THE MORNING POST MAY 7 1913
REJECTION OF THE WOMAN SUFFRAGE BILL
MAJORITY OF 47
MR. ASQUITH AND SIR E. GREY
FROM OUR PARLIAMENTARY CORRESPONDENT
The Representation of the People [Women] Bill, by which it was proposed to add some 6,000,000 women to the Parliamentary register, was thrown out by the House of Commons last night by the substantial majority of 47. The figures were as follows:
For the second reading ………. 219
Against ……………………………….. 266
Majority ……………………………… 47
Lord Wolmer and Mr. H D. McLaren “told” for the Bill, Mrs. Arnold Ward and Sir Maurice Levy being the tellers against it. There was much excitement in the House when members hurried in after recording their votes, and it became apparent that the supporters of the Bill were considerably outnumbered. When the Clerk handed the paper recording the result of the division to Mr. Arnold War, thus indicating that he was on the winning side, resounding cheers, were raised by the Anti-Suffragists. The plaudits were repeated with much heartiness when the numbers were read out by Mr. Ward, and again when they were afterwards announced from the Chair.
The apathy which marked the opening stage of the debate had all but disappeared yesterday. One reason, no doubt, was that speaking was no longer practically confined to the back benches. Another was the knowledge that the decision was to be taken before the end of the sitting. The House was crowded while the Prime Minister was on his feet, and well filled when the Secretary for Foreign Affairs was replying to him. It was also more largely attended at other times than on the previous night. The Strangers` Gallery was closely packed.
Lord Lytton, Lord MacDonnell, and Lord St. Audries were among the Peers who looked down from the enclosure to the right of the clock.
The House had only to listen to two speeches before it settled down to hear the Prime Minister. The first came from Sir J. Compton Rickett, a former Chairman of the Congregational Union and a Liberal whose political services were rewarded a couple of years ago by his admission to the Privy Council. He is among the stoutest opponents of Woman Suffrage, and he stated the arguments against it with much force and skill. Equally forcible and even more attractive for its fine phrasing was the speech made on the other side by Mr. Snowden, Labour and Socialist member for Blackburn. Mr. Snowden is a whole-hearted supporter of the Suffragist cause. So strong are his views that he has no fear of giving votes to all women on the same terms as men, even though that involves conceding to women the predominant power at elections. Why, he asked, should not the majority rule? He condemned, as did almost every other speaker, the lawlessness shown by the militants, and he appealed to his brother-suffragists to vote for what they believed to be right and to disregard the prejudice created against their cause by the law-breakers.
PRIME MINISTER’S POWERFUL SPEECH
Mr. Asquith rose shortly before five o`clock. Sir Edward Grey and other Ministers were present to hear their Chief on the one political question on which they do not acknowledge his authority. Mr. Walter Long and Mr. F. E. Smith sat side by side on the Front Opposition Bench, where they were joined later on by Mr. Bonar Lae. Mr. Famsay Macdonald, fresh from his visit at Royal Commissioner to India, was in the Leader’s seat on the second of the Labour Benches. The Prime Minister made a powerful speech and one which may have influenced a good many votes or abstentions on his own side of the House. He did not seem to be in the least embarrassed by the peculiar position he occupies on this question as Leader of a Party divided against itself. On the contrary, he appeared to be more than usually at his ease. The reserve of manner which generally marks his utterances was hardly perceptible. His style seemed suddenly to have mellowed and broadened. There was also greater freedom of gesture than he is accustomed to allow himself.
At the outset Mr. Asquith was careful to inform the House that he spoke for himself alone. The members of the Cabinet, he said, were unhappily divided in opinion as to the merits or demerits of Woman Suffrage, but in the procedure they had followed they were absolutely united. Then came the striking announcement that if the Liberal supporters of Woman Suffrage had ever suggested that they did not care to follow a Government the head of which was opposed to their views he should at once have resigned his office.
