§ Order for Second Reading read.
*(12.15.) MR. RAYMOND GREENE (Cambridgeshire, Chesterton)
In asking the House of Commons to give a Second Reading to a Bill which has for its object the granting of Old Age Pensions to the aged and deserving poor, it cannot be said that I am bringing a novel topic forward, nor that I am inviting hon. Members to give their assent and support to a principle which has not I already been thoroughly discussed and ventilated. It is many years since the subject first attracted public attention, I and since then we have had Commissions and Committees of various kinds, and Conferences have been called together to deal with it. In 1895 we had the Report of the Royal Commission on the aged poor; in 1896 a Committee, with Lord Rothschild as its Chairman, was: appointed to deal more particularly with the question of Old Age Pensions; and in 1898 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford presided over a Committee appointed to examine into the various schemes brought forward for attaining this object. A large number of Bills, too, with this object in view, have been introduced in this House, although, I believe, none of them have yet obtained a Second Reading. It can, therefore. I think, be fairly held that the question of Old Age Pensions has now forced its way within the bounds of practical politics. Provision for old age is a pressing question, and there is a general disposition throughout the country that some aid and direction should be given by the State in the matter, or, to quote the words of the Royal Commission on the Aged Poor—There exists a wide-spread expectation, both in and outside this House, that some provision other than that made by the Poor Law should be devised for old age of those who have led industrious, temperate, and thrifty lives.449 The existence of that widespread expectation was recognised by the Royal Commission in 1895, and I venture to say that that expectation has since increased rather than decreased. It is founded on not unreasonable grounds, for Cabinet Ministers, ex-Cabinet Ministers, and right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, have given prominence to he question in their speeches, and have either directly or indirectly proclaimed themselves to be not unfriendly to the principle of Old Age Tensions provided by the State. There are some, know, who hold a contrary opinion, and there are those who maintain that the existence of any scheme of this kind would result in drying up the springs of individual effort, and would have a demoralising effect in advance upon those who are destined eventually to benefit by it. In answer to that argument? would venture to point out that if you make destitution a necessary qualification for an applicant for the pension the objection might be valid, but that is not the intention of the promoters of this Bill. If this measure becomes law there will, think, be just as great need for the exercise of individual thrift and saving as there is at the present time, and just as wide a scope for it. But among the really hardworking poor at the present moment, the vast majority find it impossible to make any adequate provision for their old age.
I am not going to occupy the time of the House by trying to draw typical and sentimental pictures of aged soldiers of industry dragging out their miserable end in the workhouse. The facts are well known to hon. Members. There are at the present time thousands upon thousands or hard-working men and women who, to use a phrase employed by the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary, are at this moment living fairly industrious, temperate, and thrifty lives, but to whom any such thrift as would result in their being able to provide means of subsistence for themselves in their old age is, if not entirely out of the question, at any rate more than can be humanly expected from them. Take the ease of the agricultural labourer earning 450 the ordinary rate of wages in his particular district. If he provides for himself, his wife, and his family, and if he manages further Co pay his subscription to his friendly society so as to entitle him to sick benefits and funeral expenses, I think it is idle to say that in addition to that he should be expected to provide for his old age.
Then there is another point to be borne in mind. If we, in this House, are unanimous on any one particular subject, it is. I think, in our admiration of the splendid work carried on by the great friendly and saving societies throughout the country. I believe we may take it, roughly speaking, that the total membership of the registered friendly societies is about 5,000,000, which includes all the most thrifty and most careful to be found among the working classes. These 5,000,000 over and above their fellows have recognised the great need and the great necessity for some provision; but how many among them have been able, in addition to the payment of their funeral and sick benefit subscriptions, to save the additional weekly sum required in order to entitle them to an old-age pension? I cannot give any estimate to the House, but from the evidence I have been able to gather I conclude that the percentage is very small indeed. This is the strongest argument to show that some further provision by the State is necessary for old-age pensions.
Now, Sir, I should like very briefly to outline the principles which have guided the promoters of this measure, and the pitfalls which they have endeavoured to avoid. The problem which has to be solved by any Bill of this kind is one of great difficulty and nicety. The object of the promoters of the Bill is to give the greatest amount possible of needful help with, at the same time, the least possible encouragement to any undue reliance upon the grant; to guard against making the sum of the pension so high as to induce a man capable of working to cease from doing so in the later years of his life. We wish to avoid any interference with or to do anything which would be detrimental to the great national service being performed by the friendly and thrift societies. We desire to prevent any suspicion of the stigma or reproach of pauperism from attaching to those who may become the recipients of old-age pensions; and to remove any electoral 451 disabilities so far as the Parliamentary franchise is concerned that may attach to them. The promoters have recognised that any scheme which involves a compulsory or direct money contribution on the part of those who are to become entitled to pensions would be absolutely unworkable, and would defeat its own end. Finally we realise that any system which would subsidise the great friendly and thrift societies would, if such a scheme, which is very doubtful, should be acceptable to them, cause great hardship and injustice to a large number of aged and deserving people who have given evidence of thrift in other directions.
The House will see that the Bill is framed strictly in accordance with the recommendations of the report of the Committee presided over by the right hon. Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire in 1899. It is not intended by the promoters to be a Bill to grant universal old-age pensions. But the Bill is to apply to every man and woman residing in England Wales, and Ireland possessing the necessary qualifications. Scotland is excluded from the Bill, not because, as has been suggested in some quarters, the proverbial thriftiness of the Scottish race renders old-age pensions unnecessary, but because the promoters have found it impossible to include within the four corners of the Bill the provisions necessary to deal with the totally different system of local administration which obtains in that part of the United Kingdom. In this they have followed the precedent set in the case of the Agricultural Eating Act for England. In that case a separate Bill was introduced to deal with Scotland. The promoters have chosen the guardians to be the authority for the carrying out of the provisions of this measure. This choice has been made because they already possessed to a large extent the organisation which is necessary to carry out the Bill, and because they are in possession, to a large extent, of the requisite information as to those persons who may apply and become entitled to pensions. In order to keep it separate and distinct from the poor-law organisation, it is proposed that a special pension committee be formed among the guardians which will have the sole control and deal exclusively with the applications for pensions. The age of sixty-five has been fixed, and the sum in the Bill is not less than 5s. and not more 452 than 7s. Clause 4 contains a provision that in the first instance the list of applicants for pensions shall be divided into two parts—first, those who are non-paupers, and, secondly, those who at the passing of the Bill, although in receipt of outdoor and indoor relief, may yet be men or women who have lived respectable and industrious lives, and who, had this Bill been already in operation would never have been paupers at all. The object is, of course, to keep the paupers and the non-paupers distinct from one another. Clause 6 deals with the various qualifications which are necessary, and the circumstances which would disqualify applicants from becoming entitled to a pension. The promoters of the Bill realise that no compulsory or direct contribution should be expected fron the applicants for these pensions. But I think it will be seen from this clause that some considerable indirect contribution is required, but if a man has reached the age of sixty-five and has up to that time supported himself and family and kept up his contributions to funeral and sick benefit societies, and has led a fairly industrious and respectable life, it will be admitted that on his own part he has established a primâ facie case for some further help from the State.
Now I come to what, in the minds of some hon. Gentlemen, is perhaps the most vital objection to any scheme of this kind. I refer to the cost which it must entail to the State. I confess that, perhaps, the easiest way out of this difficulty would be to follow the example of the right hon. Member for Sleaford's Committee and suggest that it might be left to competent experts to deal with. That is not the course adopted by the promoters. It has been estimated that the total sum which the Bill, if it came into operation at once, would impose on the country would be, roughly speaking, £10,000,000 annually, and in 1911 the sum would have increased to £1 2,000,000 a year. That is, I admit, a very large sum. We think it should be divided equally between the Treasury and the local authorities. It may be a large sum to add to the burdens of the country, but I do not think it is too large a sacrifice to be expected from a wealthy country, and one which is comparatively lightly taxed, in order to lighten the lot in life of the aged and deserving poor. I know well that any scheme of this kind must and 453 will arouse a great deal of criticism, not only from those who may be opposed on principle to the whole thing, but from those who, while friendly to the principle, think some better means could be devised to attain the object aimed at. Some will say that the amount offered is too large, while others will declare it to be too small; some will argue that the age limit is too high, and others that it is too low; some will complain that the Bill does not grant universal pensions; while others will describe it as merely a glorified system of out-door relief. Hut, however that may be, I venture to submit the Bill to the favourable consideration of the House as a genuine and honest attempt to deal in a moderate and fair-minded manner with a difficult and complicated question. As such, I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ *(12.35.) MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
I think hon. Members of the House may congratulate themselves on the introduction of this Bill. I should personally like to pay a very warm tribute of admiration to the hon. Member for West Cambridgeshire, who has introduced it in a most admirable speech, in which he handled, with great clearness and in a most persuasive manner, some of the more contentious portions of the Bill. I think the hon. Member is absolutely light in saying that this Question is not an academic question, but that it is one which commands a wide and intensely-felt interest in the country at large. I had the honour, some weeks ago, of attending, in London, a great Conference of representatives of the Trades Unions and Co-operative Societies, which was significant of the real and vital interest taken in this question, and at which there were laid down the lines upon which these vast organised bodies desire to see this question of great interest to the working classes dealt with. I do not wish to say anything in any sense hostile to this Bill except as to its machinery and its scope. We all recognise the spirit in which it has been drawn, and still more the spirit in which it has been moved, and, if I offer any criticism on the speech of the hon. Member for West Cambridgeshire, it is that some of his contentions went a little beyond the proposals of the Bill, and were rather in favour of the Amendment which 454 I have placed on the Paper. I look on the Bill as a well-intentioned measure, based on a well-intentioned report, and, as such, it deserves the warmest recognition and gratitude of all who wish to deal with one of the gravest of our social I and industrial problems. We have to; thank the hon. Member and those who have produced this carefully thought-out scheme, and have thus opened this discussion, for having made a real contribution towards the threshing out of the solution of this great question. I am glad to note that the hon. Member disclaims, as inconsistent with the purposes which we have at heart, a system of compulsory contribution or insurance. These things have their proper sphere, and I hope that that sphere will not be diminished by the Bill, and it is with that intention I wish to support the boldest measures that can be taken on this question.
We have three main ideas before us. The first is that of compulsory State-aided insurance. Then we have the idea in the Bill before the House which I think I must, to a certain extent, characterise as a glorified form of outdoor relief; and we have, finally, proposals such as those adopted by the great Conference of Trades Unions and Co-operative Societies in favour of universal old age pensions without contribution. The Amendment which I have placed on the Paper raises this simple issue. What do we mean by attempting to deal with this question? Do we mean to mitigate the sufferings of the paupers of this country? In one sense, no doubt, all of us wish to do that. And that clearly is the real intention of the Bill. But I ask, would anything justify the enormous outlay and sacrifice which would be involved in any scheme of pensions which did not go farther and strike at the very root of the evil? Are we arming a blow at pauperism itself, or are we only going to mitigate the position and condition of those who are paupers? It will be said that this scheme is justified largely by what has been done in Denmark, and that it is based on what is supposed to be the success of the Danish plan. I have not visited Denmark, and I cannot say whether the conditions under which this particular system has succeeded there are similar to 455 our own, or whether we are to regard that success as a sufficient argument for applying such a scheme to our own population. It may be possible, in colonies like New Zealand and New South Wales, to work the income limit and sliding scale pensions. But I have been unable to obtain accurate information on this point for those countries, and I would point out that the industrial life of this country is vastly more complicated and requires very different considerations to be brought under review.
This Bill is based upon two tests—the poverty test and the merit test—and the very first observation I have to make upon it is that out of nearly 1,600,000 persons in England and Wales who, probably, have reached sixty-five years of age at the present time, no less that 70 per cent. will be excluded, according to the Hamilton Inquiry, from the purview of this Hill. According to the calculations of Sir Edward Hamilton's Committee, this scheme will provide pensions for some 469,000 persons, or about 80 per cent., leaving 70 per cent. of those over sixty-five in outer darkness. Thus the very first great objection to the scheme is the grave and bitter discontent to which it will certainly give rise among these large classes of our industrial population who will be excluded. Again, I think that any scheme of this kind, with its income test, would undoubtedly lend itself to opportunities for fraud. Sir Edward Hamilton's Committee, in paragraphs 158 and 159 of their Report, dwell very forcibly upon the evils which may arise in this way. They say that applicants for pensions would be likely to understate their receipts, and that the temptation to assign a portion of their incomes to relations would be irresistible, especially in the case of Ireland. They add that the position of any applicant whose income is just over 10s. a week would be so hard as to make the retention of a hard and fast line exceedingly difficult. And finally they allude to the possibility of a reduction of wages by collusion between employer and employed. I take exception to the Bill on the ground of the impossibility of working a system of discrimination. Anyone who 456 has read the evidence and Report of Lord Aberdare's Commission on the aged poor, must see that the outdoor system of relief as it has been worked is a cruel and demoralising system, and that it cannot be made to work in any other way except by an enormous increase of expenditure on Inspectors, and on investigations and inquiries. I venture to say that a scheme of this kind,; although it is limited to those over G5, would present exactly the same class of difficulties. I have often thought, when reading the evidence and Report of Lord Aberdare's Commission, how monstrous it is to suggest that we should, in order to perfect our outdoor relief system, have this enormous outlay on inquiries and investigations when the sum would be infinitely better spent if handed over to the deserving poor for their use in old age, without any vexatious, demoralising, or debasing inquiries whatsoever.
