HC Deb 22 March 1899 vol 69 cc57-85

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That the Bill be now read a second time.

* MR. HOLLANDBow, etc.) (Tower Hamlets,

Sir, I do not intend to detain the House very long in moving the Second Reading of this Measure, as the discussion on the Bill which preceded it has already taken a considerable time. I must apologise, in the first instance, for the absence of my honourable Friend the Member for Shipley, who would naturally have moved the Second Reading of this Bill, and I am sure the House will regret that his disability to move it is in consequence of ill-health. I regret myself that he is not here to do that service in the able manner in which he would have performed it. I think it is unnecessary to go at any length into the provisions of this Bill. A Memorandum is attached to the Bill, which was drawn with great care, so that the Memorandum itself sets out clearly all the provisions which the Bill contains. Generally speaking, the object of the Bill is that a person who has from the age of 21 years insured against sickness and funeral expenses shall be entitled to a pension of 5s. a week on arriving at the age of 65. That is the future purpose and idea of the Measure; and, meanwhile, there are provisions which will enable people who are now above 21 years of age to obtain the benefits of the Bill in a shorter period. There are certain disqualifications, such as the receipt, during certain periods, of Poor Law relief, and imprisonment, but discretionary power is given under certain circumstances to the county councils to relax those conditions; and the pension is not to be obtained by anyone so long as he enjoys an income of more than £40 a year, or is in receipt of 5s. a week. Well, Sir, certain papers have been distributed. I received one this morning which, I think, emanated from the Charity Organisation Society, commenting upon this Bill. I do not wish to say a word against the Charity Organisation Society, and I think everyone recognises that in its proper sphere of discriminating in the matter of charity and giving advice to people as to the application of charitable relief, that society does an excellent and admirable work. At the same time, many of the people who subscribe to that society do not hold the views which are expressed by the committee of the society which is now sitting. My Friend on my left corrects me. The right honourable Member for Bodmin says it is not a committee of the society, and therefore I suppose the funds of the society are not used in distributing this literature. Well, objection is taken on the one side to the £40 as being too large a sum, too high an income; and objection is taken on the other side that it is too small. These are matters which, after all, are scarcely matters affecting the principle of the Bill, but they can be decided in Committee. I want to point out that this suggestion that a man should not receive a pension if he is earning more than 5s. a week, which this committee declares is a farcical suggestion, is founded upon this principle—that it is urged by many of the trade unions, and by many other people outside trade unions, that it is unwise that a pension should be given to anyone who is in regular employment, because they fear that the result of giving this pension would be to depreciate the rate of wage. I do not think this, as a matter of fact, is a very serious objection. The opinion of Professor Marshall and of many economists—and of Mr. Sydney Webb, who, I think, on this subject may be deemed an authority—is that the payment of pensions to poor people would not, as a matter of fact, affect the rate of wages—at any rate, it would only affect the rate of wages of the oldest people. The rate of wages nowadays in a trade is kept up by the efficient workers. It is not worth the employer's while to employ, even at a cheaper wage, inefficient and incompetent men. It is kept up by the standard of efficient labour, and it is also kept up in most trades by the actions of the trade unions. Then the provisions of the Bill are extended to women. Of course, it is a fact that comparatively few women belong to friendly societies, though lately a very large increase, I am happy to say, has occurred in this respect, and therefore provision is made for continuing the pension of a man who has died to his widow. Then there are several clauses relating to administration. These, again, are matters which do not affect the principle of this Bill, and are rather matters for consideration when this Bill goes to Committee Now, Sir, to mention a few of the objections which are raised to this Bill and its scheme of pensions. It is rather difficult, of course, to anticipate the objections which will be raised in this Debate, but one can gather from the speeches which have been made, from the literature which has been distributed, and, above all, from the Amendments which have been put down to the Second Reading of the Bill, what the objections to this Measure are. Well, there are four Amendments put down. As to the Amendment moved by the honourable Member for Somerset, his desire seems rather to be to draw attention to the superlative merits of the Bill itself, because he seems, in his Amendment, to specially direct the attention of the House to clause 12 of the Bill. Clause 12 of this Bill provides that the fund for supplying the pensions shall be given, as to two-thirds of it, out of money provided by Parliament, and not more than one-third out of the county rates. This is also the suggestion of the Amendment of the honourable Member for Somerset, and, therefore, I take it, that he is so satisfied with the excellence of clause 12 that he proposes to repeat it by Amendment upon this occasion. But the Amendment of the honourable Member for Leicestershire is of a, different character. He is an advocate of a universal system of payment. He sighs for the prophet's paradise to come, and until that paradise is established he would prefer that everybody should suffer wrong. Indeed, he scornfully rejects any system, any proposal, which falls short in any degree of the impracticable. There may be some honourable Members in this House who feel that, at any rate, they scarcely desire to delay doing something for a certain part of the community in the way of providing for old age, until the honourable Member for Leicestershire has managed to convert the world to his idea as to the rights of man contained in his Amendment. And the process of conversion may be somewhat lengthy, because, as yet, the honourable Member for Leicestershire has not been able to secure complete unanimity even within the boundaries of the constituency which he represents. For instance, I have received an answer from the Guardians of Market Harborough to some questions sent out to them by an informal committee which sat upon the subject, and they declared themselves in favour of a system of old-age pensions, but they especially drew attention to the fact that the honourable Member for Leicestershire had moved an Amendment at a meeting of the board of guardians in precisely the same terms as the Amendment before the House this afternoon, and it was defeated by 17 votes to eight. Then as to the last Amendment, which is moved by my honourable and gallant Friend the Member for Taunton. This does not declare itself with the same vigorous