From 22nd MAY to 19th JUNE, 1924.487
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Sir Cyril Cobb (Chairman)
*Adamson, Mr. William M. (Stafford, Cannock)
Allen, Mr. Wilberforce (Leicester, South)
Allen, Lieut.-Colonel Sir William (Armagh)
Atholl, Duchess of (Perth and Kinross, Kinross and Western)
Ayles, Mr. (Bristol, North)
Birchall, Major (Leeds, North-East)
Brown, Mr. Ernest (Warwick, Rugby)
Buchanan, Mr. (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Buckle, Mr. (Eccles)
*Bull, Sir William (Hammersmith, South)
Burnie, Major (Bootle)
*Butler, Sir Geoffrey (Cambridge University)
*Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University)
Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, South)
Colfox, Major (Dorset, Western)
Davies, Mr. Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh)
*Davies, Mr. Rhys (Lancaster, Westhoughton)
Davies, Sir Thomas (Gloucester, Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Dickson, Mr. (Lanark, Lanark)
Dixey, Mr. (Cumberland, Penrith and Cockermouth)
Eden, Captain (Warwick, Warwick and Leamington)
Emlyn-Jones, Mr. (Dorset, Northern)
*Foot, Mr. (Cornwall, Bodmin)
Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel (Hertford, St. Albans)
Grundy, Mr. (York, W. R., Rother Valley)
*Henderson, Mr. (Burnley)
Hobhouse, Mr. (Somerset, Wells)
Hopkinson, Mr. (Lancaster, Mossley)
*Howard, Mr. Geoffrey (Bedford, Luton)
Inskip, Sir Thomas (Bristol, Central)
Jackson, Mr. Robert (Ipswich)
*Jewson, Miss (Norwich)
*Joynson-Hicks, Sir William (Middlesex, Twickenham)
Johnstone, Mr. Harcourt (Willesden, East)
Jones, Mr. Mardy (Glamorgan, Pontypridd)
Kay, Sir Robert (Yorks, W. R., Elland)
Lamb, Mr. (Stafford, Stone)
Law, Mr. (Bolton)
Lawrence, Miss (East Ham, North)
McEntee, Mr. (Walthamstow, West)
Marley, Mr. (St. Pancras, North)
Meller, Mr. (Surrey, Mitcham)
Millar, Mr. (Fife, Eastern)
Mitchell, Mr. R. (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
Morrison, Mr. Herbert (Hackney, South)
Morse, Mr. (Somerset, Bridgwater)
*Oliver, Mr. Philip (Manchester, Blackley)
Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)
Roberts, Mr. Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)
Sandeman, Mr. (Lancaster, Middleton and Prestwich)
Sheffield, Sir B. (Parts of Lindsey, Brigg)
Smith, Mr. B. (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
*Somerville, Mr. Annesley (Berks, Windsor)
Spence, Mr. (Berwick and Haddington)
Sullivan, Mr. (Lanark, Northern)
Sunlight, Mr. (Salop, Shrewsbury)
Thomson, Mr. Frederick (Aberdeen, South)
*Turner, Mr. Ben (Batley and Morley)
Warrender, Sir Victor (Parts of Kesteven and Rutland, Grantham)
*Waddington, Mr. (Rossendale)
Williams, Major Ronald (Kent, Sevenoaks)
Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel (Salop, Ludlow)
*Wintringham, Mrs. (Parts of Lindsey, Louth)
Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, West)
Yerburgh, Mr. (Dorset, Southern)
* Added in respect of the Representation of the People Act (1918) Amendment Bill.
MR. COLUMB. Committee Clerks.
MR. EDENBOROUGH. Committee Clerks.488 489 STANDING COMMITTEE A Thursday, 22nd May, 1924.
[Sir CYRIL COBB in the Chair.]
For Section one of the Representation of the People Act, 1918 (hereinafter referred to as the principal Act), there shall be substituted the following section, namely:—
"1.—(1) Every man and woman shall be entitled to be registered as a parliamentary and local government elector for a constituency (other than a university constituency) and a local government electoral area, respectively, if he or she—
The CHAIRMAN: I will call upon the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. A. Somerville) to move the first Amendment on the Paper.
Mr. JACKSON: On a point of Order. I wish to draw your attention to an important Amendment lower on the Paper, standing in the name of the hon Member for Hereford (Mr. S. Roberts) and other hon. Members, calling for a conference. Would it not be as well to take that Amendment first, because, obviously we shall be wasting time on the previous Amendments?
The CHAIRMAN: I must take the Amendments as they appear on the Paper.
Mr. A. SOMERVILLE: I beg to move, at the beginning to insert the words "Without prejudice to the rights of any person who, at the date when this Act comes into force, is a parliamentary or local government elector under the provisions of The Representation of the People Act, 1918 (hereinafter referred to as the principal Act)." The privilege of moving this first Amendment falls to me. In cases of extending the franchise, I believe it is usual to make provision for preserving the existing franchise to those who possess it, and, with regard to this Clause, I think one must confess that those who were responsible for drawing it up had at their disposition the services of an extremely able draftsman. The Clause makes a very large change in both the Parliamentary and local government franchise, and it adds some three or four millions of voters to the present register. The effect of these changes will be in some cases to disfranchise electors who now possess the vote, and the object of my Amendment is to prevent the disfranchisement of those persons. The qualification both for the local government and the Parliamentary franchise is reduced to one of simple residence, and, because of these considerations, it seems to us that it is very necessary to press the Amendment, in order to prevent injustice being done to the present holders of the franchise.