THE MINISTERIAL DAVID AND JONATHAN
The Prime Minister went on to say nice things about Sir Edward Grey, who was to be the spokesman of the Suffragist section of the Cabinet. “The Secretary for Foreign Affairs and I,” he remarked, “have sat side by side in this House for twenty-seven years. Except on this particular topic I can say of him what I can say, I cannot recall one serious political issue on which we were not agreed.” So far did Mr. Asquith carry his description of the David-and-Jonathan relationship which has existed between Sir Edward Grey and himself that he smilingly confessed to serious doubts whether he could be right on this particular question when he found that Sir Edward Grey differed from him about it.
Then came the arguments against the Bill. One of them was that the scheme, which proposes to admit some 6,000,000 women to the franchise, has never been either in principle or detail approved by the existing electorate. Another was that the Bill was a discriminating and, in a sense, an aristocratic measure in that it admitted only certain sections of the women to the franchise. Why, Mr. Asquith asked, should a woman have to wait till, she was twenty-five to get a vote, and why should not a female lodger be treated by Parliament in the same way as a male lodger? “The only logical proposal,” he said, “would be one that ignored sex and put men and women on the same level.” The promoters of the Bill evidently felt that the ground was being cut from under their feet. First Mr. Snowden and then Mr. Dickinson tried, by means of interruptions, to diminish the effect of the Prime Minister’s hard logic. The result of their efforts was not sufficiently encouraging to induce others to imitate them. The form of the Bill, Mr. Asquith declared, amid the cheers of its opponents, was an admission that, though the public might stand a diluted infusion of the feminine element into the electorate, it would not recognise that women had the same electoral rights as men.
It had apparently not been deemed fitting by the Cabinet that emphasis should be given to the Ministerial divergences by arranging that the anti-Suffragist Prime Minister should be immediately followed by the Suffragist Foreign Secretary. Two other speeches were therefore sandwiched in between. Lord Robert Cecil announced that he would vote for the second reading of the Bill and try to amend it in Committee, because, he said, this was the only alternative to explaining again to the women outside that in spite of the great affection he had for their cause he must record a vote against it. Sir Frederick Low, Liberal member for Norwich, is, like Mr. Beck, a convert to the views of the anti-Suffragists. Having formerly supported women’s enfranchisement, he has come to the conclusion that it would be neither good for the community at large nor good for women themselves that they should be placed on the Parliamentary register.
SIR E. GREY’S REPLY TO THE PREMIER
The green benches had almost emptied when the Secretary for Foreign Affairs rose to speak, but members crowded in again to hear him. As Mr. Asquith had tried to prevent undue friction by referring in warm tones to long political association, Sir Edward Grey naturally followed his Leader’s example. He confirmed the Prime Minister’s account of their close relations, and he raised a laugh by adding: “We have neither of us ever been on the fence.” Having, like almost everybody else, deplored the conduct of the militants, whom he described as a small minority, the Foreign Secretary repeated most of the well-known arguments of the Suffragists. Dealing with the question of foreign policy, he observed that if women were to be ruled out on that subject, Parliament would be applying to women a standard which it did not apply to men. His answer to the physical force argument was that the true question was whether people had to obey the land. “There are very few of us.” He said “who enforce the laws. We employ selected persons for that purpose.” He described the argument as to the inability of women to bear arms as being based on the assumption that unless a person or a class could fulfil all the functions necessary for the welfare of the State they must have no vote. He pleaded that the care of the home and the nurture of children were as essential to the welfare of the State as anything else. Finally, he announced his intention of voting for the Bill, because he said he was prepared to take even the smallest instalment of women`s enfranchisement.
MR. LONG`S TRIBUTE TO MR. ASQUITH
One of the features of the debate was a striking tribute paid by Mr. Walter Long to the Prime Minister. Speaking as one of Mr. Asquith`s strongest political opponents, Mr. Long declared, amid cheers from both sides of the House, that there could be but one opinion of the fine courage and unruffled dignity with which the Prime Minister had faced a position which, he said, called for the condemnation of every honest and thoughtful person. He held that it was a discredit and disgrace to the country as a whole that the Prime Minister should have been exposed to the treatment to which he had been subjected on many occasions. “It is a matter of pride,” Mr. Long added, “to all of us, whatever our politics, that he has bourne himself as he has done in this matter.” Mr. Asquith seemed touched by this expression of personal admiration from one of his leading political foes and by the strong feeling which evidently underlay it. He several times bowed his acknowledgements. Mr. Long added that if he were a supporter instead of an opponent of Woman Suffrage he would never vote for any measure of the kind until the abominable outrages of the militants had been put a stop to.