language, does not commit itself to any principle as to the rights of man, but at the same time it is a proposal to offer universal pensions, tempered, however, by all the undesirable features of the present out-door relief, the inquiries into character, and the inquisition which accompanied out-door relief. There is one Amendment of the honourable Member for Derby which is the antithesis of these other Amendments. It declares that— A more equitable and generous system of Old-Age Pensions can be established by the co-operation of existing poor-law authorities with local organisations for thrift and charity than by any other system of direct grants from the State. Well, no doubt to a certain extent, to a great extent, the propositions contained in the Bill which is before the House are imperfect. Any scheme of old-age pensions which is not all-inclusive must act with some irregularity, must of necessity exclude many people who are deserving, and to that extent must be wanting in equity. And any scheme of old-age pensions which does not at the outset throw a heavy financial burden upon the State must, to the extent that it observes economy, be lacking in generosity. But I confess that I cannot fathom the meaning of the proposition which is contained in this Amendment by my honourable Friend the Member for Derby, that, after all, a more novel and more generous scheme of old-age pensions can be obtained without State aid than with State aid. It seems to me clear that if this scheme is to be more generous it must be more expensive; and if this scheme must be more expensive, then, in his proposal, the whole expense, so far as public funds are to be used at all, is to be borne by local rates, to come wholly out of the Poor rate. I am not going into the equity of such a proposal, the equity of the proposal that a poor district with a large multitude of poor people requiring attention should provide out of its local revenues a large number of pensions, while a richer district which is favoured with very few poor will escape with a smaller burden in respect to those for whom it is necessary to provide pensions. I am not going into the equity of this proposal, and as to the generosity of it, so far as it is a suggestion that a man should provide a pension through a thrift organisation, it clearly cannot be admitted to be more generous than a scheme by which the State provides the pension. Therefore, so far as it is generous, that generosity is borne by the local poor rates in the district. But if I understand this Amendment aright, it means this, apart from the somewhat eccentric wording: it means that individual thrift, individual effort, by insurers, supplemented and assisted, if necessary, by the poor law authorities out of the Poor rate, is a preferable system of old-age provision to any pension provided for, wholly or partly, out of State funds. Well, that raises a clear issue, whether it is expedient or whether it is inexpedient to institute a system of pensions at all. I am not going to attempt to go through the objections which have been urged in the literature which we have received. After all, they are not novel; they have been brought forward again and again, and they have been replied to again and again, and both with the objections themselves and the replies to them all Members who take an interest in this question must be well acquainted. But I cannot understand the basis upon which the assertion is made in these leaflets, that any system of pension would be injurious to thrift, and would injuriously affect the development of thrift organisation, and the future developments of friendly societies. For what is the scope of a friendly society? Not to provide for old age, but to provide for sickness, and also, perhaps, for funeral expenses. And whenever the friendly societies have gone beyond this, whenever they have attempted—I am speaking of the largest societies—to provide any system of old-age pensions, it has been a conspicuous failure. The Manchester Unity of Odd fellows, with a membership of 800,000, although they have had a scheme in operation for some time, have only 18 members insured—18 members out of 800,000—under their scheme of old-age pensions in the central fund, and I think about 1,000 in the other branches. In spite of the able and earnest advocacy of their past and present general secretaries, and in spite of their having started a scheme of old-age pensions as long ago as 1882—it was altered about seven years ago—the Ancient Order of Foresters, with a membership almost as great, 720,000, have literally only three members—three members out of 720,000—insured under their scheme, although, I believe, that one or two lodges in Sheffield have just lately decided to require a double contribution from future members. Well, it is to this insurance through friendly societies, to this independent effort, that the opponents of any system of old-age pensions ask us to look to find a solution of the problem of destitution in old age at the present day. Every objection which was urged by the Old Age Tensions Committee, and by the earlier Commission, against any system of contributory pensions, any system of deferred annuities supported or assisted by the State, applies with equal force, perhaps with more force, against any and every system of deferred annuities. There is the disinclination of the young to provide for old age; and, after all, we really cannot expect human nature to change at the bidding of any doctrinaires, or because we pass any Act of Parliament. Is it likely that young men of 21 or 25 are going to trouble their heads as to what is to happen to them when they get to the age of 65? And then the established unpopularity of the whole idea of deferred annuities, and the fact that there are other and better and less selfish forms of saving than for a man to stint himself, and stint his family, in the way of house accommodation, in the way of education, in the way of food, so that he may purchase for himself an old-age annuity which he may never live to enjoy—all these things have to be considered. And there are many other objections which were urged by that Commission, and by that Select Committee, against any system of contributory pensions. Not the least of them is the conclusion they came to, which the evidence entirely supported, that there was a very large proportion of the population who could not afford the double contribution, whose best exertions were employed as things were now in keeping up their contributions against sickness and funeral expenses to the friendly societies. That, I may say, is the opinion expressed upon one occasion in the Commission of 1893 by the secretary to the Charity Organisation Society, Mr. Loch. An honourable Member of this House, who I am sorry is not able to be present today, made a most interesting inquiry— he represents an agricultural constituency in Lincolnshire—in all the villages of his constituency, and the general result in these different villages was practically uniform, that the poorer of the agricultural labourers could just manage to keep up their subscription to the friendly societies for the contingency of sickness, but could not manage to do more—to speculate on the chance of living to 65 years. On the other hand, the benefit which friendly societies would derive from such a scheme as this, or from any