§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
It was my lot to introduce this Bill many years ago into this House, owing to the fortune of the ballot. We have had one discussion on the subject in the time of the late Government, and the discussion was then postponed, because a Commission was sitting upon the subject. I believe that that Commission has reported, and at the present time another Commission is sitting, and I suppose that the discussion will be again adjourned because of that. Well, Sir, it is a little unhappy that a subject which, I think, many people on this side of the House, as well as on the other, made a considerable point of during the last election, and at other periods, should be so treated. It 690 is somewhat unfortunate that the system should become so stereotyped that when we make promises at our elections everything seems to be done to prevent in every possible way those promises from being fulfilled. If we make promises to our constituents we are bound to do our utmost when we get into the House to carry them out, and it was for that reason that when I first obtained a seat in this House many years ago I sketched out this Bill. I may say I invented it in the year 1871, long before the subject of old-age pensions was considered a political matter, or was used in any sense in a political way. Many Members of this House have worked amongst the poor, and are fully acquainted with the circumstances of their mode of living, and with the laborious lives led by many of the poorer classes of this country. We know perfectly well that many of them receive but very small wages, and that many of them, notwithstanding their poverty and the general hardship of their lives, do their utmost to bring up their families as respectably as they can on a very small wage; and those who have studied the working of the poor law know perfectly well that when old age comes upon these people who have spent their lives in toil, 691 adding to the wealth and prosperity of the country in their own way—and a very important way—their means have not been sufficient to enable them to make any provision for themselves, and many of them consequently end their days in what is called the workhouse. Now, Sir, I am sure that all will agree that this is not an ideal state of society. All will agree that a man who has worked during his life honestly and well should be, by some means or other, enabled to look forward to something better than an old age spent in the workhouse, where he is considered by many to be rather a burden for the rest of his life. Now, Sir, there have been many schemes put forward to endeavour to do away with this state of affairs. Some of them are extremely reckless; some have proposed that every man of a certain age should receive a pension from the State whatever he was, whatever he had done, or whatever his career had been during his life. Now, Sir, to my mind such a scheme would be fatal to the prosperity of the working classes and the poorer people themselves, and I should very strongly indeed object to anything of the sort. What I think should be the object in a Bill of this kind is to encourage thrifty and careful habits in the individual, and so to provide that when a man comes to a certain age he should derive a benefit when he is no longer able to provide for himself. I think that is the basis upon which this Bill, and all schemes for old-age pensions, should be drawn. The Government, I know, takes a great interest in this subject, though its Members are not very numerous on the present occasion, and I must say it is a very sad thing to see a man who has worked all his life honestly and well, and brought up a family, having to end his days in the workhouse. It is our duty to do all that can be done to encourage a man to provide for himself when he can no longer work. The great point that I have always dwelt on is that the only kind, humane, and philanthropic way to promote their well-being is to encourage these men in their own exertions in the way of thrift. One knows that many of the poor are exceedingly thrifty and careful, and it is quite a mistake to say they are not, when we remember how quickly a great many of these take advantage of the opportunities held out to them. There is no 692 doubt that they are very thrifty and careful, having regard to the facilities which are put before them. The scheme that is contained in this Bill involves no fresh and large machinery. I have seen themes of those who had no idea of parochial work, in which it was suggested that there should be an account opened, and the people should pay periodically into the fund, but nobody knows the expense and work that would entail. In a small institution, in which I am interested, where we have only 120,000 depositors, the labour entailed is very great indeed, and those who think that an institution should be founded to which millions of people would subscribe would find that the expense would be so enormous as to do away with any benefit which might be derived from that institution. Now, I do not wish to weary the House, but if this Bill is to give a pension at a certain age—I named 65—to certain persons who during their lives have complied with the conditions laid down, I submit there are three classes of persons to be dealt with. First of all there are those who have not received any relief from the poor law at all. It was stated that the rich and poor