolutionary ideas.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I do not agree that young men are so irritable in temperament or so changeable, that the refusal of a vote would change them from Conservatives into revolutionaries. The hon. Member who spoke last similarly appeared to argue that young men and women were not revolutionary, but he rather thought they ought to be so, because their lives were so hard. He and the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield) used the same argument—that the hardship of the young women's experience made them specially qualified to vote. That is rather a dangerous argument. It appears to me that they would then vote with a single eye to their own personal interest or the interest of the class to which they belong.
§ Lord H. CECIL
The hon. Lady says that politics meant something to them. It, perhaps, is rather a reason which would lead us not to enfranchise any particular class of voters, if we were confident at the beginning that their votes would be determined by their own interests rather than the interests of the country. Unfortunately I was rather unwell when the Second Reading of the Bill was under discussion. I came to the House and heard the Home Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) speak, and after that I went away, and next day my temperature went up to 102. I attribute that unfortunate result partly to having heard the Home Secretary say that voting was a right—a statement which greatly shocked me. Surely the sane view is that voting is a function, and that a person has no more a right to vote than he has a right to be a County Court Judge or any public functionary. He is given the vote only because it is thought that he will exercise it in a mariner conducive to the public interest. If that be so, what we have to consider is how we may get voters who in maturity of judgment and in capacity in political matters may most fittingly vote.
I agree with the Bill in not approving the present basis of the franchise, because it is quite an irrational basis. I ventured to point that out when the matter was being settled in 1917. I then strongly opposed the distinction of age, the distinction which places women in a different position from men in respect of age. I spoke in that Debate, and I made a speech very much like the speech that I am about to deliver. That is an experience which would fill the Chancellor of the Exchequer with envy if he were present—and it is after a period of more than ten years. I was unfortunate in not convincing the Prime Minister who, I find, voted in those days in favour of the distinction in respect of age by which women are kept out of the franchise until they reach the age of an. The Home Secretary. I think, was not present in 1917. Why was that an unreasonable proposal? Surely because, although there are some arguments against women's suffrage, they have nothing to do with age, and although there are some arguments against enfranchising young people, they have nothing, to do with sex; and to blend them together as the 251 existing law does is to place the franchise on a thoroughly irrational basis. Therefore I am in favour of assimilation.
But if we are really to base our franchise on fitness for a function, ought we not to have some regard to some of the considerations ably put before us by other members of this Committee, and to recognise that it is the plain truth that people over 25 are, in respect of political judgment, more mature than people under 25? I do not believe there is anyone who doubts that statement. That has been the development of the last 100 years. No one can now imagine a Prime Minister of 24. Pitt was 24, though he was perhaps an exceptional case; and Lord North was only 32 when he became Prime Minister. It is obvious that at that time people must have matured in political judgment a good deal sooner than they do now. I do not think that to day anyone would be selected for the office of Prime Minister at the age of 24 or even at the age of 32. If we want to have maturity, if we want to save democracy by making it respectable and by giving the power of democracy into the hands of those who will use it aright, the limit of 25 is much more probably the correct one than the limit of 21. There is no reason for thinking that you will always have the same limit of age for all occupations and all functions.
The hon. Member for Thanet (Mr. Harmsworth), in a very able and interesting speech, spoke about his dislike of excluding a man from the franchise at 21 because that man would have to fight for his country. The hon. Member who spoke last said that he did not like excluding young men or young women, because they worked in industry and fulfilled various valuable functions in industrial life. The question is, rather, Are you fit? You are fit to fight at 21 and you are fit to conduct industrial functions at 21; but it does not in the least follow that you are fit to give a vote at 21, or most fit. Fitness is relative. A boy of 15 is quite fit to give a not irrational vote, but you do not enfranchise him, because you think his vote would not be as valuable as the vote of a person of fuller age. It has constantly to be remembered that every person you bring into the franchise diminishes the authority of those who 252 are already enfranchised. Every enlargement of the franchise is in a degree a disfranchising measure. Indeed, the first Reform Bill was passed and the earlier enlargements of the franchise were principally made not because they added any great number of votes to the total votes in the country but because they threw open constituencies which up to that time were very limited constituencies with 12 or 13 freemen—they opened these to a much larger number of voters, and thereby disfranchised, in effect, the narrow class that up to that time held full power.
If you enlarge the franchise, as you are going to do by this Bill and introduce 5,000,000 more voters, you will, in plain truth, take away from the political power of those who now exercise the franchise. You will diminish the authority which they now exercise, because they will have a smaller share in the total voice of the country. In a number of constituencies, which cannot be stated statistically, but which must certainly exist, the older people will be outvoted. A majority of those above 30 in a constituency will find themselves in a minority of the total electorate, and the representation, therefore, will be determined otherwise than according to their judgment. That, certainly, must happen in a number of constituencies. Let us further realise that the mere enlargement of a constituency is a grave evil. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley in his speech on the Second Reading spoke of this Bill as "completing democracy." But that is not at all true. The Bill does not complete democracy; it imperils democracy. The more voters you have, the greater the mass of voters, the less likely it is that the people will really govern themselves.
I do not know if hon. Members have read that most important book by Lord Bryce, written at the very end of his life with all his ripe experience—the book entitled Modern Democracy. In that book he scrutinises six great democracies—four of them Anglo-Saxon—and he comes to the conclusion in the end, among other things, that democracy works very much better, at any rate, where the number of voters is small and where, therefore, the personal relation between the candidate and the voter and, above all, the personal knowledge by the voters 253 of the character of the candidates, can be a greater reality than where vast masses of people are voting. Indeed, it is perfectly plain that, if you have these enormous constituencies, the power of the organisation becomes much greater. Not only that, but the organisation itself necessarily becomes more complex. If you have quite a small number of voters, as in the old days, when the franchise was much more restricted, a very simple organisation is enough and the personal relation between the candidate and the individual voter is a great reality. If you have a rather larger constituency then you must have an organisation, though not a very complicated one as yet. When your constituency, however, becomes larger still you must have not only an organisation but a smaller organisation within that organisation to organise the organisation. Then, again, you have the last stage when you must have organisation of organisation of organisation; and at every step the mechanical element grows greater, and the personal element grows less.
That is not self-government. That is not democracy. That is not a free people governing themselves. That is not government by the people of the people. It is nothing of the kind. It is government by bosses through an elective assembly of robots. Naturally, only men of great strength can go through the wear and tear of contesting these enormous constituencies. They are trained to the mechanical view of politics. They come here and vote with automatic regularity, as their party leaders and Whips direct, and they return here as long as their physical strength holds out, elected afresh for the mechanical functions for which alone they are suited. They are qualified in proportion to their efficiency for various honours at the disposal of the Crown. Some who are very good robots go on to the other House, there to continue the mechanical process. It is true that democracy has made great progress. It is true that it has been nominally accepted over much the greater part of the civilised world but it is not true that it is accepted in every civilised state. An hon. Member has said that over a large part of Europe it is discredited and in some countries actually formally abandoned. It is threatened by Sovietism in Russia and Fascisism in Italy. Movements which are 254 running all over Western Europe are treating democracy as having broken down. And, in this country, what was the general strike but an appeal to a non-democratic principle, because it was believed that the democratic machine, or what purported to be the democratic machine, was not truly self-government and the government of the people by the people?
