I beg to move,
That the Bill be now read a second time.
In the absence of my hon. Friend (Mr. Spoor), it is my privilege to move the Second Reading of the Bill which stands in his name and in the names of certain others of my hon. Friends. It is a small Bill, and provides for the removal of certain restraints and disabilities which are still imposed upon women. Clause 1 of the Bill seeks to remove the disqualification that stands against women holding civil and judicial appointments. Clause 2 seeks to amend the Representation of the People Act, 1918, in a manner that will place women upon an equal footing with men, and Clause 3 seeks to remove the disqualifications which prevent them from sitting and voting in the House of Lords on the same footing as they are now entitled to sit and vote in the House of Commons. The Bill would, if placed on the Statute Book, give in a considerable degree effect to the political and legal equality of men and women. The introduction of it by the Labour party is simply the natural sequence of all our past work and past efforts on behalf of the enfranchisement of the women of the country. We have always contended that in order to give fair and equitable treatment to our women folk it was essential that the existing restraints and disabilities should be removed. In the closing days of the last Parliament, when we were discussing by Resolution the desirability of passing a Bill forthwith making women eligible as Members of Parliament, the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) said in the course of the discussion:
I should have liked, I confess, to have seen this Resolution go much further and sweep away all the disqualifications which at present prevent women from competing on equal terms with men even in my own profession."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1918, col. 828, Vol. 110.]
I understand that within the last few days the question of the opening of the legal profession to women on equal terms with men has been under consideration in another place, and that the Government have promised to give sympathetic consideration to that proposal. The Bill
which I am now introducing for the second time will, to a considerable extent, give the House the opportunity to-day of sweeping away these restraints and disabilities to which the Noble Lord referred on the occasion I have mentioned. Not only is it the policy of the Labour party to remove the disqualifications which prevent men and women competing on equal terms, but the Coalition Members of this House are also pledged to remove the existing inequalities in the law as between women and men, and the Liberal party also has adopted the principle contained in this Bill. Therefore, I am hopeful that not only will the Second Reading be supported by a very substantial majority today, but that the Bill will find a speedy passage through its various stages and be made the law of the land at an early date.
Within recent times we have enlarged and widened our ideas regarding the place our womenfolk shall hold in the national life. Politically, industrially, and socially she holds an entirely different place to-day from that which she held a few years ago. The reforms outlined in this Bill are the logical outcome of the steps we have already taken towards securing the complete emancipation of women. Whenever this House departed from the narrow doctrine that woman's sphere is the home and nothing but the home, we were bound, in the very nature of things, to be forced step by step to recognise her right to be placed on a legal and political equality with men. The late Prime Minister (Mr. Asquith), in the course of the Debate to which I have already referred, said that if once you gave the women the Vote you could not possibly, logically or in policy, refuse to give to those you have already enfranchised the power to be eligible to sit in this House. The one step inevitably involved the other. And so, when once you have recognised her right to sit in the House of Commons, her right to sit in the other House follows in natural sequence; and also, when once you have conferred upon her a right to vote at thirty years of age, you cannot withhold from her that same right at twenty-one years of age, when you have already conferred that right and privilege on the men at twenty-one years of age.
The struggle through which we are just emerging has taught us the great value of women and men working together in every phase of our national life. Whenever the national necessity arose, the womenfolk of this country nobly responded to the call. In hundreds of thousands they took the places which only men were previously thought fit and able to fill. They entered into business, into industry and into agriculture, and their entrance into these varous phases of national life, to a large extent, has revolutionised our ideas regarding the conditions of labour. We have had to consider, from an entirely new point of view, the question of the relationship of wages paid to women and to men. In many quarters it is now freely recognised that where women are able to render equal service they are entitled to equal payment. Their entrance into industry has seen the establishment of many reforms which will make the work of men and women much pleasanter in the coming days than ever it has been in the past. Their entrance into industry has seen the establishment of canteens on a large scale, where good food, served under proper conditions, and at moderate prices, is to be obtained in our industrial centres. Their entrance into industry has also seen the establishment of welfare supervision. Rest centres have also been arranged for, and many other arrangements made for giving a human touch to our industrial relationship in the future. Wherever women have entered, the human element has played a much larger part, and I submit that Parliament, as the great welfare supervisor of the nation, should continue the process of removing the restraints and disabilities, and enabling the women in the country legally and politically to stand on an equal footing with the men. The new conditions which have emerged in the course of this great struggle must be faced by the women and the men standing together. In the efforts we will require to put forth, to get the world again turned off from the production of war material to the production of peace, the help of women will be as necessary as their help was during the trying days of war.
One only requires to draw the attention of the Members of the House to the critical stage in which our country is still faced. In the process of getting the world back to work—of turning our energies off from the production of war materials to the production of things necessary for peace—we have seen a considerable army of workers thrown out of employment. At the moment we have something like a million people who are unemployed. More than half of that number are the women who so nobly responded to the nation's call in the hour of her need, in the hour of her danger. It is true that we have made temporary arrangements for assisting those thrown out of employment in this transition stage. But what we are required to turn our minds more seriously to than the provision of out-of-work benefit is the getting of our men and our women back to work again. In this task, I do not know of any section of the community that can render more valuable service to the country than our womenfolk. During the great period of reconstruction in the process of rebuilding the world, men and women must face the future together under more equal conditions than ever have obtained up to the present time. It is, therefore, in my opinion, the duty of this House to take the steps which are necessary for removing the barriers which still stand in the way of the womenfolk of the country. I have during the whole of my life been strongly in favour of the complete enfranchisement of women, and in favour of placing them on an equal footing in all respects with the menfolk of the country. Holding these views strongly, as I have held them, it is with the greatest pleasure that I move the Second Reading of the Bill which stands in the names of my Friends and myself.
In seconding the Motion, I desire to associate myself absolutely with all that has been said by my right hon. Friend. I know how difficult it is to adduce new arguments in favour of this principle. It has so often been discussed in this House, and speeches have been made by so many Members from both sides of the House in support of it, that nothing is left to say of a new character in support of its provisions. During the last Session of Parliament various concessions were given towards the ultimate establishment of complete enfranchisement of women. After examining the Debates I find that very little argument was used against the full concession of this principle. The only argument that I can see is one that I think is not very strong—the fear of doing justice! I do not know that we should object to do justice, even to women. We seek justice ourselves in every direction. I think we ought to do justice to women in this
direction. I might add just another point that was raised by various Members, and that was that the life of that Parliament had gone far beyond its time, and that Members had not been given authority for dealing fully with that question. That cannot be said to-day. Every party in this House was sent here last December to deal definitely with this question. The manifesto of the Coalition party, signed by the Prime Minister and Leader of the House said:
It will be the duty of the new Government to remove all existing inequalities as between men and women.
That is the principle upon which all Members of this House, I believe, were elected. Why was no reference made to this in the King's Speech1? That declaration of such importance, occupying such a place in the manifesto of the Government, ought to have appeared in the King's Speech. Are we to take it that it was an election trick on the part of the Government, or are we to understand that it was another pledge, to be broken, or was it simply a thoughtless omission on the part of the Government? I hope the latter. This Bill, and the principles it contains, has the backing of every woman's organisation in the Kingdom, whether that organisation be political, economic, religious, or social. All women's organisations favour this Bill. Every trade union of men or women, or of men and women, favour this Bill. The Labour party have always been in favour of votes for women upon the same terms as they may be given to men. We have conceded the rights of citizenship to some women; why not to them all? I hope this Bill will be passed during this Session, and that we shall never again—ominous words!—never again see a Bill introduced into Parliament which may have words similar to the first few lines of this Bill:
Whereas by law certain restraints and disabilities are imposed upon women to which men are not liable.
In Clause 1 of this Bill, as was briefly explained by my right hon. Friend, we seek to establish the right of women to any civil or judicial position. The last Parliament, in its closing days, conceded the principle that women might be elected Members of this House. What is more important than that concession? On the first day of this Session I heard those magnificent speeches made on the reelection of the Speaker of this House. I thought of the loftiness of this House as
exemplified by those speeches. If we have gone so far, why should we stop at any other position there is in this country? During the last five years women have come to the aid of their country in a manner that never was understood or expected before the War. You have thousands of women in the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. Women have worked in the workshop and in the field. I ask, What would we have done without the women in the last five years? They are in Government offices by the thousand at the present time. Yet the highest positions in these Departments are refused to women. I think that anomaly should be remedied.
For two years during the War I sat as Chairman of the Council upon the Bench of magistrates in Leeds. There were many occasions—for I was a very regular attender—upon which I saw how necessary it was that women should be mixed with men upon that bench. Husbands often sent their wives to appear for them. They often put their wives into it if there is nasty work to do. There are delicate questions of sex that come before benches in which a woman's presence would be very useful. I am hopeful that during this Session we shall see women from all points of view treated in the eyes of the law as man's equal. I am convinced that when we give women the same opportunities of education and recognition they will qualify for the highest positions in the State. The Law Society, I believe, has now decided in favour of women being admitted to the legal profession. That has been a great obstacle. Now that obstacle is removed, I think Parliament might concede to women the right we ask. If I may incidentally mention another matter, I think that in the precincts of this House the privileges equal to what are given to men strangers ought to be given to women. I doubt if that is so, though there has been a development recently upon those lines. We speak of women's qualifications. Most of us, I think, are married men. Some may be clever. Some may be smart. But I take it that when we get home we realise our limitations. Whatever disqualifications we may say women have we would not say it at home for fear of the consequences.
In Clause 2 we seek that women shall be given the franchise over the age of twenty-one, not as a property qualification, but because they have the right to be considered as citizens equal with men. This
House has recently given votes to the mothers of the lads who came to the nation's aid during the War. They used that power at the General Election, and, noting the total results, I am convinced that many of them used the vote rightly. Why not then give the vote to the young wife who gave so much to the nation? She has suffered a great deal during this War, and if he could give her the vote and she realised her position as a citizen as she should do, I am satisfied that future generations would be more noble citizens as a result of the training and teaching the children would receive at their mother's knee. And why not to the single women who have worked so magnificently? In the argument in favour of the Representation of the People Bill in this House most speakers were desirous of giving it to the women who had come to the aid of the nation, and most of them were between twenty-one and thirty years of age, who have been left out of the Act as it was passed. I think it is established that women of twenty-one or over may be elected as Members of this House. At all events, when the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) was replying to the Government in the closing days of the last Parliament, he said:
It is clear, if women are to be eligible at all to sit in the House, they should be eligible at twenty-one.
Now I ask if they are to be eligible to be elected as Members of this House at twenty-one, it is not a very great step to concede the privilege to the full, thus completing the position that this is a democratic State. I think there need be no fear as to how women will use the vote. We have had some experience of how they have used it. Some people would say that they will vote for women, but they hardly showed that idea in the votes they gave during the last General Election. I have often heard it said that women would be reactionary. I do not understand that idea myself, and it is not my experience of them. But that would not hinder me for a moment in conceding the principle of giving votes to women upon the same terms as to men.
As to Clause 3, women may already sit in this House and that we know. What are the objections to them sitting in the House of Lords? I think all those hon. Members who opposed the idea of women sitting in this House when it was under discussion favoured the idea that peeresses in their own right should be eligible to sit in the other Chamber. I do not know how many there are, but so long as the other House exists, and I hope it will not be long, as a part of the Constitution, I say that concession ought to be granted to women similarly to what it is granted to men. In conclusion, I appeal to the Government to give this Bill a Second Reading. I appeal to them to carry out their election pledge. Whilst we are transforming our country in many ways, let us give equal rights to women as to men, so that they may have an equal say in what shall be done. There is no greater, grander word in the English language than that of "mother" We have conceded the vote to the elder mothers and let us now concede it to the younger and the potential mothers, so that we may have democracy established, and women able to use their vote upon equal terms with men in all cases.
I rise to give my whole-hearted and undivided support to this measure and to express the hope that at the earliest possible date it may be passed into law. In expressing that hope I am only acting in harmony and consistently with the views I expressed in the first speech which I made in this House nearly two years ago. In my opinion this measure is merely the logical conclusion and the necessary corollary to what this House has already done with regard to the enfranchisement and qualifications of women. I am myself a member of the legal profession, and I have never been able to see any good and valid reason why women should not be able to practise either as solicitors or as members of the Bar. As we all know, women for many years have been admitted into the medical profession; they have done most eminent and estimable work there, and I have no doubt at all that in due course they will fill very honourable positions both in the legal and other professions. It is perfectly true that when the Representation of the People Bill was before this House it was necessary as a political expedient, and in order to get the Bill through the House, to fix the age at which women should be able to vote at thirty. That, however, was really a political expedient.
It is perfectly clear I am sure to every hon. Member of this House that the only real, proper, and effective solution of the enfranchisement question is in due course to establish adult suffrage. On a previous occasion I pointed out the inconsistency of fixing the age at which women can vote at thirty, whilst men are allowed to vote at the age of twenty-one, and in certain cases at an earlier age than that. As hon. and learned Members of this House well know, it is possible at present for a girl to contract a valid marriage at the age of twelve, whilst a man must wait until he is fourteen before he can do so. It is possible under the Infant Settlements Act of 1855 for a girl or a woman, as she is really at the age of seventeen, with the consent of the Court, in contemplation of marriage, to make a valid settlement of her real and personal property, whilst a man must wait until he is twenty before he can do that. Now, if it is possible for a woman at earlier ages than men to exercise these two most important functions which I have pointed out to the House, surely there is no valid and logical excuse for postponing the age at which a woman can vote for nine years later than that at which a man is able to exercise that important function! Therefore, for those reasons and for broad, general reasons, I entirely support this measure. I had the good fortune a few months ago to be returned without opposition in my Constituency, and it was unnecessary for me to give pledges of any sort. The only pledge that I gave was a broad, general pledge to support the Government in the programme that it had laid down, but, although I gave no personal pledge, I am pledged by political and personal conviction to support a measure such as this, and I do so with the greatest of pleasure.
