§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. REMNANT (Finsbury, Holborn)
said the Bill which stood in his name, and which he had the honour of submitting to the House that day, advanced no new principle, and could not be regarded as in any sense an instrument of political controversy; the principle contained in it had been agreed to by politicians on both sides of the House, who had never hesitated to advocate some such provision as was made in it, when they had been speaking up and down the country. It was only .due to Ministers to say that, in the first instance, they brought this matter before the electors in a definite shape, and therefore they could not 1510 shirk their responsibility in regard to it and he did not believe that, if they could do so, they had any such intention. They had in the past appointed various Royal Commissions, upon the Report d one of which—namely, that of 1899, this Bill was mainly founded. The question, as he had said, could not be regarded as a political one; it was rather a national question, and it was a national question which was becoming day by day more pressing. The Report of 1893 was one that first of all startled the country by showing that three out of every seven of our industrial population over the age of sixty-five years, in England and Wales, were in receipt of parish relief. What was still more startling was the fact that of that number no fewer than five-sixths had not been in receipt of poor relief up to the age of sixty. He asked the House what clearer proof it could have that the greater portion of our old age pauperism was due solely to the failure of physical strength. Such a state of things, he ventured to submit, could not be much longer neglected. This Bill had been drafted by his hon. friend the Member for East Wiltshire in the same way as it was drafted by him last year, when introduced by the hon. Member for West Cambridgeshire. It differed from the measure of last year to a certain extent because an endeavour had been made to meet various objections which were raised in the course of the debates on the former Bill. The main principle of the Bill must be apparent to everybody who had taken the trouble to read it—it was to provide for some better form of relief in old age for our deserving poor. It had been agreed to by gentlemen on both sides of the House, and he did not think it would be questioned on this occasion, that the object of the Bill was to promote thrift as opposed to making destitution a necessity before any application for relief could be successfully made. Mainly the Bill was founded on two tests—poverty and merit.
Without wearying the House, he thought he might take it for granted that universal pensions, although advocated by a good many people, were, at the present moment, admitted to be beyond the range of practical politics, chiefly on the ground that they would 1511 cost too much. There was another point which ought not to be lost sight of, and which might be taken as pretty generally agreed, viz., that it was not necessary that there should be a direct or compulsory contribution towards these pensions. Surely there was no reason why they should confine their action entirely to those who had themselves directly contributed to these pensions, because everybody knew there were indirect methods and tests of thrift and providence which were just as good as direct contributions. The promoters of the Bill, however, admitted that in order that any scheme for pensions, such as was provided for by that Bill, could be successful, they must encourage thrift and independence, or else they would do more harm than good. Their scheme, consequently, made it a condition that the recipient of a pension should have kept himself clear of the rates, and should have made some contribution to save himself from trouble and pauperism in the time of sickness. They held that by inserting such a provision, they not only stimulated the pensioner as an individual, but they also did an immense amount towards making the great friendly societies more useful than, if possible, they had been in the past. They considered it was very essential to any scheme that the work of the friendly societies should not go without proper recognition, and they hoped that the provisions of the Bill would ensure the favourable co-operation of those great friendly societies. He ventured to submit to the House that if the Bill were permitted to become law, the friendly societies would be found to be on their side, determined to help them by all the means in their power. The Bill also proposed to do what again he knew the House would agree to, namely, to relieve the present electoral disabilities under which our poor industrial population at the present moment laboured when compelled to apply for help under the Poor Law. Provision was also made for the payment of these pensions through the Post Office, and also against any attempt to in any way alienate the pensions. It was sought to put it out of the power of those in receipt of pensions to mortgage them or in any way to get rid of them. As 1512 far as could be, they further attempted to provide against fraud. That was a very difficult matter indeed, but he did not think it would be beyond the power of the House to so tie up the pension as to guard against any reasonable chance of fraud.
As to the machinery by which they hoped to carry out the provisions of the Bill, the House would see that a special Pensions Committee was provided and was to be formed partly of the guardians, who were to have power to elect from outside one-third of the Committee. That provision had been inserted in the Bill in consequence of the objections which were raised last year to the pensions being allocated by a Committee composed solely of Poor Law guardians. They considered it would be a source of great strength to the Committee to be able to elect one-third of their number from outside, and he hoped that the House would consider, under the circumstances, that that provision was a good one. It must be remembered that what they aimed at was economy in administration; they also sought to get the very best possible local information, and it could not but be admitted that the guardians at the present moment were the persons best suited to provide such information. The work of the guardians throughout the country had been admirably well done, and if they were able— as the promoters hoped under the Bill to be— to make use of the guardians' experience and information for the purposes of the Act, it would be a great step towards what they were at the present moment trying to induce the House to pass. In connection with the Bill, it should not be forgotten that it would be creating an entirely new Department. They had to run the risk of great expense in connection with that; they ran the risk also of having a Department which had not got the necessary experience so important for the successful carrying out of a Bill of that nature. They, however, hoped that this special Pensions Committee might fairly be said to be independent of the guardians themselves. Another alteration was contained in Clause 8, by which it was possible, subject to the sanction of the Local Government Board, to combine 1513 two or more Unions, where, in the view of the Local Government Board, such a; combination would be of public or local advantage. In Clause 6 they had also introduced the question of married; couples in possession of qualifications entitling them to pensions
If he might be permitted to detain the House for a few minutes, he would like to say one or two words upon what, to his mind, was the most difficult part of this very difficult and complex question. He meant the subject of finance. Whenever that subject was referred to, the Bill had invariably been put off on the ground that the country was not able to afford the necessary outlay. Last year, when the measure was under debate, remarkable progress was made with it, and it was allowed to pass its Second Reading without a division. On that occasion it was—he would not say promised—but it was stated that of all the times that could have been chosen that particular period was the most unfortunate to bring in a Bill involving anything like the outlay which the provision of pensions such as were provided for in this measure, would entail. If one referred to Ministerial statements in years gone by, it would be found that Ministers said that they would be only too delighted to support such a measure, and that they fully sympathised with the idea of being able to carry some pension scheme, or some scheme by which better relief than was given at the present moment might be afforded to the aged and deserving poor. If Ministers oon either side of the House really meant what they then said, was it not possible on this occasion for them to take one step forward and to provide something towards carrying out this experiment. He would not put it any higher than that. It was an experiment which they were all anxious to make, and it would enable them to ascertain whether or not the idea was feasible. Estimates had been put forward in various quarters in regard to the cost of a scheme, and naturally one preferred that of Sir Edward Hamilton, who had stated that the pensionable persons numbered 469,000, and had estimated that the cost of providing pensions for these would amount to £10,000,000 a year to start with. Anybody who had 1514 gone deeply into the question would feel that, at anyrate, this estimate did. not err on the side of being too low, and he thought it might be fairly taken to be, if anything, rather too high an estimate. According to Sir Edward Hamilton's report, there were 469,000 pensionable persons. Taking the number at 500,000, the amount required under the scheme of the Bill would be £6,500,000, of which £3,000,000 would come from the Imperial Exchequer, and £3,500,000 from local rates. But even putting the amount required at £10,000,000, he maintained that this wealthy country could well afford the money to remedy a state of affairs which was publicly deplored by responsible Ministers and by politicians of all shades of opinion.
Objection was taken to this burden being thrown on the local rates. For his part he could not see why the rates should be exempt from a fair contribution, as they would derive considerable benefit, both directly and indirectly, from the operation of the scheme. Thousands of the industrial population, who now in times of sickness went on the rates, would be relieved from that necessity, because as under the Bill men had to keep off the rates for a certain number of years they would make other provision for sickness. It was no answer to say that the amount required was too large from the Government point of view. If they were satisfied that the object was a deserving one, and made up their minds; that the money ought to be found, the history of the country showed that, whatever the amount, the money would be forthcoming. The need of this relief was so urgent that he earnestly hoped the House would allow the Bill to go one step forward so that its details could be considered in Committee. If Members were pressing in this matter, Ministers themselves were responsible; they had encouraged the country, and it the country now demanded something further than mere words, he hoped the Government would rise to the occasion and seize the present opportunity. The amount paid in poor relief represented only 1 per cent. of the nation's income, whereas fifty years ago the proportion was 2 per cent. But if it was thought this proposal was too costly, 1515 the amount required would be reduced by one-half if the age limit were raised to seventy, and by a further one-fourth by fixing it at seventy-five. He hoped, however, that the Government would agree to the limit of sixty-five.