So, we have to be careful. Democracy is like a man who is growing old and can no longer afford to play the tricks which he played in his youth. If we take this step which we contemplate taking, is it not possible that we may achieve the final discredit of what is already shaken in reputation? May not the people say, "If you are going to give the vote to a lot of boys and girls like that, then such a system of government will be a mere farce"? May not people turn to any dictator, to any natural leader of men, to give him an authority which they will say is now thrown away among the young and silly? May not that be so if it is realised, as it is being more and more realised, that in actual fact people are only enabled to choose between those whom the various organisations put before them and, most of all, if, the constituencies being so complex, the real decision is felt to be with the party managers, bureaucratically-minded and operating by mechanical organisation in order to fulfil purely partisan purposes?
Therefore, I am persuaded that in this gradual evolution of the robot we ought to stop. We ought to try to restore that personal vitality in politics, by which personality counted, by, which people exercised a real free choice, and by which, accordingly, the House of Commons enjoyed a wonderful reputation and respect. It is not a little remarkable that after every enlargement of the franchise the House of Commons has fallen in authority and respect. [HON MEMBERS: "No!"I Well, look at the papers. The papers reflect what the people want to read. [HON. MEMBERS "Oh!"] In 1880 people wanted to read the Debates in the House of Commons, and so the Debates in the House of Commons were printed in the Press. To-day they do not want to read the Debates in the House of Commons, although I think I may say we are all agreed that the Debates are very well worth reading. But 255 the people do not want to read those Debates. They prefer to read about sport, about murders, about divorces—or they did as long as my right hon. Friend the Member for the Aston Division of Birmingham (Sir E. Cecil) allowed them to read fully about divorces. They like reading about all sorts of subjects better than reading about Parliament. Probably it is because they feel that the deliberations of Parliament are no longer very important, and I am surprised that Members of the Labour party should dissent from what I am saying, because I thought that was the sort of thing which one read in Labour newspapers, and what was said at trade union meetings of one sort or another. I thought it was a commonplace in their ranks to say that Parliament did not count. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, I give the impression that I have received; but, at any rate, no one will say that that is not a danger. How can you raise the credit of democracy? How can you make people see that government by the people is again a reality? [An HON. MEMBER: "Go back to 1832!"] No, I should not go hack to 1832.
§ Lord H. CECIL
I should try to give the franchise to those mature persons whose votes will command respect, those who are 25. No doubt, as far as the party point of view goes, they will vote as those under 25 would vote, but they will command much more respect in the votes which they give and the House of Commons elected by them will be regarded as capable of carrying more weight than a House of Commons elected by the young and irresponsible. The constituency, at any rate, will not be made materially larger. I am not sure whether the deduction proposed in the Amendment would quite cancel the enlargement or not but I think the numbers would remain substantially the same as they are now. You will not, therefore, increase the evil of the cumbersome unmanageable constituency. You will not magnify still further the power of the organisation and the authority of the boss.
I confess that to me this Amendment is, in truth and in fact, a preservative of democracy. It treats democracy as being 256 a serious thing. It shows that you value the vote if you only give it to those whom you feel to be mature persons, capable of exercising it. In his heart does anybody really doubt that if voting were an important function, there would not be two questions about it—the people would strictly restrict it, and keep it in the hands of those old enough to use it aright? It is only because in their hearts they despise the vote, because they think it does not matter who has a vote or who will exercise it, that they do not care whether it is given to boys and girls at 21 or not. I am sure we ought to be careful. I am sure we ought to recognise that, unless we shore up democracy, some of these influences Fascism or Sovietism or some other influence, may prevail. I am not at all supposing that there will be a reaction to an older form of government, but there are all sorts of governments possible, and we may have, in one form or another one of these things coming upon us unless we place our representative system on a basis which commands the respect of intelligent people. Such a basis is to be found in the Amendment and not in the Bill.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
It will be recognised, I think, that we have reached an important, point in the Committee stage of this Bill. The Bill as it received its Second Reading proposed to enfranchise some 5,000,000 women. The proposal made this afternoon is to equalise matters by enfranchising 2,500,000 women and disfranchising some 2,500,000 men. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I think that is the proposal of my Noble Friend who has just spoken. He said he thought the voting strength of the country would probably remain about the same as it is at present, balancing the number of men disfranchised by the Amendment against the number of women who would be enfranchised. It is right that the Committee should understand exactly what the proposal is. I repeat that it is a proposal to enfranchise 2,500,000 women and, at the same time, as a gesture of friendliness and to make the Bill easier for men, to disfranchise 2,500,000 men.
§ Sir A. SPROT indicated dissent.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I know that my hon. Friend was very careful not to advocate disfranchising men from 21 to 25 who at present would have the vote. His point was that a man who 257 is now an elector should remain an elector. But in the lifetime of a country, four years is a very short time, and we are now dealing with this matter probably for the rest of this century—if not for longer than that—and, as far as we can see, the effect of this proposal would be that men who are now entitled to have the vote at the age of 21 should no longer have it at the age of 21 but only at the age of 25. That would be going back on history. We have had a succession of speeches from some of my hon. Friends including the hon. Member for Northern Lanark (Sir A. Sprot) the hon. Member for Thanet (Mr. Harms-worth) the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) and the right hon. and Gallant Member for Antrim (Captain Craig). They were congratulated from the benches opposite on being representative of Conservatism. I look upon them as pre-historic men. I have no doubt that, if he dared to do so, my Noble Friend the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) would like to alter the whole Constitution of the country so as to make the vote generally more in accordance with the University franchise and make literary capacity the test. If my hon. Friends below the Gangway here are prehistoric men, my Noble Friend is the Piltdown skull itself! It really is asking us to go hack to a position that, democracy certainly will not permit.
§ Lord H. CECIL
The Amendment has never been the law of the land. I am in favour of the Amendment, not of going back.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I beg my Noble Friend's pardon. The law of the land to-day is that men of from 21 to 25 may vote, and you are taking away that right. You are going back certainly, by removing something which has been the right of every male voter for 500 years. You are putting the clock back merely because of this oligarchical idea that government should be by people most fitted for it. When I have considered the question whether 25 is a better age for voting than 21, that has led to an inquiry in my mind as to what is the best age, the age at which a man is most mature and best able to take his share in political life, and I have come to the conclusion that 62 is about the right age, 258 and if it were possible to have this House governed by men of 62, I think we might perhaps get on better than we do. But I realise that, in coming to that conclusion, I am also a hack number, and I will not ask the House to go as far as that.
A curious thing about this Debate is that my hon. Friends to whom I have referred are not at one. The two real diehards, the hon. Member for Northern Lanarkshire and the right, hon. Member for Antrim, will have nothing of it at all. They do not believe that women are fit to vote at 25. They really object to women—they would like to get the men out as well—but they do not think they are fit at 25, they do not believe they want it, they do not believe there is any demand for it. I wonder if either of them has ever had in his constituency a body called the Junior Imperial League, a very remarkable organisation which has sprung up in the Conservative party, of young men and women of from 16 years and upwards, full of political zeal, full of political knowledge.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
People of 16 are learning politics to-day in a manner in which my hon. Friend, if he will forgive me for saying it, did not learn polities when he was 16. Then comes my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, who made a very remarkable speech. I always look upon him as an oligarchist. He is a man who, if he had control of the destinies of the country, probably would govern it very wisely. My hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington used as an argument against the vote for young people that the London General Omnibus Company did not allow their conductors to conduct until they had reached the age of 24. I agree, and that being so, my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet could not have been an omnibus conductor though he made a very good Member of Parliament—at 21. We have had him a good many years, and we have watched his career and his growth. He made a very interesting Member of Parliament at 21, and I am not at all sure, from my point of view, that he was not better at 21 than he is now. He did not quite like this Amendment, but he is going to vote for it because he thought it would kill the Bill. He admitted—this oligarchist—that he would vote for any 259 Amendment of any kind which would injure the Bill.