Captain EDEN: I want to support the Amendment. It is, I believe I am correct in saying, without a precedent for any Measure passed by the House of Commons to disfranchise existing voters, and I suggest that, whether or not this 491 disfranchisement contained in this Clause be passed by the Committee, it is most undesirable that those at present exercising the franchise should be deprived of it. I think it is a reasonable Amendment, and fair to those who have the franchise to-day, and it is without prejudice to the rest of this Clause. I hope for that reason that the Government will be able to accept it, and whether or not a precedent can be found—I believe it cannot—for disfranchising existing electors, it is without doubt a very bad precedent to follow. I hope, therefore, the Government will see their way to accept the Amendment.
Mr. W. M. ADAMSON: I can quite appreciate the anxiety of hon. Members to safeguard as far as possible the existing electorate prior to any alteration suggested under this Bill. I might say, however, and particularly to the hon. and gallant Member for Warwick and Leamington (Captain Eden), that this is not a Government Measure. He made an appeal to the Government to accept this Amendment, and consequently I must give that reminder. It has been said that this would be a precedent in electoral law, to make no safeguard whatever for existing electors on the register, but I would remind hon. Members that since the 1918 Act there has been a considerable difference in the electoral law with regard to the period in which registers have been compiled, and consequently, with the existing period of compilation of the registers, twice in one year, I hardly think there is any necessity for the safeguard proposed in this Amendment. I would prefer that the hon. Members should allow that portion of the Clause to go through under its present draftsmanship, because there are plenty of safeguards, in the event of this Bill being carried in its present form, for the compilation of the register, and that the electorate will not be materially altered in that respect.
Lord Eustace PERCY: I am afraid the hon. Member in charge of the Bill has quite missed the point of this Amendment, and the importance of the issue which it raises. He appears to think that, because registers are made every six months, it does not matter whom you disfranchise. The point of the Amendment is this; When, by the 1918 Act, the 492 men between 18 and 21 were disfranchised, there was a special saving for any person—I think I am right in saying this—who had hitherto exercised the vote. Now, this Bill is not merely an enfranchisement Bill; it is a disfranchisement Bill. It would enfranchise probably, at a rough estimate, something like 3,000,000 women. It would disfranchise a very large number of men—it is impossible to estimate how many—and a considerable number of women.
Mr. MARLEY: No.
Lord E. PERCY: There are a considerable number of women who exercise votes in respect of business premises, and they would all be disfranchised. [Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Member goes on making gesticulations at me, but it is a perfectly unassailable proposition.
Mr. MARLEY: It is still one vote.
Lord E. PERCY: This is a disfranchisement Bill.
Mr. MARLEY: No, it is not.
Lord E. PERCY: It is, because it disfranchises a large number of people, and this Amendment, governing everything which would succeed in the Bill, says that, whatever you may do as to future qualification, no man or woman who is at present exercising the vote in respect of a valid qualification under the 1918 Act shall be, as individuals, disfranchised by this Act. The hon. Member in charge of the Bill turns this down in a few words without seeming to realise the point. I think it would be convenient at this stage—and I do not think you, Mr. Chairman, will consider it out of order—for me to ask the hon. Member in charge of the Bill, and the Government, for a statement of their intentions. You can do one of two things with a Bill of this kind. You can simply confine yourself to putting women on an equality with men on the basis of the existing franchise, or you can start to alter the whole existing basis of the franchise. It is the second thing which this Bill sets out to do, and it is so ingeniously drafted, that it is almost impossible to separate the disfranchisement provisions from the enfranchisement provisions. It is a very ingenious dish of scrambled eggs, and nobody can unscramble them except the authors of the Bill. 493 What do the authors of the Bill mean to do? Do they mean to press on with a private Member's Bill, altering the whole basis of the franchise, disfranchising large numbers of people, without—I think I may say so without contradiction—any sort of pretence of a mandate from the electors to do anything of the kind, or are they going to proceed, definitely and straightforwardly, to deal simply with the reduction of the age of women for the purposes of the franchise, and such other alterations of the existing women's franchise provisions as create a discrimination between them and men. If the promoters of the Bill are prepared to do the latter, we shall have certain discussion on certain points. There are some of my hon. Friends who would like to see an equality established at the age of 25, rather than at the age of 21, and that will have to be discussed. There are certain other points which will, no doubt, require discussion, but we shall be able to proceed with the Bill as a business proposition. If, on the other hand, the promoters of the Bill take the former course and attempt to persist in serving up this dish of scrambled eggs and altering the whole basis of the franchise, we, on this side, shall certainly fight them inch by inch, because we consider that that kind of proceeding, that attempt to get a political advantage behind the skirts of the woman voter, is not in accordance with the best traditions of Parliamentary life, is not a business proposition. If I may make an appeal to the Government, it is this. The last time this Committee sat on another Bill, we made many appeals to the Government from this side to state their views. Whatever may have been the rights and wrongs of that, I do not think any member of this Committee will deny that a franchise Bill cannot possibly be enacted as law, even if introduced by a private Member, which is quite an unprecedented thing, unless during the Committee stage the Government give us their advice and assistance at every stage, state quite clearly what they intend to advise the Committee, and give us all the assistance of their draftsmen and their knowledge. I want to ask the Government what they propose to do, and what they propose to advise the Committee to do, because we are standing before these two alternatives—an alternative of out and out fighting this Bill or of discussing the means of carrying out a principle with 494 which I suppose nine-tenths of us on every bench in this Committee are agreed, namely, the equalisation of the franchise, as a matter of principle, by some stages and at some date. What do the promoters of the Bill, and what do the Government, propose to do?
