§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ VISCOUNT ASTOR
My Lords, I rise to invite your Lordships' support for the Bill which stands in my name. The issue is very clear and I do not propose to take up your time at any length this afternoon. At the outset I want to say that this is not a Bill to enable Lady Rhondda, or any other individual, to sit in this House. It is a Bill to do justice to certain ladies whom we believe to be entitled to sit here, or ought to sit here, a Bill to do justice to the other sex, and a Bill to do justice to this House. It may be said that a Bill of this importance, affecting the constitution and composition of your Lordships' House, should be brought in not by a private member but by the Government of the day. I am inclined to agree, but if the Government does not do the right thing then it seems to me that a private member should step in and remedy that omission.
It is quite a short Bill. Under the first clause a Peeress in her own right would be entitled to receive a Writ of Summons to Parliament and vote as is she were a man. Under the second clause a Peeress in her own right, holding a Peerage in Scotland or Ireland, would be entitled to vote at the Election of Representative Peers of Scotland and Ireland and be elected as a representative of either of those two countries in your Lordships' House. Under Clause 3 Peeresses in their own right would be on the same footing as Peers and would no longer be allowed to vote at election time.
I do not propose to argue in the abstract the rights of women. To my mind that issue has been settled once and for all. I will not go back and quote Joan of Arc, Queen Elizabeth and 429 Florence Nightingale. In 1918 your Lordships, in connection with the other House, decided to enfranchise women in recognition of the patriotism, the sense of responsibility and the ability of women. In 1919 this House, with the other House, passed an Act removing the disqualification of sex. It was laid down that a person should not ha disqualified by sex from the exercise of any public function. This Bill would merely bring us into line with practically every big nation in Europe. All the big nations, except the Latin nations, have admitted women into the Upper House. The Acts of 1918 and 1919 are in themselves a recognition of the value and influence of women, and every day I claim that we have additional evidence of the great ability and the sense of responsibility of women as a whole. To-day, we find women are able to sit on juries and in the House of Commons. They are being given positions of responsibility in business. They can act as barristers, as Judges, and be Queens. Practically the only place from which they are excluded is this House. Under the last Government a woman was given office and she sat on the Front Bench of the House of Commons. The present Government has followed that example. A Conservative woman sits as a. Conservative Minister on the Front Bench in another place. It seems to me ridiculous that if a woman is able, qualified and competent to sit on the Front Bench in another place, we should lay down the proposition that no woman is entitled to sit on the back Bench in this House.
Nor am I going to argue whether or not there is any distinct woman's point of view. There is. On certain great questions, particularly moral questions, women have a point of view which is frequently different from that of men, and in my own opinion their point of view, their sense of right and wrong, is higher than our own. But whether you agree or disagree with a woman's point of view I think, in justice to ourselves and the other sex, that that point of view ought to be stated here in our deliberations. My only duty, or at least my chief duty, therefore, is to point out that the nature of our work is such that we should be assisted in our deliberations by the presence of women here. I have examined the nature of the legislation which we passed last Session and I find 430 that about one-third of the Bills with which your Lordships had to deal re-referred to such questions as legitimacy, guardianship of infants, matrimony and separation. That is to say, one-Third of the Bills which we had to consider, to amend, to revise and to pass dealt with questions upon which I claim that we ought to hear the woman's point of view.
I remember two incidents which struck me very much when I first became a member of your Lordships' House. It was my duty then to pilot through your Lordships' House an Unemployment Insurance Bill, a great measure affecting our whole industrial population of some twelve million people. So important did I consider this measure that, with your Lordships' permission, we sat early on a Friday in order that there should be full time and opportunity to scrutinise it. From first to last none of your Lordships took the slightest part in, or made the slightest contribution towards, the scrutiny, amendment and passage of that great measure which had occupied the other House for weeks, or even for months. Almost simultaneously a small single clause Bill dealing with children, which your Lordships discussed and examined, perfectly rightly, day after day, was before this House and the discussion—I have looked it up—occupied sixty columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT. It struck me over and over again that we keep on discussing here, as we ought to do, measures affecting women and children, and I claim that we should be assisted enormously if we had an opportunity of having the woman's point of view put here by a woman or women.
There is a great demand among women generally for this measure. Obviously your Lordships must consider it on its merits, but I am sure that you would like to know that almost all the women's organisations have passed resolutions supporting it. I know of no women's organisation that has passed a resolution opposing this proposal. That is to say, it carries with it the weight, support and backing of organised thinking women. When I introduced this Bill here a. year ago the noble Lord, Lord Banbury of Southam, who is moving the rejection this afternoon, moved the rejection on that occasion, and I remember an expression that he used. He said that the presence 431 of women here might perhaps add to our efficiency, but he feared that it would interfere with cur dignity. I do not know all the twenty-five Peeresses who would be affected by this Bill, but I am convinced that their presence here would add materially to our efficiency and also to our dignity.
We have to consider another aspect. We have to consider our prestige and our position to-day and in the future. Our position, our powers and our actions do not always go unchallenged. If your Lordships reject this proposal to-day, you will be alienating a large body of thinking women. The time may come when your Lordships may have to take drastic, it may he even desperate, action in rejecting what you honestly consider to be a revolutionary proposal, submitted to you by a chance majority representing a transient opinion in the country. Your Lordships may then decide to have an open conflict with another place. I suggest to you that the issue then will be, not our dignity but possibly even our existence and the existence of all that we consider important in the Constitution and for the welfare of this country. I hope that, if that time should ever come, your Lordships will not find that you have lost the support, the approval and the confidence of thinking women by excluding their sex from your Lordships' House.
I imagine that we shall he told this afternoon that this measure ought not to be introduced to-day; that we should not attempt to deal piecemeal with the reform of the Upper House; that we have been promised a broad, large and comprehensive measure of reform, and that we should wait until that scheme is produced. Ever since I have been in public life T have read and heard discussions, speeches and articles on this subject. I agree that we do need reform. It is because I am in favour of two Chambers, because I think that we ought to be in a position at a given moment to make stand, that I am in favour of reforming the Upper House. But I say quite frankly that I see no probability of any scheme of reform passing your Lordships' House in the near future. I may be wrong—I hope I am wrong—but I should not be honest or candid if I were to say this afternoon that I see any immediate prospect of a general scheme of reform passing your Lordships' House.
432 There are only three principles upon which the position of this House can be based. Our representation could be upon an elective basis, or we could be nominated, or we could continue the hereditary basis. If a scheme of reform were to make membership of the Upper House dependent upon election, I cannot conceive of any clause being inserted in such a proposal specifically excluding women from the Upper House. If the Upper House were at some future time to be nominated, again I cannot conceive of women, as such, being excluded from the right of nomination to your Lordships' House. That is to say, if the scheme of reform, when it comes, is to be really drastic, and membership of the Upper House is to depend either upon nomination or upon election, it is obvious that there could be no clause excluding women, and that women would he entitled to nomination or to election to our membership. Is the exclusion of women, then, to depend only and solely upon the continuance of the hereditary principle? If so, that principle is weaker than many of us have in the past and up to date been ready to admit.
I claim that the Bill which I am submitting to your Lordships this afternoon will neither retard nor accelerate any broad or comprehensive scheme of reform. It merely brings us into touch with realities, it extends the element of justice, and it makes us realise that we are living in the year 1925 and not in the last century. We all talk of national ideals. Any country which has not ideals is not developing as it ought to develop. What do we mean by a nation's ideals? We mean, surely, the highest sense of the good which the nation is trying to attain. Would women help us to attain a higher sense of good? I claim emphatically and without qualification that they would. If that he true, then we cannot justify the deprivation of this House of that moral outlook, that social experience, that spiritual conscience, that common sense and that sound intuition which we all know in our hearts that women would bring to our deliberations. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Astor.)
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM had given Notice to move, as an Amendment, 433 That the Bill be read 2a this day six months. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the noble Viscount has told your Lordships that if you reject this Bill you will lose the support and the good opinion of all thinking women and that there is a great demand by women's organisations for this Bill. Well, that is the opinion of the noble Viscount. My opinion is exactly to the contrary. I do not believe we shall lose the opinion of all thinking women if we do what in our opinion is right and reject this Bill. The Bill is, as the noble Viscount said, a very little one, but though it is contained on a small sheet of paper it does a great many things.
§ The first clause alters the Patents granted by the King, and does so at the instance of a private member. Lady Rhondda's Patent excludes her specifically from sitting in this House and now the noble Viscount, who, after all is only a private member, comes down and proposes to this House that you should alter the King's Patent and allow Lady Rhondda to do that which she is expressly excluded by her Patent from doing. Lady Rhondda's Patent is not the only Patent which acts in that way. Both Lady Beaconsfield's Patent and Lady Burdett-Coutts' Patent were produced when the question of whether the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act would enable Lady Rhondda to come into this House was being considered, and it was found that they agreed with Lady Rhondda's Patent, and it is therefore probable that nearly all the other Patents, except perhaps some very ancient ones, are drawn on that, line.