That is not a, very reputable or a very good reason to put before the House of Commons, but he objected to the Amendment itself. He objected to taking votes away from young men from 21 to 25—he did not agree there with my Noble Friend opposite—but he only supported the Amendment because he wanted to kill the Bill and because he thought the House of Commons would really be better, with some trifling exceptions, if Members were not introduced until the age of 25. He thought the House of Commons would have increased individuality. Fancy 500 Members for Thanet! However should we get along with the government of the country? I admit that he is a most cheery supporter of the Government on occasions, but when he feels strongly he is one of those Members who do more to destroy the strong Government that at present exists than any other Member. However, if I may, I will leave him and come to my hon. Friend the Member for South Kensington, who was very keen to read to the House a speech which the Prime Minister made at the Albert Hall, when, I understand, my hon. Friend was present, in regard to the age of 25. The Prime Minister said:I am quite aware that there is a strong feeling, which has shown itself in many associations, that there should be the franchise for both sexes at the ago of 25.I do not deny that. It is the kind of feeling which we have seen expressed by my five hon. Friends who have spoken to-night. They are the kind of people who throughout the country are in favour of putting the clock back, but they all sit for South Kensingtons. The Prime Minister, at the Albert Hall, however, said something which was not read out by my hon. Friend. He said:I will just put this to any provincial candidate at the next election"—a provincial candidate, not a candidate for South Kensington. My hon. Friend could stand on his head and win South Kensington. [Interruption.] I am sorry; I meant to pay him a compliment. I was comparing him to Disraeli, who on a great occasion told the electors for the Wycombe Division of Bucks that he stood on his head. But suppose my hon. Friend were to leave South Kensington and go to a place in 260 Yorkshire or Lancashire, where, by the by, the great industrial community votes Conservative. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister went on to say:You would be asked, 'Are you in favour of a man having the vote at 21 or not?' He would be a bold man who would stand up and say, 'I am not.'My hon. Friend may be bold enough to go to Lancashire, to a great mass meeting in Liverpool, Manchester, Blackburn, or any one of those cities that I know so well, and say, "I am going to stand here on the policy of disfranchising the young men in the mills until they are 25," but he would certainly be a bold man, as the Prime Minister said. The Prime Minister went on to say:He would find it very difficult, in my view.That is the part of the Prime Minister's speech which my hon. Friend did not repeat, and I think he will admit that it is an important part of it. It shows that the Prime Minister has considered this matter from every aspect and from every angle. We have, of course, considered it in bringing in this Bill. We have considered the rights of the great mass of the women of the country; we have considered the views of the late Mr. Bonar Law, who never accepted as final the compromise of 1918; and we have considered it from the point of view that my Noble Friend takes, that the compromise of 1918 was right. We had to consider what we were to do, and we came to the conclusion that the only possible thing to do was that which we have done in the Bill, namely, to make the franchise the same for women as for men. But we are now asked to make it the same for men as for women, at the age of 25. We have then to ask, "Is it politically possible?" Will anybody go back and say to the toiling masses of our country, "We are going to disfranchise all these young men till the age of 25." when every civilised country in this world gives votes to men at 21? The United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and the Irish Free State—every one of them—give the franchise to men at 21, and every one of them give the franchise to women at 21. We are asked to stand aside, right in the face of the political ideas of practically the whole civilised world, because, forsooth, my Noble 261 Friend says that if we do not, we shall rear or become a race of robots in this country. I am not at all sure that he did not suggest we were robots now.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
We are partial robots. I have not seen any sign of it during the last few months in this House. I have not seen that wonderful mechanical desire to support the party at any cost which, I suppose, should be present in all real robots. My Noble Friend suggests that enfranchisement really means disfranchisement of some people. I agree. It means the disfranchisement of privileged voters, but it means the enfranchisement of humanity as a whole, and I am prepared to take my stand with the great leaders of the Conservative party in the past in favour of that policy. My Noble Friend—I confess I do not quite understand how—used the argument of the general strike as being a strike against democracy. If there was anything shown by the general strike, it was that democracy could conquer the general strike, provided democracy has free representation in the House of the people of this country. Is the Conservative party going to tie itself up with this pre-historic idea of going back to 25?
I have been asked to give a free vote, not to put the Government whips on. Those of my hon. Friends who have spoken will, I presume, be compelled by their speeches to go into the Division Lobby in support of their opinion, but I do not want to make more of them go into the lobby in support of an opinion of this kind, and I will tell those of my hon. Friends who have not spoken that I think it is the duty of the Government to say what I say now, on behalf of the Prime Minister and His Majesty's Government as a whole. I am not going to disguise the fact that there may have been in the Cabinet, as, of course, there are on all questions, in all Cabinets, diversities of opinion; you could not get any good scheme forward except by the play and clash of opinion. These discussions have, of course, taken place in the Cabinet, but the Government on a question of this kind are absolutely united. The Government are at one, and we should be lacking in our duty as those responsible for the govern- 262 ment of this country if we were to shirk our responsibility in a matter of this kind by leaving it to the House. Everybody knows that on many occasions I have, perhaps more than has any other Minister, left questions to the free decision of the House, but in a great matter of principle of this kind, I am not prepared to see the Conservative party without the courage of their opinions, and I say to my hon. Friends in the Conservative party that you cannot, and you dare not, go before the country as a party of reaction and say that, because you do not like the vote for women in this Bill, you are going to destroy the right of men up to the age of 25 to take a share in the government of the country. That being so, on behalf of His Majesty's Government I hope and trust that my hon. Friends will unite with the vast majority of the whole House, and will reject this Amendment.
Lieut. - Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL
I happen to be in the position of having voted on the Second Reading of this Bill against granting the franchise to women. In these circumstances, it might place me in a rather awkward position if I did not state why I intend to vote against the Amendment to-night. It is not because I have changed my opinion in any way. I am deadly opposed to giving the vote to women at 21. I consider that when the vote was given at 30, it was as much as any Government ought, in the circumstances, to have given, and I stated then that I was opposed to giving the vote even at the age of 30. I am not going to vote for this Amendment to-night for this reason alone: You cannot set the clock back; you cannot turn round and say in regard to the man to whom you have given the vote at 21, that in future, although he had sense enough when he was given the vote at 21, times have altered and that to-day he is not qualified to express an opinion until the age of 25. I happen to be one of those Members who could not see their way to support the Government, but as I indicated then, I am always desirous of going as far as I can to support the Government; I could not do it then, but it is because I do not agree with setting back the clock to-day that I shall not be able to vote for the Amendment.
