Motion made, and Question proposed—
That a Select Committee of Seventeen Members be appointed to consider and report upon the best means of improving the condition of the Aged Deserving Poor, and of providing for those of them who are helpless and infirm; and to inquire whether any of the Bills dealing with Old-Age Pensions, and submitted to Parliament during the present Session, can with advantage be adopted either with or without amendment."—(Sir William Walrond.)
§ MR. BUCHANAN (Aberdeenshire, E.)
on a point of order, asked, with regard to the second part of the Motion beginning with the words "and to inquire," whether there was any precedent for it, and whether it was in order, in the case of certain Bills which had not yet passed their Second Reading in the House, to ask a Select Committee to inquire whether any of them "can with advantage be adopted either with or without amendment"?
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I really have not had any opportunity of considering this question—my attention having only been called to it since I entered the House—in order to see whether there is any precise precedent for the wording of the Motion. But there are precedents certainly for the referring to a Select Committee of Bills before the House which have not passed the Second Read- 407 ing stage, as documents for the purpose of inquiring into their merits. The honourable Members will see that, although the words included in the Motion as to whether the Bills can be adopted "with or without amendment might convey the idea to anyone unpractised in Parliamentary procedure that the Committee were to proceed through the Bill clause by clause as if legislating on these Bills. No one who understands Parliamentary procedure would suppose that they could bear that meaning. The words simply amount to an Order of the House that the Committee, in dealing with this subject of old-age pensions, should take into consideration any proposals contained in the Bills which have been introduced just as they might consider any proposals embodied in a pamphlet or any other document. No report or recommendation of the Committee with regard to these Bills can have any effect whatever by way of advancing the Bills a stage in this House. It is not for me, therefore, to say that the Motion is out of order; it is a matter entirely for the House to say whether it adopts the suggestion.
§ MR. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
I presume, Sir, we are to infer from the silence of the right honourable Baronet that the grounds upon which this proposal is recommended by the Government to the House were exhaustively stated in the speech delivered about a month ago by my right honourable Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies. On that hypothesis, I think it is not out of place—indeed, I think it is incumbent upon us—to examine this proposal, not merely in the daylight of its abstract merits, but with some regard, at any rate, to the various steps and stages in the interesting historical process by which we have travelled to the point reached to-night. Sir, the question of making better provision for the aged and destitute and deserving poor is not a novel question. As the right honourable Gentleman aptly reminded us the other day, it is a question which has only comparatively recently entered into the polemical arena of Party controversy. Dr. Hunter, the late Member for Aberdeen, whose loss we have such frequent occasion to deplore, was, if not the first, at any rate one of the first to bring it to public prominence, and it is the 408 barest justice to acknowledge what no one, I am sure, in the House will be chary of admitting that there is no man in this country who did more than the Colonial Secretary himself both to awaken the conscience of the people to the scandals of our existing system and to urge upon their judgment the necessity of devising some appropriate form of remedy. Sir, the question was in that stage, and it had not passed beyond that stage, when, in the autumn of 1892, Mr. Gladstone's Government took office. They were impressed, as deeply impressed as any of their successors could have been, with the urgency of this problem. They were also as alive as I believe Her Majesty's Government are to-day to the dangers and even to the disasters which might follow from what I may call the precipitate and empirical handling of the question. They accordingly took a step which I venture to think, upon reflection, every impartial man will agree was wise and just—they appointed a representative and authoritative Commission, a Commission of which two members of the present Cabinet, the Colonial Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade, were members, and though the terms of reference to that Commission were in some respects wider than those which are suggested in the proposed Committee tonight, yet, in point of fact, it fell within the purview of their duty to make substantially the same inquiry in 1893 which you now propose to refer to the Committee in 1899. Sir that Commission sat for two years. It took an enormous mass of valuable evidence, which demonstrated what, I think, can hardly be denied—namely, the existence of large and irreconcilable diversities of opinion, not only among the witnesses whom it examined, but among the members of the Commission itself, not indeed as to the magnitude of the evil, but as to the wisest and most efficacious form of remedying it. But, Sir, while this process of inquiry before the Commission was going on, the temptation which besets even the most virtuous and high-minded Opposition to manufacture a little Party capital against the Government of the day began to assert itself in certain quarters, and at last assumed irresistible force. On a Wednesday afternoon in the month 409 of April 1894, almost exactly five years ago, a Private Member's Bill, associated, I think, with the name of the honourable Member for Islington, dealing with this subject, came on for discussion, and the Government of the day, through Mr. Shaw Lefevre, who was then President of the Local Government Board, while expressing its strongest sympathy with the objects of the Bill, while cordially agreeing with its promoters that Parliament, as soon as it was properly informed and equipped, ought to take the subject in hand as a matter of practical legislation, pointed to the fact that this Commission was only midway in its inquiry, and, without asking the House to pronounce one way or the other on the merits, they moved and carried the adjournment of the Debate. Sir, I ask the House whether that was an unreasonable course. It certainly does not lie in the mouths of the right honourable Gentlemen opposite and their supporters to deny that it was reasonable, because a year and a half later, when they themselves came into power, their first step was to repeat the conduct of their predecessors and to refer this matter again to a Committee; and now to-night, five years after that Debate, they acknowledge, by the terms of this Motion, that they must have yet another Committee. No sooner had the Session come to an end than I find that my right honourable Friend the Colonial Secretary went down to Liverpool and made a very remarkable speech—on 6th September 1894. He denounced the Government, as he, of course, was entitled to do, for its Irish policy, and for a thousand faults, both of omission and commission; but, Sir, the sting of his attack became pointed and obvious when he went on to say that he would like to call the attention of his audience and the country "to the way in which this Government [Lord Rosebery's] deals with questions that concern the happiness of the people," and he took, as his first illustration, the question of old-age pensions. He described the history of the Bill, the consideration of which had been adjourned at the suggestion of Mr. Shaw Lefevre, and he said—What did the Government do? Assisted by those who call themselves the representatives of labour in the House of Commons, they 410 summoned their forces, and, with the Irish at their back, they defeated the Second Reading of the Bill, which aimed at establishing the principle for which I am contending.Sir, that statement was as inaccurate in point of fact as it was unfair in point of argument. The Government did not oppose the Second Reading; they merely asked the House to adjourn the consideration of the question, identically the same thing that you are doing to-night. That speech of the right honourable Gentleman marked the beginning of the second stage in the history of this question—a stage when it was dragged, and deliberately dragged, for Party purposes into the arena of political controversy. I will not trouble the House with many quotations, though the material is copious, and I am indeed most sorry to have to make so many references to the Secretary of State for the Colonies; but, Sir, it is not my fault. From the first scene to the last the right honourable Gentleman has played the party of protagonist. He followed up that speech by another at Birmingham, and he invited the representatives of the various friendly societies of the Midland counties to meet him there to discuss this question upon a non-political occasion. Well, Sir, the discussion took place, and I have no doubt it was very valuable and interesting; but at the close the right honourable Gentleman wound it up with these remarkable words, which I think it is worth while to recall to the attention of the House. He said—I should myself imagine that a great scheme of this kind [a scheme for old-age pensions] should not be proposed to Parliament until some Chancellor of the Exchequer shall come who would have a surplus and not a deficit to deal with.We were then in a year of deficit, and my right honourable Friend the Member for West Monmouthshire (Sir W. Harcourt) had only a few months before forged that great fiscal instrument which has provided his successors with an abounding revenue, even for their large and lavish expenditure. But the right honourable Gentleman went on—You will recollect that we waited a long time for free education, but there comes a time when, under the administration of a Chancellor of the Exchequer whom I will not name, because I do not wish to revive political associations"—411 The House, I am sure, will observe and admire the delicate dexterity with which it is possible to handle a nonpolitical occasion—there was a very fruitful surplus, and that surplus was at once applied to give to the working classes the greatest boon which has been given to them during my political time.That was not a mere academical excursion into the paths of recent history. The object of the right honourable Gentleman was to let historians and the country infer from what had been done in the past what they were entitled to expect in the future. Then the right honourable Gentleman exercised a little prudent self-restraint, for he goes on to say—My hope is that, under another administration, and under another Chancellor of the Exchequer"—This, again, to a non-political audience—whom also I will not name, we may return to a time of prosperity, to a period of surpluses, and my hope and belief is that these surpluses may be used in order to stimulate the provision of those old-age pensions, which would do more, I believe, than anything else to secure the happiness of the working classes.Well, Sir, to some extent, my right honourable Friend showed himself in that passage to have a correct prevision of the future. The Administration—the unfortuate Administration—on which he poured the phials of his contempt, left office, I think, within a year. The new Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom the right honourable Gentleman coyly declined to name to his non-political audience, was installed, and has sat for nearly four years at the Treasury. The time of prosperity, the period of surpluses, to which the right honourable Gentleman referred, has come, and, perhaps, gone. The sum of £12,000,000 sterling represents what in the course of three years has been the balance of your realised income over your realised expenditure. But what has become of the provision for Old-Age Pensions? I will not discuss the question. But, at any rate, not one halfpenny out of those £12,000,000 has been applied, or ever will be applied, to the purpose which the right honourable Gentleman suggests. Well, Sir, a month or two later, in February 1895, the Aberdare Com- 412 mission reported. Its members agreed upon very little, but there was one point on which they were agreed, and that was that it was necessary that further inquiry should be made upon the subject. Meanwhile the General Election drew near. The right honourable Gentleman the other day made—I forget where—a speech in which he challenged me to name one speaker of authority on the Unionist side who in the General Election of 1895 made promises of Old-Age Pensions. It was a challenge that it was not at all difficult to take up. I will not go over again the old familiar story about the election card of the First Lord of the Treasury.
