§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ COLONEL DAMPIER PALMER (Gravesend)
Mr. Speaker I believe the House of Commons never refuses to extend a full measure of indulgence to a new Member when he addresses it for the first time, and had I not felt that I might hope for such indulgence being extended to me I should hardly have had the courage to propose the Hill of which it is my duty to move the Second Heading to-day. Greatness is sometimes thrust upon Members who neither desire nor deserve it, and the position I occupy to-day is entirely owing to the good fortune I had in the Ballot of private Members. This old age pension question is no new thing, and this is not the first time on which the House has been called upon to deal with it. As long ago as the year 1770 a Bill, perhaps not of the same name as that now before the House, but, at any rate, having a similar object in view, was passed by this House, and went up to the House of Lords, where it was rejected. A similar Bill was introduced and passed in 1789. In 1796 Mr. Pitt proposed a Parochial Fund, and in 1817 a Committee of this House recommended that the Benefit Societies should be able to offer greater facilities for provision for old age. That is the position which the question has occupied up to recent times. In recent years it has very much come to the front, and it is an extraordinary fact that at the last General Election there was hardly a platform throughout the length and breadth of the country in which some alteration was not suggested and recommended by candidates for this House, no matter what Party they represented. 1318 It is peculiar to notice that since the General Election legislation, which was sympathised with and which was so much discussed upon public platforms, has been heard very little of. It may crop up now and then, principally at bye-elections, and it will inevitably be found on such occasions that the two candidates compete with one another in the sympathy which they express towards the persons who will be benefited by the passing of a Bill of this nature, and endeavour to obtain votes based upon the sympathy thus expressed. Well, Sir, if that be the case—and I do not think there is any question that it is the case—the country has a right to expect that something shall be done by Members when they get into this House to carry out the pledges they have made on the hustings with the object of obtaining a seat in it. It is the desire to carry out my pledges that animates mo to a great extent in my advocacy of the measure now before the House. There appears to me to have been a general consensus of opinion as to the disease which has to be remedied, but there is, unfortunately, not the same agreement in regard to the cure which should be applied to the disease. The position of the old age pension question reminds me of a patient who, stricken with a serious illness, calls in two eminent professional men, who prescribe differently, with the result that the patient is left very much where he was. I will first mention those points in relation to the matter on which there is general unanimity. There is general unanimity, I think, in the feeling that there should be some place for an aged member of the community who has done his duty in that state of life to which it has pleased God to call him—a place in which his career might have a more fitting termination than in the workhouse, which carries with it personal humiliation and political disqualification. There is also a general feeling that any scheme having for its object the removal of these disabilities should be one which tends towards thrift, and that we should not, by any measure which might be passed by this House, take away or minimise in any shape or form the self-reliance and thrifty habits of those people whom it is our desire to serve. So far we are all in complete agreement. I think we may go a little further, and say we are agreed 1319 that there are no agencies in existence at the present time which enable a poor man to provide for his declining years. I do not for a moment forget the Friendly Societies. I am perfectly well aware of the enormous amount of good they have done; but it is an extraordinary thing with regard to the Friendly Societies that the benefits they confer and the good they do are almost entirely limited to that period of a workman's life when he is in full possession of his energies, and that the money he subscribes is subscribed principally for the purpose of securing some provision in the case of the sickness or death either of himself or some member of his family. But that branch of the Friendly Societies Bill which suggests to a man that in his youth or early manhood he should set aside a sum of money for the purpose of making provision when he reaches the age of 65 years has only been taken up by the working classes to such a small extent that it may almost be left out of consideration. That is very much the position in which we find this question to-day. This is not the only country in which schemes of this description have been considered, and in some countries not only considered, but passed into law. They have been discussed in various countries on the Continent, but I will only mention the two cases in which the discussions I have alluded to have resulted in legislation. I refer first to Germany, which passed a law in 1889; but the provisions of the law, I think I may say, would not, be applicable to the circumstances of this Empire. The German law, quoting it roughly, is something to this effect—that the workmen should subscribe a certain amount from week to week of their weekly wages; that to that amount an equivalent should be added by the master, and that those two sums together should be supplemented by an addition from the State. The great objection to the scheme is that the provision made is altogether inadequate to sustain a man when he arrives at an age when he desires to avail himself of a pension. The pension is divided into four classes, and in these the payment varies from 2s. to 4s. 6d. a week, totally inadequate to maintain a man in any degree of comfort. There are other objections to this scheme. In Germany the collecting card passes from 1320 hand to hand, and upon it is marked the contributions that are made, so that such a card carries on the face of it the amount of work done, so that it implies a sort of character, and appears to me to be an inquisitorial system that would not be tolerated by the working classes of this country. Then one can hardly leave out of count, in taking into consideration the different state of affairs here and in one of the largo Continental countries of Europe, that upon the Continent there is a law which does not affect us here—namely, the law of conscription, that law which takes away from the early manhood of the men a considerable part of their time, and their duty to the State in that way, perhaps, renders it necessary for the Government of a country in which such a law exists to take such different methods to those which apply in this country where such a law does not exist. I then pass to Italy and Franco, but I will not detain the House with discussing the suggestions made in those countries, as at present no law had resulted from them. But in Denmark the position is somewhat different; and in speaking of the laws and regulations which exist in Denmark, I would, with the permission of the House, like to go a little more closely into them, because any Member who has read the Bill now before the House will be aware that in this Bill those who are responsible for it have to a certain extent altered and cut out certain portions which are not suitable to this country, but that in the main there is no doubt the provisions now in existence in Denmark are to a considerable extent incorporated in this Bill. In the Danish scheme, which varies altogether from that in force in Germany, we find these salient features. First of all, there is no contribution whatever from the recipients; that the funds that are necessary to carry out this scheme are provided in equal proportions by the State and the Poor Law Authorities. And here there is a difference in the suggestion we make. I am well aware of the great diversity of opinion that exists as to the method by which the requisite sum should be raised for dealing with this pension question and also, I believe, as to the amount. Whatever suggestion might be made undoubtedly there would be a host of objections to it. Then, again, in Denmark the age at 1321 which a pensioner becomes entitled to this pension is the age of 60 years. We have in our Bill fixed the period at 65 years, and we have fixed that period bearing in mind the recommendations of the Committee of this House, which suggested that as the right age. One fact in connection with this fixing of the limit of age will strike every hon. Member who has had any experience of the working classes, both in the country and the towns, and it is this—that undoubtedly the time when a man requires the use of the pension scheme comes earlier in life to the artizan who works in great cities and manufactories than to the man who works in the country as an agricultural labourer under most favourable conditions as to health. Though we appreciate the difficulty, we do not see our way to differentiate it; and, therefore, we have in our Bill adopted the age suggested by a Committee of this House. Then the regulation in the Danish Bill which to me, and those who think with me, commends itself most strongly is this—that in this Rill the sharpest possible distinction is drawn between the deserving and the undeserving. I, for one, think that is a very right and proper measure. I think it is most unfair and unjust that a man who has done his duty through a long life, not only to his family but to his country—it is unjust that in the evening of his life be should be treated in precisely the same way as the drunkard, the criminal, or the improvident; that the better fate should be reserved for him, and on that basis we have drawn a sharp distinction between the deserving and the undeserving. Then there is another point which I think is a right one in the Danish measure, and that is, that there is no taint of pauperism attached to the recipients of the pension. I think that is quite right, because pensions are not unknown in this country, for they are granted from the Lord Chancellor down to the postman, and I do not see why a humble member of the State who has done his duty should not be entitled to claim a pension. I do not think there ought to be the slightest stigma of pauperism attaching to the receipt of that pension, and I do not think there should be any legal or personal disqualification attached. Under the Danish law the funds are dis- 1322 tributed by the Poor Law Authorities; but in our Bill we expressly exclude the Poor Law Authorities from dealing with these pensions, and we do it for this reason—on the ground that the Poor Law Authorities are intensely unpopular, and it would be almost impossible for any pension scheme to escape that limit of pauperism to which we have such strong objections, if it were administered by the Poor Law Authorities. Well, Sir, those are the main features of the Danish Bill. I am quite aware that in regard to this Bill the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain)—who has done so much to bring this question to the front, and to whom on many of the points which I have mentioned I am bound to admit my indebtedness—in works of his has dealt with this question. I find that in an article of his in The National Review of February, 1892, be subjects it to a most scathing criticism. What he says is practically this—that the Danish law, as it stands, is a provision for outdoor relief in all cases over 60 years of age, the effect being to check thrift and provident provision, and to discourage it. I hope, however, that such alterations may be made as will enable the right hon. Gentleman to alter or modify that view. We believe that, so far from diminishing, this will encourage thrift and providence; we believe that, so far from doing injury to Friendly Societies, we shall render assistance to them, because there is one clause in the Bill which gives a claim to a, pension to a man who has made some provision for old age through the means of a Friendly Society, and if he has done this he will receive a larger share of the pension; therefore, I cannot help thinking that members of Friendly Societies may rely upon it that this Bill looks with favour on their Societies; and when the Slate offers to a man a pension if he has made provision for himself to some extent, it is an inducement to every working man to belong to one or oilier of the Friendly Societies in the country. I pass now to the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain). I will not detain the House by going into the details of that scheme, but it practically means this: Supposing a man of 25 years of age will save £5, and will deposit that in the 1323 Post Office Savings Bank, the State will add to that £15 more, and then, in consideration of the man paying £1 annually up to the age of 65, thereafter he shall be entitled to a pension of 5s. a week. Of course, suggestions have been made for a man's wife and children, or his successors, if he should die, sharing in the provision he has made. But these are methods that have been discussed on the public platforms and in the Press throughout the country, and I submit to this House that the country itself expects something more than the pious opinions that have been expressed. I believe the country not only expects, but has a right to demand, that we who have on public platforms discussed this question and expressed our sympathy with it, should not in the House of Commons sit down and wait for the next Election, but should make some practical effort to carry into law those changes which we have expressed ourselves so favourable to. I know there will be innumerable objections to this or any other Bill. Some hon. Gentlemen may say the Bill does not go far enough; but what I would say is that on this question, as on any other where there are such strong differences of opinion, it is necessary to walk first and run afterwards, and it is possible, if we can only set the legislative machine going, we may be able to amend it from time to time hereafter. Then there are those who regard pensions as another form of Poor Law relief. I do not think that that is so; but, at the same time, I recognise this—that even under the existing law of the land we have to keep a man who cannot keep himself after 65 years of age, or even before that age; therefore I do not think it any great strain to alter the law to this extent—that we pension every man who has subscribed to certain conditions, while we should not keep him in a state that does not make him submit himself to the personal disqualification and moral degradation of going into the poorhouse. Before resuming my seat I would express a hope that the Government would favourably consider this Bill. I am afraid they may consider it is impossible to consider a Bill of this description at the time the Royal Commission is sitting on this subject, but from my small experience of this House it appears to me 1324 that on many occasions the appointment of a Royal Commission did not mean that the subject is to be dealt with. In several instances the establishment of a Royal Commission is nothing more nor less than a dilatory Motion. I do hope the Government will permit this Bill to be read a second time, because I believe that the subject with which it deals is regarded with the gravest and deepest interest throughout the country, and I believe it would strengthen the hands of those members of the Royal Commission who are honestly desirous of forwarding legislation in this matter. I have only to say now, I feel deeply indebted to the House for the courtesy with which they have listened to me, and to recall at this moment a criticism I saw in the Press, which was to this effect: that a Bill such as this now before the House was an admirable Bill in itself, but that they wore of opinion, having read it through, that it was such a very admirable Bill, that it so thoroughly fulfilled the requirements which the country looked for that they had no doubt it would commend itself to the House and the country, notwithstanding the indifference with which it was supported. I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Colonel Dampier Palmer.)
§ * MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said, he had taken great interest in this subject, and especially the Bill his hon. Friend had so ably brought before the consideration of the House. The hon. Member was to be congratulated upon his speech, which was one that all sides of the House would consider to have been interesting in itself, and to have brought this matter fairly before this Assembly. He had been interested in this Bill for many years. He had had the honour of introducing it several times, and he advocated the scheme on which the Bill was framed so long ago as 1871 in a Paper that he read before the Society of Arts called Pensions for Old Age as a National Question. This Bill and the Bill lower on the Paper, entitled "Outdoor Provident Relief," formed the basis of the Paper he read, and the principles involved in that paper were really the basis on which 1325 this Bill was framed. His hon. Friend had referred to the Royal Commission. It was true that if they could accomplish all that they could wish they would have been ready to postpone this discussion; but the lucky accident of the Ballot was not to be despised. He had for several years been ballotting to get a place for this Bill, and he might have had to go on ballotting for many years more but for the good fortune of his hon. Friend. The present Poor Law, they might, fairly say, was based on the fear of punishment. The old Poor Law said that if people were not careful, were not provident, if they did not provide for themselves, the law would come in and provide for them, but that it would do that in the most miserable manner possible in order to discourage them from requiring the services of the Poor Law. In 1832, when the Poor Law was first established, there was a deal to be said from that standpoint, for they must remember that previous to the new Poor Law some 90 per cent. of the agricultural population were on the Poor Law, and it, was necessary to take drastic measures for an alteration. Now, owing to wiser and kinder administration, that state of things had been altered, and the number had been reduced to 5 per cent. of the population. It seemed to him that by a system of rewards they might reduce this 5 per cent., that they might introduce a, system of encouragement to the thrifty, and that was really the basis on which this Pill was founded. As his hon. Friend had said, there were two main principles that underlay the whole of this Bill. First, there was the idea of providing a brighter old age for the deserving poor, that they should have a brighter old age than was the case at, present. The second principle was quite as essential as the first—namely, that they should provide this brighter old age in such a way as to encourage, bring out, foster, and stimulate habits of thrift and self-reliance, and, in short, to produce those habits of self-reliance and thrift which were so essential to the prosperity of any nation. Taking those two main ideas, he wished to refer to each in a few words. As regarded the first, supplying a brighter old age to the deserving poor, his hon. Friend had referred to that in a very touching and effective manner. They 1326 all agreed that the old age of a man or woman who had worked well all his life should not, end with the workhouse, that somehow or other they should be provided for, and their old age made brighter and happier than was now the case; that a person who had laboured throughout life should be secured against, want. His hon. Friend had stated truly that at the present time the State provided for old age, and even for the youth of men and women, for the indolent, lazy, and vicious. They provided for those; they did not allow the Mosaic law—that a man who would not work should not eat,—to be carried out; even for the lazy who would not work they found food and clothing. The old who had been known to be vicious, thriftless, and even criminal in life were kept, in old age; and it was, therefore, still more reasonable that the thrifty and the careful, who had worked hard all their lives, and added to the wealth of the country, should be kept in some degree of comfort at the public cost when they were too old longer to work. Put the sting of their assistance was that they did not discriminate between the persons—they were all provided for alike in a way which, to the improvident and careless, was not a had sort of arrangement,—to the idle and lazy might even be pleasant, but to those who had really worked and done their best, to end their days in the workhouse was miserable in the extreme; and the more miserable and degrading it was to them, the more worthy they had been throughout their lives. All would agree that was a sad ending to a, useful though, it might be, a humble life. The question they had to answer was whether they could not find some plan by which, inasmuch as they did provide for old age at the present time, they might provide for the aged in such a way that the deserving and the careful should have an eventide of life brighter and more worthy of a useful life, and at the same time provided on such a system that the system should throughout the whole of life tend to raise and elevate and bring out the best instincts and habits of the people. This Bill attempted to do that, and, from a study of the question, he considered the Pill to be framed on lines which would have that result. The Bill first of all laid down who were 1327 to be provided for. It stated that these persons should be 65 years of age and upwards. Of course, whether they were 65, or older or younger was entirely a matter of detail. It provided that they should be worn out, or past the age at which they were able to earn wages. It further recited that those persons who had been criminals within a certain number of years, or who had been convicted of drunkenness, should not come within the purview of the Bill. Whether the number of years named was too long or too short was again a matter of detail, but what he did want was that the principle should be maintained that, practically speaking, only the deserving poor, in the strict sense, should be included in the Bill. The persons to be encouraged were not those who had spent criminal, drunken, or vicious lives, but those who had, by a heroic struggle, maintained a higher standard of living. Therefore the Bill laid down that the deserving at the age of 65, who had not been able to provide sufficient to keep themselves in reasonable comfort in their old age, should be provided with a, pension varying in amount on one condition. That one condition was the pivot of the whole Bill, and it was that the persons should have made an effort to do something, however small, for themselves. It recognised that though they might not have provided enough, still they had done something, and the more they had individually done for themselves the more the State would do for them to enable them to make their old age bright and happy. Therefore, the essential condition of the Bill was that there should be, on the part of the individual who received the benefit, some clear and tangible evidence that he or she had made an effort throughout life to deserve the advantages which this Bill offered. There were three ways in which this one condition of self-effort should be shown. All the other matters might be modified in detail, but it was a primary condition of the Bill that this principle of self-effort must be maintained. The first class of persons who would derive the benefits of the Bill were those who had never received any Poor Law relief at all during their life. If a person be recognised to be a deserving person, and could prove at the age of 65 that he had received no Poor Law relief, 1328 he was to receive the largest pension—namely, 7s. a week. Secondly, there might be those who had at various times received relief, but who still had done something for themselves. They might have joined a Friendly Society, put money into various Benefit Societies, or saved money and purchased small annuities, and so on, and those who at 65 could prove that they had done this would receive 3s. 6d. a week plus a sum, not exceeding 1s. 9d., which would be equal to the amount they had saved themselves. Thus a person who had saved 1s. a week by his own exertions would receive 3s. 6d. a week plus 1s., which, added to his own 1s., would make 5s. 6d. a week. If he had saved 1s. 6d. a week he would have that amount additional, and if he had saved 1s. 9d. he would receive 1s. 9d., which was the maximum. He would thus receive 5s. 3d. as pension which, together with the 1s. 9d., would give him 7s. per week, therefore the more he had managed to put by the more he would be given under this system, provided he was not able to keep himself in comfort in his old age. The decision as to whether he was sufficiently well off to provide for himself was left to the Local Authority, who would investigate the different cases. In order to cover exceptional cases which might exist—namely, those in which persons through various causes over which they had no control had been unable to make provision for their old age, it was provided that they should have a pension on reaching the age of 65 if the Local Authority, on an investigation of the cases, found there were special reasons for allowing a pension. Let him show the different effects this measure would have over some of the very crude proposals which had been made with regard to pensions. Some had advocated that everybody arriving at a particular age should have a pension. There could be no scheme more fatal to the interests of the public than that. If everybody on reaching a certain age was to get a pension they would take away all inducement to be thrifty, would encourage in every possible way extravagance, and do away with those principles on which alone people could help themselves—namely, encouraging the gradual means of extending their own independence. If every poor deserving person in this 1329 country on arriving at 60 was to get a pension of 7s. a week because throughout the whole of his working life he had never received any relief, surely it must be obvious to the House and to everybody else what an immense difference that would make in the whole system of out relief. What an incalculable benefit it would be to the poor themselves! What a totally different spirit it would infuse throughout the life of these poor people! They would go through life never knowing any Poor Law relief, and at 60 they would come to the community and ask for a pension because they had during their lives saved themselves from any relief by the Poor Law. The same remark applied to those who asked for the smaller pension of 5s. 3d. because they had been able to save by their own exertions the sum of 1s. 9d. The difference would be immense. They would come at 60 claiming that they had done something for themselves, and the effect on their working life would be totally different to what it was at present, and the whole system of relief and the living and habits of the people would be immensely changed. But there was more than this. If this spirit was instilled the very fact that people had got into the habit of living without the aid of the Poor Law relief, and of providing for themselves, and the non-receipt of relief being required as a qualification for a pension, would ensure such habits and qualities throughout life as to enable them to dispense with a pension in main cases, whilst it might be hoped that some day the great bulk of the people would be able to provide for themselves. He had seen may cases in which people beginning to save by very small sums had achieved results not thought possible. Our present system of giving relief tended rather to thrift lessness than to the encouragement of thrift. The system he advocated would rend altogether in the other direction to that of our Poor Law. Whilst the Poor Law system gave little, if any, encouragement to thrift and self-effort it absolutely encouraged the reverse. A labourer on 15s. a week, who had always kept himself and family, was treated just the same as the man who had had 20s. or 40s. a week, and who had been of drunken and improvident habits, and had not provided for himself or family even when in the 1330 receipt of his full wages. Why should the labourer, therefore, make an effort to provide for the future, knowing as he did that when old age came upon him he would be treated exactly the same as others, whether he were careful or not? He knew as well as they that he could save very little. Yet the only chance of the people really progressing was that they should make an effort to do something. However little this was it was of essential importance if they were to promote their own happiness in the future. The only way in which a nation could be really prosperous was by all classes making an effort to provide for themselves, and a nation's prosperity and strength were largely measured by the way in which the smaller and poorer persons had made this provision. If from sentimental motives, from political cowardice, or worse, they ignored this principle of self-reliance, including that for old ago, they destroyed the very fibre upon which society must exist. The principle of this Pill was to develop and make it obviously in the interest of the humblest to try and do something for himself. It promoted thrift and self-reliance by natural means of self-interest, and although be should say a few words in a moment on the cost of the scheme, and show it would be absolutely more economical than our present system, yet he might here state that the more money that was paid under this Pill the greater would be the evidence of prosperity at the bottom of the social ladder, whereas under our Present Poor Law the greater the cost the greater the misery. There were some details of importance in the Bill which, however, he would only just touch on. In the first place, it was proposed that this Bill should not be worked by the Poor Law Authorities in the districts. They did not at all want to introduce the. Poor Law in dealing with the cases of deserving people who had worked well all their lives. In the second place, the pension was not to disfranchise; and, in the third place, the whole amount required was to come from special rates levied in the district. Some people thought that these funds should be provided out of the Imperial expenditure, but these pensions would be much more local than Imperial, and should, in his opinion, be provided for by means of rates, but this 1331 was, of course, a matter of detail. Another very important point was that the scheme did not involve a