alike would claim a pension, but I have circumvented that by putting in that only those who need a pension shall be entitled to receive one, and when it is remembered that the pension is only 7s. a week, I do not think it is likely that the rich will require it. Well, as I said, first of all there are those who have received no poor law relief at all. They are the most deserving class in the country. You will find throughout the country men, women, and children who abhor the idea of poor law relief, and live with the utmost frugality to prevent the necessity of taking it. Now, if a man earning £1 a week, or in the country 15s., brings up his family well and never has any relief at all, he is entitled to end his days in comparative comfort and peace, and it will be a great incentive to the people not to take relief if the pension is given in that way; and, to take extreme cases, it would go far to induce any person who now receives it to put off that relief until near the end of his life, and then receive his pension. I use that argument because it may be said that this is only another form of relief. So it is, in a sense, you cannot get out of that. 693 It would be far better, no doubt, if society were so formed as to enable all persons to earn sufficient to provide for old age. Now, that is the first class, but then there is another very large class: the class which, in time of sickness and trouble, and so on, has had to receive relief. I do not wish to exclude that class from the pension, but they will not receive so much. They would receive 3s. 6d., and an additional amount, not exceeding 1s. 9d., equal to the amount which they might have saved any way they could themselves. That is to say, if they had purchased an annuity, or belonged to a Friendly Society, or had in any other way made any provision for themselves, that would tend to give them a title to a larger amount than they would other wise receive if they had not attempted to provide for themselves. The third class which I have put into this Bill, somewhat reluctantly consists of special cases which will have to be considered by the local authorities, who will have to deal with these, matters. There are many people, no doubt, who are deserving, who have lost all their children, and who are in poor circumstances, and who have not been able to make any provision for themselves, and who might be shut out by a hard and fast rule, and who ought to be considered. Those are the three classes which have to be dealt with, and what I feel is, that if this system is carried out—and I repeat the suggestion which created a laugh on the opposite side of the House—this is only poor law in a species of reform. But poor law vitiates by its method any chance for the poor. The applicant for relief now has to show his absolute poverty and misery; that is the only way a man can get relief. It is not by showing that he has done as well as he can, but by showing that he has nothing at all. And if you get two men, one of whom has lived well and got a little furniture, and is hard pressed for the time, he is treated worse than the man who has lived upon his all and has nothing left. Now, under this scheme, a man would live with the desire to live respectably, and the pension he would receive in the future would depend upon his own exertions. He would receive 5s. if he had received poor law relief, whereas if he had not he would receive 7s. Now there appears to be some objection that these 694 pensions should come out of the rates, it is far easier to throw everything on the Exchequer; but I think it is better that they should come out of the rates. This scheme would tend to reduce poor law relief, and, that being so, I think there is no hardship in the pensions being thrown upon the rates, but it is not material. The great point I wish to put is that old-age pensions, which, I think, must come, have been pledged by the Government. I venture to say there is hardly a Member of the Government who has not pledged himself to such a scheme. There are considerable details in connection with this Bill which I do not wish to labour, and I know perfectly well that a Bill of this description can never become law unless it was consented to by the Government and thrashed out in Committee. I am not so innocent as to think that a Measure like this should be passed without very careful consideration, and those who work among the poor will know that there is great danger of doing more harm than good unless it is very carefully considered. I am one of those who object to that administration, but in the interest of the poor I say the lax administration, of the poor law is the worst policy you can adopt for the poor themselves. That has been shown over and over again. The only way to reform is to stimulate the people to provide for themselves better than they do at present. I know very well it is thought in some quarters that it is impossible for the poor to provide more than they do for themselves but the habit of thrift is compatible with the smallest means. I have seen people begin to save in a small way, and have been astonished at the result. The only way is to stimulate the people to make every effort. The various details of the Bill I will not go into now. I have endeavoured to show why the whole system of this Bill should be taken out of the poor law administration. I am against its being put under the poor law machinery altogether. I am sanguine enough to believe that if some bonâ fide system of pensions such as this were established, the result would be enormously to reduce the burden of local taxation for poor law purposes. Now, Sir, I know very well that at this hour on a Wednesday afternoon it is impossible for me to get an expression of opinion from this House on this subject. 