There were, doubtless, many objections to the Bill. Some people objected to the proposed age limit, others contended that the amount of the pension was not sufficient. The promoters would have liked to make the amount larger, but it was no good spoiling their case by asking too much, so they had based their main proposals upon the Report of the Commission of 1899. It was impossible to provide absolutely against fraud; all that could be done was to insert the most businesslike and effective safeguards possible. The promoters of the Bill, being very anxious to attain the end they had in view, would welcome any friendly criticism. The Colonial Secretary, speaking on this subject a few years ago, said—I believe that to deal with it step by step is the only practical way of dealing with this question, and provided we are certain that the class we are trying to benefit is a deserving class, we may leave to another time the consideration of whether there are not other deserving classes which will ultimately have to be dealt with.That was an excellent piece of advice which the supporters of the Bill would be glad to follow. They would be satisfied if they could take one material step forward to-day towards relieving this admitted distress. They were fortunate in having at the head of the Local Government Board a Minister who took a great interest in all matters affecting his Department, and if the right hon. Gentleman would, he could help them. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to do something to satisfy the nation's cry that the poor, who had done so much to build up the British Empire, should not, when they had spent their strength, be put on one side and subjected to the indignity of having to go into the workhouse. The taint of pauperism was much more dreaded by the industrial poor than by the more fortunate subjects of His Majesty, and if the House could by any possibility remove that dread, they would never regret doing it, and the country wou'd appreciate the deed. The promoters of 1516 the Bill had been animated by a desire to tackle this question in a reasonable way which would meet with the approval of the House, and it was in that spirit he asked the House to agree to the Second Reading. If there was one thing more than another that the British people appreciated it was their home, and for the poor in their old age, through no fault of their own, to be turned out of their homes was a hardship which he was convinced the House would be only too glad to remove. He begged to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Remnant.)
§ MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
congratulated the hon. Member for Holborn on his honest and earnest championship of the cause he had taken in hand, and on the direct challenge he had given to the Government to deal seriously with the matter, were they to have another futile rehearsal of bygone pledges or a practical step in a great social reform? He commended to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board the excellent spirit in which the hon. Member had approached the question, and hoped that the moderation of his proposals would point the way to some more positive action on the part of the Government than the non possums with which they were met last year. While he should vote in favour of the Bill if a division were taken, he thought it his duty without repeating in detail his arguments of last year, to state again what were the real objections to the machinery and scope of the Bill. The Bill was a half-way house. It went some way towards treating a pension as a right instead of an act of compassion. But the limits and conditions, while they mitigated suffering, rather multiplied the types of mischief and the evils of the Poor Law. Why was a Bill required at all? Their objection to the Poor Law administration was not that it failed to diminish the number of paupers, but that it had wholly failed to cure pauperism. The destitution test had been pronounced to be cruel, but it was far more debasing than it was cruel. It lowered 1517 self-respect and it killed self-help. What they said was that pauperism could not be killed by terror but might be killed by hope. The main defect of the Bill was that it relied on the principle of discrimination. The machinery at the disposal of the guardians in large centres of population for discriminating between the deserving and undeserving poor was wholly inadequate. The machinery provided by this Bill really tended to add to these difficulties. How much greater was the difficulty and trouble and cost of determining whether a man's income was 9s. 11d. or 10s. 10d., or whether he had handed over his income to friends, or made a collusive arrangement with his employer as to wages, or of ransacking a man's life and judicially pronouncing whether he had made the effort required in this Bill, to honestly make provision for the future. Unless they enforced the tests imposed by the Bill with ruthless severity and precision, which would involve an enormous expense, it would be far better to frankly and honestly recognise that these tests were impracticable, and to have a system of universal pensions without these tests. It would be infinitely less wasteful to devote the money such a system would cost directly to the happiness of the aged poor. They wanted a system compatible with the conditions of human nature, which would act as a direct tonic to human motives. What he urged was that the income test was demoralising as well as unworkable, and that the merit test was cruel as well as unworkable. They would re member how Mr. Lecky in his separate report argued that providence and thrift and the saving of money were to some extent almost a crime in the families of some of these poor people. Fourteen family budgets, where wages were below 26s. a week, given in Mr. Rowntree's Pocerty in York, showed that the diet was 23 percent. below the standard of physical requirement for a working man's family. Mr. Rowntree's visitors gave many touching cases where the wives frankly admitted that the best food had to go to the wage-earner, and it was the mother and children who suffered in order to keep up the physical efficiency of the wage-earner. These budgets were from families of temperate habits. As 1518 Mr. Rowntree pointed out, how serious must be the mal-nutrition of families where the scanty earnings were wasted in drink. In families where the income was under 26s., there was no margin for drink, and no margin for thrift either. Money saved meant food foregone. The physical condition of the raceto come was an element which they must consider when they were employing direct compulsion to the working classes to make considerable savings out of entirely inadequate means.
They had a three years record of the New Zealand Old Age Pensions Act, and the result was set forth very clearly, forcibly, and impartially by the Agent-General for New Zealand, Mr. Reeves, in his recent book. The evils predicted of reckless living, drunkenness and debauchery had not been fulfilled. But the weak point in the working of the New Zealand Act was the income test. In 1900 and in 1901 there were long discussions in the New Zealand Parliament upon the working of the original measure of 1898, and the whole gist of those discussions turned upon the income test and the frauds to which it led. In that debate there was one case mentioned of a widow with a large family, including several well-to-do sons, who conveyed the whole of her property to them in order to qualify for a pension. One of her sons admitted that they could find her money to live upon, but he said they were glad to find she was independent and drawing a pension regularly from the Government. Mr. Seddon himself instanced two cases where pensioners had died and were found to have £600 and £500. Would the application of such a test be easier in England, with our complicated and concentrated population, with vast multitudes in extreme poverty and many grades of the deepest moral and physical degradation, than in the simple homogeneous people of New Zealand? He could not help feeling that there was a real danger in attempting to work upon any income test. It would rather feed the evil motives out of which springs the pauper temperament. The conclusion to his mind was irresistible that there were no real alternatives. In this country they ought to do one of two things; we ought either to improve the Poor Law administration as it was 1519 on modes and lines in a narrow-hearted manner so as to remove the worst evils —a comparatively easy problem—or else they ought to adopt an automatic system, inexpensive in its machinery, providing a small and certain endowment for all in old age, so that the money would go to help the poor, instead of being largely employed in this vast and complicated machinery of tests. They would thus remove the poor-law taint, all would have a right, as all would contribute; they would banish the debasing and fraudulent motives; they would cover the whole area instead of leaving two-thirds or three-fourths out. A small pension thus given would rather stimulate thrift and increase the worth of friendly societies in tiding men over, and would strengthen the motives for keeping aged people in their own homes under the care of their own children. What could be a happier state of things in their villages than to have this little pension of five shillings a week as an inducement to aged people to avoid sinking into the depths of pauperism, and, as a motive to have a bright and happy home, where the old people might be surrounded by their grandchildren, instead of only having the workhouse to look forward to. The interesting figures given by the late Colonel Milward in the appendix to the Hamilton Committee Report showed how many children were already thus helping their parents, and this was what they should encourage.
The whole thing, of course, depended on the question of cost. The hon. Gentleman had rightly said that if the country made up its mind that a measure of this kind was necessary, and that it was not a mere electioneering expedient, it would face the prospect which would be involved. He himself would not be afraid to challenge the country to find the money for such a scheme. He was not in favour of a universal scheme which would go far beyond the scheme of his hon. friend. If they deducted one-third of the Poor Law expenditure, which it was supposed would be saved, the scheme would represent an outlay of over £20,000,000 sterling per annum. That was a large sum, but it was less than half the £46,000,000 a year by which the present Government had increased expenditure in seven 1520 years, which gave an ample margin for vast economies. Even if the cost amounted to a seven penny or eight penny rate, as the right hon. Gentleman argued last year, and if it also involved the equivalent of sixpence on the Income Tax, the scheme ought to be adopted. He himself would not levy it in the form of Income Tax. He would sooner have recourse to the death duties and other expedients of taxation, such as the taxation of mining royalties, but he did say that if they were right in thinking that this scheme would tend to improve the character of the people and elevate their notions of the standard of life, the country ought to frankly face even so bold an act of State socialism, which he frankly admitted it was, as was proposed in the scheme of Mr. Charles Booth. He hoped this debate might lead to some practical conclusion. It seemed to him that they made a mistake in treating this question of old age pensions as if it were a question by itself. It was of comparatively small value by itself. They must associate it with the whole group of social reforms, such as land reform, and housing and temperance reform. If they left out the other reforms which ought to be included in the group it seemed to him that they might by beginning a scheme such as he had suggested, do even more harm than good. If they did associate it with all the other reforms which made for a better, stronger, and nobler future for the country, then he thought there was much to be said for so great and bold a scheme as he now ventured to support.
§ MR. SAMUEL ROBERTS (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
said he had very great pleasure in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill. He proposed to state what had led up to the present position of our Poor Law. The Poor Law dated from the days of Queen Elizabeth. The principal Act of that time—namely, 43 Elizabeth, was still actually in force, and that laid down for the first time the principle of compulsory assessment for the relief of the old, impotent, poor, and blind. That Act had been administered in a very varying way for the last 300 years; sometimes the administration had been very lax, and sometimes it had been strict; but from the period 1521 from about 1750 to 1834, especially during the time of the French war, a very lax system had grown up, which was gradually paup rising the country. That system was, to make allowances in aid of wages to able-bodied persons and in reckless granting of outdoor relief. It was gradually pauperising the country, and our working people looked to the parish first, and to their own exertions afterwards. The new Poor Law of 1834 was passed to put an end to that disastrous state of things. By that Act guardians obtained power to refuse out relief altogether, and to compel the applicant to go into the workhouse. It was rightly felt that this system was too severe, and a system of outdoor relief had gradually grown up, until at the present time our outdoor paupers out numbered our indoor by more than two to one, the numbers for the February return of this year for England and Wales being outdoor 509,048; indoor 229,857. One-third of these were over sixty five years of age, most of them were receiving outdoor relief from 2s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. a week. The pauperism of these old people was brought about simply by old age and decreasing power to earn a wage. In Mr. Ritchie 's return of 1892, between the ages of sixty to sixty-five there were only fifty-three per thousand of the population at the age period that were paupers, but between the ages of sixty-five and seventy there were 109 per thousand, or putting it in Mr. Booth's way five-sixths of the paupers at sixty-five were not paupers at sixty. While all this had been proceeding, the condition of the working classes had been advancing enormously, and pauperism had decreased from 53.0 per 1,000, in 1863 to 22.4 in 1903. The progress of thrift and self-reliance had increased by leaps and bounds. During the last twenty years alone the advance of our large friendly societies had been most remarkable. The membership o friendly societies in England, Scotland and Ireland had tripled, the income had quadrupled, and the benefit money paid had tripled also. Turning to the Post Office Savings Bank lie found that the depositors and deposits had quadrupled during the last twenty years. It was no wonder in view of these facts that all the reports presented to Parliament 1522 dwelt upon the marked increase in the habits of thrift, and the great importance of taking no step which would in any way tend to stem the tide which was existing at the present moment.
