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DISABILITIES OF WOMEN., Issue 7938, 20 June 1889
DISABILITIES OF WOMEN.
When Mr Ritchie introduced the Local Government Bill into the House of Commons he stated that its provisions did not admit the eligibility of women for seats on the County Councils. It was taken for granted that such was the case during the passage of the Bill through Parliament, and curiously enough no discussion seems to have been raised upon the point whether women ought to have the right or not. But after the measure had become law some people discovered, as they thought, that Parliament had in [fact [.unwittingly conceded the right, whether it were desirable or otherwise. In regard to qualification the Act simply adopted the provisions of the Municipal Corporations Act any person eligible for the pest of town councillor, alderman, or mayor "was to be eligible for the post of county councillor. Now, as a matter of fact—so said the discoverers—under the Municipal Corporations Act women are eligible for the civic offices just named, though no advantage has ever been taken of the fact; consequently [they£are for the office of county councillor, alderman, or even chairman under the new Act. Guided by these considerations a few ladies decided to woo the electorate at last January's election and take the risk of subsequent developments. Two—Lady Sandhurst and Miss Cobden —were returned to the London Council, while a third, Miss Cons, was co-opted (awful word) as alderman. The unsuccessful candidate who came next to Lady Sandhurst on the poll for the Brixton Division was Mr Berespord Hope, and that gentleman (not allowing his ambition to serve his country as County Councillor to be cooled by any quixotic sentiment of chivalry) brought an action in the Court of Queen's Bench impugning the validity of his fair victor's' election. Judgment was given on April 13, when Baron Huddleston and Mr Justice Stephen unseated Lady Sandhurst, and awarded the seat to Mr BeresfordHope. Of course this decision applies also to Miss Cobden and Miss Cons, and it may even give rise to dispute in regard to the validity of the general aldermanic election in which theladies took part. Regrettable as the result is from a general point of view, it must be confessed that the judgment, on perusal, does not lend itself easily to criticism. The wording of the provisions in the Municipal Corporations Act is somewhat ambiguous, but this is evidently the result of it being taken for granted tkat wnmp.n-wp.re not eligible for office. The provision, moreover, of the 63rd section that "&v all purposes con- " nected with and having reference to " the right to vote, words of the masculine gender shall include women," seems to prove pretty clearly that such inclusion does not extend to the right of being voted for. It must be remembered, too, that for thirty years the supposed right has never been claimed, and that Parliament last year assuredly did not intend to sanction the eligibility of women for seats in the County Councils. Upon the general ground of Parliamentary intention the Judges took their stand. They considered that, even if the Municipal Corporations Act could be strained to the desired end, "an " exception would be made in a general " rule of long standing ; and such an " exception ought to be made in perfectly plain language, and not to be " left to be inferred from a comparison " of four or five different statutes re- " lating to different subjects." We are inclined to think, on the whole, that Lady Sandhurst's success in this action might not have altogether conduced to the welfare of the cause which she has at heart. Opponents of that cause would have pointed out satirically, and not quite unjustly, that the end had been obtained by means of a snap decision which did not represent Parliamentary conversion or good-will. The cause is so certain of ultimate, nay, speedy triumph, that it is in every way desirable that the concession" should be made freely, openly, and after full discussion. The House of Lords has refused to take the first step in rectifying the omission of Mr Ritchie's Act, but it may be hoped that their Lordships will soon have to consider the proposal again, fortified by a favorable decision of the popular Chamber. Even 'The Times,' while endorsing the Judges' finding, is constrained to admit that " there is a great " deal to be said for allowing ladies to "sit as county councillors. Their " admission to Poor Law and School " Boards has worked well on the whole, " and there is no obvious reason why "their admission to County Councils " should not work equally well." While dealing with the question of the disabilities of women, we may take the opportunity of referring to the position of the matter in New Zealand. The connection is merely for the sake of convenience, and does not imply that there is any necessity whatever for the New Zealand Parliament to regulate its proceedings on such subjects by the analogies of English legislation. Indeed, women are already eligible in this Colony for municipal office; the next point for decision is whether they should be admitted Jto the Parliamentary franchise. It is, perhaps, not generally remembered that the last House of Representatives conceded the principle by a large majority in a full House. In the session of 1887 Sir Julius Vogel, then Colonial Treasurer, introduced a Women's Suffrage Bill, which was