§ MR. ASQUITH
The right honourable Gentleman has told us—and we all accepted the assurance, of couse, with the most perfect confidence—that that card was issued without his knowledge or authority. It is unfortunate, but the card, whether issued with or without the right honourable Gentleman's authority, was, at any rate, a summarised epitome, drawn up by skilled agents, who presumably had attended meetings and had heard the right honourable Gentleman's speeches. These gentlemen drew up the card and circulated it by thousands to the electors of Manchester, either on the day before or on the day of the election, with this item of old-age pensions occupying either the first or second place on the programme.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Perhaps the right honourable Gentleman, who takes such an interest in this matter, will allow me to repeat that the card was issued not on the day of the election, but actually before I went down to my constituents. I was at that moment leading the House, and trying to bring the business of the Session to a conclusion. I did not go to Manchester as early as I desired. The card was issued before I went down to my constituents, and was not a summary of the speeches I made to them, for it was issued before any of those speeches were made. My speeches and my addresses to my constituents may be in the hands of the right honourable Gentleman, and there he will find the views I laid before my constituents, and not on the card.
§ MR. ASQUITH
Of course I accept the statement of the right honourable Gentleman, but I must say it was rather an odd method of electioneering. So far as I know, there never was any repudiation. The terms of the card were circulated broadcast in the streets of Manchester for a considerable period before the election; but I will turn to another no less authoritative statesman in the Government—I mean the Colonial Secretary. At the General Election the right honourable Gentleman went, among other places, to Hanley. On the 12th July 1895, he devoted part of his speech to this question, and I must really ask the House, for my accuracy in this matter has been directly challenged, to be good enough to listen to the textual quotation of what the right honourable Gentleman said—My proposal" [he said, after speaking of schemes for granting universal old-age pensions] "is more modest than that, and therefore it is more practical. I want to see, in the first place, a distinction made in the administration of the poor law between those who have good characters behind them and those who have been brought to poverty by their own fault.With that we all agree. The right honourable Gentleman went on—I want, in the second place, to assist friendly societies. I want to enable them to secure old-age pensions to their members, and at a cost well within their means. My proposal, broadly, is so simple that anyone can understand it.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN, Birmingham, W.)
It was a proposal, not a promise.
§ MR. ASQUITH
I am deeply indebted to the right honourable Gentleman for that distinction. I think it will be sufficient to maintain an action for breach of promise. Well, this proposal—the House would like to know what it is—the proposal which was not a promise, and yet so simple that anybody can understand—I suggest" [said the right honourable Gentleman] "that whenever a man acquires for himself in a friendly society, or any other society, a pension of 2s. 6d. per week, the State should come in and double that pension.What need for further inquiry? Here is a statesman who had got his cut-and-dried proposal, and could produce it to the electors of Hanley, and through them 414 to the electors of the country, four or five years ago. For my part, I do not think that the electors who listened to that statement were guilty of fatuous or inexcusable credulity if, hearing this language from a responsible Minister of the Crown—for the new Government were then in power—they believed that one of the first acts of the Government, if they succeeded in obtaining a majority, would be to carry out this "modest and simple proposal, which any man in the street could so easily understand." But, though modest, it was not yet ripe to be put into an Act of Parliament. We must have a Commission, which would sit for two years and then make an inconclusive report; after waiting the best part of another year, we shall come down to the House of Commons and ask the House to admit the impracticability of all the schemes proposed, and to institute a further inquiry before legislation is entered upon. Do you think that if the electors had been told that in 1895 they would have thought it consistent with the proposal or promise, whichever it was, which the right honourable Gentleman, in his responsible position, and speaking for himself and his colleagues, made to them at that time? I observe that my right honourable Friend the other day in his speech resorted to the familiar expedient of the tu quoque. He said that the Party most to blame was the Party who promised most, and if people were to be judged by their lavish promises the Liberal Party did more by holding out bribes to people than the Unionist Party did. Well, what is the evidence? He referred to the existence and the work of a body called the Imperial Old-Age Pensions League, which, it appears, proposed to grant universal pensions out of funds derived from the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of England. It may be inexcusable ignorance on my part, but I confess that I never heard of the Imperial Old-Age Pensions League; but I can say for myself and my colleagues in the late Cabinet that we had no part in its formation, programme, or propaganda.
§ MR. ASQUITH
I said of the late Cabinet. It is quite true that my 415 honourable Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Sir Walter Foster) was a member of the late Government, but he was the only member of it who had any connection of any sort or kind with that League. I do not want in any way to disparage that body, but when the right honourable Gentleman puts it forward as though it had been the official mouthpiece of the propaganda of the Liberal Party, I find, on investigation, that he himself, speaking at Birmingham on 11th October 1894, and referring in the most scoffing language to this same League, remarked that no prominent or responsible member of the Gladstonian Party had given it the slightest support. You really cannot have it both ways. Well, Sir, I do not profess to say exactly what weight these promises or proposals made by responsible Unionist statesmen had with the electors of 1895, but I am sure there is no impartially-minded man on either side of the House who went through that election who does not know that over large parts of the country, at any rate, vast bodies of people were influenced by the belief, well or ill founded, which proposals of this kind engendered in their minds, that this question of old-age pensions would not, when the new Parliament met, be again the subject of protracted and repeated inquiries, but would become a matter of prompt and practical legislation. If I were required to call witnesses, I could appeal to the memorial signed by more than a hundred honourable Gentlemen who sit behind the Treasury Bench. Old-age pensions having served its purpose as a Party watchword, is now to return again to neutralised territory which it ought never to have left. I rejoice in the change. We are as sensible, and always have been, of the urgency and gravity of this problem as any honourable Member who sits on the other side of the House, and we are as keen to find a practical solution. There are also many of us on this side of the House who are not satisfied that any one of the schemes yet put forward is either practicable or adequate. It would not be consistent with my conviction or my duty for me to vote against this proposal of the Government, but, at the same time, I conceive that we should have been grievously wanting in our duty if we had not made 416 this the occasion for recording an emphatic protest, not only in condemnation of the past, but as a warning for the future, against the procedure adopted in this case, by which the fortunes of a great social question have been subordinated to the petty exigencies of Party.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
I am loth to take part in this Debate so early, but the personal attack which has been made upon me by the right honourable Gentleman seems to make it necessary that I should make a few remarks in reply. I wondered throughout the whole of that speech what was the object with which it was made. The right honourable Gentleman recognises the extreme importance of the question which we have to discuss, but towards the solution of the question he made not the slightest practical suggestion from beginning to end of his speech. He told us that he deprecated wholly making this a Party question, and that he desired that it should be returned to neutralised territory. The whole object of the speech from beginning to end was to wrest the question from a neutralised position, and to make it a polemical and Party question. The right honourable Gentleman went back to a practice very common in the heat of the Home Rule controversy, and which I had almost hoped had died out. He based a long speech entirely upon extracts taken from speeches made by myself. Well, is it worth the right honourable Gentleman's while to try, by extracts which I will not call garbled, but which are necessarily incomplete and imperfect, and which give a most unfair view of the general argument which I have used in reference to this question—is it worth his while to waste half an hour of the time of this House in calling attention to what is, after all, a purely personal question, instead of leaving it to the House to discuss the important subject-matter before us? Now, what are the points which the right honourable Gentleman attempted to make. He goes back to the 6th September 1894, and he complains of the action then taken by the Party now sitting on this side of the House, and he attempts to show that it is inconsistent with the action we are taking to-day. But the action on both occa- 417 sions was identical. The action which we took then upon a Bill similar to that which was before the House a month ago, is precisely the action which we recommended the House to take in the case of the Bill of my honourable Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley. On that occasion it was perfectly well known that the Report of the Royal Commission to which the right honourable Gentleman referred, although not yet issued, would be entirely inconclusive; and what we urged the House to do then, and what the Government refused to do, was to accept the Second Reading of the Bill as an acceptance of the principle of the Bill without committing itself in any way to the details. And subsequently we asked that the Report of the majority of the Royal Commission should have the attention of the Government, and that they should appoint a further and expert Committee to consider the details. That is exactly what we did when we came into office, and it was exactly in accordance with the action of a month ago. The right honourable Gentleman quotes from a speech of mine addressed to a great meeting of representatives