well considered scheme of pensions, is obvious. The inclination, natural and humane enough, of the societies is to give old-age pensions to their Members in the guise of sick pay, to give what are, in fact, superannuation allowances to their aged members, for which they have not contributed under the rates of contribution fixed. I say it is a natural and humane tendency, but it can only be followed to the damage and loss of the younger members, and of the financial stability of these societies. There is an impression that friendly societies are hostile to any system of old-age pensions. It is true that some of the leading officials of these societies are hostile to the system of old-age pensions, and it is true that they fear any State interference with the management of their own societies; but I venture to say that under the proposals of this Bill no such interference could be expected. Personally, I believe that the rank and file of the members of friendly societies are strongly in favour of, and would welcome, a system of old-age pensions, and I think there are signs that the movement is ripening. I have noticed lately meetings, and speeches made' by gentlemen such as grand masters of friendly societies, in favour of old-age pensions, and the Old-Age Pension League, under the presidency of Mr. Graham, of the Manchester Unity of Odd fellows, advocates a Bill upon the same lines as this Bill; and this league is receiving very large support in every part of the country amongst friendly societies. With regard to old-age pensions a number of questions have been issued to friendly societies, and I have only received to-day the tabulated replies to them. It has been found that out of 33 replies from these friendly societies there were 31 in favour of a system of old-age pensions, and only two against them. There were 14 in favour of this Bill and six against it, and out of those six four were in favour of a system of universal pensions. There is one other objection to which I wish to allude. It is said that any system of old-age pensions would sap the independence and discourage thrift among the British working classes. I think I noticed in the speech of my honourable and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth a passage in which he said that old-age pensions would uproot that sense of obligation which persons exhibit towards their parents. It is a, little inconsistent that we in our rank of life, who expect parents to provide for their children, should be always lecturing people on the imperative duty of a man with 25s. a week supplying funds for his parents. As a matter of fact I do not believe that the relations between old people and their children will be less intimate or happy because the old people are able to make some small independent contribution to the household expenses. Is any system of old-age pensions any more destructive of the independence and thrift of the working classes of the nation than the present system of Poor Law relief? Yet, as a matter of fact, at the present moment in London, one person out of every three over the age of 65 years is in receipt of Poor Law relief either in or out of the workhouse, and, taking the working classes of the whole of England, four out of every nine are receiving either indoor or outdoor relief. I think the provision of a small but certain endowment will encourage a person to put by a little more if he can out of his wages during the time he can work to provide a sufficient fund, which, supplemented by this small pension, will enable him to live in comparative comfort, and so to avoid the now almost certain and inevitable drift into pauperism. I will not enter now into the question of what other alternatives and remedies might be proposed, such as classification, which I imagine is one of the points in the alteration of the Poor Law suggested by my honourable Friend below me. But there is this to be considered, and that is that to a certain extent classification exists now, for you give to the guardians power to give outdoor relief; but the present method of giving relief is altogether irre- gular and unequal. Whether two persons of equal merit, or of equal thrift and industry, receive outdoor relief or not now depends entirely and absolutely upon chance as to what special union they happen to belong to; and even in the same union two people of similar merit often receive dissimilar treatment because of the lack of proper investigation into their cases. At any rate classification is no alternative to the demand for old-age pensions, and it could only meet the case of actual pauperism. Classification, or any change in the Poor Law, can only meet the case of people who are willing to apply for relief, and are willing to submit to an investigation. What the advocates of pensions desire is not only to meet the case of paupers, but to meet the case of ordinary and extreme poverty which affects an army of people who are destitute so far as their own finances are concerned, but who manage to keep off the rates by the charity of private individuals or by a painful struggle on wholly inadequate wages or savings, who are too often doomed to see those savings gradually diminished and exhausted, and who find that a life of thorough thrift and industry and uprightness is no protection and no security against the ultimate shame of pauperism. Let me remind my honourable Friend that if his view is that the guardians are able, to any extent, by any change in the Poor Law to meet this demand for old-age pensions, that that view is not entertained by the guardians themselves. In answer to the questions put to the Boards of Guardians, 99 answered most fully, and of those 76 were in favour of some system of State-aided old-age pensions apart from the Poor Law, and only 13 were against them, and 43 of those Boards of Guardians were in favour of this Bill with certain modifications, and only 20 of them were against it. There is one objection taken to this Measure, and it is this: that it singles out one form of saving—that special form of saving known as insurance against sickness and funeral expenses—and gives a special reward to that form of thrift, and ignores every other kind of thrift. But the principle in this Bill generally is to encourage thrift and industry in a man, and then reward it by a pension. Any inquisition into the character of the man or his past history would not only add to the expense of the administration, but it would open the door to special favour and abuse, and it would also expose a man to the one taint which it is desirable to avoid, and that is the taint of pauperism. I see from the papers that it is said that in New Zealand the result of the system there has been that the thrifty people do not apply for pensions, but that they are being applied for by loafers, and they do not mind whether they go though the examination or not. But some test is necessary, and this Bill proposes to take this particular test because it is the most customary form of thrifty saving among the working classes at the present moment. It is a fair test, because while a man can be expected to do so much he cannot be expected to do more. I regret that I have detained the House at such length, but there are many other objections which I could have met if there had been time. I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.