think, as I said, that this scheme is, in the words of the hon. Member, merely a "glorified outdoor relief" scheme. It places outdoor relief on a more permanent basis, and it has the supreme merit of nearly arriving at an automatic dealing with the whole question of the superannuation of the workers of this country by fixing an income line within which a pension is a matter of right. This system of investigation and discrimination you are to practically carry on by the same machinery as is used in the administration of outdoor relief. Under this Bill you are placing the whole inquiries in the hands of the very same men, a Committee of half the Board of Guardians, and the machinery will be exactly the same. It will, I venture to think, incite to the same forms of imposture, it will inflict the same blow on self-respect, and although you transfer the test from absolute destitution, which has, of course, its own demoralising features, you have the income test which involves inquiries which will lead to all manner of forms of ingenious fraud and deception, and will probably result in the most unsatisfactory working of the Bill. All these matters will require even more careful investigation if the proceedings are not to be a mere farce. The tests you enforce must be vigilantly, 457 unrelentingly, searchingly, sternly, and severely carried out, or you will be adding to the sources of social demoralisation by fresh areas for deception. Again, in the provident clause, sub-clause (g) of clause it is laid down that an applicant for a pension must have shown some reasonable interest in his own future welfare, and in that of those dependent upon him. You are really reintroducing the difficulties of all the compulsory thrift schemes. L must say I agree with some of the criticisms which have been offered on this clause by the Charity Organisation Society. They dwell on the extreme vagueness of it, and it certainly is open to many different forms of interpretation. it is, indeed, likely to be interpreted in a different sense by every pension authority throughout the country. It may be said that anyone who has shown a reasonable desire to keep off the rates is qualified under this clause. And on the other hand it may be held to be necessary, in order to qualify for pension, that the applicant should have acquired some small annuity or some small property, which would be its equivalent. I think it would be absolutely impossible in nine cases out of ten to decide whether these persons had tried to keep off the rates or not. It is a question which would involve an immense amount of trouble in going back into the history of the life of the applicant. If on the other hand, you insist upon a. real practical result say in savings, there I think you have to meet other objections which were pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University in Ids separate report to the Committee in a most unanswerable fashion; when he showed that a deferred annuity in any form was one of the last forms of investment a worker could look to, and that a man I might more profitably employ, in the interest of himself and his family, the few pounds he may have saved in better food for himself and his children, in seizing chances of bettering his condition by taking a small business, or shifting to another industry, or by giving a start to his children, and in many other ways. Then there are admittedly vast numbers of workers who can make no such provision. I think this argument absolutely annihilates the whole case for this particular provision of the Bill, and I consider 458 it proved, out of the mouth of the hon. Member himself, that it would in many cases be absolutely cruel to attempt to work a clause of that kind with any severity.
Many of us interested in this question have no doubt read Mr. Rowntree's book, in which he analyses the poverty of York. I wish to express my great confidence in the method and thoroughness with which the inquiries upon which that book is founded were carried out. It shows that in the population of the City of York no less than 43 per cent. of the workers are in a position which is described as either primary or secondary poverty—that their incomes are so small as not to provide even the barest necessaries for maintaining the physical efficiency of life. In other words, out of the whole population of the city 27.84 per cent. are in a position which renders them incapable of making that sort of provision which this Bill would insist upon as a qualification for obtaining the pension. These people are in this condition of primary or secondary poverty because they are largely unfit workers who cannot demand the highest wage in the trade. And as it is they have to half starve their children. You are running the risk of keeping up this state of things and of having a continually deteriorating population in our industrial centres if you press them still further, and say that men in this position are to show that they have tried to make provision for old age. You are, by so doing, pressing them to starve their children still more, and to make their lot still harder. I will trouble the House with only one illustration given in Mr. Rowntree's book. It is a case of the best type of worker, a thrifty, energetic man of deserving character from whose household such vices as drunkenness and waste are absolutely banished. The man and his wife are both people of strong common sense, and out of the income of 20s. per week they put by Is. Id., their club subscription for sick benefits, etc. After payment of rent, clothing, and other items, what amount remains for maintaining the physical efficiency of the man, his wife, and three children? There is only a sum of 1 Is. with which to provide five persons with food for the whole week, and Mr. Rowntree points out that that 459 sum is 4s. 5d. below the cost of the diet allowed to the paupers in the York workhouse. Now, if you insist upon provision for old age being made by a man in that position, I say you are inflicting grave I injustice and grave physical injury upon his family, and I submit it would be grossly unfair to adopt any system of that kind. Take again the case of the starving women in the East End of London, who have to make trousers for 2½d. per pair. Are you to tell them that they are to save or that they are to prove their ability to keep off the rates? I must say I think it would be an intolerable injustice to enforce such a provision in their case. These people admittedly are in a position in which they cannot save or make provision for old age, and you cannot ask them to make further sacrifices. Really you are with holding help and driving them still lower by calling upon them to contribute indirectly to provide pensions for a select proportion of the people over sixty-five years of age who are presumably better able to help themselves; the very poor are to tax themselves still more, and at the same time they are to be shut out from the benefits of the Bill. I think that that is absolutely unjust.
My own solution of the question is that which has again and again been laid before the country by Mr. Charles Booth and many other reformers. I do not see why we should not sweep away ail these forms of injustice, why we should not at once get rid of all these difficulties and of the enormous expense of administration. If you had a system of universal pensions you would at once get rid of the taint of pauperism. All would contribute directly or indirectly through the taxes, or rent, or through comsumption of various articles. Of course, the objection would be raised that by so doing you would be making provision for the unworthy. But even the State admits the right of the unworthy to live. I believe that murderers are the only class subject to the death penalty; in every other case a man, however unworthy, is admitted by the State to have a right to exist. If you had a universal pension system, what would be the result? The worthy would have their pensions, and the pensions for the unworthy would really become grants in aid to workhouses, prisons, and lunatic asylums, to be expended by the local 460 authorities concerned. I do not see where any injustice would arise under such a scheme. After all, the question of the unworthy is one scarcely needing consideration; it is infinitesimal in its nature. Most habitual drunkards, for instance, the before they reach the age of 65, and therefore I think it would be most unwise and unjust to enforce this argument. I hold most strongly that there is no justification for giving old age pensions unless the system you adopt will raise and improve human motives, and will make man more manly and woman more womanly by giving them something brighter to look forward to in the future than the miserable and demoralising sense that they must become wholly destitute in order to come under the provisions of the Boor Law. There were clearly two classes whose motives and action such a proposal would not affect at all—those who have saved and are likely to save more, and it would have still less effect upon the thoroughgoing wastrel, that hapless person who lives his life for indulgence in the passions of the moment. it might, however, have an enormous result on the motives in life of the young and of the vast intermediate struggling class of small wage earners, in uncertain employment, whose instincts make them long for better condition and a sense of security to look forward to, who are capable of conceiving of a hap pier outlook. It might induce them to alter the whole character of their lives and stimulate them to at once banish from their minds the thought of the workhouse and of outdoor relief, with all its degrading associations, and to rather strive, by means of friendly societies, and other agencies of thrift, to improve their future. I believe that if they had before them the absolute certainty of provision for old age they would be stimulated to exert their best energies to improve their position in life. I will conclude by once more thanking the hon. Member for having introduced this Bill. So far as it goes it has my warmest sympathy, and, although I may have advanced arguments against certain of its proposals, I do not wish to deny for one moment that the Bill is well worth an experiment. I hope that experiment will be 461 tried; that it will in time be widened and made bolder so as to strike at the root of those motives which lie at the very foundation and are the real cause of the pauperism which we all deplore.
(1.0.) MR. BEOADHUEST (Leicester)
I rise to second the Amendment, and I, too, should like to offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for the Chesterton Division of Cambridgeshire on the very liberal speech he has made in supporting the measure. I think the House has a right to feel pleased and encouraged with the advance which has been made among hon. Gentlemen opposite on the question of old age pensions. There are two or three important features of that advance to which I should Ike to draw attention. In the first instance the hon. Member has seen clearly—more clearly, possibly, than some of his friends—that it is quite hopeless and useless, and would be a mere mockery of a pension system, to talk of a contribution towards pensions. The hon. Member has thrown that idea overboard, and I hope that now it has been abandoned in every part of the House. It would be simply a denial of pensions to those most needing and deserving them to insist upon such a contribution. Then again, the Bill recognises this great fact, that a man who has provided himself, from' some source or other, with an income equal to 10s. per week form old age, shall not be denied the benefit of a pension of 5s. a week from the State. That is a great advance on most of the Bills we have seen, and one of very great value, and it appears to me that neither the Government nor private Members will he able to retrace the steps forward which have been taken in this direction. I have always contended that that should be a condition of any old age pension scheme. I have for more than four years been entitled to a superannuation of 10s. per week from my Trade Society. I have only to obtain a certificate from a doctor that I am no longer able to follow my usual occupation. Why should I, having made that provision by weekly contributions extending over a period of forty-four years, as a member of the Stonemason's Society, be denied a State pension because I have done my best to help myself? There are 462 thousands of men in a like position—members of the Engineers Society, the Boilermakers Union, and of the Carpenters and other Trade Organisations. These men have led consistent, sober industrious, and self-sacrificing lives, and why should they be denied their reward at the end of a long life of labour, while those who have made no effort whatever are to be entitled to receive a State pension. The hon. Member for the Chesterton Division has done a wise and statesmanlike act in throwing over nonsense of that kind, and I hope his example will be followed by all other Members of the House.
The hon. Member said there would, no doubt, be people who would find fault with the age limit; some would think it was too high, and others would hold that it was too low. He is right. There is no doubt about that. Take the case of the agricultural population of this country. You will find large numbers of persons employed on and about the land who are in good working condition long after they have reached the age of sixty-five years. But if you go into our great centres of industry, where men and women are employed in and out machinery, you will find that sixty-five is a very great age indeed. It was elicited by a Commission which took evidence some few years ago that even at forty years of age mechanics engaged in industries where machinery is largely employed find it most difficult to obtain employment when once they have lost their situation. The fact is, after a man has been working twenty years or so under such conditions the nerves of the human frame become unequal to the continuous strain, and men become old twenty years sooner than those who pursue avocations in the open air. No doubt the hon. Member had this fact in his mind when he referred to the possible differences of opinion with regard to the age limit. At the great National Conference of representatives of the skilled trades and of Provident Associations held in London in the early part of this year, the opinion was almost universal in favour of making sixty the age limit for mechanical and artisan workers. With that I entirely agree. I believe that sixty-five would prove be yond the reach of the overwhelming 463 majority of these men. Take the trade in which I spent a greater part of my life—that of an operative stonemason. The lives in that trade do not usually run to sixty-five years. Certainly. I remember a case where a man who had reached the age of eighty-six was still able to do a little work, and only last Saturday I noticed in a Trade Journal which I received from America a photograph of a working mason at the age of ninety-two. But in his case he spent the early part of his life in agricultural pursuits in Ireland, and that would possibly account for his good constitution. I hope if this Bill reaches the Second Reading, which I sincerely trust it will—and I intend to appeal to the Government to afford opportunities for further proceeding with it—the hon. Member will not object to any Amendment which we may put down in order to strengthen the measure.
With regard to the principle of pensions itself, it has become a national question. It is, after all, the worker who should be entitled to the pension. At the present time, in this country, pensions are reserved not for those who create—and thus make up the life of a nation—but for those who destroy, and who administer. Ministers of State, Government civil servants, the men who administer your judicial system, your Bench of eminent, learned, and powerful judges—these are the men who get the pensions. Yet, after all, they are only incidents in the State. The real foundation of the State is to be found among the creators. It is upon them you depend for the existence of the State, and if anybody is entitled to a pension, it is those who do creative labour. Those who administer should come second, and the case of those who destroy should be left for further consideration at a convenient time. At any rate, we must insist upon pensions for those who create—for the labour, enterprise, brain, ingenuity, muscle, and vitality of the really patriotic portion of the community. Those who give their lives and limbs for the benefit of the nation should have the first consideration of that nation in the distribution of rewards for industry and devotion.
There is one other point I should like to criticise, and I hope I may not be misunderstood and have things read into my remarks which I do not intend to convey. 464 I see opposite a very eminent county magistrate. If the hon. Baronet the Member for North Gloucestershire will turn to Sub-section 3 of Clause 6 of the Bill, he will see the penalties which will deprive a man of the right to a pension. The latter part of that sub-section runs thus: "Imprisonment, without the option of a fine." The hon. Baronet will agree with me that in some cases where a man is sent to prison without the option of a fine, that course is taken because the infliction of a fine would be no punishment whatever, but in other cases a fine would have met the justice of the case. Such offences as that ought not to take a man out of the pension list. Other forces come into operation in these matters. The Bench may be a little dyspeptic, and it then feels it is incumbent upon it to make what it calls an example, and the unhappy wretch who appears before it gets all the benefit of the wrath to which he is not entitled. Of course, I am not discussing penal servitude, but only the latter portion of the sub-clause, but I am sure the hon. Baronet will agree there is something in what I say.