695 This is, as I am aware, a large question; it is a question which some of us have thought over for many years. I was surprised that it came on to-day, but I am glad that we have this opportunity of seeing whether the Government are in earnest with regard to the granting of old-age pensions. It seems to me that this is one of those questions which, if carefully handled, will do immense good; but, on the other hand, I am convinced that an indiscriminate distribution of pensions would be a great evil to the State. I will conclude, as I began, with this statement: I think in a country like this, which is perhaps the richest country in the world—a country that has amongst its numbers some of the richest people in the world, and which possesses, I am glad to say, a larger number of well-to-do-people than any other country—it is a sad fact that we find so many hundreds of thousands of people who, although they have lived careful, proper, and respectable lives, end their days in destitution. I am not talking of the drunkard, the thriftless, or the disreputable; but I say it is a crying evil to our system of civilisation and society that it is possible that a man who really lives a life such as I have described, working freely, properly, and honestly, and adding to the wealth of the community by his labour, should, when he comes to be worn out with old age, have only the workhouse before him. I do not say that mine is the only scheme that can be carried out. What I say is that, inasmuch as we have pledged ourselves over and over again to deal with this subject, inasmuch as we feel that the present state of affairs is not satisfactory, we are bound, particularly in a Session such as this when we seem to do everything in no time, to give some of the time which is at our disposal to the consideration of this question, which, if wisely settled, and a proper system is established, will tend more to strengthen this country and to make the lives of the people happier than some of those great Measures for which we are voting millions of money. I therefore, Mr. Speaker, beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. I do not want to make this a Party matter. I believe hon. Members on both sides of the House are keenly anxious to do something in the direction of old-age pensions. I believe 696 that most of us wish to do what is right, and I cannot help saying that I should have liked to have seen, a little more sympathy from the Government on this occasion. Let us at the close of this century put an end to this crying evil, let us free our workhouses of the more respectable inmates, and let us see that these people end their days in a manner a little more in accordance with the lives they have led.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
Mr. Speaker, the hon. Member who has made this Motion thought that some laughter which proceeded from this side of the House during one portion of his speech was directed to some observation of his on the subject of poor law. I believe it was directed to one of those pleasant slips which are commonly known as "Irish bulls," a fact which leads me to ask the hon. Member whether he intends that this Bill shall apply to Scotland and Ireland? [Mr. BARTLEY: Try it in England first.] There is nothing in the Bill to limit it to England, and there is no attempt to apply it to either Scotland or Ireland. It is unworkable in those countries although it is extended to them. The machinery of this Bill is such that I need not delay the House long to consider it. The Bill contains many extraordinary proposals. It throws the whole administration of the proposed pension fund on the county councils, but no machinery is provided by which the county councils are to carry it out. The county rate would become a new poor rate, and county councils would have to pay a large number of poor law officials, who would go into the municipal boroughs of the country and compete with the officials of the boards of guardians and overhaul the cases of the same poor. I need hardly labour that question. The inquiries which these new officials would have to make, the cost of which would have to be met out of the new poor rate levied by the county councils, would be of the most extraordinarily delicate and difficult description, even more delicate and difficult than the inquiries now made by the highly-skilled officers of the boards of guardians who have been 697 trained all their lives to this work. For example, the new officers would have to inquire as to the exceptional amount of illness in these cases not brought on by the misconduct of the applicants, the loss of children who should have helped them, permanent affliction not brought on by their own misconduct, and exceptional misfortune and distress. These inquiries are infinitely more difficult than those carried on by the present poor law officials. The poor law relief is distributed on the intelligible principle of destitution, and, therefore, the inquiries of the present officers are comparatively easy, whereas these new officials will have