I confess that I listened with a great deal of sympathy to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill (Mr. Adamson) and the two speeches which followed. It is a very great question. It is a question which, I suppose, above all others, has made the largest strides during the last few years, not only in this country, but, I think it is true to say, throughout the civilised world. This country, as it often does in questions of progress, has led the way, and by granting votes to women, as we have done recently, we have taken a great step in a direction to which much in the world has been pointing for many years. Looking back upon the old position of women in the world in days gone by, it seems a very long stage. We have all read the story of the Arabian Nights and how, in those barbarous days of old Eastern customs, the Sultan, determined as he was to have as a wife no one who could, under any circumstances, prove unfaithful to him, enacted the barbarous law that every woman whom he married should be put to death on the day following. Then we know how that courageous daughter of the Grand Vizier gave herself to wife of the Sultan, determined if she could to bring about a change in his barbarous enactment. And so it was by the story of the Arabian Nights that night after night she kept him so interested in stories such as that of "Sin-bad the Sailor" and "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp," that finally after a period of extraordinary length she was able to cause him to forgive her and forgo the penalty of death. Those are far off days. Matters have changed since then, and they have changed even in the East, because in the East to-day in the larger towns the veiled women of the harem occupy very different positions from what they did not many years ago. In the streets of Oriental towns you see veiled women driving in their motor cars. You see them going to entertainments. You see them appearing in public on numerous occasions. All this is a great step in advance in the status of women. Against that, unfortunately, we have in the world to-day some mad and insane ideas, such as this detestable Russian project for the nationalisation of women, but things of that sort, so disgusting, so horrible and so utterly removed from the conception of every civilised man as to the true status of women, can be only temporary and passing. They will die away as soon as the world resumes its normal course of sanity in those parts.
There are certain particular aspects of this question upon which women feel more strongly than upon others. There is one point to which I must refer. It is the question of equality in the divorce laws. There was nothing more responsible for the agitation of women for the vote than the position in which they were placed with regard to our divorce laws. It is a matter upon which I know numbers and numbers of women feel most strongly, and I must say that, if this Bill were of a somewhat less sweeping character and it were a Bill for doing away with woman's disadvantage in the divorce laws, I should most certainly and most gladly vote for it to-day. Again, I cannot see logically why a woman should not be a magistrate. As the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lunn) has stated, there are many cases affecting children and, as he put it, affecting delicate sexual questions, upon which women have far better means of judgment and far greater powers for coming to a right decision than any man can possibly have under any circumstances. The Bar has been mentioned. Personally, I cannot see and never have been able to see why a woman should not be a barrister.
There is a Clause in the Bill which provides for the placing of women upon an equality with men as regards the suffrage. There is a great deal to be said for that. Adult suffrage, in my opinion, is bound to come; it is only a question of time. Personally, I do not think that the time is now, because it is so short a period since we enlarged the franchise to an enormous extent by the Representation of the People Act two years ago. We have got so near to adult suffrage, however, that it seems to me that the full grant of it is certain to come before long, and when it does come before the House I shall support it if for no other reason than that it will simplify and cheapen the preparation of the Parliamentary Register. That may seem a small reason for supporting such a great change, but that, coupled with the fact that we are so near to it already, would certainly cause me to support it when it comes before the House. Adult suffrage will give the vote to all women who are twenty-one years of age. If a man is good enough for the vote at twenty-one, I cannot see why a woman should not also be good enough at twenty-one. A woman matures much more quickly than a man. Girls grow up in a shorter space of time than boys, and after some consideration of the question it is my opinion that very often a girl of twenty-one is in a better position to arrive at a mature judgment on many matters than a boy of the same age. When you have got this principle that the age of twenty-one is a suitable age at which to have a vote, I really cannot see why you should not make the sexes equal in regard to it.
The usual argument brought forward against placing women on an equality with men on this matter is that women, by reason of their sex, are unable to render the supreme service which the State demands of men, namely, to fight for their country. That is an argument which is
brought with a great deal of force against this principle. I cannot agree with it. There is a great law of compensation in this world, and that law of compensation is one of the most immutable, changeless, and inexorable laws which govern the life of men and women. It is a law we know not by whom made, or from whence it comes we know not, but there is this definite and unchanging fact about it, that it has come down to us through the ages, framed presumably by some superior being who has a power over the world which we really do not fully understand. Come whence it has, framed by whom it may have been, this great law of compensation operates in the world in our everyday life. On every possible occasion, and under every possible condition, there is a great law of compensation as between men and women. It may be true that women cannot fight, but woman has to bear another ordeal which no man ever has to bear—I refer, of course, to the great ordeal of childbirth. Men are free from that, but the great majority of women have to bear it, and I say, when it is suggested that women should not be placed in the same position as men because they cannot fight for their country, you must consider, on the other hand, that they have to bear this other great ordeal, the results of which are as important to any State as the winning of battles. And with what fortitude is that ordeal borne! What sustains many women in that time of great anxiety and trouble is that extraordinary law of maternal affection and maternal instinct which, in my opinion, is one of the greatest things in the whole organisation and structure of human nature. On these grounds I do think there is a great deal to be said for this Bill, and it may seem somewhat of a paradox to hon. Members when I say that in spite of it I am not going to vote for this Bill. I think we must go into these matters cautiously. This Bill has come too soon after the enfranchisement of women, and I think before we pass a measure of this kind we ought to be quite certain that women have freely had an opportunity of considering it and are really coming forward as a body to this House and demanding it. If I were satisfied as to that, I would vote for this measure. There is a somewhat hackneyed phrase:
In this country freedom slowly broadens down from precedent to precedent.
If the Bill were somewhat more confined in its scope, if it dealt with one or other of women's disabilities, I would most certainly vote for it, but going as I believe it does rather in advance of its times and being as it is of such a wide and sweeping character, I feel that, supporting as I do most strongly the general principles which it contains, this early date is not the right period at which it should be passed by this House. Therefore, personally, I shall abstain from voting, and when possibly—and the day may not be so far off—after ample opportunity of mature consideration, a Bill comes forward to reduce the age at which women can vote, I shall support it; and if that Bill contains a provision placing women on an equality with men in the Divorce Courts, I shall support it; but when the right hon. Gentleman brings down to this House, so soon after the enfranchisement of women a Bill of this magnitude, I feel that the great advantage which we shall have had from the publicity of this discussion here to-day will prove in itself a very great advance in the cause of women, and I am of opinion that to go further than that at this particular time would be to go too far. Therefore, personally, I shall abstain from voting.
I have listened with very great pleasure to the speech of the hon. Member who has just resumed his seat. With the first part of that speech I entirely agree. I thought the hon. Gentleman made out an admirable case for the Bill, and I was therefore somewhat surprised at what appears to be the illogical consequence of not voting for that which he really believes in. I entirely agree with the arguments he advanced, and I propose to take the logical consequences and vote for this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Captain Watson) has so admirably expressed the views I hold on the subject that I do not propose to weary the House by attempting to repeat them. I have always been an absolute believer in adult suffrage. I believe in men and women going side by side, co-operating and working together for the welfare of our country. There never was a time when we so much needed the co-operation of women in the interests of the nation as a whole as we do to-day, and while I recognise the difficulties that have been expressed in certain directions I cannot but see that the nation has, by limiting the power of women, deprived itself of some of the keenest brains in the country—of the assistance of some of the most intellectual women who ought to be in a position to co-operate with us in working out our country's salvation. Yet at the present time we are absolutely deprived of the privilege of their assistance. I therefore feel it my duty to support my hon. Friends who are promoting this measure. It is one of immense range and it will remove the disabilities of women. After all, its object is only to place women on an equality with men. There is not the slightest desire in any direction to place them in a position of superiority over men, and if in the Committee stage, as some of my hon. Friends have indicated, there may be manifest results which might follow by which women would have privileges which men do not have, then I am sure that they can agree from that standpoint that equality is essential and can accordingly alter the Bill. What is wanted is that women shall stand side by side on an absolute equality with men in working out the welfare of our country, and on these grounds, without further observations, I shall venture to give this Bill my hearty support.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend who has introduced this Bill both on his good fortune in the ballot and on his selection of a subject. If I had had his good fortune, it was my intention to bring in a Bill to remove the disabilities of women which, in many respects, would have been a wider Bill than is now before the House. I therefore approach the discussion of this measure as one who has before him the same ideal of citizenship as my right hon. Friend, and who desires that ideal to be approached at the earliest opportunity nearer than it has been approached at present. But one would only be failings in candour if he did not face the fact, and ask the House to face the fact, that the second of these three Clauses is open to practical difficulty and objection which does not apply to the first Clause, and which I, for one, do not think does or ought to apply to the third. It was only in the last Session of Parliament that a great franchise Act, which, with all its faults, did go much further than any preceding Act to democratise the institutions of our country, was passed with something approaching common consent. I had the
honour of a seat on the Conference over which you, Mr. Speaker, presided with such skill and success. Before that Conference there came, of necessity and by the free will of all of us, this problem of women's franchise. One has to remember the fact that it was only because of the limitation of the vote to women by those bounds and ages which were set down in that Bill that we were able to get that Act of Parliament as and when we did. Those of us who were on Mr. Speaker's Conference, and who were pursuing, as we all were pursuing, the line of least resistance and trying to find the greatest common measure of agreement, found ourselves in pursuance of that bound to accept the Bill as it was presented to the House, and as it carried out the overwhelmingly preponderant recommendations of Mr. Speaker's Conference. Whatever unpopularity it may gain for us or whatever misunderstanding it may lay us open to, let us face the fact that if this Bill became law the second Clause would mean a new Franchise Act, altering what is certainly not the best part of the old one. Can we seriously at this time vote for altering the Franchise Act of last Session in this way? I, for one, feel absolutely pledged to maintain the so-called compromise of Mr. Speaker's Conference, on the faith of which it was put into the Report of that Conference and in the ensuing Bill, which I ardently desired. Those who are rightly and properly supporting the ideas of my hon. Friends would not doubt the appropriateness of one's quoting to them the famous lines:
I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not honour more.
Those of us who were on that Conference are bound in honour not to be parties to altering within a very few weeks and months the compromise on which it was based in regard to this Department of the franchise. But if my right hon. Friend could see his way to go forward with the rest of this Bill, I should imagine that he would have something like a unanimous House of Commons behind him. It is quite obvious, apart entirely from pledges made on election platforms, that we have reached the point in the development of our country when all legal disabilities attaching to sex are out of date and are a hindrance to the proper growth of the country in its civic aspect. We shall not reach that goal, which I believe all of us
desire to reach, by one leap or at one stage. Let us go to it step by step, as we went towards it in the last Parliament, with the greatest amount of consent and in a way which does not admit of going back. Therefore, I shall cordially support this Bill and do everything I can, not only to vote for it but to facilitate it, if I had the power, if it dealt with the subject-matter of the first and third Clause only. I would appeal to my right hon. Friend—it is the appeal of one who shares his point of view, and identifies himself with the object—whether he will not in practice and effect get on the Statute Book a new step in the direction we all want more easily and with a certainty not otherwise obtainable, if he were willing that the franchise part of this Bill should not be proceeded with, and to secure the very important judicial part of the Bill which relates to the privileges and procedure of another House? I venture to make that appeal because I want something done, I want something done at once, and I want that done which can be done without interfering with the pledges or honourable undertakings which certainly bind the consciences of many of us who had the honour of a seat in the last Parliament I make that appeal in warm sympathy with the general object of the Bill.
The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down has no doubt expressed the opinion prevailing among a large number of hon. and right hon. Members of this House, but it is really impossible for my right hon. Friend (Mr. Adamson) at this stage to withdraw anything from the Bill which is already in it. If there is a case made out for amendment, the Bill ought to stand its chance of going to a Committee of the Whole House or to a Committee upstairs. The hon. Gentleman will find that, as Committees are constituted now for other Bills, this Bill will have a fair chance of either being amended to meet his wishes or of going through as it is. I have no doubt that all the arguments adduced this afternoon will be thoroughly thrashed out in Committee. It is an interesting fact that up to the present every speaker has supported the general terms of the Bill with the exception of those relating to the franchise. The hon. Member for Mid-Antrim (Major O'Neill) made out what I considered to be a splendid case for the Bill, but he fell foul of it because of the franchise Clause. I always held the view, and have done ever since I came into this House, that if a Bill is introduced in regard to which there is general agreement, that Bill ought to be given a Second Beading and should stand on its merits in Committee of the Whole House or in Committee upstairs. The finding of Mr. Speaker's Conference was a justification for a trial being given to women in the matter of the franchise. There was a feeling in the House when the Franchise Bill was before it the last time that women would not exercise their votes in any fair way. It was an experiment. There was some doubt in the minds of many hon. Members on the point. If the Conference over which you, Mr. Speaker, presided justified the experiment being made of giving women the vote, the last General Election justified its permanency, and I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Mid-Antrim in his opinion that the average women of twenty-one is more capable of exercising a vote in a rational and common-sense way than is the average man at twenty-one years of age. He mentioned the point that is made by some people opposed to the Bill that men can fight for their country, and he illustrated that by referring to the ordeal that women have to go through. Let me emphasise that a little further. Although men may be able to fight for their country, they could not fight for their country if they were not born by women. Moreover, in industrial life, or whatever other phase of life may be taken, it has been shown during recent years, and more particularly during the War, that women have a right to stand on the same plane as men in our Constitution, in our home life, our municipal life, our Parliamentary life, and in all other phases of life through which we pass from time to time.