When the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Bill of 1919 was before your Lordships' House I find that the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, said this:—
The creation of Peers having a seat in Parliament is, of course, a matter of Royal Prerogative, and both on constitutional and other grounds it is improper, in my judgment, that the ladies who at present possess Peerages should be seated in the House automatically, without the King, on the advice of his responsible Minister, having considered the matter in each case.
I do not know whether one at least of the objections to this Bill can be summed up in a better way than it was summed up by the noble Earl, who is now sitting below me. Clause 2 of this Bill alters the law relating to the Election of
Scottish or Irish Peers, and Clause 3 repeals a clause in the Representation of the People Act, 1918.
That is a very curious clause, and if your Lordships had not looked at it you would be inclined to wonder why it is necessary to repeal a clause in the Act which permits women to sit in the House of Commons, because it is one of the arguments, if I am not misrepresenting it, of the noble Viscount, that as women sit in the House of Commons they should also sit in this House. If your Lordships will turn to subsection (5) of Clause 0 of the Representation of the People Act, 1918, you will find this:—
Any incapacity of a Peer to vote at an election arising from the status of a Peer shall not extend to Peeresses in their own right.
I submit that it was clearly contemplated by the House of Commons when they passed this particular Act, that women should not sit in your Lordships' House, otherwise they would not have given them a privilege which they did not give to Peers sitting in this House. That is the reason why the noble Viscount finds it necessary to repeal, as he does in Clause 3, subsection (5) of Clause 9 of the Act of 1918.
§ Last year the noble Viscount said that one of the reasons why Peeresses in their own right should sit in this House was that we had Queens. I note that he has not repeated that argument to-day. If my history is correct, we have had in the last 800 years four Queens—Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Anne and Queen Victoria—but during those 800 years, and during the time that these illustrious ladies were seated on the Throne, I do not remember that there was any agitation, because a Queen was on the Throne, that women should sit in this House. If we have gone on for 800 years and maintained the great reputation which this House has always borne, I do not see why now, especially when there is not a Queen sitting on the Throne, it should be necessary to have Peeresses in this House.
§ Last year, too, the noble Lord made a great point of the undoubted fact that the number of women then sitting in the House of Commons had "increased eight-fold." Those were the words he used. That was quite right, but now they have decreased by 50 per cent. Of 435 course, eight-fold sounds a very large number, but it is arrived at in this way: Originally there was one woman returned to Parliament. She was a rebel, and she never took her seat in the House of Commons. That number was increased to eight last year, but at the last General Election it was decreased from eight to four; that is to say, it was actually halved. Should I be wrong in drawing this conclusion, that the electorate, having had eight women in the House, came to the conclusion that it was a great deal too much of a good thing, and that the best thing they could do was to reduce that eight by as large a number as they possibly could, and therefore they did reduce it, as I have said, to four?
§ I have sat in the House of Commons with women members. I remember that on one occasion I was contemplating making a speech in the House of Commons, and I understood from Mr. Speaker that when the member who was then addressing the House sat down I should be called upon. I was sitting in my seat and a woman member, who came and sat beside me, said: "You are not going to speak." I said, "Yes, I am." And she said, "Oh! please do not." Now, what is a mere man to do when a charming woman addresses him like that? I wavered for a moment, but I speedily recovered, and I said: "Yes, I am going to speak." Thereupon the member in question changed her tone and said: "Very well, then, I shall hold you down." At that moment the member addressing the House sat down and I rose, and the woman member in question did try to hold me down, but as I happened to be of another sex, and therefore rather stronger, I was able to get up and make my speech. But I venture to say that that illustration does not tend to make me desirous of seeing women in this House.
§ We must remember this. In the case of the House of Commons, if a constituency returns a woman member it has the power of rejecting her at the next Election, but in this House there is no such power, and, if a Peeress is admitted, she will be here for the remainder of her life. I think there is a very strong reason why we should reject this Bill. The noble Viscount said that he did not think that there was very much prospect of a 436 reform of this Chamber, and he said last year that in his opinion the reform of this House would never come about. Now we know that the present Government have actually set up a Committee of the Cabinet in order to deal with this very question. I venture to say that when a Committee of the Cabinet has been set up to deal with the reform of your Lordships' House it is premature for us, at the instance of a private member, to begin dealing with the King's Prerogative, and to deal with the reform of this House in such a drastic manner as the noble Viscount proposes to do. In the first place, it should be done by the Government, and, in the second, if it is ever clone at all, which I am free to admit I hope it will not be, it should be proposed by the Committee of the Cabinet which has been set up, and then submitted with the other details of the reform of your Lordships' House to this House. I beg to move.
Leave out ("now") and insert at the end of the Motion ("this day six months").—(Lord Banbury of Southam.)
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, I rise to support the Bill moved by the noble Viscount, and before I say anything else I should like to counter, if I can, one point which was made by my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam when he stated that he had heard that women generally were against the purposes of this Bill. I have just had handed to me a list of societies which warmly support the Bill. I will not read out that list, but it contains the names of thirty women's associations, so varied that if I mention the names of soma of them you will see that the movement is very widespread. They include the Actresses' Franchise League, the British Federation of University Women, the Free Church Women's Council, the National Union of Women Teachers, the Social Institutes Union for Women and Girls, and the Women Sanitary Inspectors' and Health Visitors' Association. That shows that at least it is not only the Peeresses who claim support for this Bill.
In the presence of so many noble Lords who are deeply experienced in the law I, as a layman, certainly do not wish to give my opinion as rashly as my noble friend Lord Banbury has done on the legal aspects of the subject, but I am 437 encouraged in thinking that the legal obstacles are not insuperable, as the Lord Chief Justice, in an article in the Press the other day, stated that, if there were any legal obstacles which would make it impossible for Peeresses to sit, and which could not be removed, in his opinion noble Lords in this House would riot be wasting their time in considering the question. If the Lord Chief Justice is correct—and I presume that his opinion carries some weight in legal circles—it means that the whole question is really reduced to one of expediency, to the general desire of the people of this country on the subject, and to the fitness of the claimants themselves to hold the office. After all, the law is surely something that is designed to regulate the conditions under which the people of a country want to live, and, if the opinion of the people of this country and of the majority of your Lordships is that Peeresses should not be debarred from sitting in this House, surely it, is the business of our legal advisers to put that desire into regular form and to remove the legal obstacles.
Last year Lord Oranmore and Browne contended that the Bill, being introduced by a private member of this House, infringed the Prerogative of the Crown. Mention was made of that to-day. This point, however, I think was very quickly disposed of by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood. The late Lord Chancellor agreed with Lord Cecil and pointed out very clearly that a Peer has a right to claim a Writ to sit in this House, and that it is not a question of words in the Patent, but rather one of status. It was, I think, the present Lord Chancellor, however, who pointed out that the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act had not altered the disability of a woman to sit as a member of this House. That, however, does not alter her prerogative otherwise, and if sex disqualification is disposed of now by your Lordships' House, or by whoever is the correct authority, I think I am right in presuming that the prerogative remains, and there is really nothing more to argue upon.
We see, therefore, that the matter is a comparatively simple one, really just one of equity and of expediency, while the actual machinery regarding the assent of the Crown is not one of very great difficulty. The noble Lord, Lord Banbury, made a great point that the admission of Peeresses was expressly excluded by 438 the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. I think that that was probably partly in order to get the Bill easily through this House and partly because women were, so to speak, on their trial. And I have no doubt that those who thought it out did not wish to alter the whole Constitution in that matter all at once, but to do it reasonably and by degrees. In any case no new right is being proposed under this Bill, but rather the proposal is to remove a disqualification which very few people outside this House, in my opinion, nowadays consider to be either just or sensible; and, whether I am right or wrong in that supposition, at least no one can say that the continuation of this disqualification is now logical.
The contention that any change in your Lordships' House is too sacred a thing to contemplate is hardly borne out by the fact that we have had many discussions inside and outside this House on far more important matters, matters with very far-reaching consequences concerning the whole composition of this House, and also concerning its powers—matters completely different from what is proposed in this Bill. This Bill deals directly only with Peeresses of England and of the United Kingdom, and their right to sit in the House of Lords. It does not seek even to remove the injustice forced on Scotland at the time of the Union with regard to Scottish Peers. But it seeks to give the Peeresses of Scotland and Ireland similar privileges to those now enjoyed by the Peers of those countries. I certainly never heard any Scottish Peer object to such a proposal. The Bill, therefore, suggests no alteration of the status of any Peer in any of the three countries as at present recognised in any Act on the subject and does not touch the question of their powers.
This brings me to the question of expediency, the fitness of the claimants themselves and the general desire of the people of this country. Expediency is a matter of your Lordships' opinion. My own opinion is clear. The women of this country are now able to vote for the election of a member to the House of Commons and have the right to sit in that House. In another place they can help to make laws, they can alter laws and they can deal with the finances of this country. In fact, they can do far more 439 than some of our great financiers in regard to that matter. Be women foolish or be they wise, in view of the fact that the country has stated that it is expedient that women should sit in the Lower House and has expressed its desire in that regard not only by giving them the vote but by electing them as Members of Parliament, it seems to me that it would be utterly foolish to suggest that the electorate would so far stultify itself as to deny the expediency of Peeresses exercising their rights in a. House whose powers are so very much less than the powers of the Lower House.