Were they doing all that they were morally bound to dofor these poor people? Destitution was the test at the present moment. Were not those who were keeping off destitution even more entitled to recognition than those who had gone under in their misfortune? These people had been maintaining themselves in respectability for the whole of their lives, and during all that time they had been increasing the wealth of the country. Had they not some claim on the State in their old age for some little assistance? Might they not say "We are your servants, and we have been doing your work for all these years?" He would give one little instance. Sometimes an instance brought home to the mind more than anything, the exact position of a case. A poor man the other day sent him a letter from his city. He did not know the man before, but he made inquiries afterwards and found that his story was quite correct. That man said—I am sixty-eight years old. I have been a householder and a ratepayer in Sheffield over thirty years. I have never been under the lash of the law. I have never applied for Poor Law relief, although this last three and a half years I could have clone with it, for I have seen more dinner-times than dinners. I am glad to tell you when I was twenty-two years old I joined a friendly society, and I still belong to them. My poor daughter pays the contribution and I am also dependent on her for shelter and food. Her husband only gets 20s. a week when he works full time, and there are five little ones under fourteen years of age. I have applied for situations during the last three and a half years, but the answer is, 'too old.' I am in good health, and have no ailment. My eye sight is good. I wrote this without any glasses, but grey beard and head.It was that class who, he thought, ought to receive consideration. There was a man who, at sixty-eight, through no fault of his own, found himself face to face with destitution. Was not that a man who had some claim upon them? Was it practicable to do it without injuring the position of our friendly societies and without checking the tendency of the working classes to do something for themselves? He thought it was, because this Bill laid down conditions which were quite sufficient, in his opinion, to guard 1523 against any abuses. The claimant must he sixty-five years of age; he must have a good character; and for twenty years previous to his attaining the age of sixty-five years he must have kept himself free from Poor Law relief. Further, he must have endeavoured to make provision for himself and those dependent on him. Now, the Rothschild Committee stumbled over that point, and the hon. Member for Northampton, who had just spoken, also mentioned the impossibility of distinguishing between the deserving and the undeserving. The Rothschild Committee thought that the only test of desert was the possession of some income. But that would exclude the great majority of those they wished to provide for. There were the people who had not been able to save through adverse circumstances, or who had been unfortunate and lost their savings. Sir H. Longley, the chief Charity Commissioner, in his evidence before the Chaplin Committee, said that during the long period—he thought thirty years—over which their schemes had been launched, involving an expenditure of £1,000,000 a year, they had found no difficulty in discriminating what was poverty, what was reasonable providence, and what was good character. They might take that precedent, which was at the present moment doing good work, as a safe guide, but they were going a little bit further.
He now came to the crux of the whole matter—the question of ways and means. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, in his excellent speech last year, told them that that was the great question which any Government would have to face. The hon. Member for Holborn had given the House some figures as to what this scheme would cost; but he was afraid that if these figures were correct—those given by the Committee appointed by the right hon. Member for Sleaford—viz. £10,000,000 in 1901; £12,000,000 in 1911; £15,000,000 in 1921, it would make the scheme impracticable. Mr. Booth's estimate was £24,500,000. Though he wished with all his heart that they could do something, he wanted to do it in a practical fashion. He was afraid that the only way in which the House could do it was by limiting the State 1524 contribution; that they should give £2,000,000, or at most £3,000,000, A year from the National Exchequer, the rest to be made up by local rates. If that were done he thought it would work well, because it would meet the case where there would be a risk of the local pension authority putting pensioners on the list so as to relieve the local rates if the full amount was allocated by them. The local pension authority would know the total amount. they were to receive from the State and the length of their own purse, and there would be no chance of the National Exchequer being in any way imposed upon by the local authority. His hon. friend the Member for Holborn had quoted from the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He would give one or two extracts from the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman. [Cries of "Which one?"] The Secretary of State for the Colonies said in the House in 1899—We must proceed step by step, because it. is only in that way that we shall arrive at a satisfactory result. Not only must we proceed step by step, but we must regard anything we do to a large extent as of an experimental character. We must be prepared to go back if we find that we are on the wrong track, or go forward if experience justifies what we are. doing.And then, in his evidence before the Royal Commission, the right hon. Gentleman said—I contemplate as a possibility the allotment of a sum which might, at the outside, amount to £2,000,000 a year. I do not think that any practical statesman would be able to, contemplate a larger expenditure.They were pleading that day for those who could not from their position plead for themselves—the old and deserving poor, who through a long life had toiled and contributed to the nation's wealth, but who found themselves at the end of their life's journey face to face with poverty and destitution. They were bearing their trials in silence. Might we not ask this great and wealthy nation to make some sacrifice on behalf of our stricken industrial soldiers, who, though worsted in the battle of life, might be numbered amongst the State's. most loyal and true citizens.
§ MR. LAMBERT (Devonshire, South Molton)
said he had listened with great interest to the moving, pathetic, and powerful speech of the hon. Member for Ecclesall, but he was amazed at the lame and impotent conclusion to which the hon. Gentleman came in the middle of his speech, although he wound up with a peroration of eloquence and pathos The hon. Gentleman said this. Bill was utterly impractical because they could not find the money. That was the crux of the whole situation. He really asked the House to cease playing with this matter. Too long it had been made the sport of politicians, but now they had got a measure which pledged the county to an expenditure of £10,000.000, rising to £15,000,000 a year, and yet there was only the Secretary of the Local Government Board to represent the Government that day. He understood, however, that the President of the Local Government Board was coming soon but in a matter of this kind what the House really wanted was the presence not only of the representatives of that Department but also of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Indeed, he would like to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer flanked by the Colonial Secretary, who was the first to bring this great question into the prominence it had assumed [Some murmurs of dissent.] Well, his own impression was that the right hon. Gentleman had brought the question to the front, and had made promises during an election which had never been fulfilled, although it was time for the fulfilment or the recantation of those promises. The hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill talked about the danger of pensioners mortgaging their pensions. What a height of hypocrisy it was to speak in that fashion when there was no provision for paying these pensions. Unless the Government came to the rescue of the Bill it would be impossible for any pension to be paid. It was plain, there-fore, that the time had arrived for the Government to take up the question. were the Government going to sanction the Second Reading of this Bill as they did the Bill of last year, while at the same time they were going to say they had not got the money to carry the scheme into effect? He had been hoping 1526 that the Colonial Secretary, having come back from the solitude of the illimitable veldt, would have brought some new old-age pension scheme with him—that he would have discovered a gold mine to be named the old-age pension mine. The right hon. Gentleman, however, was occupied in far loftier pursuits. If the Government had been in earnest in this matter, they would not have raised the expenditure of the country to the enormous extent they had done, without giving something to the aged poor of this country.
The Government came into office with a surplus of £6,000,000, not a single penny of which had they devoted towards the reduction of taxation The Government had increased the expenditure by £35,000,000, which would have been more than three times sufficient to carry out the provisions of this Bill. And yet they were told that the Government could not afford the expenditure to carry this Bill into effect. A few days ago the Government had proposed the provision of old-age pensions, not for the aged poor of this country, but for the Irish landlords If hon. Gentlemen opposite were earnestly sincere and really practical, they should protest against any reduction of taxation. If they came to the House and voted for maintaining the Income Tax at its present level of 15d per £1, he would be very glad to vote with them. But to come down and ask the House to pass a measure of this kind, and not provide the means for carrying it into effect, was to ask the House of Commons to utter a dishonest cheque. What would be thought of any man who paid a debt with a cheque which was returned marked "no effects?" And that was what the Government were asking the House of Commons to do that afternoon. He held that it was unworthy of this, the greatest legislative assembly in the world, to offer a dishonest cheque well knowing that they had not the slightest intention of finding the funds to cash that cheque. He would no go into rhapsodies over the veterans of labour. The time was past for that kind of thing. This was practical question of money. Where was the money to come from? He hoped the Government would not repeat the farce of last year when the House was told that they were quite in sympathy 1527 with the principles of the Bill but could not find the money. He appealed to the Government for information as to their intentions. Was this to be a practical proposal or a mere sham? Was it to be only an electioneering device? Would the Government provide the money, and really tackle this great social problem? He hoped, for the credit of the House of Commons and the comfort of the aged poor of the country, that the answer would be in the affirmative.
