§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Amendment, moved yesterday by Lord Banbury of Southam, to the Motion for the Second Reading—namely, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, I think most of your Lordships, who listened to the whole of the discussion last night, will have felt that in the trenchant speeches delivered by several members of this House points were made that even the lucid statement of the Lord Chancellor does not entirely cover. Certainly attention was drawn to the very peculiar position in which this Bill stands, and I think we have a right to ask what are the credentials under which the Bill is brought before us. The Prime Minister some time ago delivered an obiter dictum as to the desirability of equalising the franchise of the two sexes—an obiter dictum to which members of this House, who were impressed by the way in which women discharged their duties under the franchise obtained in 1918, were quite willing to subscribe—but 214 the Prime Minister coupled that pledge with a distinct undertaking that the question should be examined as a whole by a Conference, which Conference, he suggested, would be best presided over by the Speaker of the House of Commons.
It was pointed out last night by, among others, Lord de Clifford, who spoke for the first time, with great force, that the fact that the Speaker in his peculiar position did not find it possible to preside over a Conference, did not in any way cut away the necessity for some consideration before taking this extraordinary plunge. Look back to the Reform Bills. Surely, when the Prime Minister gave that pledge he must have had in his mind, not merely the immense excitement which attended the Reform Bills of 1832, 1567 and 1884, but the fact that in 1918 the existing franchise was given in great haste after the War, mainly on the argument that it was not fair that the men who had fought in the War, and the women who had co-operated with them, should have no share in the discussions affecting the re-instatement of the country after peace. But I do not think anybody can maintain that the Bill of 1918 was marked by any considerable previous discussion, and it is unknown in our history that within ten years a further step should be taken without the least attempt made to weigh the effect of the last advance. Honestly I cannot think that the unanimity of opinion which is claimed for the introduction of the present Bill has any justification in fact.
The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack alluded somewhat humorously to the ten just men, or rather just ten men, who had gone into the Lobby against the Bill in the House of Commons. I would ask him whether in his experience or anybody else's he can remember any measure of first-class magnitude, not to speak of a Franchise Bill, on which in the two chief Divisions nearly 250 Members of Parliament failed to record their votes. The thing is unprecedented in our history and is eloquent of the state of opinion. I would also ask my noble and learned friend Lord Birkenhead, who I think is going to speak later in this debate, to tell us what was the curious indisposition which caused many of his colleagues, including men of such standing as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary for the Dominions and others, 215 to be absent from the Division—a Division on a Government Bill. Again I say with some experience that there is no precedent for such an abstention on the part of Ministers.
We are told that the women insist on these votes being given, not merely on an equality, but on an equality based on the precise terms of the Act of 1918. There was a great meeting at the Albert Hall addressed by the Prime Minister. There were, I understand, 8,000 or 9,000 women present. The Prime Minister went out of his way to use words to this effect: There is in some quarters a strong feeling, which is shared by many associations, that the franchise for both sexes should be given at 25; and that was followed by the loudest cheers given during the evening, which resounded round the Hall for several minutes. Therefore I think it is remarkable that it should be claimed that the terms of this Bill have the assent of the Whips. Has any public meeting been held in this country in favour of the Bill? If so, it has not been reported. I asked the Clerk at the Table the other day if any Petitions had been presented to this House in favour of the Bill. I remember on previous Reform Bills deluges of Petitions. I remember people coming to the House of Lords, with two messengers behind them staggering under the Petitions. I understand that not one single Petition has been presented in favour of this Bill. I think we must therefore modify this talk about unanimity, and we must admit that with regard to this Bill the House of Commons is apathetic, Ministers are divided, the women are frankly doubtful of the desirability of going as far as the Bill goes, and the country has given no indication whatever of its views up to the present moment.
The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, raised another very important point last night with regard to this rapid evolution of the franchise. He pointed out that the two Houses have to act together. He reminded your Lordships that in June last year by a very great majority this House decided that it was willing in order to facilitate the reform of the personnel of the House to give up its undoubted hereditary rights and to co-operate with the Government in modernising the personnel of this House. 216 The Prime Minister has in terms accepted the responsibility for acting within this Parliament on the question of reform. But I have noticed in the speeches of several of his leading supporters, including members of the Government, a statement that they had no mandate from the country to proceed in this Parliament with the reform of the House of Lords. Have they any mandate to proceed with the reform of the House of Commons? I know that in quiet times the questions which have arisen in the past between the two Houses are unfortunately obscured, but I am speaking within the recollection of, I should say, the majority of members who are now present here, when I say that both in 1885 and again in 1910, a condition of the utmost tension was caused owing to the constitution of this House, that pledges were given by those who sit with the Party opposite, and especially by the late Lord Oxford, to deal simultaneously, or as soon as possible after the Parliament Act, with the reform of this House, and I will venture to say that there is not one Conservative member who stood at the Election in 1910, who did not pledge himself to the reform of this House. Therefore, if there is any question of a balance of mandates, that balance, I submit, is in favour of the reform of the House of Lords, and is not in favour of the reform of the House of Commons.
I attach the greatest importance to asking your Lordships to consider how unwise it is to proceed with the one without the other. You cannot shut from your minds the fact that there is a divergence between the constitution of the House of Commons and the constitution of this House. We cannot conceal from ourselves that it is quite a possibility that in the very near future the Labour Party may be in a majority; and who can argue that a state of things in which there is a majority in one House of Parliament, while in the other House out of 700 members, there are only about 10 avowed supporters of that majority, is one which can permanently continue? I make bold to say that the reform of this House, considering this anomaly, is infinitely more important, infinitely more pressing, and that the absence of it is infinitely more dangerous than any lack of equality in the composition of the 217 electorate of the House of Commons. And I cannot help hoping that at all events one result of this debate will be that the Government will realise that, having carried out what they regard as one pledge, they are bound by the other.
I said just now that in quiet times the question does not arise. Under this Bill I feel that in the very near future the question of a collision on important questions between the two Houses must arise. I do not wish to be understood to mean that the mentality of this House differs from the mentality of the elected representatives of the people or their conception of the treatment of social problems is different. Taking a long view of it in the past, in all matters that were held to be matters of social advancement, whether it be education or housing or sanitation or the standard of life, the members of this House were just as urgent in pressing those measures forward as any of the members of another place. But a whole series of new questions has arisen since the War. There is the question of public economy, which was never brought forward before from the point of view that the more you could take from one set of people the more you could spend on someone else. There is the question of Imperial obligations, and the question, above all, of the public control of trade as against private endeavour. Those are questions which, there is not the slightest use in denying, are viewed differently by a large portion of the electorate than they are viewed in this House, where there are far more men of responsibility who know the real conditions of trade and are leaders of industry than will be found in the Lower House.
I could not find it possible to go into the Lobby against any question of equalising the franchise if it could be done on reasonable terms; but I submit to the Government that there is a question which could have been considered by the Speaker's Conference and which still could be taken up and considered before we go into Committee; I refer to the question of age and as to whether it would not be better to substitute "twenty-four" for "twenty-one" and so reduce the present age of thirty by six years. There is also the question of Poor Law relief; but that is ruled out by the Preamble of the Bill. I should like to ask your Lordships to permit me to deal 218 for one moment with two questions. The Lord Chancellor said last night that a woman who had married, who had domestic work to do and perhaps a child or two to look after, could hardly be considered unfit to give a vote for a Member of Parliament. I should have been inclined to turn the question round and ask whether a young woman who was just married and was engaged entirely in domestic work and cares, would have much time in which to study the problems upon which she has to vote for a, Member of Parliament. It has been said that a man who is of an age to fight for his country is also of an age to vote. It is true that in the last War you could teach a man sufficient in three months to enable him to fight. I wish I could think that the majority of the electors of that age could learn in three months, or could have three months in which to learn, something about politics in order to enable them to vote. But everybody must be aware, I think, that these very young people have been brought up under different conditions altogether since 1918.
Turning to the question of public economy, the state of our industries and the undoubted distress of a large body of workmen has made it necessary, and we have all agreed upon it, to provide special means of meeting their difficulties. Nobody grudges the "dole," nobody grudges Poor Law relief to those who, from no fault of their own, are absolutely forced to come under it. But everybody in your Lordships' House knows—it is an open secret—that a very large number of young women who could work, who could go into domestic service, are either idle altogether or go into three or four situations and throw each of them up on the shortest notice and come back on to the "dole," which is always there for them. The abuse of public relief both from the "dole" and the Poor Law, are matters which are absolutely well known to every member of your Lordships' House. Unfortunately, it is the younger people (who have been brought up to believe that this is a proper and reasonable manner in which to meet their difficulties) who have been reported in many cases as guilty of the non-observance of the old strong desire not to come upon the Poor Law.