As to their fitness, I am afraid I find myself in direct opposition to the views held by my old colleague and friend in another place, Lord Banbury of Southam. People have thought, that his Lordship is a rather hard-hearted man; but those who know him best know that he has a very high sense of duty and does not shirk saying what he thinks. One never knows, however, when he will be sympathetic or unsympathetic. In fact, we find that measures dealing with dogs and lapwings have his full sympathy, and one would have hoped that some of that sympathy would be reserved for the women of his own country. Lord Banbury has given us his opinion that women were elected to Parliament merely because their husbands made a vacancy. That may happen to have been a coincidence in some cases, hut it was certainly not the cause of their return. In any case—I am taking the arguments offered by the noble Lord last year and this—that is no argument against Peeresses exercising their rights in the House of Lords. His Lordship presses the point that the entry of women into the counsels of another place has meant a loss of dignity.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
That point was made, I understand, by Lord Hugh Cecil in another place and repeated here by my noble friend. I am most anxious not to leave out anything which is favourable to the noble Lord's argument. He stated thatwhat we should lose in. dignity we may gain in efficiency. Your Lordships will mark the word 'may.' Do your Lordships wish to lose the dignity of this House, which for centuries has been the model of a Parliament 440 House, in order, perhaps, to gain efficiency?I think that certainly means that Lord Banbury at least agrees with Lord Hugh Cecil. His Lordship says that he agrees, but that it means a loss of dignity. Of course, in this connection one must remember that his Lordship was once a very dignified member of the other Assembly and is, perhaps, a little prejudiced. But I am sure he would be the last person to aver that he adds more dignity to this House than would accrue to it by the inclusion of all, or any, of the Peeresses who are at present seeking admission. This is merely a matter of opinion, but it is a very pretty point to argue.
His Lordship has another reason. He thought it was very undignified that when he wanted to speak in the House he should be held down by the coat tails by a lady, although by force majeure he was at last able to stand up and say what he wanted to say. On the other hand, I think there is a corollary to that. I witnessed a lady speaking in the other House the other day. It was near "time" and some gentlemen on the Front Bench were very anxious that the Bill should pass, but they could not pull her down although they all tried to do so. It was only by great good luck that the measure got through. His Lordship holds the view that what we shall lose in dignity we may gain in efficiency. Frankly, I must confess that I am not afraid on the first point, like my noble friend Lord Birkenhead, who is afraid that dignity would suffer.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD indicated dissent.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
I am glad to hear that that is not his opinion. I have a sort of sneaking, timorous desire to see increased efficiency, even at the risk of being thought a heretic by my old friend and colleague of another place. While this question of the dignity of this terrible mob of wild women is a matter which disturbs the complacency of my noble friend Lord Banbury, and of Lord Banbury alone, I venture to suggest that if Peeresses were admitted to our deliberations your Lordships' House would gain enormously in wisdom and in experience in dealing with questions affecting women and children. Such 441 measures not only frequently have their origin in your Lordships' House, but, when they come from another place, have to be examined with very close and sympathetic scrutiny before they become law.
I do not wish to be too personal to his Lordship, but as he moved the rejection of this measure I wish to point out that he also expressed the opinion, last year, that Peeresses might do something wild, such as to introduce a measure of pensions for widows. I am afraid that, while my noble friend has been watching the silk stockings, he has been stabbed in the back, politically speaking, by the Conservative men, and I am afraid that nothing now remains for him when that Bill comes before this House but to join those opponents of widows' rights, the Labour Party. Adversity, indeed, makes strange bedfellows.
Lastly, Lord Banbury contended that women in another place had not been a success. It rather depends upon what he means by success; but I think it may be held that what they have been asked to do by their leaders they have done as well as the men of their respective Parties, and where they have been left to their own initiative they have not shown either a want of knowledge or a lack of desire to serve their constituents. In this way they have compared very well with their male fellow members. The noble Lord said just now that the first woman he had seen in another place was a rebel. I always remember that on the first day I sat in another place I sat down in front of a man that I had been trying to capture two years before in South. Africa. We were unable to catch him because, with his fellow countrymen, he was rather too quick for us. There were several others of them in another place at that time. So I do not think that in any comparison with rebels or people who may be regarded as rebels, women are likely to lose. I am, however, confident of this, that even if the Peers of England and the United Kingdom were to sit in conclave as we have to do in Scotland, and had to select, say, some twenty-two Peeresses, and if, owing to there being fewer vacancies than there were Peers, they had to reduce their own numbers by twenty-two in order to make room for the twenty-two Peeresses, it would not 442 be found that this House would lose in efficiency, in brain power, or in dignity by the exchange.
In conclusion, I hope your Lordships will not listen to any suggestion that this matter shall be put off to some future indefinite time when the whole composition of this House and its powers may be discussed. I think this is a matter which ought to be discussed on its merits. This question really has nothing to do with either the future composition or the powers of this House. It is merely a question of the removal of a disqualification of a few ladies who have a perfect right under every other regulation to join in its counsels. That disqualification can be removed by your Lordships in one short measure in a very short time, and I hope your Lordships' House will look favourably upon the noble Viscount's proposal, for I feel that not only have women a right to be heard on all these social questions which form so large a portion of our deliberations in these days, but also that those noble Lords—and they are many—who are interested also in these matters, have a right to demand to hear the women's view.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD)
My Lords, I understand from those who are experts in these matters that this would be a convenient time for me to make the few observations that I desire to make on this Bill. I need not say that I speak entirely for myself, and that there are, I am sorry to say, some who sit on this Bench who take a very different view to that which I take privately. I rise to support the Bill. I recognise that there are certain objections which have been made to it. There is the legal objection, the technical objection, that we are seeking to alter the terms of the Patent. I do not propose to deal with that. I am not competent to sustain a legal argument either one way or the other. I feel therefore that if your Lordships are satisfied that it is desirable that women should have seats in your Lordships' House, you will be equally satisfied that some method can be found for achieving that without doing violence to the Royal Prerogative. It seems to me quite clear that there may be many ways in which that can he accomplished. You could, if you liked, save existing Patents, 443 and merely provide in future Patents that women should be entitled to sit, and they no doubt mould receive new Patents, which would avoid the difficulty. I do not suggest that that is the only way in which that point could be met. I do suggest that the argument is not, by itself, a sufficient argument against the proposal of this Bill.
There is a more formidable argument, or one, at least, that strikes me as being more formidable, and that is that the whole composition of your Lordships' House is likely to be dealt with in the future, and that then is the proper time at which this question should be solved. I think there is a great deal of force in that argument. I certainly am one of those who hope very earnestly that the question of the relations between the two Houses, and consequently the question of the composition of your Lordships' House, will be dealt with. I very much hope so, but no one can be quite sure about it, and I cannot think that it is a sufficient reason for the rejection of this measure—which is, after all, a comparatively small measure, small as to the numbers concerned, dealing with the position of your Lordships' House, as it now is—to say that at some future time the whole question may have to be considered. When that takes place, undoubtedly very difficult and very controversial questions will he raised, but I should think that as a matter of business and practicability it would he desirable to get rid beforehand of any extraneously controversial question, so that the other grave and serious questions which will he raised may be more satisfactorily dealt with.
Apart from those two arguments, we have not had—and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam that he did not think it necessary to go through them—what may be called the old theoretical arguments about the danger of giving political power to women. Those of us who took part in the old suffrage campaign remember them very well—the argument that women were too personal in their motives for political power, the argument that you would create a great sex antagonism and would divide the sexes politically, the argument that women would all vote together one way against the men, and that they would be moved in the exercise of political 444 functions by purely unreasonable motives. I venture to think that one reason why those arguments are not repeated to-day is that experience has shown that (as I think at any rate) there is really no ground for any of those apprehensions.
What, indeed, is the experience? That seems to me to be the real and the most important question to consider. We have had not only experience of women voting as electors but we have had experience of their action in the House of Commons as Members of Parliament. Of course, women Members of Parliament differ from one another just as men do. I do not think that any one would say that there is more difference amongst the men than there is amongst the women. You have some women who are impetuous, it may be, and some men who ale impetuous, who are unable to control the warmth of their opinions. That happens in both sexes in the other House, of which I was frequently a witness when I was a member of that House. On the other hand, you have women who are steady, as reasonable, as judgmatical, to use a cant phrase, as any man.
Just in the same way, you will hear it sometimes said that women are too much moved by sentimental considerations, and that experience has shown it. There are certainly some women who attach great value to sentimental considerations, just as there are some men who do so; indeed, I have heard more sentimental speeches, I think, from male representatives than from female. And I venture to say also that experience has shown, without mentioning any names, that there are women Members of Parliament who have shown themselves mistresses of exact knowledge and close reasoning. The truth is that they differ, and I do not think, if my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam will forgive me saying so, any story such as that with which he amused your Lordships really has any bearing on the kind of subject that we have to consider. I think all of us could tell stories of men in the House of Commons which are, perhaps, quite as foreign to the character of a legislator as any story that my noble friend could tell of women, and, as my noble friend Lord Birkenhead reminds me, that is all the more serious because there are more men than there are women in the other House.