§ SIR JOHN ROLLESTON (Leicester)
said that as almost all parties and almost all people were agreed that some provision should be made by the State in old age for those who needed it, he was sure the Bill would be welcomed both by the House and the country. But great as was the agreement on principle, there were differences of opinion as to details. He agreed most thoroughly, in the first place, with the provision in the Bill that a standard of means or a standard of poverty should be necessary to qualify any applicant for a pension. To provide pensions for all, whether needed or not, would in his opinion, constitute a liability which the State ought not, under any circumstances, to incur, having regard to the great difficulties in the way of financing a measure of that kind. Such a scheme would by its own ambition tend to defeat its own accomplishment. The great blot on the Bill was the provision that the Treasury would only be called on for part and not for the whole of the cost, the balance being left on the local ratepayers. Local rates were levied on a limited class of property; and many of the local ratepayers were themselves in a condition of indigence. The class of property singled out to pay rates was bearing an almost intolerable burden; and no further burden ought to be placed on the local ratepayers until at least such time as all property, and not only some property, should be brought to share the general expenses of the community. Pensions were a national need, and should be contributed to by everyone. That proposition was both socialistic and scientific. The Report of the Royal Commission on the subject made no recommendations as to finance; and he agreed thoroughly that until it could be shown how the money would be provided there could be no pensions. Taxation would 1528 have to be considerably widened to. provide funds for a measure of this kind, and they had recently seen great difficulties in the way of doing this. In his opinion the great annual cost of a scheme of this kind would have to be met very largely by indirect taxation, aided perhaps by a differentiated or graduated Income Tax—not an Income Tax levied in the clumsy and unscientific manner the Income Tax was at present.
Again, the principle of the taxation of luxuries might have to be very largely developed. He did not propose to make suggestions in detail now, although he would be quite prepared to do so when the occasion arose. No one could be serious in his advocacy of a scheme of pensions for old people unless he was prepared at the same time to make suggestions as to how the money should be provided. Another blot in the Bill was the fact that it embraced, though rather vaguely, the pernicious doctrine of evidence of thrift. Pensions, if provided at all, should be provided for those who had nothing as well as for those who might have been able to insure or put money into the savings bank. It was not the members of friendly societies or the prosperous working classes who had the greatest need of pensions. Those who had the greatest need were those who had been neglected from birth by drunken and dissolute parents, and were gutter-bred and street-reared. Surely the same should not be expected from them as from children reared. under greater advantages. If these in after-life formed a class feeble in body and mind, with a dull moral sense, incapable of great mental or physical effort a class living in slums or doss-houses, that class, in his opinion, was entitled to pensions in old age if they ever reached it. Then there were the quiet workers, broken by disease or misfortune, widows and spinsters who worked in garrets. What evidence of thrift would their more prosperous countrymen demand from them before they could qualify for a pittance from the State? If proof of thrift were required, then let it be evidence of it that for sixty-five years they had kept the immortal soul just in touch with their poor wretched bodies, and that, under every disability from birth, they had kept themselves as living members of the human family, and, as such.
1529 were entitled to the sympathy and regard of the State when it was making provision for the poorest of its subjects. It was the members of this class who were more in need of a pension than the members of friendly societies or prosperous artisans, and he earnestly hoped that no Bill would be persevered with which embodied in any shape the sanctimonious doctrine of evidence of thrift. He discarded altogether the argument, which he believed to be absolutely false and unsound, that the prospect of 5s. a week in old age would tend to make the people prodigal and unthrifty. On the contrary, he believed that the knowledge that a small pension in old age was a privilege of citizenship, the right of all who needed it, would tend to act, not as a deterrent, but as a stimulant to endeavour, and to make the people more hopeful and consequently more enterprising and industrious.
Many hon. Members in their election campaigns had expressed themselves—and he hoped sincerely—in favour of a scheme of old-age pensions. There were few Members who would care to go to their constituents and express themselves as opposed to a reasonable measure of that kind. If their Members who made the laws were in agreement, what was there to prevent the necessary Act being passed? It had been mentioned that some prominent members of the Government, although not pledged, had yet expressed themselves as favourably disposed to a measure of this kind. He could only hope that that favourable disposition would bear fruit. The inception of the scheme was theirs. In that celebrated and all - embracing catalogue, the Newcastle programme, any mention of it was conspicuously absent. With the great resources of this country, many of them still untapped, financial considerations ought not to stand in the way, if all classes were prepared to make some small sacrifice. Only the other day a loan, not for the service of this country, but for another country, was over-subscribed by a 3 per cent. deposit alone. Could there be any doubt that the people as a whole would submit to being taxed to provide funds for a scheme designed to assist the poorest of the poor of their own country? He did not suppose 1530 anybody in the House thought anything further could be done for the Bill. They had met that afternoon for their usual Friday afternoon exercise, viz., to express their approval or disapproval of a principle. He hoped the approval which the principle of the Bill would meet with would be unanimous; and that when the next session came round the Government programme would include the announcement of a similar measure, which he was sure would be welcomed by both Parliament and the people as evidence of our advancing civilisation, and as a landmark in the march of progress in this country.
§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
said he agreed with the hon. Member who had just sat down that the submerged tenth were highly deserving of pensions, but he could not agree that they were more deserving than those who had joined the friendly societies, though they might be in greater need. He, however, could assure the House that there were members of the friendly societies who were very greatly in need, in more senses than one, when they reached the age of sixty-five. He joined in the hope that a Bill would appear in the programme of the Government next session, although he had looked in vain for it during the last nine years. It was quite true that this measure, supported as it was by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, could not be said to be a Party measure, but he could not agree that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Treasury Bench had placed the question before the country in a definite shape. The question was in the same position as it was nine years ago. It was in a most nebulous condition. Vague generalities had been indulged in by one hon. Member and another, but none of the Members on the Treasury Bench had ever ventured to place the question in a definite shape before the electors. Credit had been claimed by some, for the fact, that the Government had been the pioneers in this matter, but that was not so. It was the late Dr Hunter who first introduced this question to public notice. He had a clearer insight into the problems affected by this question than any hon. 1531 Gentleman he (Mr. Fenwick) had ever heard discuss it, either inside or outside the House. The only attempt to give definite shape to this question by the Government was in 1898, when both the present Prime Minister and the Colonial Secretary were absent from the debate, and the Member for South Tyrone, then the Secretary to the Local Government Board, was instructed on behalf of the Government to oppose the Second Reading on the ground that an inquiry was at the moment proceeding. In 1894 a Liberal Government took up a similar attitude, they themselves having appointed a Royal Commission, but on that occasion the Colonial Secretary, although the Committee had not made its Report, stepped into the arena of debate, and supported the Bill, and refused to be governed by the fact that the Royal Commission had not reported, although he was a member of the Commission. He then stated that he considered the matter was ripe for further legislation. If that were so, how could he have remained a member of a Government with a large majority for nine years, and made no attempt to give particular and definite shape to this matter by passing legislation. So convinced were certain members of the Government that the matter was ripe for further legislation that they urged the mover of the Second Reading on that occasion not to withdraw the measure, but to proceed to a division, because the Government had promised to give further opportunity for debate when the report of the Royal Commission was issued, and in the division that followed they voted in favour of the Second Reading. The hon. Member in charge of the Bill had done well to remind the Government of the pledges they had given in regard to this matter. Such reminders were much needed. These pledges of the Government seemed to him to be somewhat inconvenient to them; it struck him they would gladly be free from the responsibility and obligation which rested on them in consequence of the pledges they had given.
In 1895, in a speech which the late Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered at Newport, he stated the Government intended to reform the Poor Laws with the cooperation of the 1532 friendly societies, and in some way aid poor men in their old age, but last year. at Bristol the same right hon. Gentleman delivered a speech to his constituents drawing attention to the extraordinary way in which the expenditure of the country was increasing, and said among those who were urging the Government to increased expenditure were the great trades unions of this country who desired old-age pensions. A few days previous to that speech being delivered, the Trades Union Congress had passed a resolution in favour of an old age pension of 5s., but those who were responsible for the passing of that resolution were those who had encouraged the expectations of working - men, and excited hopes in their minds, which they never took the slightest step to realise. Whatever might be said of the strength of the case for old-age pensions in 1895, the case to-day was infinitely stronger in consequence of legislation, of which he approved, having passed both Houses since that year. He alluded to the Workmen's Compensation. Act. He therefore ventured to endorse the hope given utterance to by both the mover and seconder, and also by others who had taken part in the debate, that the Government would no longer tinker with this question, that they would no longer put them off, as they did last year, with a sympathetic reply from the President of the Local Government Board, but that they would admit that the time was now ripe for serious action, and for giving some practical effect to the views which had been advanced from time to time. There was no question which excited a greater interest in the minds of the working classes of this country than this question of old - age pensions. If they could give working men a sense of security, and a firm conviction that, in the event of a fatal accident happening to them while in the active pursuit of their employment, their widows and children would be looked after, and that when they themselves were well advanced in life they would not have to go to the workhouse, they would have taken a step calculated to produce such social peace and tranquillity as had probably never before reigned in this country. It was because he had long been a firm 1533 believer in this proposal for old age pensions, and desired to see some practical progress made with it, that he ventured to reiterate the hope that they would have this year something more than a sympathetic reply from the representative of the Government, and that the House itself would demand that immediate action should be taken to fulfil the legitimate expectations which had been created in the minds of the industrial classes.