of friendly societies, but he wrests altogether the sense of that speech. What I said then was what was common sense even now, that an important element in the consideration of such a subject as this was the possession by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of a surplus. At that moment we had not a surplus, and I said very naturally if we had a surplus—I hoped some other Chancellor of the Exchequer would have a surplus—that I thought this question would then be materially advanced. Well, then, the right honourable Gentleman referred lastly to a speech of mine made at Hanley. I also desire to refer to that speech, because that is a speech in respect of which he is justified, if ever, in charging me with attempting to make Party capital out of this matter. That speech was made on the 12th July 1895, in the very heat of the election, and at a time when a contest was going on in a district around. On that occasion, what I wished most earnestly to impress on my audience was that they should not have exaggerated notions as to what could be done in this matter. I rejected absolutely the extreme proposals that had been made by different 418 persons and pointed out the impossibility of bringing them to any fruitful result. I urged that all the difficulties of the matter should be taken into account, that we should proceed gradually and step by step, and, for myself, I offered a proposal, not a promise, for the consideration of the audience. The right honourable Gentleman made a very witty use of my interruption when I asked him to make a distinction between a proposal and a promise. Surely, there is a distinction between the two. A promise, even though made by myself personally, would impose the fulfilment of a distinct and definite pledge; but a proposal is merely a suggestion for discussion. For the life of me, I cannot understand why my honourable Friends opposite should be so much amused. Surely that is absolutely the fact. I am prepared to maintain that from first to last I have treated this question as a subject for discussion, and I have endeavoured to discuss it in all its different phases in scores of speeches, not as definite and dogmatic utterances on a difficult question, but as suggestions and proposals which I was anxious to have considered before anything in the nature of a definite legislation was introduced. Is it really contended by the right honourable Gentleman that no prominent politician on either side may discuss a question of this kind coram populo without being held to give a pledge which he must fulfil the first moment after assuming office? I think that would be an absolutely intolerable position. I have acted with perfect good faith in this matter. I took up the question at a time when I could have no possible Party object in dealing with it, inasmuch as my own Party were in office at the time, and it might be a cause of some embarrassment to them if I had pushed too far a proposition with which they were unprepared to deal. But I felt the matter was of so much importance that from that day, which was very early in the Eighties, down to the present day I have hardly ever made a public speech without referring to it and endeavouring, I hope, to throw some light upon it. In the course of the discussion of the matter—I do not know whether the right honourable Gentleman will think still worse of me on this account—in the course of that continued discussion, I have made 419 various proposals and suggested various schemes; and some of the proposals which I have made in the first instance I have myself subsequently rejected as being, as the right honourable Gentleman says, inadequate and impracticable. But I do not think I am to be condemned, or that my colleagues are to be held responsible, because in reference to a matter of this kind, which I have done something to popularise, I have called the attention of the country to the issues involved, and to make it easier to be dealt with sooner or later. Now, what is the good of all this recrimination in which the right honourable Gentleman has indulged? I have shown that, so far as I am concerned, at any rate, I did not endeavour at the time of the election to make Party capital out of the business. On the contrary, I was so modest in my proposals that I can well understand that others who are able, more or less conscientiously, to go further than I could, may have succeeded, to my disadvantage. But there is no doubt the subject was alluded to at the last General Election, but not by one Party alone. Has the right honourable Gentleman ever referred to the addresses of his own followers? If he has, he must have found in them passage after passage dealing with the subject on precisely the same lines as it was dealt with by those on this side of the House, except that inasmuch as we were then in office, and expected to remain in office, we were possibly a little more cautious than honourable and right honourable Gentlemen opposite, who had no fear of responsibility for a considerable time. Well, Sir, the proposition before the House is that another Committee should be appointed, and the right honourable Gentleman has concluded that he is unable to vote against it, although no one would have thought that throughout the greater length of his speech. But why won't he vote against it? Because he admits that up to the present time no scheme has been produced which, in his opinion, is both practicable and adequate. Well, I am inclined to agree with him, but I am not inclined on that account to say that no scheme will be found which, at all events, will be practicable. As to the adequacy, that is to some extent a matter of argument. As I pointed out when I last spoke on this question, I do not believe that it is in the power of any Party in 420 the House, as a whole, to propose any scheme which would be a final settlement of this question. I am perfectly convinced that we must be content to proceed step by step, because it is only in that way that we shall arrive at a satisfactory result and go further forward. Not only must we proceed step by step, but we must regard anything we do as to a large extent of an experimental character. We must be prepared to go back if we find we are on the wrong track, and to go forward if experience justifies what we are now doing. I am convinced that the Committee which is going to be appointed will enter on this inquiry with great advantage. The Royal Commission appointed by the right honourable Gentleman opposite, and the committee of experts appointed by this Government, have cleared the way to a great extent, and have shown the direction in which we may possibly proceed with great advantage. I do not think it is at all beyond reasonable hope that if this Committee is appointed at once—it has unfortunately been delayed by the opposition on the other side of the House—
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
Precisely. That is what the right honourable Gentleman means, and in consequence of that the appointment of the Committee has been considerably delayed. If the appointment of the Committee had been allowed to be taken as a matter of course it would have got to work several weeks earlier than it is possible for it to do now. At all events, let us get it as quickly as we possibly can now, and I do not think then that it is unreasonable to hope that it will be able in the time still at its disposal to deal with the question and make a recommendation to the House on which the Government may base legislation. Let me remind the House and the country that the appointment of the Committee will not delay the dealing with this matter. The Government never pretended that they intended to deal with this matter the 421 moment they came into office, and no promise or pledge of the kind has been given by any Member of the Government, or by any Member of the Party who sit on these Benches. But it was said again and again, and I am prepared to say it now, that we do hope and intend to deal with this matter before we leave office. That is perfectly true, but as we cannot deal with it at the earliest until next Session of Parliament, the reference to a Committee will not delay the practical determination of the matter. Now, I really only rose in order to make some reply to the personal attack of the right honourable Gentleman, and I can only say in conclusion that I congratulate the House upon the practical progress that has been made. I express again my confident hope that before the Government goes out of office we shall have done something which, if not adequate in the opinon of the right honourable Gentleman, will, at all events, furnish a practical scheme the experience of which will be extremely useful in the future, and will lead to the ultimate solution of the question.
§ MR. LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
I rise to move an Amendment to the Motion of the right honourable Member for Tiverton—To leave out all after 'that' and insert, 'having regard to the fact that a Royal Commission and a Special Committee have within the last four years reported upon the condition of, and the providing of pensions for, the aged poor, this House considers that further inquiry means unnecessary delay in the fulfilment of these promises of providing old-age pensions for the deserving poor which were made by Members of the Government at the last election.The right honourable Gentleman has stated that this Committee would have been appointed several weeks ago had it not been for the opposition on this side of the House. Now, it is a notorious fact that the Motion for the appointment of the Committee was only put down on the Paper by the Government ten days ago. The right honourable Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies, with customary inaccuracy, accused the Opposition of delaying the matter for several weeks. That is on a level with what the right honourable Gentleman said on the Second Reading of the Bill 422 introduced by the honourable Member for Bow and Bromley, when he accused us of wasting time. On the contrary, it was the Leader of the House, the right honourable the First Lord of the Treasury, who had done his best to prevent progress on this matter by always putting down Government business in front of it. It was only when the Liberals came into office that the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies blossomed out as a very strong and strenuous advocate for old-age pensions. The right honourable Gentleman suffers from unaccountable attacks of modesty, for before the last General Election he went up and down the country advocating old-age pensions, and attempting to make Party capital out of the subject. But since the General Election he has been so much occupied in the Colonial Office that he has not had time to answer even correspondence on the subject. It is all very well for the right honourable Gentleman to deny now that he ever attempted to make Party capital out of the question of old-age pensions. He did make Party capital out of it, and that to a very considerable degree. He told his audience, in a speech at Hanley, that he had made a proposal before the Aged Poor Commission in which he introduced a scheme of his own.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
No, Sir, I did not. It was introduced in a full explanation that it was a Parliamentary Committee scheme.