445 I do think that it is a matter for consideration whether, broadly speaking, the presence of women in the House of Commons has been beneficial or the reverse. It is a very difficult problem, I admit, a problem on which there will necessarily be a considerable divergence of opinion. I can only give my own opinion, which may very likely be wrong, and I know will be different from that of other members who have watched the careers of women Members of Parliament. I think that, on the whole, their presence there has been beneficial. I say so very deliberately. I think they have pressed upon the House the consideration of questions which otherwise might have been omitted altogether. I think they have been of value as giving to the House, authoritatively, the opinion of women which they have gathered from consultation with their own organised societies, and I think they have also, quite apart from their direct and immediate action, made it more easy that the women's point of view should be properly and adequately considered in the legislation of the country. I speak my own opinion and it is, of course, only entitled to such weight as your Lordships give to it; but I believe that on the whole the presence of women in the Lower House has been of advantage. I do not believe there is a single politician of weight who would desire to propose their exclusion from any future House of Commons.
It is not only that. I do feel, also, that there is some weight to be attached to the argument that your Lordships' House, so far as I can find out, is the sole political institution of any importance in this country to which women are not admitted. On every local body, every board of guardians, every district council, every county council, women can sit. In the House of Commons they can sit, and on the Throne they can sit. It is only in your Lordships' House that they cannot sit. I think that is a difficult position to defend. There is also the argument, to which weight must be given, that when we recognise that men are entitled by hereditary right to sit, is it not rather rash, especially for those who attach importance to the hereditary principle, to say that there should be an exception when you deal with women? If it is a sound principle, if it is a principle that should be supported, then it is a principle which stands on some 446 conception—there are many conceptions—that it really does furnish good ground for membership of your Lordships' House, and it seems to me very difficult to say that if it has value in the case of men it has no value in the case of women.
There is one other argument, a delicate one, which I feel it right to submit to your Lordships. Whatever may be the composition or powers of the Second Chamber it must, I think, stand, shall I say, for stability in the Constitution of any country. If I may put it in this way, it must stand for conservatism, not of the Party complexion but that conservatism which is averse from violent change. I do think that women have shown, so far as one can tell by their political action since they have been enfranchised, that they are opposed to violent change. I have always believed it myself and I think experience, as far as we have gone, shows that this is so. I believe they voted against Protection in the Election of 1923 because they were fearful of experiments of a fiscal kind. I believe they voted against what they believed to be Communism at the last Election from precisely the same kind of motive. If that is so, it is a strange thing that from the Second Chamber, of all places in the world, women should be excluded. However, I do not wish to put undue weight on that argument.
I recognise that the functions of your Lordships' House are, legislatively, not of so great an importance as they were in years gone by. No one who has been a student of your Lordships' debates and proceedings, as I have for fifty years I am sorry to say, can doubt that from the point of view of a legislative chamber your Lordships' House is not called upon to exercise such important functions as you were in times past. But there is one function, if I may be permitted to say so without impertinence, which your Lordships still exercise in a way which is not possible in any ether Assembly in the world. After all, Parliament does not exist merely as the legislative machine. It exists quite as much for the purpose of discussing public questions, and for that function there are, as everyone knows, a very large number of your Lordships who are capable of discussing almost any question that can be raised with an authority second to none in this country. Though, undoubtedly, the weight and reality to some 447 extent of these discussions has diminished, perhaps, with the diminution of your Lordships' constitutional power, it still is a very important function, and it does seem to me—I can give as an instance the discussion we had yesterday about the situation in Kenya and the other African Colonies, and there are many other discussions of a similar kind—that it is well worth your Lordships' consideration whether the admission of women to your Lordships' House would not add to the value of many of the discussions of that kind which take place here.
Whatever you say about women, they have got a different point of view. Lord Banbury of Southam will say, perhaps, "Yes, different and worse." But even if it is worse, it represents the point of view of half, or more than half, the population of the country and is entitled to be, and ought to be, considered. The charge that is sometimes made against your Lordships' House, that you represent too few interests, too narrow a section of the population, would be alleviated if you admitted representatives of the other sex who would be able, to that extent, to widen the point of view that can he considered properly here. It may be asked—I have put the matter brutally and without ambiguity—Is there anything special about the Peeresses in their own right who would be admitted which would add specially to the knowledge and width of view of the debates of this House? I am certainly not going to enter on any discussion of that kind. Everybody must form his own judgment upon it, but I see no reason to doubt that women who have obtained their title by hereditary right are as likely to be just exponents of their point of view as men who have obtained their title by the same right.
But I do not wish to rest it there. This case is sometimes argued simply on this ground—Should we or should we not admit the existing Peeresses in their own right? I deny that that is the important way this case should be looked at. The question is whether it would be desirable that women should sit at all in this House, not necessarily the existing Peeresses. There are other women who may be made Peeresses, and the question is whether it is desirable to have women in this House or not. I am not going to attempt any examples from the existing women, but surely, looking back on our history, there 448 are women who would have been of the greatest value if they had had seats in your Lordships' House. Take Florence Nightingale. Who that has read the story of her powerful work but can feel that her own mind would have been greatly improved if she had been called upon to sit in this House and defend her point of view and urge it on the public conscience, and had been able to hear her arguments dealt with by others capable of dealing with them? Or, to take perhaps a better instance, who could doubt the value of the presence here of such a woman as Miss Octavia Hill? We have to consider in the near future all sorts of social problems—unemployment, education and, above all, housing—and I venture to say that there is no one who has had the privilege of the acquaintance of Miss Octavia Hill but will agree with me that there has been no person, man or woman, alive in her day whose opinion on housing questions would have been of greater value, of more special value, than hers. It is for these reasons, because I see strong arguments for admission to this House and because the arguments against it, which I do not desire to undervalue, do not appear to me to be so strong, that I have formed my opinion, as every one of your Lordships has to form an opinion with the most impartial judgment that he can apply, that it is my duty to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD)
My Lords, I have long been an admirer of the logical and lucid mind and of the persuasive speech of my noble friend, and therefore it adds perhaps somewhat to the conviction that I have formed in this matter when I say that the extremely able speech which he has just addressed to your Lordships has left me completely unmoved. I propose, if I may, to examine its main thesis, and I, equally with my noble friend, will say that on this matter I am speaking for myself, for my noble friend the Leader of the House, exercising, I think, a wise judgment, has left this matter to all of us to be the subject of a free vote, undisturbed by any Party considerations.
I have to point out in the first place the extreme impropriety—I do not hesitate to use so strong a word—of a Private Member's Bill dealing with a matter which 449 affects the Patent. Your Lordships are well aware that a more authoritative legal tribunal than has in my recollection of this House been constituted, consisting of a large number of the legal members of this House and reinforced by noble. Lords of very great experience, though not of technical experience, reached a clear conclusion upon the legal issues involved in this matter. We are—this appears to be the proposal—to disturb that conclusion, and we are to disturb it without the formality which would be observed if it were the Bill of a Government, who would certainly enter into respectful consultation with the Sovereign as to a matter so delicate as the interference with the Prerogative. We are to do this at the instance of a Private Member's Bill.
The noble Viscount gives us cold reassurance upon this point. He says that, if a Government will not deal with the matter, a private member must. My answer to that is that we have had in this country five Governments in the last five years. We have had the Coalition Government, Mr. Bonar Law's Government, Mr. Baldwin's first Government, the Labour Government and the present Government. Surely some inference may be drawn against the wisdom and the prudence of the proposals so lightheartedly impressed upon us by the noble Viscount, from the circumstance, that five successive Governments, comprehending among them almost every school of political thought and, let me add, of political eccentricity, have nevertheless not ventured to make a proposal so striking and, as I shall presently show, so completely illogical. I have, indeed, been struck by the fact that, with the exception of the noble Viscount who spoke last, both the noble Lords who have recommended these proposals to your Lordships' House are the husbands of ladies of high distinction in the other House. I should have thought that that might have satisfied them. On the contrary, I am compelled to recognise not only a striking illustration on the part of these ladies of Parliamentary efficiency but a striking assertion of conjugal discipline.
I have attempted to make it plain that this is a completely illogical proposal, but let me attempt further justification of that charge. My noble friend who spoke last spoke of Florence Nightingale 450 and of Miss Octavia Hill. He might just as relevantly have spoken of Helen of Troy. We are not dealing with any proposal that any such ladies should be admitted to this House. I am prepared to give very careful consideration to such proposals, if and when they are made, in carefully selected cases, but to put the argument upon such a basis is of itself a supreme illustration of the sophistical manner in which the ease is being presented. If the proposal before your Lordships to-day were this: "Let us advise the King henceforth, in creating new Peerages, not to be influenced by discriminations of sex," I should acknowledge at once the force of that argument. We are living in changed conditions. I regret them. I am absolutely unrepentant of every speech that I have ever made, of every argument that I have ever used, in the last ten years in relation to this matter. But, most unfortunately, counsels less wise submerged the advice which from time to time I have given to my fellow-country-men in various places and, not being a person who derives any particular pleasure from re-fighting lost battles, I have acquiesced in those consequences.