I am sure the House will share the regret of my honourable Friend that this discussion on this most important and interesting subject has been curtailed by the action of the Opposition in discussing at great length certain topics which have been raised on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill. I am not blaming them in the exercise of their discretion for having taken this course, but I am stating the fact that that discussion, which I think was not necessay or urgent, has most materially curtailed the time which would otherwise have been devoted to this question. I specially regret that I am unable to wait for the reply which will be made by honourable Gentlemen who are opposed to this Bill, but I think the House will probably expect, and, indeed, has a right to expect, that the Government should make a complete statement on the general question and say what their position is; and I will add, as the Government have been very violently attacked both in this House and out of it on this question, we have a right to be heard in our own defence. Now, Sir, in regard to this Bill, the Government welcome its introduction into the House, and would gladly have supported its Second Reading, on the understanding that it should be referred to a Select Committee. With the principle of the Bill we entirely agree. There are objections in detail of considerable importance, and it is perfectly clear that it would have to be amended, and that omissions would have to be supplied before it became a practical Measure; but those objections and those omissions do not constitute vital faults. I suppose, however, that we can hardly hope that the Second Reading of the Bill will be agreed to this afternoon, and in these circumstances we have decided that what we intended shall not be frustrated by the unhappy circumstance to which I have referred. We intend, therefore, immediately after Easter, to propose a Select Committee, to which the subject will be referred, and I am informed that, although according to the rules of the House it will not be possible to refer this Bill to it as a Bill, insomuch as it will not have passed the Second Reading, yet, I believe, there will be no difficulty in referring it to the Committee as a document of which they can take note. This is the way in which we propose to deal with the present situation. I want to task the patience of the House while I make a somewhat more general statement. Now, Sir, I want to ask the House what is the general case for any legislation of this kind? My honourable Friend has stated it, but I may, perhaps, be allowed to summarise it into one or two sentences. The Report of the Commission of 1893, and the evidence taken before it, make absolutely certain facts of a most startling character, of which it behoves every person in a position of responsibility to take due heed. They show that the poor people, paupers in receipt of parish relief during a single year, who are over 65 years of age, in England and Wales amounted to 29.3 per cent. of the population of that day—that is to say, one in three of the whole population—and if you deduct from that population, as you ought to do, one-third for the classes who, from the nature of the case, being well-to-do, are never likely to need poor relief, you will find that of the remainder of the population, which includes the whole industrial population of the United Kingdom, and all people who have small means, whatever walk of life they may be in, three in seven, or nearly one in two, are destined when they reach the age of 65 to be suppliants for parish relief. One in two will certainly come on the Poor Law, and there is, in addition, a large proportion always on the verge of poverty, who have to make great sacrifice in order to avoid pauperism, and who are equally deserving of the care and attention of this House. Again, this extraordinary amount of old-age pauperism is proved not to be due, or mainly due, to drink, idleness, or culpable improvidence. To maintain the contrary would be to draw an indictment against the whole of the working class population. It is evidently not true, for the statistics published by Mr. Booth show that, while the pauperism of persons between the ages of 16 and 65 is, I think, about 12 per cent., at all events, the pauperism of persons over the age of 65 is 11 times that proportion. That shows clearly that it is the failure of powers in old age which produces by far the larger amount of pauperism that exists, and if we wanted any further confirmation, we have it in the estimate made by Mr. Booth, who is a great authority on these matters, that of the people who come on the Poor Law at the age of 65, five-sixths have never applied for relief before up to the age of 60. As long as they were in a position to do a good day's work they have been able to maintain themselves without being applicants for Poor Law relief. I think the House will surely allow on such evidence as that that this is really a matter of the utmost and most pressing importance, and quite independent of anything like controversial feeling. We must all be of opinion that no statesman and no politician can neglect such a state of things, and ought to endeavour to find a remedy. It is in that spirit that we have all of us got to approach the question. We have to recognise that there is a great and a growing evil, and we have to find a remedy. No doubt the difficulties are enormous, and have grown as inquiries proceeded; but the existence of these difficulties ought not to discourage us from making an attempt to remedy the evil. They may make us careful, they ought to make us careful, not to indulge in any too sanguine estimate, not to give rise to exaggerated expectations; but the difficulties ought not to prevent us from continuing to give our best attentions to the subject. In my opinion, it is not possible to find any complete solution of this great question all at once, but what I do think, and what I have always said that my opinion always was, is that we may gradually approach the subject, that step by step we may deal with it, that we in our time may do something gradually by painstaking inquiry and careful experiment, and that we may at all events very much reduce the evil. Now, Sir, granting the extent of the evil, admitting the enormous difficulties of dealing with it, surely it is eminently desirable that the best men of all parties should take part in this inquiry, and take part in the endeavour to find a remedy; and it is most undesirable that such a question should be made solely an instrument of political controversy. [Opposition cheers.] So far, at all events, we are all agreed, and I hope we shall continue in agreement to the end of the chapter. I know there has been a great deal of recrimination in the past in reference to this matter, and it is worth while to remove the necessity for all recrimination by endeavouring to come to a frank understanding. Honourable Members opposite—many of them, at all events—are under the impression that this question of Old-Age Pensions was invented by the Unionist Party at the last General Election in order to gain votes, and that those votes were gained at the expense of the Party which was too honest to make promises which it could not perform. All I have to say is that that is a ridiculous hallucination. Why, at the last General Election, and not only at the last General Election, Members of both Parties deal with the matter in their speeches and in their addresses, and they most properly alluded to it. It would be a discredit to them if they had not alluded to the subject and done their best to popularise a reform in connection with it. But when it comes to saying that the Unionist Party gained votes, why, I suppose it is a matter of common sense which Party would be likely to gain votes in a case of this kind. Surely the Party which promised most. Well, at the tune of the General Election, a league was started, called the National Old-Age Pension League, and the membership of that league was almost, if not entirely, confined to Members of the Party opposite. The President of it was Sir J. Kitson, who, at that time, or shortly before, was President of the National Liberal Association, and among the members were the honourable Member for Ilkeston, the honourable Member for Leicester, both sitting on the Front Bench opposite, and many other Members whom I see before me. What did that League promise? Remember it is the only League which is in any degree official and entitled to represent the views of the Party opposite. This League promised a pension of 5s. a week to anybody over 60 years of age—that is to say, they promised to spend 34 millions a year, and, to prove that they were in earnest, they not only promised to spend this sum, but they told their constituents how they were going to get the money. They were going to get the 34 millions a year by disendowing the English Church. Now, nobody can pretend that anybody on this side promised that, and, therefore, if promises gain votes, I congratulate the Party opposite on having been at all events more successful than we were in the matter. As far as I know— and I fancy I know more about this than some honourable Members opposite, for I have given months and months to the study of every detail of the question, and I have paid a great deal of attention to the addresses of honourable Members on the subject, and have even abstracted and taken out passages that were of particular interest—I am not aware of anybody on this side who made any definite promise of that kind. What do we say? And here I come to a personal attack upon myself which I am bound with some regret to notice. The right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in the Debate on the Address made an attack upon me in my absence, and he was so delighted with that attack that he repeated it—again in my absence—at the meeting of his Party at Hull. This attack was based upon a handbill which I had never seen until he called my attention to it, and which was issued in 1893. And this is what the right honourable Gentleman says!—interesting language as corning from the Leader of a great Party. He says I "put forward a distinct unconditional promise of old-age pensions," and, therefore, he went on to say at Hull that I "had issued a fraudulent prospectus."