§ Sir S. CHAPMAN
May I say, before I speak for three minutes, that I sit here as often as anyone, and I do like three or four minutes from time to time. I am never selfish in trying to monopolise the time of the House with long speeches. All I want to say is that I was prevented from speaking or voting on the Second Reading, and I wish to tell the Home Secretary that, while I was not here in body, I was here in spirit, and I am going to-night to vote for the Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill. A great deal of fuss has been made to-night by the Opposition about very little. My constituency will number about 45,000 electors, and of that number only 700 will be 21 years of age. Below 25 years of age there will be not quite 3,000. Is that going to damage the Constitution? Is that going to
§ bring about a revolution? All the speeches which have been made remind us of 1832 and 1867, and "The Conservative Surrender" and the "Quarterly Review." Who benefited more by the extension of the franchise in 1867 than the party who sit on this side of the House; and who was the greatest Prime Minister of all who benefited most by the extension? Who but he who opposed it most, the Marquess of Salisbury, who was the greatest leader and Prime Minister the Conservative party has had since then? My constituents are entirely in favour of this Bill. We have more women in South Edinburgh than in any other constituency in Scotland, and I give my whole-hearted support to the Bill.
§ Question put, "That the word 'electoral' be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 16; Noes, 359.265
|Division No. 80.]||AYES.||[6.58 p.m.|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Holt, Capt. H. P.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert|
|Craig, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. C. (Antrim)||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Sir Alexander Sprot and Sir William Bull.|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Reid, D. D. (County Down)|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Bromley, J.||Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Cunliffe, Sir Herbert|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd, Hexham)||Curzon, Captain Viscount|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Dalkeith, Earl of|
|Albery, Irving James||Buchanan, G.||Dalton, Hugh|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Buckingham, Sir H.||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)|
|Ammon, Charles George||Burman, J. B.||Davies, Dr. Vernon|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.||Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Day, Harry|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Dennison, R.|
|Astor, Viscountess||Campbell, E. T.||Drewe, C.|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Cape, Thomas||Dunnico, H.|
|Baker, Walter||Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Eden, Captain Anthony|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Edmondson, Major A. J.|
|Balniel, Lord||Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Chapman, Sir S.||Elliot, Major Walter E.|
|Barnes, A.||Charleton, H. C.||England, Colonel A.|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Christie, J. A.||Erskine, Lord (Somerset,Weston-s.-M.)|
|Barr, J.||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Clarry, Reginald George||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Weish Univer.)|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Clayton, G. C.||Everard, W. Lindsay|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Cluse, W. S.||Fairfax, Captain J. G.|
|Bennett, A. J.||Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Fanshawe, Captain G. D.|
|Bethel, A.||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Fenby, T. D.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Cochrane. Commander Hon. A. D.||Fielden, E. B.|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Cohen, Major J. Brunei||Ford, Sir P. J.|
|Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton)||Compton, Joseph||Forrest, W.|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Connolly, M.||Foster, Sir Harry S.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Cooper, A. Dull||Fraser, Captain Ian|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Cope, Major William||Frece, Sir Walter de|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Couper, J. B.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.|
|Briant, Frank||Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Cove, W. G.||Galbraith. J. F. W.|
|Briggs, J. Harold||Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islingtn., N.)||Gardner, J. P.|
|Broad, F. A.||Crawfurd, H. E.||Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Gates, Percy|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Long, Major Eric||Sandon, Lord|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Lougher, Lewis||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Gillett, George M.||Lowth, T.||Savery, S. S.|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Goff, Sir Park||Luce, Maj.-Gen. sir Richard Harman||Scurr, John|
|Gosling, Harry||Lumley, L. R.||Sexton, James|
|Gower, sir Robert||Lunn, William||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A.D. Mcl.(Renfrew, W.)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||MacAndrew Major Charles Glen||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Shinwell, E|
|Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Greenall, T.||Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)|
|Greene, W. P. Crawford||Macintyre, Ian||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||McLean, Major A.||Skelton, A. N.|
|Granted, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Smille, Robert|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley||Macmillan, Captain H,||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Groves, T.||Macquisten, F. A.||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)|
|Grundy, T. w.||MacRobert, Alexander M.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Hacking, Douglas H.||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Smithers, Waldron|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Malone, Major P. B.||Snell, Harry|
|Hall, F. (York, w. R., Normanton)||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||March, S.||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Hall, Admiral Sir R. (Eastbourne)||Margesson, Captain D,||Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.|
|Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)||Mason, Colonel Glyn K.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Hamilton, Sir George||Maxton, James||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Hardie, George D.||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Harney, E. A.||Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)||Stephen, Campbell|
|Harris, Percy A.||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Harrison, G. J. C.||Montague, Frederick||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R. (Ayr)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid|
|Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Moore, Sir Newton J.||Sullivan, J.|
|Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Morris, R. H.||Sutton, J. E.|
|Hayday, Arthur||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)||Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)|
|Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Murchison, Sir Kenneth||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian||Murnin, H.||Thorne, W. (West Ham. Plaistow)|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Naylor, T. E.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Nelson, Sir Frank||Tinne, J. A.|
|Hills, Major John Waller||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exater)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Hilton, Cecil||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.)||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Hirst, G. H.||Nuttall, Ellis||Tomlinson, R. P.|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Oakley, T.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Owen, Major G.||Viant, S. P.|
|Hopkins, J. W. W.||Palin, John Henry||Waddington, R.|
|Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Paling, W.||Wallace, Captain O. E.|
|Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Perring, sir William George||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Hudson, R. S. (Cumberland, Whiteh'n)||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Pilcher, G.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Hurst, Gerald B.||Pilditch, Sir Philip||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Ponsonby, Arthur||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Potts, John S.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Preston, William||Wells, S. R.|
|Jephcott, A. R.||Price, Major C. W. M.||Welsh. J. C.|
|John, William (Rhondda, West)||Pureed, A. A.||Westwood, J.|
|Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Radford, E. A.||White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dairymple|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Raine, Sir Walter||Whiteley, W.|
|Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Ramsden, E.||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Reid, Capt. Cunningham (Warrington)||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Rentoul, G. S.||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)|
|Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.||Williams, David (Swansea, E.)|
|Kelly, W. T.||Rice, Sir Frederick||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Richarason, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Kennedy, T.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Riley, Ben||Wilson. R. J. (Jarrow)|
|King, Commodore Henry Douglas||Ritson, J.||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Litchfield)|
|Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)||Winby, Colonel L. P.|
|Kirkwood, D||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Lamb, J. Q.||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford)||Withers, John James|
|Lansbury, George||Ropner, Major L.||Womersley, W. J.|
|Lawrence, Susan||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)|
|Lawson, John James||Runciman, Hilda (Cornwall, St. Ives)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Lee, F.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Lindley, F. W.||Rye. F. G.||Wright, W.|
|Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. sir Philip||Sakiatvala, Shapurji||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Little, Dr. E. Graham||Salmon, Major I.||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Livingstone, A. M.||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Sandeman, N. Stewart||Major Sir George Hennessy and Mr.|
|Loder, I. de V.||Sanders, Sir Robert A.||Penny.|
§ Miss BONDFIELD
I beg to move, in page 2, line 1, to leave out paragraph (c).
If I could do exactly what I would like with this Bill, I would take out paragraph (b) as well, but I realise that it does raise a very important point, and would probably create such a division in the House as would hinder the passage of the Bill. My hon. Friends and I, therefore, have contented ourselves with putting down an Amendment for the deletion of paragraph (c) because that paragraph appears to be so utterly unnecessary and illogical. The main principle of this Bill is to equalise the existing franchise, yet by this Clause it also duplicates existing injustices and privileges. It is perfectly clear that the great principle in this Bill is the principle of adult suffrage, that is to say, putting personality above property in our Constitution. Yet this Bill still retains and perpetuates that secondary qualification for a very small number of voters, thus making the Bill illogical. This provision really amounts to a blot upon what would otherwise be a very satisfactory Bill. The Home Secretary told us in his speech on the Second Reading that this second qualification refers to, roughly, 420,000 voters, but I understood him to say that paragraph (c) taken by itself would enfranchise, roughly, about 16,000 men and about 30,000 women, so that the actual numbers involved are very small indeed compared with the total electorate of the country.