The hon. and gallant Member for Mid-Antrim said, as I understood, that he would support the Second Beading of this Bill provided that he was sure that the great volume of women's opinion in this country was behind it. He could not see that it was. May I just recall the enormous number of demonstrations made by women a few years ago? Does anyone in this House really believe that, had not the War occurred in 1914, women would have been as quiet as they have been all these years? The very fact that this country was plunged into war attracted the attention of women from the object of their propaganda, and they went to the side of their country in the European struggle. Everybody knows the part that they took in the War, but I am afraid that from time to time complete recognition has been wanting not only of their work in the field but of the suffering, solitude and pain that they have undergone everywhere during the War. I am perfectly convinced that had not the War occurred women would have made war on society until they secured their right and just demands. Let me ask the House seriously to give this Bill a Second Beading, and whatever faults it has to give it the same chance as any other Bill to stand or fall. If by Amendments it can be made better, my right hon. Friend and those with whom I am associated will only be too pleased. The Franchise Bill was a large step in the right direction. The experience gained by the Franchise Bill has been very great in a very short time, and I want to put in a special plea to take time by the forelock, to take the question of the hour as it meets the needs of the day. If that is done it will bring about a realisation of the hopes of very many thousands of women and also of men in this country who believe that the time has come when we all ought to take an equal share in all the spheres of life for this country and our Empire. By doing this we shall take a step forward in the progress of democracy.
I was under the impression that this measure was in reality an agreed measure. No party, certainly no political party in this House, could claim to be its special herald. I think that the announcements made on public platforms, as well as by all the leaders, were in favour of this Bill, and therefore it seems to me that the principle of the measure was recognised and that it should receive a Second Reading. With regard to the only subject that has been, in controversy, namely, the second Clause, this is one that relates entirely to the franchise and to the question whether the age qualification for women to vote should be reduced from thirty years to twenty-one years. I think that if we apply our minds to a consideration of that question, we can very easily find a solution. I also had the honour, Mr. Speaker, of being a member of the Conference over which you presided. Anyone who was a member of that Conference will recollect that there were two views. One was in favour of conceding the vote generally, while according to the other view the vote should be denied to women. In the end, after thoughtful consideration and mature judgment, the Conference decided to adopt a compromise, in order that at all events we might have the benefit of an experiment in the next trial of strength before the people. Accordingly, the age of thirty years was adopted. It was a purely arbitrary age; there was no reason why it should be thirty rather than twenty-nine or twenty-five. Since then we have had a General Election, which has given us the opportunity of judging of the competency of women to exercise their vote. I do not think that a single Member of this House will deny that women on that occasion exercised the vote wisely and thoughtfully. Having had that proof, what danger is there in extending the vote so as to allow those women who have reached the age of twenty-one to vote with the same qualifications as men? For my own part, I see no reason whatever against it; and I do not see how, on principle or logic, you can deny the vote to women of twenty-one who have the same qualifications in other respects as men. There are two main reasons why on principle I feel strongly in favour of this Bill. In the first place, I consider that the concession to women is right, and that to me is a sufficient reason. In the second place, I consider that we have had in this country, as elsewhere in the world, considerable evidences of unrest among the civilised portions of the population. My opinion is that women are the best supporters of law and order in any community, for the very obvious reason that they are more interested in it than men, and, regarding them as the most stable element, I am of opinion that it will be vastly in the interests of the country, with the manifestations of unrest that we have had, that their influence should be added in support of law and order.
I think enough has been said to warrant all of us voting for this measure. Not a single reason has been given why it should not become law. We have on the other side of the House one hon. Member who has pleaded for delay because of pledges given to someone. I want to ask to whom those pledges were given, because against that we had the Government at the election, in the manifesto which they issued, pledging themselves to political equality for women. Surely there is no pledge broken here, or at least I hope it is not intended to break
any pledge, because this is what the Home Secretary said only yesterday to a deputation:
He expressed his entire sympathy with the objects of the Bill and agreed that the Government had in its election manifesto given a pledge on the subject of civic and political equality for women. He was, however, only able to give his personal opinion as the Government had not considered the matter
On the other side of the House we have had two estimable hon. Members in favour of the principle of the Bill, but it seems to me they are philosophers prepared to go slowly. Some of us on this side may be materialists and want to go a little bit quicker. I have perhaps fought as many elections, as election agent or candidate, as any Member of the House and since this question has become a vital question I have been in favour and have spoken on hundreds of platforms in favour of the removal of sex qualification. I have not altered my opinion in the least, but it has been strengthened by what has happened during the past few years with regard to the splendid work that has been done by women. I am not going to agree with the hon. Member (Mr. Lunn) that women proved at the last election that they understood their business. The did in some constituencies, I believe, including my own, but I think at any rate partly they were carried away by pledges which the Government has not been able to keep. But surely we are not going on to another pledge which they gave in their manifesto? We are not going to prepare the way for their refusing to carry through that which, at any rate, was promised. It has been said to-day by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adamson) not only have we given the vote to young men of twenty-one, but we have also given the vote to young men of nineteen, and surely if the standard is that the young man of nineteen has fought for his country, I think that equally applies to the women whose heroism and whose sacrifice has done so much during these four terrible years that we have gone through. As a man who has been in the homes of these women very largely in connection with separation allowances, and pensions, I have no hesitation in saying that the heroism, the sacrifice, the splendid work these women have done in factory, in field and at home during the past four and a half years has been an inspiration.
I notice that people who strongly opposed women being placed on an equal footing with men, have very largely changed their opinion during the past year or two. They may have thought it expedient to do so because the woman is now in possession of a powerful weapon, and in my own Constituency my opponent, who had been opposed to women suffrage all his life, when he saw the register with women's votes on immediately altered his opinion. I told him, "If you had been honest you would have said, 'Although I have not thought you are fit for votes all my political life, now that you have got on the register I think you ought to give those votes to me.'" He did not come down and say that, and the women did not give him their vote. But I go further than that and I said this during my election. I hope to see some of the highly gifted women in this country sitting in this House and assisting in our legislation and more largely in our administration. We have given the man of twenty-one the vote. We have given the woman of twenty-one the opportunity to come to this House. If you give women the opportunity to sit and promote legislation in this House, is there any logical reason why you should not give them the vote to send someone else here? It seems to me the position is absolutely unanswerable, and if it needed assistance I think it has been given this morning by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major O'Neill). Can any of us conceive any one more fitting to assist in the administration and legislation of this country than women in regard to public health and in regard to anything which has to do with the homes of the country? And surely, having borne the burden of responsibility that she has done for many years, she is entitled at last to have that sex disqualification removed under which she has suffered too long. I can imagine, too, that there would be some difficulty if we got lady Members of Parliament. I can imagine that it would be rather more difficult—it is merely a pleasantry—for Mr. Speaker to pass over a lady and call on some of us mere men to speak in debate. [Interruption.] You have not had, perhaps, quite so much experience of ladies as some of us have had. I believe there is no answer to this matter. I do not want to overstate the case. It does not want any further statement at all. We on this side, and I believe hon. Members on the other side, have for many years been supporting the abolition of sex disqualification. Without going into the technicalities of the Bill, I give it my hearty support, not on any mere ground of expediency, but because I believe the woman is justly entitled to a vote on equal terms with men.
I wish to make my position clear in the action which I may be disposed to take when we come to vote. I have become a convert to women suffrage in recent years. In my earlier life I was not anxious that women should have the franchise. In my Constituency I did not meet any number of women who wished to be enrolled. I have received communications from ladies asking me to vote against women's enfranchisement, but I have never received any communication from any lady in my Constituency asking me to support it. But recognising, as I did, the tremendous assistance and the splendid part which women played in this country during the War, I felt it was my duty as a public man to see that the compromise which was suggested in this House should receive my support, and I took the risk and gave my vote accordingly. After the result of that vote and the result of the enfranchisement of women, I have nothing but commendation for the splendid part which women have played in the last election as well as in their conduct generally in the country. I believe in my heart that the introduction of women into our Parliamentary life and into the national life as a real active force will tend to purify legislation, to uplift the home and to bring in better methods, better conditions for the poor and the despised and those who have had very little attention in the previous life of this nation. Therefore, I feel pleased to say here publicly that I do not regret the action which I took in the last Parliament as a convert in voting for the enfranchisement of women in the compromise which was brought forward in this House.
But I do ask my hon. Friends who are pressing this Bill whether it is not better for us to hasten slowly in this matter, because we shall have on a day not far distant the complete emancipation of women, when they will be placed upon an equality with men and will be recognised as such by the State? In the meantime, I would ask the promoters of this Bill whether womenfolk are treated on the same terms as men in trade unions? Have they the same voting power and the same representation? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] Will trade unions permit women to take a man's job in industry? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes; they do it now!"] Well, if they do, it is an opportunity which has been accorded to them only lately, because I have seen some of the biggest rows in connection with industry about putting women on men's jobs. In many industries to-day it will not be tolerated. Even if it is permitted by the trade unions it is not tolerated in practice, and until you have better conditions in the country, and until the trade unions themselves recognise that women are on equal terms with men in industry, I say this Bill is premature.
May I remind the hon. Member that the whole of the Lancashire cotton trade has been built up by the men and the women working side by side, the same hours for the same wages, and with the same chance of sitting on the committees and governing their society. That has been ever since I was born.
May I remind the hon. Member that I know of other trades, particularly the woollen trade, in which it is not possible to put a woman into a man's job, and I have seen big rows in factories because that was attempted. It is all very well to talk of a trade which I do not know, but I am speaking of trades which I know. It is not permitted in those trades. Women are hammered down by the cruelties of men in trade unions and are not allowed to be put on a man's job. Until these men clean up their own house it is not fair to come here and talk about the complete emancipation of women when they are not getting that emancipation in the work over which men have complete control. Let us realise these things. I hope the day is coming when women, so far as they are physically capable, will be recognised and legally permitted to do the same work as men and to receive the same pay for the same hours in that work. Up to the present that has not been the case, and this matter should be attended by the organisation of workers throughout the country before the House of Commons is asked to embark upon such a wide scheme as is proposed in this Bill.
What I object to particularly in this Bill is tampering with the franchise at the present time. The recent Franchise Bill was a compromise, and the women who have been enfranchised have only recorded their votes at one election. The time is too short for us to judge results. It is not fair to the women all over the country to ask the House of Commons now to go in for further enfranchisement of women until we are convinced that this step is a wise one, and commends itself to the people of the country. We have more important things to do now, and I am sure women will agree upon this, for the help of motherhood, for the help of home life, for the betterment of housing, and many other things that will make the homes sweet and the homes of the workers happier than at present. The womenfolks would tell us to get on with these great reconstruction programmes and not to waste the time of the House of Commons for six months over the mere question of enfranchisement as to whether the age of women for recording their votes should be twenty-one or thirty. You cannot have an Enfranchisement Bill brought here with any chance of success unless it is brought forward by a Government Department. Then why waste the time of the House over things which will not mature, when we can be employed in doing things that are needed? The womenfolks would tell us and would urge us to get on with the material things of life, and to leave these fanciful things for a more convenient season and to concentrate upon the things that will fructify.
The time of the House of Commons is being wasted in different directions. A Proportional Representation scheme is being thrust upon us in Ireland, and the time of this House has been, and will be, wasted in discussing it. It is not required. Only two Irish representatives voted for it. It will be of no practical value. We ought to be doing practical things at this time. The things the country is clamouring for are the things that make for the security, the peace and the prosperity of the country. I object to any tampering with the franchise at the present time because all our discussions about it will be nebulous. Look at these things from the materialistic point of view. Can you make anything out of this Bill? It is all talk. It is merely something to interest the people outside and to catch votes and not with any avowed intention of doing any material good for the country. Therefore, rightly or wrongly, I feel that I must object to any wasting of the time of the House in discussing this nebulous question. I hope I shall not be misunderstood. My ideas of women are not that women can be put upon an equality with men, and I hope there is no man in this House who in his heart would say that women are on an equality with men. I hope that no man considers his wife simply on a level with himself. I hope that the day will never tome when the chivalry of the men of this country will have descended to such a low position. We look upon women not as our equals but as our guardian angels, as above us in all that is pure, and noble, and holy, and anything that is for the amelioration of women I shall vote for. I have recorded my appreciation of the manner in which women behaved themselves during the last election. They steadied public life in this country, and stemmed the tide of Socialism, Bolshevism and unrest. They have done much to strengthen this country politically. I have no objection to the further enrolling of womenfolk, but we must take time with these things. We must use the brains which the Almighty gave us for the benefit of the country at large and not waste time in this House talking about things that cannot materialise. So, while I vote for everything that will make for the political amelioration of women, I regret that I cannot vote for this Bill.
I entirely disagree with the remarks which have fallen from the hon. Member. Our great fault in the past is that we have gone too slowly. I was one of the strongest supporters of the present Government at the last election, because I felt perfectly sure that with our present Prime Minister and our present Leader we should not go slowly but should tackle the great problems presenting themselves to the nation at the present time. When I was before my Constituents I told them distinctly that I would support any measure which would remove the sex barrier, and now when we have a Bill before us that proposes to remove the sex barrier, if I were to vote against it, I feel that I should, after what I told the lady electors of my Constituency, deserve to be run in for breach of promise. I never can understand, if a woman is qualified not only to vote but to sit in this House, why should she not be equally qualified to exercise functions of, I do not think so important a nature as those of Members of the House of Commons. If a lady is qualified to sit in this House why should she not also be qualified to sit in the House of Lords? I understand that it is quite a fit place for a lady to sit in. It is a most respectable assembly with several bishops. I have heard it said that there is this difference, that she has to be elected to this House whereas she must sit in the House of Lords by hereditary right. That seems to be an argument rather against a hereditary second chamber than against a lady being qualified to sit in the Upper House. If we allow ladies to become doctors, I cannot see why they should not also become members of the legal profession and of the judiciary. On the question of the age limit, I was very much impressed with its absurdity when I discovered that there were young men of nineteen years of age who had a vote, and there were elder sisters of twenty-nine years of age wives, and mothers of children, who were not considered old enough or experienced enough to say whom they would like to represent them in the House of Commons. Then I had experience of the absurd result of soldiers' wives over thirty years of age being allowed to vote while the soldier's wife, perhaps the mother of a family, who happened to be twenty-nine years old, was not allowed to have any say in the matter of the election. All my life I have gone on the principle that the golden rule is to trust the people oil this country, and when I speak of the country I speak not only of the men but also of the women.