Mr. FOOT: Before the representative of the Government speaks, I wish to welcome what has been said by the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy). One would like to know to what extent he is able to speak for those who sit with him. There are many parts of this Bill that we, on these benches, think to be desirable beside the equalisation of votes as between men and women, but we recognise that those parts of the Bill can be dealt with on some subsequent occasion. We would prefer the larger Bill, but it is vital that we should carry through this essential part of the Bill, that is mentioned in the first part of the Memorandum, as soon as possible. The number of sittings of this Committee must necessarily be limited before Whitsuntide, and if the remarks of the Noble Lord express the desire of his colleagues, there is the likelihood that we may be able to carry through that very essential and important change in our law. I know that he himself is genuinely interested in this reform, but he indicated in his remarks that there may be discussion, and one would like to know whether or not there is to be on the benches opposite any strong opposition to that essential part of the Bill. It will mean, of course, a hard fight to carry it through if there are to be the number of Amendments discussed that we have on the Paper. If an arrangement can be arrived at in which we can see how best this simple reform can be carried through, the Government may look for the support of all sides of the Committee, and I hope it may be possible for some early declaration to be made. I want to give them the assurance of my friends and myself, that we are glad to help them as best we can to carry that through at an early opportunity.
Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE: On a point of Order. Are we on this Amendment simply trying to elicit the views of the Government—if so, I do not want to stand between the Committee and the representative of the Government—on their general procedure in regard, to the 495 Bill, or are we having our only chance of discussing the question of the Local Government electorate? If that be so, we shall have to have a very extended discussion.
The CHAIRMAN: We are now discussing the Amendment. It has been suggested that some explanation might be obtained from this side of the room on the attitude that they are going to take. I must wait and see whether they are going to give us any information.
Mr. ADAMSON: Like the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot), I welcome the statement as put forward by the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy). In fact, I approached the Chairman prior to the meeting as to whether it would be possible to have a general discussion with a view to trying to come to some agreement as to what attitude the respective sections of the Committee were prepared to adopt. On the Second Reading a very definite statement was made that the portion dealing with the assimilation of the local and Parliamentary franchise would not be pressed, and it was generally upon that understanding that the Closure was agreed to and a vote taken upon the Measure. We are not intending to press that portion of the Bill, so that the whole question of the Parliamentary and local franchise is separate and distinct and would be cut out of the Clauses. A rather sporting offer has been made, evidently due to past experience, that we might save a considerable amount of time if we had something like an understanding. I agree very largely that there are contentious portions of the Measure on which in the early stages we should have some understanding, and, if necessary, some pronouncement as to the course that we are prepared to adopt. My own personal opinion, as the introducer of the Bill, is that the most important Section of it would be that conferring equal franchise, and I should like it if the Committee would agree to the offering of that franchise at the age of 21, upon a residential basis. The other point, with regard to the franchise Clause, is one on which we should be agreeable to accept some Amendment. The present method of registration fees appears to us to be unsatisfactory. We consider, however, that 496 something would have to take its place and probably agreement could be arrived at either by a reduction of the registration fee or by the establishment of some machinery which could carry out the necessary electoral work for Universities. The Clause dealing with disqualification for Poor Law Relief could be dropped and would be dealt with under some other method. These cover the main points, and I welcome this opportunity of an understanding, not only to facilitate the business, but to come to some agreement whereby it would be possible, at least, to send this Bill a stage further in the ordinary course of its life. With regard to the attitude of the Government, I am quite as keen as the rest of the Committee to know what the Government are prepared to do. I have already pleaded with them on the Second Reading for facilities to be granted, and yet I appreciate their position, that they can give no guarantees until they know exactly what the Committee is going to do with the Measure. However, the Home Secretary is here, and I trust he may indicate much more fully what will be their position.