Coming to Sub-section G, as it stands at present that sub-section is unworkable. How can you possibly tell whether a man has exercised reasonable prudence to make provision for himself? How is that information to be obtained le by a Committee of Poor Law Guardians? I object to this Committee altogether. I want to make people entitled to a pension apart from Poor Law legislation altogether. I have a great respect for the Poor Law Guardians; I am one myself; but I do not think they are more fit than anybody else to see whether a man has made any reasonable attempts to provide for his old ago. How can we determine whether prudence has been exercised or not? The mover of this measure would see, if he had any experience of Poor Law government, that he is putting upon the shoulders of this Poor Law Committee work which no such body ought to undertake, and work which the Committee cannot discharge if it is put upon them. There is no work I like better than Local Government and Poor Law work, and I have paid considerable attention to these matters; I know where the shoe pinches, and exactly where we ought to draw the line as to discriminating between the deserving and the undeserving poor. As to 465 discriminating between the deserving and undeserving poor, that is almost impossible. The effect of your present Poor Law is that you are compelled to give food and shelter to the destitute, and you cannot make any inquiry whatsoever as to the circumstances which brought them to that state of destitution. Destitution is their title-deed to relief. What is the result? The hard-working self-respecting poor crawl away into some by-way, preferring to the rather than face the ordeal, which they consider a degradation, of having to apply to the poorhouse: while the thriftless, idle, drunken, lazy rascals who are responsible themselves for the state they are in, have no scruples, but go at once and receive all the benefits of the Poor Law. Now as to prospects. We have the President of the Local Government Board here, but I regret that he has not the assistance and the advice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If he was here to give his benediction to this Bill and promise to find the money, we should get the Second Leading in half an hour. I hope the Government will, this afternoon, be able to give an undivided and unqualified support to the main principle of the Bill. If they do that, this session will not have existed in vain, and this afternoon sitting will more than justify all that has been claimed for the usefulness of these Wednesday sittings. I believe the estimate of the cost made by the hon. Gentleman is rather over than under. If he works it out, he will find that the cost is less than his estimate. I hope we shall get the Second Reading, and that the Government will give us a promise to get the Rill through the Committee stage and through another place, and that it will become the law in the Coronation year before the House separates for the recess. What more glorious achievement, what more noble act. what greater honour could we do to the King's state and to all who love and revere their country and admire those who have made it great? What could cover the Government with greater glory than to give its aid, its labour, its time, and its money to accomplish this long-deferred act of right and justice to the people of the Empire? I beg to second the Amendment.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words in making provision for Old Age Pensions, it is expedient that such provision should be universal in its application and wholly independent of the machinery of the Poor Law.'"—(Mr. Charming.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to he left out stand part of the Question."
§ (1.24.) MR. SAMUEL ROBERTS (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
I trust that as a new Member I shall have the indulgence of this House. I have been sent by my constituents only a few weeks ago to represent them in the place of a Member who has been in this House for many years, and whose figure was well known to Members of this House, and whose loss is much to be regretted. I was sent here with a message to the Government that they must continue to prosecute the war to a successful issue. I am not going to trespass on the patience of the House with regard to that, because I feel that it would be quite irrelevant, only mention it as a contrast to the subject on which we are engaged tin's afternoon. On behalf of the good and deserving poor who are carrying on a war of a. different character, against poverty and want, I am quite sure I shall have the indulgence of the House for a few moments while I speak in support of the Second Reading of this Bill. The problem that has to be solved is this: Cannot something be done to remedy the condition of the large proportion of the poorer part of the population—four out of seven who are obliged at the present moment to seek relief from the Poor Law after they reach the age of sixty-five. I hope, whatever the result of this or any other Bill brought before this House may be, that no Bill will be passed which will have the effect of discouraging thrift that is going on among the working classes. There was a Return published the other day showing the decrease in pauperism in this country, from which it appears that from 1861 to 1901 pauperism has decreased from 43 per cent. to 21 per cent. of the population. We do not want to do anything to prevent this constant decrease of pauperism that has proceeded for the last forty years.
467 This Bill is one of a great many proposals that have been brought forward in this House. I find that no less than six proposals to deal with this question of Old Age Pensions were, brought forward in this House last year. They may be classed in about four divisions. There were two introducing schemes of universal pensions, which we, have just heard hon. Members opposite advocate. I think those schemes must be immediately condemned on account of the fact that there is no discrimination between the deserving and the undeserving poor, and also because of the immense cost to the nation which they would entail. I believe the calculation is that if pensions were given universally the cost would be about £30,000,000 per annum. Then there was a scheme confined to members of His Majesty's forces, and another was confined to members of friendly societies and clubs. The funds of these various schemes were, as a rule, to be provided, as to two-thirds from Imperial taxes, and as to one-third from the rates.
Now let me say one or two words in regard to the present Bill. I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading, but I think in several important provisions the Bill does not carry out the recommendations of the Committee and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division. The first point I would mention is the constitution of the pension authority. As provided in the Bill, the authority is really to be a sub-committee of the guardians. Their decisions would naturally have to come up to be confirmed by the whole Board. The Committee's Report, in paragraph 17, recommends—That the Committee when so appointed should be independent of the Board of Guardians, and that other members should be added to it.That is a point of very great importance—that there should be other members added to the guardians, especially exports and members of friendly societies. No Bill would be successful as an Act of Parliament unless it had the entire support of the friendly societies of the country. There is one other point in regard to which the Bill differs from the recommendations of the Committee, and that is as to the payment by the Treasury. Clause 11 of the Bill provides 468 that the Treasury is to pay £6 per annum for every pensioner. That is contrary to the recommendation that the Imperial contribution should be made not in proportion to the amount distributed in each union, but on the basis of the population. It would be quite unreasonable to ask the State to contribute the money, and then the local pension authority to have the entire distribution of it, to go as far as they can with £6 each for every pensioner. There must be some reasonable control, or the State would not be justified in advancing the amount required.
The third point I wish to mention is a very serious one, namely, the financial aspect. The last Committee appointed an expert Committee to report as to the probable cost of a scheme, and it has been stated that the probable cost in 1901 would have been £1,030,000; in 1911 it would be £1 2,650,000; and in 1921 £15,650,000. If the age instead of being sixty-five were put at seventy, the cost would be materially reduced, and it would then in the first year be £5,950,000, and in the last, £9,500,000. Then I must mention a matter reported in the public journals only a few days ago. On February 26th an adjourned conference was held in London to consider a very important scheme of old - age pensions, drafted by a committee of the friendly societies appointed last year. This scheme was sent out to every lodge of every friendly society in the United Kingdom. No less than 23,000 copies were issued, accompanied by a circular letter asking for the opinions of the friendly societies on the scheme. The result of that investigation has been that out of a total membership of 8,500,000 in friendly societies, no less than 6,500,000 sent in their approval of the scheme. Of the remaining 2,000,000, 1,000,000 made no reply; and of the others some thought a better scheme could be produced, some opposed any scheme—such as the Foresters, who have an old-age pension scheme of their own—and some did not approve of the details of the proposal. Substantially the scheme is the same as that now before the House, but the pension authority is very different. The pension authority which the friendly societies desire is an authority composed of the local authority and members of the friendly societies themselves—a committee of from six 469 to twelve members, consisting of members of the local authority and members of the friendly societies in the proportion of two to one. The cost is estimated—I do not know how to reconcile this figure with that I have already given—at about £6,000,000 a year.
I wish to thank the House for so kindly listening to the few remarks I have ventured to make. I am afraid that under the circumstances the present de hate must be characterised as an academic debate, and that on account of the great financial difficulties we cannot hope to carry the scheme to a successful issue—at all events, at present. But we may hope for more peaceful times, when the financial position of the country will be better, and we can approach the Chancellor of the Exchequer with some reasonable prospect of getting him to give the necessary money for this purpose. Then when the country is in a more normal state we may hope to get assistance in carrying out the beneficent work of providing for the old and deserving poor, and making the evening of their lives more in accordance with the Christian ideal which we all, I hope, share.
§ *(1.45.) Sir ANDBEW AGNEW (Edinburgh, S.)
I should like to say a word or two in support of the measure before the House. It seems to me that the proposal of this Bill is the natural development of our present Poor Law. I gladly support the Bill, because it seems to steer a moderate course between the law as it exists and the extreme measure of universal pensions suggested by the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire. The Poor Law of 1834 was at the time a notable step in advance. Everyone agrees that it has been of great service to the country. It has not only kept thousands and thousands of people from want, but it has also, I believe, helped us to come peaceably through more than one period of distress and difficulty. But the time seems now to have come when we should take a further step forward. The hon. Member for Leicester thought the time had come long ago when such a step should have been taken; but at any rate there seems to be a general agreement at the present time that we ought to take a step 470 in advance of the law as it now stands. Things have changed a good deal since 1834, and we have changed with them. Our sense of responsibility and our sense of humanity have grown, and there is a general and growing feeling that in the case of old persons who have led a long life of industry, a bed in the workhouse or a small dole given in outdoor relief is not a sufficient discharge of our moral obligations. Men and women who have lived such lives have done something more than support themselves; they have done what they could to increase the wealth and to forward the prosperity of the country, and if, in doing so, they have been unable to lay by sufficient to maintain themselves in independence during the few years which remain to them when their work is over, it seems to me that the State may well step in and lend a helping hand.
It is a weakness of the present state of the law that we cannot help people at the right time. We cannot prevent people falling into destitution. We can help them only after they have become destitute. If a man saves a little money, we cannot lend him a helping hand to eke out what he has been able to save; we oblige him to spend what he has saved, and then perhaps give him accommodation in the workhouse. This is where old-age pensions would come in most usefully. I do not believe that they will tend to the discouragement of thrift. It will rather encourage habits of thrift if men know that any money they save will go to increase their comfort in old age, instead of depriving them of the right to public support as it does at the present time.
The money difficulty has been a good deal spoken of in the course of the debate. But that difficulty seems to me to be a little over-rated. No doubt the amount of money required will be considerable, but if the policy of this Bill is accepted. I do not think we shall be deterred from getting the money required to carry it out. What we have to do is to prove to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government that the thing is worth doing; that it is our duty to do it, and that it is the desire of the country that it should be done. If we do that, I have no doubt that means will be found to supply the money 471 required for the purpose. We should also remember that though we have to pay a great deal in taxation, only a very small proportion of it goes in the relief of the poor. I believe the amount we pay in poor relief is less than 1 per cent. of the income of the country. It was a great deal more than that a generation or two ago. If we compare 1801 with 1901 we shall find that in proportion to the wealth of the country we are paying in poor relief less than one-half the amount our ancestors paid at that time. No doubt the amount would be very formidable if we went in for any scheme of universal pensions, but I do not think there is any prospect of that. If that is the only solution of the question, I am afraid the question must remain for a very long time unsolved. I do not think the people of the country will agree to be taxed to provide pensions for thousands of people who either do not need them or do not deserve them. To give universal pensions would mean, between £20,000,000 and £30,000,000 a year, and fully one-half of that amount would be wasted in giving pensions either to those who already had enough or to those who had led thriftless and indolent lives, and who had been a nuisance rather than a benefit to the community. I shall support this Bill because I believe it is going on right lines. It would limit the pensions to those who need them; it would select those who deserve them. and it would leave the decision as to who needed and deserved them to persons familiar with the district and with the circumstances and the history of the different families residing therein. I shall therefore vote for the Second Reading, and I hope if that is carried a similar measure will be introduced dealing with Scotland.
§ (1.53.) MR. SPEAR (Devonshire, Tavistock)
I shall not detain the House for many minutes, but having been a Guardian for some years I should like to express my pleasure at being a Member of the House when a practical step is taken to make provision for the deserving poor in their old age. Without agreeing to all the details of the measure, I shall give it my fervent support. I am fully aware that in 472 recent years some steps have been taken considerably to ameliorate the condition of the poor. I allude to the Compensation for Accidents Bill of last year, which was extended to agricultural labourers. I am aware that much has been done to ameliorate the lot of the poor in the workhouses, and I desire to give the right hon. Gentleman the present President of the Local Government Board great credit for his contribution in that direction. Last year he recommended and devised considerable variation in the dietary scale in the workhouses. That step was regarded with considerable apprehension at first, but in working it has been found to contribute to the comfort of the poor very considerably without making any considerable addition to the burden of the rates.
I support the Bill on the ground of justice and on the ground of expediency. I maintain that the frugal, hard-working, persevering man is entitled to comfort in his old age, and I think this Bill will do something for him in that direction. As regards expediency, we know that under our present system pensions are attached to many Government offices, and also to some persons engaged in private enterprises. I am not against Government employees being well remunerated for their work, but many agricultural labourers feel that when they give their labour they are contributing to the welfare of the State, and, at the same time, they have to contribute to the pensions of the civil servants and others in Government employ, and it is very hard that in their old age they should only have the workhouse to look forward to in order to keep body and soul together. It is important that this step should be taken, because we have had a great exodus of the population from the country districts, and one thing that contributes to that is, that under the present circumstances there is, in a great majority of cases, no provision for the agricultural labourer in his old age except the workhouse. If a business like, just, and discriminating measure of this kind—which is not calculated to encourage improvidence, but to help the deserving in their old age—is passed, it will do something to check the moving of the rural classes from the 473 country district. I venture to say that this movement is one of the most serious questions which menace the welfare of this country at the present moment. Consequently, I think that this Bill has claims upon our support and consideration. I venture to say that the proposal of this Bill that the money shall be contributed partly from the local rates and partly from the State is a good one. We know that all civil service pensions are provided by the State, therefore I think that the larger proportion of Old Age Pensions should also come from the National Exchequer. It is a national question, and I think the nation should be liable. I do not say that the whole cost should come from the national exchequer, because those who have the administration of the Act should have a monetary liability to deal with the question on economic and business lines. I disagree entirely with the argument of the hon. Member opposite who condemns this measure because it does not go far enough. This question has been before the country for a great number of years, and I think we should deal with it step by step. We must feel that we should not be justified in burdening the national exchequer to any large extent, but if we admit the principle and give effect to it in a business-like and steady manner we shall secure eventually that in this wealthy country no man or woman who faithfully fulfil their duty and show frugality will lack the necessaries of life in their old age. I cordially support the Bill.