to investigate matters which have perplexed the most experienced administrators of relief. The proposals of the Bill are so extraordinarily crude that I cannot consider it is anything more than a title, and if the House is called upon to-day to vote on the Bill, or the proposals of the Bill, I cannot conceive that the Government will allow it to be read a second time. I am, sure no hon. Member of this House will be justified in supporting this Bill, either from his own conscience or in the interest of his constituents. Having dealt thus briefly with the Bill, I should like to say one word on the general question. The hon. Member proposes to give pensions to the thrifty. Well, Sir, I believe the demand for old-age pensions which has existed in the constituencies, and to which a great number of Members, as the hon. Gentleman says, have in their election addresses given some adhesion, perhaps a little lightly and without having thought the matter out, is largely based upon the other class which he rejects, the class which cannot be described as thrifty. This is a very important matter, and one which lies at the root of this question. The people of this country, so far as they ask for or demand old-age pensions, appear to believe that such a system, however costly, would, at all events, have the enormous merit of getting rid of the poor law system and the compulsory right to relief which distinguishes this country from all the others in the world. I need hardly point out that any thrift system such as the one now proposed, whatever its gigantic cost, will be superadded to the poor law, and poor law relief will not be 698 lessened. Now, Sir, the people of this country ask very largely that there should be some general system of old-age pensions which should replace and supersede the existing poor law. But I do not believe that they will ever, when they are brought face to face with it, support a scheme such as is proposed in this Bill, by which the rates would be levied on the very poorest of the people, and by which the taxes, which would fall very heavily on the poor, would be applied only to the support of those who had shown thrift and providence in life. I am sure the people of this country will never support a scheme for taxing the poorest of the poor for the support of those who are able to show thrift under the conditions of this Bill. The very gravity of this question is that when it comes to be faced by any responsible Government it is the larger question—not the question of thrift, but the question of non-thrift, and the question of the poor law—which will have to be faced. Even the limited proposals of this Bill are proposals which involve vast additional rates and taxation, and I cannot but think that those Members of this House have been somewhat reckless, if distinguished, who have scattered promises on this subject far and wide without duly considering the whole subject. The Leader of this House was once tackled on the matter, and he appeared not himself to have thought out the question, and yet he put old-age pensions into his, election address. The hon. Member for North Islington regretted that the Government were not represented more strongly when he was making his speech in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was present when the hon. Member began his speech, but the right hon. Gentleman soon fled from the House. I do not for a moment think he was not interested in the subject, but I think he was appalled by the demand which he foresaw would be made on the public purse. The hon. Member gave not the slightest calculation to the House as to the extent to which the counties would be involved by even this limited expenditure, and I am convinced that this scheme when made to the House by a Government cannot be limited to the thrifty, but must be a wide and all- 699 embracing proposal, and if it is that it will be one of which indeed the Chancellor of the Exchequer may well be afraid.
§ MR. F. G. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
Mr. Speaker, I have listened with very great pleasure to this Debate. This is a question which demands very great consideration when the present high poor rate of London is taken into consideration. The hon. Member who introduced this Bill stated that he was opposed to any scheme by which every man; whoever he was, should be entitled to a pension from the State, but I must ask him how he is to guard against this providing his Bill becomes law. He will introduce a principle that certain classes are entitled to a pension. How is he to prevent either political Party, during the exigencies of an election, stating that they will allow those people who have not been thrifty—that particular class to which the right hon. Gentleman has just alluded—to be included in the scheme?
§ MR. BANBURY
I admit there is not, but at the present time political bribery of that kind cannot be introduced, because there is no scheme. I believe there is a Commission sitting at the present moment to consider the whole matter. Personally, I did not give any pledges to my constituents that I would support a scheme of old-age pensions, but at the same time I do not say that I altogether disapprove of them. In view of the importance of this matter, the grave objections there are to this Bill, and the enormous sums of money which the proposal involves, I hope the House will pause before giving this Bill a Second Reading.