§ MR. GROVES (Salford, S.)
said the fact that this question had been the subject of several Royal Commissions, and had formed the basis of discussions in that House on many previous occasions, proved that it claimed the national attention, and possessed a real interest for the representatives of agricultural and working-class constituencies. The hon. Member for the Wansbeck division had attacked the Government for neglect of opportunity. He did not appear as the apologist of the Government; he would leave them to answer for themselves; but he was waiting as anxiously as hon. Members opposite for their reply to that direct charge, in which he thought there was a certain amount of truth, and he hoped now that the opportunity had again come round they would give utterance to their views on this important question. Although the Bill made an attempt to indicate methods by which this pressing difficulty could be met, it did no more than suggest a line which might reasonably carry with it the majority of the House, and the support of the friendly societies and those who had to administer the Poor Law. At the bottom of the whole matter was really the necessity for an entire revision of our Poor Law administration, and, since that question could not he dealt with from a governmental point of view except on a broad basis, that possibly was an excuse, if any were needed, for the Government not having mentioned the subject as an item in the King's Speech. As to the objection that the submerged tenth, or the derelicts of society, would not benefit by the operation of this Bill, he felt it was necessary to differentiate between that class, for whom the workhouse would still be available, and those who by their habits of thrift had 1534 endeavoured to make some provision against old age and decrepitude. In a work-a-day nation such as ours there would always be that derelict class, and it was not too much to ask that those who endeavoured to help themselves should receive first consideration, and not be compelled to associate with the derelicts before referred to in the workhouse. Whether or not a division was taken, he hoped the Government would take an early opportunity of giving effect to the pledges which most Members on that side of the House had given in this matter.
As to the administrative clauses of the Bill, in the absence of any better suggestion he thought the proposed council would form a very satisfactory body for its purpose. But the promoters were not bound to any hard and fast line, and all these questions of detail could he properly discussed in Committee. If the amount of the monetary provision was insufficient to meet the needs of the recipient there was always the option under the existing Poor Law administration by taking an order for the house. As a Poor Law guardian he had often felt that sonic extended form of outdoor relief would be more advisable than an order for the workhouse, but there was always the difficulty presented by the element of fraud among the applicants for relief. The Bill proposed to take all reasonable precautions against such fraud, but each case would have to be considered on its merits. There was a curious correspondence between the main proposals of the Bill and an important charity in Salford. That charity provided for the administration of relief to the aged and deserving poor; the recipients had either to be Salford born and bred or to have resided in the immediate district for twenty years, to have led sober, thrifty, and industrious lives, and to have kept off the rates up to the age of at least sixty-five years. That was practically the scheme of the Bill, and in operation it had been remarkably successful. As to the practicability of this scheme, he was content to follow the lead of the Colonial Secretary, who had first brought the question within the range of practical politics, and who, he hoped, before the debate closed, would assure the House that his opinions had not changed.
§ MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
was of opinion that little time ought to be spent in discussing the details of the Bill, which dealt with a question on which the Irish people were even more interested than the English. The House should decide on the main principle, and leave the details to be threshed out in Committee in a practical manner. The whole of the Unionist Party were really pledged to the idea of old-age pensions, that having been the main cry at the two last General Elections. But little had been heard of it since, and the matter was now being discussed on a private Members' Bill for which the Government would accept no responsibility. It was time the President of the Local Government Board made a full and frank statement of the intentions of the Government, so that the House might know just how they stood. In his experience of Poor Law administration he was convinced that in no other country in the world could there be found so foolish and expensive a system of relief as that practised in the three kingdoms. They had a most expensive system of administration. The officers were the most highly paid in the community according to their merits. In Ireland they had too many workhouses, and they were not half full. One of the most pressing questions in Ireland was what to do with the idle workhouses. If they had a system of outdoor relief for the aged poor they would get rid of a number of those people who were now in workhouses. One of the things which troubled the poor people most was the thought that they had no provision for old age, and they looked upon the workhouse as the natural place for them in their old age. If they had a reformation of the Poor Law system, and made every able-bodied pauper work as they did in America, they would do much to solve this question. He stood up to voice the working men and the vast majority of the population in Ireland that this Aged Pensions Bill was required in Ireland more than in England. The philanthropic men and women of Ireland were in favour of this Bill, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would make a frank avowal of the views of the Government upon this subject.
§ MR. GOULDING (Wiltshire, Devizes)
said that few questions aroused keener interest among the industrious poor than that of old-age pensions. Reference had been made to the opinions of the Colonial Secretary, and he was bound to say that to no man were they under more obligation upon this subject than to the Colonial Secretary. He was the first politician who, by calling attention to the subject, aroused the attention of the nation to it. He did this at times when his hands were less full than they were to-day, and if the time of the right hon. Gentleman was not engrossed with those greater questions of Empire, the question of old-age pensions would not he in the unfortunate position in which it stood to-day. He hoped the Colonial Secretary might soon have time to assist his colleagues in regard to this matter. Last year he called attention to the statements made by the President of the Local Government Board, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Leader of the House, and all those Ministers made speeches leading the people to believe that. they were prepared to deal with old-age pensions, and thus remove what undoubtedly was a disgrace to this country to-day. It had been stated that two-thirds of the whole adult population of this country were drawn from the agricultural labourers, the unskilled, labourers, and the women wage earners. It had been stated that two out of three of those classes in their old age had nothing to look forward to but the workhouse. The amount of their wage and the uncertainty of their employment made it impossible for those three classes of people to make any provision for old age. Would any hon. Member contend that two out of every three of those people when they reached old age were non-deserving, and ought to have no alternative but the workhouse? He believed in canvassing at elections, because it brought under the eyes of would be representatives the conditions under which some of the poor live. He had contested elections both in London and in the country, and he had come across innumerable cases where the poor had all their work cut out to keep a roof over their heads, with the certainty that if illness befalls 1537 them, or in the increasing pace of modern industry, the old people were often turned out for the young, nothing await them but a paupers domicile. He had visited workhouses, and he never did so without coming away more convinced than ever, when he saw the inexpressible sadness depicted upon some of the faces of the aged poor. of the necessity for old-age pensions. How could it be otherwise? No matter how industrious they might have been they were doomed to end their days in the workhouse from misfortune and destitution, having committed no crime. They might be associated with men just out of gaol, with drunkards, and prostitutes, and with people with whom they would never have associated in their better days. What effect would such treatment have upon the working classes outside? Under the present system the same treatment was given to the industrious and the thrifty as was held out to the most reckless people in the State. Many of their friendly societies, which had done such great work, had the clouds of insolvency over them. Over and over again the managers of friendly societies had given sick pay rather than see their members forced into the workhouse.
He believed this question could be dealt with without a very vast expenditure of money. The Poor Law must be made the instrument for giving effect to the system of old-age pensions. They were spending £12,000,000 per annum upon the Poor Law. In 1901 the Local Government Board distinguished between the expenditure on indoor and outdoor relief. The expenditure upon indoor paupers in London amounted to £35 11s. per head per annum, and for England and Wales the amount was £24. Consequently they were paying a sum of 13s. 9d. per week each for indoor paupers, and between 3s., 4s., and 5s. per week for outdoor paupers. He found the expenditure exclusively relating to indoor relief in England and Wales amounted to nearly £6,000,000 a year. Of that sum no less than £1,346,000 went in the payment of officials. When they I came to outdoor relief the whole expenditure amounted to £3,250,000, and the 1538 amount spent on officials was only £500,000 per annum, the lesser sum relieved twice as many people while allowing them to live in their own homes. He defied anyone to read that statement and say they were satisfied with those Returns. Were they prepared to give the ne'er-do-well and the drunkard provision in the workhouses when they grudged the deserving. and industrious poor such a contribution as 5s. or 7s. a week which would enable them to live in their own homes. This Bill had been drafted upon the recommendations of Committees, upon which both sides of the House were represented. They maintained the machinery of the Poor Law because they were not anxious to spend more money in the creation of a further staff of officials. There were no more humane public servants than those associated with the administration of the Poor Law, whose care in dealing. with the poor was well known. With regard to the 10s. limit complaint had been made as to the hardships inflicted in the case of those just under this limit, say 9s. a week, securing with the pension. say 14s. a week, as against those with 10s. a week and no pension. He saw no reason why the combined income of savings and pension should be settled not to exceed 10s. a week. The pensioner with 7s. saving should receive an amount in pension to bring his income up to 10s. a week. As an encouragement to friendly societies incomes derived from this source might not be. included.