I say plainly that, if and when the reform of this House is undertaken—as, in my judgment, it must soon be undertaken; as it must be undertaken, unless I am much mistaken, in the lifetime of this Government—a proposal is made in this House that in relation to the House of Lords so reformed women become eligible, either as nominated members or as elected members if the reform takes the shape of election, I cannot conceive that I could find any logical basis upon which successfully to defend my opposition to such a proposal. But that is not this ease at all. What is the use of talking about Florence Nightingale? So far as I am aware she was not a Peeress in her own right; nor was Miss Octavia, Hill.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
That is the effect of this Bill, and the only effective result of this Bill. It is primarily a Bill to seat those particular ladies who at present are Peeresses in their own right, and—this is the crucial point—to obtain that right without the 451 exercise of will on the part of the Monarch creating the Peerage that they should ever sit in this House. No discrimination has so far been attempted of the classes to which these ladies belong. They are of two classes, each of which deserves and requires separate analysis. In the first place, they consist of ladies who have been named in special remainders, such as Lady Roberts, Lady Wolseley and Lady Rhondda. These ladies were selected because the distinguished men from whom they were descended had no male descendants, or no prospects of male descendants, and it was desired that their services to the State should be remembered as long as they left posterity. At the time when each of these special remainders was created there was no idea in the mind of any one, there was certainly no idea in the mind of the Monarch, that—if I may call her so without disrespect—the remainder woman, could ever sit in this House. She alone possesses the privilege, which, be it observed, will not even descend to her daughter. It is absurd to make a sex question of this—to found this upon the great issue of whether women should or should not sit in the House of Commons, or in the House of Lords. You are merely enabling these particular ladies to sit in this House. They can bequeath, indeed, such is the history and logic of the matter, and the theory of continuity and heredity in this House—they can bequeath the title to their sons, but they cannot bequeath it to their daughters.
What is the second class? The second class consists of those Peeresses who possess their dignities by reason of the doctrine that a Barony created by Writ descends to heirs general. I went closely into the technical and legal aspects, and examined the history of this matter, in an opinion which I was authorised to write on behalf of those of your Lordships who were called upon to deal with the matter upon its technical side. I will only say, to-night, that this doctrine is, on analysis, absolutely fantastic. It was, so far as I understand the history of the matter, and gave some attention to it at the time, the creation of some imaginative Tudor Heralds who found themselves unemployed for a considerable period. It was issued to the world at a time when the whole hereditary theory was the subject of a great deal of confusion and discussion. 452 To suppose that at the time when the practice was adopted of creating a Barony by Writ, descendable to heirs general, it ever entered into the mind of any person, Monarch or Minister, that that would at some time be used as an argument why Peeresses should sit in this House, is ridiculous. Such an idea was never present to the minds of any one in the world.
The only result of passing this Bill will be to offer privileges to two particular classes. If the proposal was to place women in this House in the same position as men, I confess that I should take an entirely different view. I know not, indeed, with what argument I could combat such a proposal. I regret that I must make a confession of such rhetorical impotence upon an issue which I have always treated as of fundamental importance, but if that were the proposal I do not know how, in the days in which we live, any one who has the interest of this House at heart as clearly as I have could establish a case for making this House the only Assembly in the world to which women were not admitted. I could not make out a case, and it is unlikely that I should attempt to make it out, but that is not the proposal with which we are now confronted. We are confronted with a proposal that we should admit a number of privileged ladies—who have simply been given their privilege in order that, physiologically, they may act as the conduit pipe through which the blood of distinguished men may pass from one generation to another—and that we should endow them with constitutional privileges and rights which other women do not enjoy, and which it was never contemplated they themselves should possess at the moment when their dignities were created.
And at what a moment are we asked to make this change! The noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading told us that he would specially deprecate any argument being founded upon the assumption that this House will be reformed during the lifetime of the present Government, and I note that in the usually sane columns of the Daily Telegraph a statement that the use of such an argument would be ignoble. I am not conscious that it is an ignoble argument. I use it, and I say plainly, having regard to my experience of 453 politics, that it is inconceivable that the present Government could be so negligent of their duties and their responsibilities as not to reform this House before they leave office. I cannot believe that we shall leave office without having done this, unless unforeseen and unforseeable contingencies bring to an unhappy and premature conclusion our labours for the public service. Being of that opinion, I am entitled to base my argument upon the view which I place before your Lordships—and in this I am supported by my colleagues—that it is our plain and indefeasible duty to bring proposals before you, before we leave office, for the reform of this House.
Consider the absurdity of asking your Lordships, at a moment when a responsible Government are responsibly telling this House that they are intending to bring forward proposals for general reform, to adopt, at the instance of a private member, a piecemeal proposal for conferring an exceptional and privileged position on a very limited class of ladies, who are themselves the accident of an accident. What will happen when our reforms are introduced I cannot, of course, say, because I am not in a position to inform your Lordships what the nature of those proposals will be. That they must be considerable and grave in their character is apparent. Supposing, when those proposals are brought forward, there is a recommendation that there shall be a strong elected element in this House? The method of election is immaterial to my present speculation. Supposing, in the second place, there is an element to be nominated, whether by the Prime Minister or by the House of Commons is equally irrelevant. Supposing Lord Astor then comes forward and says: "By what right are you in your reformed House of Lords to exclude women? When that battle has been lost for ever, on what basis are you going to exclude them?" As I have said before, I cannot think of an answer to the noble Viscount.
That is the moment to make these proposals. The noble Viscount must trust the Government when they tell him it is their intention to introduce these reforms. It is not, in my humble judgment, for a private member to attempt to introduce legislation upon matters so grave, in which divergency of view exists even 454 among members of the Government, at a moment when we are, as I understand the matter, pledged to introduce a scheme of general reform in which these particular proposals can be relevantly proposed. Still less is it our duty to do that when the result of that which your Lordships are asked do is not to make a great recognition of principle of an equality between the sexes, is not to open the doors of this House to the other sex, but is to make an illogical, irrational, and—this is my personal view—all entirely unbeneficial irruption of a very few privileged ladies.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, some days ago, before he left us, Lord Haldane, my Leader, asked me to express his deepest regret at not being able to be here to express the opinions of these Benches on so important an occasion. He asked me to assume your Lordships that nothing but the most urgent and distressing reasons would have kept him away. Those of your Lordships who have read the papers this morning will have seen, no doubt, the reason which took him away, and I am sure that I am expressing the opinion of the House when I say that our very deepest sympathy goes out to him in his bereavement. Had he been here he would have been able to deal with this subject in a very much more thorough manner than I can. In particular, he would have been able to touch on those legal points that have been raised—points which as a layman, can not only not speak about, but can hardly understand. It is not for me to intrude myself on ground which there are others of your Lordships far more fitted to tread. But, speaking as a layman perhaps I might say this one word. As a layman I believe that law was made to be the servant of man, and not the master of man, and if we find that the law connected with Patents and Writs is a law that is holding up the growth and the development of thought in this country, then that law is bad, and must be changed.
Some few days ago we were discussing the whole question of the reform of the House of Lords, and on that occasion I made so bold as to refer to certain words that had been used by the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack. I reminded your Lordships that he had told us that we in this House 455 required a breath of fresh air. I make no apology for repeating that statement. After all, here is an opportunity for getting very much more than fresh air, for doing something that may cause an even greater attraction to those youthful members of your Lordships' House who have hitherto been unwilling to attend your proceedings. May not the charming and ennobling presence of these noble ladies help to supply that inspiration and that fire which we have hitherto lacked in our discussions? I venture to put it to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that perhaps this Bill may contain something that would be of the greatest assistance to him in putting his suggestion into operation.
I turn to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Banbury. Lord Banbury has attacked this Bill with his usual show of bluff British frankness. His manner is one that contains considerable charm, although perhaps it may sometimes appeal rather more to our sense of humour than to our reason. In the last debate on the reform of the House of Lords the noble Lard was very frank. He told us what he wanted, and why he wanted it. He wished to see a reformed House of Lords set up that would constitute itself a barrier against Socialism. Well, that was a reason. It is quite true it was not a reason that we on this side of the House could allow to influence us in our decisions: nevertheless, it was a reason. But to-day the noble Lord has not put up a single valid argument. He has given us his personal opinion, he has told us he does not wish to see this Bill pass. He has certainly given me the impression that he feels that your Lordships' House should remain, or become, an interesting historical museum that should never suffer this rational change.
I think, perhaps, he may have given one reason that might count with me, at any rate, against the admission of ladies into this legislative Chamber. He referred to an incident in the House of Commons when, unfortunately, there was only a woman to hold him down. If only it had been a man who had kept him down on that occasion! He got up to oppose a Bill for preventing children going into public-houses. I repeat, I wish it had been a man, and a strong man, that was hanging on to his coat. None of us who know Lord Banbury 456 would associate his name with meaningless obstruction. We all of us know that when he gets up and opposes something he has a very good constructive reason for doing it. I have been wondering what his real reason is. It is left to our imagination. I wondered whether, perhaps, he might have received private information that the Peeresses' vote was likely to be a Socialist vote. I must admit that I have never heard anything so good of the Peeresses. But, at any rate, I feel quite convinced that if he had such a conclusive argument in his possession he would have used it to-day.
