Debate on the Representation of the People Bill (22-23 May 1917),

to enfranchise all men, and women voters over the age of 30

[Speakers who supported the motion are shaded pink.]


1.   Sir G Cave (proposing)

Perhaps I may be allowed to put this one question to members who hold strong views on this matter, namely, whether it is possible for us – having called upon women for so large a contribution to the work of carrying on the War, and having received so splendid a response to that call – to refuse to women a voice in moulding the future of the country which their help and devoted self-sacrifice have done so much to save?


2.   Colonel Saunders

Women’s franchise is doubly necessary now, not just out of gratitude for what they have done in the course of the War, but I think in mere justice.   One thing that one notices all over the country is that women are now taking the place of men.   When the men come back the question must arise as to whether the women are to stay or the men to come in.   How those questions are to be settled I do not know; but I do say that it is only just and fair that the women should have a voice in settling it.


3.   Colonel Archer-Shee

The women preponderate greatly over the men – before the War I think the excess of women over men was nearly 1,500,000.   Therefore, by giving women the vote, you give them the main political power.  


Hon. Members talk about women having earned the vote, but they do not want it.   Why give them something they do not want?


There are certainly a number of people who think that men should decide peace and War, and the preparations you make for them.   I do not think it is a matter for women.


This is all being done during a time of War, when we have immensely more important questions to think of.


4.   Lord Hugh Cecil

Women have already the municipal franchise and their possession of it has not made any difference in local matters…   I do think that the controversy about women’s suffrage is a miserable one.   The argument is increasingly used as to the controversy between the two sexes; it is the most intolerable that we can conceive, and a question of that kind is much better brought to a close as soon as possible.


5.   Sir J Simon

Opposition [to women’s suffrage] has largely faded away…   The House really desires to create a House of Commons, representative both of men and women, which will be the means by which we may make good the result that will follow victory in the field.


6.   Mr Cochrane

In my opinion the case for the extension of the franchise to women has been enormously strengthened during the last three years.   In the first place, it is due to the conspicuous service that women have given to the nation during the War…  it would have been impossible to have carried on the War without them.   The second cause which has contributed to this change of feeling, I suggest, is the total abstinence from those militant methods which, I believe, did far more damage to their cause then their strongest opponents ever realised.


I am aware that the leaders of the movement for women’s suffrage do not appreciate the achievements of women being regarded as an excuse for granting the franchise.   I received a deputation, and when I gave that as a reason I was told that women demanded the vote as a right.   Well, I cannot help thinking that if the great work which women have done in the War has been the means of converting some of us who were lukewarm, or perhaps even hostile, then women may well accept support from whatever cause it is forthcoming.


7.   Sir W Bull

I have been a suffragist all my life, and I have been a persistent supporter of the movement.


8.   Mr Ramsey MacDonald

From my point of view I do not believe that the War has contributed one single new argument in favour of women’s suffrage.   Anybody who has entered intimately into the great concerns of life, the life of the home, the life of the State, and the life of the citizen, must have known long ago of the magnificent part and the essential part that woman has been playing...   So far as service to the nation is concerned, what would our nation have been without the service that women were giving long before the War broke out?   That is a very tardy recognition of the obligation that this nation is under to the woman worker, and I am very glad that the War at any rate should be made the excuse and the occasion for that recognition being embodied in a franchise act.


9.   Sir H Craik

I see great difficulties as regard female suffrage…   We are told: ‘You must accept this because it will end most troublesome questions’.   Do hon. Members think that if you pass this bill all the elements that draw us one from another will disappear?


10. Mr Wilson-Fox

I understand that, if the women’s age be fixed at 30 there would be an addition of 6 million female voters to the electorate.   That, I would say, goes a great deal further than a limited experiment.   It is a very great plunge, and I for one think that the plunge is far too great.


11. Captain O’Neill

I was opposed to women’s suffrage previous to the War… because of the most unfortunate and disgraceful campaign with which it was urged…   I must confess that the general conduct of women during this War, and the fact that they have undertaken physical duties which I personally should have thought it impossible for them to carry out, have caused me to change my view.


12. Sir F Banbury

It is stated that women have done so well in the War that many people have changed their opinion.   Who expected women not to do well in the War?   That is the character of woman.   She is always like that.   When we are in pain and trouble, when pain and anguish wring the brow, they are ministering angels, and when we know that in our hours of ease they will be uncertain, coy, and hard to please, why is it that we are to surrender the future government of this country into their hands?


13. Mr Dickinson

We have been for many years, I will not say jockeyed, but disappointed by the various difficulties in this House.   Therefore I feel very grateful to the Government for having put the Clause into the Bill and freed us from all difficulties of procedure or points of order.   I hope that the House will at last put an end to what has been, in my opinion, a crying injustice, namely, the total denial to woman of Parliamentary power in this country.


14. Col. Lord H Cavendish-Bentinck

I do not base the claims for women on the work which they have done during this War.   I base the claims for women on higher grounds than that.   If our religion has not taught us the equal value of men and women in the eyes of the Maker, then our religion has taught us very little indeed.   Women have a right equally with men to co-operate in the framing of society   Are we to treat women as drudges or as citizens?   I feel very strongly that they have a right to be treated as citizens, and that is why I give my support to this Bill.


Vote:   Ayes 329, Noes 40


From Official Reports 5th Series Parliamentary Debates: Commons

Vol xciiii (Apr 30 – May 25, 1917)   cols 2133–2253, 2323–2444