Lord HUGH CECIL: I am sure that everyone will appreciate the conciliatory tone in which the hon. Member in charge of the Bill has spoken, but I think in the minds of many of us there is a feeling that we do not really relish attending this Committee and undergoing the great labours of Members of the Committee, if we are only ploughing the sands of the sea. Nothing can be more certain than that, unless the Bill be reduced to the simple proposition that men and women are to have the votes on equal conditions and all beyond that is eliminated, it cannot possibly pass into law unless the Government give it facilities out of Government time. No one who has any experience of Parliament will doubt that the time which is at the disposal of private Members is quite insufficient to carry a highly controversial franchise Bill through its remaining stages. Therefore, it is only for the general convenience that we should know where we stand. I do not think any concession would be at all satisfactory, which fell short of reducing the Bill to the simple proposition of equal conditions for men and women, and giving of course a reasonable opportunity for discussing 497 precisely what that basis was to be, whether 21 or 25 or what was to be the qualification. On those terms, probably the Committee would not require very many sittings, and the Bill could go back to the House. Whether even so short a Bill as that could pass under conditions only of private Members' time, remains doubtful, and it would certainly be kind to the Committee if the Government would tell us what they are prepared to do, in respect of giving facilities to the measure. If I recollect rightly, the Lord Privy Seal on the Second Reading indicated pretty plainly that the Government would not give facilities out of Government time if the Bill came down from the Committee in its then existing form. They would only give it if it were reduced to much simpler dimensions, and from their point of view that is natural enough. They do not want to occupy a great deal of Government time, which they want for their own purposes, with a highly controversial and necessarily lengthily debated Bill. I should be glad to know, at any rate, whether the Government can now tell us whether they will give facilities to the Bill, and, if so, on what conditions, and what sort of Bill would be likely to obtain those facilities. Then we should be able to know where we stand and the Committee could accelerate its procedure or else devote itself to the gloomy task of fighting inch by inch a Bill which we cannot pass into law under any circumstances.
The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. A. Henderson): This discussion, as far as it has gone, has been very interesting. The noble Lord (Lord E. Percy) started off with an appeal to the Government to state its position—another way of asking me to give some more pledges. I welcome the tone of the discussion, and it seems to me that it represents a desire among all sections of the Committee to get down to practical business, at any rate so far as the main principle of the Bill is concerned. But as I listened to the statement of the noble Lord the Member for Hastings, I was rather struck with the same idea as the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot). The noble Lord did not go quite far enough in so far as committing those with whom he is associated as to what it was they were prepared to agree to. If the other 498 side are prepared definitely to agree if the promoters of the Bill are prepared to cut it down to the principle of equal franchise, and if they are sincere in making it equal franchise, I think there is something to be said for an effort being made in that direction. Reference has been made to what the Lord Privy Seal said on the Second Reading:— "I can only say that if upstairs the treatment of this Bill is as friendly and as genuine as the treatment which has been accorded to it this afternoon, the Government will be happy to try to provide time for its passage.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th February, 1924; col. 928, Vol. 170.] I think that is very definite. It indicates that if we could get the agreement which has been suggested this morning, the Government would be prepared to make every effort to assist its passage through the remaining stages. But when I am pressed to give the position of the Government, I am pressed to give it on the Bill as it stands. I am quite prepared to consider, between now and the next meeting of the Committee, the Bill as it might be if there were a general agreement, and I am prepared to get authority to come here to say, if that general agreement be accepted by the Committee, that we will be prepared definitely to commit ourselves to see the Bill through its remaining stages by Government time. But at the moment we are considering the Bill as a whole. Beyond the commitment of the Lord Privy Seal I am unable to go, but I am quite prepared, on behalf of the Government, to associate with the suggestion of the noble Lord the Member for Hastings and the promoter of the Bill, and to see if we can make an effort to get it down to workable dimensions and then to come with authority from the Government to say we will see it through its remaining stages.
Lord E. PERCY: As to whether I did or did not speak on behalf of my friends, I would leave it for them to say, and I hope they will express their opinion, but I think I am not far wrong in saying that my general attitude is the attitude which I previously discussed with them, and I am fairly certain that they agree with what I have said. But I said that only the authors of the Bill could unscramble this dish of scrambled eggs. The Home Secretary criticises me and says, "Does the offer go far enough? Is it definite 499 enough? What are you prepared to do?" As for himself, he says, "I have to deal with the Bill as it stands, and I cannot express an opinion on the Bill as it stands. If some other Amendments were put down, I could express an opinion." We are in precisely the same position. Until the authors of the Bill, as a result of a general understanding on principle, by means of which we can discuss proposals on the pure question of equal franchise, put down the Amendments which they consider necessary to carry out that principle, I cannot for myself or for anybody else say how much discussion there will be on the Bill. No Bill which alters the franchise very considerably should be allowed to pass without very full discussion. Of course, there will always be differences of opinion. I do not think anyone can complain of that; but, clearly, I cannot say how much discussion will be necessary until we see what it is that the promoters of the Bill propose. My proposition is simply this: If we confine ourselves to the question of age, and drop altogether anything to do with local government franchise, or anything to do with the abolition of the business premises qualification for the Parliamentary franchise, then, I think, on that basis we shall be able to come to a conclusion in a reasonable space of time, after a reasonable amount of discussion. Otherwise, I am afraid we cannot do it.