The principle involved in this Amendment is one which ought to have the sympathetic support of the Home Secretary. What exactly does this paragraph do? In effect it means that in those cases—not very many, it is true—there is an increase in some cases of four additional votes to a household. The husband may vote for his own business premises, for his own residential qualification, and in respect of his wife's business, while, on the other hand, the wife votes in respect of her residential qualification, her husband's business, and her own business. That would mean six votes between the two of them in such a case. Consider the inequality of it. It is not a vote conferred upon the business man as such, because he cannot. 268 exercise the six votes. In the case of the man, he has to choose which of the three votes he will exercise, unless those are in different constituencies. If his business is in the same constituency as his residence, he can choose whether he will exercise the business franchise or the residential franchise. The same thing applies to the woman. It is a duplication of a fancy franchise which carries no dignity with it, and serves very little purpose except to perpetuate existing anomalies and privileges for a very small section of voters.
The Bill would be vastly improved from many points of view, and far more capable of being defended in every particular, if this paragraph were deleted altogether. It creates an inequality between man and man and between woman and woman by giving this additional voting power to this small section. I cannot see that its deletion would mean the slightest infringement on the pledge, which the Government have repeated in this House, to give absolute equality under the existing franchise to men and women. This is something in addition to the ordinary business qualification which exists under paragraph (b). It does definitely duplicate the property qualification in respect of this small number of, roughly speaking, 50,000 persons. Why should these 50,000 persons have this duplication forced upon them? I cannot imagine it is in consequence of any demand that has been made. We are moving all the time in the direction of a simplification of the franchise. We hoped very much that it would have been possible, even in this House of Commons, to have got rid of plural voting altogether. I am not making that demand, but I am only asking that this additional absurdity—because it is an absurdity—shall be wiped out of the Bill.
§ Mr. PETHICK-LAWRENCE
I desire to support the Amendment. It is important that the House should appreciate exactly its nature. Under the present law, a man has a vote for his residential qualification, and for any business qualification which he may possess, and he can be registered in any number of constituencies for those different qualifications. When it comes to a general election, he can only exercise two, at the outside, of those votes. At the present time a woman can only be registered on behalf 269 of her own business qualification, and for other qualifications which she or her husband may possess, but when it conies to a general election, even though she be registered for more than one constituency, she is only allowed to exercise one vote. What this paragraph does in the first place, to give the woman between 21 and 30 an additional qualification of being registered as the wife of her husband who has business premises. In addition to that, it enables the woman over 30 to vote at a general election on behalf of this additional qualification. The number of women who are thus additionally enfranchised between 21 and 30 is 31,000, according to the Home Secretary in his speech, but the number of women who will become plural voters by virtue of this paragraph is very much larger than that because, in consequence of the existence of this paragraph, many women over 30 will have plural votes at the election who do not possess them at the present time.
As far as I am concerned, any provision which the Government put into this Bill in order to make the position of women actually identical with that of men will have my support, because I feel very keenly that the position of the two sexes should be made quite equal. But the Government could have made it quite equal, and retained the measure of plural voting existing at the present time, without this paragraph (c) at all. It is wholly unnecessary. It would have been possible for the Government to have retained the residence qualification for women and for men, and in addition the business qualification for women and added thereto the business qualification for women from 21 to 30, and have stopped there. That would have been a position when men had precisely the rights they have at the present time and women had conferred upon them the precise rights that men have to-day. But the Government, through this paragraph, have attempted to go further than that; they have said that because women have a fancy franchise—that is, the franchise which they get through their husband's business qualification if they are over 30—therefore we are to confer that fancy franchise also upon men.
It seems to me that is a step which is wholly unnecessary in order to achieve the general purposes of this Bill, and one which is de- 270 signed solely with the object of creating a very large number of additional, not plural voters merely, but of fancy franchises for men and women. The additional vote which a great many women will receive under this proposal is not asked for by the women who have been fighting for women's suffrage all these years. What they have asked from the beginning was that a woman should stand on her own feet and on her own basis for the purpose of obtaining the franchise. The fancy proposal put into the 1918 Act was that a woman should get a vote not merely on account of her self, but on account of being the wife of her husband; but the women who stand for equality are not in favour of that proposal. Women do not want to get votes because they are the wives of their husbands, but because they are human beings, and there is no reason why paragraph (c) should be included in the Bill, because women would stand in the right position as regards the vote if it were omitted.
It may be argued by the Government that this paragraph is necessary in order that they may not take away what come women already possess. There is a very small amount of truth in that argument. It is quite true that a small number of women do have a double registration in consequence of being registered on account of their husbands' business qualification, but this additional right is of very little use to them, because it is only at by-elections that they can take advantage of it. At General Elections a woman who has the vote owing to her husband's residential qualification and owing to her husband's business premises can exercise only one vote; therefore, practically speaking, no woman had any great advantage conferred on her at a General Election; but the moment you sweep away the disqualification which distinguishes men from women, and allow women to have two votes at a General Election the same as men have, you raise this point into one of very great importance. The only right we shall be taking away from women in omitting paragraph (c) is the very thin right of having two votes or more in by-elections. It may be said that we cannot afford to take away any existing right, but when we are conferring a very much better franchise there is no reason why we should not take away certain elements of the old franchise, 271 even though in some isolated cases we are curtailing rights in this way.
Even the present Bill takes away the franchise from a certain number of women. At the present time a newly-married woman who has married in the middle of a qualifying period and goes to reside in a new constituency enjoys the vote in respect of her husband's qualification. Under the new Bill, owing to the fact that she has changed her constituency in the middle of the qualifying period, she will not get the vote. There is nothing to complain of in that. It is the natural consequence of giving a woman the right to vote on her own standing and not merely on her husband's, and that is a perfectly sound thing, and precisely on the same lines as if you took away the right of a woman to vote on her husband's business qualification and allowed her to vote on her own business qualification, which would be true equity under the law.
Finally, I wish to remind the Committee that the Home Secretary, in a speech to which I am sure all sections of the House listened not only with interest but with pleasure and appreciation, used these words:This Bill means the disfranchisement of privilege.I put it to the Minister who is going to reply that if the Government retain this paragraph in the Bill they greatly increase plural voting. I think it has been estimated that the effect of this Bill will be nearly to double the number of plural voters, and that is due in great part to the existence of this paragraph. Can the Minister really say that the words of the Home Secretary:This Bill means the disfranchisement of privilegeare being carried out if one of the effects of the Bill is to create a further 200,000 plural voters? I ask the Government to reconsider this question, and I ask the Members of the Committee to vote against this particular paragraph. It is not necessary in order to give equality; it is not asked for by the women, who want to stand on their own feet and not to get votes simply as the wives of their husbands; and it is not in accordance with the expressed desire of the Home Secretary that this Bill should mean the disfranchisement of privilege.