system of bookkeeping throughout the life for each of the 33,000,000 persons in the country. Those who had had no practical knowledge of the working of such schemes could have no idea what the book keeping of millions of accounts meant. It was his good fortune to be connected with a small institution with only 100,000 accounts, and his experience there showed him that if they were to have accounts and bookkeeping for 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 of people making periodical payments for old age the machinery would be so enormous as to break down the whole scheme. The Bill proposed to allow the people to manage in their own way until they were 65, and then when they were 65 the Local Authority looked into the facts and ascertained whether the cases were those in which pensions should be granted. The question of cost was an important matter, and the absolute cost of this system would diminish in proportion as it was taken up. If it were largely adopted the cost would be less than if it were only partially taken up. Roughly speaking, there were about 1,300,000 persons of 65 years and upwards in England and Wales. He did not exclude Ireland and Scotland from this scheme, but simply gave the numbers for England and Wales because they had the statistics at hand. Of these 1,300,000 there were about 245,000 now over 65, who were in receipt of Poor Law relief at a cost of £2,500,000. They knew perfectly well that by a more careful administration of relief these numbers had been greatly reduced in certain places, and he believed if they would carefully administer relief as they proposed to do by this Bill, the tendency would be largely to reduce the number who would need pensions. For argument's sake he would suppose that the whole of the 245,000 over 65 and upwards who now received relief received pensions. He would take the three classes. Suppose they all received the highest pension the Bill gave them—namely, 7s. a week, because none of them had ever received relief during their life-time, the result of that would be that they would receive about £4,500,000. From that, however, would have to be deducted the £2,500,000 which they now 1332 received, leaving a net expenditure of £2,000,000. But they must remember, if they supposed that all persons over 65 years of age who now received relief sought to obtain a pension in the future because they had never received outdoor relief, they might take it as a corollary on that that during the whole period of their lives all the others who died before 65 would never have received relief also. The broad fact that they had built up a system which led to the result that all persons who arrived at the ago of 65 had not received relief during life would be a fair indication that all others would practically be in the same position; therefore taking the whole cost of this proposal at the highest rate they would really and truly have a reduction of expenditure, because the whole cost of relief at the present time was £8,500,000, so that even if this scheme only promoted pensions for those who now received relief after 65, and they were to double the number, the cost to the community would be practically the same as it was at present for Poor Law relief, with this difference: that the whole working class of the community would have given up all sorts of relief, and at 65 would receive a pension. That was, of course, the extreme and ultimate point. He did not say it would be reached, but he was taking the maximum cost to show how the Bill would work if everybody took the highest pension. If all took the second pension the cost would be even less, and there would be a considerable reduction in Poor Law relief, which was an important consideration. If they were to carry the Bill at once the immediate effect would be to produce some increase, because there were many persons in the workhouses now who were deserving of pensions. But the ultimate result of the measure would be that the larger the number of persons who adopted the bigger pensions the better it would be for the community, because the smaller would have been the expenditure throughout their lives upon the relief, which they all wished to see reduced. If the scheme were adopted the ultimate result would be rather a saving than a loss to the community in the rates, and although he was very keenly interested in reducing rates, he said that the rates were of no importance whatever in comparison with the main principle of the Bill, which was to do 1333 something to foster habits of thrift and care among the people, and thus reduce poverty to a minimum in this country. He should like to say a word or two as to the objections raised against the scheme. First, there was the objection that there would be trouble and difficulty in tracing the history and antecedents of each applicant for a pension at the age of 6.5. He granted that there would be some difficulty, but that difficulty was essential to any scheme of sound aid. The essence of relief of the people must be based upon careful investigation, and although in this case some difficulty must arise, still they must remember that at the age of 65 it would be done with once and for all, and, again, the investigation was not so serious as some might think. There wore, roughly speaking, 100,000 persons who arrived at the age of 65 every year in this country, and about one-fifth of these went on the Poor Law. There would be 20,000 cases to investigate, but there were about 15,000 parishes, so that it would only be a little more than one case in each parish. No doubt there would be more cases in some parishes than in others. The second objection was that the poor could not do anything for their old age, and that to ask them, particularly by those who were better off, was a mockery. It was very easy, no doubt, to be popular and say these sort of things in these times, but the fact remained, whether trimming politicians liked it or not, that the people could and must do something for themselves, and it was kinder and more patriotic to ask them to do something than to say everything was to be done for them. Conceal it as they might, whatever was done for the people ultimately cost them far more than they received, in some way or other, such as by increased rates, reduction of wages, and employment, and other things so that actually they did ultimately pay more than they received from any system of relief. The people could do something for themselves: they were willing to do something, and the greater facilities they gave them the more readily they would avail themselves of these advantages. He had seen many instances of what self-effort in pence might do, for the poorest accounts beginning with pence became many pounds. Could anybody say that one bowl of tobacco a 1334 day, or one glass of beer, or one ounce of tea a week might not be spared by even the very poorest? And to sacrifice so little of any one of these articles he had mentioned, from the age of 20 to 65, would enable people to obtain the largest-pension referred to in this Hill. They must, in considering this question, look at what the people had done for themselves. Look at the old Trustees Savings Batiks with their £10,000,000; the Post Office Savings Bank with £80,000,000 or £90,000,000; the Co-operative, Building, and Friendly Societies, numbering hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of members, a, total capita] altogether of £200,000,000 or £300,000,000 sterling. A few years ago it would have been said it was impossible for the people to do these things, but they had done them, and were prepared to do more if facilities were given them. In his judgment, persons who had helped to found those institutions for thrift had done more good than many of those who promised to give old age pensions to everybody, whatever their qualifications. Parliament was bound to foster those habits of thrift which the people of this country had developed to so large an extent; for themselves and which were so essential to their welfare. His hon. and gallant Friend talked of the malady of old age. It was really a malady, and should be treated like a, broken leg. A man with a broken leg was not able to walk; and the only way in which the broken leg could be mended was by carefully bandaging it round at first and allowing its strength to return by degrees, and by their encouraging it to make a gradual effort itself to walk. It could not be disputed that there was something wrong about our present system of old age relief, because it ought to be impossible for any man who had spent a long life honourably to be compelled to seek relief in his old age in the workhouse. It was the broken log in our social system. We must give it support in such a way that the support could be reduced, so that ultimately by the person's own efforts the leg would be restored as strong as before. No doubt the aim of every person ought to be to provide for their old age. That was the object which our legislation should have in view. But there was a great deal in our social system which could not be 1335 mended by any plan. It would take generations before the existing blot as to old age upon our social institutions could be wiped out by any scheme that could be devised, but the cure was certain in time, if only the scheme was based on the right principle. He apologised to the House for having occupied so much of their time upon that occasion, but he had devoted many years of his life to the consideration of this very difficult subject, and be hoped that that would be his excuse for having spoken at such great length. It ought to be the duty of that House to inculcate upon the people of this country the necessity for preserving their own self-respect, their self-reliance, and their independence, and all legislation in regard to old age pensions should proceed on that basis.
§ * MR. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
said, he had to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member opposite on the temperate and admirable speech with which he introduced his Bill. The hon. and gallant Member had rightly told the House that this subject was not only great in the numbers it affected, great in the consequences that would follow in its train, but great also in the interest that it excited. The movement of public opinion in the direction of providing some better system of dealing with the relief of old age was one of the most remarkable—one of the most hopeful movements of their time. He took it that the expression of that feeling was one fruit of the great enfranchisement of the people which had taken place during recent years. The poor people had long felt, just as they felt to-day, the inadequacy and the cruelty of the present system of dealing with old age and poverty; while they were unenfranchised they had not the voice, but now that they had got votes they had found their voice and used it. At the last General Election there were few platforms on which this subject was not discussed, and he knew that in the part of the country from which he came there was not a single county address, so far as he saw, which did not contain some allusion to the subject, and a promise—he believed a thoroughly honest and genuine promise on the part of the can- 1336 didate—to give his attention, if he arrived at the House, to some well-considered scheme of dealing with this great question. It was a great question as regarded the number that it affected. He imagined that the question could not be looked at from the point of view of one part of the United Kingdom only, and if they dealt with those who were 65 in the whole of the United Kingdom they came to the number that was, he believed, in round figures about 2,000,000 of old men and old women. Of those, now some 30 or 40 per cent. were compelled to obtain Poor Law relief in some form before they died, and a very large number indeed were in great stress just on the other side of the border, which actually compelled application for relief. Of the people who were under 65, only, he believed, something like 4 per cent. came on the public rates for relief, while over that age it was between 30 or 40 per cent.—a very striking and remarkable difference—and when they remembered that of those who reached the age of 25 the half would attain the age of 65, they saw how large a proportion of the existing population had an interest in what should be done in dealing with this question. The condition under which the great multitude of people lived, they must admit, was one of hard struggle, hard to most of them during the days of their manly or womanly vigour—and a very large number, in spite of their best efforts, were able to do but very little towards providing for old age, and to those who did make an effort in this direction, misfortune, sickness, and calamities of one kind or another, such as the failure of the Liberator Society, for instance, came and swept away the provision which, through the self-denying efforts of long years, they had made. Nothing was more pathetic in village life than the position of old men and women who had subscribed to various small Societies for many years, and who found when misfortune and sickness came upon them that those Societies were bankrupt. The system of pensions was not unknown in this country. It had long been a custom to pension their fighting men and the men who drove the pen in the Civil Service, but for his part it appeared to him that the men of the plough, of the hammer, and of the loom, had an equally large claim upon the nation as the men—neces- 1337 sary, he admitted—who wielded the sword and drove the pen—and when they thought that it was the men of industry who contributed the incomes of these people, and afterwards their pensions, it did seem to him very unreasonable that as a nation they should pension their servants while they (the masters) should be left without any pensions for themselves. To treat servants liberally and well was an honour to any master, whether private or public, but to treat their servants better than themselves was not taught, so far as be knew, by any law, human or divine, and there was nothing in sense or reason to justify such conduct. He knew there was a strong feeling among the poor people when they saw the pensions that were paid to the thousands and tens of thousands who were employed in the Public Service, and when in many cases these pensions went to men who had had very large incomes indeed, it was very hard lines that those who had found this money to pay these salaries and pensions should have no better provision than the workhouse at last. It did appear to