What about the position of the Government? So far as I can see, it is really one of opposition. They mean to soften the blow by referring the consideration of the Bill to a Committee. It is true that there is just a sufficient amount of division in their ranks for the noble Marquess, the Leader of the House, to come to that wise decision to leave it to an open vote, but we shall watch with interest the Division, and see whether really the Government, with very few exceptions, is not opposed to this Bill. Why should this question be referred to the Committee that is at present sitting on the whole question of the House of Lords? The question of the reform of the House of Lords involves a totally different, and almost an opposing, principle. We here believe that the reform of the House of Lords means the abolition of the hereditary principle. This Bill means confirming that hereditary principle. Moreover, any suggestion that this Bill should be referred to that Committee involves an admission that we here are not prepared to make. It suggests that this Committee can really bring forward proposals that can be put into practical form. If there was one notable feature about that debate some weeks ago on the reform of the House of Lords, it was that there was a unanimous agreement to disagree on every single point of practical policy amongst those who wished to see this reform carried. Therefore, I venture to suggest to their Ladyships that if they are prepared to wait for action to be taken by this Government on this question on those lines, they will have to exercise very considerable patience.
Before I resume my seat I might, perhaps, make clear to your Lordships 457 the point of view of noble Lords who sit behind me. It may seem rather curious to some of your Lordships that we who are opposed to the hereditary principle should support a Bill which we regard as a confirmation of that principle. We had to ask ourselves a certain question. We had to say: Admitted that we are opposed to the present basis upon which the House of Lords is constituted, admitted that we are unlikely within the next few years to see the House of Lords changed in the direction in which we wish it to be changed, what is to be our position on this particular issue? The answer for as could only be in favour of the Bill and in favour of the recognition of a principle which has been recognised for years in every other political or administrative body in the country. It has already been pointed out by noble Lords that there are women on all local councils. There are women in Parliament. There is a woman even in the present Government and a Peeress at that. Women have sat upon the Throne. The noble Lord, Lord Banbury, apparently implied that because there was no agitation for votes for women during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, or even of Queen Victoria, those who are in favour of the Bill should not dare to use the Crown as an argument for the passage of the Bill. I refuse to say, and certainly noble Lords behind me will refuse to say, that any evil that was not agitated against in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, or of Queen Victoria, shall remain an evil for all time.
This Bill, in my opinion, places a very great responsibility upon your Lordships. After all, these women are few in number. In a certain measure they are isolated by the success of their fellows. They will not be carried to this new position on a wave of popular enthusiasm. Proud as we all are of a seat in your Lordships' House, we must realise and recognise that our proceedings and our powers are not such as to excite very great public pity for those who are unable to participate in them. These women are dependent upon your Lordships' sense of justice and of what is right, and I venture to suggest to your Lordships whether it is or is not your desire to become that interesting historical museum which is apparently the uninspiring ideal of the noble Lord, Lord Banbury.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, the course that this debate has followed might readily have been foretold. There are the people who oppose the Bill because they dislike having women in a House of Parliament. There are the people who, equally disliking it but being reluctant to express their dislike, think it is convenient to shelve the question by reference to the possible reform of this House. Then there are people who, like myself, are genuinely convinced that this Bill ought to pass in the interests of justice.
Let me consider for a moment one or two of the grounds that have been urged against the measure. To my mind, speaking only for myself, the first is one of the most technical, trivial and flimsy I have ever heard advanced against a great measure. It is that, for some reason or other, it ought not to have been introduced by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, but that he ought to have waited until the Government thought fit to undertake the task. Why should not the noble Viscount introduce such a Bill and invite your Lordships' opinion upon it? What answer can there be to the real merits of the Bill that your Lordships are called upon to consider, whether it has been introduced from below the gangway or above the gangway, or has had the good fortune of being introduced form the Benches that face rue? The real controversy upon this Bill must depend on something far deeper and more durable than an objection based upon such a question as that.
Then there comes a question which appears to me to be irrelevant—the legal position of women at the present moment. Everybody knows that the legal position of women at the present moment is that they are not permitted to sit in your Lordships' House, and the object of the Bill is to secure that they shall so sit. That led to an elaborate investigation as to how it was that the various Peeresses who are now qualified in their own right came to be so qualified. It was suggested that their qualifications arose through the eminent services of eminent men. Be it so. That has nothing whatever to do with it. These ladies hold Patents of Title which would entitle them if they were men to be summoned to this House as of right, and this Bill is simply directed to saying that they shall be so 459 summoned although they are women. They hold exactly the qualification which enables each one of your Lordships to sit, and the only reason they are not admitted, having regard to the passage of the Bill to which reference has been made, is due to a very subtle though, in my opinion, a very clear legal question which resulted in the finding, on the second occasion on which this matter was considered in Committee by your Lordships' House, that they were not so qualified to sit. I pass by those two considerations and I come to some of the others.
The arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Banbury—I say it with respect to him—appeared to me to be unworthy of the subject. The first thing he suggested was that the admission of women to the House of Commons had not met with such general approval as might have been expected and that it was found at the last Election that a large number of them had lost their seats. Do your Lordships really think that the winds that swept the country at the last Election acted with discriminating violence against women and against men? Two of the women returned were members of the Party that swept the polls, and the women who were not returned were members of the defeated Party of which I am glad still to remain a humble representative. I was going to say that it really is not worthy of the noble Lord to bring forward such an argument and to suggest it as a reason for saying that the admission of women to public work has caused a withdrawal of the confidence which the people placed in them when the measure removing their disqualifications received the Royal Assent.
Then the noble Lord referred to an unseemly, though so far as I could gather from the way in which he referred to it not an unpleasing, incident in which he was brought into something of the nature of a collision with a lady member of another place. He suggested that it showed, on the whole, that their presence there was not quite what it ought to be. Is it not true that there have been unseemly scenes on the floor of the House of Commons promoted by men—far more unseemly scenes than anything that happened to the noble Lord? And is that a reason why men should not sit here? If so, we should have to disband this House altogether. Those arguments are not 460 really arguments against this Bill. The real argument against the Bill must be sought in another quarter. What is it? It really is the argument which has met with defeat again and again in every other quarter of our public life. This is the last corner that is held by the forces of reaction upon this question, and the only point is, how much longer will they be able to hold out? My view is that they should take the earliest possible opportunity of showing that they recognise that the law which rules in other places should apply here also, and that they should be willing to admit that people who would be qualified to sit in this House were they not disqualified by virtue of their sex should sit here.
I desire to say one or two words upon the argument which has been advanced by several of the speakers. It formed, indeed, a considerable portion of the argument of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead. It is that the Government was pledged to reform this House, and, as part of that reformation, he could see no objection whatever to the introduction of women, but, as the reform was coming near, there was no reason, he said, why we should express in advance what our opinion on the question was. I wonder if the noble and learned Earl fully realises all the implications of that argument. He began with the admission that women ought to be here because, as part of this new reform, they are not to be excluded. He said, indeed, that he could see no reason or argument that could be urged against their admission. He, therefore, would say that this House is moribund as it stands, that it must be revivified and revitalised by reform, but that in the period which elapses during its present condition you must on no account admit women, or it will have fatal effects upon the British Constitution. I find it difficult to follow that argument.
I accept entirely the sincerity of the Government when they say they are going to introduce measures to reform this House, but what is the measure to which the noble and learned Earl has given approval? I ask your Lordships to consider for a moment what it is. It is that you should reduce the numbers of this House by permitting members to elect from among themselves a certain number who should sit, and that you should then have introduced upon the 461 floor people who are qualified by virtue of Office to sit. That means that you are going to retain in this House the hereditary principle on which it is at present based, and the noble and learned Lord says that in such reform, you cannot exclude women. If the hereditary principle is still to remain (as according to his scheme it is) the foundation of the reform and of the reconstituted House, why should it not be so to-day? I am bound to say that when I find a measure such as this met with the argument, "Do not do it now because you can do it in an early future," I reply: "Why not do it now, if in the early future it is bound to come?"
Finally, I would like to say in one or two words why, in my opinion, women are entitled to this relief. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, will, I am sure, forgive me for saying that there was one argument of his which did not appeal to me. No doubt anxious to secure support he said that your Lordships really need not be afraid of the reduction in your numbers. Sitting as I do as a member of the attenuated Benches behind me, I trust your Lordships will not take it ill if I say that there are enough Tories in this House already, and that it is not. because I want to add to their strength that I am proposing to introduce women. No. I have said throughout this women's controversy that their political opinion is a matter of no moment to me whatever. The real question is: Is it just or is it unjust that they should be admitted to the privileges they claim? In my opinion it is eminently just. There is no reason that can be urged against their admission here, except the fact that they are women.