The latter part of the debate was conducted with great spirit, and attracted a crowded audience of interested members. Mr. Ramsey Macdonald having signalised his return to the House by giving his warm support to the cause of the Suffragists, Mr. F. E. Smith made an impassioned speech on the other side. It contained some caustic comment on condemnations of militant action so freely indulged in by supporters of the Bill. But for the action of the militants in the early stages of the movement, said Mr. Smith, that movement would never have reached its present position. “You repudiate them,” he indignantly asserted, “at the moment when it suits you; you used them as long as it paid you to use them.” He denounced the Conciliation Bill as a dishonest proposal, and said he rejoiced as a Unionist that Mr. Bonar Law, Mr. Balfour, and Mr. Lyttelton had “realised that the game is up,” the present scheme by their votes. He expressed the opinion that anyone who voted for the Bill would be guilty of greater treachery to the whole democratic principle than any statesman who ever paid lip-service to democracy.
The last word came from Lord Hugh Cecil. He produced a roar of laughter by sharply declaring that Mr. F. E. Smith did not understand the attitude of his own party on the constitutional question. “No Conservative statesman,” he said, “and no statesman out of a lunatic asylum has ever maintained the doctrines he has laid down as being constitutional.” He also remarked that Mr. Churchill had been quite enthusiastic over the speech of “his political neophyte, whom he is training up in his political ideas.” These fierce thrusts were greatly to the liking of the Liberals, who laughed and cheered delightedly.
Then came the division and the rejection of the Bill.
The proposal to add six million women to the electorate was defeated in the House of Commons last night by 266 votes to 219. Disappointed Suffragists will, no doubt, attribute this result to the tactics of the militants, and to the desire of the Nationalists to save the Government from embarrassment. But even if the so-called DICKINSON Bill passed its second reading there could be no hope of its ever being placed on the Statute-book. For the present Parliament to force through a measure for the enfranchisement of women would be, as Lord LOREBURN once said, a Constitutional outrage. The Suffragists and their friends cannot pretend that their claims have ever been fairly put before and endorsed by the people. In the powerful and impressive speech which he made yesterday the PREMIER challenged any members to say that the issue of Woman Suffrage had to any degree determined the question of their election to the House. Possibly an individual here and there may think that the fact that he was in favour of an extension of the franchise to women did secure him some votes which would otherwise have been case for his opponent. But the simple and irrefutable figures quoted by Mr. WALTER LONG show how absurd it is to pretend that the question was seriously considered at the last election. It was only mentioned by 103 candidates out of 1,188, and it was only 644. What possible right, then, has the House of Commons, which has no shred of a claim to carry the most gigantic change ever contemplated in the Constitution of the Kingdom? Strictly speaking, it may be true that there is no measure, however grave and far-reaching, with which Parliament is not competent to deal. But, as Mr. ASQUITH said, if the House of Commons is to preserve its authority and retain the confidence of the country its members must hesitate to take a step unprecedented in extent and incalculable in its consequences unless they are convinced that they are acting in accordance with the deliberate judgement of the electors. The enfranchisement of women would be a most tremendous experiment. It would involve a shifting of the base on which the British Constitution rests. It would expose to the caprice of a new and largely untrained electorate the most vast and complex machinery of government in the world. Sir J. COMPTON-RICKETT said very truly that it was beside the mark to quote the example of Australia. Australia has not to bear the burden of administering and defending a complex and world-wide Empire. This task can only be effectively discharged by men,, for they alone are able to use the weapon of force, on which, in the last resort, the maintenance of an Empire depends. If women had the vote they would have the power without responsibility, and in the sphere of government the divorce of power and responsibility ends sooner or later in disaster.