§ MR. LAMBERT
I will quote from the Minutes of Evidence of the Royal Commission. On the 4th July 1893, Question 12,981, the Chairman asked the right honourable Gentleman, "Is it in consequence of this that you have prepared a scheme," and the right honourable Gentleman answered, "Yes."
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
One knows how questions are asked and answered on a Commission of that kind. One answers in a sense which is not always technically accurate. If the honourable Member looks at a full account of my examination before the Commission, I pledge myself that he will find that I 423 fully explained to the Commission that it was a Parliamentary Committee scheme.
§ MR. LAMBERT
I am bound to accept the explanation of the right honourable Gentleman, but in reading these Minutes and the Report of the Commission there is no reference made to a Parliamentary Committee scheme. It was referred to throughout that Commission, and in the Report of that Commission, as "Mr. Chamberlain's scheme." The right honourable Gentleman sat on that Committee, and he did in his Report attempt to controvert that statement. Well, now, Mr. Speaker, it is all very well for honourable Gentlemen opposite to come down to the House at this time of day and ask for a Commission of Inquiry. They did not want a Commission of Inquiry before the election of 1895. The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House does not like to hear of his election card. I am very glad to hear that the right honourable Gentleman does not mind being told that he gained votes in East Manchester under false pretences. I have a copy of that very card in my hand. It was a canvassing card, and according to the usual routine in electioneering one of these cards was left at every house in the right honourable Gentleman's constituency by his friends. But the right honourable Gentleman did not disown them until after the election, and after he had been returned by a considerable majority. It is all very well to go down to a constituency where your friends make all kinds of promises, and then after these promises have done their work to say that you disown the promises of your friends. The right honourable Gentleman would not do that in private life. If on his estate in Scotland his agent had made a promise of a pension to one of his aged servants he would not disown that promise, but would fulfil it like a gentleman. Some honourable Gentlemen seem to forget altogether what is due to political promises, and act as if these promises need not be fulfilled. For my own part I am quite sure that there are 121 Gentlemen opposite who, at any rate, know perfectly well that these promises were made at the General Election. I have here a copy 424 of the Memorial to the Government, signed by these 121 Unionists. In that Memorial they express their opinion—That a definite attempt should be made to fulfil the pledges given at the late General Election by the Members of the Government on the subject of Old-Age Pensions.These honourable Gentlemen understood that, in spite of the denial and the minimising words of the right honourable the Colonial Secretary that pledges had been given at the General Election, and, therefore, they solemnly asked that a definite attempt should be made to legislate in fulfilment of the pledges given by the Government. These honourable Gentlemen knew that they were elected largely by their constituents on these promises, that old-age pensions would be given to the working classes. It is all very well, after having made these promises, now to propose an inquiry. They put the cart before the horse; they ought to have made the inquiry first, and then made the promises after. But they first made the promises and got into office by them, and then they come to say, "We must see whether it is practicable for us to carry out these promises or not." Well, Mr. Speaker, we have had the Report of the Rothschild Committee, which considered scheme after scheme of old-age pensions; the Parliamentary scheme, Sir Henry Drummond's scheme, the. Rev. James Wilkinson's scheme, a scheme relating to Friendly Societies, the scheme of the honourable Member for Bow and Bromley, the Booth scheme, and many others; but the Rothschild Committee said they could not recommend any one of them, and all they did was to give the working classes some good advice. The right honourable Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies says, however, that the resources of civilisation are not exhausted. And what are these sources of civilisation which are going to be employed? They are the resources which we hear of in the bankruptcy court, when the lawyers keep on asking questions until no money is left for the expectant creditor. We are to have inquiry after inquiry. The Aged-Poor Commission sat from January 1893 till January 1895, during which they asked 18,000 questions. The Rothschild Committee sat from July 1896 to July 1898, so that altogether we have had no less than 425 four years' inquiry into the subject which the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies stated at the General Election was so simple that anybody could understand it. The Aged-Poor Commission consisted of 19 members; but, says the right honourable Gentleman, in his Report—That for such a task the numbers of that Commission seem to us to be too great, especially as being largely composed of members identified with schemes which were openly and widely divergent.The course now proposed is to refer the subject to a Committee of 17 Members, 19 having proved too numerous. But why should 17 Members be the exact body which will discover a solution to this question? I say that it is not the duty of 17 Members of the House of Commons to endeavour to extricate the Government from their difficulties; but it is the duty of the 19 Members of the Cabinet to formulate a scheme for themselves. I maintain that the present action of the Government is only a mean manœuvre to get out of their election promises. We, on the Liberal side of the House, have been taunted with the Newcastle Programme; but the late Government, at any rate, were never afraid of placing their proposals before the House of Commons. At the end of the present Parliament I imagine that the Members must be regarded as a set of very learned men, for at the instigation of the Government we are inquiring into pretty nearly every subject under the sun, but without much result. Our complaint is that, while the Government are inquiring, they are spending the money. They have had large surpluses at the commencement of their tenure of office, yet on this question, of which the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Birmingham stated he hoped for another Chancellor of the Exchequer and another period of surpluses—we have had that period of surpluses and that other Chancellor of the Exchequer, but not old-age pensions for the working classes. The Government, instead, have endeavoured to pension nearly everyone else. There was no Royal Commission of Inquiry before passing the Agricultural Rating Act. There was no Royal Commission before passing the Irish Landlord Relief Bill; a Royal Commission was not needed before the doles to the Voluntary schools, or for the re- 426 mission of the tobacco duty. The present Government have increased the expenditure of the country by from £18,000,000 to £20,000,000 per annum, which is actually nearly the amount which would have secured to every man and woman in the country at the age of 65 a pension of 5s. per week. I say if they had been in earnest about old-age pensions they would not have pressed the Agricultural Rating Bill, they would not have taken the duty off tobacco, or have granted the doles to the Voluntary schools, but they would have had a sum of £4,000,000 with which to initiate an old-age pensions scheme. Now, I do think that at the last election the Party opposite, which has been called the Patriotic Party, did pander to the most sordid instincts of the electorate. They went before the electors and said, "Only vote for us and we will give you a pension." Of course, if you talk to a man about Home Rule, or the British Empire, or anything else, he is not very much interested, but if you promise him 5s. a week when he is 65 years of age he will take far more notice of that than even the grandest scheme about the British Empire which you could lay before him. By this scheme they hit upon the very best means of attracting the working classes, and consequently it was an attempt to bribe the electors by the Party opposite, not with their own money but with the money of the nation. Now, the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies says, "Oh, yes; we do not know how to carry this out. Appoint a Committee to see what can be done." I may point out that a number of Committees have already been appointed, and this is the proposal made this afternoon to carry out the pledges of the Government. All I have to say is that I have an Amendment on the Paper which embodies my views upon this subject, and I beg leave to amend it in a certain degree. I beg leave to move to add to my Amendment after the word "fulfilment," in the last line but one, to insert these words—This House considers that further inquiry means unnecessary delay in the fulfilment of the pledges given at the last General Election by Members of the Government on the subject of old-age pensions.Those are words which are taken directly from the memorial which was presented 427 to the Government from honourable Gentlemen opposite. As the Leader of the Opposition and the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Fife have stated that they cannot vote for this Amendment, I am sorry to find that I have placed myself in antagonism to them. The Amendment I have placed on the Paper, however, embodies my views absolutely, and I am sorry the right honourable Gentlemen on the Front Bench cannot support it.
§ MR. BOUSFIELD (Hackney, N.)
I have listened to the speeches of Gentlemen opposite, and I must confess that I have not heard one single sentence which can be called an argument against the proposal of the Government. We have heard a good deal about election cards and election pledges, the utter irrelevancy of which is perfectly obvious when we remember that the Government have not even repudiated such a pledge, if they ever gave one upon the subject. But so far from disowning any pledge, we have had from the Government a distinct pledge that they intend to deal with this question before the close of the present Parliament. I do not know how honourable Members on the other side can possibly call that disowning election pledges. The Government have, through the Colonial Secretary, given a distinct pledge to deal with this question during the present Parliament. Therefore, that being so, the only question before the House is whether or not what is proposed is the most sensible way of dealing with the matter. The Reports of the Commission and the Committee which have previously considered this subject are absolutely inconclusive as to the result. They have, however, cleared a great deal of ground, and they have shown us a great many things that will not do. They have put up certain warning posts and cautions which will be extremely useful to us when we come to deal with this question by an Act of Parliament, for the question is a great deal more thorny than anybody ever thought it was a few years ago. Notwithstanding the opposition which comes from some honourable Members on the other side of the House, I think everybody will see that the most reasonable way of making some advance with this scheme during the current Session is to appoint a Commission to con- 428 sider the various propositions which have been placed before the House to see how the subject can be best dealt with. Therefore, under these circumstances, I venture to think that the less that is said about this matter on the other side of the House the better.
§ MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)
I should certainly not have said a word in this Debate had not the Colonial Secretary mentioned my name in connection with a statement made by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Fife. I think it has all arisen out of a statement made by the Colonial Secretary a week or two back in the country, in which he appears to have said that my honourable Friend the Member for Colne Valley and myself had joined a pension society which made it a condition that first of all the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of England should take place before the pensions should be provided. Now that is entirely misleading altogether. It is altogether unwarranted and, I may say, also untrue. I am sure the Colonial Secretary could not have made such a statement had he known the true facts of the case; and had he cared to make inquiries of the honourable Baronet the Member for Colne Valley or myself he could have been informed exactly of what actually took place. It is perfectly true that there were some people who proposed to disestablish and disendow the Church, and that with the funds thus placed at the disposal of the State to give old-age pensions. I attended that meeting and made a speech, and my honourable Friend the Member for Colne Valley also made a speech. I may say, however, that both of us distinctly and definitely dissociated ourselves from any idea that a pension must depend upon either disendowment or disestablishment. On the contrary, we refused to associate ourselves with such a society that imposed such a condition, and from the commencement it was only upon one occasion that I met those Birmingham gentlemen who had made this proposal. I know what my honourable Friend said at that meeting, and I know what I said myself, and we both distinctly dissociated ourselves altogether from it, and our argument was that the time had not arrived for disendowment and dis- 429 establishment, and that there were other means at the disposal of the State sufficiently ample to meet all the necessities for old-age pensions if the Government thought proper to lay their hands upon those means. The Colonial Secretary has made a statement which is entirely incorrect, and which I cannot believe he would have made had he been acquainted with the statement which I have just submitted to the House. May I say that I do not wish this statement to be taken as any apology for keeping up disestablishment and disendowment. I am in favour, and have been all my life, of the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of England, although I must not give my reasons why at the present time. I still maintain in regard to this question that neither my honourable Friend nor myself ever by word or deed or act ever agreed to any such a ridiculous proposition as that of advising that old-age pensions should wait till the State Church had disgorged its money and placed it at the disposal of the people to whom it justly belongs. With regard to the Motion before the House I think I may say this, that had my honourable Friend gone to a division upon it I should certainly have supported him. I sat for two years on one Commission inquiring into this question, and I am sure the labours given by the members of that Commission were almost exhaustive of the subject. Every class of witness and every person who could throw the least light upon the subject was examined at great length by that Commission, which was largely composed of gentlemen who were supposed to have great and large information upon the subject. The right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary was one of the most prominent members of that Commission. Mr. Booth, who is as great an authority as any living man can be on this subject, was also a member of that Commission, and many other highly capable gentlemen gave their assistance. I am perfectly satisfied myself that there cannot be much information obtained by the Select Committee about to be appointed. Anybody who knows the working of the Committees of this House, especially on a subject of this kind, with 17 members to examine every witness that may come before them, is aware that they will not be able to report this year, and they will have to ask 430 to be reappointed next year. By this time next year the right honourable Gentleman sitting opposite knows perfectly well that he will have arrived nearly at the end of his natural existence in the present Parliament. This Parliament will have come to its end by that time. (Ministerial cries of "No, no!") I say yes; and I am not so sure that it will not come to an end before that time. Another Budget like the last would about bring things to such a crisis that the Government would not last 12 months, to say nothing of 18 months longer. This proposal to-night will carry over the inquiry to the next General Election, when you will play the same game again with the election cards that was played at the last election, and the people will have to run again for the fulfilment of your pledges. The vine and fig tree around your own cottage will be painted again, and the old-age pension scheme will be again brought forward and will be again vamped up for another occasion. I was in a district the other day, and noticing a great deal of litter and dirt about it, I asked the people what steps they took to clear the dirt away. They answered "Oh, we sweep it about until we lose it." Now, that is precisely what you are doing with the old-age pensions. You have had four years which have been spent in attempting to redeem your promises and tidying up, and now you are sweeping it about trying to lose it until the General Election. The right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary thought fit to unjustly bring my name into the Debate upon this question or I should not have referred to it. I much regret that my honourable Friend is not going to divide the House upon this question. I am a loyal, docile, and obedient follower of my right honourable Friends on the Front Bench, but there are times when the most obedient child takes a line of its own, and I think if ever there was a time when such an act was justifiable it would be in supporting the Amendment drawn up by my honourable Friend, who has only adopted the language of honourable Gentlemen on the opposite side, and I think we could well have justified his action and position in any assembly of men in the country. I regret that I shall not have the opportunity of voting for his Amendment.
§ *MR. LECKY (Dublin University)
I cannot help regretting that the Government are not prepared to accept more readily than they appear to be inclined to do the fact that the question of old-age pensions has already been submitted to two singularly able Commissions, whose inquiries have extended over a great many months and been conducted with the assistance of the best expert knowledge that could be found in the country. After a long and patient inquiry these two Commissions have come to the conclusion that of all the various schemes proposed not one was feasible, or at least capable of being recommended, and they could not themselves discover any scheme of old-age pensions which would not bring the most grave and serious disadvantages. I think the inference to be drawn from a circumstance like this is that the Government ought to drop the question, because in the state of public opinion prevailing no scheme is really feasible. I believe I am in a minority on this subject, but I venture to think that I am not altogether isolated in thinking that this is one of the most dangerous questions that have ever been discussed in Parliament, and that it would have been very much better if we had not gone so far as we have done. Some of the best supported schemes have been those of Mr. Booth; but the result of those schemes would be to add to our annual expenditure a sum fully equal to the whole amount of the interest on the National Debt which has been swept away since the Peace of 1815. I do not say that a country so enormously rich as this country now is might not bear this immense increase of expenditure, but I would ask the House to realise what might happen supposing any great change takes place. Suppose that the United States becomes a free trade country and drives us out of our special markets; suppose that our great cotton trade passes to one of those Eastern countries where the cheapest labour exists in unlimited supply; suppose you are involved in another great war, bringing with it another great debt—how would you meet the obligations which such a scheme must impose upon you, and which you cannot deny, without producing the most terrible social catastrophe? You may take the more limited schemes connected with the friendly societies and so 432 on; but even then results would arise which would extend very far. Take the effect of an old-age pension scheme upon wages. It is hardly conceivable that it would not have a most serious effect upon them. It may not directly depress the whole body of wages, but it must tell rapidly upon those of the class who are approaching the age limit which has been chosen, and who are the very class whom we are most anxious to help. If it does not depress wages directly, it will at least prevent their natural rise, and if the Government with their vast resources act independently of the great friendly societies and the other benefit societies which are doing so much to provide for old age, it will certainly injure, and very possibly destroy and ruin a large proportion of these societies, which are among the best forms of providence existing in this country. If, on the contrary, it operates through the societies, it will lead to other difficulties of the gravest kind. It will involve the State in the finances of those societies which are sometimes very dubious. It would act with the greatest partiality, for the friendly societies exist mainly in England, only to very small extent in Scotland, and hardly at all in Ireland. To give pensions through the friendly societies would create another Irish question, for the portion of Imperial taxation spent in Ireland would become much smaller than at present. It would create another woman question, for women are almost entirely excluded from friendly societies, and you will find that in different employment and states of life the motives for saving money and inceasing income are with equally industrious and equally provident men wholly different. The whole life plan of a small farmer, whose farm will be with him till the end, is different from that of a working man, whose income may be much larger, but depends upon his health and strength. The one man will probably expend all he can in improving his farm, and will save a little or nothing, and the other will aim chiefly at acquiring an independent income. A great number also are too poor to lay by anything out of their wages. It is impossible that you can start a Measure of this kind without its leading to the gravest indirect and often unsuspected consequences. There is no 433 real analogy between the pensions which are largely of the nature of deferred pay, which an employer gives to those which are actually in his employment, and the Government pensions given to those who are in no degree bound to them or employed by them. In Holland, where the Government has dealt with great sagacity and great boldness with social questions, a Commission like that we have had in England has been lately held, and it has arrived at essentially the same conclusion. In my own opinion no general pension scheme can work efficiently without the German system of compulsion, and without inquisitorial powers for examining into the real amount of small incomes which would be practically impossible in England, while the liabilities it would entail could hardly be exaggerated—
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am sorry to interrupt the right honourable Gentleman, but although the Motion opens a wide field for debate, I think he is going beyond the terms of the Motion in discussing the different schemes of old-age pensions.