With regard to the objection raised last year by the President of the Local Government Board he might say that power was given under this Bill for the Local Government Board under the representation of the authorities to combine one union with other unions so that the charges might be fairly distributed. No one wished to see the poor localities saddled with more than their share of the expense. Complaint was made against the inquiry required under this Bill. So that they could distinguish between the deserving and the non-deserving class they must have a Committee of Inquiry. They did not repeat under this Bill what existed in the Poor Law system, namely, that of treating the ne'er-do-well and the thrifty on the same basis. They must have 1539 some inquiry as regarded the character and antecedents of the applicant. Would the working classes object to such an inquiry? He had asked prominent members of Boards of Guardians if they thought the working classes would object to these proceedings, and they said they would not because such an inquiry would be carried on in a humane manner. A man would not consider it was an indignity to be asked as to his credentials when he came up for a pension, in the same way as if he was seeking a situation, and as the authority was local the antecedents of the applicant would be known in the great majority of cases. His hon. and learned friend the Member for Stretford said he would like to see an Order of the House to the effect that those responsible for bringing in these Bills should be called upon to show how the money was to be raised. He had no objection to that. The Government had a supply of money at the present time, for they had a tax bringing in £2,500,000 a year, which pressed upon no one and which came from the people as a whole. Let the Government reconsider that question and appropriate the money for old-age pensions. If there was not;enough from the Corn Tax, he was prepared to give his vote for a proposal that the next 1d. above sixpence on the Income Tax should be ear-marked to meet the demand for old-age pensions. His estimate of the cost was that the State would have to find between £2,700,000 and £3,000,000, while it would cost the various localities about £3,500,000. He had not worked out those figures upon hazy estimates, but he had taken, as far as be could obtain them, the number of pensioners in other districts.
§ MR. GOULDING
Yes. In Denmark there was an old-age pension system which had been in operation for some time. That scheme only granted pensions to people of sixty years of age and over. The Bill before the House would only apply to those of sixty-five years of age and over. He had taken his figures upon the basis that there 1540 would be a greater charge for England, although he thought the actual result would be the other way. In Great Britain he took the population at about 40,000,000, and in Denmark the population was 2,500,000. Working upon that estimate, he calculated that about 145,000 men and nearly 300,000 women would require pensions. That 450,000 multiplied by six gave the sum he had named. A well-known inspector from the Local Government Board was sent across to Denmark to see how the old-age pension system worked there, and the result of his inquiries had been to show that owing to the establishment of old-age pensions the cost of Poor Law in that country had been reduced by no less than one-seventh. If the House would recollect, the figures he gave were that they were spending £27 12s. per head on indoor paupers at the present time in England and Wales including London. They would at once see that by the establishment of old-age pensions they would effect a considerable saving in that direction in this country. He had calculated that in this way there would be a saving of £1,000,000 upon indoor relief, which he did not think was too much. The result of all this would be that the bare charge would amount to something like £3,500,000. Supposing those figures were correct, and the charge was only £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 a year, was that any excuse for not taking action? He believed that had it not been for the war in South Africa an Old Age Pensions Bill would have been passed. He voted the money for the war, and he was not going to complain that the war had stopped a solution to this question. The war was now ended and the Government had got a free hand, and he wished to know what they were going to do.
The public were getting tired of delay upon this subject, and he did not think there was anything to prevent the Government dealing with the subject next year. As a supporter of the Government he should not be satisfied with such a speech as the President of the Local Government Board made upon the last occasion. It was now said that if they were to have social questions effectively 1541 dealt with, that they must have more working class representatives. He should welcome a larger return of the representatives of the working class, but he was as certain as any man could be that if the House only got the lead from the Government, every hon. Member of the House would be found as much animated with the desire for old-age pensions as any working class representative, and they were just as ready to give their votes earnestly and sincerely for a solution of this question. He would like an earnest of the Government's intention. They could let this Bill go to a Second Reading, and then send it up to the Grand Committee on Trade, and then perhaps this Bill would be of some advantage to the Government in framing a larger Bill next year. If there were hon. Members opposed to old-age pensions why had they not the pluck to say so? If they were against the principle of this Bill, which would involve the expenditure of a sum of not less than £7,000,000, let them divide against it, and let it be known who were the friends of old-age pensions and who were not. He himself was acting under no pressure, but from earnest conviction, and he would do what he could towards the solution of this great question. He was not willing to allow year after year to go by without anything being done. The influence of a private Member was little, but he for one was not prepared to allow it to be said, as it was said to-day, that we, the richest nation in the world, allowed the deserving poor to have their old age clouded with the fear of the workhouse, and that i should continue to be said of the industrious poor that their lot could be described as a blessed prospect—to slave while they had strength, in age the workhouse.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said the hon. Member for the Devizes Division had made a very eloquent speech which had impressed the House very considerably, and in his concluding words he claimed that he and his friends were sincere in their desire to see some advance made on this question. He did not for a moment question it. He heard the speech of the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, 1542 and he was impressed with his earnestness, as he was also by the speeches of two or three others. It would be for the Government to show whether they were equally earnest in redeeming the promises they had made to the deserving poor of the country. There was one statement made by an hon. Member which was worth making a note of, and that was that old-age pensions had been postponed largely owing to our South African enterprises. He did not doubt it for a moment, and he hoped that workmen outside would also take note of this. It was all very well for the hon. Member to turn round and say what he anticipated the Government would do now, when they had a free hand. The hon. Member knew very well that it was very little use having a free hand unless they had a full purse. He thought this would be a very good lesson to the workmen of the country. It would help them to realise that they could not have their cake and eat it. They could not have wild enterprises abroad, the squandering of £250,000,000, great armies and swaggering glory, and at the same time have those great domestic reforms which cost money. He would refer to the question of the sincerity of those who supported this. proposal by and by, but first of all he would like to say one or two words on the Bill. He was one of those who had the honour of sitting on the Committee that framed the Report on which the Bill was based, and he was one of those who signed the Majority Report. He very much regretted that all his colleagues were not here to support it. He saw the hon. and learned Member for Stretford present and he would say for him that he had the honesty and sincerity then to protest against it, so that he had nothing to repent of. The hon. and learned Member was here with a clean record, and that accounted for the fact that he was here; but there were other gentlemen who were not present.
The hon. Member for the Devizes Division had, he thought, underestimated the cost of the scheme; he himself did not think there was anything to be gained by shirking that question. On the contrary, he thought if they did so it would do a lot of harm. It was much 1543 better frankly to face the prospect of the expenditure which would be involved. The Treasury disliked this sort of thing. It was the business of the Treasury to frighten the Government in regard to a thing of this sort. He did not think that the Treasury had erred on the side of underestimating the cost. The officials of that Department were men of experience and integrity and the House must rely on the estimate they had put before them. According to the estimate of the Treasury officials, the cost would be, not £6,000,000 or £7,000,000, but £10,000,000 of money. That was the estimate made in 1899. Since then the Government were too frightened. They said "£10,000,000 for the deserving poor! Not at all! The country would not stand it." Since then the Government had added £30,000,000 to the taxation of the country; but not for the deserving poor in the way of providing old-age pensions. They could not find one third of that amount for the deserving poor. He did not think the workmen of this country would object to a tax, even if they had to bear a considerable share of it if it were known that it was for this purpose. He really protested against mere attempts for electioneering purposes—because there was too much of electioneering about this from beginning to end—simply to claim that some other class should hear the burden—either the Income Tax payers or land values. He thought it would be a good thing for the workmen themselves if they were to contribute by means of a tax towards old-age pensions. By way of illustration, and just to show how it could be done, although he was not making the proposal, a mere penny on sugar would cover the whole £10,000,000 to begin with. He was not suggesting that as a means, but he mentioned it as one of the methods that could be devised. That showed that it was not in itself actually impossible. The people would pay if they knew that it was for a kind of insurance fund. As to the age limit, somebody had said something about seventy. That had been tried in Germany, and what happened was this. The rural population had benefited to some extent, but in the towns the seventy limit was perfectly useless. It was a very sad and tragic fact that the seventy limit there 1544 did not benefit anybody. If we were going to face the question, it must be a sixty-five years limit. He thought they were all agreed that it was a great scandal that the old should have nothing to look forward to in their declining years, when they had exhausted their savings, but the workhouse. Of course he meant sober and industrious men. However much a man could save he could not keep on until he was sixty or sixty-five or seventy years of age. The Local Government Board practically forced the poor into the workhouse. He was not complaining of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, but of the general policy of the Board. There had been a great deal done about this matter in Wales. There the policy had always been a policy of outdoor relief. If an old worker had a little cottage and garden and received 1s. or 2s. from relatives, and came to the guardians and said, "Give me another 3s. or 4s. so that I may be able to keep myself and my wife too," under the regulations of the Local Government Board it would be necessary to separate that couple, send them to the workhouse, break up the home, and break their hearts. In Wales the guardians had ignored the Local Government Board. An official came down and lectured them, but luckily he lectured them in a language which they did not understand.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. WALTER LONG,) Bristol, S.