I do not think I ever mentioned the right honourable Gentleman's name except in queting from the leaflet itself, which spoke of "Mr. Chamberlain's plan." But I traced the leaflet to its proper source, which was the Midland Liberal-Unionist Association, or some phrase of that sort.


As a matter of fact, the right honourable Gentleman "did associate me with it. I am only, however, calling attention to the strength of his language, and I hope to make a satisfactory reply. What I wish in the first place to do is to lay before the House the charge that I had issued "a fraudulent prospectus," and the right honourable Gentleman suggested that for such a crime as this the punishment which is awarded in our Courts to gentlemen who obtain money by false pretences was altogether inadequate. That, I think, is a rather unusual illustration of extra-Parliamentary oratory. I remember when the right honourable Gentleman was appointed to his present post I saw in a newspaper which supports his leadership, among other complimentary phrases, the statement that he had a "quaint and pleasing humour." Mr. Speaker, to call your political opponents swindlers is quaint, but it is not pleasing, and if this is the first result of a "fighting leadership," then I confess that I prefer the old leadership of Mr. Gladstone, and that of the right honourable Gentleman, the Member for West Monmouth. The whole of this charge is absolutely without foundation. What are the facts? In 1891 a, number of gentlemen who were interested in this question formed a Parliamentary Committee. That Committee was not intended to be, and was not, in fact, a Party organisation at all, all Members of the House being invited to join. As a matter of fact, I believe only one Member of the Party opposite did join, but that was not our fault. That Member was the late Dr. Hunter, who gave an immense amount of time to the subject, and who was very in fluential in the Report which was ultimately put forward. The labours of the Committee resulted in the preparation of a scheme, which is the scheme which the right honourable Gentleman referred to, and which is summarily abstracted in this handbill. The scheme was based upon the principle that in order to pave the way for a, provision for old age for the working classes it was desirable to give a stimulus while they were young, and the proposal was that if any young man under 25 could place a sum of £5 in the savings bank, and contribute 20s. a year up to the age of 65, the Government would place to his credit a further sum of £15, and by means of those two contributions, partly by the Government and partly by himself, it was proposed to give him a pension and certain advantages in old age. It was further proposed to co-operate with, the friendly societies, and wherever a friendly society could show that it was providing one of its members with a pension of 2s. 6d. a week, the State would supplement that by the same amount. That was not a promise—it was not a definite pledge. It is true that in this handbill it is spoken of as my programme. This is an error, and an error which I have corrected again and again in public meetings, because I did not wish to take credit which was not due to me. I always explained that this was the result of the labours of the Committee—a great deal of the detail of which was worked out by Dr. Hunter. The scheme was avowedly put forward, not as a pledge or promise, not as a solution, but as a tentative proposal, made public with the hope that it would excite public attention and secure criticism and propositions for its amendment and alteration. And what was the result? This happened in 1891, and there is no doubt the proposal did excite a great deal of public attention. It was examined and discussed, to my knowledge, at many meetings of working men and meetings of friendly societies, and on the whole it was disapproved of. It was not accepted on behalf of the working classes or on behalf of friendly societies. After all, I do not think the Parliamentary Committee or myself, as one of its members, is to be blamed because the scheme put forward in the first instance as a tentative proposal was not generally accepted. But it is interesting to recollect what were the reasons which led to its rejection. It was rejected, or not accepted, in the first place, because it was found that deferred annuities were a form of saving which was universally unpopular with the working classes, and, in the second place, it was clear that under a, scheme of this kind, if it could be put into operation to-day, no direct and practical benefit would result to anybody for 40 years hence. But while that scheme lias been dropped, of course the advocacy of the principle has been maintained. The next step was taken by the Government of the right honourable Gentlemen opposite, who appointed a Royal Commission to consider the subject. They will not say they appointed that Commission in order to shelve- the question, or in order to get votes. Then why should they say it of us? I do not accuse them of anything of the kind. They appointed the Commission, and, although I thought from its composition, it was destined to failure from the first, it produced a vast amount of valuable information, and has cleared the way for further discussion. Their Report, as is well known, was not one Report, but almost everybody made a separate Report on that Committee, and the result must be considered inconclusive and unsatisfactory. But the majority of the members recommended that a, new Committee or Commission should be appointed, of smaller numbers, and consisting of experts, who might, it was hoped, be disposed to find some practical scheme which could be recommended; and accordingly, in deference to the opinion of the majority of the Commission appointed by right honourable Gentlemen opposite, when this Government came into office, one of the first things they did was to appoint such a Committee, and, speaking for myself, though I have seen criticisms of that Committee, I am bound to say that, as far as its composition was concerned, it was impossible to have a Committee more likely to produce something that would be satisfactory to the House. What I do regret is that the Committee, in the exercise of their discretion, interpreted the reference' with such limitation that it made their inquiry very incomplete and unsatisfactory. I think they were wrong in the interpretation they placed upon the reference. They were instructed to find out how encouragement might be given to the industrial population to make provision for old age, and they interpreted that as applying to the whole of the industrial, and not to any section of the industrial, population. If you, carry that out to its logical conclusion, you would have an absurdity, because if any scheme were brought forward to give old-age pensions to working men, and if one working man did not come under it the Commission, under this curious limitation, would not be able to take it into consideration. In the second place, they excluded a scheme which did not require a direct provision by those who were to be beneficiaries under it. I am sorry they felt themselves unable to consider a scheme which did not come within those limitations. My own belief is that the only way to solve this question of old-age pensions is by approaching it by sections, and that we shall never be able to deal with it as a whole. We are dealing with it by sections. We have dealt with it in regard to civil servants, police, municipal officials, and school teachers. These are sections, and all objections to dealing with the question by sections would apply with equal force against these. Well, then, I think, also, it is a mistake to confine assistance entirely to those who have themselves directly contributed to the pensions, because there are indirect methods and tests of thrift and providence which are just as good as direct contributions. The man who has brought up a family without having recourse to Poor Law relief, the man who has invested a little money in a house, is not necessarily less deserving of sympathy and assistance than the man who has contributed so much a year in order to provide a pension at 65. But, Sir, although the Commission has resulted in no definite proposal, I do not think their work will be thrown away. They have at all events enabled us to lay down certain principles—often negative principles—upon which in the future we must proceed. I think it is agreed that we must put aside at once any further attempt to secure compulsory contributions from the working classes. That is, of course, the Continental system; but I do not think it has been so great a success in Germany that here, where men are less accustomed to State interference, a scheme of the kind could possibly be accepted. I think it may also be laid down that the working classes are at present either unable or unwilling to purchase deferred annuities by payments over a long period of years. The one fatal objection to such a scheme is this, that if the benefit to be received at Go is to depend upon the continuance of the payments a very large proportion of the persons who subscribe will, by some temporary misfortune, some inability to provide the payments, be thrown out of the benefits; for a failure to pay a single payment may deprive a man not only of the pension but also of the contributions he has already made. Well, I will lay down another principle which may not be so universally accepted, but which I think will influence any person who has any responsibility in this matter, and who may be called upon to bring in a scheme—and that is that any universal scheme for giving pensions to everybody is, in the first place, beyond the resources of the State. It would cost such an enormous sum, and would involve such an entire disintegration of our whole financial system, that it is perfectly impossible to contemplate it as practical legislation, and even if possible it would be equally open to the objection—in my opinion, fatal objection —that it would make no distinction whatever between the provident, thrifty, and industrious man, and the drunkard and the spendthrift. I think, Sir, that any scheme which may be proposed must, encourage