him that in attempting, in some way, wisely and prudently to deal with provision for old age, they were doing that which had everything to justify and to authorise it. There were three ways of dealing with this question. The one waste deal with it by purely voluntary means; the second was to deal with it, as the Bill before them proposed, by State-aided Organisations; and the third was to deal with it entirely on national lines. The first two schemes, it appeared to him, had this against them—that they would always have outside of any voluntary agency a large number of people left unprovided for. If they helped a great many, which in every respect was certainly better than helping none, they would not anything like cover the whole ground. And then there was the difficulty of existing old age, which none of the voluntary schemes that, he had seen were able to grapple with. He considered that on those grounds the scheme which was most deserving of their support, which had most to recommend it, was the scheme of a National Provident Society—that was to say, that the nation itself should be the area, and the agency by which provision should be made for the old age of all. He would 1338 point out what appeared to him to be the overwhelming advantages of a system such as that. The basis of it would be that out of the Treasury, into which everybody paid, everybody should be entitled to receive, when he or she reached the age of, say, 65. They knew that at present every person in this country, from the time he or she was 15 to the time he or she was 65—that was, half a, century—was paying taxes. Our taxes were so laid that they caught everybody. What we drank or what we smoked returned something like half of the whole taxation of the country, and if we had been paying for 50 years into this Treasury, then it was certainly not an unreasonable thing that a, certain proportion of what went into the Treasury should be, so to speak, "ear-marked" for our benefit, when we reached a time of life when we must ease off our work and call upon some outside assistance to give us help. The obvious advantage of a national system was that it would cover everybody—it would not leave a single man or woman in the nation unprovided with assistance. Again, they would be perfectly sure they would be insuring in a fund which could not fail, as alas so many insurance funds did fail people at the present time. It would also be perfectly simple, and the blessings would be immediate. Directly the House passed a measure of this kind, every old man and every old woman would be entitled to receive the blessings of the funds, and in every village and hamlet, in every street of every town and city, the heart of the widow would sing for joy, and the old man would feel a burden of fear lifted off his shoulders that would gladden his heart as no act of this Legislature had ever gladdened it in times past. Then the scheme would be perfectly fair, because everybody would pay. By such a scheme as be was advocating and defending the rich, too, would pay more than the poor. Our taxes were laid for that purpose. And there was no way in which the poor could be enabled to share in the benefits of the rich in a more equitable manner than this, and since in this country riches grew faster than the population it did seem a reasonable thing that out of the increasing riches provision should be made for those with whom the battle of life had gone more 1339 hardly than with their more fortunate brethren. It would also introduce a kind of Christian brotherhood amongst us. It would recognise that we were children of one Father, citizens of one nation, that we owed something to one another, and that the strong should help the weak. We had recently extended our national care to education. We had taken child-life in hand, and had made provision for the free education of all children. Well, the next natural step was to go to the other end of life, and by a national provision to help the aged. Of course he was perfectly conscious that the scheme he was advocating was one which entailed enormous cost. If there were 2,000,000 of the population at the age of 65, and if 4s. a week were provided for them, that would entail an amount of something like £20,000,000 every year. Let not that, however, frighten them. It would be admitted that it would be a good thing if everybody in this country were insured against old age. But the people would have to pay for that insurance, and it would not cost one farthing more to have this money straight out of the Treasury than it would to pay it out of the exchequers of Friendly Societies. Besides, the national administration would be very much more economical than any other administration. Under their complete apparatus for local government they would have agencies all over the country which, he was sure, would be glad, by voluntary unpaid arrangements, to provide for the paving out of this national pension to those entitled to it in their respective districts. They would have an administration practically without cost, and he believed—in fact, he was sure—that the taxpayers of England were perfectly willing to pay the extra taxes to carry out this great privilege and boon. He believed also that, instead of discouraging, it would encourage thrift. Under the existing system the thrifty man had to pay for the thriftless; but under his proposal both classes would benefit equally, and he believed it would encourage thrift, because people would feel that they would have comfortable provision in their closing days in proportion as they were able to supplement by their own savings the amount granted them by the State. A national scheme would have a patriotic influence, too, because it would tend to 1340 make people value the privileges of their citizenship. To the great bulk of the people the law was an instrument for taxing and restraining them, and the benefits they received were not very manifest. But if they had a direct interest in the taxes they paid they would have much more reason to appreciate the benefits of being British citizens than they had at the present time. Without being pauperised they would, under his proposal, be enabled to spend the closing years of life in comparative ease and comfort. He would suggest that there were several sources of income that might be laid under contribution to help this fund and ease the taxes. There was, of course, obviously the large cost—probably some £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 sterling—of the present Poor Law system aiding the aged that would be saved. Then the existing almshouses might be incorporated and made part of a national system, and also the present pension funds of some millions—for it certainly seemed to him that if they went in for national pensions they should treat all pensioners upon the same scale, and they should pay salaries for current work in proportion to its deserts, and that as regarded pensions all citizens should stand upon the same equal footing. Then, besides, there was an amount of several millions a year which was received under the name of tithes, and which everybody expected would at no very distant date be diverted from its present use, and to what better use in these modern and changed times could a great deal of that money be put than to the assistance of making happy and more comfortable the latter days of the veterans of industry? He firmly believed that, some day, and that no distant day, as this subject was thoroughly discussed in the nation, the nation would desire its Representatives to carry into effect some such national system of universal public insurance as he had sketched to the House.
§ * MR. DODD (Essex, Maldon)
said, they had all, he was sure, listened with great pleasure to the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division of Suffolk, but whilst listening to him they had, he thought, almost forgotten that the matter they had to consider was the particular Bill before the House. There had been, as the House 1341 well knew, a great variety of schemes submitted to the public dealing with old age pensions. They differed in almost all their details, and gave rise to many difficulties and contentions. The ballot box on this occasion had, he thought, played them rather an ill-turn in bringing this measure forward on this particular day under the circumstances of the present time, because, as the House was aware, a Royal Commission had been sitting for some time considering the question of old age provident pensions. That Commission had been taking evidence with regard not merely to the scheme embodied in the Bill, but with regard to the various schemes proposed by numerous gentlemen. Coming forward at this particular moment the Bill was subject to the difficulty that they had not now before them the other schemes so as to enable the House to compare them with that embodied in the Bill. He thought it would have been fortunate if they had had to-day to deal not with a particular Bill, but with a Motion in support of a general principle of pensions for old age. He was glad to think that in the House there was no difference amongst them as to the principle of old age pensions. No hon. Gentleman who had spoken had said a word against the general principle of old age pensions, and he thought the subject might be said now to have entered upon a new phase. He thought it might be said that the House of Commons was prepared to accept and did accept the principle of old age pensions. He took it that what was meant by "the principle of old age pensions" was that where citizens of this country had arrived at a time of life when they were unable any longer by their work to support themselves, it was the duty of the State towards those citizens, if they had conducted themselves throughout a long life respectably, to provide for them something which was at any rate sufficient to maintain life and keep body and soul together and prevent them being obliged to have recourse to the provision of the Poor Law. Though he did not altogether agree with the hon. Member for Islington that the Poor Law was universally unpopular, yet he was aware that some obloquy did in some districts attach to the Poor Law, and what he understood was meant was that the people 1342 who lived under conditions that gave rise to pensions were to have the pensions paid irrespective of the Poor Law—through the Post Office, or in some other way. As they were all agreed on the principle of old age pensions, he need not detain the House by making observations in regard to that. He would turn to the scheme embodied in the particular Bill before the House. He as an unfortunate ratepayer naturally turned, first of all, to the section of the Bill which provided the mode in which the funds were to be raised. There was considerable discrepancy in the estimates made by the hon. Members who had spoken as to the amount that would be required to carry out a scheme of old age pensions. The hon. Member for the Woodbridge Division had talked in a somewhat airy way of £20,000,000 being required. The hon. Member for South Islington was more moderate, £4,000,000 being the amount of his estimate.
§ * MR. EVERETT
said, the scheme he had propounded would establish a national system, under which every person in the nation over 65' years of age would be entitled to a pension.
§ * MR. DODD
said, he was glad to hear that the £20,000,000 had no relation to the particular Bill, the subject before the House. It was probably not worth while going into arithmetical problems when the figures were so much in the air. There was as yet no agreement as to the method! of providing such pensions. In the Bill before them it was proposed that the rates should be increased for the purpose. As the Representative of an agricultural constituency he was bound to protest against this proposal, for agriculture was not in a position to bear any additional rate. He thought it would be found that every person connected with agriculture would say that if there was an interest in the country entitled to be saved from an increase of the present rates it was the agricultural industry. He was not one of those who looked for a moment to protection. All he asked for agriculture was that it should pay its fair share of expense. He did not ask for more than that, and to put this new burden upon the farmer and the occupier of land would be to bring them nearer to bankruptcy. The mode in which it was suggested that the money should be provided made this Bill impossible of 1343 acceptance. He did not, however, say that because this scheme was impossible, therefore, all schemes were impossible. All he did venture to say was that this particular Bill was not the most satisfactory scheme that could be proposed. It was not in itself a satisfactory Bill. No doubt it was difficult to say what should be clone with the Bill under the circumstances. It might be said that if the Bill were read a second time there would be ways and means found of removing some of the difficulties and deficiencies of the Bill. There were other points, besides the mode adopted of raising the money by increased rates, on which he objected to the Bill as drawn. For instance, in the distinction made so sharply between deserving and undeserving; and though he would not say some discrimination should not be shown, be would like to see the line not quite so sharply drawn as it was in the Bill. Certainly, if read a second time, it would have to be amended in that respect. None of us were, perhaps, very deserving—even the best—and the very worst were not always altogether undeserving. Coming to the practical point of what was to be done with the Bill at present, first of all, it needed to be amended in regard to the strong line drawn between the deserving and undeserving, and, secondly, it needed to be amended also so as not to interfere with the Foresters, Odd Fellows, Hearts of Oak, Ancient Buffaloes, and various other Orders of Friendly Societies. He would like to see the Bill adjourned until the Royal Commission had reported on the various schemes before it, and then brought forward in competition with other Bills. It was always ungracious to appear to stand in the way of anything good, and he regretted very much to appear to be putting difficulties in the way of any scheme for old age pensions. He hoped the discussion might prove of use. The House was evidently of opinion that old-age pensions should be provided by the State under some scheme carried out under reasonable conditions, and with that he agreed, but this Bill seemed to him so unsatisfactory that he would be unable to vote for the Second Heading.