219 That is not all. I said just now that 8,000 or 9,000 women at the Albert Hall seemed to be afraid of the incursion of a number of these young persons into the franchise. I am not surprised at that. The other day I took up a Labour journal in which the editor boasted that the great majority of those to whom the Lord Chancellor alluded last night as being in employment were also in trade unions. And he added that they would, accordingly, vote in a mass at the next Election. I believe that most members of your Lordships' House are very willing to give the vote to the masses; but I do not believe that there are ten members of your Lordships' House who would justify the voting in masses which is the result of these enormous bodies of electors. I was reading the other day some words of Lord Bryce, whom nobody could accuse of being a Conservative. He wrote on democracy from this standpoint. He said that the present evil of democracy, of these great electorates, was that the larger they were the more they were at the mercy of the machine. With the machine you have an expression not of the wisdom of the people but, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, said last night, of the prejudices and views of the few who govern the machine. I do not believe that anybody who knows the effect of the influence of the "bosses" in America will regard it as a fortunate precedent.
If you look throughout Europe, I think you will see that these enormous masses voting together are controlled by organisations. You will see the Fascist movement controlling the democracy in Italy. You will see the utter breakdown of democracy in Russia. And can anybody say that in this country we have had a favourable experience since 1918? The noble Duke behind me called attention last night to the great development of huge Party funds, used by organisations of every description to influence elections and to run candidates. That is a difficulty which has arisen and increased, not on one side alone, since 1918. Again—and here I think that many of your Lordships who spent long years in the House of Commons will join with me—can anybody say that he thinks the House of Commons has not changed as a House since 1918? Look at the attendance in that House. Look at the constant 220 challenge in Labour circles to the influence of that House. Look at the debates in that House, which are hardly referred to by the Press in many cases. I say that is because to so large an extent the work of politics has been transferred from Parliament to the country.
I think that that for which we have fought for hundreds of years—namely, that Parliament should be a microcosm of the country—ought to make us hesitate and consider before we increase the electorate by this large number of voters. I know that since the War we have had to take steps which were never considered desirable before. I think we shall all appreciate the fact that the Government are wishing to move in the right direction, but what I put to them is this, that we are in a period of transition and that this is not the time to bring forward a crude Bill of this kind. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, said, two or three nights ago, that no doubt a certain proposal was revolutionary and it naturally came from the Tory side of the House. I do not wish to characterise this Bill as revolutionary, but I do think in its present condition it is specially dangerous. I ask the Government, is this a time without examination, without qualification, without consideration of the effect of so large an extension of the franchise, to pass this measure in deference to a demand which has apparently not been made by the country? I should hesitate to go into the Lobby against the measure, with the principle of which I agree. I do earnestly hope the Government will consider the question of the age—whether it be 24 or 21—and the position of those permanently on outdoor relief and will have regard to the effect of giving them the vote and to the circumstance that while their immense majorities in both Houses enables the Government to carry anything they desire, that very fact lays on them an immeasurable responsibility.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, having seen the Motion for the rejection of this Bill on the Paper I came down to your Lordships' House yesterday filled with interest to learn what arguments were going to be put forward against the Bill, bearing in mind that the principle of this Bill is simply to give votes to women on the same terms as 221 men, and I have waited with some interest to hear what arguments either of logic or of justice would be advanced against that principle. The course of the debate so far has convinced me of what I strongly thought before, that is that there are no such arguments. We have listened to a number of speeches, for instance that of the noble Duke, the Duke of Northumberland, and to some extent that of the noble Earl who has just sat down, which might equally well have been directed against any form of democratic government. We all know that the noble Duke is quite convinced that democracy is a bad form of government. It may be so; I am not concerned to argue it. It may be that the noble Duke would prefer an oligarchy to a democracy. That is not the point. The point is that we are living in a democracy and it is quite impossible to put back the hands of the clock.
The fact of the matter is that this Bill became a certainty when you made education compulsory and free, for it is obviously perfectly impossible to educate all your men and women and then refuse to give them any part in the government of the country. I think the noble Duke was a little wrong also, if I may say so, in saying that women were given the vote as a result of what they did in the War. I do not think that is so at all. I think it was part of an inevitable procedure which was going on. It is true that the War hastened the advent of the woman's vote, but I think really what happened was that the War gave a very good excuse to a large number of excellent people, who had up to that time been on the wrong side, to change their minds. Another line of attack against the Bill has been that it has been neither preceded nor accompanied by the reform of your Lordships' House. I frankly say that that is a line of argument with which I find myself in very much greater agreement, but surely it is notorious that the only reason we have not had reform of this House is that we have been quite unable to agree among ourselves as to what form that reform should take. I do not think it is fair to blame the Government for that. Perhaps it is not too late to suggest that yet one more effort might be made and possibly, weighed down by the fear of the perils which the noble Duke foresees, he may be a little more willing to make some 222 concessions in what he requires in reform of this House; and, if other noble Lords are equally complaisant, it may still be that we shall have some scheme of reform which will command universal consent, or at all events a majority of your Lordship's House.
The argument has also been used that there is apathy in the country on this matter. That is an argument with which I venture absolutely to disagree. I quite agree that there is no great political excitement, but when you have a measure which has been adopted as a plank in the programme of all three Parties it is obvious that the end is a foregone conclusion. I venture to say that the only remaining question of interest is to see how many of your Lordships will follow into the Division. Lobby the ancient Britons, if I may so describe them without disrespect, who have put down the Motion for rejection of the Bill. Should your Lordships take what I think is extremely bad advice and throw the Bill out and delay the matter, I think you would find that the feeling in the country is very far from being one of apathy; in fact, if your Lordships were so ill-advised as to take that course, there would be such a storm in the country that when the duet had settled I think you would wake up to find, not that your Lordships' House was reformed and strengthened, as the noble Duke seems to think, but that your Lordships' House was no longer in existence.
One other very strange argument was put forward against the Bill. That was that yesterday's debate was of a somewhat gloomy character. I entirely agree. I think it was one of the most depressing debates to which I have ever listened. I frankly say that I do not think the atmosphere of your Lordships' House is ever exhilarating, but, with a succession of jeremiads such as we had yesterday and prognostications of disasters, I do not think it is surprising that your Lordships found it to be more gloomy than usual. One draws some consolation from the fact that the same lamentations have always rent the air whenever any extension of the franchise has been proposed, yet somehow we seem to survive and the world still goes round. We may console ourselves by thinking, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, remarked, that this is the last occasion on which your Lordships will be 223 troubled with a Franchise Bill. I say frankly that I do not share that gloom in the least. I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly and I welcome it as a great stage in the long struggle for the emancipation of women.
I regret, and I think all your Lordships will regret that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, is not with us to-day. His absence, I am certain, has deprived your Lordships of one of those speeches to which we all listen with such pleasure. The noble and learned Lord let fall one sentence last week which is very much to the point to-day. I am going to read it to your Lordships. The noble and learned Lord said:—My idea is that men and women should be socially and economically equal, free and independent, that it should be no more a matter of surprise that a woman should set out to earn her living than that a man should do so.That is the whole matter in a nutshell. It is just because it is a stage towards the accomplishment of that ideal that I, for one, welcome this Bill. I want to see men and women treated alike as human beings possessed, as they are, of the same qualities of heart and mind. I want to see more women in every sphere of life, and I include that last stronghold of undiluted masculinity, which is your Lordships' House. I think it is right to say that public opinion is getting younger every day, and public opinion is the opinion of women as well as of men, and of young women as well as of young men. I say quite frankly that I think the world has been exclusively governed by the old for much too long. I think the younger generation has a store of enthusiasm and idealism the application of which to the complex problems which beset us to-day can be productive of nothing but good.
My Lords, as a humble Back Bench member, not to say backwoodsman, of your Lordships' House, I would ask your Lordships' indulgence to say a few words in support of the Motion of my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam to reject this Bill. The noble Lord who has just sat down seemed rather surprised that he had heard no argument why women should not be considered as equal with men. I do not think that he will hear any arguments in this debate as to why they should be denied 224 the vote on the same terms as men. The reason I intend to support my noble friend in front of me is that I consider that this Bill, this extension of the franchise, is a very serious constitutional question. It is the chief Government measure, we are told, to be brought before Parliament this Session. It has been described by the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, as a crude measure. It has been described by the noble Viscount, Lord Sumner, who spoke yesterday, as hasty and ill-considered legislation. I think those were the words he used. The question has already been asked—and I think we are entitled to ask it—as to what authority we have from the people of this country for the introduction of this extension of the franchise at the present time.