I have no difficulty in supporting this Bill. After a lifetime of work spent with women on public boards, I have yet to learn that they are not worthy of the highest honours that the State can confer upon them. We hear to-day that we ought to put this matter off, and I was reminded of the words in the old book: "I will send for you in a more convenient season." I think that the time has arrived when Parliament ought to make up its mind—I believe it has—that women are entitled to the vote on exactly the same terms as men. There is no reason why this House should be sitting on Friday to discuss a Bill which should be carried without the slightest difficulty in this twentieth century. Women have not only proved themselves worthy of the utmost confidence of the country by their ability and common sense, but they have shown that they are quite equal in every walk of life to mere man. We may be met by various suggestions that women cannot occupy this, that, or the other office, but it goes without saying that wherever woman has had an opportunity of being tried in any public position she has not failed to show those qualities quite on a par with man in any walk of life. I am quite sure of this with regard to trade unionism, that they have only got to let women in to their closed doors and women will soon settle the right as to whether women shall be able to work on an equality and shall have the same advantages. I have the greatest possible pleasure in whole-heartedly supporting this Bill, because I believe the day has come when women have earned by every known way in the history of this country their right not only to sit in this House but to occupy any position coequally with men, and to have all the rights enjoyed by the male sex.
I agree so emphatically with the last speaker that I ventured to put down an Instruction on the Paper to bring the Bill within the scope of its Title and Preamble. I am aware that an Instruction is an innocent which is always doomed to death from infancy, but I thought it a good thing to deposit on Labour's doorstep as a hint of how to carry out the principle and title of the Bill. The title of the Bill is Women's Emancipation, and my Instruction is that it should apply to all ranks of industry. Ninety per cent, of women want to earn wages and they want to enter trade, and when I look at the Preamble of the Bill I see it begins in these words:
Whereas by law certain restraints and disabilities are imposed upon women to which men are not liable, and whereas it is expedient that such restraints and disabilities shall be henceforth discontinued.
With such a fine Preamble and such a fine Title I never dreamt that the Bill would be the emaciated and emasculated affair we see here to-day. When Labour put forward its twenty points before the electorate at the General Election Article 4 included
the complete restoration, of choice of occupation.
Surely it is not in mere governmental affairs or in the power of entering this House or entering the solicitor's profession, or posts in the Government, that they are only to get their complete freedom, when they have shown qualification for entering nearly all ranks of industry.
The title of the Bill is like the title of the Labour party. They are both grand titles. There could be no greater title in this world than Labour, and there could be no greater title than Emancipation to a Bill. This Bill does not emancipate women. It reminds me most of a Bologna sausage which has a genuine skin, like the title of this Bill, and which has got a faked inside. The Ladies' Gallery is completely empty to-day, which shows that they do not regard this Bill as an Emancipation Bill in any sense of the word. When 90 per cent, of the persons affected are thinking of how they can earn their living true emancipation will allow them to enter the ranks of any industry for which they are fitted and to enter any of the trade unions. As it is, women can enter the Merchant Service, but there is a natural selection which leads to the seamen being men. But they should be eligible for all ranks of industry, just as the Bill seeks to make them, eligible for membership of the House of Lords, and for any post in the Government. It is not a generous Bill to the women, and it reminds me of the monumental generosity of the person who stole a pig and gave the trotters to the poor. The intellect which apparently laid down the programme of the Labour party in this matter reminds me very much of the Bourbon King who for the salvation of his soul and those of his ancestors returned to everybody one-third of what was owing by them to the Jews. The Bill opens certain professions which are not regarded as labour in the old sense of the word, but would certainly in the new title of the Labour party belong to labour. That is all it does. Women have done magnificently in this. War. They have worked side by side with men. They have, as I have said, shown their fitness to enter nearly all the ranks of industry. They have been in the valley of suffering. They have stood in the shadow of death, and I do think that we want a Bill which is a true emancipation Bill and which will put women all along the line on a level with men and side by side with them, and that the motto to which we should subscribe should be, "Equal pay for equal work."
I desire to support this Bill. The hon. Member who has just spoken has not actually opposed the principle, but has urged that because it does not include the right of women to the labour market that that is a reason why we should oppose the Bill. I take it that his point is that women have not universal admission to trade unions. First of all, that point is not one for legislative enactment, and I think it is a matter which this House could not decide, and is a matter of internal administration for those unions. I do not think there are, and I certainly have not heard, of any members of the Labour party who are opposed to the principle of the right of women to be admitted into trade unions on the same terms as men. Therefore I cannot see that that amounts to any argument against this Bill being brought forward by members of the Labour party. This is a thoroughly democratic Bill, introduced by the Labour party. It includes the right of peeresses to sit in the other place, so that there can be no suggestion that we fail to include all classes. We have been told in a speech from an hon. Member opposite that we must hasten slowly in this matter. Apart from the paradox which lies inherent in that phrase, I think it is one which has always been used when these matters have been brought forward. The hon. Member said that old animosities will arise if the question of the franchise is brought forward. I am not a convert to this measure. I am happy to say that I have been in favour of equal rights for women all my life, or at any rate as far as I can remember. The hon. Gentleman said he was a convert, and we have evidence by the Act which lies on our Statute Book that those old animosities have now ceased. Every speech almost which has been delivered has admitted to the principle of the right of women now to have an equal voice with men. But it goes further than that. It was part of the programme which the Government laid before the country at the last General Election. I am certain that the Prime Minister stated over and over again, so that there could be no doubt about it, that be was in favour of equal rights in all matters for women. This talk about wasting time of Parliament seems to me to be a poor point to bring forward. The arguments have been amply sufficient to show the right of women to the vote, and even in the short experience we have had on the matter they have established their claim. Then we are told that it is wasting the time of this House on a private Members' day to discuss a great principle such as this.
I accept the hon. Member's statement, but he himself says we must hasten slowly and wait until we know exactly where we are. On his own plane of thought it would certainly do no harm to have a private Members' day for discussing this, so that the feeling of Members could be ascertained, and so that we could really see that all these old animosities have disappeared. Surely this right, to admit the principle of equal rights for women, will facilitate the various social measures which are being brought forward. Take the questions of housing and of health. These are matters which will depend largely upon administrative success in local bodies. You must have the co-operation and assistance of women in carrying out these matters, and it is only right that we should, as far as possible by legislative enactment, put on a solid basis this right of women to equal rights. I am not satisfied with the Bill as it stands, and it is certainly necessary for the Government to take it up. My only objection to it is that it does not go far enough, and that it will have to be drawn more carefully, so as to include every inequality which at present exists as regards women. I will take only two out of innumerable instances. There is the question of the divorce laws. It is long overdue that women should be placed on exactly the same basis as men. Another measure which should be passed is the question of the guardianship of children, in regard to which women and mothers should have equal rights with the fathers. The hon. Member opposite said women were not on an equality with men, but that they were higher than men. I am not going to quarrel with that statement, but on the ground of chivalry and of the position which women and mothers occupy in this country, surely it is a standing disgrace that they should not have equal rights with men in respect of the guardianship of children! It is not a question of hastening slowly, but of hastening quickly, and I beg of the Government that they will not only give opportunities for this Bill to pass its Second Reading, but that they will take up the matter themselves and make the Bill more comprehensive. I am sure the time of the House will not have been wasted if they give the Bill every opportunity, of passing as rapidly as possible.
We have heard a good deal of late about emancipation, about equality, and about justice, but is there any hon. Member present to-day who can say that the womenfolk who are debarred from having the same rights as men have justice, have equality, or have emancipation? I was somewhat surprised to hear the statement of the hon. Member opposite that he had been petitioned to vote against this Bill. There is a different state of affairs existing in Ireland from what there is in England, because I have received no end of letters from the constituency that I have the honour to represent, asking me to give my hearty support to this very important and essential measure. When we have regard to what the women have done in every capacity of life during the very perilous times that we have been going through, I think it is a piece of ingratitude if we do not appreciate it by supporting such a Bill as this. It has been said that the Prime Minister has won this War, and that the generals have won this War, and I am here to say that they have taken a great and noble part in winning the War, but as far as the womanfolk of this country are concerned, I am here also to say that this War would not have been won if it had not been for the great sacrifice and the great interest and the great patriotism which they displayed during the perilous times we have gone through. The writer of the history of this War in the future will make special reference to the sacrifices that the mothers and sisters, and womenfolk generally, have rendered to this country and to civilisation during these times. Women are requiring and wanting this measure, and they are taking a very profound and intelligent interest in local and national affairs. I have found that the women in the division I represent are more interested in national affairs than are the men, and I have also found that they are as interested in local affairs. That being so, why should they be debarred from having the same rights as we enjoy in this country of all others that stands for freedom, for equity, and for justice? In my judgment it is mere mockery to talk about emancipating the world when you have women practically in chains, who are not able to exercise their votes or their gifts and abilities in consequence of us debarring them from having the same rights that we have ourselves.
I had the honour to be opposed at the General Election by a lady, a very gifted and intelligent lady, a woman that I had every confidence in and that I could have voted for if she were in the same class and in the same party as I was. It was not because we thought she lacked ability or intelligence that we opposed her. There are women in this country that can take up any position in the State with credit to themselves and to the country, and I was somewhat surprised to hear an hon. Member say that we must go more slowly. It is in consequence of going slowly in the past that we have a deal of the present unrest in the country. None of the hon. Members who have spoken against this Bill has pointed out in any particular way why the vote should not be given to women, and all they have said is that we have just had the franchise extended. If that did not reach the people we are pleading for, then I say we ought to make it do so now without any unnecessary delay. I hope that all those who have supported this Bill in voice will support it in action by voting for the Second Reading, because it is no good coming here and saying you support the principle of a Bill and that the principles it embodies are entitled to every consideration, without you are prepared to give your vote as well as your voice. I am here to give my support both by voice and vote to this Bill. Somebody made reference to trade unions. The door of the trade unions of this country ought to be open to every woman willing to enter into a trade organisation. I believe in equal pay for equal work. If a woman is able to do work that I do, she is entitled to the same remuneration, and I believe the day is coming when women, are not going to undersell the men, but are going to have combinations right throughout the country which will watch their interests. It is because I profoundly believe that the women of this country are anxious for these concessions, and that they will be an acquisition on local government bodies or benches of magistrates, or, in fact, any institution, that I give the Bill my hearty support.
This Bill really embodies no new principle, and, therefore, I do not see how the House of Commons, if it is to retain any shred of consistency, can well oppose it. After all, it is only a matter of degree. I used to oppose women's suffrage on general grounds, but I do not feel that, once the principle has been conceded, it is practicable to resist its extension in such details as those proposed by this Bill. The way that I have looked on this matter is that the vote is not a right. The vote is a privilege given by the State in the interests of the State. Children do not have votes, and in many other cases votes have not been allowed in the past, and we cannot look upon the voting question in any other way than as a question of expediency. There was a great argument against giving the vote to women in any form—the argument that a large number of women did not want the vote and that the whole of their sex would be involved in political controversy if this right were given to them, in view of the natural pressure which would be put upon them to make use of it. But that argument, which had very great force when no woman had got the vote, is entirely destroyed under present conditions. Now we have got women on the register in very considerable numbers, it is most desirable, especially under the present conditions of unrest which obtain in the country, to avoid the creation or the prolongation of any unnecessary grievance. There is no doubt that women will feel discontented if an arbitrary age limit is imposed upon them without any corresponding disability in the case of men.
I do not know what is going to be the attitude of the Government on this Bill. They probably are so pleased with the large, and possibly unexpected, majority which they got at the last election, that they are pleased with the election as it is, and they do not wish to exchange their present condition of strength for dangers of which they can hardly gauge the extent. Timidity about Reform Bills characterises the Treasury Bench just as certainly as it characterises every other vested interest, but if we look at the past, we generally find—in fact, we have invariably found—that those doubts and fears have proved to be based on very little foundation. It has always been foretold of every reform of the franchise that great change in the position of political parties would result. Of course, in no case has the promises of revolution come to pass, and I think we can feel confident that this Bill—although I agree it would enfranchise a very large number—is not likely to have any very far-reaching consequences in the balance of power in political parties. Really, the general argument for dealing with this question at the present time is, I think, that we need in our present transitory condition after the War, to bring to our aid all the stabilising elements in the community. Nowadays economic questions play a larger share in our political controversies and our social welfare than they ever did in the past, and there is no doubt that women, from their particular interest in the question of marketing, have a truer conception of the real meaning of wages than the other sex. I belive that women, as a whole understand that the money value of wages is not the one consideration, and they realise that the real value of wages is often something very different. These matters are going to play so large a part in our political future that it is most important that we should have as many as possible of those voters who understand these questions put on to the register.
The chief difficulty that I see in passing this Bill at the present time is that we are at the beginning of a new Parliament, and it is the invariable constitutional practice that when a Reform Bill is passed, as the existing House of Commons, from the time of its passing, ceases to represent, the electorate of the country, a new election should be held at the first possible opportunity. There have been certain precedents for suspending this constitutional safeguard for a considerable time so as to enable, for instance, the preparation of the new register, and to ensure that all the electors newly enfranchised shall find their way on the list. But there is, I think, no precedent for suspending the action of a Reform Bill in its necessary result of a General Election for more than a Session, or at the most a year. Therefore, I do feel that the House is in a very great difficulty in passing this Bill at the present time, when there is, perhaps, another four years of normal life in front of this Parliament. We are entitled to some explanation, either from the promoters of this Bill or from the Government, as to how this peculiar difficulty is to be dealt with. Personally, I feel that it would be difficult to justify keeping at large number of new electors on the register for three or four years without enabling them to declare their opinions,, and therefore, before supporting this Bill, I should like to hear what way there is out of this difficulty, because I do not feel that, much as I wish to see a larger number of ladies on the register, that object is of sufficient importance to involve us in an election at an earlier period than would otherwise be the case.