Miss LAWRENCE: I think, like everybody else, that it would be desirable to get a Bill through the House giving women votes on the same terms as men. So far, every speaker has rendered lip service to that proposal. If that were all, I feel sure we could come to an agreement, but there was a sinister suggestion in the speech of the noble lord (Lord E. Percy). I want to know whether this olive branch of his is coupled with a large disfranchisement Measure for men. Equality at 25 would mean the disfranchisement of an enormous mass of men. It would mean a thing which would be hated by the country. It is no use to say, "Let us have equality" when that equality might mean, in the minds of hon. Members opposite, giving the right to the franchise for men only at the age of 25. Although I am a passionate feminist, I would not take, and I could not make, that bargain.500
Lord E. PERCY: I do not ask you to make that bargain.
Lord H. CECIL: It is not a question of bargain.
Miss LAWRENCE: We are bargaining.
Lord H. CECIL: No.
Mr. HENDERSON: Certainly.
Miss LAWRENCE: Hon. Members opposite have said, "Throw over two-thirds of the Bill, because we dislike it, and we will discuss the one-third of the Bill which we like." If that be not bargaining, then there is some Parliamentary word for it which is equivalent. I want to know whether what is offered to us is putting women identically in the same position that men are in now, or whether it means worsening the position of a great number of men, upon whom very serious obligations are put—I allude, of course, to military service. Can we get an agreement upon that? It is a very important point.
Major BIRCHALL: I have been wondering this morning, and I was wondering when the Bill was before the House for Second Reading, why this question of equal franchise, which is a perfectly simple one, was ever overburdened with all the other matters which find place in this Bill. Now we know why that was done. The Bill was overburdened in order that the super-cargo might be thrown overboard, and, by means of a bargain, something might be got by throwing overboard something else that was not really wanted. That has been explained prettly clearly by the Government and by one or two other speakers. Surely, under these circumstances, if the Member who is in charge of the Bill thinks that from what he has heard this morning he can get what he really wants, namely, a proper and reasonable discussion on the question of equal franchise, it is for him to say that he is prepared to drop the rest of his Bill on that condition. I should be glad to see him take that course, and other hon. Members on this side would agree to a perfectly reasonable discussion on the principle of equal franchise, of which I am in favour. 501 If he does not do that, the Bill does not stand the ghost of a chance, and we shall not only lose the Bill, but also that very important principle, which there is a real opportunity of getting in this Bill, namely, the principle of the equal franchise. It is not for us on this side to state our terms. It is for the promoters of the Bill, after what they have heard this morning, to say, "What we really want is an equal basis for the franchise. The other matters we are not so anxious about, and, if we can get a proper discussion, with a reasonable chance of carrying that important part of the Bill, we will drop the rest." We on this side are in a difficult position in regard to starting discussing the rest of the Bill, because we do not know whether or not the supercargo is to be thrown overboard.
Mr. AYLES: There is hardly any member of the Committee who will say that the present franchise law is satisfactory. The degree of unsatisfactoriness depends upon our own particular point of view, and probably our own interests. We on this side feel that there are quite a number of things in connection with the question of the franchise law which are bad and ought to be corrected. The whole tendency of the reform of franchise law has been in the direction of equalising, on the basis of pure citizenship, the franchise rights of the electors. Therefore, it is hardly in accordance with what the hon. Member has just said that we have put into this Bill a number of things which we are prepared to throw overboard in order that we may get some part of the Bill. We have put into the Bill a number of things which we think ought to be altered, which we think are genuine injustices, and which we think it would be a very honourable thing for this Committee and the House to alter. The question that we have to ask ourselves is how we can get agreement, seeing that we have started so late in the Session to discuss so important a Bill. The suggestion thrown out by the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) and the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) seems to give us an opportunity of repairing some of the waste time and some of the damage that we have done to our reputation in this Committee in the past, and to get down to business on the basis of some agreement between the three parties.502
Lieut. - Colonel FREMANTLE: We deserve congratulation on what we have done.
Mr. AYLES: That, of course, is a matter which will be decided upon in other places and at other times. As far as the Members on this side are concerned, we have nothing to withdraw and nothing to be ashamed of, but everything to be proud of, in regard to the fight we have put up. It seems to me that it would be unwise for us this morning to continue at any great length further discussion with regard to the actual proposals of the Bill. Each side says, "We are willing to come to an agreement. We are willing to give up something. We feel that we ought to use usefully the time at our disposal." Under these circumstances, I suggest that if the Committee adjourned, and the representatives of the Conservative party, of the Liberal party, and of our friends on this side, including the promoter of the Bill, would put their heads together and come to some agreement on the matter, so that something might reasonably be done, we should have an opportunity and a right to go to the Government and say, "This is the kind of thing on which we can get agreement without a great deal of discussion so that we may get the Bill downstairs before Whitsuntide. What are you prepared to do in regard to it?" The Government have made a perfectly fair offer. They say, "We are more or less outsiders as far as the Committee is concerned. We are not responsible for the Bill. Let the Committee come to an agreement on the Bill and then ask what further facilities we are prepared to give, and we are prepared to consider sympathetically what facilities we may be able to give." The Noble Lord the Member for Hastings has said that this Bill is not only an enfranchisement but a disfranchisement Bill. Does he want to prevent it from being a disfranchisement Bill? Does he want to prevent it from disfranchising those with whom he is perhaps in sympathy while at the same time it disfranchises a very large number of people with whom other Members of the Committee are in sympathy?