§ Sir J. SIMON
To anybody who has given consideration to the making of a complete franchise scheme this particular paragraph which it is proposed to omit is little short of an absurdity. It cannot be disputed that the only ground for retaining it is to increase the number of plural voters. There is no other logical ground on which anybody could justify the inclusion, in a thoroughly democratic franchise law, of a provision that an individual should have a vote not on that individual's own qualifications, but because that individual is the husband or the wife of a person registered in respect of business premises. I am quite unable to understand how there can be any justification for such a provision in a Bill such as this professes to be, unless it be inserted for the deliberate purpose of adding a certain number, though not a very large number, to the plural voters already in, the country. At the beginning of our proceedings the Chairman, Mr. Hope, pointed out that inasmuch as this Bill was one to assimilate the franchise for men and women that might be done by altering the word "man" into the word "woman" wherever it occurred in the Act of 1918, or it might be done by any other method which brought the two kinds of voters, men and women, to a precise level, but I can see no ground at all in principle for increasing the number of plural voters because in the Statute of 1918 women were in certain cases given a voting right because their husbands happen to have a business qualification. What was the historic reason why that was done? I served on Mr. Speaker Lowther's Committee, and followed very closely the controversies of that time, and the only reason why that qualification, which in itself is quite absurd, was propounded for women was because at the time it was desired not to give the vote to too many women. It was felt that you could give the vote to a woman whose husband had got a business qualification and still be sure that the number of women voters on the register would, in total, not be more than the number of men.
I never sympathised very much with that reasoning, which appears to proceed from a view of human nature which is manifestly untrue in two respects. It proceeds from the view, first of all, that no woman will ever agree with a man, 273 which, fortunately for some of us, is not the case; and, in the second place, it proceeds from the view that all women will agree with one another, which they never have done and never will do to the end of the world. Therefore, I never can appreciate why people should have been so timid; but that is the historic reason why it happened; and as far as I can recall the history of the franchise in this country, right from the beginning till now there has never been a case in which we have tried to make a qualification for a vote the fact that a voter's spouse had a particular right to vote—except in the particular case of the Act of 1918.
The thing is an absurdity. Let us take two illustrations in order to see how ridiculous it is. I will take one instance of a man and another instance off a woman. Take the great profession to which I used to belong. If you go to the Temple, and look at the names at the bottom of one of the staircases in Middle Temple Lane, you will find there a series of chambers occupied by a series of men who are engaged in a business occupation. In the ordinary way each of those men will have a vote in the City of London in respect of those business premises. One of them, living in Kensington, happens to have a wife. Because he has got a wife we are to be told that his wife ought also to have a vote in the City of London—because her husband has got business premises there. Next door, carrying on exactly the same profession, paying exactly the same rent and rates, and having the same business interest in the Temple, is a man who is only to have one vote in the City of London, because he happens to be a bachelor.
Could there be anything more absurd than to say that a vote which is to be earned by the occupation of business premises is to be doubled and to be used by two people because a business man happens to be married. No doubt ladies are in many cases of the greatest assistance to their husbands, by encouraging them in their hours of business, but when you are laying down the principles of a democratic franchise law it is an astonishing proposition to say that whenever a man who is practising a profession or a business happens to marry a young woman at the age of 21, and to live in 274 some perfectly different part of the country, that this is automatically to result in that young lady having a vote in the City of London.
Take the reverse case. Take the case where the business premises belong to the wife. You may have a gentleman of leisure, married to a lady living in some part of London who carries on a bonnet shop in Mayfair. It may he argued that she should be allowed to vote in Mayfair, but on what conceivable principle of commonsense can you say that because this lady is a married lady, her husband, who may be entirely idle and live somewhere else should have a vote in Mayfair as well. Anyone who sets out to construct a just franchise law would never think of doing anything of that kind. The only possible reason for saying that one person should have a vote because that person's spouse is carrying on a business is that in 1918 Parliament did not want too many women to have votes. The other possible explanation is that there are some people who would like to secure that a few more people should have plural votes. I await with interest the explanation of this point which will be given from the Treasury Bench.
The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Lieut.-Colonel Sir Vivian Henderson)
The hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) reminded hon. Members that it would probably be argued on behalf of the Government that, if we accepted this Amendment, it would result in the disfranchisement of a certain number of women electors. That is precisely one of the arguments which I propose to use. At the beginning of his speech, the hon. Member said that, although the actual additional number of plural voters which would be placed upon the register by paragraph (c) was only about 30,000 or 40,000, there were a large number of other women who already possessed the right to be on the register. Later on in his speech the hon. Member again referred to those same women as quite a small number, so small that he thought it was not worth while bothering about them. The hon. Member cannot have it both ways.
§ Mr. PETHICK - LAWRENCE
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is misrepresenting what I said. I said that at the 275 present time there is a large number of women who have a double registration, but when it comes to a general election they are not able to use both their qualifications, and, therefore, the number who can actually vote at a general election is very small. Therefore, the plural vote is of very little use to any of them. When we come to this Bill, and when we are dealing with the women who will have two votes at a general election, you will first of all enfranchise 30,000 new women who at the present time have not a vote at all, and in addition you will be giving a second vote, by this paragraph, at the general election to a considerable number amounting to about 100,000.
§ Sir V. HENDERSON
I am glad to have that explanation from the hon. Member. At the same time, it does not affect my argument that if we accept this Amendment we disfranchise a large number of women voters amounting to about 130,000.
§ Sir V. HENDERSON
We deprive them of the choice of election which they now have and that, in a sense, is certainly a disfranchisement. The hon. Member for West Leicester went on to say that the business premises qualification was a privilege, and he referred to a statement made by the Home Secretary the other day. If we insist upon the retention of this paragraph I do not think that we shall be doing anything inconsistent with the statements which have been made on this point on behalf of the Government. I consider that the right provided for in paragraph (c) is just as much a right as the residential qualification. This right to be registered in respect of business premises has existed for a number of years, and there are many good grounds for retaining it.
§ Miss BONDFIELD
That is provided for in paragraph (b). We are now dealing with paragraph (c) which refers to the husband or the wife of a person entitled to be registered in respect of business premises.
§ Sir V. HENDERSON
I do not accept the suggestion that this is a privilege, 276 and I do not agree that in retaining this paragraph my right hon. Friend is going back upon what he has already said. The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) said that the only possible reason why we are inserting this paragraph is to increase the number of plural voters on the register. That may be the result, but that is not the reason why this provision is made. The reason for it is that we desire in this Bill to assimilate the existing electoral rights as between men and women, although, as a consequence, it may result in increasing the number of plural voters.
§ Sir V. HENDERSON
By omitting paragraph (c) we should be taking the vote from 120,000 or 130,000 women who have the right to vote at the present time. The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley referred to the profession of which he is an adornment, and he gave an illustration relating to chambers in the City of London. I think it is always a mistake to take a particular profession and then lay down a general rule from something which applies to that profession. I would like to point out that the legal profession, of all professions, is about the last example we should take. To say that because one person is married and another is not, that the wife of the man who is married has no right to have a vote for the business carried on in her husband's chambers is not a very fair argument to use, because the man who is married has to maintain twice as much as the man who is not married: and therefore the lady who is responsible for the expenditure has some right to have a voice in the taxation of the country.
§ Sir V. HENDERSON
May I point out the somewhat illogical attitude which some hon. Members opposite have taken on this question. When the Bill promoted by the Labour party dealing with this subject was going through the House in 1924, I find that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson) in Committee un- 277 stairs brought forward an Amendment giving to the wives of occupiers of business premises the right to be registered at 21 for business premises, and subsequently the Labour party accepted an Amendment extending the same right to the women occupiers of business premises. Under these circumstances, I think it is somewhat late in the day for hon. Members opposite to argue against this particular paragraph, and they should recollect that when the Labour Government was in office and had an opportunity of dealing with this point they took no steps to deal with it in the Bill.