I would ask whether the hon. Member is not rather exaggerating the action of the Department? The regulations of the Department say that outdoor relief shall not be given to able-bodied men, but in the case of the old and decrepit class exemptions are allowed, and they do not come within the range of the Local Government Board regulations. And, so far as I know, our inspectors' lectures are not intended to prevent that class from obtaining outdoor relief, but to prevent the indiscriminate granting of outdoor relief.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said he knew very well what the practice was. A man might be able to earn occasionally 2s. or 3s. a week, and the Local Government 1545 Board said that he was an able-bodied man. The guardians were not likely to give outdoor relief in cases where they were not obliged to do it, because they were farmers, and had to bear the brunt of local taxation. The Welsh language had been a sort of bulwark in that respect, because all the great lectures on economy were lost upon the guardians. Somebody in the course of the debate had said something about the danger of the 10s. limit. He thought they must have some limit, as they could not start with a huge proposal of £26,000,000 a year. He did not think it was a desirable thing from the point of view of old-age pensions, for the simple reason that the taxpayers would be frightened off. He believed that Mr. Charles Booth's scheme might be found ultimately to be the only workable one, but they could only bring the ratepayers up gradually. As to suggestions of fraud, of course the scheme lent itself to fraud, but so did every scheme. Every law they could devise must lend itself to those who had fraudulent intent, and they would set themselves to it, however good the law might be. Reference had been made to the case of persons who said they received no help from relations. Then were cases of pensioners in exalted positions, who were neither old, nor poor nor deserving, and who also had relations who might keep them, but somehow or other they managed to get outside these things, and to get pensions. If these things were possible in high places, why should not a poor person follow the example now and again, without bringing a charge of fraud against the whole community?
After all, was this a serious debate? If they were here as a House of commons considering what was to be done for the old and deserving poor, they were practically agreed, and if they were serious they could put it through. Would any one looking at the present condition of the House say that it was a serious debate? Ten years ago old-age pensions was a great electioneering question, and when it came up the House was crowded. How many had they here now? He remembered the debate in which the Colonial Secretary took part, when hon. Gentlemen sitting On the Government side of the House were 1546 sitting on this side, where he hoped to see them again soon. It was a Wednesday afternoon debate, and in the course of it there were five at least who took part who were Members of the present Unionist Government. Now, here was a Bill nine years afterwards, and how many members of the Unionist Government were here? Where were the five? They had got their old age pensions and they had retired. [An HON. MEMBER: Where are the hon. Gentleman's own leaders?] His leaders would not prescribe until they got the fees. They were not resident doctors. What happened on that occasion? There was one right hon. Gentleman who used to take a great interest in old-age pensions. What had become of him? He had looked up what the right hon. Gentleman had said on that occasion, and it was most interesting. He was a member of the Royal Commission which was then sitting, but he would not wait for their Report; he was so impatient. It reported in the course of a few months. The Government said—"We are waiting until this Royal Commission reports." It was the first that had sat on the question. The right hon. Gentleman said "No, it is ripe for the sickle; let us have the harvest in now." Well, he had had the harvest in, but it was not in the barns of the poor. The golden grain had got into somebody else's threshing machine. The right hon. Gentleman on that occasion said some remarkable things. He said the poor of the country could not wait. An hon. Gentleman opposite said that the right hon. Gentleman could not attend to this thing now. He was too busy taxing the bread of the poor to have any thought of old age pensions for them. He was formulating great schemes for taxing the raw material of the industrial classes and had no time for such things as old-age pensions. (At this point Mr. J. Chamberlain entered the House and took his seat beside Mr. Long, President of the Local Government Board.) He was very glad to see the Colonial Secretary present. In the debate of which he was speaking, the right hon. Gentleman said, "What about the Bill now." That was the Bill of the hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division. He said the scheme which was brought in 1547 had served an electioneering purpose, and was dropped when the hon Member got office. It was monstrous that anybody should bring in an old-age pension scheme, talk about it, and when he got into office drop it. The right hon. Gentleman's conscience revolted against the mere idea. Well, the right hon. Gentleman himself had had an old-age pension scheme. In fact, he was a man of many schemes, and this was one of them. He was like a man who was fond of quack medicines. He was full of one of them for a time, and then dropped it for a fresh one. Some years ago the right hon. Gentleman was full of old-age pensions. He went through the country recommending it—travelling for it—and a very good trade he made out of it, but the profits were not distributed among the deserving poor. He went down to the constituencies denouncing Liberal candidates, and saying, "They have got impossible schemes to benefit the poor. I am the right man, and I have got the right thing." He gave them his programme, and old-age pensions was one of the practical reforms included in it. He said it was a practical reform, ripe for settlement, and that it might be secured by the assistance of the then Unionist Government. He said it would be settled if the Government received the hearty support of the working classes. The working men took the right hon. Gentleman at his word, believing him to be a man of honour, and performed their part of the bargain. But where was the right hon. Gentleman's part of the bargain? The right hon. Gentleman pocketed the votes of the working classes, and forgot all about old-age pensions. He was not going to use strong language about that transaction. The statement of the facts was itself sufficient. Since the right hon. Gentleman had made that speech, a great many things had happened. The right hon. Gentleman had seen the beauties of the illimitable veldt, and he had forgotten all about temperance, finance, education, and old-age pensions. Those insignificant things were not to be put into the same category as the illimitable veldt.
1548 The Colonial Secretary and the President of the Local Government Board, who sat beside him, were a very appropriate couple. He was very glad they were in the dock together. By some process of natural selection they ranged themselves side by side. In the debate to which he had referred, the President of the Local Government Board was full of old-age pensions. He, too, could not wait for the Report of the Royal Commission, but said that something must be done in the course of that Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman, however, though he was in the office which dealt with this particular business, had also been too busy. He had been so busy finding excuses for the blunders of his colleagues that he had had no time to attend to little matters of this sort in his own Department. The right hon. Gentleman told the House that there was no doubt the question of old-age pensions had been brought to its present condition by the labours of the Member for West Birmingham. He paid the right hon. Gentleman a compliment and gave him a testimonial. It was the labours also of the right hon. Gentleman which, by causing an expenditure of £250,000,000 for the war in South Africa, had brought the question of old-age pensions to its present low estate. He had rounded the circle on this as he had on other topics. If the right hon. Gentleman had made the subject popular his responsibility was all the greater. The right. hon. Gentleman had no right to make a thing popular, to reap the benefits of that popularity, and then to throw the thing overboard. In 1894, the right hon. Gentleman said that the deserving poor were impatient for this reform. Had the poor become less impatient? Or was it that they were less poor or less deserving?: Why had the right hon. Gentleman altered his opinion on the question? "What!" says the right hon. Gentleman," deserving poor, are you clamouring for your pensions still? Turn your thoughts. from these worldly, insignificant affairs, and contemplate the illimitable veldt." But that was no answer to the cry of the deserving poor. The right hon. Gentleman had forced this question to the front, and, having got electioneering advantages 1549 from it, was it right that he should cast it aside? He could quote passage after passage from the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman—delivered, not in his Radical days, but in the present days of his maturity—appealing for popular support on the ground that he was going to do something practical for the deserving poor. But the deserving poor and their pensions had been made but the sport of politics. It was monstrous. He did not care what the present occupation of the right hon. Gentleman might be. The right hon. Gentleman might have given his engagements to the millionaires of Johannesburg; but the right hon. Gentleman had given earlier engagements to the deserving poor of the United Kingdom, and by those engagements he was bound. It was a cruel thing to fill the poor with false hopes, and, having reaped political advantages from them, dash the hopes that had been raised to the ground.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J CHAMBERLAIN,) Birmingham, W.
I thought my opinions were so well-known on this subject that it would not be necessary for me to intervene on the present occasion in reference to a question on which I have spoken frequently both in the country and in the House. I came in accidentally because I have other serious work to do; but I consider myself fortunate, in that I was in time to hear the extremely humorous speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I am not myself certain whether the subject properly lends itself to that kind of treatment I, at any rate, have always regarded it as a matter of the very gravest importance, and I confess I can point to that past with which, the hon. Gentleman taunts me, as showing that when I first introduced the subject to public notice I pressed for its non-Party treatment. The history of this question has been before now stated to the House of Commons, although the hon. Member, of course, conveniently forgets all that has been said in answer to the charges which he has repeated in a farcical spirit. The facts, however, are these. In the first instance the matter was considered by a private Committee, not an official Committee, of the House of Commons, which 1550 members of every Party were invited to join. There was no idea whatever on the part of the promoters of that Committee of making this a party question, from which either Party could derive the slightest electioneering advantage. There was absolutely at that time no idea of deriving party advantage from it, and, as I say, the invitation to join this Committee was sent out to all Members of the House in all parts of the House. If hon. Members belonging to the other side did not join the Committee, that was not any fault of the promoters; as a matter of fact one gentleman, an old friend of mine, who was then an active Radical, Dr Hunter, did join the Committee, and did give very useful and valuable advice on the subject. The result of the deliberations of the Committee was that a scheme which the hon. Gentleman with his usual inaccuracy described as my scheme, was presented to the public; and it is to that scheme chiefly that all his allusions refer.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
On that occasion I carefully distinguished between what are known as old-age pensions, meaning by that any kind of system of universal application, and the proposal which this Committee made to assist the working classes to make provision for their own old age. What we proposed was not a provision of old-age pensions, but a stimulus to thrift which would, as we thought, tempt the working classes to make a much more general provision than they bad hitherto done. That was the scheme. How was that scheme met by those Members of the Opposition who had not been present, or had not taken part in the deliberations of the Committee? They ridiculed it as altogether incomplete; and, of course, it was incomplete if it be considered side by side with the universal scheme recently adumbrated as possible. But, not satisfied with saying that the scheme was incomplete, they went about the country at this election, with a scheme promoted, I think by the Member for Ilkeston, and supported by the Member for Leicester, whom I do not see in his place, and other 1551 members of that Party, in which the promise was distinctly made of a universal provision of old-age pensions at the expense of the State. That was, in my opinion, deceiving the poor. It was promising to the poor what, in the first place, I believe it is an absolute impossibility to give to them, and what, in the second place, I believe, and have always said, it would be undesirable to give them in that form, because the promise of universal pensions to everyone, without reference to previous character, would be the greatest blow ever struck at thrift in this country. And so far from seeking to benefit myself by these wild doctrines, as I regarded them, which were put forward by the other side, it is perfectly in my recollection, and even in the knowledge of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, that in the height of that election, speaking in the Potteries, when everything was in the balance, I warned my audience then, and through them everybody who cared to read what I had to say, that I could give no support whatever to these extreme and extravagant proposals, although I did think something might be done to make better provision for old age.
