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ment were carried and added to the Government Bill. Is it credible that the Prime Minister and his colleagues who opposed it-men whose loss no Liberal Cabinet could survive-should then quietly make themselves responsible for carrying this amendment through its further stages, and, if the Lords objected, be parties to using the Parliament Act to carry it into law? It is hard to believe that Mr. Asquith would do that. It is hard to believe that Sir Edward Grey would urge such a course upon his leader. It is hard to believe that the Liberal Government or the Liberal party could survive a transaction so cynically indifferent to the grave responsibilities of power.
In this matter, indeed, of the use of the Parliament Act to force a Woman Suffrage Bill through the present Parliament in face of the opposition of the Peers, Sir Edward Grey would probably be willing to acknowledge that a special responsibility attaches to him. No one has laid such stress as he has on the temporary and provisional nature of that Act. The Liberal party as a whole may not share his views upon that subject. But the whole Liberal party agreed to an Act under which only measures carried through the Commons in the early years of a new Parliament could be passed into law over the heads of the Peers, on the assumption that such measures would be fresh in the minds of the electors, and that the majority of members would have been returned with some kind of mandate to legislate upon them. Would it be a fair thing for this Government to give facilities under the Parliament Act to a measure of Female Suffrage which no one contends was in the minds of the electors who returned the present House of Commons? And could Sir Edward Grey justify the use of an Act which he regards as a temporary arrangement, to force through the Lords against their will a legislative change which would alter for all time the basis of political power in this country? Yet if any Bill or amendment for Female Suffrage passes this year, Ministers cannot escape the responsibility of deciding whether it shall have in three successive sessions the facilities needed to bring it within the scope of the Parliament Act.
The truth is that on this perplexing problem, where the political situation is so unusual and confusing, the Government has allowed itself to slip into an impossible position, and it is for its followers to help it out. At present circumstances point to a situation where, unless the House of Commons saves them, the Cabinet may be driven to break up or to resign. If they go, their majority goes with them; their whole programme and all their social schemes go too; and the double victory of 1910 will for most practical purposes be thrown away. The Conservative party can hardly be expected to refrain from using any opportunity to
weaken its opponents. It rests with the Suffragist Ministers to decide whether any obligation of duty compels them to sacrifice their earlier pledges in order to pass Woman Suffrage in the present year. But it rests even more with the Liberal majority in the Commons to deliver their leaders from a dilemma from which they can hardly extricate themselves.
There are three ways of dealing with the difficulty. One obvious way would be for the Government to postpone its proposals for extending the franchise to another session, when there may be time to discuss them, and to deal this year, as was originally intended, only with Plural Voting, and perhaps Registration Reform. A limited measure of this kind would be quite enough to occupy any time that hangs heavy on the hands of Parliament this year. The division in the Cabinet would then not only be deferred, it would be far less serious to the party. For there would be a much better prospect of passing their other great projects into law; and there would be no temptation to misuse the Parliament Act for a 'revolution '-that is Mr. Lloyd George's phrase -which has never been definitely put before the country. The Conciliation Bill would go forward and take its chances as a private Bill. We should be spared the spectacle of Ministers fighting over a Government measure in the House of Commons. Considering the overwhelming pressure of public business, no reasonable advocate of Woman Suffrage could complain if Ministers found themselves compelled to take this course, and I believe that it would be hailed with relief by the great majority of the Liberal party.
The second course, and the proper constitutional course on a question of this magnitude, is to do what Mr. Lloyd George suggested with unanswerable force in November 1907, to insist on consulting the country before any such proposal is carried into law. There are only two ways of doing this, a General Election or a Referendum, and if both would answer the purpose, few Englishmen, and certainly no Liberal, would hesitate between the two. But under present conditions there is no possibility of getting a General Election on this issue, and if we could we should be no nearer a result. A divided Government cannot appeal to the country on it. If a Liberal Government won the next Election, it would come back just as much divided upon Woman Suffrage. If it lost, it would only give place to opponents as disunited on this question as itself. The truth is that, unless parties are prepared to throw all other considerations to the winds, to rearrange themselves as Suffragists and Anti-Suffragists, and to fight upon that footing, no General Election on the subject is possible at all. Did any large body of men care enough for Woman Suffrage to break old ties and
to form fresh parties for the sake of it, as men did for Free Trade and for Home Rule, then a Government could be formed on that basis and a General Election would settle the result. But of that at present there is no prospect-the majority of men do not care for it enough; and in these circumstances one is forced to the conclusion that for a question like this, which cuts across existing parties and which yet is not strong enough to create new parties for its own purpose, our present constitutional machinery for ascertaining the wishes of the people fails.