§ *(2.0.) MR. REMNANT (Finsbury, Holborn)
Sir, as the principle of Old Age Pensions is so generally approved, might be considered to be wasting the time of the House if I ventured to further advocate it, and I will therefore only touch on one or two points in connection with this Bill which have particularly struck me in regard to old-age pensions. In the first place it has struck me, as it has struck other hon. Members, that of the number of our working classes up to the age of 65 years, more than 55 per cent. drift into pauperism, of whom five-sixths have never been in receipt of poor-law relief before the age of GO. Surely that is clear proof 474 that their poverty is due more to failing power and old age than other causes. It is a matter of great regret that, in spite of all the attempts that have been made; no thing has been done to remedy this great evil. In this Bill one of the conditions laid down is that no man can come upon this Old-Age Pension Bund unless he has been free from poor-law relief for 20 years previous to his application for a pension, except in circumstances of a wholly exceptional character. If a man with the common rate of wages at present paid can keep himself free from coming upon the poor law if he pays his rent, and brings up his family respectably; if he contributes to a friendly society to provide for times of sickness, I think that ought to be sufficient proof that he has not been an improvident man. The figures I have given emphasise still further the striking development in the efforts of many of the poorer classes today to make provision for themselves and their families. There are circumstances which lender it necessary that something should be done for those who cannot by any ordinary means prevent themselves going into the workhouse which they all so much dislike. I think it is the duty of the State to see that a blameless and industrious career should not be rewarded by the workhouse. That the outdoor relief which is generally granted is poor and inadequate can hardly be doubted. If it is doubted, one has only to refer to the report of the Senior-Inspector of the Local Government Board, who has expressed his opinion that an allowance of 2s. 6d. per week and a loaf of bread is a cruel allowance. The poor themselves would do anything, and put up even with this mean allowance, to keep out of the workhouse, and avoid mixing with the people whom they find there.
The main point in all these schemes is one of finance. I do not think the financial question is so large as it is often assumed to be, if you make the legitimate deductions which ought to be made in any attempt to solve this most important problem. I do not think a mere financial question ought to prevent the remedying of this evil. We are all practically agreed that this Bill, founded upon the 475 experience and evidence of recent commissions, is a good one; and in view of the great sympathy which the President of the Local Government Board has always shown towards any movement for ameliorating the condition of the poorer and less fortunate people in this country. I do not think that there ought to be any difficulty in passing the Second Reading of this Bill. I think the hon. Member who has moved this Amendment would help the passing of the Second Reading if he could see his way to withdraw his Amendment. He admits that he agrees with the Bill. He has raised some objection to various details in the Bill, but he did not in my opinion produce a single piece of evidence to support his contentions, and by what he said he rather confirms our view that if you give these pensions indiscriminately to everybody, you only perpetuate the evil which we are trying to stop, of not distinguishing between the deserving and the undeserving in their old age. I hope the hon. Member will see his way to help us to pass the Second Beading by withdrawing his Amendment, for by so doing he will go a very long way towards attaining; he object we all have in view, and am sure he will be consulting the interests of his constituents if he falls into line with us. The seconder of his Amendment himself said that he would gladly support this Bill. I am quite sure that if we pass the Second Beading we shall show our deserving old people that we recognise industry and thrift, and are anxious to promote them as far as we can. Let us make people feel that if in their old age they are in want through no fault of their own, provision has been made to enable them to end their days peacefully and honourably in the place which is dearest to all Englishmen, namely, home, however humble it may be. (2.15.)
§ * MR. CHANNING
May I ask the permission of the House to withdraw my Amendment, having stated my views.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.
*(2.45.) MR. J. W. WILSON (Worcestershire, N.)
. The hon. Members who have 476 associated together in drafting this Bill and in trying to get a hearing for it this session and last, are placed at some disadvantage today, because we have failed so far to raise any opposition, and we have nothing to reply to. It seems to me a most remarkable fact that all the speeches which have been delivered—and I think I may now include the speech of the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire, as he has withdrawn his Amendment—have all been in favour of the Bill. Certainly the seconder of the Amendment deliberately stated that he would vote for the Second Reading. So far, therefore, the discussion is a remarkable instance of unanimity, but from a debating point of view, I conceive it would be more in the interests of the Bill if we had had more criticism, because we cannot all get up one after the other and say exactly the same thing, especially on a subject like old age pensions.
A great majority of Members are-agreed that they would like to see old age pensions if possible. Even the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire would like to see universal old age pensions, and as the greater includes the less, I take it he will welcome the present Bill as a beginning. I do not intend to go into statistics, with which a good many of us are pretty familiar, from Reports which have been laid before the House. It seems to me that a debate of this sort must be interesting and useful if as many speakers as possible express their views to the House-and the country, as well as expressing their opinion in the division which may be taken later. I have a few general remarks which I wish to make with regard to the tendency of legislation and the tendency of the times. It may be asked why old age pensions are required now, and more talked about than they were a quarter of a century ago. It is not that men get worse wages, or that the circumstance of the working classes are worse than they were before; but it is because the conditions of employment have been largely altered by the force of circumstances, and by the operation of large societies interested in this matter, and particularly by the legislation which this House has passed from time to time with regard to operatives 477 in factories. Vast works run by limited companies have taken the place of the smaller works and more paternal government which existed in the time of our fathers, and have rendered necessary the Employers Liability Acts and other Acts for the protection of the working classes. There is not now the same personal attachment or relationship between employees and their employers. That is impossible where the employer is a limited liability company, and, therefore, the State has found it necessary to introduce measure after measure to level up the bad employer to the level of the good employer. Therefore it is that one cannot look through the list of public Bills in this House without seeing countless Bills which all tend to reverse the past state of affairs, and which provide that everything must be regulated by law, leaving very little in the way of personal relationship between employer and employee. Accordingly, I think, whether we like it or not, that the question of old age pensions will force itself on the attention of Parliament during the present generation.
We have tried in drawing this Bill, which has been so ably introduced by the hon. Member for West Cambridgeshire, to meet some of the difficulties of the question, and to afford a basis for discussion. One great argument advanced against old age pensions has been that it would interfere with the tendency to thrift which is so valuable and marked in the present generation of working men. It is a matter which cannot be exactly proved, but from my own personal experience, and I have had some little experience in the working of a pension fund, I find that a pension of 10s. positively operates as an inducement to save and make further provision for old age. I think when we come to consider this point as business men, and if we put ourselves for one moment in the place of an agricultural labourer or a dock labourer, earning from 15s. to 25s. a week with a family to bring up, we must appreciate the difficulty of making any adequate provision for old age. But if such a man knows that whatever provision he can put by for his old age will be supplimented by a small pension of 5s., I think it would be a sufficient inducement 478 to him to put by money to supplement his pension, in order that he may be able to hold up his head in his old age. At present the only alternative for such a man is—"I have raised my family well, I have helped my mates, and I hope my mates will help me when I get old." He sees many instances of men who have been thrifty and who have put their money into building societies to make provision for their old age, and who, through mismanagement or worse, find their money gone and themselves in the same position as if they bad never struggled and pinched to save at all. That is one of the great obstacles at present. The working men of this country earn better wages than are paid in any country outside the United States, and, if they had the extra inducement which a pension of 5s. a week would offer, they would in many cases save money, where now they give it up in despair. Such a result would benefit the State at large and it would relieve the Poor Law Unions by: gradually diminishing the number of those who have now to go to the workhouse. The whole tendency of employment is to turn a man adrift earlier than used to be the case, and, therefore, it is imperative that some such measure as this should be offered to the working classes of this country. I believe it will not only be welcome, but will positively be a good investment for the country.
With regard to the details of the Bill, I. fully expected to have heard many criticisms on the provisions of a measure which must be complicated and which covers so wide a ground. With regard to making the Poor Law Authority the Primary Authority in the first instance, 11 feel that anything which would involve the establishment of a fresh department, without any great guidance as to how that department would be worked, or what officials would be required, would I be an enormous obstacle, and looking at the question as between the Poor Law Guardians and the County Councils, the one have all the machinery and experience ready, whereas the other, in many cases at least, resent the idea of having this work put upon them. I personally see no objection to extending the power of the Poor Law Guardians Committees by co-opting members from 479 Friendly Societies. I believe, however, that all these suggestions could be threshed out better in committee. There is one provision which I think has not yet been mentioned. It provides that after the pensioner comes in for his pension, he draws it through the Post Office, and not through the relieving officer. That may sound a small matter, but, I believe it is a very great thing in the lives of the working classes of this country. In several other details we have endeavoured to remove the unfortunate, though in one sense fortunate, feeling of disgrace which attaches itself to receiving relief under the Poor Laws.
As to cost, it has been estimated at between £10,000,000 and £12,000,000, but I believe that includes Scotland. At any rate, no deduction has been made for the saving of expense which would ensue, in connection with outdoor relief and indoor maintenance. I believe the smallest outdoor relief is about 2s. 0d. per week, and that the average maintenance in a workhouse is from 6s. to 8s. per head, and in asylums, which are often the result of the workhouse, from 11s. to 12s. per head. Therefore a very substantial rebate may be expected, in estimating the cost of a Bill like this, to the Poor Law Guardians. There is another point taken against the Bill, and that is that seven-thirteenths is too great a share for the local authority to bear; but I do not think it is too much in the first instance, I if we wish to secure due economy and careful investigation. I would point out, moreover, that nothing is easier, when we get the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a less encumbered position, than to vote not £6,000,000, but£7,000,000 or£8,000,000. The Bill presupposes that the pension will be £13 per annum, and there is no idea of allowing the Guardians to distribute the £6 from the State, and not spending anything themselves. It may not be a pleasant prospect for the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the present time, but who can say that it is an unsurmountable barrier in the future, for it could be accomplished by broadening the basis of taxation for this particular object. No doubt the hon. Member for the Ecclesall Division of Sheffield could provide us with many ways. I for one should not begrudge 2d. upon the income tax for a scheme of 480 this kind. We are now paying an extra 6d. in the pound upon the Income tax, and if we can leave 2d. on for such an object, I believe the money would be well spent and cheerfully paid. This Bill should not be put in the same category as a scheme for universal pensions. That is not the proposal made in this measure, however desirable universal pensions may be. Upon this question of old age pensions, I do not believe that we do any good by crying for the whole loaf instead of taking part of it. A measure like this should be tried by degrees, and increased and extended from time to time. If the age limit of 65 is found to be too exclusive. what would be easier than to reduce it to 60? What the House and what all Governments ought to avoid, is taking steps in the dark. If you have to take a step in the dark it is best to take a small step at first, and then take a further step in the light of the experience gained. I appeal to the House to give this Bill a favourable reception, and I believe the discussion this afternoon will be very useful. I believe, when a definite division is taken on this subject, irrespective of party, it will show the general trend of feeling on this question much better than quoting extracts from election addresses, and I hope a step forward will he taken in this matter which we all have so much, at heart.
§ (3.4.) MR. BLACK (Banffshire)
In this debate up to the present time no hon. Member has stood up to say that the aged are well enough already, and no individual has stood up to say that it is not the business of the State to make some provision in this respect. Surely it is a happy omen that we are all agreed that something definite and substantial must be done in this matter. One might trace this unanimity of feeling to the fact that both sides of the House realise that, while the well-being of the nation as a whole has been growing by leaps and bounds, the position of the aged has not grown, any better, but, on the contrary, has grown worse by the lapse of years. In past times there always was a kindliness in the administration of the poor law in the country parishes, but the increase of the urban population has now made that an impossibility, and has rendered it necessary that the State should intervene and make better provision for our aged fellow subjects. I am glad to 481 find that the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire has withdrawn his Amendment, on the ground that he regards this Bill as an important step towards what he has in view, namely, a universal scheme of old age pensions. That is a thing which many of us have in view, and in that we hope to have important support from the Government Front Bench.
What has the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham said on this matter in this House? What is his view? Speaking on the 4th of April, 1894, the Colonial Secretary said—We are dealing with a subject which. I believe, creates in men's minds a popular interest, in a subject which is quite ripe for further legislation.The Colonial Secretary admits that this question was ripe for legislation eight years ago, and still nothing has been done. Perhaps, before the day is over, some other members of the Government will be able to state whether they agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary upon this question. The Colonial Secretary further stated that—The scheme of Mr. Charles Booth is, no doubt, a complete scheme because it provides that everybody shall have a pension of 5s. after sixty-five, but he readily admits that the State must find £27,000,000 a year. There is a good deal to be said for it, because it is, after all, largely a question of the transfer of taxation.I agree with every word of that, because it is largely a question of taxation but, not in the ordinary sense of the word, like taxation for an unproductive war. Continuing, the Colonial Secretary said—But are we, as practical men, prepared to waste our time in considering a scheme of that magnitude, and would any Chancellor of the Exchequer undertake to make such an enormous addition to the taxation of the country, even for so good an object? If that be granted, it follows that anything we do must be done gradually, experimentally, step by step.I think that every hon. Member of this House will agree with every word of that, for this problem must be treated experimentally step by step. I have much pleasure in supporting the Second Reading of this measure, in the belief that when the experiment of this Bill is put in force, it will be found necessary to go a step further, and undertake a universal scheme of pensions.