Mr. W. M. ADAMSON
Is the hon. and gallant Member correct in saying that a Government Measure was introduced in 1924?
§ Sir V. HENDERSON
I am pointing out that the Amendment I referred to was moved by a member of the Labour party who was a Member of the Government.
§ Sir V. HENDERSON
That does not alter the fact that the Labour Government was then in power, and that they could have dealt with this matter.
The Bill referred to was definitely introduced as a private Member's Bill. In Committee upstairs the Government was represented by a single representative, and they had no power to pass the Bill which did not come to the Report stage.
§ Sir V. HENDERSON
That does not alter my argument that an Amendment which was accepted by a Labour Government in Committee upstairs was exactly on all fours with the proposals which the Labour party are opposing to-day.
§ Sir V. HENDERSON
I am sorry if I have confused the names. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield) said it would be possible for a person to have six votes, but he or she would not be able to exercise them all. I see no reason why they should not have six 278 votes, and they should be allowed to choose which of those votes they will exercise. It is quite true that this principle was originally introduced in the Bill of 1918 and it forms part of the principle of plural voting. I think it would be out of order at the present moment to discuss that question generally, but I can assure hon. Members opposite that the Government cannot agree to the deletion of this particular paragraph, because it would have the effect of disfranchising between 120,000 and 130,000 women voters who already possess the double qualification. To omit paragraph (c) would be interfering with the rights of those women, and it would be going beyond the terms of the Bill itself in so far as assimilation is concerned. It would also be making a definite breach in the existing law with regard to plural voting, and for those, reasons the Government cannot accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. J. HUDSON
I do not think we ought to be satisfied with the explanation which has been given by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. The hon. and gallant Member dwelt upon the justice of allowing certain types of voters to vote in certain constituencies according to the different interests represented by them. If there is to be any logic in that position, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman has based his case upon logic, I suggest that it would have to be carried very much further than the Government have done in this paragraph. Let me take the case of my own constituency and the neighbouring constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden). There are working in my constituency large numbers of textile workers who reside in the constituency of my right hon. Friend, and, if it be claimed that people should have a vote in a constituency according to their interests, that claim should apply, not only to property-owners, but also to workers, and, if the interest of the worker in a woollen textile mill requires a vote in a certain direction, he has just as much right to be able to shift his vote, say, from the Colne Valley Division into the Huddersfield Division which I now represent. The position of my right hon. Friend, if I may say so in his absence, is a very secure one, and it might very well be that some of the votes which 279 made up his large majority might be transferred with advantage to me in any difficult election that might arise.
That is exactly the position—I hope I am not putting the case unfairly—that the Government has had in mind in introducing this paragraph. In a number of industrial constituencies their position at the next Election will be an extremely difficult one, and, if it is possible to transfer from dormitory constituencies, from Suburbia, the sort of votes provided for in this paragraph, those votes, even though they may be nothing like so numerous as the 5,000,000 women provided for in the Bill generally, will be so important from the point of view of the Government that I rather fancy that their minds are fixed a good deal more on this issue than on the general question of doing justice to the women of the country as a whole. I suggest to the Government that, if they really want to justify the claim that the Home Secretary has made, that they simply desire in this Measure to act justly by the women of the country, they ought to sink their particular desire to secure an electoral gain for themselves in the way that they have provided for in paragraph (c), and I hope that they will reconsider the position and will find it possible to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. MORRIS
I waited with some interest to hear whether an effective answer would be given by the Under-Secretary to the arguments put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) and others. It has been made perfectly clear that there can now be no reason whatever for continuing the system of plural voting. From the time when this Bill was introduced, and, indeed, in the course of the Debate to-day, the Home Secretary has been defending this Measure purely on a democratic basis. He has said more than once during the Debate that you cannot put the clock back, and yet this paragraph merely attempts to give one party an undue advantage in an Election. What can be the object of giving to a husband and wife, not six possible votes, but eight possible votes, which can be exercised in those constituencies where they are most effective? A husband and wife might have each a vote in respect of 280 residence, they might each have a vote in respect of the husband's business premises, they might each have a vote in respect of the wife's business premises, they might each have a University qualification; that is to say, there are eight possible qualifications which they might have.
The City of London will be teeming with plural votes. It is true that they will not be necessary there, but in many Divisions the point made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. J. Hudson) will arise. If you are going to give this vote to a man in respect of his wife's business premises, or to a wife in respect of her husband's business premises, it is a logical conclusion that there should also be given to workmen working in one particular spot a vote in respect of the premises where they earn their living as well as in respect of their residence. There can be no answer to that, and there can be no justification for perpetuating now a system of plural voting which certainly must be condemned on the basis on which the right hon. Gentleman seeks to defend this scheme, namely, a democratic basis.
§ Mr. GILLETT
There cannot possibly be any ground on which the defence of this system as democratic could be justified, but there is another point to which reference has not, I think, hitherto been made in this Debate, and that is as to the effect that this system will have in different constituencies in different parts of the country. In a large constituency where the population is thinly scattered, this paragraph will have very little effect. Virtually, its effects will be seen only in great industrial centres, particularly in London, and it is in London that the party on the Opposition Benches will suffer most from it. A man living in a small town forming the centre, perhaps, of a large Parliamentary Division, may have a place of business in that town and may, possibly, live two or three miles away in a country house. The accident that his business premises and his place of residence happen to be in the same constituency means that he can only vote once in respect of both, although the two are quite as distinct as, and may be further apart than, is the case in many parts of London.
281 In London a man could have his business premises in the constituency which I represent, and which is close to the City, and might have his house in Islington, which would be only a mile or two away, and yet in those circumstances, according to this proposal, he and his wife would be entitled to vote both in the Borough of Finsbury and in the Borough of Islington. Although his business premises and his house might even be separated by only a few hundred yards, he and his wife would be entitled to record four votes at the election, while a man and his wife living miles away from their business in another part of the country would not be allowed to vote more than once each. If the question is considered in this light, the absurdity of the scheme becomes plain, and no one can defend it on the ground of democracy. When once you pass away from the principle of a vote for every man and woman to a property vote, you can argue in favour of limited companies having votes, and endless other things. There might be something to be said for this system if it were a question of the municipal vote, where divisions may be quite different and where a man and his wife might have to pay rates in different districts, but in this case it simply means a vote given to a certain kind of workman. I say "a certain kind of workman" because, if a man happens to be a paid working man with all his money invested in stocks and with only his one house, he has only one vote, while, on the other hand, he might be a man in quite a small way of business who happened to have two or three businesses. In the old days of private banking, it was quite common for a partner in a number of private banks to have a number of votes in different parts of the country. I agree that in this Bill the number of such votes is limited to two, but, as a London Member, I protest against the whole system, and especially against this paragraph, which makes what was bad worse.
In my own case, at the last election, the Tory party in Finsbury wrote round to the Tory voters whose wives had votes in places like Hampstead and so on, where the seats were safe, and told them not to waste their votes in places where the seat was safe, but to record them in Finsbury where there was a chance of winning a seat. On that 282 occasion, fortunately, they were disappointed. I am not very much concerned about this Measure in that regard, because I think they did their worst at the last election. Possibly only a limited number of ladies will be brought into Finsbury under this paragraph, and it may be that, as the working girls will have their vote, I shall be able to square my account with the Home Secretary as far as that is concerned. I think, however, that it is wholly inequitable that, simply because these ladies' husbands have small business places in Finsbury, they should be entitled to come down there and upset the balance of opinion of people actually living in the district, by giving votes which can in no way be defended from the point of view of democracy. So far from being democratic, this is purely reactionary and is more worthy of what is usually associated with the right hon. Gentleman than of the democratic principles of which he has spoken this afternoon, and which I wish he would carry out in actual practice by accepting the Amendment. If he would do that, I should really believe that he is becoming a democrat in fact as well as in theory.