There seems to be general agreement that women should have equal facilities under the law in all directions to men. Several hon. Members offer excuse for delay, and have given certain reasons. Seeing that each and all of us coming recently back from our Constituencies, and feeling that the women recorded their votes correctly in each of our own Constituencies, I think women have at least a right to know how this House now stands in relation to the whole question of removing disabilities inflicted upon them by the law of this land. Therefore, if no other useful purpose were served this afternoon than to give them some indication as to how some Members stand, that would be something gained. But seeing that we are prepared to admit the excellent services that women have rendered to the country during the past trying time, it seems to me that now is the time to tell the Government that, so far as this House is concerned, we are prepared to support them in removing all the disabilities that are still in the way of a free and full emancipation of women. I have been somewhat astonished to find, in the course of the Debate, reference made to the trade unions of our country. There has always been ample opportunity for the womenfolk of our country, in so far as the law is concerned, to enter into industry. But I want to say to those who are so keenly interested in the freedom of women to enter into industry that we would like to know what guarantees they are going to give us that they will help us to secure for the women who are in industry equal pay for equal work. Trade unionists, I believe, who sit in this House—at all events I shall speak for myself as a member of the engineering trade—have always advocated that women should be enrolled in men's societies. I hold it to be a perfectly good thing for the women themselves. At the same time they are very useful, to the people who are in, in helping to forward the trade union movement to our country.
Reference has been made to the trade unionists as restricting the entrance of women into their trade unions. I want to say we have a very good reason for that, and that is the reason I have already hinted at, that there is no sign as yet, even in spite of the War, that the women who are in industry are going to receive, by those who employ them, equal pay for the equal work which they may do. I look at this Bill from a different standpoint to that of my hon. Friend. I believe that every woman should have the right to enter into that industry for which she has the qualification. Long, long ago, somewhere in the sixties, I think, it was demonstrated in one of the census returns that there was about 2,000,000 women in the country earning their livelihood. There are many more now. I am anxious, in so far as the working classes of this country are concerned, that they should have full and free political rights, so that these women may help us to get them back out of the workshops into which many of them are condemned to go, not because they desire to go, but because of the economic circumstances which compel them. I agree with John Stuart Mill when he wrote his famous work on "The Subjection of Women." Let me quote what he said—and the reference is to working-class people—
When the support of the family depends, not on property but earnings, the common arrangement by which a man earns the income and the wife supervises the domestic expenditure seems to me in general the most useful division of labour between the two persons.
While I am prepared to admit women into any and every industry, I hope we will get back, as far as possible, to this subdivision of labour of which Mill wrote. I for one never desired, and I hope never will, by advocating the economic emancipation of women, to do so that they might turn their attention from their children to work in our factories and workshops. The best thing we can do is to give them free and full power under the law to take the same position as men. If they get that full and free power they will help us to establish a system of education in this country which will induce the mothers to consider it their duty, rather than to work in the factories and workshops, to educate their children in the interests of the State. That is my point of view; it is not that of an increase of the economic slavery of women. I do not desire to enable a woman so much to go into the workshop to earn her own livelihood as
that she may help her husband to secure by his sole effort that sufficiency which he ought to be able to procure for himself, his wife, and his children. An argument was put forward by, I think, an hon. Member on the other side, who suggested that by delaying the measure we, should have some respect to some pledge or other which was binding on the last Parliament. I should like to suggest that the shoal of pledges that make their appearance in any Parliament can only be binding on that Parliament, and for the duration of that Parliament. When a General Election takes place, when you have gone to the people and laid your views before them, and come back to this House for the express purpose—or in my estimation you ought to have that express purpose—of carrying forward improvements in legislation, you ought to do it.
I want now in a word or two to Bay that I trust there will be no stress put upon the argument that women are not demanding this reform. I want to look at it from the other point of view. I want to ask the hon. Gentleman who said that women are not demanding this reform, what would happen if you took away political franchise from the women who have now got it? That, I think, would be found a better test as to whether women desire to keep the freedom given to them in the last Parliament. Might I also be allowed to refer to the right hon. Gentleman opposite—and he will be able to bear this out—that people want freedom not so much to exercise it in every case, but that by having that freedom they may be able to help other people who do wish to exercise it. Let me put it this way. During the last Parliament there was a great deal of trouble. The men in the workshops wanted a certain freedom. They desired the abolition of the leaving certificate. The Government were considerably concerned as to what was going to occur when these leaving certificates were abolished. They expected to see men travelling from one part to another of the country, and shifting about willy-nilly. That did not occur to any great extent. Why? What was all the tumult, all the hubbub about?
In each of our factories there were a certain number of men who desired to return to the place where their homes were situated. They knew they could get work there, and at the same pay as they were getting away from home. The other men in the establishments felt the force of the claim of these men, that they should have the freedom to go back home. They themselves, therefore, put in the demand for that freedom, not that they might exercise it or desired so to do, but that they might help the other men, and have the same freedom if it was found necessary to exercise it on their own behalf. Many people uphold freedom even if they do not want to take the full liberty accorded to them, so that their fellows may have the right, if they think fit to take advantage of that freedom. So here, we, that is some of us, in this House, believe that when you have given every woman in every country the vote at the same time as the men, when you have opened to them all the various trades and professions, and so on, that many women, having got these rights, will not desire to come and sit in this House. They will not desire to become doctors or ministers of the gospel, or to join other professions. No doubt there will be a few who will desire to do so, but I believe the majority of women will stick to their own profession and realise that in attending to their homes and doing their work in relation to their children they are rendering the best service to the State. They will exercise the franchise to send to this House those who will bring about reform in health and housing and in other directions in order to make this a better country to live in. I have always said that women should be admitted into trade unions on the same conditions as men, and have believed that a father has no more right to maintain an idle family of daughters than sons. Daughters and sons have an equal right to earn their livelihood, but when they grow older and take upon themselves greater responsibilities I trust that they will exercise their new freedom in such a way that mothers will not need to work in a mill or a factory, and then I believe that women will be the best educators of their own children.
Mr. HUGH EDWARDS:
I listened with very great pleasure to the speech of the official Leader of the Labour party in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, and while I congratulate him on his speech, I am sure he will appreciate my objection when I say that he seemed to lay special emphasis on the fact that the Labour party were championing the cause of women on this occasion. I do not think the Labour party have a monopoly of the championship of the women's cause, because many other parties in the House have given quite as much support to this movement as the Leader of the Opposition, and there are many hon. Members in this House belonging to other parties who are in a special degree indebted to the support of women at the last election.
This Bill consists of two parts: First of all, it provides for the removal of restraints and disabilities as far as certain professions are concerned, and, secondly, it deals with an extension of the franchise. On the matter of women's claim to be placed on an equality with men in regard to the privileges and emoluments of public life, there are only two positions which can be argued with any semblance of logic. The one is based on the contention that in her original equipment of instinct, capacity, and temperament woman has been exclusively and primarily destined for the domestic sphere, and her admission into the arena of public life and the professions has been looked upon as a something that would mark the perversion of her mission and the abrogation of her destiny. This contention was put forth with, a good deal of force in the last Parliament, and there were Members on both sides of the House who urged that in extending the sphere of woman's influence we were doing violence to her destiny.
That argument cannot now be used. The War has revealed woman's capacity for taking her place side by side with men in the rough experiences of life and duty no less effectively than amid the peaceful domesticities of the hearth. Women have been called upon for an equality of service and sacrifice during the period of the War, and surely they are entitled to an equality of rights and privileges now that the War is over. I should like the Leader of the Opposition as sponsor for this Bill to state to the House the reason why it has been decided to introduce the second Clause. The hon. Member for Middleton (Sir R. Adkins) referred to a compromise that had been arrived at by the Speaker's Conference. I should like to have heard either from the hon. and learned Member for Middleton or from the right hon. Gentleman why it was that the Speaker's Conference limited the franchise to women at a minimum age of thirty. There must have been some reason, and no one seems to have lifted up the curtain. That Conference represented all parties in this House, and I believe they brought in a unanimous Report on that point, but no one to-day seems to have given the reason, and I think it would have been well if the Leader of the Labour party had taken, means to inquire why the Speaker's Conference had fixed thirty, and why it is now to be reduced to twenty-one.
I may say I am in favour of every Clause in this Bill in principle, because I think logic is all on its side. There may be a fear that if you extend the age that the women may outnumber the men, but this is to be said to their credit that they have never advocated sex antagonism in this country. They have voted for the best man, and that is why most of us are here to-day. I think it can be said that the women are less amenable to party considerations than, the men are. Personally I think that women take a wider view and they have a longer range than the men have, and I urge to-day that it is in the interests of the State itself that women should be admitted into the full exercise of the rights of public life and service. As every hon. Member knows, there is a good deal of industrial unrest in the land, and it springs; from a feeling of discontent with the existing condition of things, because you have reckless luxury on one hand and on the other heart-breaking devastation and destitution, but, unfortunately, there is a good deal of what I may call—I hope the Leader of the Labour party will not take exception to my phrase—rampant Bolshevism in the land. A number of hotheads have become affected with the idea that revolution or resort to force is a short cut to a realisation of their aims and purposes. I think that the greatest bulwark you can have against any kind of Bolshevism in the land is to be found in the innate sanity of women.
I was very much struck with that fact during the election. There were a number of men speaking on different platforms, indulging in wild rhetorical explanations, and ready to do anything and advocating revolution, but again and again I found the wives and daughters of the men were ready to counteract that kind of spirit. I do think it would be all to the interests of the State to provide that the social and economic changes that are coming should be accompanied by a wider extension of the franchise, giving greater power to the women. I suppose the most vehement opponent of women was Schopenhauer. I think he was a German, but he had some Scotch blood in his veins. In his famous
essay on woman, he describes her as inherently a creature of evil, and he asserts her to be wanting in all objectivity of mind. The root quality of evil in women he declares to be this:
The race is always more to her than is the individual.
What Schopenhauer would describe as the crowning iniquity of woman is her crowning glory. The race is always more to her than is the individual. That surely is woman's crowning glory. She subordinates the demands of the present to the claims of the future, and the interests of the individual to the wider welfare of the race; and for that reason I think it would be well, in the interests of the State, to extend her power and sphere of influence, and so let the State profit by it. There never was a time in the history of this country when this was so imperatively necessary as it is now. I remember on one occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Churchill), with that passion of his for picturesque phrases, drew a very striking contrast between the politician and the statesman. He said:
The politician is the man who fixes his eye on the next election, while the statesman is the man who fixes his eye on the next generation.
I am not prepared to say how many of the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench belong to the one category and how many belong to the other, although I venture to say that there is not a man who has a more vigilant eye on the next election than the Secretary of State for War. But I do think that applies to the difference between women and men. The fundamental difference, the physiological difference, is just that the one subordinates everything to the claim of the present and has a short-ranged vision, while the other has a long-ranged vision and subordinates the demands of the present to the wider demands of the future. For that reason I venture to think that it would be well for us to increase her powers and spheres of influence. At the same time it is well for the sponsors of this Bill to take a practical view of the situation. It would be a great pity if they jeopardised this Bill because of the second Clause. Would it not be better for them to take away what they can and to come back later on for the rest? They cannot hope to carry the second Clause. It is just in principle, but what is just in principle is not always expedient in practice. I would, there
fore, urge upon the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends to take the first and third Clauses, secure the good will of the Government, and then, later on, but before the General Election takes place, when there will be an opportunity for extending the franchise, press forward that particular Clause.
When I came to the House this afternoon I had no intention of taking part in this discussion, but I feel that I cannot vote without explaining my position and declaring to the House that I am absolutely pledged to the principle of this Bill. The arguments in favour of this principle, it seems to me, can be divided mainly under two heads—first, the industrial and economic arguments, about which most has been said this afternoon, and, secondly, the moral arguments, which, in my opinion, are of even more importance. Of course, the value lo women of the enhanced importance that they will gain in the industrial and economic spheres by new professions being opened to them is obvious—we cannot get away from that argument—but I feel that the moral argument is even more important. What do we hope will be the result of giving effect to this principle? By enfranchising women and putting them in positions of greater importance in public life and in professions, a new current of air will be let in upon old moral problems and new points of view will be brought to bear upon them. The effect will be that our public life and our politicians will be placed upon a higher plane, and that line of demarcation which unhappily exists now between public and private morality would be done away with. I cordially agree with the last speaker as to the question of Clause 2 and the further enfranchisement of women. I can speak with an easy conscience on the subject because for many years I have been in favour of the enfranchisement of women. I would ask the out and out supporters of this Bill whether it is necessary to jeopardise the possible passing of the other Clauses by overloading the measure with this Clause with regard to the franchise. You must remember, and it is a matter of great importance, that there is a great body of opinion in the country, I will not say in this House, which is still opposed to women's suffrage, and that they did make a great sacrifice in coming to the com- promise to which allusion has been made. Therefore, I would ask the out and out supporters of this principle of equality of franchise between men and women, which is sure to come, whether they cannot wait just two or three years rather than not play the game of keeping the compromise which has been recently effected. I know that it rests with the Government whether they will make or mar this Bill. My own opinion is that the Government can hardly accept a Bill which is so overloaded. I have been disappointed that they have made no profession of it, but I hope that they will be able to give us some promise that before long they will see their way to remedy some, at any late, of the more glaring injustices and inequalities that now exist between men and women under the present law.