But if a General Election will not help us, a Referendum might, could we get over the obvious objections to it. Few Liberals would accept it without hesitation. None would accept it were it not that in this unique situation the ordinary test of an Election leaves us where we were before. It involves applying to a single isolated question a new form of political test, which on the vast majority of questions men of all parties would reject. The Referendum, democratic as it undoubtedly is, will never be accepted as a normal part of our political system so long as we believe in representative government and in the rights and responsibilities of the House of Commons. But it still remains. a point worth consideration whether, on an issue unlike any other in English politics, because on it a General Election will not yield us the test which we desire, we ought not in fairness to take the only means available for ascertaining what the opinion of the nation is. Here there is no way of getting the views of the electorate except a Referendum, and it is a subject on which, before we legislate, we ought to be certain what the electors think.
The working of the Referendum, if it were resorted to, would not be so difficult as has been supposed. Clearly the House of Commons must first decide whether it is in favour of Woman Suffrage or not. If it decides against it, then, for this session at any rate, the question drops. But if it decides in its favour, then the practical question arises whether the vote of the Commons represents the electorate or not. The question of taking a poll of women does not arise. It would be very difficult to create machinery for that purpose. And a poll of women on the subject is the last thing that the Suffragists desire. What we want to know is whether the House of Commons on this point represents the electors who return it to power. The Referendum would take the place of a straight vote at a General Election, which on this issue it is almost impossible to get.
But if neither of these alternatives proves feasible-if the Government will not postpone its franchise legislation till a later year, and if the House of Commons will not consult the electors in a Referendum-then the only remaining way of avoiding a serious crisis for the Liberal party is for Liberal members to
vote against the Woman Suffrage amendment, on the ground, which Mr. Lloyd George suggested, that the electors have not yet discussed it enough. That is, after all, the simplest, the boldest, and the wisest course. It cannot be right for Liberals to sacrifice to this new, confusing issue the whole position and prospects of their party. They have other pledges not less sacred, other duties which unite and do not divide their ranks. Whatever the value of Woman Suffrage, the fate of humanity cannot depend on its passing or not passing through Parliament this year. The fate of Home Rule and of the Liberal Government probably does. It would be a catastrophe if this one issue were forced to the ruin of every other cause. It would be deplorable if no way could be found of retaining together in the service of the party men like Mr. Asquith and Mr. Lloyd George, Lord Loreburn and Lord Morley, Mr. Harcourt and Sir Edward Grey, to name only a few of the leading advocates on either side. We cannot spare one of them and there is no reason why we should. But we can hardly stand by and see them contending with each other on a Government measure of the first importance to the State, while the enemies of Liberalism openly rejoice, and the Suffragettes boast with justice of having broken up the Liberal party. To avoid such a spectacle and the discredit it entails, all that is needed is a little moderation on one of the most perplexing problems of the day, and the postponement of this unexpected legislation till the promises made to the constituencies have been accomplished and the essential work of this Parliament done.
C. E. MALLET.
The Editor of THE NINETEENTH CENTURY cannot undertake to return unaccepted MSS.
THUS a Miners' Federation leader is reported to have recently expressed himself in the words which head this article. The report may, or may not, be literally true. It has not, as yet, been publicly contradicted. But it is quite safe to say that this arrogant statement accurately represents the attitude and frame of mind of the Federation leaders, who, for years past, with an ability, perseverance, and foresight that his Majesty's present Ministers might well emulate, have been organising the powerful machinery of the wealthy industrial association they control for this very purpose of a general strike in order to attain their end. Speaking at Maesteg on Saturday, the 16th of March, Mr. Vernon Hartshorn is reported to have said: 'It is the duty and the intention of the Federation to see that whatever legislation was passed it should be of such a nature as to secure to the miners what they had always contended for a wage commensurate to the services rendered by them to the community. The one outstanding fact was that the workers (i.e. the miners) possessed
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