§ MR. T. C. T. WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
Mr. Speaker, there has been a great deal of opposition to this Bill, but I think some of the arguments used 700 against it have really been arguments in its favour. It has been suggested that at elections pressure will be brought to bear on candidates to extend the provisions of the Bill to every class. It is said that that fact is against the Bill, but in my opinion it is a reason why we should support it. If the Bill passes, there is no doubt that before long the poorer classes in the country would be benefited, though under this Bill they are excluded. The most serious objection of all is that the whole of the expense is to be put on the county rate, and it will probably be found that the districts in which the larger number of persons have a right to claim these pensions are the poorest in the country. I do not think any Bill which puts the cost on the rates can be accepted. I think the general principle of old-age pensions is largely favoured in this House, and we on this side of the House had hoped that the Government would have introduced a Bill dealing with this subject. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, with his great knowledge of poor law and local government, has pointed out that the Bill is perfectly unworkable. I do not want to delay this Bill, but I should like to call attention to a curious clause in it, which says that those who have never received poor law relief in any form for themselves or for their children are to be given pensions. Almost all the artisans throughout the country are liable to trade disputes and lock-outs, and to be almost starving for a few months. Are you going to put a stigma on them, and say that they are not to receive these pensions because they have been out of work a few months in their lives?—for that is practically what it comes to. Such a clause would utterly spoil a Bill of this kind, and, while I consider this Bill unworkable, I hope the general principle will be approved.
§ COLONEL VICTOR MILWARD (Warwick, Stratford-upon-Avon)
Mr. Speaker, the hon. Member who introduced the Bill commented on the fact that there were so few Members of the Government present during his speech. I daresay the reason is that this is looked upon as 701 a rather academic discussion. It will be perfectly impossible to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion on the subject. It is one of the largest and most difficult questions, and cannot be dealt with in the course of a discussion of three-quarters of an hour on a Wednesday afternoon, and upon a Bill which is practically unworkable. Not only are the members of the Government not present during the discussion, but the hon. Gentlemen whose names are on the back of the Bill are also absent. One of them, Sir Frederick Seager-Hunt, is no longer a Member of Parliament; but the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff is well able to take part in a discussion of this kind. He represents great and important industries, and a very large and dense population of the working classes, and there is no doubt that if he looked upon this as a really serious Measure, to be seriously discussed, he would have been in his place to-day to lend a hand in the passing of the Bill. I believe every Member on this side of the House, and many on the other side of the House, are pledged in some form or other to an old-age pension scheme. [Cries of "No!"] Well, I will correct myself to say a majority of the Members of this House are pledged to an old-age pension scheme. This is a very difficult question, and raises discussions on many important subjects. First of all there is the question whether thrift should or should not come into the calculation. I have always, whenever I have spoken on the subject, strictly limited old-age pensions to those who have shown thrift during the progress of their lives. I believe myself that we cannot go further than to grant old-age pensions to those who through a long series of years, or, at all events, who through a series of years have endeavoured themselves to provide for their old age. I yield to no man in my desire to see the time come when the industrious poor of this country will not be obliged to spend the end of their lives away from their own fireside and in the workhouse. I know they look upon workhouses not only with regret, but also with some amount of contempt and with a feeling that it is a very great hardship that they should be forced into them towards the end of their lives. I 702 know that feeling is to be found throughout the working classes. There is not a family which does not desire that the head of the family shall not be forced to end his life in the parish workhouse. That being so, Sir, there ought to be found some means by which this could be prevented, some scheme of legislation by which every thrifty working man should be able to spend his old age in Ids own family. While we are all desirous that this should come to pass, and while most of us are pledged to some scheme for securing old-age pensions, we cannot, I think, regard this Bill as workable. We have in Clauses 5 and 6 a list of persons to whom it is proposed to give these pensions. Under Clause 5 we learn that those who have never received poor law relief are entitled to receive 7s. a week from the county rate. It has been pointed out that it will be impossible for the county authorities to go from village to village and discover who are entitled to these pensions and who are not. Pensions of 7s. a week are to be paid to those who have never been in receipt of poor law relief. I think 7s. a week is a pension which many of the lower middle classes would be only too glad and too thankful to receive. This pension appears to me to be applicable to men and women. If that is so, I appeal to the House whether an enormous number of women would not be willing and anxious to receive a pension of 7s. a week when they are 65 years of age. I am certain that even in small localities several hundreds of pounds a year would be required to provide this pension. The next clause of the Bill is even more extraordinary. If states that those who in their early youth and their manhood endeavoured to provide for their old age, and those who have purchased annuities and paid money into the savings bank, shall receive a smaller pension than those who have done nothing to qualify themselves for it. A man who has merely kept himself free from poor law relief is to receive 7s. a week while a man who has endeavoured to provide for himself is only to receive 3s. 6d. a week. That is the amount in the Bill. Then we come to Sub-section C of Clause 6, which contains an even more extraordinary proposal, to the effect that when a man 703 or woman reaches the age of 65 he or she can, if they pay a lump sum of £10 to the local authority, purchase an annuity of 3s. 6d. or 5s. for the rest of their lives. I am sure a great many of us would be only too thankful if we could purchase annuities on the same terms. Sir, I think this Measure is unworkable. I do not think for a moment that it will pass its Second Reading. But I strongly appeal to the Government to introduce their own old-age pension scheme as soon as possible after they have received the Report of the Royal Commission. I have no hesitation in saving that I shall be utterly unable to follow the Government if they do not, at a speedy date, introduce an old-age pension scheme. I hope when it is introduced that it will be a well-considered scheme, and if it is, and is carried into effect, it will not only prove a Measure of enormous benefit to the country, but a Measure which will be popular in every home throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland.