Once the vote is granted to women it is impossible to see on what grounds they can be excluded from the fullest political rights. The promoters of Bills for enfranchising a section of the women in the country are either deceiving themselves or deceiving the public. If the barrier of sex is to be broken in one place it must go altogether. If it is just that some women should have the vote, by what right can others be excluded from the privilege, and if women are to be allowed to elect members to Parliament how can they be prevented from entering the House of Commons themselves and occupying the highest offices in the State? The point, then, which must be considered is whether the admission of women to public life on the same terms as men would be for the good of the community as a whole. In Mr. ASQUITH`S words, would it strengthen the political fabric, would it increase the respect paid to legislation, would it enrich the social and domestic life of the nation, would it raise the standard of manners? Those who oppose Woman Suffrage are convinced that these questions must be answered in the negative. They do not thereby imply what they regard women as the inferior sex. What they hold very strongly is that the special qualities and attributes of women do not fit them for the active exercise of political functions. No doubt there are women who are as fully qualified as men in respect of intellect and character to share in the work of government. But it is clearly impossible to devise machinery which will limit the franchise to exceptional women. It is, by the way, not a little significant that most of the women who have distinguished themselves as rulers have had a poor opinion of the political aptitude of their sex. The views of Queen VICTORIA on the subject are well known. The famous Empress-Dowager of CHINA, when she was on her deathbed, urged that no woman should even again be allowed to sway the destinies of the Empire. Women have their own special mission and work in life to fulfil, and for these duties they have been equipped with appropriate powers and instincts. If they enter political life they are brought into a sphere of action in which they must always be at a disadvantage, and be a source of weakness and embarrassment to the State. The primary business of government is to repel attack from without and to maintain order within. It has also to foster and safeguard all those forms of activity on which the existence of the community depends. But women are by their physical infirmities prevented from bearing arms against a foreign foe or from assisting in the repression of lawlessness and disorder. Even the most militant of Suffragists have to take refuge with the police when faced with a hostile crowd. And since the great industries of a nation, its railways, its shipping, its commercial operation, are all managed and controlled by men, it is right and proper that the authority which is charged with the duty of stimulating and regulating their growth should be chosen by men alone.
On what grounds, the, can this great and most dangerous revolution be justified? Mr. ASQUITH stated that there are two conditions which have always been enlarged. In the first place, there has always been a clear proof of a settled demand for the change by an over-whelming majority of the excluded class. At the present time there is no sign of such a plain and widespread demand. There are, no doubt, a large number of women, apart altogether from the militant Suffragists, who are anxious to have the vote less perhaps for itself then because it is regarded as a symbol of equality. But so far these women have been quite unable to show that they represent a majority of their sex. On the contrary, so far as definite tests have been made, for instance, by taking the opinion of women who hold the municipal franchise, it is apparent that the adherents of the cause of Women’s Suffrage are in a distinct minority. Then, in the second place, the advocates of the change have to show that in the past Parliament has neglected the needs and interests of women, Suffragists like to take this point for granted. Ignoring the doctrine emphasised on Monday by Mr. COLLINS, that rates of wages are fixed by supply and demand, by the organisation of the workers, and by their industrial efficiency, the Suffragists claim that the granting of the vote would have the effect of raising women’s wages. Some speakers seemed to think that the experience of Australia told in favour of this idea, but Mr. WALTER LONG said he had inquired particularly into this point, and learned that Australian experience pointed in exactly the opposite direction. In any case, however, the suggestion that hitherto Parliament has neglected the interests of women is entirely without foundation. The factory and workshop legislation passed over a long period of years is a proof of the earnest desire of a Legislature controlled and elected by men to safeguard the welfare of women workers. It is impossible to point to any reform required in the interests of the community which would have been passed more rapidly if women had enjoyed the franchise. But it is only so far a broad issue of policy are concerned that it can be pretended that women are excluded from dealing with social matters. The practical and detailed administration of measures of education, of housing of sanitation is left to the local authorities, and in the work of local government women can play an honourable and useful part, though it may be remarked in passing that they do not as yet make much use of the opportunities open to them. But when it is asked that they shall be allowed to decide great national and Imperial problems affecting the destiny of many countries and races, the answer of the vast majority of citizens must be a clear and decisive “No.