This is an experiment, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack described the Bill of last year when he was Attorney-General. My noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam may like to know exactly what he said. As I have always looked upon the Lord Chancellor as one of the most trusty leaders of my Party, I took very good care to preserve the words he used on that occasion. This is what he said:—Equal franchise is an experiment; probably there has never been an experiment on quite such an immense scale … If the elector in the future regards the vote as a means of getting some selfish advantage for himself or herself, then indeed the State will be in grave danger.Those are the words which Sir Douglas Hogg, the Attorney-General, is reported to have used at Bedford College on November 4 last year, and I have, I may say, far greater faith in thinking that Sir Douglas Hogg spoke the words that he really meant on that occasion than did the Lord Chancellor in what he told your Lordships' House yesterday.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD HAILSHAM)
If I may be permitted to intervene for one moment I think, if my noble friend continues the quotation, he will find nothing inconsistent in what I said last year with what I said this year.
I think—one does not want to go over this question a second time—that it is a fact that the leaders of the Conservative Party, neither in their speeches nor in their 225 programmes before the last General Election, said one single word to justify them in bringing in this Bill for the extension of the franchise in this Parliament. On the other hand the manifesto of the Labour Party contained the words: "Votes for women at 21 on the same terms as men." I fail, therefore, to see why we are committed, or how we are committed, by our own leaders to this Bill for the extension of the franchise. Lord de Clifford, whose speech I am afraid many of your Lordships did not hear last night—the Earl of Midleton has already alluded to it, and I hope most of you have read it in your OFFICIAL REPORT this morning—said that the Government are making life extraordinarily hard for their supporters by this action and others, to say nothing of the precedent that they are creating by passing this Bill without a mandate from the people. We heard yesterday all about the pledges of the Unionist leaders from my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam, and I think the noble Duke who sits on this Bench fairly disposed of the question as to why the Conference was not summoned. He advanced very good reasons why, although Mr. Speaker refused to preside, the Conference should have been summoned all the same.
The Bill, I humbly submit, evades all the questions that have been raised. First of all there is the most important question alluded to by the noble Viscount, Lord Sumner, yesterday, and by the noble Earl. Lord Midleton, to-day—the question of the reform of your Lordships' House. The Prime Minister, when speaking at the meeting at the Albert Hall, to which the Earl of Midleton alluded, used these words:I am proud to think that it has been given to the Unionist Party to secure the triumph of this cause"—that is the cause of equal franchise—I believe in years to come it will not be reckoned the least achievement of our great Party.The Prime Minister seems to think that the Bill is passed and over. He is either ignoring your Lordships' House altogether, or he thinks he has you in his pocket. Personally I think that is a great mistake whichever way it happens to be. The electorate was already 226 swollen by 13 million voters in 1918, and it is to be further increased by another 5¼ million voters when this Bill passes. Nothing has been done at all to strengthen the power of the Second Chamber in any way, in view of the great gamble that this Bill, when it is passed, will doubtless be. The Prime Minister the other day told the members of the other House that there was still a small remnant left to remind him of—Old unhappy far-off thingsAnd battles long ago.The noble Lord who preceded me talked about ancient Britons. I am proud to consider myself an ancient Briton, and also to belong to that small remnant of which the Prime Minister spoke.
I venture to remind your Lordships of one battle that took place about seventeen years ago in this House. I refer to the battle of the Parliament Act. I would also remind you of the name of one noble Earl who figured prominently in that fight. I speak of the late Lord Halsbury. Is it not a coincidence that Lord Halsbary's son is going to take a leading part in this fight to-day? I have no doubt on which side the late Lord Halsbury would be found were he with us to-day. Some members of your Lordships' House on that occasion ran away, and not a few of them afterwards bitterly regretted the part that they had taken. As a consequence your Lordships' House is now greatly weakened and crippled, and you have one hand tied behind your back. But you have still power to strike a blow and to reject this Bill, for this Parliament at any rate. By all means let those of your Lordships who think that this Bill is right and just vote for it, but I appeal to those of your Lordships who think that the Bill is neither right nor just, who do not like the Bill, not to say that you will not go into the Lobby against it merely because it is a Conservative Government that brings it in. That, I think, would be a great mistake. I appeal to those noble Lords to strike one blow with all their power, to show their self-respect and to follow my noble friend Lord Banbury into the Lobby against the Bill.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken nor the noble Earl who 227 opened the debate this afternoon into the consideration of the relative merits of the reform of the House of Lords and the extension of the franchise proposed in this Bill. I noticed with interest and pleasure that, although both noble Lords were speaking in opposition to this Bill, they both expressed no objection to the extension of the franchise to women on equal terms with men, which, I would venture to point out, is the only purpose and principle of the Bill we are discussing. I have no wish to prolong the debate, and I shall detain your Lordships for a few moments only, but, having taken a prominent part in the movement for the political enfranchisement of women in its early stages, I do not feel disposed to give a merely silent vote in support of this Bill.
In listening to the debate that has taken place yesterday and to-day, my mind went back to those days before the War when this subject was so acutely controversial, and to the women who fought the battle for their rights in those far-off and difficult days, some of whom did not live to see the fruits of their labours. I feel that by passing this Bill to-day we are, as it were, placing a wreath on the tomb of those early champions. At least we shall, by passing the Bill, be placing a crown of victory and a seal of finality upon their efforts. I have noticed during the discussion that, as Lord Sumner pointed out to us last night, a great change has come over the character of this controversy. In the days of which I have spoken feeling ran so high that this question divided not merely Parties but families, and separated friends. All this, I am happy to find, has gone, and all bitterness has gone out of the discussion. I do not suggest that we have reached unanimity on the question. So long as we have Lord Banbury with us he will, I am sure, save us, as he always saved the House of Commons, from the reproach of treating any Bill as non-contentious. But, if we are not unanimous, there is at least a changed character in our controversy. We who support the Bill no longer regard its opponents as the enemies of an almost sacred cause. On the contrary we respect them, and we even admire them as the remnants of a defeated army, the Old Guard, as it were, still fighting manfully in support of a lost cause; and they, I hope, do not regard 228 us quite as the dangerous lunatics that we were considered in the days when we defended this cause before the War.
I doubt if those who were the stoutest opponents of women's franchise in those days and who used to express the gloomiest fears of the consequences of their enfranchisement, both to women and to the State, would now claim that they were justified in the fears that they entertained or that the evils that they prophesied have come to pass. On the contrary, the placing of the two sexes on an equal basis has come to be regarded as so natural and reasonable that, as Lord Balfour of Burleigh very truly said, this is the explanation of the comparative indifference with which this subject is now discussed. Indeed, it is extremely difficult for those who have grown up since the War to believe that the arguments that were used and the fears that were expressed could have been seriously entertained. And now we are invited to carry this movement to its final and logical conclusion.
I have either read or listened to all the speeches which have been made in this debate. I have heard a great deal about the merits and faults of democracy; I have heard opinions expressed with regard to the political sagacity of women; but I have really failed to hear a single argument directed against the Bill which we are discussing. Democracy may be good or bad, but that is not the subject which we are discussing, and I submit it is irrelevant to consider the merits of that system of government. Again, the opinions of your Lordships upon the political sagacity of women may be good or bad, but they are no more relevant to the consideration of this Bill than the opinions of your Lordships on the question whether women should have long hair or short hair, which I have noticed with interest you are expressing very freely in the evening Press. At least the opponents of this measure, if they are defeated in the Lobby of this House, may console themselves with the consideration that they are said to possess a majority of three to one in favour of long hair, in the newspaper debate.
From the speeches that I have listened to I have gathered only two arguments which seem to me to be directed relevantly against the principle of this Bill. The first is whether twenty-one is a 229 proper qualifying age for the responsibility of the franchise, and the second is whether it is expedient or justifiable to create an electorate in which women will be in the majority, for admittedly that will be one of the consequences of passing this Bill. Let me deal first of all with the question of the age of enfranchisement for both men and women. I cannot help thinking that the critics of this Bill are apt to exaggerate both the importance and the nature of the responsibility involved in the possession of the vote. Whether you describe it as a responsibility, or a privilege, or a duty, or merely, as one noble Lord said yesterday, as a function, from whatever point of view it is regarded, I believe that the critics of this measure attach exaggerated importance to the nature of that duty, responsibility, privilege or function. They speak as if the choice of a Member of Parliament involved qualities so exceptional, experience so great, intellect so trained, discrimination so pronounced, that all these qualities are not to be expected in persons so young as twenty-one.