§ *MR. LECKY
I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and all I can say is that, in my opinion, the elements of this problem are much more complex than might have been assumed from the tenour of this Debate. I trust that the Dutch Report will be translated into English, and that the Government will lay it before the new Committee, because it will throw a great deal of light on this subject. I will not pursue my argument further, but I will say that if we are to have legislation on this subject, it is certainly far better that we should have a new inquiry into it, because the result of the previous inquiries have been purely negative. It seems to me that it would be madness to embark on legislation in the present circumstances and on such evidence. I must confess that, personally, I think it is a mistake not to drop the subject altogether as a thing which is not likely to work. I fear that the result of this new inquiry may be to raise hopes which you cannot fulfil, and which may, nevertheless, lead to a great deal of rash and dangerous action.
434 Amendment proposed—To leave out all the words after the word 'That,' and add the words, 'having regard to the fact that a Royal Commission and a Special Committee have within the last four years reported upon the condition of and the providing pensions for the aged poor, this House considers that further inquiry is not likely to shed further light on the subject, and that the Government should undertake the responsibility of making such proposals as they may deem good.'"—(Mr. Logan.)
§ MR. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)
I move this Amendment because I do not for one single moment believe that this move on the part of the Government is intended to facilitate the settlement of this old-age pensions question. I believe that the appointment of this Committee—and I doubt whether any man on the opposite side of this House will, in his heart of hearts, dispute that what I am saying is absolutely true—if granted, would simply be to go into this question de novo, and would put off, at any rate, for five or six years, the settlement of this question, thereby relieving the Government of their present difficulty, into which the right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary has got them. If this Committee was intended to recognise the fact that every worker in this country is entitled, in his declining years, when he is past work, to a pension, then I should not at all hesitate to support this proposal. Even if it were intended that this Committee should consider the best means of finding the money necessary, and of considering the question of how to distribute it, then I should most heartily and cordially support the proposal of the Government. But people outside think that the Government are playing with this question here in the House, and I frequently doubt, when I hear of the condition of the people, whether it is worth while discussing here at length, as it was discussed on the Wednesday when this Old Age Pensions Bill was before the House to the exclusion of the millions of poor people who in this country are now verging upon starvation, and who are very anxiously expecting an Old-Age Pensions Bill. When I heard the Colonial Secretary talk as he did a few moments ago, I doubt very much whether he realises the magnitude of this question. There are to-day in 435 England, according to the right honourable Gentleman's own showing, millions of people only just able to keep above starvation point, and to show how the people out of doors are anxiously watching, let me read just a few short words from a letter which I got this morning. The writer never dreamt that this question was coming on to-day. Here is the letter from a man in a village close to my constituency, and in it he says—Here in this village we are considerably interested in the old-age pensions question. There are a considerable quantity of old men and women here receiving parish relief, and some of them are just at starvation point.After the years that had been spent by different tribunals in investigating this question, one should think that there must be sufficient evidence in possession of the Government to enable them to come to a definite policy upon the subject.
§ MR. F. S. MENDL (Plymouth)
I rise for the purpose of seconding the Amendment. I gather that the right honourable Member for Dublin University (Mr. Lecky) is opposed to all schemes for old-age pensions, because he has referred to what, in his opinion, is the present duty of the Government—namely, that they should drop this question. Notwithstanding that declaration, however, I also understod the right honourable Member to say that he intended to vote for the Committee of Inquiry. That position does not seem to provide a very hopeful prospect for those who consider this to be one of the most pressing and most urgent questions of social reform in the country. Reference has been made to the renewed pledge given by the Government. I do not know whether this renewed pledge is to be something like the renewal of the Bill. In this particular instance the Bill is too long overdrawn already, and the best thing that the Government can do is to frankly face it and meet it. Not only did the speeches of the Colonial Secretary, but those of the Duke of Devonshire and others, before the last General Election clearly indicate that the subject of Old-Age Pensions hold a front place in the Government's programme and that they were carefully considering the matter, but that, in fact, it was the intention of the Government to legislate on this subject at an early 436 date. In spite of these facts, however, their first act was to appoint a Committee, and now that that Committee has reported, their second act is to appoint another. In my opinion this is nothing more nor less than trifling with the subject, and therefore I beg to second the Amendment of my honourable Friend.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I hope the House may be content without any very long delay to allow us to appoint this Committee, or, at all events, to divide on the Question as to whether it is to be appointed or not. I have listened with attention to the speeches, and I totally fail, with the best will in the world, to understand the reasoning upon which this Amendment is founded. The honourable Member who moved it told us there have been one Royal Commission and one Committee already, and, therefore, any other Committee must be unnecessary and a mere excuse for delay. There might have been some reason for that contention if the Commission or the Committee had suggested any practical scheme upon which the Government might make practical proposals to the House. But it is perfectly notorious that they have not made such proposals, and though I entirely agree with the honourable Member that that fact does not relieve the Government of the responsibility of looking into the question on their own account, it surely is a sufficient argument for appointing another Committee, with all the information behind it which has been collected by the preceding Committee, to see if they cannot aid the House and the Government in a problem, the difficulty and complexity of which is admitted on all hands. The honourable Gentleman is afraid that under cover of the time that a Committee takes to Report, the Government will escape any responsibility which they may have undertaken either at the time of the last General Election or before or subsequent to it. The honourable Gentleman, who is so much occupied with electioneering devices, must know perfectly well that, when we go to the country and have to give an account of what we have done or failed to do, it will be a very poor excuse to those constituencies who have based their hopes on old-age pensions, to say that there have been several inquiries, and that none of them had led 437 to anything, and that the last inquiry by the Committee lasted so long that the Government was not in a position to undertake the matter themselves. The honourable Gentleman knows a good deal about electioneering, and he must know perfectly well that, were that excuse sound or unsound, were it based on sound policy or less suitable motives, no excuse will be admitted by those whom the honourable Gentleman represents, and if we are not able to find some method of either solving or making a practical step towards a solution of this most difficult problem, neither Committees nor Commissions will protect us from the consequences of that public misfortune.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I confess, if that is all, I really cannot understand why the honourable Gentleman should think that their needs are less likely to be adequately provided for because two abortive inquiries are to be followed by an inquiry which we hope may not be abortive. I take, I must say, very little interest in all these Party recriminations over election pledges. A certain card issued in my own constituency, and, I gather from the honourable Gentleman, issued in other constituencies also, has afforded a great deal of satisfaction to honourable Members opposite, of which I should be extremely sorry to deprive them. If they want my opinions on the subject, my opinions are to be found in my election address and my election speeches. I dealt with the question of old-age pensions and the modifications of the Poor Law both in my address and in my speeches, and to every word I said on those occasions I adhere. I expressed myself, I hope, with a caution which the inherent difficulties of the question rendered necessary to a person in a responsible position who had to touch upon it. But that I hoped at the time of the General Election, and that I led my constituents to hope that we should be able to do something in this Parliament on the question of the aged poor is true. I still adhere to that view. I still main- 438 tain that hope, and I confess I feel, if it be indeed possible to do anything for the aged poor in the course of this Parliament, that the hope which I led my constituents to entertain will, either by the fault of the Government or by circumstances which are altogether outside their power, be proved to be illusory. Now that is true enough, and honourable Gentlemen opposite may make what they choose of that statement. Honourable Members opposite are never tired of saying that we induced the electorate to support us rather than them at the last election by the fact that we put this question of old-age pensions so prominently before them. I really do not know that we hold a monopoly of the subject in our election addresses and speeches, nor do I know that honourable Members opposite abstained from all reference to the question when they were courting their constituents. At the election of 1895 it was in doubt who was to be the Government, and the electors decided by a very large majority that the Government should be drawn from the Unionist Party. The reason for that, honourable Gentlemen opposite say, was that the Unionist Party promised old-age pensions. But the other side promised old-age pensions just as much.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Did they not? I think they said over and over again that the question of old-age pensions was no monopoly of the Unionist Party. Let us hear no more, therefore, of their extraordinary argument that the last General Election was decided on the question of old-age pensions. What it was, do doubt, largely decided upon was this. Both Parties came forward and said they were anxious to deal with what are now called social problems; but the Unionist Party were able to say that they had no great constitutional revolution to carry out before dealing with those problems, and honourable Gentlemen opposite were not in that fortunate position, and upon that distinction there may have been some changes of votes in the constituencies where these subjects were chiefly dealt with. But I am not aware that any honourable Gentlemen 439 opposite have abstained from intimating to their constituencies that they were not less anxious than their Unionist opponents to bring forward a satisfactory scheme of old-age pensions. It must be distinctly understood that the Government do not consider themselves bound to wait necessarily for the Report of the Committee before bringing forward a scheme. We do not think that that is a necessary consequence of appointing a Committee. We hope that the general lines of such a scheme may be indicated within a period which will enable us to have the full advantage of the weight of the advice of the Committee before we present any plan of our own. But even before that period arrives it is quite clear that we may derive great advantage from the labours of the Committee, even though they have not completed their Report, and we should not consider ourselves prohibited, if other circumstances appeared favourable, from bringing forward our own scheme because the labours of the Committee had not reached their full termination. We do not appoint this Committee to shift on to other shoulders a responsibility that belongs to us, nor to delay legislation on the subject; but we say that, inasmuch as two inquiries already held have proved barren, so far as schemes are concerned, inasmuch as that Committee and that Commission, though they have collected a mass of valuable materials, have made no concrete proposal, the Government believes that it is wise and prudent to appoint a Committee to undertake the task at the point at which those two bodies left it. That seems to me a plain, practical, and statesmanlike course, and I hope that the House will not make this proposed appointment of a Committee the excuse for discussing the whole question of old-age pensions, but would come to a decision without delay.
§ SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
I agree with the right honourable Gentleman that in his address to the electors of Manchester he stated his views with regard not only to the pension question, but to the question of the modification of the Poor Law. I believe that no pension scheme will be effective that does not deal with the question of the modification of the Poor Law. It is out of a modification of the Poor Law 440 alone that we will be able to provide the funds necessary for a pension scheme. Therefore it seems to me that the reference to the Committee should embrace the question of the Poor Law.
§ SIR J. PEASE
It does not do it directly, and but for the admission of the right honourable Gentleman I should have taken the opportunity when the Committee comes to be reappointed, as it must be at the beginning of next Session, to get the Poor Law included in the reference to the Committee.
§ SIR W. FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
As the Government is taking a course which may expedite the solution of this question, I am not prepared to vote for the Amendment. The right honourable Gentleman who has just spoken has said that at the election of 1895 the Unionist Party had not a monopoly of promises with regard to old-age pensions. I agree that promises were made on both sides, but there was a difference between them which the right honourable Gentleman carefully avoided. He and his colleagues spoke as responsible Ministers of the Crown at the time, while on the other side they spoke simply as irresponsible persons. I shall vote for the appointment of the Committee, not because it is to be a largely increased Committee, but because it is to try to find among the materials already existing some practical solution of the question.
§ MR. SEELY (Lincoln)
I gladly support the Motion, and hope that while the Committee is sitting the Government and the House of Commons will try to come to some definite conclusion in their own minds as to how much of the money of the country they think it would be wise and reasonable to devote to this question. I believe that one of the reasons for the inconclusive result of all previous Committees has been that no one has come to any definite decision as to what amount of money the country would be prepared to spend in this matter.
§ MR. HAZELL (Leicester)
It appears to me that the most hopeful statement from the Treasury Bench on this subject has been the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury that it is very possible that the Government will not wait until this Committee has come to a conclusion on the inquiry. I hope that if the Committee reports before the end of this year the Government will bring in a Bill of some kind next year.
§ MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)
There is nothing in the reference to the Committee to prevent them reporting in favour of a scheme of mere outdoor relief, and the very vagueness of the Motion, apart from any other defect that I may see in it, is sufficient
|Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir A. F.||Buxton, Sydney Charles||Fardell, Sir T. George|
|Allsopp, Hon. George||Carlile, William Walter||Farquharson, Dr. Robert|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Carmichael, Sir T. D. Gibson-||Fellowes, Hn. Ailwyn Edward|
|Ascroft, Robert||Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)||Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith)|
|Asher, Alexander||Cavendish,V. C.W. (Derbysh.)||Finch, George H.|
|Atkinson, Right Hon. John||Cayzer, Sir Charles William||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne|
|Austin, Sir John (Yorkshire)||Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, East)||Firbank, Joseph Thomas|
|Bagot, Capt. Josceline FitzRoy||Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Fisher, William Hayes|
|Bailey, James (Walworth)||Chaloner, Captain R. G. W.||Fison, Frederick William|
|Baker, Sir John||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn.J.(Birm.)||Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond|
|Balcarres, Lord||Chamberlain,J.Austen(Worc'r)||Fletcher, Sir Henry|
|Baldwin, Alfred||Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Flower, Ernest|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn.A.J.(Manch'r)||Charrington, Spencer||Folkestone, Viscount|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn Gerald W.(Leeds)||Chelsea, Viscount||Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.)|
|Balfour,RtHnJ. Blair(Clackm.)||Clare, Octavius Leigh||Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Clark, Dr.G.B. (Caithness-sh.)||Fry, Lewis|
|Barnes, Frederic George||Clarke, Sir Edwd. (Plymouth)||Galloway, William Johnson|
|Barry, RtHnAH.Smith-(Hunts)||Clough, Walter Owen||Garfit, William|
|Barry, Sir Francis T.(Windsor)||Cochrane, Hn. Thos. H. A. E.||Gedge, Sydney|
|Bartley, George C. T.||Coghill, Douglas Harry||Gibbs,HnA.G.H.(City of Lond.|
|Barton, Dunbar Plunket||Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Giles, Charles Tyrrell|
|Bathurst, Hn. Allen Benjamin||Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole||Gilliat, John Saunders|
|Beach,Rt.Hn. SirM.H. (Bristol)||Compton, Lord Alwyne||Goldsworthy, Major-General|
|Berg, Ferdinand Faithfull||Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth||Gordon, Hon. John Edward|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry C.||Corbett, A. Cameron(Glasgow)||Gorst, Rt. Hn. Sir John Eldon|
|Bethell, Commander||Cornwallis, Fiennes Stanley W.||Graham, Henry Robert|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Courtney, Rt. Hn. Leonard H.||Gray, Ernest (West Ham)|
|Bigwood, James||Cranborne, Viscount||Green,WalfordD.(Wednesbury|
|Bill, Charles||Cripps, Charles Alfred||Greene, W. Raymond- (Cambs.)|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Cross, H. Shepherd (Bolton)||Gull, Sir Cameron|
|Bolitho, Thomas Bedford||Cruddas, William Donaldson||Gunter, Colonel|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith||Curzon, Viscount||Haldane, Richard Burdon|
|Boulnois, Edmund||Dalbiac, Colonel Philip Hugh||Hall, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|Bousfield, William Robert||Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Halsey, Thomas Frederick|
|Bowles, Capt.H.F.(Middlesex)||Digby, John K. D. Wingfield-||Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Lord George|
|Bowles,T.Gibson(King'sLynn)||Donkin, Richard Sim||Hanson, Sir Reginald|
|Brassey, Albert||Dorington, Sir John Edward||Hardy, Laurence|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Doughty, George||Hare, Thomas Leigh|
|Brown, Alexander H.||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers||Heath, James|
|Burdett-Coutts, W.||Drage, Geoffrey||Heaton, John Henniker|
|Burt, Thomas||Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V.||Henderson, Alexander|
|Butcher, John George||Elliot, Hn. A. Ralph Douglas||Hoare, Ed. Brodie (Hampst'd)|
§ to make me vote against it. I cannot but feel that this question will be delayed and delayed until this Parliament goes out altogether.
To leave out all the words after 'That,' and add the words, 'having regard to the fact that a Royal Commission and a Special Committee have within the last four years reported upon the condition of and the providing pensions for the aged poor, this House considers that further inquiry is not likely to shed further light on the subject, and that the Government should undertake the responsibility of making such proposals as they may deem good.'