§ CAPTAIN NAYLOR-LEYLAND (Colchester)
agreed that it would be very much better to postpone this and all other 1344 Bills dealing with the question until the Royal Commission had reported, and he had a certain amount of interest in the matter, as he happened to be pilot of one of the Bills before the House, differing very much, however, from the one before it. He had listened with great interest to the speeches delivered in order to learn the reasons for this proposal being made. With regard to the question of cost, the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading had not stated what the maximum cost of such a scheme would be. On that subject the various authorities widely disagreed; but there was no doubt, assuming that all the benefits promised by the Bill in relief of pauperism were to be conferred, the capitalised value of the sum of money that would have to be expended every year under such a scheme would be over £500,000,000 sterling. For England and Wales, taking the average expenditure at 5s. each person all over the country, the maximum cost of the Bill would be £16,900,000 a year, from which must be deducted £2,500,000 now expended in relief to aged poor over 65. The proposal before them, therefore, was to increase the burdens of the country by that sum, which he submitted was rather a large proposal for a Wednesday afternoon. The Mover and Seconder of the Second Reading of the Bill spoke of the stigma attaching to pensions coming from the Poor Law Authority. No doubt such a stigma did attach in the minds of some people to those who received Poor Law relief; but be thought the House ought to be informed what authority was to be substituted for the Poor Law Authority for the purpose of making the necessary investigations in the 18,000 parishes throughout the country. If a separate and special authority was to be sot up, the expense of administration would at once be enormously added to, probably to the extent of £200,000 a year. There were certain conditions which ought to be contained in any old age pension scheme. In the first place, it was laid down by a Committee some years ago, over which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham presided, that in any scheme the pension should begin to be paid at the age of 65. That was the most important point, for by every year that the age was reduced the cost would 1345 be enormously added to. This Bill, he observed, did lay down that proposition. Again, no scheme should, either directly or indirectly, in any sense go back upon the principles laid down in the reformed Poor Law of 1834. It was well-known to hon. Members what was the object of that reform. It was, briefly, to reduce the enormous amount of outdoor relief, and only to give that form of relief in very special circumstances. But if they gave people pensions, the recipients would be in receipt of outdoor relief, whatever the House might choose to call it. He therefore laid down the principle that in no sense must they do anything to increase the area over which outdoor relief was now distributed. This Bill proposed to give pensions ranging from 3s. to 7s. to people who had never contributed towards those pensions, and therefore, the people who would have to pay the pensions would be largely the industrial classes. Those who would really have to pay pensions to these would be the classes just above them, and really the poorest classes in the country would provide this tax quite as much as the classes above them. Thus the aim of the Bill was in direct contradiction to the principle laid down by the Committees to which he had referred. Another general proposition laid down by the voluntary committee he had referred to was that no scheme of tin's description ought to run counter to the great Friendly Societies of the country. According to the terms of the Bill, its author was going to give pensions to 300,000 people at the very least, without asking them to pay for the pensions. At this very moment the Friendly Societies were dealing with this question, and the two great Societies—the Foresters and the Oddfellows—had lately started a system of old age pensions, under which a person who was promised a pension undertook to pay for it; but if under this Bill pensions were to be given to persons who did not pay for them, was there any probability that the members of those Societies would continue to pay for their pensions? The Bill would, therefore, disregarding the proposition of the voluntary committee, compete with the Friendly Societies in the strongest possible way. Politicians in that House and wise people of all kinds talked about the desirability of 1346 reforms and about the excellence of thrift and its value to the nation; but while politicians were talking, the great Friendly Societies had taken the matter in hand and had done more for the promotion of thrift than all the speech-making that had gone on inside that House or out of it. His own view of the subject was that the State should add an equal sum to the amount, whether it be a penny or £100, put away by a person to purchase a deferred annuity at the age of 65, and those annuities might easily he issued at post offices all over the country to persons who were willing to contribute in that way a certain sum of money annually for the purpose. Whatever the House did he hoped it would not do anything to record its approval of the scheme now presented, which was designed to pauperise, and to do nothing else. He rejoiced that they should have employed a Wednesday afternoon in discussing a great social question, for in that way only could light be thrown upon it and some satisfactory scheme evolved which might eventually become law.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
said, he had listened with some regret to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, who had considerably exaggerated the cost of the system proposed. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman would take the whole of those who were likely to come under any pension scheme at the age of 65 he would find that they numbered something like 250,000, and, allowing about 5s. a week for each person, that would give a total of £3,000,000 or £4,000,000, instead of £16,000,000, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested. At I he same time, there would be in addition a positive saving in our extravagant workhouse system, a system which might have answered its purpose very well in 1834 and later, but which at the present moment was nothing more nor less than an insult to the civilisation of a nation of such enormous wealth as our own. Of course the cost of carrying out any scheme of this kind must be great, but the same thing could be said of the work of any large Department of the State—the Army, Navy, or Civil Service—which the nation thought it necessary to maintain. It was all very well to say such a scheme involved granting outdoor relief, and that people should be left to 1347 make provision for themselves; and it was all very well for hon. Members and those who possessed all the comforts of life to which they were as accustomed as to the alteration of day and night, but they were dealing here with altogether a different class. He was tired of this perpetual preaching down to people, and if hon. Members were in their position they would find how difficult it was to make any provision for old age. He regretted what the hon. and gallant Gentleman had said as to the effect of the pension system being to pauperise, and hoped the House would not accept the opinion that any such scheme must bear the stamp of outdoor relief. The main objects of Friendly Societies were quite distinct from those of the measure the House was now discussing. Friendly Societies were intended to provide for sickness, loss of work, and almost every kind of misfortune except old age. If the provisions of the Bill were confined to old age pensions, the Friendly Societies would prove helpers in that work rather than otherwise. The hon. and gallant Member who brought in the Bill might rely upon it that thrift was not likely to be secured either by offer of reward or fear of punishment. If a man was unthrifty at 30 he could never be made thrifty by fear of what would happen to him when he was 60 or 70. Thrift really was a result of education, and the hon. and gallant Member, who he knew sympathised with the poor, must remember he was dealing not with inanimate forms, but with human beings whose lack of thrift had tended to increase their sufferings in old age. The question under consideration was an all-important and a truly national question. A man who had honourably spent a long life in honourable labour, and had done his best, though that best might not be much, should have some other prospect in his old age than the workhouse. Many among themselves, perhaps, if they had been placed in the position of having to travel through a hard life with the element of hope taken out of it, might not have been so thritty, so bravo, and so enduring as large numbers of the class of people whose interests they were now considering. Much was said about drunkenness, but probably some of the Members of the House would seek relief from the public-house if they had no 1348 other prospect before them. We had educated the masses of our fellow-men, and had thereby enlarged their wants and desires; and, therefore, it all the more became the duty of Parliament to see that means were placed within their reach for a reasonable fulfilment of those wants and desires. Society owed a duty to those who had laboured the whole of their lives. Instead of pointing to the workhouse as a refuge to such men in old age, he would place a medal on the breast of each of them as a knight of labour who had added to the wealth of his country, and make provision for him in his old age when he had not been able to make it for himself. It was quite true, as had been remarked, that the Poor Law was regarded by a large proportion of the working-classes as a degradation. It was not only a degradation to the men, but it was expensive to the community, and, therefore, alike on economical, social, and humanitarian grounds, the system was had. He knew there were eminent men, whose opinions were entitled to great respect, among them a former Member of the House, Mr. Albert Pell, who thought the evil of pauperism might be cured by the denial of outdoor relief. It might be done by killing off the paupers or by other means, but he contended that the adoption of such a system would be unworthy of the country and could not be carried out without inflicting a great amount of suffering. The hon. and gallant Member who moved the Second Reading was to be complimented on the fair and moderate claims he made on behalf of the Bill. He seemed to fully recognise the enormous difficulties that surrounded the question, and he wisely claimed no more for the Bill than an attempt to solve some of those difficulties. The main points urged by the hon. Member for North Islington in favour of the Bill were, in his opinion, serious blots upon it. The restrictions in it were too-great. The burden to be placed on the administrators of the Bill, to distinguish the deserving from the undeserving, would be really an impossible task. There was, it seemed, to be an inquisitorial term of 10 or 15 years, and it was to be ascertained whether during that time a man had through crime, drunkenness, or in other ways made himself undeserving of assistance. But who was to decide that point? He had known 1349 men and women who, having started well in life with fine mental qualifications and high courage, and having struggled on for a long time, had at last been beaten down to low health and a degraded state by adversity and the hopelessness of their position. Yet they could be called neither drunken, criminal, nor undeserving. They must have no Bill which sat in judgment on those poor people. He would, therefore, discard all inquisitorial conditions as to whether a man had received poor relief, or had saved anything for himself, or had in various ways made himself undeserving of assistance. Largo numbers, if not the majority, of working men and women were unable to make any provision for old age out of their scanty earnings. Very frequently the 10s. or 15s. a week earned by the labouring man did not represent more than 1d. per meal per day for his family. Men of that kind he had remonstrated with for saving a shilling a week, pointing out that the money would be butter expended on milk or boots, or something of that kind. A man might be doing the greatest harm by saving that shilling, because it might not be a superfluity, but a dire need. It was not always by scraping and cheeseparing possible to save a shilling, and the man who saved it was not always as much to be commended as the man who spent all his wages on necessaries for his children. There were large numbers of men who subscribed thousands and tens of thousands of pounds to clubs for aid in time of sickness or want of employment. For instance, there was the fund of the National Agricultural Labourers' Union, into which hundreds of men had been paying for 13, 14, or 15 years in the hope of getting some assistance in sickness and in old age, and now were coolly told "there is nothing for them." Were they to be told "You have saved nothing for yourselves?"