thrift and independence, or else it would do more harm than good; and, lastly, any scheme, to have behind it a sufficient amount of support, must have immediate application. We cannot undertake entirely to legislate on this question for 40 years hence. We must legislate for those who are already of the age which is contemplated as deserving of assistance, or at all events are very near it. Well, now, Sir, the Bill which my honourable Friend has introduced in this Debate is not inconsistent with any one of these principles. The recipents must not have received out-door relief, and must have contributed to a friendly society for 40 years. That is a proof of thrift, and surely it is also an encouragement to thrift. You offer every working man an inducement to keep himself off the rates and also to make a contribution which will save him from trouble or pauperism in sickness, and thereby undoubtedly you are not merely stimulating him as an individual to thrift, but you are doing an immense thing to increase the usefulness of the friendly societies. Arrangements are made in the Bill which will enable its benefits to come into operation immediately; it is not compulsory, and it makes a distinction between those who are thrifty and those who are not. But, Sir, as I said at the commencement, we must recognise that when we try our hands in a matter of this enormous complication there are difficuties which other people can very easily point out. But, Sir, I do agree to some extent with the objection which has been taken that it gives a preference to contributions to frendly societies over other forms of provident investments, such as houses, savings in the bank, and other forms of working-class investment, which are very popular, and, in my opinion, as good a test of thrift as contributions to a friendly society. I think persons who make this provision should be included in any Measure intended to provide old-age pensions for the working classes. The second and much more serious objection, to my mind, is that although the Bill makes provision for the widows of subscribers to friendly societies the great mass of women are left altogether outside its operation. It is perfectly clear that under existing conditions very few friendly societies will accept women, and even if they do accept them it is not possible that women who are mostly dependent on their husbands for the money to keep the house going can make such provision, and therefore that is a difficulty which must be removed. The third objection is less serious. It is that the Bill applies to only a part of the male population. I have already stated my reasons for thinking why we should deal with this question piecemeal. I believe that is the only practical way of dealing with it, and provided we are certain the class we are going to benefit is a deserving class we may leave to another time the consideration whether there are not other deserving classes which will ultimately have to be dealt with. Well, then, Sir, it is also objected that relief of this kind, if you allow the pensioners to work, is relief given in aid of wages. I think that is an objection to be considered, although personally I do not think it is a fatal one. But the clause which raises this question is an extraordinary one, and one that cannot be accepted as it stands. For what does it say? It says that any man may have a pension who fulfils the conditions of the Bill, provided he has not more than £40 a year, or provided he is not in receipt of regular wages of more than 5s. a week. Let us take the cases of two men. One has an income of £40 a year from Consols. That means that he has a capital of £1,600 invested. And yet that man, provided he is idle or does not work, would be entitled under the Bill to a pension of 5s. a week, while the man who is industrious, who has not a penny in the bank, but who works and receives, say, 5s. 1d. a week, will not be entitled to such a pension. It is perfectly clear that an alteration will have to be made in the Bill to meet these objections. Well, now, Sir, there are other cases which are not met by the Bill—cases of people who are affected by the failure of their friendly society. If a society fails after a man has contributed to it for a considerable period of years, it is not easy or possible for him to transfer himself to another society, because the other society will not, in many cases, take him, or else will only take him at such a rate as will probably be beyond his means. That applies also to another class which is still more numerous—the class of men who fail to continue their subscriptions to the friendly society owing to ill-health. It is a most remarkable fact in the statistics of friendly societies that the proportion of old age in those societies is much less than the normal proportion of old age among the working classes. The reason is that so many of them lose the benefit before they reach old age, because through a temporary loss of work or illness they are unable to continue their periodic payments and then forfeit their rights. Lapses of membership of this kind will have to be considered before the proposals in the Bill of my right honourable Friend can be accepted. Sir, my honourable Friend proposes that the inquiries before pensions are granted are to be made on the authority of the county council, and in some cases on the authority of the Local Government Board. But I think he will find upon examination that those authorities are quite incompetent to undertake those inquiries. The county council has to deal with an enormous area, and has no organisation of a kind to undertake satisfactorily the sort of personal inquisition into the circumstances of private individuals which this proposal would require. The Local Government Board is still less able to undertake it, because "it is a still more centralised institution. Lastly, there is no estimate of cost given. This, of course, will be very important ultimately, although the House must bear in mind that if they are going to deal with old-age pensions they will have to deal with them to a certain extent in the dark, because in no scheme that I have seen—except, perhaps, the extraordinary scheme to give 5s. to everybody—can you tell how many persons will come under its operation. You must make a guess, and it is only by some such assumption that you can form an estimate of the cost. But when we have formed the estimate there remains the very important matter of the contribution that will be borne by the local rates; and I think the contribution suggested by my honourable Friend is insufficient. Why should local rates get off with only 1s. 3d. of the cost? In that case the local authorities would make a profit by old-age pensions, because at the present time every person entitled to an old-age pension is sure to get from the board of guardians out-door relief to the extent of 2s. 6d.—half the pension, and the local rates would get rid of that altogether by only paying one-third of the pension, or 1s. 8d. instead of 2s. 6d. I cannot see for what reason the local rates should be exempt from a full and fair contribution to any pension scheme. They will benefit not only directly but indirectly by such a scheme as that of my honourable Friend. Numbers of the men who come upon the rates in a time of sickness will be relieved from that necessity because they will be members of a friendly society. These are a few of the practical difficulties which are raised even by the scheme which has now been placed before us. In my opinion, and in the opinion of the Government, these defects are not fatal to the Bill, and, in fact, do not touch the principle of the Bill. We, therefore, hold that the Measure is worthy of further consideration. Before I sit down I should like to say that, in my opinion, no single scheme can be devised for old-age pensions which will completely solve this question. There will always be a class outside the pensioners. We have, for instance, the class of infirm poor to whom a pension would not be of the slightest use, who require indoor treatment of a special character; then the case of a number of persons who have no friends, and who would find 5s. insufficient for their livelihood, and who must be applicants for some kind of indoor treatment. There are, in my opinion, a vast number of cases where persons do not deserve any better treatment than the Poor Law relief, persons who by their own criminal misconduct are reduced to a condition of poverty. They are a class for whom the Poor Law was intended, amongst others, and for them no relaxation is required. What, I think, we at all events should direct our attention to is the possibility of further classification in the treatment of the poor. It does seem to me wrong in principle that no distinction should be made between the industrious man who has come to grief through no fault of his own and the man of the description to which I have referred. I do not know whether it will be thought too large a Measure, but it does seem to me that if we can amalgamate the smaller unions we would secure such a classification as would enable us to award separate treatment to the different classes of people who require assistance. Sir, this is not a question which I shall attempt to discuss at any length at the present moment, but I do wish it to be put on record that it is also the opinion of the Government that any system of pensions to be entirely satisfactory must, at all events, be supplemented by some change in the administration of the Poor Law Now, Sir, I have endeavoured as far as possible to treat this question in a practical spirit, and I venture to hope that, at all events, I have succeeded in convincing the House that Her Majesty's Government is thoroughly sensible of the magnitude and importance of the evil with which we have to deal; that it is fully aware of the difficulties which interpose in the way of anyone who attempts to be a reformer in this matter; but that it is still anxious to find a remedy and willing to try every experiment which has a probability of success; and we shall not rest satisfied until we have done something to make the condition of the aged poor more satisfactory than it is at the present time.