If we consider the question dispassionately, no one I think can fail to admit that this function, the choice of a Member to represent you in Parliament, is certainly not more difficult, nor is it more serious in its consequences, than any of the other duties, responsibilities and functions of manhood and womanhood, to which men and women become legally entitled on attaining their majority, and not more difficult, certainly, than the selection of a companion for life by marriage. Yet, we are asked to say that although the age of twenty-one is selected in every other country which has a representative system of Government, in this country alone we are to place the age at a higher level. If we consider that it is at that age, the age of twenty-one, that a man and a woman are considered fit to exercise every other duty, obligation and privilege of life which devolves upon them on attaining their majority—the management and disposal of property, responsibility as trustees for the property of others, and innumerable legal obligations—it cannot be seriously contended that the selection of a Member of Parliament is the one function, the one duty of a citizen, which cannot be fulfilled adequately by a person of twenty-one.
230 Then let me say a word about the second question, the so-called government by women argument. I am not surprised that those whose opinion of the political sagacity of the whole female sex is so low that they were not prepared to concede a vote to a single woman, and who have had so short an experience of the consequences of what they at the time considered to be a rash act, should hesitate to accept a Bill which would place women in an actual majority on the electorate; but here again I think that those who use this argument are inclined to exaggerate both the effect and the nature of the passing of this Bill. I remember that in the days when we used to discuss the merits of woman suffrage up and down the country those who advocated woman suffrage were at pains to explain that women did not and would not vote as a body, and now, in addition to the argument which we used hypothetically, we have had the experience of the enfranchisement of women since 1918, and to common sense we may add the argument of experience. I believe that the addition of women to the electorate has had one effect. I believe that it has added to the uncertainty of elections which have taken place, and that it has been responsible for a very large turnover in votes which has been noticeable in certain constituencies in recent by-elections. The pendulum is now longer than it used to be, and it swings therefore with greater momentum.
We are going by this Bill to add still further to the length of the pendulum, and, it may be, add still further to the momentum with which it will swing and to the uncertainty, consequently, of the result of various elections. However undesirable that may be, and I think it is regrettable, it is certainly no justification for withholding a measure which is in effect a measure of justice long overdue, and it is on that point that I will conclude. If it be a fact, and it is not disputed by the advocates of the Bill, that women are more numerous than men, that certainly is no argument for refusing them equal representation. I noticed that the noble Duke, the Duke of Northumberland, yesterday, said that two things essentially different could not be equal. That may very well be, but how is that relevant to a discussion of this Bill? This Bill is not a Bill for 231 making men and women equal; it is a Bill for giving them equal representation. The noble Duke, I am sure, will not deny that bodies which may be essentially different may still have equal characteristics, whether those characteristics are good or bad. Nothing could be more essentially different from the noble Duke than a lump of lead, yet he would not deny that both may have an equal weight. Men and women may be essentially different, but that, I am sure he would agree, is no argument for denying them equality of justice, and I submit it is no argument for denying them equality of representation in a Constitution based upon the representative principle.
Again, the noble Duke concluded his speech by saying that the only question before your Lordships was the question whether the country would be better and more wisely governed as a consequence of the passing of this Bill. That would have been a very legitimate way of presenting the case if this had been a Bill for the better government of the country, but it is nothing of the kind. This is a Representation of the People Bill, and I submit that the only question for your Lordships is whether this Bill will give, or will not give, a better representation in Parliament of the people of this country. Believing, then, as I do, that this Bill can have no evil effect for the State, that it is, in fact, necessary in order to make the representation of the people more complete, and believing, too, that it is required and called for in the interests of justice, I have no hesitation in voting for the Bill myself, and I hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading with a majority at least equal to that which it received in the House of Commons.
§ LORD HUNSDON OF HUNSDON
My Lords, the noble Earl who has just sat down says that the only question before you is whether women shall have an equal vote with men, and of course literally that statement is true, but the Bill involves many other important considerations which lead some of us, at all events, to object to it. So far as the political capacity of women is concerned, if it were a bad thing to give women the vote, the men did it, and they therefore have shown political incapacity. It is not on the ground of political 232 capacity in the least that the objections are raised on this side of the House; which would account for the fact—of which I think the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, complained—that we have not addressed ourselves to that point. The first objection that I at least have to the Bill is that I regard it as quite unnecessary when there are very many necessary Bills which should come before your Lordships, and one especially with regard to the reform of this House. The next objection which I have to it is that, taking the figures of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, this Bill will diminish the value of the vote of the present electors by about 25 per cent. That in itself I am not objecting to, but what must happen as a result is that the sense of responsibility of the individual elector must also be diminished. I should have thought that the preoccupations of statesmen would be directed towards increasing that sense of responsibility, not of diminishing it, and especially in the difficult and even dangerous times through which the country is now passing.
I also consider that, as an enormous extension of the franchise was made less than ten years ago, this Bill is at variance with the cautious traditional usage of this country. Before the new electorate have had time to find their feet, before the country has had an opportunity of observing the real effect of that great extension of the franchise, we plunge again into another great extension in exactly the same sense. The reason why I should reject this Bill, if it rested with me, is that in my judgment we have no certain guidance as to the opinion of the electorate. Therefore, as it seems to me, it ought to be placed before the electorate before it is passed into law. My noble friend Lord Iddesleigh made a very pertinent remark on that point last evening. He asked how the electors are to express their opinion at the next Election when all three Parties will go to the poll as supporting this Bill. There is only one way, and it is, I suggest, the right one to follow, and that is to submit this Bill to the country by means of a referendum. If the House of Commons accepted that idea, or even if it refused it, or if your Lordships at all events brought in a Bill to submit this measure to the country by means of a referendum, 233 it would be made clear to the country that your Lordships only desired in rejecting it to get the opinion of the electorate on it before a great constitutional change was made, to the detriment of their voting power. I think if that were done, even my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh would be of opinion that possibly we might still continue as a Second Chamber.
The suggestion which I make is precisely the same, if my recollection serves me, as was made, I think, by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, when the Parliament Act was being discussed, and though, of course, the matters dealt with in the Parliament Act are of more importance than those dealt with by this Franchise Bill, still both are great constitutional questions. I think I am right in saying that publicists who discuss the referendum are agreed that constitutional questions are, above all others, those which are most fitted to be decided by a recourse to it. Your Lordships know perfectly well, of course, that the objection to the referendum, at least in this country, is that it would interfere with or even upset Ministerial responsibility to Parliament. But that objection would not hold in this particular case. If in the ordinary way a Government submitted a Bill to the country and it was rejected, that would be a vote of want of confidence in the Government. But in this case all three Parties of the State are putting this Bill forward, and the only inference that could be drawn from its rejection by the country would be that the country had no particular confidence in any of the three Parties, and the people of this country might be grateful to your Lordships for giving them an opportunity of expressing their views upon the matter.
Therefore, I would suggest, with all respect, that instead of discussing whether the measure is just, whether it is good government or whether it is logical, we should consider whether the electorate are in its favour or not and whether it would be right to pass such a measure without their consent. When you talk about justice to women, I suggest that it would be unjust to the present electorate to take away 25 per cent. of the value of their votes, without their consent. I hope very much, therefore, that your Lordships will reject the 234 Bill and so cause it to be submitted to the considered judgment of the country, which, as I understand it, is what we are here to do.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, I fear I shall have difficulty in making myself heard owing to a cold, but I feel it my duty to endeavour to do so and I hope your Lordships will help me to make my weak voice audible. It has been urged that there is a public demand for this Bill. With that I cannot agree. It has also been stated that if this Bill were to go through there would never be a reform of the House of Lords. With that I agree conditionally. So far as I can gather, the general opinion outside is that this Bill is not desired at all. Therefore, it seems to me that the people ought to be allowed to express their views upon the question at a General Election. I think your Lordships ought not to carry a measure of this sort until that has been done. If you have not the courage to lead the nation when the nation apparently looks to you to do so, but pass such unconsidered legislation as this, it will mean not your reform but your abolition.
I have always been against large extensions of the franchise. When the first large extension of the franchise took place in New Zealand, the Conservative Party there were afraid that they would lose their majority at the coming Election. Therefore, they carried a measure of one man one vote, which the whole Party considered was only a stupid election cry. The result was that the first Labour Government that ever existed came into power. If your Lordships allow this Bill to go forward you will be doing a great deal to bring about the same result in this country. Therefore, I hope you will have the courage to throw the Bill out. I am against large extensions of the franchise on the ground that the aim and object of every Government is to represent the wisdom of the community. I know that the ladies are far cleverer than the men in certain relations of life; but the Government does not require cleverness: it requires wisdom and judgment, and we do not so much expect wisdom and judgment from the ladies as enthusiasm in the pursuit of what they consider right. The best thing for a stupid wise man (because most wise men are always more 235 or less stupid) is to have a clever wife to guide him, and he is a fool if he does not take her advice. But women do not excel in direction or government. Therefore, I have always been opposed to women having a vote.