482 It will be objected, no doubt, from the front Ministerial Bench that, grand as this scheme may be, the drain involved on the country's resources makes it quixotic. Let us examine for a moment how this country stands as compared with its position fifty years ago. First of all, I will consider its position with regard to the Poor Law. Fifty years ago, the country was spending something like £7,800,000 in poor relief. It is now spending slightly over £12,000,000, an increase, roughly, of £4,000,000. It will be seen from the statistics that, although population increased during that period by about 50 per cent., the national income has increased by three times its amount. In the year 1850, the national income was £500,000,000, but in the year 1901, the national income had increased to about £1,500,000,000. Such a large increase in the wealth of the country means a corresponding increase in the taxable capacity of the country for producing funds for public purposes. The country can afford £23,000,000 for the aged, just as easily now, as it could afford £7,800,000 fifty years ago. That is exactly the difference between the amount of the Poor Law relief of the present day and what the country would produce now, if taxed at the same rate for Poor Law relief as it was taxed in 1850. Therefore, if we are only willing to put our hands in our pockets as deeply as our forefathers did fifty years ago, then this scheme can be carried out. I know that we have at present the war on our hands. The Colonial Secretary said that at present no Chancellor of the Exchequer would be mad enough to do this, but what has the Chancellor of the Exchequer done for this war? He has increased our taxation by £34,000,000. Our taxation amounted to £75,000,000 in 1894, and last year it was £109,000,000. That shows, I think, that where there is a will there is a way. Supposing that the present Government had been in earnest upon this question in the year 1893, there would have been no difficulty in raising £10,000,000 or £12,000,000 for this purpose, because they have since found no difficulty in raising three times that amount for a purpose in which they were in earnest. This is not a matter of 483 taxation in the ordinary sense. Supposing the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to raise this money by a poll tax, it would not be a tax, but it would be an insurance. Whatever scheme of pension is adopted, it will not be money which will go out of the country, for it will be distributed at home. It will not be like money which is hoarded up, but it will be money distributed in a way which will add to the well being of the whole community. Every branch of industry would benefit by it. Trading profits and rents would increase if a proper scheme of pension were carried out. I hope this Bill will be read a second time, and that this step will be taken to render the closing years of our aged fellow subjects brighter and happier.
§ *(3.14.) MR. CRIPPS (Lancashire, Stretford)
The debate upon this very important question has been up to the present time from one point of view. The hon. Member for East Northamptonshire who proposed the Amendment not only supported the whole principle of the Bill, but he went much further, and stated that he wished the scope and intention of the measure could have been considerably enlarged.
§ * MR. CRIPPS
There are a large number of hon. Members on this side who take a similar view. I intend to point out this afternoon from my own way of looking at this social question why I think the whole principle of the Bill is inadmissible, and why I think it would not tend to the development of our national characteristics or the welfare of the working classes. On the contrary, I take the view that it is in in effect a further extension of the poor-law system in a bad direction, and in that respect I think it is likely to lead to the somewhat demoralising system and spirit in which the poor-law was administered many years ago. That is a distinct issue, and therefore it will not be said that everything that has been spoken in this House upon this question has been from one point of view only.
I noticed what was said by the hon. Member who brought forward 484 this Bill. He said on the one side there had been what he called an increased expectation that something would be done in the direction of old-age pensions. By increased expectation I suppose he meant those electoral promises which very often are of a very demoralising character. If you are to deal with great social problems on the basis of electoral promises I think you are likely to introduce a very demoralising influence. But he also said that the difficulty and nicety of dealing with this great social problem had been more fully appreciated as the difficulties had been pointed out. I was a member of the Committee on Old Age Pensions presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford, and the conclusion I arrived at was that the difficulties have not been exaggerated, but if anything under-estimated. No one would say that that report was to be the final word, or that the difficulties had been overcome. As I shall endeavour to point out, they are certainly not overcome in the proposal now before the House. Let me show by way of illustration what these difficulties are. Take what the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire says. The hon. Member said that if this Bill is passed in its present form it is likely to cause bitter discontent amongst the working classes. Can you condemn a social reform in more direct terms than by saying if it is passed, so far from being an ameliorating Bill it introduces bitter discontent amongst the very class of people which it is supposed to benefit? What did the hon. Member for Leicester say I He talked about the population deteriorating. Surely he could not have read the Report of Lord Rothschild's Committee which approached this question from a social and economic point of view. The evidence brought before that Committee is of a most instructive character. What did the Committee say upon this point? It said there was every evidence, not that the population was deteriorating, but that there was every evidence of increased saving and comfort amongst the working classes of this country. That is what Lord Rothschild's Committee said. I would ask those who are supporting this Bill to 485 remember that one of the chief reasons why Lord Rothschild's Committee reported against any scheme of old-age pensions was that this tendency towards amelioration which was going on with natural voluntary action was likely to be thrown back by any scheme of old-age pensions that was brought forward. That is a very serious matter and it surely ought to make hon. Members pause before they pass something which appears to be prima facie popular with the working classes, and before they commit themselves to the principle of a Bill which contains all the evils pointed out by Lord Rothschild's Committee.
Another matter has been pointed out in the course of the discussion upon this Bill. Condemnation of the principle of compulsory insurance has been expressed. Now, what is meant by compulsory insurance as compared with the scheme in this Bill? Compulsory insurance means that the man who is to benefit has to make the contribution. What this Bill provides is, that other people are to make the contribution to his benefit. It is equally compulsion, and it is natural enough to anybody who knows human nature, for a pensioner to want other persons to provide out of their own pocket rather than out of his own, for a purpose of this kind. The question is where are you to get the money from? I dissent very strongly from the views on this point put forward by the hon. Member for Leicester, who said, in much too sweeping terms, far beyond what has been said by anyone else who is supporting this Bill, that he considers this Bill is the death-blow to any idea that men should contribute out of their own pocket towards their own support in their old age. It would be, to my mind, a most demoralising thing if this measure were to come as a death-blow to any such principle. As to the lines upon which any possible reforms may go, and admitting the difficulties in regard to the poorer classes with which we have to deal, I believe I may repudiate, on behalf of the working classes, that there is any truth in the general allegation, that, although they are able to do it themselves, they think they are entitled to look to the State and the rates and contribute nothing out of their own pockets. The hon. Member for 486 East Northamptonshire talked about some 43 per cent.
§ * MR. CRIPPS
What does the hon. Member mean by this 43 per cent? The number in receipt of poor law-relief has a tendency to increase, but it is only about 26 per 1,000, and I cannot see the least relevance for such figures, except for purposes of prejudice and to mislead people generally as to the true nature of the problem. Such statements tend to exaggerate the evils, and not to appreciate the difficulties.
§ MR. CHANNING
My point was that a very large proportion of the working classes would be unable to comply with the requirements of this Bill.
§ * MR. CRIPPS
That argument can only be a further condemnation of the proposals of the Bill in respect of which, he says, he is going to give his vote. What was the next point made by the proposer of the Bill? This is a point which, I think, should be very seriously thought out. I am not going to argue my views on this great social question merely on economical lines. I am one of those who think that if the occasion is great enough you must find the money somehow or other. I find great fault with the way in which the financial or economic side of this question has been put before the House as regards this proposal. First of all, the proposer talked about the country being lightly taxed in other ways, and he seemed to think that it was a small matter to be passed over very lightly, that he is bringing forward a proposal to put £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 upon the annual expenditure, which, according to the view of the hon. Member opposite and the hon. Member for North Worcestershire, is only a first step in the good things to come. According to their views it might be a burden, ultimately, of £20,000,000 on the National Exchequer. That is bad enough; but there is a much worse feature, which I want to call attention to in detail by-and-by, but which I wish now to deal with as a matter of principle. It may be that taxation is not over 487 burdensome, but will any member get up and say that the taxpayer is lightly burdened in this country at the present moment? Yet on a Wednesday afternoon, and on lines which I shall point out presently are in opposition to the views of reformers as regards matters of local taxation, in a light-hearted manner, this House is asked to put a burden of £7,000,000 a year at the outset, and of some indefinite sum afterwards, on the ratepayers of this country, at the very time when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton and a large number of Members on this side of the House are pledged to do what they can to reduce the rates because they are already unduly burdensome. What is the use of that if this House is going to put £7,000,000 to £10,000,000 of an annual burden on the taxpayers of this country? should like myself if we could pass a Standing Order that everyone who brought forward a Bill of this kind should be bound to attach to it some scheme by which he could find the money—a scheme compelling the promoters of this so-called philanthropic measure to show what the burden is which they are going to put on the shoulders of the thrifty, honourable, and hard-working artisans of the country. It is extraordinarily easy and popular to say either here or at a public meeting that the poor soldier in the army of industry should receive another 10s., or, if that is not enough, 15s. or £1 a week. But who is to find that money? It is the thrifty man who has saved sufficient for his own purpose who would find a burden of this kind harder than anyone else. If it were a question of transferring from the millionaire to the poor man, if I may use an expression of that kind, I believe there might be less exception taken to a Bill of this sort. That is not the effect of increasing the burden of taxation or of the rates. It falls hardest on the man who has got his head above the level of poverty, and unless you are very careful I believe that will be the effect of this Bill. Instead of taking away the taint of poverty from a large number of men, it would, in my opinion, reduce a larger number of working men, who are already above that level, to that condition against which they have before successfully struggled.
488 One other point was raised by the hon. Member for Leicester, and I wish to mention this as one of the possible solutions of this great social problem in the future, although on an occasion of this kind one can only refer to it in passing in a few words. It also has reference to what was said by the hon. Member for North Worcestershire. Everyone has said that an improvement in the terms of the Bill is wanted. There was something said by the hon. Member for Leicestershire well worthy of consideration. He pointed out that the period of old age was likely to arrive at different times in different industries, and anyone who has a knowledge of the social conditions of this country will agree with him in that statement. What does that point to? It does not point to State pensions, and it does not point to any general principle of pensions such as we find in this Bill. It points in the opposite direction. It points to each industry providing for its own aged and deserving poor. In my mind it may be that that is one of the possible directions in which we may have a solution of this difficult social problem in the future. Now, you have as regards particular industries, particular funds, partly provided by the employer, and partly by the employed, in order to provide old age pensions, and so possibly in the future that is the direction, chiefly voluntary, in which we ought to look for a system of pensions as opposed to state aided pensions, with what I consider their demoralising tendency and unequal incidence. It is sometimes forgotten that this matter has been most carefully considered in a detailed way on two or three previous occasions. I will first take the Royal Commission. They examined Mr Booth's scheme; the scheme associated with the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and also that of the hon. Gentleman who represents one of the divisions of Hereford. They also considered the question of compulsory insurance. Everyone who reads what they said will see that they desired to find a solution; that they approached the question, not antagonistically, but in a most sympathetic spirit. But with what 489 result? That they could not recommend any one of those schemes even as regards their principles. They took these three schemes as tests of possible principles, but they could not recommend anyone. Perhaps Lord Rothschild's Committee went even further. His Committee, after considering the subject for a long time, came slowly to the conclusion that all the schemes presented to them would do more harm than good. That is the substance of their report.
§ * MR. CRIPPS
I do not think the hon. Member is right, but I do not go into controversy with him. I have no doubt that he thinks he is right. I think that in substance he is not right. I sat upon the subsequent Committee and we had to deal with that Report. The members of the Committee, who had all the knowledge and all the details in regard to these proposals, set themselves to work in order to devise a scheme. A scheme was brought in by one of the members of the Committee. The Committee was composed to a large extent of financial people, and members who had a knowledge of social conditions, and they, after bringing their knowledge to bear on the subject and with all their experience, said—We cannot devise a scheme. First of all, we cannot do it on financial grounds. It seems to us extravagant, and consequently as regards thrift we think every scheme before us would tend to take away the safeguards which surround thrift at the present time.No one can say what the effect of a scheme of this kind might be on the question of wages, but I do not wish to go into such a topic today. But it is said that there is an underlying principle in this. If hon. Members opposite or on this side go the length of saying that an aged and deserving person—that is the expression—has a moral right to an old aged pension, then I think that a good deal of what they say would follow as a logical consequence. I deny that premiss absolutely; I join issue at that point. I say that there is no such moral right to an old age pension as between the 490 citizen and the State, and there being no such right as that, we come to what I may call the practical question. Can you devise a scheme which will not do more harm than good, both as regards its effects on the men who are supposed to be benefited and its general effects on the rates and taxation of the country? I want to say why it was, if I may put my argument in this way, that I felt myself bound to vote against the scheme of the majority of Mr. Chaplin's Committee. I felt bound to vote against that Report because it was un sound and impracticable, desirous as I was, I admit, at that time, to find some solution of this question.
Now, what is the scheme of this Bill? think even if you were to have any old age pension scheme, at any rate, so far as this Bill is concerned, no Second Reading should be given to the proposal. In the first place, disguise it how you may, you are introducing what I may call a competitive poor law authority. There is no difference that I can, see between the Guardians and what is called the Committee of Guardians. At the most it is an appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober. It is erecting the same body under different names. Now, what does that mean? I ask the attention of those Members of this House who care about these great social problems. You will have two authorities competing for the creation of paupers. It is all very well to say that the man who has got an old age pension has not got the pauper taint. I join issue there entirely. The words "pauper taint" are used as a term of prejudice and reproach. But under this Bill you will have two authorities competing as to which should give most to the greater number of people in want of poor relief or of old age pensions. I defy any man to draw a distinction under this Bill between the two. You will create two authorities, not with an interest to keep poverty within the lowest possible limits, but with an interest to create it in order to show that one or other of the rival schemes is doing the most, or having the largest business as regards the creation of paupers. This is a very serious matter. It is a matter which I know weighs not only with myself, but 491 with a large number of the Members of Mr. Chaplin's Committee, who even supported the Report of the majority. If we think of the social difficulties and dangers of the future, can there be a more retrograde step as regards dealing with poverty in this country than to have two local authorities competing with each other as to which shall create the greater number of paupers?