The right honourable Gentleman has made an extremely interesting speech, and you, Mr. Speaker, have fortunately been able to allow him considerable latitude and opportunity of travelling beyond the Bill immediately before the House. I rejoice that the right honourable Gentleman has received from you that latitude and that indulgence, because I agree with the right honourable Gentleman that this matter has got into such a position that it is high time we should have a complete exposition of the views of the Government on the subject, and that we should endeavour, in view of the enormity of the evil which is sought to be remedied by legislation, of this kind, to come to some understanding on the subject. But there are two points, before I Bay anything on the general question, to which I must refer. In the first portion of his speech the right honourable Gentleman imputed to us some degree of fault because of the short time at the disposal of the House for the consideration of this matter today, and he said that on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill we had chosen to occupy a great deal of time by the introduction of certain subjects which were not urgent, and I think he said not of the first importance. Well, Sir, why was the Finance Bill in the place in which it was to-day? Perhaps the right honourable Gentleman did not remember that this is Wednesday, and that Wednesday is a private Members' day. What was the necessity for the Government putting in front of the Old-Age Pensions Bills—these important Bills—this afternoon a Bill which they might expect to be the occasion of Debate upon general topics? Even supposing that it is not invariably made the subject or opportunity of Debate, the Government ought so to have arranged the business of the House as to avoid the necessity of putting this Measure of theirs in front of these valuable Bills which the House at large is so desirous of discussing.