It has been said that we cannot undo what has been done. Personally, I consider that all men and women below thirty years of age should be disfranchised as well as all those who are in receipt of Government relief. The fact that we have made one mistake is no reason why we should make a second. We have ability, cleverness and talent, which is not a matter of birth, in the young as well as in the old. But wisdom and judgment are the result of experience, and youth cannot possibly have much experience. I beg your Lordships to have the courage to stand by the country. I should like to make several suggestions, but they could not be carried out in this Bill. They would require a short Bill to deal with them separately, as they would not be amendments to this Bill.
My Lords, I do not propose to detain your Lordships very long, but, as one who took part in the House of Commons debate in 1919 in connection with this subject, I feel that I should not like to give an absolutely silent vote to-day. As a matter of fact I am placed in considerable difficulty because when the Women's Emancipation Bill was introduced into the House of Commons in 1919 by the Labour Party I actually moved its rejection. Although it passed its Second Reading in the House it went upstairs and was subsequently killed in Committee. But that Bill was introduced within one year of the passage of the Enfranchisement Act of 1918 and it was quite obvious that too little time had elapsed between the passing of that Bill and the introduction of this Private Bill in 1919. How was it that women received their enfranchisement in 1918? It was by dint of pressure, by agitation and by forming public opinion until the time came that women were granted what they regarded as their rights. The War had intervened also and they had proved by their actions during the War that they were worthy of receiving the franchise.
236 Since 1919 much has happened to alter the political chart and the political barometer in this respect. I believe, notwithstanding the statements which have been made by various noble Lords in this House, that the country as a whole is in favour of this Bill and, furthermore, that if this Bill is rejected there will be set up a great deal of discontent and agitation. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack suggested three possible ways in which this subject might be settled. He told us yesterday that the method provided in this Bill was the method eventually selected. I think there is one other way which he did not mention. It might have been possible to create out of this Bill a really equal franchise and not an unequal franchise. I mean that by so fixing the age of women who will be entitled to receive the vote as to make the number of women voters approximately the same as the number of men voters, it would have been possible to create an equal franchise and not an unequal franchise, which we see presented to us to-day in this Bill. I do not, however, think that point is of sufficient importance for your Lordships' House to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. I believe that we ought to be guided in this House largely by what the country requires and, in this particular case, that we ought to be guided largely by what the House of Commons asks and what the House of Commons has demanded in this Bill not only through the Party to which I have the honour to belong, the Conservative Party, but also through the other two Parties in that House.
As an old House of Commons man, in contradistinction to some of my noble friends I believe that the House of Commons ought to have a very large measure of freedom in respect of the franchise upon which the members are elected. I do not think that this question is one upon which the House of Lords should join issue with the House of Commons. I go further and suggest that, similarly, this House ought to have a larger measure of freedom in connection with its constitution than has been accorded it in the past. Only last year proposals were put forward by the Government which were accepted in principle by a very large majority in this House, yet when those proposals went down to the House of Commons they were 237 rejected incontinently, in a hurry almost and largely owing to the action of members of the Conservative Party. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, in his speech last night suggested that in return for the passage of this Bill through this House we ought to receive some quid pro quo from the other House. I entirely agree with that and hope that the question of the reform of this House will once more be raised, and not at too late a date. I hope that the Government will include that question in their General Election programme next year. For the reasons I have stated I propose to go into the Lobby to support the Government.
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Midleton expressed surprise that 250 members absented themselves from the Division in the other place. He would not have been so surprised had he been present at the conversation I had with an hon. member before the Bill was introduced into the other House. When I asked him what was thought of the Bill he said: "Many of us do not like it, but the word has been passed round that we are not even to criticise it." In other words the Conservative Party in the Commons were "bounced" by the Conservative hierarchy into passing this Bill. I would ask the noble Earl to say, when he replies for the Government, whether the consent of the Cabinet was received before the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister first gave their pledge that legislation would be introduced.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD)
The noble Viscount has surely far too much experience of the methods of Government to be ignorant of the fact that it is quite impossible for a Cabinet Minister to reveal expressions of opinion made by particular members of the Cabinet at Cabinet meetings.
§ VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME
To get my opinion confirmed. I hope your Lordships will reject this Bill because the Conservative Party have been "bounced."
§ LORD SOUTHWARK
My Lords, I shall occupy very little of your Lordships' time, but I desire to say a few words in regard to the vote which I shall give. Some weeks ago, in view of this Bill and of the terrible state of representation in the House of Commons, where twenty per cent. of the members are minority members, I put a Question to His Majesty's Government. The Question was:—Whether in view of the great number of members of the House of Commons now elected who do not represent a majority of the votes polled, the Government will be willing to introduce, and pass this Session, a Bill which would abolish that great evil, by directing a second ballot to be hell without cost to the candidate and with as small a cost as possible to the State, or any other authority or person.I said on that occasion:—My special reason for pressing this question upon the Government at the present time are these:—that the majority, and not the minority, shall represent the constituency, that the Act shall be in force before the next General Election, and further, that it shall be in operation before an extended franchise is voted to women.I do not intend now to go into details as to how this 20 per cent. is made up, but you may take it from me that the statement I made is correct. It is easily avoided. Before I put that Question there was a discussion as to what was done in other countries in regard to this sort of thing, and the question was raised whether there should be a Royal Commission to enquire into what other countries did. I only heard the end of that debate, but I said that I thought it was a very simple matter and that if nobody else made a practical suggestion I would make one myself. What I suggest is that there should be a second ballot.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
If the noble Lord will allow me to intervene, may I say that as I shall have the responsibility of replying to the debate, I should be glad if he could bring his suggestion into some kind of direct relation to the particular discussion.
§ LORD SOUTHWARK
That is what I am going to do, but I thought I had 239 better let your Lordships know where I am starting from. It is very simple, and it affects the line I propose to take in the Division. I see my noble friend Lord Desborough here. I shall refer to him in a moment. There is a feeling that we want a second ballot. That is what I showed the other day. I think, and it can be done expeditiously, with very little cost, and to the great advantage of the country. The returning officer at an election receives a list of the votes recorded at that election. He finds the man at the head of the poll, when there are perhaps five or six candidates, has not a majority of votes. He says immediately, "second ballot." Now I come to the second ballot as quickly as possible. I say it is expeditious and cheap. I am doing this hurriedly but I have no doubt noble Lords will follow me. We are to have a second ballot. The second ballot would have to be taken in as few days as possible after the General Election. That would have to be put in the Bill. The second ballot is simply this, that the ballot boxes at the General Election have been retained, the staff have been warned that there may be a second ballot in a few days, and all the returning officer has to do is to strike off the names of all the defeated candidates except the two with the highest votes at the poll. You would have the greatest simplicity at the second ballot. There would only be two men, and one or other of the two must be elected, so there must be a majority unless the re turning officer has to give a casting vote. The only printing that would be wanted would be a new poll card. That could be printed for a very small sum of money in a very short time. The only names on it would be those of the two men fortunate enough to be at the top of the first poll.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
I do hope the noble Lord will forgive me, and that the House will forgive me, for interrupting again. I think it may possibly have escaped his observation that we are discussing the subject of female enfranchisement.
§ LORD SOUTHWARK
If I may answer that, I would say that we are discussing now a very large increase in the number of voters in this country, and I do not want to see the Election take place so carelessly.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
It will take place in the same form, even if we admit these women, whether it is wise or unwise. The noble Lord's speech is not directly relevant to the subject. I am sure your Lordships will feel that.
§ LORD SOUTHWARK
The suggestion I want to make is that we ought not to give this vote until we find better regulations for Elections, to avoid what I consider, and what I think noble Lords must feel, is a very great evil, that 20 per cent. of the members of the House of Commons should be elected by minority votes. I will only say a few more words. I would not have asked His Majesty's Government to do this if I had thought it was a very elaborate scheme or something that was going to take up a lot of time in the House of Commons or in your Lordships' House. It is a very simple matter, and it will be very sound policy. I asked the other day, if the noble Lord thought to the contrary, if he would tell me what was the objection, because it seems to me the only answer you can give, if you object to it, is that you prefer a minority vote. I am not speaking for the Liberal Party or the Tory Party, or anybody else. I am only talking about a position which is very unsatisfactory. Perhaps I may say that I know Lord Desborough had to answer my question without knowledge of what the question was going to be. I apologise for that. Had I thought of telling him beforehand I would have done so. He gave me an answer relating to something twelve months ago. I was obliged to tell him this was something different altogether.