I rise just for a few moments to give my cordial support to this Bill. I have listened to some interesting and charming speeches, but I think there is just the danger that in a cloud of words hon. Members forget the essential facts. To me the question at issue is whether women are suffering from disabilities. I say, "Yes." Then the next question is whether these disabilities should be removed. Again I say, "Yes," most cordially. For that reason I rise to support whole-heartedly the Bill which has been introduced. My hon. Friend behind me (Mr. J. H. Edwards), in a speech which I am sure delighted everyone, asked why the age in the Franchise Bill had been fixed at thirty. I was not a Member of that House and I was not in the secrets of the Conference, but it strikes me that it was put in as a concession to a rather stupid prejudice. For a great many years numbers of people have had the idea that woman is an inferior article and that she has no right to have a vote. In fact, I do not know that she has a right to anything except to exercise Home Rule at home. But we have got away from that, and I say that the disabilities we are dealing with to-day are simply relics of the mediæval age, and the sooner we remove them the better. A good deal has been said with regard to Clause 2. I have no connection with the Labour party, but it strikes me that Clause 2 is the vital Clause in this Bill. If an anomaly exists, why should it not be removed with the greatest possible speed? We have progressed; we are getting on, and I think our business is to see that women, in the matter of the franchise, as well as in other matters, is put on an equality with men. For that reason I most cordially support the Bill from beginning to end.
I rise to support this Bill. I do not propose to traverse the general arguments in favour of it. They have been put in words far better than I can command, and have been stated by speakers whose whole-hearted support of women's suffrage gives them a far higher claim to state them than is possessed by one who is only a recent convert. I merely rose for the purpose of making two observations. The first I wish to address to the right hon. Gentleman opposite and to the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. R. Young) who spoke recently. I trust that at the same time as freedom and equality are given to women in the political, judicial, and administrative spheres the same equality will be accorded to them in industry. I hope and believe it will, and I should like an assurance to that effect. My second observation is addressed to the Government. I have long been interested in Bills to open the legal profession to women. Two such Bills, one for Scotland and the other for England, have now passed the Upper House, and my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal has given a qualified promise to support them. Now the present Bill does not cover the ground of these Bills and even if it were passed it would not open the legal profession to women. I hope my right hon. Friend who will speak for the Government will give me an assurance on this point. I cordially support the Second Reading of this Bill.
I intend to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. I speak with the prejudices of the average male who is possibly not fully represented in the House this afternoon, who understands we have everything to lose and nothing to gain by any alteration in the scheme of things in so far as the relations of men and women are concerned, and who understand that by throwing open the industrial field we are only making more severe the struggle for existence in so far as our own particular class is concerned. At the same time, as one who claims to have some idea and some sense of fair play I cannot refrain from supporting a measure which to my mind is inherently just. I am even anxious, in spite of the fact that I know there are other people who wish to speak on this Bill, to definitely give utterance to the faith that is within me, because notwithstanding that supporters of the emancipation of women are fully represented this afternoon there are undoubtedly some who are not prepared to support a measure of this kind. In this House we have very able advocates of what are called the masses. Indeed, I do not believe it would be possible to have more able advocates. But I want to be allowed very shortly to illustrate the desirability of this Bill becoming law from the point of view of another class, the class to which I myself belong—the class called the "shabby genteel," and in my own case I frankly acknowledge, more shabby than genteel. May I be allowed to cite the case of my own family. I had six sisters, shabby genteel, who had either earned their own living or in some way contributed to their own support. They were just ordinary intelligent girls. What avenues were open to them? Practically three occupations only. They might have become nursery governesses—a very honourable profession, in which one is snubbed by the lady of the house, especially if the governess happens herself to be a lady and she is most certainly patronised by the servants, while she receives the somewhat inadequate salary of £15 per year. Or else they might become hospital nurses, underpaid, overworked and ill-fed, with hours of leisure all too few. Or else they might become schoolmistresses who are supposed to be so devoted to their books that they do not require the ordinary remuneration by means of which they can purchase the good things of life. What else is open to the shabby genteel, or at any rate what was open to her in those days? All other avenues were closed. Of course one obvious answer to that question is that she has still more inducement to enter the proper field for women. The marriage market is the proper market for women. But I shall be reminded by hon. Gentlemen that in so far as the daughter of the "shabby genteel" are concerned there is not a great demand for her. Hers is a drab life. She possibly becomes drab in herself, and, therefore, the marriage market, so far as she is concerned, is closed to her. I do not wish to labour that point.
It is perfectly true, and it is an argument that the natural weakness of women imposes on them certain disabilities which render them unable to perform the duties of citizens. That should appeal to our chivalry. They are weak. All that they want is to be allowed to compete with men in open competition without fear and without favour, and we close the door in their faces, or at any rate we did. But the day of emancipation is near. I am certainly, and I believe that everybody in this House is prepared to say, "We recognise your weaknesses, but everything we can humanly do to compensate you for your natural handicap we shall be prepared to do; at any rate, we will impose no further burden upon you." I have been asked if I would like to see a woman Lord Chancellor. No. So far as I am concerned, I acknowledge that I am an ordinary male with the prejudices of a male, and I would not like to see a woman Lord Chancellor. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] Mere prejudice. I admit it is the prejudice of an ordinary male. If women by their own ability and that alone can force themselves into the foremost ranks, there are not many Members of this House who would be prepared to say that we would let our prejudices stand against them. An hon. Member opposite has referred to the position of women in the trade unions. The hon. Member must understand that they can do for women much more than only vote for this Bill. They can assist by openly advocating that trade unions should receive women on equal terms within their ranks. It is a mere quibble for my hon. Friend opposite to say he will admit them, but it must be equal pay for equal work. What chance have women on those conditions? Women are weaker, and their output is less, and under those conditions, even if they are admitted, they will not get employment.
I will put another proposition to my hon. Friend, and ask him if he is prepared to make this concession and endeavour to carry his friends with him—are they prepared to admit them on the conditions of equal pay for equal output?
Then if my hon. Friend will advocate that women should be admitted to trade unions, with all their benefits, on the conditions of equal pay for equal output, which is claimed by women through all their representative bodies, we shall be taking a step in the direction of the true emancipation of women. It is hardly necessary for me to make my final point that political emancipation certainly carries with it industrial emancipation. Listen to the Debate this afternoon! It would be unchivalrous on my part towards those who opposed it before to suggest that the fact that women have got votes has in any way influenced them. When one hears the chorus of approval from hon. Members in this House, he cannot help remembering that the fact that there are such things as women in one's constituency does have some weight. With the complete emancipation of women, with every barrier broken down for them in the political world, nobody knows better than my hon. Friends opposite, who deserve every congratulation for bringing in this Bill, that industrial emancipation must eventually follow.
Sir J. D. REES:
It was said in the course of the Debate that the vote is a privilege granted by the State to the voter. That was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieutenant-Colonel W. Guinness) in one of those able and statesmanlike speeches he is in the habit of addressing to the House. That was the only part of his speech with which I disagreed. The vote is not now a privilege granted by the State, because the State is the people and the people are the State, and those who want the vote, if they are sufficiently strong, take it. It is no longer a privilege granted. I cannot see how the House is in a position now to withhold the vote. Does any hon. Member think that women, described by the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Loseby) as weak women, but who are strong enough to get the vote without submitting their case to the electorate—women who displayed the most extraordinary strength, persistence, and success in getting the vote—are going to submit to any limitations in its enjoyment? It is crystal clear that what has already been done connotes what has got to be done, and what an effort is made to do in this Bill. While I heartily accept everything inside the Bill, which, indeed, would only carry out the logical and necessary result of the gift of the franchise to women, I do object very much to the back of the Bill. To the back of the Bill serious exception may be taken, not because of the honoured names which appear there, but because of the omissions. Is it really proposed that so great a change as this, a change which would require a General Election to follow immediately, can be made by the Bill of a private Member, or indeed by a Bill promoted and backed by Members belonging to only one section, no matter how powerful and respected a section, of this House. Every name upon the back of this Bill is that of an hon. Gentleman who belongs to the Labour party. I acknowledge their power and importance most unreservedly, but at the same time I altogether deny that they are more interested in carrying to its logical conclusion the results of the grant of the vote in the late epoch-making Reform Bill. They are no more interested in carrying that out than are Members belonging to that section of the House to which my hon. and gallant Friend and I, with others, belong.
Therefore I think that this is an additional reason why this all important matter should be taken up by the Government, and I rather expected to hear from the Government something as to their intentions on the Bill. I do not think that these are times for any experiments in constitution making or vote extension, or anything else, until we have got the Peace, and have got through the chief items of the great reforms on condition of supporting which I and all the hon. Members on this side of the House were elected only a few weeks ago. Before the War and before the Reform Bill, the Members of the House were divided in this matter into two sharply contrasted categories or classes—those who were in favour of admitting women into political life and those who were opposed to it. Many were divided, no doubt, according to their temperament or their experiences or conscience. We have due respect for convictions or conscience, though during the War some claims of conscience have not increased the respect in which the word is held. Since the passing of the Reform Bill and the enfranchisement of women we are not divided into those two categories and I do not suppose that there is any hon. Member in this House practically who is opposed to the provisions of the Bill. What has been said in opposition seems to be really irrelevant to the terms of the Bill. It has been pointed out that women are still subject to certain disabilities. But we are all agreed in favour of the removal of these disabilities. [An HON. MEMBER: "NO, no!"] The only question now is, how is this to be carried out? I submit that this is not the way to carry it out. It should be carried out by a Bill introduced by the Government in view of the great importance of this subject. The hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. R. Young), who has had a most exceptional experience as an industrial leader and a trade union leader and occupies the highest position in that respect, delivered this afternoon what appeared to me to be an extraordinary speech. He is strongly in favour, he says, of extending the franchise to women by means of this Bill. But, on the other hind, while he is willing to give the woman all the advantages of the franchise, he does not seem to think that this is the appropriate time for admitting them into trade unions.
One speaks with great diffidence on a subject of which the hon. Member is no doubt a master, but it appears that he would not allow women into trade unions, or give them full industrial emancipation, until they could get equal pay for equal work. But if we are in favour of that industrial emancipation, surely the best way would be to allow them into trade unions as a means of getting it, and not to keep them out until they got it. It seems to me to be an absolutely undemocratic, monarchical method of dealing with industry. I listened with amazement to his speech. I did not know whether in one-half of it he was speaking in favour of the women, or whether in the other half he was putting forward a special case with regard to industry. I hope that when other Members speak we shall have the good fortune to have an explanation of this inconsistency. But it seems to me too late to object to the emancipation of women. How can a woman be admitted to a position in which she may elect a Member of Parliament and not be allowed to sit in this House? How can you keep the women out? And how can you keep them from being members of the magisterial bench when once you have admitted them to Parliament? I think, if they were to it there, they might not be so anxious as benches now are to send people to prison at the expense of the rates and the taxpayers. As to the question of their being guardians of children, it would be very desirable to consider the question whether they should be there in a position of equal authority. The question also of the age limit to the franchise which applies to women is affected by the same argument. Women mature earlier than men and they are quite sensible at an extremely early age, and they understand many problems in a way which astonishes their seniors who have been studying these matters all their lives. I think they should get the franchise, and why they should not is a matter wholly inexplicable to me. I am not in favour, however, of dealing with these matters so soon after the General Election. I am sure that this matter can wait, and I believe that women who are interested in the Bill will not misunderstand the position of any Member who speaks to-day and who, while strongly in favour of this Bill and everything in it, says this subject can wait for a short time, and I hope it will only be a short time, until it can be laid before the House with all the authority of a Bill brought forward by the Government, and without the disadvantages which attach to the Bill brought forward by private Members, though they may be held in very high respect. I hope the right hon. Gentleman who will speak on behalf of the Government will throw some light upon this aspect of the subject. It would be easier to speak if we had had some light thrown on it at an earlier stage of this Debate, and for my part I will not deal with it any further now, lest I postpone the time of the disclosure of the intentions of the Government.
I have listened to the speeches with respect to the Bill and the great mistake that seems to have been made is that no sufficient arguments were used to show why this Bill should not become law. There has been reasons shown why it should not be given a Second Reading now, and one of these reasons is that it ought to be delayed. I am not one of those who, if a thing is right, think that it ought to be delayed. Most of the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have expressed themselves in favour of the principle of the Bill, but they have said that it ought to be delayed. If we have all made up our minds that the principle of the Bill is right, why should we delay the measure any longer? Another point that has been raised is that the Bill ought to have been brought in by the Government. Fridays are set apart for private Members' Bills, and if the Leader of the Labour party was fortunate enough to get preference in the ballot why should a measure be opposed because it is introduced by a particular party? It seems to me that the Bill is receiving more opposition because its introduction has fallen to the lot of the Labour party than for any other reason. Nearly everyone who has spoken on the opposite side has been in sympathy with the emancipation of women as much as we are, but has gone on to tell us that this measure ought to have been brought in by the Government or someone else, and in that case it would apparently have got their whole-hearted support. If we are out for the emancipation of women, or any other citizens of the Empire, it ought to make no difference to anyone from what party that measure has sprung.
Some hon. Members have used the occasion to make a direct attack on the trade union and labour movement. The hon. Member (Mr. Coote) seemed to make the strongest attack on the trade union movement and left the Clauses of the Bill absolutely alone. The right hon. Gentleman below the Gangway also made a special point of attacking the trade union and Labour movement. It seemed to me from the speeches of these two hon. Gentlemen that a new principle had come into their minds, that only those who worked should have a right to vote, because they pressed us at the same time that we gave women the right to vote to give them the privilege of entering into industry. If only those who worked had a right to vote there would be a good lot of people who would not have a vote at all. But there is no comparison between the industrial and the political and social situation. There are certain industries into which trade unionists will not allow women to enter, not because we are afraid of competition but because of the respect that we have for them. Surely we should not allow women to go into coal mines. Is it fair to expect that they should enter into steel works or blast furnaces or other laborious occupations? We believe there are certain industries which, from the physical standpoint, are not fit occupations for women. We believe women, whatever their class in the social order, are quite capable of exercising all the rights of citizenship as well and as ably as men. One of the chief aims of the trade union movement is the industrial emancipation of women, but there is a wide difference between putting a woman into an industry and giving her the right to enter into the political arena. One reason, we are told, why the Bill should not be passed is that hon. Members object to the second Clause. To my mind, if you take the second Clause out of the Bill, you take the body away from it entirely. Then these hon. Members point out that while they believe in the principle embodied in the second Clause, they think the time is not ripe when this principle should be given effect to. If that is a full and candid expression of opinion, it is no justification for voting against the Bill, because I hope no man will vote against his principles and against opinions which he believes to be right. It has been asked here and on public platforms why the age at which women should be allowed—
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to explain as I was present at the Conference. The reason the age limit was put in was because had it not been put in the number of women voters would have been far in excess of the men. It was thought desirable that women and men should be somewhere about on a parity, and we took the age of thirty, which was the nearest we could get to make the number of women voters equal to the number of men.