§ *SIR B. WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
The subject matter of this Measure has excited a great deal of interest, even greater interest outside the House than in it. There is quite a strong feeling that it is an injustice to the workers of this country that a man who has been an honest and industrious labourer all his life, and who may have had no opportunities of saving, should in his old age have no refuge but the workhouse. That is a condition of things that is not creditable to the humanity of our Government, and it is not satisfactory to the mass of the people. I think on that account we are indebted to the hon. Member for bringing forward this Measure. This was one of the first questions that came before the Local Government Board when the late Government was in power, and I know the great difficulty connected with any system of old-age pensions, and the enormous funds necessary to carry out any satisfactory scheme. The first thing that the last Government did was to appoint a Commission to inquire into the 704 whole subject. That Commission held many sittings, took a large amount of evidence, and published a report, which was not conclusive, inasmuch as it was not pointed out from whence the funds were to come, or how they could best be raised. When we sat on the opposite side of the House we were continually taunted by Members of the present Government for not doing something on the question of old-age pensions. The late Government decided to appoint a special Commission of experts to inquire into the question from a financial point of view, for the purpose of carrying some system into effect. This course was adopted by the present Government, and before Parliament met this time we were told that the Commission was about to report on the matter, and I hope we shall hear from some responsible Member of the Government before this Debate closes when that Report is likely to be presented to the Members of the House. The materials can only be prepared by experts, so as to settle the lines on which an old-age pension scheme can be devised. I do not think the scheme of my hon. Friend opposite is a feasible or workable scheme. I myself have given a great deal of attention to the subject, and I have found difficulty in making any scheme generally acceptable, but that should be no excuse for any failure to bring the question forward, because the Members of the Government are pledged to a deeper extent than any other Members of the House in connection with old-age pensions. They have delivered stronger speeches throughout the country than even I have made on this question; they have placed it in their social programme, on which they rode into power; and we hold them responsible for the early introduction of some Measure which may satisfy the public mind. I am sorry to see that the Government is badly represented now on the Front Bench. [Cries of "No, no!"] I do not mean as to quality for a moment, for some of the men we most respect are present on the Front Bench. 705 But I should like to have seen on a question like this, in which such an interest was taken by the Secretary of the Colonies, both that right hon. Gentleman and the First Lord of the Treasury in their places to give the House some satisfactory assurance. I hope the Government will understand that this is a serious question, and that, whatever may be the difficulty of carrying it out, it is a question in which the poor are extremely interested. It is one which ought to be settled, so as to remedy the scandal which exists at present in such a way that honest and industrious men may no longer be forced, when their strength is spent after an honourable career, to accept outdoor relief under the poor law. It can be remedied by some wise scheme of old-age pensions. I hope the Government will have the honour, as it has the responsibility, of carrying forward such a scheme.
§ *THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. T. W. RUSSELL,) Tyrone, S.