I would like the noble Earl, when he replies to the debate, to say whether he himself prefers the present system and prefers the minority vote. I do not think he will say that. At the same time I throw out the suggestion. I was a member of the Speaker's Electoral Reform Conference, and I voted for a previous extension of the franchise, and I am not going to vote against this Bill to-day, but I want to give His Majesty's Government time to reflect between now and the Committee stage as to whether they cannot add something to this Bill. I believe they could do that, but the noble Earl will soon come to a conclusion whether it can be done. I apologise for taking up the time of your Lordships. I am much obliged for the attention you 241 have given me and I hope I have made some suggestions that will be useful.
§ THE EARL OF IVEAGH
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will not expect me to follow the last speaker in detail, but I felt that I could not give a silent vote to-night, as I think that of all your Lordships I have probably fought more contested elections for the other place in the last twenty years than anybody else. I can count nine occasions for myself and one for my wife, and I have not found that the growing electorate is more difficult than the earlier ones, which were much smaller. For my part I feel that the evils spoken of by Lord Banbury and Lord Sumner are not confirmed by my personal experience. After all, the great increase of the younger electorate has eventually given us the largest Conservative majority that we have had in recent years. From the point of view of opponents of this measure it may be that a most dangerous and revolutionary Government has been produced thereby, but for my part I think that it is a great deal better than the Governments that went before, and accordingly I must support this Bill.
If your Lordships were to reject this measure to-night it would not only do this House harm but it would do our Party harm. The passing of this Bill will not necessarily advantage any of the three Parties in the State, because, in my opinion, women do not vote separately from the men. Like the men, they give a reflection of that strange thing, public opinion. If your Lordships were to throw out this measure it would no doubt be said that it was the Tory Peers who had thrown it out, and members of other Parties would go into the Lobby in order to prove that it was the Tory Peers who had thrown it out and to do our Party harm at the next Election. I merely put that point for the consideration of those of your Lordships who propose to go into the Lobby against the Government, because it is a point of very great practical importance. My experience has been that women do not necessarily feel very intensely as women. I have never at any of my contests found them bringing forward any point of view that was essentially different from that of men. They seem to me to have joined the electorate in an absolutely natural manner, and I have found myself addressing very much the same people after the increased franchise 242 as before it. I like to think that yet more women voters will be absorbed in the electorate in the same way, and that I shall not find arty great difference at election time.
There is one reason more than any other why I want to support this Bill, and that is that I believe it is best to begin your education when you are young. I do not believe that you begin educating yourself politically until you have some political responsibility, and if you defer the right to vote until a later age you defer the first consideration of politics to a later age. Accordingly I want to see more young women begin to take an interest in politics. In my opinion they are able more quietly to appreciate a new and complicated issue than the older people. I know that one always considers one's own age the best age. I suppose that I am now half-way down the road of life, but, when I have a complicated issue before me, I look to a young mind to try to discover a remedy quickly. I can understand noble Lords thinking that old men have greater experience, but experience begins when you first begin to educate yourself along a certain line. If you defer thinking of politics until you are an old man, you will still be young in politics. Accordingly I welcome the Bill and I shall support the Government in the Lobby when it comes to a Division, because I believe that it is good for the State that the youth of the country should begin to think of politics as early as they can and to study these problems. I am sure that this is good for our country.
§ LORD FORRES
My Lords, before the House goes to a Division I venture to trouble your Lordships with a few words, because my position is rather different from that of some of my colleagues on these Benches. I have gone through three elections in the poor part of a great city and five in country constituencies, and accordingly I have had some experience of the interest that voters take in politics. I am bound to say that the interest felt by young people, both men and women, but particularly young women, is very slight. When they receive letters with the addresses of candidates and other election matter they very frequently throw them aside as having something to do with the collection of taxes. That being my experience, 243 I hesitate very much to extend the franchise still further in the direction of including this large number of young women. Whether my views will be modified in time I cannot say, but in any case I feel that this measure has not been thoroughly put before the country. It was not one of the foremost planks at the last General Election, though it is true that it was mentioned by some of the leaders of the Conservative Party in an emphatic way. I doubt very much, however, whether the opinions then expressed are shared by the bulk of the Party which supports the Government. My own feeling is that, if it were possible, it would be an interesting speculation to ascertain the real view of members of your Lordships' House or of the other House who support the Government on this question. I doubt whether it would be found that more than 80 per cent. of members really support this Bill.
I would hesitate, very much, therefore, to vote for this measure. Being a Liberal, I hold the view that the majority of the country must decide, and I do not think that the majority of the country has decided. For that reason I think it would be unwise to pass this measure at this time. Another question that has been raised is whether your Lordships' House has any proper right to intervene and to decide questions of franchise over the head of the other House. I have to put that question to myself in a practical way. I cannot act altogether on precedents, but here I am, as a member of this House, asked to decide by my vote one way or the other on the proposal that is before us. We have a duty to decide whether we believe that proposal to be the best way in the interests of the country. For my part I believe that the best way at the present time, until the country has decided, is to reject this measure, and for that reason I shall vote against the Bill.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, I should like to begin by saying that I am totally in disagreement with the last speaker but one. The noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, suggested that one question that we might consider here is the effect of this Bill on the fortunes of Parties. It is an idle speculation, for nobody knows which way it will go, and it is not the way in which the Bill should be 244 approached. The Bill should be approached with the question whether it is a good Bill or a bad Bill, no matter which Party happens to gain by it.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
I must apologise to the noble Earl. I certainly thought that this was one of the points that he made. I listened with great interest to the speech in which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack introduced this Bill. I do not think that any of your Lordships could say that he was carried away by wild enthusiasm for the Bill. When I call your Lordships' attention in a little further detail to a speech which he made not even in another place but outside both this House and the other House, untrammelled by any Government Whip, I think you will see that then he was even less enthusiastic than at the present time. The noble and learned Lord started by expounding to us in a number of exceedingly well-phrased marginal notes what the particular clauses of the Bill did and, certainly to my astonishment, he based himself partly for the general principle of the Bill—namely, that there should be equal suffrage between men and women—upon the fact that this Bill was, after all, only implementing the philosophy of Plato and the philosophy of another person with whom I will deal in a moment.
When I heard that, a sort of feeling came into my mind that it had been rather unlikely that Socrates would have suggested giving votes to women and so I took the trouble of referring to Plato and, if I may, I will read to your Lordships the following passages:—Come now, and we will ask you a question:—when you spoke of a nature gifted or not gifted in any respect, did you mean to say that one man will acquire a thing easily, another with difficulty; a little learning will lead the one to discover a great deal; whereas the other; after much study and application, no sooner learns than he forgets; or again, did you mean that the one has a body which is a good servant to his mind, while the body of the other is a hindrance to him?—Would not these be the sort of differences which distinguish the man gifted by nature from the one who is ungifted?No one will deny that.And can you mention any pursuit of mankind in which the male sex has not all these gifts and qualities in a higher degree than the female? Need I waste time in 245 speaking of the art of weaving, and the management of pancakes and preserves, in which womankind does really appear to be great, and in which for her to be beaten by a man is of all things the most absurd?You are quite right, he replied, in mantaining the general inferiority of the female sex: although many women are in many things superior to many men, yet on the whole what you say is true.That is the philosopher to whom the Lord Chancellor appeals for the principle on which this Bill is to be founded, and I need not remind him that that passage goes on to point out that the status of women in the republic is to be as follows: those of the poorer classes are to be trained as fighting soldiers, in order to take the burden of war off the shoulders of the men, and those of the better class are to be held in common. One is inclined to say: "Plato, thou arguest well."
I happen to know my Montaigne rather better than my Plato, and when I first heard the observations of the Lord Chancellor, knowing the views of Montaigne as to women, and that he was inclined to be rather outspoken, I was doubtful whether I would be able to find a passage fit for the ears of your Lordships, but I have succeeded in finding the following passage. Having talked about women, and in no particularly kindly words, he ended up as follows:—When I see them medling with rhetoricke, with law, and with logicke, and such like trash, so vaine and unprofitable for their use: I enter into feare that those who advise them to such things, doe it, that they may have more law to governe them under that pretence.That was one of his mildest expressions. After citing these illustrious authorities, the noble and learned Lord made a remark which perhaps he had not quite considered. He said that in another place there were, he could not say ten just men but only just ten men. Now, had he considered it he might have reflected as to the circumstance in which the demand for ten just men arose. If he will remember it was this, that there was a definite promise that if ten just men could be found the imminent peril hanging over the Cities of the Plain would be postponed, or possibly averted altogether. That was the inspiring speech with which this Bill was introduced to the House.