What is the next point in these old age pension schemes that are brought forward in this House? It is said you will get rid of the inquisitional side of the poor law. Does this Bill do that 2 Does it for a moment propose to draw such a distinction, which is a right distinction to draw if you are to make a distinction between old age pensions and outdoor relief? Not at all. You are still to have this inquisitional Committee; you are to have a double authority to draw unenviable comparisons. The question of expenditure is one that deserves the serious consideration of the House. A burden of this kind is in the nature of an onerous burden, and the expenditure of a matter of this kind ought not to be thrown upon the rates. This is an expenditure which ought to be provided by the millionaires and great owners of property who practically escape from all personal contribution to rates. What possible explanation is there of a proposal to place two-thirds of the wealth of this country entirely outside any contribution? That is a point people entirely forget in dealing with the hardship and burden of local taxation. If you are to have a national system of old age pensions, if you are to talk of the pensioners of industry, it is this House that must provide the funds from the Exchequer. The reason that is not done is this. The misfortune is that we have not a Chancellor of the Exchequer who represents the ratepayers in this House, and it is because of that that proposals are made to put a burden on the rates if you cannot get the money from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is idle to talk of getting £10,000,000 from him. From that point of view the House ought to be particularly careful with regard to expenditure of this kind. I am not sure that the House is justified in putting a charge of this kind upon the localities, 492 if the ratepayers themselves would be opposed to it. If we are to have a universal Old Age Pension Scheme let us take the bolder and more honourable line, and if we are going to sanction a scheme let us face the expenditure. That is the bold and honourable course; that is the right principle. The opinion of the Committee on Cottage Homes, of which the hon. Member for South Tyrone was the President, was that these difficulties could be dealt with outside voluntary effort by an amelioration of the conditions as regards the existing Outdoor Poor Law Administration, and that is my view. That is the proper principle to adopt instead of setting up two competitive authorities.
§ * MR. CRIPPS
But my hon. friend will not say because that Report was shelved the principle is not the same. On that ground every principle of the House should be given the go-by. If there is this evil, and if you cannot deal with it as a private matter in any particular industry, there is only one logical way of dealing with it, and that is by the amelioration of the present Poor Law Administration. I agree with a great deal of what was said in the Report of that Committee. I admit that as there is a change of feeling in the country you must have a change in the poor law, to meet, so far as you can, the needs of the present generation. That is the direction in which we must go. I protest against this old age pension scheme, which in itself I believe to be more demoralising than for the good of the working classes; but apart from that wide general proposition I appeal to the House, in connection with the present Bill, not to sanction the demoralising doctrine of two competing Poor Law authorities creating further paupers among the working classes at the expense of the over-burdened ratepayer.
§ (3.55.) MR. CHARLES ALLEN (Gloucestershire, Mid)
said in rising to support the Second Reading of this Bill he could sssure the House he would be exceedingly brief. The question 493 was whether a man would be deterred from thrift through having the chance of a pension in his old age. He did not believe he would. He agreed with the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire. He disliked the clause connecting the old age pensions under this Bill with the Poor Law. That was a sentimental objection to the Bill, but he had a practical objection, which he would like to call attention to. In one of the clauses of the Bill it provided that a Committee of half the members of the Board of Guardians should be appointed, but it did not provide that every parish represented by the Board of Guardians should be represented. That was a most important omission. In the case of a Board of Guardians of which he had some knowledge, some parishes had five representatives whilst others had only one, but according to Clause 1 of the Bill it would be perfectly possible for the five representatives of one parish to be on the Committee and not the representatives of the others, and such a thing as that might lead to favouritism. He supported entirely the principle of the Bill, and he hoped it would be given Second Beading, it was a step in the right direction, and if it obtained a Second Beading it would, in his opinion, focus the attention of the country on a question which he believed to be one of the gravest with which the country had to deal.
§ *(4.0.) MR. GOULD1NG (Wiltshire, Devizes)
I do not think that those responsible for this Bill need be discouraged with the reception it has received, for every Member who has spoken has given it his blessing, with the exception of my hon. friend the Member for Stretford, who has dealt with the Bill critically, and he is against it, but he shelters himself behind Lord Rothschild's report; but that Committee reported that they had been precluded from considering any old age pension Bill which they wished had not been the case. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham in this House regretted that they had so misinterpreted their instructions, and said that that was not intended. My hon. friend has a scheme 494 of his own which would create a pampered class, and it would only affect those in permanent and good employment, while going to saddle industry with the expenditure of old age pensions; but the casual labourer and women who in, their age require these pensions are left outside.
For some time past this country has been convinced that the treatment accorded to our deserving poor in old age requires radical reform. A Committee appointed by this House in 1899 and presided over by a Cabinet Minister made careful investigation into the matter and reported—We recognise and we entirely concur in the force of this expression of opinion; but, on the other hand, we are unable to ignore the fact, abundantly supported as it is by the evidence we have had before us that cases are I too often to be found in which poor and aged people, whose conduct and whose whole career has been blameless, industrious, and deserving, find themselves, from no fault of their own, at the end of a long and meritorious life, with nothing but the workhouse or wholly inadequate out-door relief, as the refuge for their declining years.Again the great friendly societies to whom the country is so indebted, had in too many instances the shadow of insolvency hanging over them. Mr. Stead, the well-known friendly society secretary, declared that 75 per cent. of the deficiency in the funds arose from old age sick pay—pay given to men who were not sick in an ordinary way, but sick with chronic illness due to the infirmities of old age.
A Return issued in 1893 showed that I in 3 over the age of 65 are in receipt of poor law relief. When you make a reduction in these figures of the well-to-do, you have the alarming fact that 3 in 7, or nearly one-half of the working classes in this country in old age, no matter what their calling or past conduct may have been, come under the stigma of pauperism. While we know that many endure untold hardships, exist on an inadequate sustenance—often on the verge of starvation, rather than suffer that which is both repellent and repugnant to their whole nature—viz., association with those whom they have always avoided, and to whom freedom and independence have no attraction. The First Lord of the Treasury in his election address, and in many speeches 495 since, and in letters, acknowledged that this question has to be solved, and stated it must engage the anxious attention of the Government in the future. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham—I will quote a sentence of his, though I exonerate him entirely for not tackling the question when his hands are so full at the Colonial Office. The right hon. Gentleman said—I want, before my political life is terminated to see something done for the old. I want to see something done in order that men who have led a life of toil may look forward without dread to the old age that comes upon all of us.And again—Legislation which will help to smooth the declining years of the poor against pauperism, these are the things—that is the programme for which I believe the overwhelming vote has been given in the present election.I quote the right hon. Gentleman because there is an important letter from the Prime Minister on the question in 1898, in which he said—I have expressed more than once my full approval of the principles involved in Mr. Chamberlain's proposals.As we have heard a good deal as to how the money is to be found, I would like to read what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, not as an ordinary M. P., but as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said in 1895—The Government also intended to reform the poor law, and in co-operation with the great friendly societies to aid poor working men in some way or other in their old age. It was time, too, that they considered the condition of those who were reduced to end their days through infirmity or old age in the workhouse. It was time that they should ascertain whether they could not give to the deserving amongst them comfortable quarters—something like home, something that they need not look upon as he feared they now looked upon the institution with loathing and with pain.The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board is also pledged on this question, because he said at Bristol—The labouring poor had become very impatient and they did not understand the Parliamentary etiquette which compelled the question to be shelved.Therefore I think the promoters of this Bill may almost claim the thanks of the Government, and their support, for bringing forward a scheme for consideration today.
496 To my mind, with the question of Old Age Pensions is inseparable that of Poor Law reform. There are many inmates of workhouses who are better housed and surrounded with greater comforts than many of those who contribute to their keep, and of the recipients of Poor Law relief who are above the age of sixty-five, some 370,000 on January 1st, 1892, nearly two-thirds are classed "outdoor," and so to a large extent deserving poor. We are spending in this country eleven and a half millions a year on Poor Law, and one and a half million goes in the payment of officials—the cost of in-maintenance in London is £28 14s. 2d. per head. Add to it repayment of loans, wages of officials, and it rises to the great figure of £38 10s. per pauper—in the rest of England and Wales, in-maintenance is £11 7s. 5d., add repayment of loans, wages, etc., and it rises to £22 7s. 2d. I should like to know where some of our deserving poor would be if they had distributed among them even their portion of that sum, without the taint of the Poor Law, and were able to spend their days with their friends. I would like to point out that the figures I have given do not include the payment to those who have outdoor relief, nor are the salaries of the relieving officers included. If we remove from the category of paupers the deserving poor over 65 years of age, our poor law should be administered at a much less cost to provide for the thriftless and improvident.
The promoters of this Bill have endeavoured to give effect to the recommendations of the Committee presided over by the right hon. Member for Sleaford—they desire to utilise existing machinery—adapting it so as to remove all taint of pauperism, so as to avoid that in any scheme there should be a large portion of the money granted by Parliament for pensions, eaten up by a new army of officials. The salaries and wages of the present staff of the guardians amount to nearly one and half millions a year. There are close on 1,800 relieving officers, men well acquainted with the history of the poor in this district. How do they propose to remove the taint? A special Pensions Committee considers and decides on the claims—and nothing need prevent that Committee being strengthened by co-option. The 497 badge of free citizenship remains—the payment of the pension is made through the same channel, viz., the Post Office, as for other pensioners—or, in cases where the pensioner has no friends living with whom he cares to reside, he can live in cottage homes with all his; freedom. We class these men as aged pensioners—they would rank as deserving veterans of labour in the same way as the Chelsea pensioners represented the, deserving veterans of the service. In the beginning there would exist two lists, as it is rightly desired that those deserving poor at present in the workhouse should be able to regain their freedom without delay. The County Councils have, through their spokesman said that they have not the necessary machinery. The Poor Law Association, on the other band, welcome the work. Then, Sir, it is proposed that the Local Authority should administer the fund, and that they should benefit from the saving that will ensue in the administration of the ordinary Poor Law—they also pay the larger share to ensure economic working, while the Treasury contribute £6 a year per Aged Pensioner. It is not proposed that the Treasury should have any representative on the administrative authority, because all the money given for Old Age Pensions should be used for that purpose, and not for the payment of officials. The Committee presided over by Sir Edward Hamilton estimated that the scheme would cost ten and a quarter millions in 1901, and twelve millions in 1911. Everyone who has studied the report of that Committee will see that it was extra liberal in its allowance. Every aged pensioner in England was to have 6s. a week, and in the case of Scotland and Ireland 5s. 6d. per week. It will be agreed that 5s. a week given to an aged person as a pension would be considered as adequate for most agricultural places, and for residents in Scotland and Ireland.
The only complaint against the scheme is that the cost would be too great; but that complaint has been advanced whenever Old Age Pensions have been considered, and long before we incurred our present expenditure. We are now paying extra taxation for the war without any inconvenience. One thing, at 498 all events, this war has shown, and that is that the nation can bear the necessary taxation required for this purpose without much inconvenience. The old argument that the country could not afford the outlay has had the bottom knocked out of it. I have alluded to the pledge given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer will follow the policy he inaugurated last year, and boldly broaden the basis of taxation in order that all may contribute, then the amount will be quickly and easily raised. I do not believe even the old theories of free trade would stand in the way. Earmark the taxation for Old Age pensions, and I believe it will be cheerfully paid. Those of us who have taken an active part in this measure are very glad that my right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board is the Minister responsible. We all know his courage and sympathy, and many of us on this side of the House cannot forget the great help he gave us in the last Parliament in extending the Workmen's Compensation Act to agricultural labourers. I would entreat my right hon. friend to add to the gratitude of his followers in this House, the gratitude of the untold number of the working classes throughout the country, by taking the solution of this question on his shoulders, and by establishing a scheme of old age pensions before this Parliament comes to an end. His sympathies are with the industrial poor. He has never hesitated to show it in his speeches and actions. I would point out to him that during the last century Parliament was mainly occupied in satisfying the wants and removing the grievances of the middle classes and the well-paid artizans. Little or nothing was done for the industrial poor; but surely in this twentieth century it is time to give them an innings. When many of the continental nations are dealing with this question, when many of our Colonies are tackling it, surely it behoves the Mother Country to wake up, and for this Parliament to declare that it will wipe out the inscription that is to all intents written over the portals of many of the working classes: "Abandon hope in old age," and the fear that is engraven 499 in their hearts and haunts their old age that they will have to work for a certain period and then their certain doom is the workhouse. Let this House decide to burst these shackles once and for all that sorrow the declining years of the deserving poor, and determine that the deserving poor, as well as the rich, in this country shall end their days emancipated and free.
§ *(4.20.) MR. BOND (Nottingham, E.)
I rise with some diffidence, after the peroration of my hon. friend, to offer some views as to the real character, as I consider it, of the issue involved in this Bill which has commanded such ready assent from all quarters of the House. In my judgment it is based on a false theory. I think it would be unjust in its operation, certainly extremely difficult of application, and highly probably deleterious in its results on the social character of our people. What is the theory which underlies this Bill? It is that every child who is born into a civilised community, by the mere fact of honouring that community with its presence, has the right to be supported by his fellow citizens until he is capable of work and of fulfilling his own destiny, and that he is entitled, when no longer able to perform that task, to special accommodation and recognition for the services he has rendered to the community. That is the principle—if principle it can be called—which underlies this measure. That is net the motive, however, which prompts the honest working man to labour. The motive which prompts him is the instinct, of social preservation, which induces him to consider that he and his family ought to owe their livelihood to his personal exertions rather than to the compulsory charity of others. That is a view which I believe to be deeply engraven on the the English character. It is a wholesome view, and one which conduces to the preservation of a high ideal amongst our people, and I regard with great suspicion any legislation which seems in the least degree likely to impair it. It is impossible, I think, seriously to contend that a man who, at the age of sixty-five, when hard labour becomes impossible for him, finds himself without adequate means of subsistence—pathetic 500 as that spectacle is, and anxious as we all are to relieve him—it is impossible, I say, to contend that because he has kept himself for sixty-five years he is entitled, as a matter of right, to special consideration on the part of his fellow citizens.