We would, if you had given us time.


The right honourable Gentleman says, "We have given this, and we have given that." But he is the Master of the House, and if we come to discuss what might have happened, I would at once say that the initial error was the right honourable Gentleman's own. In doing this very thing which he has done to-day—in putting before the larger and more important and more urgent business of Supply one or two smaller Measures which led to Debate—Supply was thrown out of its proper order, and this led to the necessity of a resort to employing Wednesday in this way. If he had taken Supply on the two nights which were devoted to the Food and Drugs Bill he would have got his Supply. That is the reason why this House has been so occupied this afternoon, and I do not think the right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary, of all people, is the man who ought to complain of any opportunity being taken to direct public attention to the question of slavery, because I remember quite well how warmly he espoused that cause when he was sitting below the Gangway and not on the Treasury Bench.


We discussed it on Supply, not on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill.


That is not the point at all. This matter involves the honour of this country, and the happiness and lives of many thousands of people who are subject to the control of this country, and it is one which cannot be suffered to be put off to a more convenient season. The right honourable Gentleman then went on to complain of some remarks I had made on a previous occasion. In the first place, he made it almost a matter of complaint that I had made those remarks in his absence. Really the right honourable Gentleman cannot expect that I should call at the Colonial Office every day in order to find out whether he is to be in the House or not. I brought no direct accusation on that occasion against the right honourable Gentleman. My complaint was this: Here we have a definite pro- posal, giving chapter and verse in every detail, put forward under the authority of the Midland Liberal Unionist Association in Birmingham, and on the faith of that programme votes were sought to be obtained for the Liberal Unionists.


The right honourable Gentleman has been misinformed. That handbill, such as it was, was issued in 1893, and it was not used at all, so far as I am informed, in 1895, and it referred to a plan which had been dropped before the General Election.


The right honourable Gentleman has now explained; but the words inserted at the close of the document were "for further information apply to Liberal Unionist agents." This came from an association of which the right honourable Gentleman was the guide, and, no doubt, the head. The right honourable Gentleman cannot have it both ways. As the principal of that association he must bear the responsibility of its action. Clearly that is a matter we can pass by. The point I made was this, that a definite scheme of this sort was put forward before the General Election and votes obtained upon it. I say that was a direct imposture upon the electors, and, in my opinion, it deserves reprobation such as is dealt out to certain proceedings in the Law Courts. Well, Sir, I do not think I shall have time, after mentioning these personal matters, to say much on the general question. I rejoice, however, to acknowledge the very much more conciliatory and reasonable tone which has been adopted by the right honourable Gentleman, and I beg to assure him, on behalf of those who sit on this side of the House, that if this question is to be dealt with on that principle of general consideration and co-operation, and a desire to take it out of the slough of Party contention, we shall have the greatest pleasure in joining him in that attempt. This scheme has always been put forward, although the right honourable Gentleman apparently did not know it, as one of Party. It is that which has made it, unfortunately, a Party question. If the right honourable Gentleman now assorts that it is to be removed from that position, he will find no objection to that course on this side of the House.

MR. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)

I am surprised to find that Her Majesty's Government agrees to the principles of this Bill, because if this Bill is passed every man who is over the age of 40 today, and not a member of a friendly society, will receive no benefit out of the Bill. There are a large number of people who are utterly unable to make any provision whatever, and I should like to ask the honourable Gentleman——

MR. BOUSFIELD (Hackney, N.) rose in his place, and claimed to move "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


I should like to ask the honourable Gentleman who introduced this Bill how much persons would be able to contribute to a benefit society if they were in the unfortunate condition of the agricultural labourer of Essex, whose total earnings amount to 10s. a week, or in the position of the agricultural labourer of Leicestershire——

And, it being half-past Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Wednesday 19th April.