We have, however, to consider a little further, and I think it is only fair to 246 investigate a matter which the Lord Chancellor suggested—namely, one ought to be able to explain, if the country is against this Bill, why it was that so many members of the House of Commons went into the Government Lobby. I do not pretend to explain. I only know it to be the fact that sheep, even when led astray still continue to be gregarious. What I do know is that some members of the Cabinet, and still more of the under Ministers, were not to be found in the Government Lobby. That is a matter which it seems to me requires still more explanation. Then we may ask how this Bill came into existence. It is said by the Prime Minister that he gave a personal pledge that this Bill was to be brought in, but my objection is to the way that he did it. He did not do it in a way that brought it home to the whole country that this was part of the Conservative programme. Are we going to be governed by a stray pledge at a small meeting, we will say in a school-room, and is it to be said afterwards that the Prime Minister gave a pledge there, and therefore the whole Party, never having been consulted, is to be bound by it? The pledge was that there was to be a Committee to discuss this. It is said now: "Oh, but it was said that the Speaker was to be president of that Committee, and the Speaker was of opinion that it was undesirable that he should preside." I should like to know this: Was any inquiry made of the Speaker before the pledge of that Committee was given, as to whether he was willing to preside or not? If not, why not? You do not get out of the fact that any pledge which was given was given conditional on a Committee of some kind discussing the matter, and the Party having an opportunity of saying whether they agreed to it or not. No such opportunity has been given, and no such opportunity has been offered.
Now let us see how this Bill has been dealt with. First of all let us see what the Prime Minister has done about it. The Bill having, as Lord Bertie put it, been "bounced" through the Party, "Mr. Baldwin, amid ringing cheers, appealed to the delegates: Infuse your spirit into the five millions of women of all ages who are now enfranchised." Is that treating your Lordships quite with respect? Before the matter has ever come before you the Prime Minister 247 announces to the country that these women are now enfranchised. I cannot help feeling that that rather dots the i's and crosses the t's of the people who have been saying for some time to your Lordships' House that the present Government does not treat you with the slightest regard whatsoever.
Now we will go into another matter. Let us see what the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said. This was at a meeting at Bedford College. He is reported as saying—Equal franchise was an experiment; probably there had never been an experiment on quite such an immense scale.When was there any pledge to go in and make an experiment with our Constitution?Whether or not it would be a success depended upon the spirit in which the vote was exercised. If the elector in the future regarded the vote as a means of getting some selfish advantage for himself or herself, then indeed the State would be in grave danger.Were we ever told that you might imperil the State by putting it into grave danger? Are we to be pledged as a Party to something that was never brought before us at all—never put before us in a way that we could understand it?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
As the noble Earl is quoting me, I think it would be fair if he completed the quotation, because, as he left it, it gives an entirely false impression of what I was saying. The next sentence will show.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
I will certainly do so. I was quoting from a rather badly written copy of a report in The Times. This is what the noble and learned Lord said:—But if the vote was regarded as a responsibility, if the voter trained himself or herself to study political problems with a single eye to the welfare of the State, then the extension of the franchise would raise the whole standard of the people.My Lords, if—if—if! otherwise a grave danger. If everybody voted wisely, then we should be all right; if everybody educated himself or herself to vote rightly, we should be all right—if! I am reminded by that of a very great scene in "L'Aiglon," in which L'Aiglon is saying: "I am not a prisoner," and Metternich says: "No, you are not a prisoner, but—," and L'Aiglon replies: "Je ne suis prisonnier, mais …." What is the good of putting in an "if."
248 I turn to another member of the Cabinet, the noble and learned Earl, the Secretary of State for India. All I can say is that, having read two speeches of his, I do not find any wild enthusiasm on his part for this Bill. I do not like to overstate my case, and therefore I will leave it at that. Now this Bill seems to have been introduced in this way. First of all there was a pledge by someone; nobody had heard anything about it, but it was supposed to bind the Party by those who had made it. The next thing that happened historically, as far as I know, was that the Home Secretary rushed in where a lot of us thought that the ground had been quite sufficiently trodden—at the moment, perhaps even overtrodden—and gradually a sort of general idea grew up: "Oh, but this has been accepted, and therefore nobody can do anything. Before, it was too soon to make any protest, but now, for goodness' sake, it is too late, you must not do anything." Why not, if you disagree? Why should you vote for this Bill merely because the Government have thought proper to allow themselves gradually to be pushed on from one stage to another, until at last they said: "Now it is too late, you are bound to vote for it." I have no doubt they will carry with them their stalwart followers in the Socialist and Liberal Parties; they will certainly pass the Bill, but to suggest that this is a Tory measure, or that it ought to be passed by the Tory Party, is, in my submission, absolutely wrong.
Then I think the Liberal Party and the Labour Party have also a certain amount of just cause of annoyance with the Government. It must have happened to you over and over again that just as you have been going to do a thing that you wanted to do, some officious fellow has come in and done it before you, and probably not done it quite in the way you wanted. It is a most annoying thing. By this measure you will get the Liberal and Labour votes, but you will not get their gratitude. And it is left to us here on the Tory Benches, brought up, I venture to think, on Tory principles, to object to a measure which is clearly against every Tory principle, and we object to it with the usual official sneer that we are Die-hards. Personally, knowing that that expression came into use in 1911 I am not afraid of being called a Die-hard. Whether it is as Die- 249 hards, or whether it is not, surely it is our duty in this House to vote according to our consciences, and it is not our duty to say: "Oh, well, we do not approve of this Bill, but we cannot vote against the Government, it is a Government measure."
Might I suggest to the Lord Chancellor that this habit of telling us which way we have to vote, and taking it for granted that we are bound to vote that way, cannot last for ever. And if I may venture to suggest to him that he might add to his library some of the works of Balzac, he will find in those works that Balzac hiss definitely said that in his view the most terrifying thing that you could possibly imagine on this earth was a rebellious sheep. I do not desire at this hour to detain your Lordships any longer. I have not dealt with, and I do not intend to deal with, the question of the pauper vote and of the second ballot; this is the Second Reading, and those questions could well be dealt with when your Lordships have passed the Second Reading. If, as I hope, you do not pass it, they do not arise.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, my first duty must be to express regret that I missed twenty-five minutes of this afternoon's debate, having many weeks ago promised to make a speech on behalf of a charity in which I was deeply interested. I particularly regret that I missed the speech of my noble friend Lord Midleton, but a note was taken of it for me, and in reply to the principal question which he addressed to me I will make this observation at once. The same question was repeated, perhaps with a little more asperity, by the noble Earl Who has just sat down and who has once more addressed the House with that air of quiet reticence which endears him to us all without, perhaps, making him more persuasive. The question put, if I apprehended it aright, was why three Cabinet Ministers and 200 members of the House of Commons absented themselves from the debate. The noble Earl who put that question ought to know far better. He was a Cabinet Minister himself, a most distinguished member of the House of Commons, and it is surprising that he should really put it forward as if it were a serious or insoluble conundrum as to why 200 members of the House of 250 Commons stayed away when there was not one of them who did not know that the matter was not in practical issue. If he will allow me to say so, the question would be a very proper one on the part of a member of your Lordships' House who had never had the good fortune to sit in the House of Commons, but to anyone who has had the experience of sitting there for any length of time it ought not to be a difficult problem at all.
As to why three Cabinet Ministers stayed away, the answer, I should have thought, was even more obvious. One of them was the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who is not expected, amid his many preoccupations, to attend debates when it is known that there is no serious division of opinion in the Party, that no real clash is to take place and no crisis to be settled by the Division. The second case was that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, as everybody knew at that time, was very gravely engaged with the problem of his Budget. Who the other Minister was I do not know. My own comment upon the figures that have been given is that I think they form a very remarkable tribute to the industry of Cabinet Ministers, that only three of them were absent on an occasion so unreal and so meaningless.
Now I address myself to one or two other casual criticisms that have been made. It has been said that there was a conflict of argument between my noble friend who sits on the Woolsack and the Home Secretary. It is said that the noble Lord on the Woolsack claimed with evident sincerity that it would be wrong for us to consider this question from the point of view as to whether or no it would benefit our Party. It was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Banbury, I thought not altogether without force, that my right honourable colleague the Home Secretary had upon the public platform claimed with exultation that this measure must react in the most favourable way upon the fortunes of the Conservative Party. I am not surprised at this disparity. It was said long ago by a philosopher, "Unus homo multas agit partes." If that is true of an individual, in the complex organisation of a Party how much truer must it be when different arguments and 251 different considerations strike different minds in a different manner. I prefer to see in this alleged discrepancy a, proof of the fundamental harmony which underlies the work of this Cabinet rather than a proof of any superficial inconsistency.