If we look at some of the difficulties which lie in the way of the application of the machinery which this Bill sets up, we see what confusion is likely to ensue as regards the selection of that portion of the community which is to receive the benefit of old age pensions. Look at the section which describes the qualifications which a man must possess to entitle him to a pension. He may be in receipt of an income from other sources, which, I suppose, may include wages, not exceeding 10s. a week. Suppose a workman is receiving 10s. a week from his employer. He has been a respectable man all his life. He would be entitled, according to the Bill, to 5s. His employer might say: "I would like to get you 2s. 6d. more; I will reduce your wages to 7s. 6d., and you can claim a pension, and you will then be receiving 12s. 6d. instead of 10s." If anyone suggests that cases of this kind are not likely to occur, I can only say he knows very little of the social condition of the class of people to whom this Bill will apply. Then take another extraordinary qualification, which I will venture to read to the House—Has endeavoured to the best of his ability by his industry, and by the exercise of reasonable providence, to make provision for himselt and those immediately dependent on him.I have seldom read a more vague and unsatisfactory form of words. It is evident that my hon. friends found themselves in considerable difficulty in devising a form of words which would secure that the aged persons whom they desire to benefit should include only men and women who have made an effort during their lives to make provision for their old ago. The Committee sits down to examine the list of applicants for old age pensions. Will it not be evident to the House that, according as the Committee is disposed or indisposed to increase the list of pensions chargeable on the rates, they will give a rigid or loose interpretation to the section I have read. If they give it a loose interpretation, they can put practically anyone they choose on the pension list; whereas, if they give it a rigid interpretation, they can practically exclude everyone.
501 I said that not only was the Bill difficult in its application, but it would be unjust in its operation. It would be unjust for the reason already stated by my hon. friend in his admirable speech. Men earning 12s., 13s., or 20s., might have to contribute towards the cost of these pensions, but they would not be eligible themselves, and they would be helping to put men in the same class as themselves in a privileged position. Another difficulty is that there is no security that the supervision of the guardians would be sufficiently strict and discriminating. It a very invidious thing to have to choose between one set of people and another—to have to divide the people into sheep and goats. It is a task from which anyone might shrink, and I do not think it is desirable to place such a burdensome and invidious duty on persons living in the district, whose decision must, to a very great degree, be influenced by personal and private motives. Who are the people from whom it is proposed to take rates and taxes in order to set up an Old Age Pension Scheme? I am not speaking now of the wastrel or the neer-do-well. I am speaking of the happy-go-lucky working man who does not belong to a club or a a friendly society, who has not put money into a savings bank, but who, nevertheless, has supported his wife and family, and has reached the age of sixty-five without having made any application for relief. I should very much doubt if he would not consider it a distinct grievance if the rate collector called on him, and demanded his quota towards the rate levied for carrying out an Old Age Pension Scheme.
If we look at the Bill as a whole, it is a Bill for increasing Poor Law relief; it is a Bill which goes along way towards impairing the principle which, after a long conflict and difficult history, was evolved and put into operation in the Act of 1834. At that time destitution was made the test for the receipt of compulsory charity, but we are now asked to set up a different test, by which people shall be entitled to relief who are not properly described as being destitute. Directly you establish that principle, you again open the flood gates; you let in, at all events to a considerable degree, the state of things which prevailed before the Act of 1834 was passed, and which is revealed so graphically, fully, 502 and convincingly in the Report of the Commissioners who were sent to examine into the problem before that Act was introduced. I look with extreme alarm upon any attempt to impair the sanctity of that Act. It is all a question of expediency; it is a question of whether, by passing a measure of this kind, you are really going to improve the character, habits, and happiness of the people as a whole. I venture to think that the passing and carrying into effect of such an Act will have a distinctly deleterious effect upon the habits of the people so far as thrift is concerned. The knowledge that a pension of 5s. or 7s. can be obtained at a given age by the observance of ordinary decency, by the trying to keep one's self from Poor Law relief during the years between thirty-five and sixty-five, will not conduce to the formation of provident habits among our people, or the preservation of that disposition to thrift, of the growth of which during the last century we have had such gratifying proof. I believe a spirit is growing up amongst the people in the direction of providing for themselves against all the ordinary contingencies of life. There will be breakdowns in the attempt to do so. Inevitably there will be cases which may be called hard cases. But many of those hard cases are already provided for, and more still may be provided for by the kindly operations of individual philanthropy, by the assistance of friends, neighbours, children, and relatives, or by the pensions which many charitable endowments are now able to give. But I do not believe that the placing of such an Act as this on the Statute Book will tend in the right direction. I am convinced that, so far as it works at all, it will tend in the direction of stopping that steady progress of which I have spoken. Because I believe that the safety and prosperity of this country lie rather in the direction of bringing about such results as the promoters of this Bill hope to achieve by the operation of natural causes and the development of forces which we see already in operation. I deprecate a change which I fear will prove extremely deleterious to the real prosperity, happiness, and comfort of our people.
§ (4.40.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. WALTER LONG, Bristol, S.)
lam glad to join 503 hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House in congratulating my hon. friend the Member for West Cambridgeshire on the admirable manner in which he introduced this subject to the notice of the House. His speech was clear and moderate, and it did much to start the debate on the agreeable lines, as compared with many of our debates, which it has followed I shall have something to say presently in reference to some of the statements made by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but even they have not been so vehement as is usual with them in their denunciations of His Maiesty's Government, or in their criticisms of what the Government has or has not done.
In the first place, I hope the House, and people outside the House, will take notice of this startling fact: We have been discussing today a Bill affecting one of the most important questions we can be asked to consider, one touching the present and future well-being of the people to whom we look to maintain our country. [A laugh.] The hon. Member for the Harborough Divison laughs because I so describe it.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
But I have not yet said what I was going to say. I am glad the hon. Gentleman has so much confidence in me. But it is a fact which ought to be noted that, although we have been discussing this important subject—important, as I have already said, because it affects the present and the future well-being of many thousands of people in this country, and beyond that, although this point has naturally not been so much dwelt on, because it entails vast expenditure on the taxes and rates of the country—yet, during the debate, interesting though it has been, the Front Opposition Bench has not been even so well tenanted as it is at the present moment. [The hon. Member for the Saffron Walden 504 Division was then the only occupant.] I am not sure that even the hon. Gentleman would have been there had it not been that some prophetic idea crossed his mind of what I was going to say. It is remarkable that a subject of this kind, important as it is, costly as it must be, if it were to be debated in this, or, indeed, in any other form—
§ MR. HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N)
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I had the advantage, which he had not, of hearing the very able speech of the hon. and learned Member for the Stretford Division.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
We cordially welcome the return of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We all admit that when he is on the Front Opposition Bench, little other assistance is required from that quarter in the conduct of the business of the House. But I also had the advantage of hearing the speech of my hon. and learned friend, and also the rest of the debate, and. notwithstanding the reappearance of the right hon. and learned Gentlemen, I adhere to what I have already stated to the House. This subject is of great importance, it has been debated, at any rate during the earlier part of the sitting, in a remarkably thin house, especially on the other side, and without the advantage of the assistance of any Member of the Front Opposition Bench, prepared on behalf of the Opposition to accept or disclaim any responsibility in regard to this proposal.
The hon. Member for Banffshire had something to say—rather rashly, I think—as to the action of the Unionist Party in this matter. He spoke somewhat strongly of our neglect of this question of old age pensions. The hon. Member for Leicester described the speech of my hon. friend as a liberal speech, and one more liberal than this Bill. I presume he was using the word "liberal" in its narrower sense, as applied only to a political Party. All I can say is that any such charges coming from hon. Gentlemen opposite are really preposterous. All the work that has been done in regard to this question has been at the instance of the Unionist Party. But there is something more remarkable still 505 in the record of the Party opposite which I will give hon. Members for their own benefit. In 1892, when a Unionist Government was in office, hon. Gentlemen opposite, only one of whom has been present today, introduced a Bill dealing with this question. That Government fell, and Parliament dissolved in June. For three years a Government of their own Party was in office—the very time for them to repeat their experiments in legislation, to bring pressure on the Government to deal with this important, question, and to meet the difficulties as they can so easily be met by increased taxation. But during those three years that Bill was allowed to remain in a pigeon-hole, and it was not heard of again until the Liberal Government had fallen, and a Unionist administration taken its place. Then activity on that side again displayed itself; hon. Gentlemen re-introduced their Bill, and urged the Unionist Government to deal with the matter, no longer having the leverage they would have had if they had introduced their measure when a Government of their own party was in office. Therefore, I do not think that these charges of neglect or of the adoption of Liberal views and principles by the Unionist party come very well from gentlemen whose record is such as I have just described.
My hon. friend the Member for East Wiltshire said just now that the Government ought to be very grateful to him and his friends for the introduction of this Bill. Within certain limits, and on certain conditions, which I will refer to in a minute, I do not hesitate to say we are grateful for the initiation of a debate which has been of the greatest possible interest and cannot help, I think, being of much value. I have been struck by the fact that many hon. Members on the other side of the House, who have enthusiastically supported the Bill have at the same time by their criticisms, practically torn the Bill to shreds. One of the strongest arguments of my hon. friend was that the Bill is moderate and limited in character, and that it is safeguarded by certain provisions. Those limitations have been rejected by hon. Gentlemen opposite who have announced their intention of supporting the Bill, while the 506 hon. Member for East Northamptonshire has withdrawn his Amendment in order no longer to impede the progress of the Measure. We are therefore face to face with this fact, that many of those who are supporting a Bill professedly moderate and limited in its character, do so with the deliberate and frankly avowed determination of extending its principles and developing its scope in the future. [Opposition cheers.] Very well. That is the view of hon. Gentlemen who have never yet been charged with the responsibility of Government. If that is their view, and they claim it for the Party to which they belong, we ought to have heard from somebody who may be responsible for the government of the country, whether they are prepared to find these large sums of money, whether they are prepared to denounce the Government of the day which cannot find them, and to say that if they take their places they will find the money. We have had no such statement from any responsible speaker on that side of the House, and we are therefore entitled to comment on the strange fact that, while they would enormously increase the cost and enlarge the operation of this Bill, they have not yet said how they would be prepared to find the money it would require. We are all agreed as to what we want to do, although there has, I think, been some exaggeration and misapprehension in the speeches which have been made as to the true facts of the case.
Reference has been made to those members of the labouring classes who will not appeal to the Poor Law for relief, and who starve to death in some dark corner. It is quite true that here and there you find lamentable and deplorable incidents of that kind, but I am happy to say they are very rare, much more rare than in the old days. It very seldom happens that people are allowed to starve themselves to death, because of the false shame which prevents them, in their suffering and distress, resorting to the Poor Law. But that is not the kind of evil you are going to remove by passing a Bill of this kind. If you were to carry this Bill at once, if it became law by the wave of a magician's wand, it would still be open to people to suffer and the from the 507 causes to which reference has been made. Those incidents in our industrial life ought not to be introduced into our debates as a justification for the acceptance by the House of Commons of a Bill of this kind. The two things are quite distinct. It was said just now, not in a speech but in the form of an interjection, that nothing had been done in the direction of a reform of the Poor Law, such as was recommended by the Report of the Cottage Homes Committee. Whoever makes that statement must be complete ignorance of what has been going on in the country since the pubication that Report. In that document their were five recommendations, four of which could be dealt with by administration, the other requiring legislation. Those four are all in course of adoption in many of the unions of the country, and when hon. Members, as the hon. Member for Leicester and others did, talk about the cruel administration of the Poor Law.
§ MR. BROADHURST
I did not use: such an expression as "cruel administration of the Poor Law," or anything approaching it.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
Very well; I for-o-ct the exact language which struck me at the time, but I accept the hon. Gentleman's disclaimer. References have been made to the action of Boards of Guardians in forcing unfair treatment on the paupers. I will put it that way.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
Very well; never mind; your's was not the only speech. The hon. Member for Leicester, however, did refer to the unfortunate cases of people dying in dark corners because they were unwilling to appeal to the Poor Law. I will confine myself to that kind of case. The hon. Gentleman stated what he conceived to be the principle of the Poor Law administration in this country. I am unable to accept it as being an accurate description, but, roughly speaking, it will answer the purpose. It is the duty, not merely of the Boards of Guardians, but of every officer of Boards of Guardians,—relieving officers and 508 others to see that people do not starve to death, to see that they are not without food, clothing, and a roof to cover them. I venture to say that during the last 20 years—and I speak with some special knowledge of the subject, because I was for six years at the Local Government Board, from 1886 to 1892, as Under Secretary—and especially during the time which has elapsed since 1886, enormous strides have been made in the administration of the Poor Law in this country, and great developments have taken place in connection with the recommendations of the Committee to which reference has been made. In many cases where it is possible, Guardians are discriminating between different classes of paupers, separating the wastrel from the honest sufferer, and doing everything they can within reason and within certain limits to lighten the pressure of poverty and to lessen the sufferings of the well-behaved poor. But when it is said that too little has been done in this direction, and that more legislation is required, hon. Members on both sides forget this one fact, that in many of the unions of the country the area of the union is so small and the ratable value so low that expenditure such would be required if going to improve the administration of the law is impossible without casting upon those unions a burden which they cannot bear. We are all agreed that some steps in the direction of the estbalishment of an old age pensions system is most desirable. [The hon. Member for the Stretford Division was understood to dissent.] I do not think my hon. and learned friend will differ from me when I have stated my case. I am now speaking not from my experience as head of the Local Government Board, but from the experience I have gained as a resident in an ordinary country village. I say that there are cases here and there where special provision requires to be made. I will give the House an instance. Take the case, too common, alas, in some of our country villages, where a man during the best years of his life, during thirty, forty, or fifty years of strenuous toil, has been a subscriber to his village friendly society. What more can that man do than he has done by honest 509 labour and sober conduct to put something out of his savings into the village club to provide for the day of difficulty? But just when the day of difficulty comes, just when the moment comes for him to reap the reward of his long years of industry, the village club breaks, and he is left with nothing but the Poor Law to go to. Does my hon. and learned friend deny that it would be well that the Guardians should have power to deal specially with that man, and to give him some relief, the receipt of which would not deprive him of his rights as a citizen?