I think it right that someone on this side other than a Member of the Government should say a word or two on this paragraph. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) resorted, if I may say so, to the very old form of mistaken argument based upon a bad case. Hard cases make bad law, and, when my right hon. and learned Friend selected the case of the barrister in the Temple whose wife could come down to vote in the City of London, he selected the worst case that could be selected. Apart from barristers, men who carry on business are very often assisted by their wives in carrying on their business, and women who carry on businesses are sometimes assisted by their husbands in carrying on those businesses. Is it right that a man should have a, vote for his place of business in addition to his place of residence? I say most emphatically that it is.
Let us take, instead of Huddersfield, a far more interesting town—Sheffield. A cutler of Sheffield, not necessarily a rich man at all, but a working cutler, has a place of business. His wife is as much in- 283 terested in the business as he is himself. If it is right that he should have a vote in the business part of the City, he has an equal right to a vote in the place where he lives. Why should he not have a vote for the place where he and his wife live? That is conceded. It is greatly to the public advantage that he should also have a right of voting for the person who is to represent the place where he carries on his business. I should not in the least mind the principle being extended to the working class voter if you could do it, but of course you cannot. That is his misfortune. The
§ idea that any system of franchise we have ever had has been logical, or that it would be any the better if it had been, is one of the most unreasonable things I have ever heard. Fortunately, public affairs are not governed by logic. They never have been, and I hope to Heaven they never will be. I am supporting the paragraph on practical grounds, and I hope the Government will stand firm and will keep it in its place.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 208; Noes, 138.285
|Division No. 81.]||AYES.||[8.4 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Edmonson, Major A. J.||Long, Major Eric|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Elliot, Major Walter E.||Lougher, Lewis|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Col. Charles||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere|
|Albery, Irving James||Everard, w. Lindsay||Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Lumley, L. R.|
|Alexander, Sir Wm. (Glasgow, Cent'l)||Fanshawe, Captain G. D.||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Ford, Sir P. J.||Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)|
|Balniel, Lord||Foster, Sir Harry S.||Macintyre, Ian|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Fraser, Captain Ian||McLean, Major A.|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Frece, Sir Walter de||Macmillan, Captain H.|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Bethel, A.||Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony||MacRobert, Alexander M.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Gates, Percy||Malone, Major P. B.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Gauit, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Mason, Colonel Glyn K.|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Goff, Sir Park||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)|
|Briggs, J. Harold||Gower, sir Robert||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Murchison, Sir Kenneth|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Neville, Sir Reginald J.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks. Newb'y)||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Hacking, Douglas H.||Nuttall, Ellis|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Oakley, T.|
|Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan||Hamilton, Sir George||O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)|
|Burman, J. B.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Harrison, G. J. C.||Perring, Sir William George|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Hartington, Marquess of||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)|
|Campbell, E. T.||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Phillpson, Mabel|
|Cassels, J. D.||Harvey, Majors. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Pilcher, G.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Henderson, Cant. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Pilditch, Sir Philip|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian||Preston, William|
|Chapman, Sir S.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Radford, E. A.|
|Christie, J. A.||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Raine, Sir Walter|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Hills, Major John Waller||Ramsden, E.|
|Clayton, G. C.||Hilton, Cecil||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Reid, D. D. (County Down)|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Remnant, Sir James|
|Cohen, Major J. Brunei||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Rentoul, G. S.|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Rice, Sir Frederick|
|Cope, Major William||Hudson, R. S. (Cumb'l'nd. Whiteh'n)||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Couper, J. B.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)|
|Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islingtn., N.)||Huntingfield, Lord||Ropner, Major L.|
|Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Hurst, Gerald B.||Ruggies-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Iliffe, Sir Edward M.||Salmon, Major I.|
|Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Samuel. Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Jephcott, A. R.||Sandeman, N. Stewart|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Joynson-Hicks. Rt. Hon. Sir William||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Savery, S. S.|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Lamb, J. O.||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew, W.)|
|Dixey, A. C.||Lister. Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Drewe, C.||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Loder, J. de V.||Skelton, A. N.|
|Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Tinne, J. A.||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Smithers, Waldron||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Spender-Clay, Colonel H.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Stanley, Lieut.-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F.||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.||Winby, Colonel L. P.|
|Stanley, Lord (Fylde)||Waddington, R.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)||Wallace, Captain D. E.||Withers, John James|
|Steel, Major Samuel String||Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)||Womersley, W. J.|
|Storry-Deans, H.||Warner, Brigadier-General W W.||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)|
|Sugden, Sir Wilfrid||Warrender, Sir Victor||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Thorn, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)||Wells, S. R.|
|Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)||White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dairymple-||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Captain Margesson and Mr. Penny.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. w. (File, West)||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Riley, Ben|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Hardie, George D.||Ritson, J.|
|Amman, Charles George||Harris, Percy A.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Robinson, Sir T. (Lane, Stretford)|
|Baker, Walter||Mayday, Arthur||Runciman, Hilda (Cornwall, St. Ives)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)||Sakiatvala, shapurji|
|Barr, J.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Batey, Joseph||Hirst, G. H.||Scurr, John|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Sexton, James|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Briant, Frank||Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Broad, F. A.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Bromley, J.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Smillie, Robert|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Buchanan, G.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)|
|Cape, Thomas||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Smith, Rennie (Penistons)|
|Charleton, H. C,||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Snell, Harry|
|Cluse, W S.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Kelly, W. T.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Compton, Joseph||Kennedy, T.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Connolly, M.||Kirkwood, D.||Sullivan, J.|
|Cove, W. G||Lansbury, George||Sutton, J. E.|
|Crawfurd, H. E.||Lawson, John James||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lee, F.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lindley, F. W.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Day, Harry||Livingstone, A. M.||Tomlinson, R. P.|
|Dennison, R.||Lowth, T.||Varley, Frank B.|
|Dunnico, H.||Lunn, William||Viant, S. P.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|England, Colonel A.||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||March. S.||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Fenby, T. D.||Maxton, James||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Forrest, W.||Montague, Frederick||Welsh, J. C.|
|Gardner, J. P.||Morris, R. H.||Westwood, J.|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Whiteley, W.|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Murnin, H.||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Gillett, George M.||Naylor, T. E.||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Gosling, Harry||Owen, Major G.||Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Palin, John Henry||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Paling, W.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Greenall, T.||Pethick-Lawrence, F, W.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Ponsonby, Arthur||Wright, W.|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley||Potts, John S.||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Groves, T.||Purcell. A. A.|
|Grundy, T. W.||Rees, Sir Beddoe||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. A. Barnes.|
Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain FitzRoy)
The next Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Waddington)—in page 2, to leave out from the word "constituency" in line 16 to the end of the paragraph—is out of order. It is in no sense within the Title of the Bill. That refers equally to the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells (Sir "R. Sanders)—in page 2, line IT, to leave out the words "borough or Parliamentary." 286 That would be an amendment of the existing law, and not an assimilation as between the two sexes. The next two Amendments are consequential on something already dealt with.