It was further suggested that some members of this Cabinet were not as enthusiastically in favour of this proposal as others. I should have thought that was probably true. I have been a member of a Cabinet, with a very slight interruption, for thirteen years, and I can hardly recall a single measure of first-class importance on which all members of the Cabinet had precisely the fame views. The noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, who sits opposite me, no doubt has a different experience, but it would surprise me if he were to make the claim very audibly.
It is worth while going into the history of this matter. Through my own attitude in relation to it there runs a golden vein of consistency which, inasmuch as it has been much misunderstood, I take the opportunity of making once again very plain. I was against the extension of the franchise to women. I am against the extension of the franchise to women. I always shall be against the extension of the franchise to women. There is not the slightest inconsistency in my career in regard to it, nor is there the slightest inconsistency in my standing at this Box to-night and recommending this measure. And if your Lordships will be patient with me I will make this matter of history—and history when political is very easily forgotten—indisputably plain. It was in the year 1918, after the War, that the disaster took place. Had it not been for the War in my judgment we should have continued successfully to resist this measure for an indefinite period of time. But what happened? In that year, in which nearly everybody went mad, when the phrases of President Wilson and his predictions were translated into logical and mathematical conclusions, and we talked of self-determination when we made the Peace Treaty—it was in that year that a discussion arose as to the extension of the franchise. I believe equally without inconsistency, I was the Minister in charge of that Bill as Attorney-General in another place.
Let me describe to your Lordships how gradually, yet how inevitably, we descen- 252 ded the slippery slope. First of all, it was not proposed that women should be included. Then a member of the House of Commons, and an important one, said that whoever was included or was not included, it was quite impossible to exclude from the franchise the brave men who had supported our cause in the field. Although it is not a political or a philosophic certainty that a man who has supported your cause in the field is necessarily equally qualified to support your cause at the polls, that argument in the spirit of the moment was accepted with facile enthusiasm, and accordingly the soldiers were admitted, subject to the qualification of age and without reference to any other very rigorous examination Then another member of the House arose and said: "If you are extending the franchise to our brave soldiers in recognition of their valour on the field how about our brave munition workers, many of whom would greatly have desired to serve in the field, but who were not allowed to do so because of the immensely greater services which they were rendering to the nation by their work in relation to munitions?" That argument, too, was difficult to resist when once you had yielded to the first. Then an insidious and subtle member of the House said: "How about our brave women munition workers?" and, having once on principle yielded to the first argument, it was absolutely impossible to resist the second. It is certainly true that had you challenged a Division in the House of Commons of that day upon this subject the minority would have been negligible against the proposal to enfranchise the women, after the Conference and discussion which, as noble Lords will remember, took place.
In those circumstances—preserving, as I made it plain to the House of Commons of that day in not opposing that Bill that I did preserve, all my old objections and prejudices—was I to say: "I will leave this Government because I am in a small minority in the House of Commons"? I have spent nearly the whole of my political life in giving wise advice to my fellow countrymen, which they have almost invariably disregarded, and if I had resigned every time that my wise and advantageous advice was rejected I should seldom, indeed, during that critical period have been in office. I, 253 therefore, reasonably took the view, making a frank explanation to the House of Commons of the position in which I found myself, that it was my duty as Attorney-General to carry out the wishes of the Government; but I expressly made my advocacy of that Bill conditional upon my complete freedom to explain the circumstances in which I found myself at the moment as its paradoxical champion. I claim the same freedom to-night.
Let me for a moment discuss the real issue which is before this House. Nearly all the arguments that have been addressed to your Lordships have been arguments that would have been valuable, timely and relevant in the year 1919. I have not heard one argument in the course of debate which has the slightest value in the period which we have reached. What is the use of saying that we ought to wait until after the next General Election—that we ought to give the people a chance at the next General Election to give an opinion which it is said they have never yet expressed? I do not know whether they have expressed an opinion or not. I do not argue it, because the argument is in my judgment irrelevant. Suppose your Lordships took the grave and most unwise responsibility of rejecting this Bill to-night, what would happen at the next General Election? The Leader of the Labour Party, the Leader of the Liberal Party and the Leader of the Conservative Party would all go to the country and say: "We profoundly resent the attitude of the House of Lords and we all of us pledge ourselves to re-introduce this Bill at once the moment the Election has taken place." I picture Lord Banbury taking the field and informing the country that if he is returned to power it is his purpose to refuse to carry this Bill into law. These things are not done by members of this House without organisation, or Parties, or followings.
§ When you are to attempt a prognosis of that which the country will do you must address yourselves to it in the spirit of practical politicians. Once you know that the Leaders of all the Parties and the organisations of all the Parties are deeply pledged to this change it is folly to make a recommendation to your Lordships which, if adopted, would cover this House with ridicule. We know that such a course could never be taken by an Assembly which, upon so many grave and critical occasions, has given evidence of prudence and sanity.
§ We have to-day to meet a new situation. I have made it plain that I did and do contemplate the results with anxiety, but let us realise that when once both Houses have affirmed as a matter of principle in the Preamble to the 1919 Act, as the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack reminded us, that men and women were to be equal, there was indeed a kind of hypocrisy an insincerity in relation to which we had little defence, when we put it off year after year and said that women of twenty-one are not as mature and not as sophisticated as men of twenty-one. Everyone of us in our hearts knows that a woman of twenty-one is far more mature and far more sophisticated than a man of twenty-one. The moment, therefore, you had settled the principle that women were to have votes at all it became a lost cause to argue that there should be differentiation between people of the same ages. Victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni? This House has never consisted of Catos. My recommendation to your Lordships is to go into the Lobby in favour of this Bill, if without enthusiasm yet in a spirit of resolute resignation.
§ On Question, Whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 114: Not-Contents, 35.255
|Hailsham, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Shaftesbury, E. (L. Steward.)||Eldon, E.|
|Airlie, E.||Harrowby, E.|
|Bedford, D.||Ancaster, E.||Howe, E.|
|Devonshire, D.||Beauchamp, E.||Iddesleigh, E.|
|Sutherland, D.||Birkenhead, E.||Iveagh, E.|
|Wellington, D.||Bradford, E.||Lovelace, E.|
|Buxton, E.||Lucan, E. [Teller.]|
|Abergavenny, M.||Cranbrook, E.||Lytton, E.|
|Reading, M.||De La Warr, E.||Onslow, E.|
|Plymouth, E. [Teller.]||Bethell, L.||Heneage, L.|
|Powis, E.||Cawley, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Sandwich, E.||Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.)||Jessel, L.|
|Scarbrough, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)|
|Spencer, E.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Clinton, L.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Stradbroke, E.||Clwyd, L.||Kylsant, L.|
|Strange, E.(D. Atholl.)||Colwyn, L.||Latymer, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Cranworth, L.||Leigh, L.|
|Yarborough, E.||Cushendun, L.||Loch, L.|
|Danesfort, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Allendale, V.||Darling, L.||Mildmay of Flete, L.|
|Astor, V.||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Burnham, V.||Denman, L.||Muir Mackenzie, L.|
|Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Desborough, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Chelmsford, V.||Dynevor, L.||Olivier, L.|
|Cobham, V.||Doverdale, L.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Devonport, V.||Dunmore, L. (E. Dunmore.)|
|Dunedin, V.||Ernle, L.||Rayleigh, L.|
|Elibank, V.||Faringdon, L.||Ruthven of Gowrie, L.|
|FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Farrer, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Haldane, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)||Sinclair, L.|
|Peel, V.||Glenarthur, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Gorell, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Southwark, L. Bp.||Hampton, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Worcester, L. Bp.||Hanworth, L.||Thomson, L.|
|Hardinge of Penshurst, L.||Wargrave, L.|
|Annaly, L.||Harlech, L.||Wavertree, L.|
|Arnold, L.||Harris, L.||Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)|
|Askwith, L.||Hawke, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Hemphill, L.||Wraxall, L.|
|Northumberland, D.||Novar, V.||Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Ampthill, L.||Knaresborough, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Ashton of Hyde, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Harewood, E.||Banbury of Southam, L. [Teller.]||Mereworth, L. (L. Oranmore and Browne.)|
|Morton, E.||Charnwood, L.||Mowbray, L.|
|Munster, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Newton, L.|
|Westmeath, E.||de Clifford, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Forester, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V. [Teller.]||Forres, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)||Wittenham, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.256
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at five minutes past seven o'clock.