§ MR. WALTER LONG
I carefully said some system of pensions in special cases. Call it what you like; I am not going to quarrel about names. That particular kind of case is one which the Poor Law authority ought to be able to deal with without casting upon the individuals concerned the disabilities of the loss of civil rights. I could give other cases, but it is unnecessary to do so now. We are all agreed. With one or two exceptions the debate today has gone entirely in the one direction—that some alteration in the system by which the poor of the country are at present relieved is desirable. Where we differ is as to the method by which this is to be done.
We have had, as I have said, a very interesting debate, but I have been struck by the light and airy fashion in which the whole crux of the question has been practically passed over. It all comes back to the question of cost. I want to call the attention of my hon. friends who are responsible for this measure to what appears to me to be the extraordinary injustice of the incidence of the cost of these pensions as proposed in the present scheme. They have devoted most of their attention, and hon. Members opposite the whole, to the case of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have been told, "You have such enormous revenue, and such enormous expenditure, that this addition would be a mere nothing; 2d. or 3d. or 5d. on the income tax is a mere detail 510 which for this purpose would be welcomed by the whole country." I have my doubts as to the welcome with which such an addition to the income tax would be received. But I will not dwell upon that now. What I want to deal with is the remainder of the expenditure. The House has been told what the cost of this scheme would be as calculated by Sir Edward Hamilton's Committee. The hon. Member for East Wiltshire in his eloquent speech told us that he hoped great things from the reduction in poor law expenditure which would follow the adoption of some system of old age pensions. But in the figures which have been quoted. S and which are now before me, allowance has already been made for that possible reduction. Then let me remind the House that whatever system of old age pensions may be adopted, and however successful it may be, your Poor Law institutions will have to be maintained, because the vast majority of the poor who are now in our workhouses are not able-bodied people who can provide for themselves, they are the suffering, bedridden, epileptic, for whom provision must be made in infirmaries and so on if they are to be properly dealt with. I therefore beg the House not to build upon any reduction of expenditure in that direction. It is perfectly true that rates are going up, that such a great deal of money is spent occasionally that it makes us wonder whether it can be required, but I am confident that those Members who believe in a scheme of old age pensions, and who, therefore, are interested in bettering the condition of the labouring poor, would be the last, if they really examined the facts, to agitate or to press for any reduction in the cost of the maintenance of the Poor Law Institutions of the country. But full allowance has been made for any such possible reduction, and yet, if Scotland is to be included—and everybody admits that ultimately Scotland would have to be included—the cost for 1901 would have been over £10,000,000; for 1911, it would be over £12,000,000; for 1921, over £15,000,000. How is that divided? We have heard of nothing but the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the income-tax. How is this heavy cost to be provided for? In 1901 the 511 Treasury would have been liable for £3,930,000 and the local rates for £6,370,000, and the latter sum grows to £7,000,000 and to £9,000,000. If that £6,370,000 was levied at the present moment it would amount at the very lowest estimate—I am understating rather than overstating the amount—to a rate of 7d. or 8d. on the general rateable value of the country.
But that is not the full extent of the injustice. By this proposal you cast on the committees of boards of guardians the duty of establishing pensions and paying for them partly out of the rates and partly out of the taxes. How would this charge fall on different local unions? The recommendation of the Royal Commission was that the grant from the Exchequer should be based on population. I think my hon. friend was wise in not accepting that recommendation. But in the Bill the proposal is that, while each union shall pay its own pensions, one-half of the cost shall come out of the Exchequer and one-half practically out of the rates. If the House will follow that a little further, they will see how extraordinary would be the injustice as between different unions. I will take the Union of St. George's, Hanover-square, and the Union of St. Olave's. The population is practically the same in each of those unions, but the rateable value of St. George's, Hanover-square, is more than three times as great as that of St. Olave's. If the ratio of pensions were the same in both unions the burden which would fall on St. Olave's would be three times as great as that which would fall on St. George's, Hanover-square. This is assuming the ratio of pensions were the same. But we know perfectly well that the poorer the 512 union was the greater would be the number of demands for pensions, and if you take the figures of the pauperism in these districts it works out in this way. Assuming that the number of people with incomes not exceeding 10s. a week is much larger in St. Olave's than in St. George's, Hanover-square, and that the amount of pauperism in St. Olave's is nearly double the amount in St. George's, Hanover-square, the burden thrown on St. Olave's by this Bill would be six times as great in respect of the same pensions, payable to the same class of individuals, as it would be in St. George's, Hanover-square. Can my hon. friends seriously ask the Government to agree to a measure which proposes expenditure so grave and expenditure which would fall in so unjust a fashion on particular ratepayers in particular unions?
A good deal of what has been said has tended in the direction indicated by my hon. friend the Member for the Ecclesall Division. In that very admirable speech—his first speech in the House—not only did he appear to address himself to the question with singular clearness and aptitude, but, considering he is a new Member, he appreciated with marvellous rapidity the Parliamentary situation. He told us that while he advocated and defended the Bill, he realised the gravity of the financial aspects of the question. He described the debate as being, to a large extent, an academic debate, and he indicated that he did not believe it would be possible at this particular time to find the money. My hon. friend the Member for East Wiltshire, in the eloquent and pathetic appeal he made to the Government, appeared to follow very much the same line of thought, because he appealed to us before we left office 513 to deal with this question in some satisfactory manner. But, while some of my hon. friends appeared to realise before I rose what must be the reply of His Majesty's Government, others, who are keen advocates of old age pensions, who had worked hard to find a solution of this difficult problem, he told us today that the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer could easily find the additional money required for this particular purpose. But do they believe in their hearts that the Chancellor of the Exchequer could easily impose the additional taxation necessary? They do not share the views of hon. Members opposite, who have denounced the war expenditure of the Government; who have declared that money has been wasted in that direction, which ought to have been devoted to other purposes. They hold that the Government is right in the policy they have pursued; they believe that the expenditure has been wise and just, and, so far from asking that it should be lessened, they are rather in favour of additional expenditure being incurred in order that this scheme may be carried into effect. I cannot believe that in their hearts they imagine the answer of the Government at this time, can be other than in one particular direction. But, even if they could deal with this question of taxation as easily as some appear to think, I ask whether I have not given them, by what I have put before them in regard to the rating question, some ground for considering whether they would be justified in casting on the shoulders of the ratepayers of the country a burden not only so great, but so unjust in its incidence between different 514 ratepayers in different parts of the country.
Then I submit to the House—although reference has been made to it by the hon. and learned Member for the Stretford Division and others—no attempt whatever has been made by those responsible for the Bill to deal with this difficult question of the local taxation part of the expenditure which would be caused by the adoption of the measure. It has been said by one or two of my hon. friends that the local taxpayers of the country have no Chancellor of the Exchequer; that there is nobody to stand up in this House and protect them, as my right hon. friend protects the Imperial taxpayers. That is true to a large extent, but it is one of the duties of the head of my Department to look after the local taxpayer, although I am afraid it more often falls to my lot, or to the lot of the President of the Local Government Board for the time being to urge on further expenditure, rather than to protect the ratepayer against fresh burdens.
I am bound to ask the House to consider whether the Government should be asked to give their sanction to a Bill, which, if passed with their sanction, would entail the finding of the money which this Bill would require. The Colonial Secretary and the Prime Minister have said that the Government believe a reform of the Poor Law in the direction of the establishment of some system by which you will provide for the very poor and deserving without casting them on the Poor Law is a step in the right direction. We have done our best to find a solution of the question, and we have hitherto failed. We are not 515 likely to put ourselves in opposition to the principle of a proposal with which we are so much in sympathy; but we cannot hold out the smallest hope to those who are responsible for this Bill, that, if the House sees fit to read it a second time, they can look to us for a financial system, without which the Bill cannot possibly be carried into effect. I hope I have made perfectly clear the position we take up with regard to this question. We share to the full the sympathetic views which have been expressed as to the condition of the poorer of our wage-earning class. I think myself there has been some little exaggeration as to the position of the wage-earning class. I do not believe that people realise how great has been the improvement. Suffering there is, and, I am afraid, always will be. The race for life is keener than it ever was, and competition is greater than it ever was, but fortunately the position of the wage-earning class has materially improved—they are stronger in themselves, they are better off than they were; and I hope no step will be taken in the direction of Poor Law reform which will tend to weaken the spirit of independence and self-reliance that has done so much to make our people what they are, and to build up our national character. I do not suggest that the granting of pensions would necessarily undermine the working-men's character, but I do say that any proposal of the kind must be most carefully considered and applied so that it will not do any injury to the working classes; and the expenditure must be provided in a way that will cast the burden equally and fairly over the whole community. These conditions are not fulfilled by this Bill.
516 I do not find myself in agreement with that part of my hon. friend's scheme which suggests that working men should make no contribution at all towards those pensions. I think that is a condition that ought to be enforced in any measure of this kind. But criticism of detail is of small importance when we know that, however anxious we may be for reform, and however sympathetic we may be in the case of the suffering of the poorer class of the community, the scheme now under discussion, or any similar scheme is not possible unless you are prepared to find the money which its adoption would cost. A large part of the money is to come out of the Exchequer, and to comply with the demand of the promoters of the Bill would be undoubtedly to suggest that the Government should find the money for that purpose. I can only repeat in the most emphatic terms that the House cannot expect the Government to hold out any hope of finding the funds they require, and even if they could I would ask my hon. friends to reconsider their position, because I am confident that if the Government were to find the money the injustice done to the ratepayers would still be very great. They would have to readjust the proposal before asking the ratepayers of the country to bear the burden. I agree with those who have spoken before me that the discussion has been practical, useful, and harmonious. It has thrown fresh light on some of the difficulties we knew of before, and it has brought to light some fresh difficulties. So far as I am concerned, as head of the Local Government Board, I can state that we will continue to labour as we have done hitherto to secure all that is possible in connection with the administration of the Poor Law in order that everything just and right should be done to improve the condition of those who suffer so much.
§ (5.18.) MR. J. A. PEASE (Essex, Saffron Walden)
The President of the Local Government Board has alluded to the debate as one of great importance, I believe it is one of great importance, but when he claims that the work done in connection with this movement has been all done at the instance of the Unionist Party, I no longer agree with him. He has taunted the Opposition by saying, that between 1892 and 1895 the Liberal Government did not take up this question. The Liberal Government were occupied with Bills which were admitted to be of first class importance during those years, and they set an example which has not been followed by the present Government of occupying a very large period of the year in endeavouring to carry social legislation into effect. But how were they met? They were met with obstruction and abuse by the Conservative Party, not only in connection with Local Government Board matters, but in connection with other Bills of a social character which were then introduced. If the present Government were not in earnest in connection with this matter, some of the pledges they gave ought never to have been uttered in the country or in this House. For instance, the First Lord of the Treasury, speaking on April 24th, 1899, used these words in connection with the Committee which was proposed—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 518 appoint a Committee to undertake the task at the point at which those two bodies left it." [(4) Debates, lxx., 439.]That Committee was appointed and they reported, and this Bill is based on their report. Now, the Government object to the passing of the Bill, although it is brought forward to carry out the Report of the Committee, for the appointment of which Mr. Balfour said the responsibility belonged to him and his Government.
I do not want to make an unnecessary Party attack, but we know that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, whose presence we have not had here this afternoon, at one time thought his plan so simple that everyone could understand it. It was just the other day that he said he no longer plumed himself on being an author, and he left it to the Trade Unions and the Friendly Societies to make some suggestions. The Trade Unions have met and they have recommended a universal scheme. I myself am in favour of a universal scheme. I am prepared to accept this measure as in the direction of securing the old age pensions, which are much required in the country. I do not think this Bill is all that it might be. For instance, there is no appeal in the event of any Party spirit being shown by the Guardians in refusing relief. The question of old age pensions and the incidence of taxation is one on which the Government of the day ought to decide when they have pledged themselves to the principle. I believe in a system of direct taxation and the raising of the money on a graduated scale. I believe the money could be raised for this purpose as easily as it is raised for the purposes of the 519 War in South Africa. Two or three Members opposite have objected to this Bill because they hold that there was no right whatsoever for the individual to secure an Old Age Pension from the State. We already, by our Poor Law system, grant outdoor or indoor relief to the poor people of this country, and it is only a question of organisation the carrying of that principle further, and saying whether or not you are going to grant old age pensions. Unless you want to see men who are the soldiers of industry, in their old age starving, as they often do, it is necessary that you should introduce a Bill of a practical kind which the Government of the day is prepared to support. I represent a constituency where I believe there are poorer individuals than in any other district almost, throughout this country—men who are agricultural labourers and only receive about 13s. a week. They work all their lives industriously, and it is impossible for them to save anything adequate to keep them out of the workhouse in their old age. I believe a measure of this kind would be a great blessing to them. It would not deprive workmen of that inducement to thrift, which I believe to be to their advantage, I certainly will vote for the second Read ing of the Bill.
§ * MR. BATHURST (Gloucestershire, Cirencester)
said he represented a constituency which was agricultural almost 520 entirely. He came from a part of the country where there were in existence benefit societies which answered the purpose of providing old age pensions. The agricultural districts were already feeling the great weight of the burden of local taxation in the form of rates, and he should feel it his duty to oppose this Bill because they had a burden at present which they were so unable to bear. Secondly, any scheme with regard to old age pensions which would minimise the number of members in benefit societies, ought to be very seriously considered before legislation was passed. The sick benefit and old age pensions these societies bound together in one scheme, and they belonged to a class of benefit societies in which the money was not actually paid to the Members, but on their reaching the age of sixty the money was returned with the interest accruing and the Member was in possession of a lump sum with which he could purchase an old age pension. He thought these two interests were at stake in the Bill and he thought his constituency would support him in opposing the Bill because it entailed au increase of local taxation and because it would seriously interrupt the increase of the membership of these societies.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for tomorrow"