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
said, he was glad to hear it, but the case of the man with a family, earning 10s. or 15s. a week, to whom he had referred was not provided for under the Bill as he understood it. It had been urged by the hon. 1350 Member for Mid Lincoln that a universal pension system would be destructive of thrift, and on the same ground it was said that the payments under the Bill should come out of local rates and not Imperial funds. He held, however, that this was not a local question at all, but one that affected every man of the well-to-do classes, and all right-thinking and reasonable people belonging to those classes would be willing to pay for it. How much more valuable would a rich or even moderately rich man's possessions be to-morrow if he could feel that every man above 65 in this country was in reasonable comfort! He would feel that he had an undoubted right to all his accumulated property—a thing about which, at present, there was some doubt. If he could feel in the wintertime, or in times of special hardship, that all his fellowmen above a certain age were in reasonable comfort, how much sweeter would be his own enjoyments That was the sentimental aspect of the question. As to the justice of it, the present condition of things, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition ha I said at St. James's Hall, was a blot upon our civilisation. If the funds ware levied on the local rates, the burden would fall on a particular class; but this was a matter in which the rich should help the poor, and the rich district the poor one, and that could only be done by means of Imperial taxation. He had only one view of the ease to urge, and he thought it important. He asked the hon. Gentlemen opposite who were connected with the laud, and capitalists and manufacturers who sat on the Ministerial side, to remember the origin of the present state of things. They had a proletariat such as existed in no other country of the world, and that to a large extent was the cause of the state of things which had made the remedy they were now considering necessary. By the processes through which the land had passed during the last 200 years—processes which had been of great economic value to the nation—the labourers, whose case especially they were now considering, had been reduced to the condition of mere wage-receivers; and although they could not go back on that which had been so beneficial to the nation as a whole, yet the facts consti- 1351 tuted a claim upon the nation as a whole, which had benefited by changes that had at the same time inflicted hardship upon a particular class. The labouring classes had been deprived of property left to them by pious donors ill former times, and on all these grounds he urged the acceptance of the Bill on the general question of the public good. He hoped the Second Reading of the Bill would not be deferred until the Royal Commission had reported. That would mean the hanging- up of the question for another year. It was an urgent question, at any rate so far as the initial steps to be taken were concerned, and he hoped, therefore, that the hon. Member would carry the Bill to a Division. He (Mr. Collings) should vote with him with a better heart and with more pleasure than he thought he had ever felt in regard to any vote he had recorded in the House before.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. SHAW-LEFEVRE,) Bradford, Central
I think it is to be regretted that a Bill dealing with such great and important interests, and which has given rise to large expectations in the country, should not have been postponed for a few weeks until the Report of the Royal Commission was before the House. The hon. Member for Islington admitted himself in the speech he made in seconding the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill that it would have been far better if this Debate could have been postponed. He said, however, that he had trusted to the ballot, and that if he had not availed himself of his privilege the probability is that he would not have secured another opportunity of bringing the Bill on. I admit the force of his plea, but nevertheless it has rendered our discussion somewhat unfortunate and difficult by the knowledge that the matters in question are being investigated by the Royal Commission at the present moment. One of the first acts of the Government on coming into power was to appoint this Royal Commission. We felt that the subject was one well worthy of investigation. I have great sympathy with 1352 the demands made for some alleviation of the condition of the aged poor, and recognise fully what was said by the hon. Member for Gravesend in his very interesting speech. The Commission was appointed, has set to work and nearly completed its labours in as short a time as almost any Commission I have ever known, and I believe it will in the course of a few weeks present its Report to the House. It has had before it, I understand, different schemes for old age pensions. There is the scheme propounded by Mr. Charles Booth, a scheme of a very philosophical character and wide-reaching nature. There is also the scheme which was founded by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, and which has been lately adopted by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. It has also had before it the very scheme which is now under discussion, and I believe I am right in saying that the whole merits and demerits of the measure, whatever they may be, were fully laid before the Commission in all their economic and financial aspects. There are also other schemes which are well-known to hon. Members who, like the hon. Members opposite, have devoted a great deal of attention to this matter, and which are being considered. As a result of this investigation we shall have when the Report comes out a full description of all the schemes, the possibilities of dealing with them, and the benefit likely to arise by their adoption. Under these circumstances, hon. Members must see that I have considerable difficulty in dealing with the question immediately before the House. I think the House will perceive that it is almost impossible that I, on behalf of the Government, should accept this scheme which the hon. and gallant Member has presented to us. Apart from the difficulty of the matter it would hardly be right that while a Royal Commission is sitting upon the subject we should adopt a scheme without having information put before us by this Report as to the details of the schemes which they have had under consideration. Without that information it is not to be expected that I should pronounce definitely in favour of any one scheme. The House will admit that there would be great difficulty in dealing with the financial and economic details of the Bill without having before us all 1353 the facts laid before the Royal Commission, and all the financial considerations involved in the subject. What I venture to suggest to the House, and to the supporters of this Bill, is that they should be content with the discussion which has arisen to-day, and that they should adjourn further discussion on the Bill to a future day after the House has had an opportunity of reading and considering the Report of the Commission. That I believe, on the whole, to be the wisest course to adopt. As I am not in a position to affirm the principle of the scheme laid before the House now, I cannot ask the House to agree with it, nor, on the other hand, should I feel justified in asking the House to disagree with it. I think the best course is an adjournment of the matter. In saying this, however, I want to express thorough sympathy for the hon. Member for Gravesend, and with the hon. Member for Islington in the object they have in view. We know how much the hon. Member for Islington has done in the encouragement and promotion of thrift, and we can all sympathise with his object in propounding the scheme which is the outcome of his desire to contribute more to the welfare of the class for whom he has done so much. At the same time, I must say that it is easy to draw up plans for pension schemes; it is fascinating work, and perhaps many of us have attempted it; but it is difficult to draw up a scheme which will not be open to financial and other objections. Anybody who has taken the pains to make an examination of the scheme embodied in the Bill will know that there are many very great difficulties connected with it. The Bill before us provides that there are to be three classes of persons entitled to pensions. In the first place, the proposal is that all persons ever the age of 65, who have committed no crime within 15 years of that age, and who have not been convicted of drunkenness within 10 years—that is to say, all persons who are unable to earn wages, and who declare themselves to be in need of a pension—are to be entitled, on reaching the age of 65, to a pension of 7s. a week.
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
At all events, I understand they have a right to a pension—that is a vital portion of the Bill.
§ * MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
The hon. Member for North Islington considers that these conditions offer a strong inducement to the practice of thrift up to the age of 65. Now, I would venture to point out one effect of that provision. A single man who during the whole of his working life has regularly spent his wages without saving anything, but who has never had occasion to apply for poor relief, is entitled at 65 years of age to a pension of 7s. a week. On the other hand, a man with a large family, and with the heavy burden arising therefrom, and perhaps earning only low wages, if in the course of his life, up to 65 years of age, he once applies for relief either for himself or his children he will not be entitled to the pension.
§ * MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
Now, I ask, can that distinction be justified? Now, take the case of a widow with children, who, after a hard-working life, may have upon one occasion to apply for relief. Is that to disqualify her absolutely for the receipt of the pension of 7s. a week, when a man who has been receiving £2 or £3 a week, out of which he has saved nothing, would be entitled to a pension of 7s. a week? I venture to think that comparisons of that kind would become so odious that the position could not be maintained. Let me quote another case. It is a condition provided in the Bill that a person convicted of drunkenness within 10 years before reaching the age of 65 shall not be qualified for the pension. Under this part of the Bill it would be possible 1355 for a man who has spent a large amount of his wages on drink, but who happens never to have fallen into the hands of the police, to get his pension at the age of 65; but, on the other hand, a prudent man, ordinarily sober, and who for the most part of his life has lived a regular life and spent very little in drink—if, upon one occasion, he should got drunk, and fall into the hands of the police and be convicted, he absolutely loses all his qualifications for pension. Again I say that distinctions of that kind cannot be maintained. Again, I observe that all applicants under the Bill as it stands must say that they are unable to earn wages, and are in need. It is possible that a man may be in need at 65, and afterwards become possessed of means or be assisted by relatives; but under the Bill he would still be qualified for a pension of 7s. a week. I do not find in the Bill any provision to meet the case of persons who, having obtained pensions, ought, for some reason or another, be called upon to give them up afterwards. That appears to me to be a matter which cannot altogether be excluded from any pension scheme. Then there is the question of what constitutes residence—the residence that entitles a man to his pension. There are no provisions in the Bill as to domicile, and as the Bill stands, persons coming to England from the Colonies or from foreign countries, or Jews who may come to England from Russia, would be entitled to a pension. Then there are no provisions to secure uniformity in the decisions of the Local Authorities nor fixing the length of residence which should give a local claim. I come to the argument as to the promotion of thrift, which I know to be an object that the promoters of this Bill have deeply at heart. Will it promote thrift, or encourage a man not to spend his wages, if he knows that at 65 he will have a pension of a certain amount reducible by the income to be derived from what he has saved? Will not that condition stimulate a man to get rid of what he has saved as he approaches the age of 65? Again, the Bill appears to contemplate persons receiving the same amount of pension in every part of the country irrespective of the varying conditions of life in different parts. A 1356 pension of 7s. a week to a man and a similar pension to his wife would in some parts of the country be a considerable endowment. There are parts of the Highlands and the western coast of Ireland where 14s. a week is far in advance of the average earnings. On the other hand, in some of the great towns, and especially in London, 14s. a week would not do more than support life. That a person who has received Poor Law relief should not be entitled to a pension on reaching the age of 65 unless he has laid by something is an encouragement to thrift. But there is also a provision that, instead of laying by something week by week, a sum of £10 paid at any time to the Local Authority should entitle to a pension of 3s. 6d. a week at the age of 65. That is equivalent to about £9 a year, and on those interesting terms people may be found to pay the necessary £10 for the applicant. It is in connection with the question of finance that I feel the greatest difficulty about the Bill. The hon. Member for Islington, who went into this part of the case, appears to think that the number of persons who would obtain pensions under the Bill would be the same as the number over 65 years of age now receiving Poor Law relief. That would be in England and Wales about 240,000. But I cannot accept that view of the case. A large number of persons who have never received Poor Law relief would be entitled to pensions on the larger scale (7s. a week), and that number it is impossible to predict. The Bill applies to England, Ireland, and Scotland; and the number of persons above 65 in the United Kingdom is 1,800,000. Of that number, adopting the calculation of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, two-thirds belong to the wage-earning class. Of those, one-half have at some time received Poor Law relief, and therefore the remaining portion are mainly composed of those entitled to claim pensions at 7s. a week. A considerable number of people also will be entitled to pensions on the reduced scale, and according to my calculation the total charge which would accrue to the Local Authorities would be something like £14,000,000 a year, £11,000,000 being the cost of the first-class, and £3,000,000 the cost of the second and third class of 1357 pensions. I shall, however, be glad to have the evidence given before the Royal Commission bearing upon these figures. It is impossible to expect the Local Authorities to bear such a burden, knowing what the feeling of the country is with regard to rates. The charge, therefore, would have to be incurred in the name of the Imperial Exchequer. Further, the scheme would require a very large staff of officials for its administration. The County Councils and Town Councils at present have no machinery for investigating into the antecedents of applicants for pensions. It would be an almost impossible duty for the London County Council to inquire into the case of every person in London over 65 years of age. I make these criticisms in no hostile spirit, but to show the difficulties which must be inherent in any such scheme, and to sugge that the subject requires the most careful consideration before determining which scheme is the best. I have every sympathy with the hon. Member's object, which is to alleviate the condition of the aged poor; but the present scheme is so full of difficulties that I cannot ask the House to accept it. I would suggest that the best course to adopt is to adjourn the discussion until after the Royal Commission has reported. If after that it appears that the Report is favourable to this particular scheme, on behalf of the Government I will promise to give time for the further consideration of the Bill.
§ COLONEL DAMPIER PALMER
Will the Government give us a day after the Report of the Commission for the further consideration of this Bill?