Lord E. PERCY: The hon. Member seems to have forgotten that there is an Amendment down from this side that nobody shall be disfranchised. I hope the hon. Member will vote for that.503
Mr. AYLES: I am glad to have that assurance, because it did seem from the statement of the Noble Lord that he was directly in opposition to the Amendment he has mentioned. He said that he was in favour of equal franchise on the basis of 25 years. That would mean a very large disfranchisement of people who, as far as we are concerned, are perfectly capable of exercising the franchise. If the rapprochement between the three parties can be so arranged that part of the Bill can be transferred into legislation and become an Act soon, it would be unwise for us to talk about things too long this morning.
The CHAIRMAN: It would be in Order for the hon. Member to move "That the Committee do now adjourn." We could then discuss whether or not we would adjourn.
Mr. AYLES: I would not like to move that at this stage.
The CHAIRMAN: It would put things in order. We are really on the Amendment now. We could go back to the Amendment, if necessary, when we had finished the discussion as to whether or not we should adjourn.
Mr. AYLES: Perhaps it would be better to give hon. Members an opportunity to express their views if they have other things to say, and then perhaps we might move the adjournment.
Mr. DIXEY: I beg to move "That the Committee do now adjourn." I move the adjournment, first and foremost, because we seem to be getting into the same position that we were in during the meetings of this Committee on the last Bill. We are still trying to find out what the Government desire. During the last Bill, the Government had an opportunity of telling the Committee what they desired, and we on this side would have been prepared to do everything we could to help them to get a proper Measure through the Committee. Instead, the Government deliberately refused to give the Committee the assistance to which it was entitled, and to-day the Home Secretary has been giving us an answer which is practically equivalent to the answer which was given to the Committee on the last Bill. He has told us nothing. He tells us that he has not even considered what the Government desire 504 in this Bill. If any agreement be come to, he will have to go back to consult his colleagues. This Bill is important enough to have brought him here, and surely he must know what the Government desire in regard to it. It is a perfectly preposterous suggestion that we should be asked to come here and then be told by a representative of the Government, who are responsible more or less for the Bill, because it is brought in with their approval, that they have not made up their minds in regard to it. They do not know what parts of the Bill they want. In the case of an enfranchisement Measure so important to the Labour party, surely the Home Secretary can tell us what are the Government views. It is not for us to bargain across the Table. It is for the Government to say "We want a definite portion of the Bill." If they will say that, if they will put a short, clear Bill before us, we are all in favour of equal franchise for men and women. But we do not believe in these Bills which are brought here for the purpose of getting as many votes as possible in the country. I shall oppose as far as I can any of these complicated Measures in which the Government have no sincere interest, and which are brought here simply to cast discredit on as because we have to oppose them. If the Home Secretary can go to his chief and attend this Committee next week, and say that the Government are prepared to let the rest of the Bill go, having persuaded the promoters to agree to deal only with the question of universal suffrage, at 21 or any other age, I am prepared to agree, and if my views on the suffrage are in the minority, and if the Committee desire 21 as the universal age, then the Committee can decide that point. But we are entitled to have from the Government a straight deal as to what they are really in favour of.
Mr. MCENTEE: I hope that we are not going to adjourn on this question. There does not appear to me to be any need for it. The speech to which we have just listened has not really the object of arriving at an agreement but has the same purpose that characterised the last proceedings of this Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am in favour of the whole Bill as it stands, but I am well aware from the experience which we had on the Bill recently before this Commit- 505 tee that we may be treated in the same way as we were treated on that occasion, and, as a consequence, may lose the Bill altogether. Consequently, I welcome the suggestion put forward by the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) that something like agreement should be arrived at. There has been a good deal of talk as to the precise agreement at which we can arrive. The adjournment Motion seems to me merely to delay matters and not to arrive at an agreement at all. The hon. Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Mr. Dixey) in his last sentence put forward a suggestion which personally I would favour as a minimum, because I want to see some improvement in the franchise, and, if I cannot get a whole loaf, and particularly it I am hungry, I should be willing to take a half loaf, and I should be glad to get even that one provision that the franchise for women should be given at the same age as the franchise for men. But we have got no guarantee, or reasonable promise that the Committee shall confine itself to a discussion of that one point as to the age at which the franchise shall be given. If we could get a promise on that one point, some of us who believe in the whole Bill would be prepared, rather than that the whole Bill should be wrecked, to agree to a discussion of that one point, and to have a vote taken upon it.