That the words proposed to be left out to the word 'infirm,' inclusive, stand part of the Question.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 263; Noes 93.—(Division List No. 94.)
|Hoare, Samuel (Norwich)||Martin, Richard Biddulph||Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)|
|Hobhouse, Henry||Massey-Mainwaring, Hn.W.F.||Smith, Jas. Parker (Lanarks.)|
|Holland, Hn. Lionel R (Bow)||Maxwell, Rt. Hn. Sir Herbert E.||Smith, Hn. W. F. D. (Strand)|
|Houldsworth, Sir Wm. Henry||Mellor, Colonel (Lancashire)||Stanley, Edwd. Jas. (Somerset)|
|Howard, Joseph||Melville, Beresford Valentine||Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)|
|Hozier, Hn. James Henry Cecil||Middlemore, John Throgmorton||Stephens, Henry Charles|
|Hubbard, Hon. Evelyn||Monckton, Edward Philip||Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.|
|Hudson, George Bickersteth||Monk, Charles James||Stock, James Henry|
|Hughes, Colonel Edwin||Moon, Edward Robert Pacy||Stone, Sir Benjamin|
|Hutton, John (Yorks., N.R.)||Morgan, Hn. F.(Monmouthsh.)||Strauss, Arthur|
|Jebb, Richard Claverhouse||Morrell, George Herbert||Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley|
|Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick||Mount, William George||Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier|
|Jessel, Capt. Hebert Merton||Muntz, Philip A.||Sutherland, Sir John|
|Johnson-Ferguson, Jabez Edw.||Murray, RtHn A. Graham (Bute)||Tennant, Harold John|
|Johnston, William (Belfast)||Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)||Thorburn, Walter|
|Jolliffe, Hon. H. George||Myers, William Henry||Tomlinson, Wm. Ed. Murray|
|Jones, Wm. (Carnarvonshire)||Newdigate, Francis Alexander||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Kay-Shuttleworth,RtHn SirU.||Nicholson, William Graham||Valentia, Viscount|
|Kennaway, Rt. Hn. Sir J. H.||Nicol, Donald Ninian||Verney, Hon Richard Greville|
|Keswick, William||Northcote, Hn. Sir H. Stafford||Walton, J. Lawson (Leeds, S.)|
|Kimber, Henry||Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay||Wanklyn, James Leslie|
|King, Sir Henry Seymour||Percy, Earl||Warde, Lt.-Col. C. E. (Kent)|
|Kitson, Sir James||Pierpoint, Robert||Warr, Augustus Frederick|
|Knowles, Lees||Pilkington, Richard||Webster, R. G. (St. Pancras)|
|Lafone, Alfred||Platt-Higgins, Frederick||Webster, Sir R. E. (Isle of W.)|
|Laurie, Lieut.-General||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp||Wharton, Rt. Hn. John Lloyd|
|Lawrence, SirE.Durning-(Corn)||Pretyman, Ernest George||Whiteley, George (Stockport)|
|Lawson, Sir John Grant (Yorks||Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Leese, Sir Jos. F. (Accrington)||Quilter, Sir Cuthbert||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)|
|Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie||Rankin, Sir James||Williams, Jos. Powell (Birm.)|
|Leng, Sir John||Rentoul, James Alexander||Wills, Sir William Henry|
|Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Richardson, J. (Durham)||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (L'pool)||Ritchie, Rt.Hn. Chas.Thomson||Wilson, J.W. (W'cestersh.,N.)|
|Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)||Wilson-Todd, Wm. H. (Yorks)|
|Lowe, Francis William||Rothschild, Hn. Lionel Walter||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn.E.R.(Bath)|
|Lowles, John||Round, James||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Royds, Clement Molyneux||Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart-|
|Lubbock, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)||Wylie, Alexander|
|Lucas-Shadwell, William||Rutherford, John||Wyndham-Quin, Major W. H.|
|Lyell, Sir Leonard||Ryder, John Herbert Dudley||Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy|
|Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)||Young, Commander (Berks,E.)|
|Macartney, W. G. Ellison||Sandys, Lt.-Col. Thos. Myles||Younger, William|
|Macdona, John Cumming||Saunderson Rt. Hn.Col. E. J.|
|McCalmont, Col.J.(Antrim,E.)||Savory, Sir Joseph||TELLERS FOR THE AYES— Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|M'Iver, Sir L. (Edinburgh,W.)||Seely, Charles Hilton|
|Maple, Sir John Blundell||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Marks, Harry H.||Simeon, Sir Barrington|
|Abraham, Wm. (Cork, N.E.)||Gourley, Sir Edward Temperley||Morgan, J. Lloyd(Carmarthen)|
|Allan, William (Gateshead)||Hazell, Walter||Morley, Charles (Breconshire)|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Hedderwick, Thomas Chas. H.||Morley,Rt.Hn.John(Montrose)|
|Bainbridge, Emerson||Holden, Sir Angus||Morton, Ed. J. C. (Devonport)|
|Barlow, John Emmott||Holland, W. H. (York, W.R.)||Moss, Samuel|
|Billson, Alfred||Humphreys-Owen, Arthur C.||Norton, Capt. Cecil William|
|Bolton, Thomas Dolling||Jacoby, James Alfred||Nussey, Thomas Willans|
|Broadhurst, Henry||Joicey, Sir James||O'Brien, James F. K. (Cork)|
|Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn||Kearley, Hudson E.||O'Connor, Jas. (Wicklow, W.)|
|Burns, John||Kinloch, Sir John Geo. Smyth||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Caldwell, James||Labouchere, Henry||Oldroyd, Mark|
|Cawley, Frederick||Langley, Batty||Paulton, James Mellor|
|Chinning, Francis Allston||Leuty, Thomas Richmond||Pease, Joseph A. (Northumb.)|
|Colville, John||Lewis, John Herbert||Pease, Sir Jos. W. (Durham)|
|Crombie, John William||Lough, Thomas||Philipps, John Wynford|
|Davitt, Michael||Macaleese, Daniel||Pickersgill, Edward Hare|
|Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||McDonnell, Dr.M.A.(Qn's Co.)||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Dillon, John||McDermott, Patrick||Priestley, Briggs (Yorks.)|
|Donelan, Captain A.||M'Ghee, Richard||Reid, Sir Robert Threshie.|
|Dunn, Sir William||McKenna, Reginald||Rickett, J. Compton|
|Evans, Samuel T. (Glamorgan)||McLeod, John||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)|
|Fenwick, Charles||Maddison, Fred.||Scott, Chas. Prestwich (Leigh|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||Mappin, Sir Frederick Thorpe||Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford)|
|Gold, Charles||Molloy, Bernard Charles||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Spicer, Albert||Trevelyan, Charles Philips||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)|
|Stanhope, Hon. Philip J.||Wallace, Robert (Perth)||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Steadman, William Charles||Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)||Woodhouse, Sir J.T.(Hdrsfld.)|
|Stevenson, Francis S.||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.||Woods, Samuel|
|Strachey, Edward||Weir, James Galloway||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen,E.)||Williams, John Carvell (Notts)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES— Mr. Logan and Mr. Mendl.|
|Thomas, David Alf. (Merthyr)||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.)|
Another Amendment propsed—
To leave out from the word 'infirm,' to the end of the Question."—(Mr. Buchanan.)
§ MR. BUCHANAN,
in moving to omit from the Motion the reference to the Bills introduced in the present Session dealing with old-age pensions, said that the House would see that what the Government proposed to do was to refer a group of Bills, not one of which had passed the Second Reading, to a Committee who were to inquire into them and report upon them with or without amendment to the House. He suggested that it was a most inconvenient and unusual course to take. As an illustration of that fact, he might point out that there were a group of four or five Local Option Bills at present upon the Statute Book of the House, and if this procedure was allowed, any honourable Member might move that a Committee should be appointed to consider and report as to whether any of those Bills could be adopted. So far as he could see, if that practice was to be adopted, the House was to be asked to make a very substantial alteration in Parliamentary procedure. He would urge upon the right honourable Gentleman that without those words he had all he wanted, because it was stated in the early part of the evening that the Bills to be referred to the Committee would be sent to them merely as documents or pamphlets. If that were so, the Committee would have power under the usual Motion to send for persons, papers, and records. Therefore, he moved the Amendment.
§ CAPTAIN SINCLAIR (Forfar)
seconded the Amendment. The First Lord of the Treasury, I think, in the latter part of his speech, said that the original Motion is not in accordance with the practice of the House; the Bill, which had not been read a second time, should be referred to the Select Committee. He also admits that if the words were struck out of the Resolution, the Committee would still, by treating the Bills as 446 papers, have power to examine and report upon them. If that is so, why should not we mention in the Resolution that these Bills shall be inquired into? I do not see why we should limit our ground. I cannot see what danger there would be, or what objection there could be of any sort or kind which this Resolution induces. It appears to me that we rather stultify ourselves if we ask for the Resolution in these terms.
That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered, That a Select Committee of Seventeen Members be appointed to consider and report upon the best means of improving the condition of the Aged Deserving Poor, and of providing for those of them who are helpless and infirm; and to inquire whether any of the Bills dealing with Old-Age Pensions, and submitted to Parliament during the present Session, can with advantage be adopted either with or without Amendment.