§ MR. SHAW-LEFEVRE
I said that, if the Royal Commission reported in favour of this scheme, then I would undertake, on the part of the Government, that time should be given for the further consideration of the measure.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I am myself a member of the Royal Commission to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, and upon whose shoulders he is inclined to place 1358 the responsibility of the inconclusive termination of this Debate. Now, on general grounds, I think that an inconclusive termination of this Debate would be a matter very greatly to be regretted. We are dealing with a subject which, I believe, creates in men's minds a popular interest, in a subject which is quite ripe for further legislation, and in regard to which, at any rate, I think it would be a great advantage not only to the public at large, but also to the hon. Members of the Royal Commission, that some indication, at any rate, of the feeling of this House should be given. Everyone must share the feelings of the right hon. Gentleman that it would have been convenient if we had received the Report of the Royal Commission before this discussion came on. But my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gravesend (Colonel Palmer) has obtained an opportunity which conies very rarely to private Members, and I do not think, under those circumstances, that he is to be blamed for having taken this opportunity for introducing the subject to the consideration and careful attention of the House. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that, in the event of the hon. and gallant Gentleman consenting to the adjournment of the present Debate, he would, on behalf of the Government, offer him another day if the Royal Commission reported in favour of this precise proposal. The right hon. Gentleman has told the House that the Royal Commission has had before it an immense number of schemes, some of which he has entirely omitted to mention, and others of which he has, in my opinion, inaccurately described, but as to which it would be impossible for me to say much to-day because, as a member of the Commission, my tongue is tied. It is quite true that the Commission has had before them an immense number of schemes, and if I consider merely the ordinary law of chance, I should say the chances are about ten to one against the Commission accepting in its entirety any one of those scheme. Under these circumstances, therefore, the promise which the right hon. Gentleman makes 1359 us is one which ray hon. and gallant Friend will, I suspect, consider to be of but very slight value. The right hon. Gentleman tells the House that he is speaking on behalf of the Government, and that he is personally friendly to the object of the Bill; but then he proceeds to lay down an elaborate series of criticisms, which, if they are accepted, I do not hesitate to say, are not only absolutely fatal to this particular Bill, but absolutely fatal to any other proposal which can by any possibility hereafter be made either by the Royal Commission or anybody else Because what are his arguments? They can be easily reduced to two. In the first place, he says that any scheme for providing old ago pensions will be expensive, which is admitted. In the second place, he believes that any scheme for providing pensions will raise a number of anomalies. The right hon. Gentleman has dealt with a great number of anomalies which he finds in this Bill. Sir, we do not deny that, but I say it is absolutely necessary. It is impossible that the State or any Local Authority can so deal with all the various conditions of the life of the poor as to measure out an equitable concession exactly equal in every case. The whole idea of a pension is that, at all events, it is not to go above a certain income, or below a certain condition. Then it will be at once said that all above or below that line are unjustly treated, and it would be most illogical to deny the truth of the statement. What is the case now? Is it possible to find a greater anomaly than the present anomaly, which treats the industrious poor exactly in the same fashion as it treats the poor who are utterly and entirely undeserving, which measures out to the man whose whole sensibilities are at stake exactly the same treatment of the common workhouse as to the man who had been an idler and a ruffian pretty nearly the whole course of his existence? There is an anomaly, indeed! and I defy anyone to find any worse anomaly in connection with any scheme for old age pensions. It is perfectly absurd for the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board to say he and his Government are friendly to old age pensions, when his whole argument cuts at the root of the 1360 thing itself. The right hon. Gentleman dealt with the schemes which are before the Royal Commission. The present scheme is one of them, and, therefore, I cannot enter upon it. But, curiously enough, the right hon. Gentleman did not deal with another scheme, which has not been brought before the Royal Commission, and with which, therefore, I am perfectly free to deal. Why has not that scheme been brought before the Royal Commission? It would have come before us well recommended. It was brought before the House in the Session before last, when there was a great deal of discussion about the scheme of old age pensions which had become connected with my name. It was brought in as a competitive and opposing scheme to mine, and the Bill in which it was introduced to the House bore upon its back a great number of influential names. It bore the name of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board (Sir W. Foster). Surely the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, whilst speaking about anomalies of schemes, might have paid a little attention to the scheme which owed its origin entirely to the Parliamentary Secretary of his own Department—a scheme which was brought in when it served an election purpose, which was dropped when the hon. Gentleman got Office, and which neither the hon. Gentleman, nor any of his Friends, has taken the trouble to bring before the Royal Commission. If you want anomalies, here is a scheme which is not only full of them, but which will be more expensive than the one which the President of the Local Government Board has just criticised. Here is a scheme which provides a pension for everybody with the exception of persons—and here come in the anomalies to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—who have ever been convicted of drunkenness. The Mover of the present Bill only proposes that a person shall be excluded from the benefits of the scheme if he should have been convicted of drunkenness within 10 years, but the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board proposes to exclude a man if he has been convicted of drunkenness in his early youth. There is an anomaly. It may be that that is 1361 the reason why the Bill was not introduced to the consideration of the Royal Commission. Almost every single anomaly to which the President of the Local Government Hoard has referred can be found in the Hill of his colleague, and I venture to say that that Bill cannot be carried into effect without an expenditure of £15,000,000 a year. It is perfect nonsense for those who are professed friends of old age pensions to meet the Bill before the House with petty criticisms of details. If the House is to deal with the subject in that way we shall never see old age pensions at all. The House is now considering the Second Reading of this Bill. It is not customary to reject a Bill at this stage because details are objected to. The House is not, now dealing with details, but with principle; and this is the first time the House of Commons has ever been enabled to deal with the principle embodied in this Bill, and to say "Aye" or "No" should a preference and advantage be in the future given to those of the aged poor who can show behind them an industrious and fairly thrifty and honourable life over the wastrel who now has precisely the same treatment as they have. This is the principle which we are called upon to affirm. Docs the Government accept the principle? Did they accept it at the time they appointed the Royal Commission? If so, I wish they had shown it in the Reference to that Commission, because thou the Commission would have been a very different one—certainly the Report must have been, by the necessities of the case, a different Report. But the whole question was referred to the Commission, and we shall have to say, in the first instance, whether any scheme at all is desirable. There is all the difference in the world between appointing a Commission to inquire into a question generally and between a Commission appointed to carry out a previously settled principle. It is important to know whether there has been any change in public opinion recently on this question. If we knew that, it might materially assist our future deliberations. My opinion is, that no scheme that has been suggested—I speak of those which were published and were well-known be- 1362 fore the Royal Commission was appointed—can be considered as a complete and adequate settlement of the question. The scheme of Mr. Charles Booth is no doubt a complete scheme, because it provides that everybody shall have a pension of 5s. after 65, but be readily admits that the State must find £27,000,000 a year. There is a good deal to be said for it, because it is, after all, largely a question of the transfer of taxation; but, as practical men, are we prepared to waste our time in considering a scheme of that magnitude, and would any Chancellor of the Exchequer undertake to make such an enormous addition to the taxation of the country even for so good an object? If that be granted, it follows that anything we do must be done gradually, experimentally, and step by step. It is not enough to bring forward petty criticisms and objections; to say that a scheme is not complete and does not meet every conceivable case. We must be content to do as we did with the education question, to start gradually, and go on as experience justifies further progress. I look upon the education question as our great example in this matter. We began with a grant of £25,000. There were those who advocated that grant who knew well that so great would be the usefulness and popularity of the system that the country would willingly expend even the £9,000,000 a year to which it has now grown. But any man who had proposed to take £9,000,000 for education when that first grant was made would have been a madman, for the scheme would have been laughed out of court, and no good would have come from proposing it. I look forward to the time when some Minister will be found bold enough to propose to lay aside experimentally what may be considered a reasonable sum towards the commencement of a system of old age pensions, and if that is satisfactory I am not disposed to place any limit on its ultimate development. Without pronouncing any opinion as to the details of this Bill, I may say that I am, and I was before I was appointed a member of the Commission, in favour of the principle of old age pensions, and I am glad to have an opportunity of saying so on this Bill. There is only one offer, it seems to me, which can be made by the 1363 Government which ought to prevent the hon. Member who brought in this Bill from carrying it to a Division, and that is that they will give another day for the discussion of the whole question, or, if you like, for the discussion of this Bill, without making any conditions as to what the Report of the Royal Commission may be. But the actual offer which has been made is absolutely illusory, and the only result, if my hon. and gallant Friend accepts it, would be that the matter will be shelved for the rest of the Session, and the House will not have an opportunity of expressing its opinion on this most important question.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
I think it desirable that the House should understand what the Government are doing in this matter. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) has said justly that it would be premature for the House to come to a decision upon this Bill or any other Bills of the same character until it has the advantage of the instruction to be derived from the Report of the Royal Commission. I think that is a proposition which will meet with general acceptance. But the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Chamberlain) has complained of the condition we affix. We do not wish to impose any strict limitation. We are satisfied that after the Report of that Commission there ought to be a discussion on the principle of old age pensions generally, or on this particular Bill as embodying that principle. The Government would have no objection to that. Nobody doubts whatever that the object is a desirable one, and the only question is, what are the methods by which it would be possible to carry it into effect? I imagine that that describes the feeling of everybody on both sides of the House, and therefore I have no hesitation in saying that on a question of this vast consequence the Government would feel it their duty, after the Report of the Commission, to give an opportunity for 1364 the discussion of the principles applicable either in some other form or in the form of this particular Bill. I am quite sure the House will feel it would be premature to-day to determine on this Bill. I can imagine great objections to be raised on the part of those who object to chanting the cost of such a scheme on the rates. I entirely sympathise with the observations of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) as to the feelings with which a Chancellor of the Exchequer would contemplate a demand for £27,000,000, and I conceive that there are gentlemen opposite who would not be more favourable to placing such a charge on the Exchequer. But there are other matters which eminently deserve to be considered, and I would venture to suggest to the House that, with the promise on the part of the Government that there shall be an opportunity of discussing this matter on a future date, it should not come this evening to what would be a premature conclusion as to a particular Bill or a particular method.