I must say it does seem to me that the idea that the world is divided into two hemispheres, one of which is called the sphere of women's occupation and the other the sphere of men's occupation, is a profound misunderstanding of the realities of our present life, and of the true destination of the human race. There will, and there always must be, certain things to which women will be bound to devote their attention and their care. Everybody knows that the care and custody of children is beyond all other things sacredly their own. Nobody doubts that, or hesitates for a moment 462 saying so to them; and nobody who has any sense thinks for an instant that allowing them to take their share in public work is going to change or abate one single jot or tittle of their attention and care for children. To-day the whole burden of government rests not on one class or one sex, but on all classes and on both sexes, and in every form and every branch of government all people who are affected by the way in which that government is conducted are, according to the basis upon which our modern Constitution stands, entitled to have a voice in saying how those affairs should be dealt with. Women have their voice at the present, moment in another place, and I ask your Lordships to say this evening that they are entitled to have their voice heard here as well.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, I hope something like forty years' interest in public affairs, and at any rate ten years of detachment from anything of the nature of Party politics, will excuse me for addressing a very few observations to your Lordships on the very grave proposal contained in this Bill. It is a remarkable thing that of the numerous speeches in support of this Bill not more than two have been addressed to the main question. The noble Lord who has just sat down has addressed his arguments to the Bill, or at least some of them, but most arguments have been addressed tot the question whether it is desirable, in the exercise of the function of governing this country, that women shall be heard in the places of authority.
That is not the question which this Bill raises. I believe, with my noble and learned friend the Earl of Birkenhead, that if that were the question this Bill raised, all of us who retain opinions on that subject which we used to advocate twenty-five or thirty years ago, would agree that the world has changed. But that is not the question. If that were the question, I tell my noble and learned friend who has just sat down that I would find much better arguments for women being heard here, and having authority here in proper numbers, than the suggestion that I was surprised to hear from the spokesman, of the Labour Party, that perhaps a. sprinkling of women members in the House would prove a lure 463 to absent Peers. Arguments for the Bill have sunk pretty low when they come to that.
With regard to this Bill the noble Lord ingeniously confused, in his appeal to justice, those arguments which can properly be addressed to the justice of the representation of women in the Senate of this country, and the arguments which can be addressed to this Bill. What is this Bill? It is a frank and crude proposal for adding twenty-two persons who, so far as I know, have shown no particular interest in public affairs, to the hereditary legislators of this country. When the spokesman of the Labour Party says "Aye" to that I associate it with what the noble and learned Viscount said in my hearing the other day—"Let well alone"—not I thought because the noble and learned Viscount loved the House of Lords so much, but because he loved the Labour Party more. To my mind the probable explanation of the enthusiasm of the Labour Party on this subject is the consciousness that to add at a stroke twenty-two hereditary legislators to this House, without the shadow of an inquiry into their qualifications, will expose the hereditary principle to a degree of contempt to which it has never yet been exposed. The Bill proposes, as I say, frankly and crudely to make these noble ladies into Peeresses of Parliament. I do not know that one of them has stood for Parliament, although the whole twenty-two have been eligible for years. I do not know that any of them has any intention of standing for Parliament, and I ask the House to conceive the absurdity of selecting these twenty-two persons and embodying them in this House, which is attacked from so many quarters and on so many grounds, and exposing this House to those, attacks with this addition to its characteristics.
The noble and learned Lord spoke of justice. On the question of justice the facts are these. The Sovereign who granted the Peerages they enjoy in their social capacity did not intend to create them Peers of Parliament. Those who received the Patents knew that it was not intended to create them Peers of Parliament. The Patents did not create them Peers of Parliament. None of the holders of them suppose now that they did. Yet it is supposed to be an argument on the ground of justice to demand that ladies 464 who never had the right, and never supposed they had this right of a Peer of the Realm, should be given it. If you put that on the ground of high handed prerogative and privilege that is the name for it; but to put it on the ground of justice is a misnomer. The noble and learned Lord also appealed for consideration for the argument that the time had come when women should be deemed eligible to sit in this House. It is an argument which seems to me to be totally irrelevant to the main proposition. If this project is to be grounded on justice, can you stop with adding twenty-two noble ladies as Peeresses of Parliament? What ground is there to warrant you in saying the elder son shall inherit but the elder daughter may not? If sex equality is to be the order of government, then the eldest daughter must come in. Does anybody suppose that that is a feasible proposition? To speak of a proposal of that kind as a proposal founded on justice is a misuse of the term justice. Is it founded upon any interest of the House of Lords? My own belief is that it is founded in some quarters on a determination to make the constitution of the House of Lords more subject to attack. Is it founded upon any consideration of democratic principles? It is founded on privilege. I wonder whether, if anybody, five years ago, had proposed to the Liberal Government to ennoble by Statute twenty-two ladies who had taken no part in political affairs, it would have received no criticism.
This House is invited to do a thing it has never done before. I do not believe in all its history that this House has ever taken upon itself by a legislative proposal to nominate persons to be added by the Sovereign. It has been said that the Bill encourages the use of the Prerogative in a different sense in future times. It provides for nothing of the sort. It deals with the case of twenty-two noble ladies. In so far as the Prerogative is concerned, if the noble Viscount who introduced the Bill had moved a humble Address of this House to the Sovereign praying that the Sovereign should consider whether ladies may be added to the Peerage and assuring His Majesty of the sympathy and concurrence of this House, that would have been a constitutional proposal. This is not a constitutional proposal. It is an encroachment upon, it is in the nature of a usurpation of, the 465 power of the Crown. Where is it to stop? Is every Peer to deem himself at liberty to come and make an ad captandum proposal like this, founded on a set of fallacies, and nominate ten, or a dozen, or twenty persons to be added to this House?
I say that the procedure of this Bill is an abuse of the rights of this House. It is an encroachment upon, and an infringement of, the Prerogative. It serves no reasonable purpose in the addition of persons who have not shown any qualifications to take part in the proceedings of this House. And it has this added disadvantage, that when this House comes to be considered with this latest addition, adopted by the majority of the House, it would add an element of absurdity which would deprive the House of many of the elements of strength which its present position gives it. This House has rested simply on the hereditary principle throughout all its existence. Why should we propose to distort and abuse it to-day because noble Lords, or feminist agitators outside, have not the patience to wait to have this question dealt with on the broad and comprehensive lines on which it should be dealt with if it is dealt with at all?
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, I rise to refer to one point which has not, so far, been alluded to in the debate. The noble and learned Lord who has just spoken has referred to the travesty it would be if a Patent was made out by which the eldest daughter was called to succeed. The noble Viscount, in introducing the Bill, said he did not believe that any reform of this House would take place in the immediate future. In that case it is quite possible that the same sort of crisis might arise as happened before the passing of the Parliament Act, when the noble Earl opposite, the Leader of the Liberal Party, threatened to swamp this House to secure its consent to that measure. There might be some difficulty in finding members of the House of Commons to consent to be nominated as members of your Lordships' House, for the Government would lose their support in another place, but it would be quite a simple matter to bring in their wives or their daughters. You would be pleasing the members of the House of Commons, and I do not think it is a travesty of the position to say that something of the sort 466 might happen, when we remember that we are told that the great reason for the reform of this House is to be found in possible revolutionary changes in the future.
The process might not be confined to wives or daughters, and we might be inundated by a number of very seductive ladies who would even win over the hard heart of my noble friend Lord Banbury, who sits behind me. Surely it is no exaggeration to say that this would be quite possible if this Bill were to pass, and if this House were not reformed. It would not even require an unscrupulous Prime Minister to get the Crown to make ladies, no matter who they might be, members of this House. That is a danger which I do not think that we ought altogether to disregard, and my object in rising was to point out what I consider to be a very real risk.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF YORK
My Lords, I have no wish to intervene at any length in this most interesting and important discussion, but I desire to say a few words before the noble Marquess, the Leader of the House, addresses your Lordships, as I imagine that he will do before the House divides. I suppose that a considerable number of your Lordships must have been very much in the position in which I found myself when the debate began and, indeed, as it proceeded. I came here with a very open mind with regard to this subject. I had no desire to see these Benches occupied by ladies. I am so constituted that all these innovations naturally dispose me to look upon them with disfavour. But I asked myself whether I could find in my own mind anything that could be called a real reason why they should not be here, and I waited with very great interest and expectation to see whether the opponents of the Bill might be able to provide me with a real reason such as I myself had not been able to find.