Mr. HOPKINSON: Speaking on behalf of the party of which I am the sole Member, I endorse what the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) has said. So far as this Bill is concerned, we have to bear in mind that a very large proportion of Members of all parties are pledged by their election pledges to equal franchise for men and women. I am not myself, and I believe there are one or two others who are not, but the vast majority are, and therefore they are morally bound to do their level best to get a Bill which deals with this point. Though some of us, perhaps the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) and possibly myself, in existing circum stances, are not as favourable to the extension of the franchise for women as other people are, there is no great damage in it. No one can say that we are going to do any great harm to the people of this country by extending the franchise to young women on the same terms as to young men, and though our prejudices are against it, we can say that it is a 506 reasonable thing. But there are parts of this Bill on a different basis. There are parts which even the promoters of the Bill must admit do introduce new principles of great gravity indeed, which may have a deleterious effect on the future position of democracy in this country if passed into law. Therefore I feel that what the Noble Lord has put forward is a clear offer, and is very much on the lines of what the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) was actually putting forward himself. The offer, I take it, is this: that the Committee as a whole—here I think that my Friends below the Gangway opposite agree as well—are anxious to pass into law this principle of equal franchise for men and women, but many of us, on this side, and I believe some below the Gangway opposite, would like to have a serious and full discussion as to the question of the age. Some of us feel rather keenly about that, though I am inclined to think that we, who would like to see the age raised for men and women, are in the minority. Therefore the promoters of the Bill and the Government representatives will be at an advantage, as in all probability when the discussion is finished they will be able to get the vote the way they want and keep the age at 21. If we can get some sort of pledge from the promoters of the Bill and from the Government that they will not press these other matters which are extraneous to equal franchise for men and women, and if they will give us a couple of days for a serious discussion on this matter of the age, then I think that our offer is that we will make no use of the facilities for hindering the passing of the Bill which the rules of the game give us, and I agree to that on behalf of the party to which I belong.
Mr. S. ROBERTS: As I have put down a certain number of Amendments, may I say that our position probably is this, that if the promoters of the Bill will agree to this adjournment now, and will come again to the Committee next week, with such Amendments as they then propose, those Amendments will receive due and sympathetic consideration, and no time will be taken up merely for the purpose of delaying the Bill. Such discussion as does take place will be upon those Amendments and upon the Bill, with the desire to find out what is the wish of the 507 majority of the Committee. In saying this, I do not wish to commit myself to say that I am in love with the Bill, but I think that the time has gone by when anyone can justify the difference in the age for the franchise as between the sexes. Probably our franchise has got so wide that it does not matter how much wider you make it. If democracy wishes to rush to its ruin, to its ruin it will rush. Possibly when democracy has rushed to its ruin, some other method of Government may arise which will save the country. Speaking, if I may use the phrase, as a die-hard Tory, I personally will not take part in any obstruction if the offer that has been made to the promoters be carried out, and they put down Amendments which can be discussed in a reasonable manner.
Miss JEWSON: Before the Committee adjourns, we ought to get a rather clear definition of what hon. Members opposite do intend. The Government have made a fair offer, and the promoters of the Bill have made a fair offer, to drop the contentious Clauses with regard to business qualification and Local Government franchise, and in return they ask that a definite agreement may be reached on the question of equal franchise. Hon. Members opposite have been talking in a loose way on this question, and this is the vital point of this Bill. The House of Commons gave an overwhelming vote in favour of genuinely equal franchise for women as for men at the age of 21, on the same residential qualification. Is that the intention of hon. Members opposite when they speak of equal franchise for women, because I can assure them that if they intend to raise the age the women of the country will look upon that as a definite betrayal? They do not intend to accept the vote for women at the age of 25, when men have it at the age of 21. So I do want that hon. Members opposite, if the promoters of the Bill are going to make such a generous offer to give up a considerable portion of the Bill, should in their turn do the generous thing by the women and give equal franchise to them at the age of 21.
Mr. ADAMSON: I have no wish to curb the discussion. I have been agreeably impressed with the trend which it has taken so far. Though I am anxious to be very cautious upon this particular point, as 508 to the promises made by the other side, I think that it would be best to accept the adjournment until this day week. [HON. MEMBERS: "Next Wednesday."] I have discussed this point, and Thursday would be much more suitable to Members on this side. That would give us an opportunity of considering the whole position in the light of the discussion which has taken place to-day, and to agree on our definite proposals, and then we could meet again to consider the position which would have arisen.
Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE: I have been asked to bring forward certain Amendments as a result of mature consideration of the Bill from the point of view of the London County Council, in reference to the fact that there is a large number of people who would be disenfranchised and disqualified from serving. Therefore, you would have to consider the effect of the local franchise business, as regards the actual persons now serving on the borough councils, and how we could get local government carried on. An hon. Member opposite spoke of this as a bargain, but I hope we may look upon it, not so much as a bargain, as a reasonable way of extending the franchise. It is true that the expressions from this side have been slightly vague; that is to say, we take the line of equality of sex, but we are not prepared at present to define the issue. We intend to hear the arguments from both sides, and especially from the opposite side, which have not been sufficiently clear as to how it will affect the efficiency of business and local interests in the country. There is much that we want to hear as regards the people whom it is proposed to enfranchise, and how far it will affect procedure. That is the real reason why we have not yet, on this side, definitely made up our minds. There are various opinions amongst us, but I think the proposal now made will really find a genuine effort on our part to try and get a good Measure carried through.