A question like this, which arouses such great interest, and has the sympathy of both sides of the House, is most unfortunate in falling to be dealt with at half-past four o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon. My hon. Friend who has just resumed his seat complained of the absence of prominent members of the Government from the discussion. Well, after all, it must be remembered that those who sit on the Government Bench have a great deal to do on Wednesday, and that the front Ministerial Bench compares very favourably indeed with the Bench opposite—with this difference, that the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite have no responsibility of any kind, and might have given some attention to the question if they felt inclined. But it is not a question of the two Front Benches: it is a question in which a large number of people are keenly interested. My hon. Friend referred to the appointment of the Commission on 706 the Aged Poor. That Commission has reported, and was not able to give Parliament very much light or guidance on this question. What the Government have done is this: failing to get light and guidance from this Commission, they appointed a Commission of experts. That Commission is actually sitting now, and surely hon. Members could not expect the Government to consent to the Second Reading of this Bill when a Commission of experts has been appointed, and is actually sitting and considering the whole question. There are difficulties in the way, as has been pointed out. This is the first proposal on the subject that has involved a call on the rates; and I noticed that the hon. Gentleman who proposed the Bill and talked gaily about the rates or the Imperial Exchequer, did not give us the slightest estimate of the probable cost of a Measure of this kind. I do not think the House is prepared to pass the Second Reading of the Bill if it should put an enormous charge on the people of the country. In a Debate a few minutes ago the hon. Member for Battersea complained very bitterly about a possible expenditure of £10 a year being placed on the rates in order that an association should be formed for poor law purposes. But this charge might amount to millions, and surely the House is not going to take a step of that kind, which would be very keenly resented. Therefore, on these two grounds—first, that there is a Commission appointed by the Government actually sitting to inquire into the matter, and, secondly, on the ground that it is a very imperfect Measure—we do not think the Bill ought to be read a second time.
§ MR. JEFFREYS
I think the hon. Gentleman knows, because I have told him, that though I sympathise with the object of the Bill, I have a great objection in one way—that is the idea that old-age pensions should be paid out of the rates. I can only say that I cannot conceive any 707 country Member supporting such a proposal. I don't know whether the representatives of boroughs would like to have their rates raised. I contend—and I believe most people contend—that whatever old-age pension scheme is adopted the money ought to come out of the Imperial Exchequer—that the whole wealth of the country ought to pay for these pensions. I doubt whether my hon. Friend, when he made the proposal, considered who pays the rates of the country. It is not the rich people who pay the rates, but the poor people—the poor farmers and poor clergymen that we have heard so much about lately. Over and over again I have known cases of rich men coming down to the country, and taking houses and keeping large studs of horses, who paid no rates at all, except what they indirectly pay through the rent they pay for the houses. It would be very unfair that that class who come to live in the country should pay a very small sum towards the large amount which would be required for old-age pensions. It would be very unfair, too, to the poor parsons, who would have to pay rates in order to subsidise these people. Again, it has not been fully explained why only the thrifty poor should get these pensions. Those thrifty people generally have something to fall back upon. The poorest people who come into the union are generally those who have been thriftless; they have not been careful, and they have nothing to fall back upon, except, of course, the workhouse. In any scheme we introduce and attempt to pass into an Act of Parliament I should like these poor, destitute people to be considered. There may be circumstances beyond the control even of a man who had been careful all his life which might render him destitute. I think it is a very sad thing that such a man should be forced into the workhouse, and that the Bill should take no notice of him, and allow him no pension at all. Whenever the Commissioners report, I hope that not only those who 708 have been thrifty and who have led such an extraordinarily good life, but those who have absolutely nothing to fall back upon, will be considered. You must remember that these thrifty men have probably small holdings of their own, that they have been paying poor rates all their lives, and that they will have contributed towards their own pension. I do not know what my hon. Friend proposes to do when the Bill gets into Committee. Does he say that he will keep out this clause altogether?
§ The hon. Member had not concluded his remarks at half-past five, when, by the rules of the House, the Debate was adjourned.