I was impressed by what has been said from a Constitutional point of view about the interference on the part of this House with the Patent of His Majesty by virtue of which a seat in this House is taken, but I should imagine it quite possible that, as the Bill passes through this House, some provision might be made stipulating that, in regard to the existing Peereeses, His Majesty's plea- 467 sure should be taken concerning the particular points regarding the terms of their Patents. When the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, spoke, I thought for a time that I had discovered a real reason against this Bill. He presented his argument with very great clearness, and suggested that the main point for us to consider was, not the general question of whether or not it was desirable that women should take part in the deliberations of this House, but merely whether it was desirable that a particular privilege, not contemplated when they became Peeresses, should be conferred upon a very limited number of ladies. I was greatly impressed by the noble Earl's observations, but I reflected, returning in my own mind to the main point upon which I think our decision one way or another must rest, that really, if not technically, the qualifications which these ladies possess are the qualifications possessed by those who sit in this House by virtue of the hereditary principle, or of creation by the King's Patent. They would be here if they were not women, and therefore it does come back in the long run to a discrimination of sex and, disguise it as you please, in view of the qualifications which these ladies have and which, if they were not women, would, I presume, entitle them to be here, the question comes back to the fundamental point which I heard very ably urged by the noble Lord, Lord Buckmaster, as I entered the House a few minutes ago: Is there any reason at this present time why these particular ladies, who, if they were not women, would be sitting with the rest of your Lordships in this House, should be excluded because they are women?
I do not think that to allow them to sit here, or—if that were the form in which the Bill was presented—to invite the pleasure of the Sovereign on the matter of whether they should sit here, would seriously affect future proposals as to the reform of this House, and accordingly I feel, in spite of the impression made upon my mind by the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, that to throw out this Bill would in fact be to make a sex discrimination at a time when in every other branch of our national life that discrimination has ceased to be made. I think, as Burke reminded us long ago, that when a movement reaches a position in which those who oppose it are no longer effecting any public service by opposition but are 468 merely delaying that which has proved itself to be inevitable and postponing the fulfilment of that movement by grace and common consent, it is useless to resist it. On the whole, I have come to the conclusion that I have not yet been able to discover from the discussion in this House anything that can be called a reason sufficiently substantial to make me deny to these ladies that which I think they are in justice entitled to receive.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, the noble Earl who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench made reference to His Majesty's Government as a whole and entered into speculation as to how they intended to vote, but I think he omitted to notice that both my noble friends who have spoken from this Bench, one sitting on either side of me, spoke in directly contrary senses in respect of this Bill, and in those circumstances I think your Lordships will not be surprised to know that, so far as the Government are concerned, as my noble friend Lord Birkenhead pointed out, this is an open question. I really do not know what would have happened to me in the Cabinet if I had favoured any other course. I should only have come out in pieces. But seriously speaking, there is a very good reason why, upon a subject of this kind, there should be no Party pressure. This is a matter for your Lordships to decide. That is true, of course, of all Bills, but this belongs to the constitution of the House itself, and it is therefore a matter upon which the individual opinion of your Lordships, quite apart from any Party consideration, ought to have the fullest play. Therefore, apart from my own views, I am very glad that this should be an open question.
At the same time, I have thought that perhaps it would be hardly respectful to your Lordships if I should remain entirely silent and give a silent vote. I therefore rise to say that, after some hesitation, I have made up my mind to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill. I do not think that this matter can be put upon a footing of anything like a strong argument. Your Lordships heard the speech of my noble friend the Secretary of State for India, and the very notable admission which he made, because he said, in the most categorical terms, that the main issue of whether in the final settlement of your Lordships' House 469 women should sit here or not was practically settled—that he, for his part, did not intend to contest it, but would yield to the argument that you could not have a constitution in which, of all Assemblies in the country, this should be the only one in which women should not be entitled to sit. I think he is right. I do not think the thing could be argued any longer. So far as that main principle is concerned the matter is decided.
I regret it. I regret the admission of women to a full burden of public life, not because I think that the House of Commons or the House of Lords is thereby deteriorated, but because I think it is bad for the country as a whole. Of course, it may be thought, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, suggested, that those of us who hold that view belong to the forces of reaction. It may be so. I am not afraid of these hard words, although I do not recognise myself as being reactionary. But I do think the distinction between family and public life is of the greatest importance to this country, and I do not agree with the noble and learned Lord that the fact that women take a great part in public life leaves them able to take that interest in, and perform, that work in their own family which they otherwise would have done. I believe it will be found in the future that, whatever benefit they confer upon the country, they do not confer benefit upon their own families. That, however, is academic, and I apologise for referring to it so late in the afternoon. The battle on that side is won, and I say that probably the first infraction was made by the Conservative Party, when, through the institution of the Primrose League, they persuaded women to take part in public life. Of course, everything else followed as a matter of course, and it was only a question of time.
Why, then, do I think that we ought to vote against this Bill? It is because of the argument which has been addressed to your Lordships over and over again to-night, and which I do not intend to repeat, except in a, sentence or two. It is because this Bill proposes to give the privilege of sitting and voting in this House to ladies who were never intended to receive it. It is not a technical matter; it is a real point. I venture to say that when these actual Peerages were granted there was no intention whatever, 470 on the part of the Sovereign or the Prime Ministers who advised the Sovereign, that these ladies should sit and vote in your Lordships' House. I do not know what was in their minds, but I am quite sure that that was not their intention, and I think it is very likely, and very possible, that if it had been known that the grant of a special remainder to a. daughter involved the giving to her of a right to sit and vote in this House, that that special privilege and addition to the dignity might never have been given. I am sure that the Prime Ministers would have been very much more chary of recommending such a high honour if they had known the consequences.
I am aware that this Bill goes much further in principle than the ladies who hold the privileges in their own right. That is true, but it is not of great importance, because if we cut the existing Peerages out of the Bill it would be a very long time before, by the creation of new Peerages, there would be any great addition to your Lordships' ranks. The point is that these ladies are to be admitted, and they were never intended to be admitted when the dignities were granted, and if they were not why should we presume to alter what must be presumed to have been the intention of the Sovereign and the Prime Minister at the time when these Peerages were granted That seems to me to be the point, and I thought it very significant, if I may say so, that so experienced a controversialist and so admirable a debater as Lord Buckmaster never touched that point in the course of his speech. He could not have forgotten it. He did not touch the point because he thought the point did not admit of an answer. Why has it not happened in the course of this debate that some noble Lord, representing the promoters of the Bill, has offered to insert an Amendment in the course of the stages of the Bill under which all existing Peeresses in their own right should be cut out of it? I waited to hear whether the noble and learned Lord would do so, and he said nothing about it, and I can only conclude that your Lordships are intended, in passing the Second Reading of this Bill, to do that very thing which was not intended when the Peerages were granted. For that reason, speaking for myself and myself alone, I intend to vote against the Bill.
§ On Question, Whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?472
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 78; Not-Contents, 80.471
|York, L. Abp.||St. Davids, V.||Hemphill, L.|
|Marlborough, D.||Newcastle, L. Bp.||Leigh, L.|
|Lincolnshire, M. (L. Great Chamberlain.)||Aberdare, L.||Marshall of Chipstead, L.|
|Anslow, L.||Meston, L.|
|Arnold, L.||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|De La Warr, E.||Askwith, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Grey, E.||Berwick, L.||Northbourne, L.|
|Lucan, E.||Bethell, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Munster, E.||Bledisloe, L.||Pontypridd, L.|
|Oxford and Asquith, E.||Buckmaster, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Cawley, L.||Ravensworth, L.|
|Powis, E.||Channing of Wellingborough, L.||Rowallan, L.|
|Russell, E.||Ruthven of Gowrie, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.)||St. Levan, L.|
|Stamford, E.||Clwyd, L.||Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)|
|Strafford, E.||Crawshaw, L.|
|Yarborough, E.||Danesfort, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)||Shandon, L.|
|Astor, V. [Teller.]||Dunedin, L.||Shaw, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.) [Teller.]||Somers, L.|
|Burnham, V.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Elphinstone, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Cowdray, V.||Ernle, L.||Trevor, L.|
|Hampden, V.||Farrer, L.||Vestey, L.|
|Knutsford, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)||Wargrave, L.|
|Lee of Fareham, V.||Gorell, L.||Wrenbury, L.|
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Inchcape, V.||Hindlip, L.|
|Peel, V.||Hylton, L.|
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Younger of Leckie, V.||Joicey, L.|
|Bath, M.||Annaly, L.||Lamington, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Atkinson, L.||Lawrence of Kingsgate, L.|
|Linlithgow, M||Avebury, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Normanby, M.||Banbury of Southam, L. [Teller.]||Mildmay of Flete, L.|
|Shaftesbury, E. (L. Steward.)||Bearsted, L.||Muir Mackenzie, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Blythswood, L.||Muskerry, L.|
|Clarendon, E.||Carson, L.||Oranmore and Browne, L.|
|Devon, E.||Charnwood, L.||Phillimore, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Cheylesmore, L.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Lindsey, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)|
|Lovelace, E.||Raglan, L.|
|Macclesfield, E.||Clinton, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||St. Audries, L.|
|Mayo, E.||Darling, L.||St. John of Bletso, L.|
|Morton, E.||Desborough, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Mount Edgeumbe, E.||Dynevor, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Erskine, L. [Teller.]||Strachie, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Stuart of Wortley, L.|
|Faringdon, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Allendale, V.||Forester, L.||Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)|
|Churchill, V.||Forres, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Cross, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)||Templemore, L.|
|Devonport, V.||Harris, L.||Wavertree, L.|
|Falmouth, V.||Heneage, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Resolved in the negative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.|