I thank you for the explanation. The question has been asked several times during your absence, and no one was able to give an answer. We are bound to accept your answer as the reason that induced the Conference to come to that finding. We have always believed in the principle of adult suffrage. We are still of opinion that the age limit for women ought, to be the same as it is for men, and we ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
I have listened to the Debate with an open mind, and I am heartily in agreement with the Bill except in respect of Clause 2. I have been wondering what was the reason why in the last Parliament the age at which women obtained the franchise was fixed at thirty. It had occurred to us that it was Possibly that if they were given the vote merely as adults they would outnumber the men voters, and that we should be under petticoat government. It appears now that that is the reason. It appears to me that on a private Member's Bill on a Friday to change a compromise come to under circumstances like that is a pretty large order. The last Bill was passed after we had convincing proof that women were capable of undertaking work, enduring sacrifices, and helping the country in its great hour of trial. Notwithstanding that, the age limit was fixed at thirty, and we are now asked at the very beginning of this new Parliament, which has been elected by these women who have been given the franchise, as well as the men, to change all that and to add to the electorate an unknown number of women voters. I submit that that would be a step which would be very unwise for this Parliament to take. It would also upset the compromise come to in the last Parliament. Of course, strictly speaking, that compromise is not binding upon this Parliament, but at any rate it was a compromise come to for the best of all possible reasons and to add stability to the decisions of this House. In addition, there is another reason why this change in the franchise should not be adopted, and it is this: It is said of Parliaments from time to time that they no longer represent the constituencies. It is said even after a by-election that this House does not represent the country, and here we are at the beginning of this Parliament asked to make this enormous change in the franchise at a time when we are about to carry out great changes in reconstruction. If we passed this Bill and enfranchised all the people concerned in it, it would be said after a short time that these people were not able to exercise the franchise and that this House did not really represent the country. That would tend to weaken the authority of this Parliament in passing all the great reconstruction measures that are required, which are of such far-reaching importance and carry more financial burdens than have been undertaken by any Parliament of the United Kingdom.
This Bill is to extend the franchise to an enormous class who have never exercised the franchise before, and I am for that reason the more emboldened to put forward my views in this ancient House. The class of women which it is proposed to enfranchise includes the young people of this country, and I say unhesitatingly that if there is any class that should have a voice in the government of this country it is the young people. I am wholly and absolutely in favour of this Bill, and I am prepared to support it, not only by my voice but by my vote. The argument brought against the enfranchisement of young people is that they are dangerous people to entrust with the future government of the country. That argument is altogether wrong and fundamentally unsound. If there is one class of people who have suffered from the blindness, the incompetence, and the arrogance of their elders it is the generation between twenty and thirty years of age in the British Islands. The young men have suffered and bled and the young women have suffered in tears because the white-haired and hoary antediluvians who were governing our country alike in the trade unions and in Parliament were unable to see what lay as clearly before them as the noses on their faces. Time and again they were shy of taking decisions because they were afraid of them. Their blood ran cold. They had hot heads and cold feet. I am told that these conditions are due to the ventilation of this ancient and honourable House, but I do not think it is so.
If there is one thing that characterised the politics and the very philosophy of our leaders in the Victorian era, and which I am sure all succeeding generations will spit upon, it is the fact that their politics were governed by those who had hot heads and cold feet. These are the old people who led our generation into this War with Germany They led us up to it, and then they said, "Go on you gallant fellows, we do not want to lose you, but we think you ought to go." The male section of the community between twenty and thirty has been disseminated in this War because of the lack of clear thinking on the part of our elders. The young women of the community will suffer all the rest of their lives through this sort of thing. The tragedy of this War is not the tragedy of the young men between twenty and thirty who died with their faces to the foe, and who died in the full flush of their youth and glory. There is nothing really tragic about that. I have lost a brother and many hon. Members have lost their relatives. Again I say there is no tragedy in a man dying in the flush of battle; the tragedy is that of the women whose lives are wasted because of these men who have died. If there is one section of the community that we can trust to defend us against the senseless anarchy of Bolshevism it is the section of young women between the ages of twenty and thirty, who have seen most of their natural protectors—shall I say their mates—slaughtered on the fields of France and Flanders. I am speaking of one who has had experience, and I have no wish to see the small remainder killed in the streets of London and Glasgow.
On the general principle of this Bill the section of the community which it is proposed to enfranchise is fully qualified and fully entitled to the franchise. I think the Bill does not go far enough, and there are things in it which I should like to see added to. There is a most remarkable error in Clause 1, which says that a woman shall not be disqualified from holding any civil or judicial office. There it stops. It seems to me to leave out a most important thing which I should have hoped this Bill would have included—I refer to the insertion of the word "military." It may seem ridiculous to hon. Members, but I would point out that by the present Constitution, and even by the proposed amendment to be made by this Bill, a woman is incapable of holding the commission of His Majesty. We must look into these things. I should like to say, on behalf of the Royal Army Medical Corps and the people who have been at the War, that there was nothing that struck us more clearly than the fact that Canada, Australia, and the whole British Empire granted commissions to their nurses, but these commissions were denied them by our Army constitution. It seems to me that that is the most ridiculous thing that could possibly be imagined. I remember a lady, a most respected nurse, a woman with twenty years, in fact a generation, of experience, who was subordinate in rank and had to defer to the office of a little pipsqueak of a single-star lieutenant whom, five or ten years previously, she would have spanked and sent to bed.
The nurses were not entitled to hold His Majesty's commission, and, still more, women doctors were not entitled. If there is one section of the community, one group of women more fitted than another, apart from anything civil or judicial, to hold equal rank for equal work, it is they. Equal pay for equal work is a good maxim, but it should carry with it equal honour for equal work, and that should be one of the maxims in future; and it made me ashamed of any decorations one might happen to carry when one realised that the nurses who had gone through a bombing raid in hospital—and anything worse than a bombing raid in a military hospital is still to be imagined—only get non-commissioned ranks and medals. They are only entitled to get the Military Medal or the Distinguished Conduct Medal; they are not entitled to get the Military Cross because they do not hold His Majesty's commission. I do think that if there was one class of women who were entitled above all others to the utmost honour we could possibly give it was our women doctors and nurses, especially on the Western Front.
Like all young men I am subject to deep fits of depression, and despair about the future of the race, but if there is one thing that could nerve me to go on it is the thought of what our women have endured in this War. One can say nothing finer about the fighting men of England than that they proved themselves worthy mates of such women as our nurses, and one can say nothing finer about our nurses than that they have shown themselves to be fit mates of our soldiers, and mothers of the Imperial race of Britain. But we do not get this any further forward by saying to these women, "Whatever your qualifications or standard, you remain perpetually in the non-commissioned ranks. You are not worthy to be recommended as trusty and well-beloved of His Majesty." It may be that a different form of commission would have to be found. I am not one to interfere in family matters in any way, and it might be that we might have trouble if we had all the charming women who are represented by our nurses and lady doctors, labelled officially as not only the trusty, but also the well-beloved of His Majesty. I do wish that this would be so for, none are more trusty and none are more worthy to be well-beloved. I take it that it is merely inadvertently that the authors of this Bill have omitted the word "military." I think that this is a matter that well might be amended in Committee, and for that reason I should not on any account vote against this Bill. But I do think that it shows a lamentable lack of a realisation of where the heroism of our country lies, that people should bring forward a Bill to remove the disqualification of women lawyers, and judges, and should omit to remove the disqualification of our women serving in the Armies who are, I think, the very flower of our British womanhood.
They are not allowed to be given the medal. Anyone who has seen the nurses' decorations will realise that we never see nurses wearing military crosses. Nurses are not allowed to wear military crosses because they are not granted His Majesty's commission. Though they may rank equal in status to the officers, they have no commissions. This has a very practical and immediate bearing. Everybody knows that there are certain privileges reserved for His Majesty's officers. Certain quarters are set apart for them. Abroad certain rooms are reserved for them in military establishments. These rooms may be denied to our nurses and women doctors at the whim of any sentry. As these women do not hold commissioned rank they are liable to be sent to the same rooms as the sergeant or ordinary non-commissioned ranks. Not that I say anything against the sergeant or the non-commissioned officers, but in the nature of things their rooms are more crowded, and are not so well fitted up as the rooms reserved for the officers of His Majesty's Army.
It is inevitable, I am afraid, that the medical argument should bulk so largely in my mind. Our profession was one of the very first to grant equal rights to women, and as a trade union which has admitted women freely to its ranks, we were always strongly in favour of equal pay and equal rights, because otherwise we realise, what every trade union must realise, that we should be undersold by the cheaper labour of women. The hardships that our women have to undergo are in no way inferior to the hardships that men undergo. I am at present working in a campaign against tuberculosis in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, and the ordinary barrage on the Western Front, while it may make you shrink sometimes, does not make one quail as does the storm of coughing that greets one on his entry to a tuberculosis dispensary. These people are more dangerous to you than any amount of high explosive shells yet the nurses will face this danger. They take it as part of their ordinary work. The casualties in our battles are heavy, but the casualties in these dispensaries are often very frequent and very well known. It is not merely a case of tuberculosis. Everybody knows that our nurses have to undergo much greater risks. They risk far more deadly and far more loathsome diseases than tuberculosis. I know and all medical men must know of cases where women have contracted syphilis through the nursing of syphilitic cases. I say that women who are willing to take these risks, and expose themeselves to these dangers are worthy of the highest honour that this House or any body of British people could possibly give them.
One further point I would like to bring before the House, which seems to me to be a very odd constitutional development. I refer to the conversion of the Labour party to the principles of eugenics. When I find the Labour party suddenly inflamed with this unusual zeal for the peeresses of the realm I strongly suppose that it is with the view of making another place ridiculous. I have no doubt it is with the highest and noblest and most far-reaching and wide-vis oned view of the future of this country. This sudden and unusual interest of the Labour Members in the peeresses of this realm seems to me a constitutional development well worthy of deeper consideration than it has so far received this afternoon. I take it that they have in view the purest desire for the furtherance of this great country, and that they think that the peeresses of this realm are of such extraordinary and unusual importance that they should be entitled to sit in another place. Apparently, in order to take this attitude, the Labour Members must have been subjected to some new and unusually powerful set of arguments. The only ones I can think of are arguments in favour of eugenics. As a medical man I am strongly in favour of eugenics. I notice that the Labour party confine this right to peeresses in their own right. I do not see* why that should be so. One has read in the columns of the public Press that peeresses by marriage are more usually drawn and more closely related to the class which my right hon. Friend opposite claims to represent. I am strongly opposed to the granting of such a right solely to peeresses in their own right. When a member of the other House marries a chorus girl, I assure you that the hearts of eugenists leap up, and there is nothing that pleases them more. I appeal to my hon. Friend, a Member for a Scottish University, if it is not so. The refreshing of a jaded and outworn stock by the infusion of fresh blood from the strong ranks of the democracy is a thing that any supporter of the hereditary principle, and in particular any medical man concerned in the maximum number of healthy families, greets with joy. It seems to me an extraordinary reactionary step on the part of the Leader of the Labour party to suggest that only peeresses in their own right should have the right to sit and to vote in another place. All that I can suggest as an explanation is that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, carried away by the new vista which has been opened out before him, has become more Royalist than the King, and that the Labour party are so keen on preserving the young and healthy stocks that they actually determined to keep off their own class from any chance of contaminating the infallible decisions come to by those people whom they have decided to bow before. If I might be allowed to give a word of advice from the eugenic point of view, I would say there is no reason for cutting out the peeresses by marriage as against the peeresses in their own right, because the peeress by marriage is as likely to be a benefit to the deliberations of the tribunals of this country as one who has simply inherited the position by descent, it may be, from a previous daughter of the people. This Bill seems to me to be of the greatest importance. There is no doubt whatever that in the women of this country is the hope of our race. The young men have been very largely killed off, and it is from the women we must hope to draw strong and virile views—to use a rather inaccurate expression—and the red-blooded people must be drawn very largely from the young women of between twenty and thirty. The nation is becoming, as the vital statistics show, only too definitely a nation of old women. The Conference presided over by you, Mr. Speaker, before which I bow, seems to me by the enfranchising of the old women and the leaving out of the young women to have betrayed a certain amount, though I shudder to use the word, of partisanship, and a certain amount of class feeling, or of age feeling it may be. The Bill seems to me to be worthy of the fullest support, and I think it is expedient that all such restraints and disabilities should be henceforth discontinued. I am a member of a profession which opened its ranks to women long before there was any popular agitation in this country for the suffrage, and it will be agreed, I am sure, by all members of the profession that the profession has not in any way suffered but has rather gone on from strength to strength since it admitted the women fully and freely to its ranks. I think that, on the whole, women will admit we have welcomed them to the profession and we have paid them the highest compliment any set of working people can pay to another, namely, that we have given to them all the work to do that they were capable of bearing. Therefore, I think, in the civil and judicial side there is no danger whatever to the country by the admission of women to all those faculties. I do wish again to stress the question as to the military, and I think that England should fall into line with the Colonies in granting, if necessary, commissioned rank to women in His Majesty's Army. I do not think it is fair for us to deny our women doctors and also our women nurses the rank, because in the Canadian Army women nurses get not only sub-lieutenant's rank, but they are also lieutenants, and there is no reason whatever why in our Army also they should not be granted as much. The special franchise granted to women—I may be speaking rashly, I may be speaking in a way in which a junior Member has no right to speak in this House, but I do put forward to hon. Members the claims of youth to have a voice in the government of the country, in the determining of the future, which after all they shall have to enter into, inherit, and enjoy or suffer under according as it has been made by their ancestors, and I think they have a strong claim to be granted a franchise on the same terms as men. Finally, I should like to draw the attention of the Labour party to the extraordinary faux pas that they seem to have made in including peeresses in their own right and excluding peeresses by marriage. Surely marriage bears with it disabilities enough without also debarring a woman from having a seat in another place. We have been told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the tax he levies upon legitimate marriage is from £20,000,000 to £50,000,000 a year, and so attractive does that sum of money appear to him that he affords us no hope of remitting it in favour of those enjoying illicit pleasures. I think, therefore, that if the Labour party were to look into this they would find it is not merely a case of peeresses in their own right. I do not see why they should leave out those peeresses in favour of all the other unhappy peeresses, and I call to the notice of their constituents this sudden volte face in favour of being governed not only by aristocrats but by the wives and mothers of aristocrats.