§ MR. W. LONG (Liverpool, West Derby)
said, the advice of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was no doubt very practical, and was, on the whole, advice which a great many Members would no doubt be very glad to follow. He (Mr. Long) would, however, point out to the right hon. Gentleman that his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Palmer), who had brought this Bill forward in a manner which had commended itself so thoroughly to all who had hoard him, was in a rather difficult position. His hon. and gallant Friend had been able to introduce his Bill at a very early period of the Session, and it had been received with almost universal commendation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had now somewhat altered the position, because up to a few minutes ago it was only by the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre) that any criticism of anything like a serious character had been directed against the Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer now said that the 1365 Government would pledge themselves to give another day for the discussion of the question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) had suggested that a day might be given either for the discussion of the question as a whole, or for the further discussion of this Bill. That, no doubt, would meet the view of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Chamberlain) and of all those who were generally interested in the question, but it could hardly be expected that it would meet the views of his hon. and gallant Friend, who was entitled to reap the fruits of the labours of himself and those with whom he acted, and who was also entitled to benefit by the fortunate position which he had acquired by the ballot. If the Debate were adjourned for an indefinite period without a distinct promise that when an additional day was given it would be devoted to the discussion of the Bill, it would be possible for the Government or for one of their supporters to bring forward a Motion in another form, and the Hill would be in consequence absolutely and completely excluded from any further consideration. It was perfectly true that gentlemen in all quarters of the House would find objections to the special proposals of his hon. and gallant Friend; but it was to be remembered that his hon. and gallant Friend, in the excellent speech he made in moving the Second Heading, told the House that he did not bind himself to the exact provisions and conditions of the measure. On the contrary, he placed the Hill in the hands of the House, and in the most temperate terms invited full discussion of its provisions, and be plainly indicated that if the House would accept the Second Reading he would be willing to deal with its future stages in the most generous spirit, only providing that any alterations that were introduced should provide for the establishment of old age pensions on a sound and economical principle. He (Mr. Long) was extremely anxious to meet the; views of the Government, whose difficulty he fully appreciated, but at the same time, he thought they must appreciate the difficulty in which his hon. and gallant Friend found himself. His hon. and gallant Friend now had the opportunity of asking the House 1366 to affirm the principle that pensions should be granted under certain conditions. There was nothing to prevent amendments being introduced into the Bill which would alter its details respecting the source from which pensions were to be provided. Unless the Second Heading were postponed by a Motion for Adjournment there was little doubt that the House would give a practically unanimous assent to the principle of the measure. Under these circumstances, he did not think his hon. and gallant Friend would be justified in assenting to the postponement of the question now that he had the opportunity of asking the House to say aye or nay upon the question of the Second Reading. Something was said about the attitude taken on this question by candidates for Parliament in the country, and he was bound to say that, from his experience of elections, that from whatever political Party candidates might be drawn, their views on this particular question varied only in the degree that they were favourable to those who received these pensions. There was no doubt whatever that since the question had been brought to its present position by the labours of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), who took it up long before it was popular, Parliamentary candidates invariably introduced into their speeches and addresses old age pensions, an I old the working classes that it was the one thing they would endeavour to secure. The labouring poor had become very impatient; and they did not understand the Parliamentary etiquette which compelled the question to be shelved because a Royal Commission was sitting. If when the question was brought before the House it was postponed with the consent of his hon. Friend, his hon. Friend would be blamed. He was far from binding himself to all the details of the Bill. It would be easy to improve it by alteration and elimination. But were hon. Gentlemen opposite, when in opposition, restrained from pressing Bills and forcing them to Divisions by the fact that they were immature and unfit for acceptance? How often was the late Conservative Government attacked because they could not accept a Bill which was unripe for consideration or improperly drawn! Hon. 1367 Members then argued, "This is a splendid principle; affirm that; and then, if you like, alter every word of the Bill." The present Bill was the result of the most careful consideration, as was shown by the speech of the hon. Member for North Islington (Mr. Bartley), who had devoted his life to the subject. Much was fit for acceptance, and as to the authority to administer the provision, and the incidence of the cost, these questions could be settled at a subsequent stage. Because those details were objectionable in the Bill as it stood it was not necessary that its consideration should be indefinitely postponed. If the Report of the Commission would be in the hands of Members within a month, he should, but with great reluctance, advise the postponement of the Bill. But if the Bill were now postponed without any conditions, it would undoubtedly be lost for the present Session—probably for next Session, and in all probability until some other private Member was able to obtain the same good fortune his hon. Friend had got to-day. That being the case, would his hon. Friend be justified in assenting to an adjournment unless it was clearly explained that adjournment was to be subject to a limited time; that it was to be in the hope that the Royal Commission might present its Report within that period of time, and subject to the condition that the Government should give a day to the adjourned Debate on the Bill of his hon. and gallant Friend? That would not throw any difficulty in the way of discussing the Report, which could be discussed on the adjourned Debate of the Second Reading of the Bill. The Report could be presented either for or against the Bill, and if the Report supported the principle of the Bill so much the bettor for his hon. Friend. He did not wish to add to the difficulties of the Government in dealing with this question; he did not want to suggest they were not absolutely sincere in the statement they had made to-day; but he could not forget that when they were in Office hon. Members who were now sitting opposite seemed to revel in pressing Motions of this character to a Division at improper times; and since then hon. Members opposite had not forgotten to remind the 1368 country that those Divisions and Debates had taken place. Therefore he thought they were entitled, if they thought fit, to press on the Government that they should show their sincerity by giving a vote today. They did not wish to make any suggestion of the kind: all they said was, that they had got—through their own energy and not that of the Government, through the good fortune that had overtaken one of their own Members, and not one of the supporters of the Government—they had got a position enabling the Bill to be in an important position to-day; and if it was to be adjourned, it could only be on the understanding that the Government would afford an opportunity for reconsideration within a reasonable time, and that it should be for the consideration of the Bill and not merely the Report of the Committee. If the Government made it clear that was their object, he would be inclined to advise his hon. and gallant Friend to accept the offer; and, if not, his hon. and gallant Friend should ask that the decision of the House should be taken.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
By the indulgence of the House I may say one word in regard to what the hon. Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Mr. Long) asks for. What the hon. Gentleman is pressing for is precisely the thing that the President of the Local Government Board has offered. [Cries of "No!"] I understand that the day to be given shall be given to the discussion of this particular Bill. The hon. Member fears that he and his hon. Friends might be deprived of the patent right in this Bill. We have no objection to that proposal. I understood that the general discussion of the subject was in deference to the opinions of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain). If it is desired that the discussion should be confined to this particular Bill, I have no objection. But this is far too grave a question to make it simply the subject of a complimentary Second Reading. I cannot agree that the question of who is to pay is a secondary question. But if it is desired that the day which the Government are prepared to give should 1369 be given to this particular Bill, we have no objection at all.
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
said, he could not help expressing his regret at the tone that had been adopted by the hon. Member for the West Derby Division. It was most amusing to find hon. Gentlemen opposite claiming a monopoly of interest in this question, which he was the first to press upon the attention of Parliament. But he should be perfectly willing to give them credit for all possible patent rights if only they would do what he thought they were now willing to do—namely, the work that was required to be done. He had read the Bill carefully, but he could not discover what its principle was. If its principle was that the workhouse was not a fit place for the hard-working man to end his days, that principle could not be separated from the details of its application. After the challenge which had been thrown out, he must express his opinion of the Bill. While he agreed with its object, and to a large extent with the lines on which it was drawn, he believed that it was so badly-conceived and ill-drafted that it would be perfectly idle to consider it in Committee. There was no reason why the House should not have an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon the subject of old age pensions at the proper time. He thought that the offer of the Government entirely met the case, because when hon. Members read the Report of the Commission which had sat to consider the subject, they would find that the discussion of that day had merely touched the fringe of the subject. The Bill now under consideration would enormously increase the burden upon the ratepayers, and, in his opinion, when the Report of the Commission was before them the House would find some other means whereby the object of the present measure might be accomplished at far less cost. He therefore begged to move the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Hunter.)
§ SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
said, he wished to point out one incon- 1370 venience that would result if the Motion for the Adjournment were carried. The object of the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate was that the subject should be more fully discussed after the Report of the Royal Commission had been presented. But, unless the House accepted the proposal to read the Bill a second time upon that occasion, they would be deprived of the views of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of his right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain), and others who had spoken on this Bill on the subject of old age pensions. If, however, the House were to accept the Second Reading now, there would be no restriction upon hon. Gentlemen. If the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer were adopted, everyone who had spoken to-day would be excluded.
§ SIR H. JAMES
said, the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman was that the question should be adjourned until the Report of the Royal Commission was presented. If that was not the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, then he must be asking them to reject the Bill. The position of the right hon. Gentleman was either to take the Second Reading or reject it. He was not going into detail, but merely wanted to point out that if the adjournment took place it would be impossible for them to discuss the matter.
§ COLONEL DAMPIER PALMER
said, that those who supported the measure having the opportunity of taking the opinion of the House upon the subject of old age pensions were not going to relinquish it. With regard to the offer of the Government to give a day for the resumption of the discussion on the subject after the Report of the Royal Commission had been presented, they had no idea when that Report would be laid before the House. In his view, the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate was a dilatory one. The question had been thoroughly discussed at the last General Election, and every hon. Member was pledged to do his best to promote some such measure as this. They 1371 had better divide upon the question of the Adjournment at once, so that they might, before half-past 5 o'clock, have an opportunity of dividing on the Main Question.
MR. FENWICK (Northumberland' Wansbeck)
said, he wished to take this opportunity of appealing to his friends, and those with whom he had any influence to reject the Second Reading of the Bill. They had had the wonderful spectacle in the Debate this afternoon——
§ MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
could not quite agree with the hon. Member who had said this was an opportunity of deciding on the question of old age pensions, because the question was what pensions, and how they were to be given? On the Adjournment he wished it to be clearly understood that those who might vote for the Adjournment of this Bill were in no sense whatever to be classed as persons opposed to old age pensions.
§ MR. BARTLEY
said, that on the Question of the Adjournment he should like to give a strong reason against it. He had had charge of this Bill for four years, having drafted it four years ago, and having balloted every year to bring it on, and since then they had had a General Election, when almost everyone had announced his intention to support some sort of old age pension scheme. If they waited now they might not get another chance for many years, because it was clear to those who understood the Rules of the House that an Adjournment could come to nothing. Supposing the Report of the Royal Commission was issued in a month, it would take another month to consider it, so that they would really lose all the benefit they had got out of their position to-day; therefore they must vote on the question. Though it was a vote on the Adjournment, it amounted to a vote upon the principle of the Bill.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said, that when the House was unani- 1372 mously agreed with regard to the principle of a measure, the usual course was to read the Bill a second time, and to discuss its details on its subsequent stages. The House was asked to wait for a Report which might never be presented. It was all nonsense for hon. Members to pretend that the vote upon the Question of the Adjournment of the Debate was not a vote upon the principle of the Bill. He hoped the Motion for Adjournment would be resisted.
§ MR. BOUSFIELD (Hackney, N.)
appealed to the Government to allow the House to come to a decision upon the principle instead of taking a fruitless Division upon the Question of the Adjournment of the Debate. The Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate had been made simply and solely with the view of shelving the whole question. The consideration of the principle of the Bill would be greatly facilitated by the measure being read a second time now, because it could then be referred to a Select Committee, who would consider it in connection with the Report of the Royal Commission when it was presented.
§ THE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (Mr. ACLAND,) York, W.R., Rotherham
said, he should like to make one remark of a practically historical character as to the reasons that would lead the Government to vote for an Adjournment now. It would be in the memory of most hon. Members that his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board made an offer as to the Adjournment of the Debate which was thought somewhat too limited. The Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) then followed, and indicated that he would take it as a satisfactory arrangement if the Government agreed to an Adjournment of this question at the present time, provided they would offer a day either for the discussion of the whole question or the discussion of this Bill after the Report of the Royal Commission was presented. He hoped he was not incorrect in making that statement. The right hon. Gentle- 1373 man, who was the most important Member of the Royal Commission which was dealing with this question, and who was so well known throughout the country in connection with the subject of old age pensions, suggested that a day should be given by the Government for the resumption of the discussion after the Report of the Commission was presented. That suggestion was accepted, and they were going to act upon that agreement.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 205; Noes 136.—(Division List, No. 13)
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.