Mr. FOOT: In order that there may be no difficulty, I would suggest that, if there be any Member sitting behind the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) who demurs to the arrangement, we ought to hear it, otherwise the promoter of the Bill will put himself in some difficulty. We all know that two or three determined Members of the Committee 509 can, at any rate when time is so precious, having regard to the short time between now and Whitsuntide, make great difficulties, and would be entitled to do so, unless they were themselves parties to the arrangement. May we also know when we meet next week if, beyond the perfectly fair and sensible business arrangement that is now suggested, there will be implied something rather more than assistance in this Committee, so that we may be able to give all the attention that is necessary to the vital question as to whether the age should be 21 or 25. I think it is right that we should have a discussion on that, although I am altogether in favour of 21, and I think it is preposterous that we should suggest that at this time there are hundreds of thousands of men who are to be deprived of their votes in the years to come, but can we have implied also, not only that there shall be that fair assistance given here, so that we can get a real discussion and get the Bill through, but that in the very important Report stage of the Bill, every assistance then will be given, simply to confine the discussion to the real matter before the House, and enable us to pass the Bill into law? On the Report stage, of course, there may be, having regard especially to the limited time, enough opposition to destroy the prospects of the Bill, so perhaps next Thursday, when we meet again, we may have some statement from the Noble Lord, who in the meantime will also be able to consult with his friends on the Committee and with those who have not had the privilege of taking part in our discussion this morning. The essential thing is now that if there be any Member who thinks he is obliged to oppose this Bill, and to dissociate himself from what the Noble Lord has said, the promoter may know that, because it is unfair to ask him to cut down what he considers to be really important parts of his Bill, and then to find simply that he has exposed himself to the criticism that may come from his friends in the country, that he has run away from a great part of his own Measure, and in the end has gained nothing by so doing.
Mr. SOMERVILLE: I do not rise to demur from the arrangement which seems on the point of being made between the two sides, but there was a remark made by the hon. Member for Norwich 510 (Miss Jewson) which may give rise to misunderstanding. I think it is true to say that, on all sides, there is agreement to the principle that the franchise should be granted to men and women on level terms, but a point that will be discussed is whether the age of the level terms should be 21 or 25.
Miss JEWSON: 21 for men?
Mr. SOMERVILLE: 21 for men and women, or 25 for men and women, and if the remark that was made by the hon. Lady went without observation, it might be considered that on this side of the room we were in favour of such a proposal, namely, the franchise for men at 21 and for women at 25.
Lord E. PERCY: Perhaps I may respond by saying that I am much obliged to the hon. Member in charge of the Bill, and I am quite sure that this adjournment will not delay the business, but will in the end hasten it. I think he quite understands our position. I think the hon. Lady the Member for Norwich (Miss Jewson) said something about what was our attitude, and I would point out, just to save misapprehension, that if our Amendments on the Paper are carefully looked at, it will be seen that they amount to quite a clear attitude, with only one thing uncertain, on which there are alternative Amendments, namely, the question of age, and we have occupied the time before this Committee met in putting down the Amendments that we wanted. We have not left the other side in the dark, although on that point there are several alternative Amendments, and we are really only suggesting that the other side should put themselves in the same position by putting down the Amendments which they are prepared to move, if they are satisfied that we are prepared, if they move them, not to debate them and to act on an honourable understanding.
Sir V. WARRENDER: I feel perhaps, speaking entirely for myself, as a back bencher on this side, that it would not be out of place if I told the Committee actually what I feel. Personally, I do not wish to see any obstruction given to this Measure, but if the other side expect us on this side to give them the fair and just treatment which naturally we shall give them, I think we are entitled to ask 511 that we shall receive assistance and guidance from Members of the Government on this Committee. Reference has been made to the last sittings of this Standing Committee, and questions have been asked whether the proceedings of this Committee are going to be on the same lines. It is true to say that the proceedings of the last Committee were protracted as they were, purely because we never knew where we were, and if hon. Members opposite wish to get this Bill through, they ought to rub it in to the representatives of the Government. I, for one, very much resent that, as a Member of this Committee, I should have thrown on my shoulders the responsibilities of the Government. If we go on much longer, instead of having a 512 Government, we may as well have Standing Committee A governing the country. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but I see no exaggeration at all. So far as I am concerned—I say it frankly, and there are a lot of people in my constituency who take the same view—I am against the age being as low as 21, so far as women are concerned, unless I am very strongly convinced by the eloquence of hon. Members opposite, and I shall do nothing in any way to obstruct the business of the Committee or to hinder it, if they promise, on the other side, to confine the Bill to that one issue.
Question put, and agreed to.
Committee adjourned accordingly at Ten Minutes after Twelve Noon, until Thursday next, 29th May, at Eleven o'Clock.
THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:—
Sir Cyril Cobb (Chairman)
Adamson, Mr. William M.
Burnie, Major James
Butler, Sir Geoffrey
Cecil, Lord Hugh
Davies, Mr. Ellis
Davies, Mr. Rhys
Davies, Sir Thomas
Dickson, Mr. Thomas
Jackson, Mr. Robert
Jones, Mr. Mardy
Lawrence, Miss Susan
Oliver, Mr. Philip
Percy, Lord Eustace
Roberts, Mr. Samuel
Somerville, Mr. Annesley
Warrender, Sir Victor
Williams, Major Ronald