I am sure the House will agree that the very interesting speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down is one of a series that has been most interesting in this discussion, and that the Bill which my right hon. Friend opposite has submitted to the House has given rise to a discussion which in the main has gone all one way. At the same time, there are two or three points and governing considerations to which I should like to draw his attention and that of his Friends. One of his hon. Friends and two or three other speakers asked why it was that the Government had not hitherto produced a Bill to make good the pledges which we were said to have given at the General Election. I do not know at the moment what the particular pledges are, but taking it that there were pledges, I would suggest to my right hon. Friend and his supporters that there is a fair crop of Bills before the House at the present time, and that several of them, as we have heard on many occasions, do not err on the side of modesty, and they were introduced with a view of giving effect to the pledges of the Government during the election. There is one Bill which I have seen described as a monstrous measure and a tyrannical measure, and a Napoleonic measure, which is now in Committee, and which was brought in in redemption of specific pledges given in the election. The fact is that no Government, however willing and anxious, can be expected to do everything at once, and I am sure the House will not be disposed to complain that, taking next week's programme of discussion as an example, there is not there an abundant and obvious endeavour to fulfil election pledges. There is nothing about it other than the demands of affairs connected with the present state of the country, and the redemption of pledges with regard to immediate needs.
Before coming to the general purpose of the Bill, as apart from the second Clause, I would ask the House to listen for a few minutes to a few remarks on the second Clause itself. There is in this Bill a delightful simplicity of drafting, which, I am afraid, has not taken the fullest cognisance of the existing state of our electoral law, because you cannot, by two or three phrases such as these, get rid of the inequalities which at present exist as between the sexes in our electoral law. As the Clause is drafted, it would not place the sexes on an equality, but it would place them, so far as local government elections are concerned, on a greater inequality even than they are at present with regard to the electoral roll. At the present time there are 12,000,000 odd male qualifications on the Parliamentary register. There are not 12,000,000 men, because men may have qualifications in more than one division. And there are 8,000,000 women qualifications on the register. With regard to local government elections, the numbers are about equal—8,500,000 each. Whilst the figure I am going to give is, I agree, to a great extent conjectural, as the actual number who would get upon the register under these proposals is subject to a good many qualifications, it is probable, at all events, that you would, under this scheme, increase the number of women electors by something between three and four millions; and I may say that, as this Bill is drafted, we should find men having a right to an occupational qualification in respect of premises of the yearly value of not less than £10, and women in respect of premises of the yearly value of not less than £5. You would thereby establish another inequality.
There are other inequalities which this would perpetuate or exaggerate in respect of local government electoral law—that is to say, if the House were to decide to proceed with the extension of the franchise down to the age of twenty-one in the case of women, and to endeavour to put the two sexes upon an equality with reference to the franchise, you would not do it by this Clause You would need, as a matter of fact, a Bill of several Clauses very carefully drawn. It only shows that this particular Clause, as it stands, does not exact that equality which generally is the intention of this Bill, and the expression of which I sympathise with. I would also point out that if the Government were to undertake to assist the principle which is embodied in Clause 2 at this stage of the life of Parliament the consideration mentioned by some hon. Members applies even much more. This is the first Session. We have only had a new franchise in operation for a few months. In view of all the other commitments in which this House is already engaged, I am still waiting to hear the case for the reopening of the franchise question within six months practically of its being determined on its present basis.
I recognise that there are serious inequalities as the franchise is now. But it is getting a long way to adult suffrage, which I myself have set before me, and which, I still believe, is the only rational solution. The difference of age was adopted by Mr. Speaker's Conference, as he was good enough to explain to the hon. Member opposite a short time ago. It was adopted, not as we adopt many things, as a logical formula, but as a compromise between two sets of people of different views trying to come to a common agreement. It does not profess to be logical. The first proposal, I believe, at the Conference was that the age of women should be thirty-five. Finally, after the numbers were investigated, the age of thirty was agreed upon as a compromise. That compromise was ultimately carried into effect in the Franchise Act. Again, as I have said, this is the first Session of Parliament. As some hon. Members have reminded us, it is a tradition, founded upon sound constitutional reasons, that a Parliament extending the franchise must give an early opportunity to the newly-enfranchised persons to express their views. Therefore, it has come about that practically all extensions of the franchise of any material kind have been shortly afterwards followed by a General Election. We are all, of course, subject to the vicissitudes of public life. I was listening yesterday afternoon to the right hon. Gentleman opposite and he suggested that very soon they might be forming a Government. But whatever may arise out of the force of circumstances, of its own volition the Government has no present intention of appealing to the country at a General Election. I know and the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, if you have an extension of the franchise now, you would before long be compelled to have a General Election. There are always some people who want a General Election. But I do not know that any serious-minded man will pretend, when there is a great burden of legislation already upon the House, that that is really a proposal seriously to be entertained.
Therefore I am sorry to say to the right hon. Gentleman that the Government cannot undertake, for reasons I have entered into already, to carry through a reform and extension of the franchise under present circumstances. There has been no justification made out for an alteration so soon of the franchise laws. The Government would be bound, if they undertake it, to put this Clause into proper form. I come to the other parts of the Bill. Here I am glad to say I shall be able to say something more accommodating. I think there is strict justice of Clause 1, notwithstanding the very entertaining remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend behind. I can also see a reason for Clause 3, the principle of which is not so recondite as he suggested.
I also recognise that Clauses 1, 3, and 4 are certainly only in line with the general pledges given by the Government at the Election, though I do not remember any pledge in respect of Clause 2. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, by the Home Secretary."] I do not think any pledge was given by the Government. Years ago I was an active member of the same profession as my hon. and gallant Friend, and ten or fifteen years of my life were spent in work in which I had to examine candidates for degrees. We used to have men and women candidates, and, of course, they varied in their quality. In all these matters women soon find their level in whatever occupation they go in for, and it is the natural and inevitable result of their physical and intellectual qualities which determines the place they will ultimately occupy. They have already found their place in the medical profession, and they are welcome to do it in law or anything else. Of course they will be subject to the same difficulties and disabilities as those which beset other students, but the general principle at the bottom of this Clause is that women must be given the same opportunity, and with that we are in cordial agreement. I am not saying this out of any spirit of criticism, but I would like to remind my hon. Friends opposite that they have limited Clause 1 in a way which I am not sure under the cross-examination of a Committee they would find they could maintain. It is limited to persons
holding any civil or judicial office or place of profit or trust under His Majesty, his heirs and successors, or under any authority or body, corporate or unincorporate, deriving powers directly or indirectly from any Act of Parliament.
One hon. Member in an unguarded moment said that we do not allow women in the
Steel Smelters' Union. If that is so, then it really knocks the bottom out of the whole thing.
I know it is not the case with the Steel Smelters' Union, but at all events a member of the Labour party said that. If we are to make this a real principle, then we must give them all the same chance, whether they are steel smelters or cotton spinners. If they can do the work of engineering, cotton spinning, doctoring, or that of a solicitor, well they will have to take their chance with the rest; but I cannot hold out any hope to hon. Members opposite that we can give them any support in maintaining the principle so far as the professions are concerned apart from the industries. It is an occupational question, and it must be open on the same terms all round. That is only fair. My hon. Friend opposite and I have met on this question a good many times during the War, and I know that he does not maintain that position in respect of his own particular industry, but still in some industries we know it is so, and I invite the attention of my right hon. Friend to that matter.
We are not now on the question of qualification, but on the question of sex. I am not making any criticism, but if we are going to accept this principle we must do it fairly and squarely. It is not a question of qualifications, experience, or training, or the rest of it. I have explained that the Government cannot undertake to support the Bill on the understanding that we are thereby committed to any Franchise Bill this Session, and I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that we should read the Bill a second time on the understanding that the Government will seek to delete Clause 2 when it gets into Committee and put the other Clauses in an acceptable shape. In supporting the Second Reading, it must be on the understanding that the Government do not take any responsibility for, or give any undertaking in regard to, any Franchise Bill this Session. I want to say this quite frankly now, so that there may be no misunderstanding afterwards. I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading on that understanding.
|Division No. 25.]||AYES.||[4.31 p.m.|
|Adair, Rear-Admiral||Cowan, Sir W. (Aberdeen and Kinc.)||Holmes, J. S.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Crooks, Rt. Hon. William||Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. (Midlothian)|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Davies, Sir D. S. (Denbigh)||Hughes, Spencer Leigh|
|Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D.||Denison-Pender, John C.||Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster)|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Dewhurst, Lieut.-Com. H.||Hurd, P. A.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Doyle, N. Grattan||Irving, Dan|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.||Duncannon, Viscount||Jones, J. (Silvertown)|
|Barrand, A. R.||Edge, Captain William||Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)|
|Barrie, H. T.||Edwards, J. H. (Glam., Neath)||Kelly, Major Fred (Rotherham)|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Elliot, Capt. W. E. (Lanark)||Kerr-Smiley, Major P.|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Elliott, Lt.-Col. Sir G. (Islngtn., W.)||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George|
|Bellairs, Com. Carlyon W.||Falcon, Captain M.||Law, Rt. Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Forestier-Walker, L.||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ. Wales)|
|Blades, Sir George R.||Ganzoni, Captain F. C.||Lewis, T. A. (Pontypridd, Glam.)|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Lindsay, William Arthur|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith||Gilbert, James Daniel||Lort-Williams, J.|
|Bowles, Col. H. F.||Graham, W. (Edinburgh)||Lunn, William|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. W. E.||Greenwood, Col. Sir Hamar||Lynn, R. J.|
|Brown, T. W. (Down, N.)||Greig, Col. James William||M'Curdy, Charles Albert|
|Burdon, Col. Rowland||Griffiths, T. (Pontypool)||Macdonald, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Stirling)|
|Burn, T. H. (Belfast)||Grundy, T. W.||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian)|
|Cape, Tom||Guest, Capt. Hon. F. E. (Dorset, E.)||M'Micking, Major Gilbert|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Guinness, Lt.-Col. Hon. W.E. (B. St. E)||Morris, Richard|
|Carter, W. (Mansfield)||Harris, Sir H. P. (Paddington, S.)||Morrison, H. (Salisbury)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hartshorn, V.||Murray, John (Leeds, W.)|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Hayward, Major Evan||Neal, Arthur|
|Colvin, Brig-Gen. R. B.||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter)|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Hills, Major J. W. (Durham)||Nicholson, R. (Doncaster)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Univ.)||Hinds, John||Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.|
|O'Grady, James||Smith, W. (Wellingborough)||Wignall, James|
|Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Spencer, George A.||Williams, A. (Consett, Durham)|
|Palmer, Major G. M.||Strauss, Edward Anthony||Willoughby, Lt.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Percy, Charles||Sturrock, J. Leng-||Wilson, Daniel M. (Down, W.)|
|Pulley, Charles Thornton||Surtees, Brig.-Gen. H. C.||Wilson, Col. M. (Richmond, Yorks.)|
|Purchase, H. G.||Talbot, Rt. Hon. Lord E. (Chichester)||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Raffan, Peter Wilson||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)||Wood, Major S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Redmond, Captain William A.||Thorne, Col. W. (Plaistow)||Young, Robert (Newton, Lancs.)|
|Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, E.)||Walton, Sir Joseph (Barnsley)|
|Rose, Frank H.||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Tyson Wilson and Mr. Frederick Hall.|
|Rowlands, James||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
|Scott, A. M. (Glas., Bridgeton)||Watson, Captain John Bertrand|
|Shaw, Capt. W. T. (Forfar)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Rutherford, Col. Sir J. (Darwen)|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Lowther, Col. C. (Lonsdale, Lancs.)||Rutherford, Sir W. W. (Edge Hill)|
|Breese, Major C. E.||Mildmay, Col. Rt. Hon. Francis B.||Samuels, Rt. Hon. A.W. (Dublin Univ.)|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Torquay)||Moles, Thomas||Stewart, Gershom|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Terrell, G. (Chippenham, Wilts.)|
|Coote, W. (Tyrone, S.)||Murray, Dr. D. (Western Isles)||Tickler, Thomas George|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Nicholson, W. (Petersfield)||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Davidson, Major-General J. H.||Nield, Sir Herbert||Yate, Col. Charles Edward|
|Dockrell, Sir M.||Pinkham, Lieut.-Col. Charles|
|Grant, James Augustus||Raw, Lt.-Col. Dr. N.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Sir Watson Cheyne and Sir William Whitla.|
|Green, J. F. (Leicester)||Rees, Captain J. Tudor (Barnstaple)|
|Inskip, T. W. H.||Reid, D. D.|
|Jones, Wm. Kennedy (Hornsey)|
Question put, and agreed to.
The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) has upon the Paper a Motion for an Instruction to the Committee, but, as it is a mandatory Instruction, it is out of order.