read a second time on May 12, after a long and very interesting discussion, by a vote of 41 against 22, sixteen other members being paired. lhe measure was not a Government oneindeed, Mr Lakxacii and Mr Tole voted against it; but it was supported by members differing widely in their political opinions, and among the "Aye,' may bo found the names of Messrs Ballancg, Bryce, Fulton, Hislop, Mitciiklsox, Montgomery, Pyke, Rolleston, AV. J. Steward, Sirß. STOUT.andTiuMBu:. It is noteworthy that Mr G. F. Richardson is the only member of the present Ministry who went into the lobby against the Bill, and that Sir Julius Vogel's supporters included most of those members supposed to be more or less conservative in their tendencies. We have reperused the arguments used by opponents of the measure, and cannot say we find them very convincing. They are fairly represented by Mr Lancr's warning that domestic discord would ensue, which might cause a man to " wring his wife's neck like a chicken's," and by Mr Perk's conviction that "if attractive ladies are 'allowed to come into this House I "am quite certain my own wife will " never consent to my returning "here." Of course, the Bill only proposed to confer the franchise, and its promoters did not anticipate any speedy granting of the privilege to sit in the House. Admission to the franchise by no means carries with it the necessity of subsequent admission to eligibility, which is an entirely separate matter. There is no weaker or more frequent argumentative device than to draw a ludicrous picture of socalled logical developments, which only have their existence in the illogical brain of the "eternal trifler." The assertion that by engaging in political interests women would lose their inherent delicacy and refinement was met in the debate by the fair argument that they would far more likely to imbue male politicians and political life itself with something of those rare qualities, while the charge of unsuitability and want of training •was shown to partake of the nature of the argument in a circle ; for, to use the words of Joseph Cowen (which Mr Fergus quoted), " the everlasting "habits we have imposed on woman "have impaired her powers, .and then <■ we cite to her detriment the weakness which our customs have " created." It is urged, again, that so large an addition of "impulsive" voters might lead to startling innovations in legislation ; but to this two answers may be made—first, the same fear has always been expressed at times of electoral reform, and has always proved groundless; it is the everlasting Tory bugbear, everlastingly doomed to prove quite harmless. Secondly, any changes brought about by woman's participation in political responsibility would almost certainly be in a right direction. Tt is utterly idle, n oreovcr, to suppose that women, when enfranchised, would set out by themselves and form "a female party"; indeed, there is far more force in the opposite objection, that they would be too amenable to the influence of their uiale relatives. Apart, however, from considerations founded more or less upon sentiment important though such considerations be—there is the argument of simple justice. The plain fact exists that, while we give a vote to the professional male mendicant, we deny any voice in political counsels to the woman who may possess an enormous amount of property in her own right. Mr Downie Stewart said in the debate of 1887: "On the broad principle "that there should be no taxation "without representation, I submit "that women have a right to "have a voice in the affairs of this "Colony." This position is really incontrovertible, and if it be argued that the injustice affects comparatively few, that is no reason why it should not be removed. It may, indeed, be deemed more prudent and feasible to first confer the franchise on women possessing the property qualification, thus removing the manifest injustice, and to wait awhile for the complete concession. But that the complete concession should and will come we entertain no doubt. As Sir Julius Vogel pointed out in his fine and pithy speech when introducing his measurc,our principle of representation really presupposes the concession :—" The iuno- " vation is one not of to-night, but of *'• many long nights back ; it is the " innovation that springs from basing "our representation on population, and "it is only the logical sequence of that " principle that the franchise should be " extended to women. Those honorable members who are prepared to '■ vote for representation on the population basis have no right to deny "that women, as human beings, are "entitled to their share of govern- " nient."
The Bill of 1887 foil through owing to the exigencies of the political situation, but we trust something will be done during the ensuing session. It is often said that New Zealand legislators are too fond of political experimenting; but there arc experiments and experiments. Of this one assuredly we need not be afraid.
DISABILITIES OF WOMEN., Issue 7938, 20 June 1889
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