Again—I am saying what is within the knowledge of the hon. Gentleman, although all these things were omitted from his speech—I have stated on more than one occasion since, that the proposal of the Committee to which I have referred—not my proposal, although I shared in it—after having been fully discussed in public, was practically rejected by public opinion; and I felt that it was perfectly useless to proceed with that scheme. I will not go elaborately into what is really a dead question. [Cries of "Oh," and laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen who have not studied this subject as much as I have are very likely to be premature, and I think they had better wait till I have finished my observations. When I say a dead question I mean this particular scheme which was known as the Parliamentary scheme. That is a dead question, and without going into all the reasons which might be said to have killed it, I will take one—which was that, under that scheme, no present benefit could have accrued to any one, because it was based on the assumption that if a man would put down a certain sum the Government 1552 would put an addition to what he had contributed, and that then, forty years hence, he would, if he survived, have an old-age pension. I still think that scheme had some good qualities. It no doubt was a temptation to the existing youth of the working classes to make this provision; but inasmuch as it would not help anyone older than twenty-five, and would not help a man at twenty-five until forty years later, when he had reached the age of sixty-five, it was not to be wondered at that it had no popular support; and therefore, as a practical statesman, I recognised the unfavourable character of the criticisms to which it was subjected, and neither then nor at any subsequent time have I recurred to that scheme. That having failed, I then turned my attention to the question how far progress could be made in the same direction with the help of the friendly societies, and I have referred to that again even in recent times. I think the last speech I made was to the Odd-fellows at Birmingham, when I again urged, in a very different spirit from that of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, the enormous importance of this question, which is never absent from my mind, the difficulty of dealing with it as a purely Party question, to be the sport of Parties, and the desirability of its being taken up, if possible, by the friendly societies who are outside all political agitation and interest, and of their contributing, as the result of their experience, some scheme which this Government, or any other Government which might succeed it, would be able to take up. Now, that really is, in brief, the history of my connection with this matter.
An hon. Gentleman opposite laughed just now when I spoke of a dead question, thinking, I presume, that I regarded the question of better provision for old age as a dead question. That is not at all my view. No doubt as one continues to devote attention to a matter which is exceedingly complicated and difficult, the obstacles in the way are rather multiplied than lessened; but the chief obstacles are not, to my mind, insuperable. After all, if we were to accept, for instance, as I should do, the scheme which was proposed by the Committee which was presided over by my right hon. friend the Member 1553 for Sleaford—if we were to accept that scheme, we should have made an enormous practical advance towards old-age pensions; and, although there would have to be great elaboration of detail, there is nothing in the principle adopted by that Committee and recommended by that Committee to which I or my colleagues in the Government take any exception. The difficulty in regard to that recommendation has been a financial difficulty. When that Committee made their Report it was submitted to another Committee, not a Parliamentary Committee, in order that they might give us some indication of what the cost would be of a scheme based upon those lines. Speaking, as I have said, without any preparation, my memory may not be perfectly accurate in regard to the details, but my impression is that that Committee— [Mr. CRIPPS: Sir Edward Hamilton's Committee.] —Well, Sir Edward Hamilton's Committee, reported that the cost of such a scheme would be something like £10,000,000 a year. Let me say in passing that in making an estimate of this kind the figures of even the greatest experts must not be considered as being absolutely beyond criticism. It is quite possible that in some respects they take too liberal a view of the possibilities, and I myself was not entirely convinced that they had arrived at a correct conclusion. But one thing is certain, and was certain, that at that time, and now, the adoption of the scheme of my right hon. friend would involve the Treasury of this country in a very large charge of many millions. Well, before any Government can consider a scheme of that kind it must know where it is going to get the funds. I do not think that old-age pensions is a dead question; and I think it may not be impossible to find the funds, but that, no doubt, will involve a review of that fiscal System which I have indicated as necessary and desirable at an early date.
SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
said that the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary, in reply to his hon. friend below the Gangway, stated that he had been guilty of a lapse of memory. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman himself was guilty of a lapse of memory, for he more than anyone else had made this an electioneering cry. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the Bill which he 1554 introduced into the House in 1890 or 1891, and he described that Bill, not for the first time, as an electioneering device. For his own part he repudiated that description, and denied that it was introduced with any such purpose. The Bill was introduced as the result of certain efforts to promote Poor Law reform which were before the House in 1888, and which were proposed by the Member for East Glamorganshire. In that Bill it was proposed that the Poor Laws should be so altered that the pauper should receive assistance as a pensioner without connection with the workhouse. Taking that idea he founded on it the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman had wrongly described as a Bill to provide universal old age pensions. It was nothing of the sort. The right hon. Gentleman himself in the debate in 1894 ridiculed that Bill because it was full of anomalies and restrictions, one of which he specially referred to, viz., that it would prevent persons who had been convicted for drunkenness from receiving benefit under it. The Colonial Secretary ought to have known that it was not a scheme of universal pensions. The fact was that the Bill was full of restrictions with regard to those who would receive pensions. The right hon. Gentleman was not the person to charge the hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs with lapse of memory when he himself was so inaccurate in reference to details. The right hon. Gentleman moreover had put before the working classes at Birmingham, in the midst of an election at Aston, old age pensions as one of the three great objects of his labour programme, but the right hon. Gentleman had done very little at present to justify that labour programme or to promote legislation in regard to old-age pensions. For his own part, when he occupied the position of Secretary of the Local Government Board, he could not push his Bill in the House. It was a Bill which only the Government could undertake, but he got the Government to appoint a Royal Commission, on which the right hon. Gentleman himself sat, and that was the first step towards realising some solution of the problem of old - age pensions. He thought these recriminations in the House were unworthy of a great subject, 1555 and when the right hon. Gentleman had done as much, he might then come forward and hurl his taunts with a better justification than he had at present.
The Bill before the House had certain virtues, and it was becoming more and more necessary that a Bill of some kind should be passed. One of the reasons which induced many of them to regard this Bill as acceptable, was the increasing growth of the custom of discharging middle-aged workmen. That had gone on more than ever since the Workmen's Compensation Act was passed. What made him very interested in this subject in the beginning was that numbers of men capable of work, about fifty years of age, or a little over, who were no longer so alert as they used to be in their occupations, were unable to obtain places. They wanted a Bill passed in order that these industrious citizens, who were deserving of consideration, might not be forced to pass their last years in the dismal surroundings of the workhouse. He had no great objection to many of the provisions of the Bill. In fact the proposals as to the ten shillings limit, and certain restrictions as to character, were all taken from his own Bill, and they had more or less his support still. But the Bill had certain other defects. The first was that it did not work automatically. Any scheme of old-age pensions should not be placed in the hands of any minor local authority with power to discriminate between individuals, because it was very likely to lead to abuse and to favouritism, which ought not to exist, in the distribution of public money. If they would have old-age pensions above suspicion and controversy, the scheme should work automatically by the fulfilment of certain qualifications, which could be seen into by a clerk without the intervention of any local committee. This objection was put very specially before the select Committee by the hon. Member for Stretford, who had converted him to the view that any scheme to be effective must be automatic; and it was a defect of this Bill that it did not introduce the automatic system. The scheme, moreover, should be absolutely free from any taint, or suspicion of a taint, of Poor Law relief, and they could not have 1556 that while it was administered by a Committee composed of a majority of Guardians. It would have been better if the Poor Law Guardians representation had only been one-third of the Committee, and even that would have been too large, and he knew that that view was very widely held by the working: classes.
He did, not wish to criticise the principle of the Bill, which he thought improved in detail upon the Bill of last year, because it included within its scope the scheme of the Cottage Home Committee's Bill, which, would enable poor people to live in cottage homes without any stigma of pauperism. But he did not believe that any scheme would be satisfactory until it was made much broader. In the meantime, some attempt might be made to meet the difficulty, and this Bill offered the Government an opportunity of proposing a scheme less expensive. He thought the cost under this scheme was exaggerated if it was put as high as £10,000,000. But even if it were £10,000,000, he did not think that that cost ought to be prohibitive. Out of every £9,000,000 that went in actual relief of pauperism, £5,000,000 went in relief of the aged poor, and consequently they would save more than £1,000,000 a year as regarded the present administration of Poor Relief to aged persons. But it rested with the Government to devise some scheme for meeting the cost, which he did not think was beyond financial possibilities. Since the Government had been in power, they had added something like £45,000,000 a year to the normal expenditure of the country, and they had added over £150,000,000 to the National Debt. He thought the same financial ingenuity which had enabled them to do that, would enable them to find £10,000,000 for a most deserving class of people. The last Liberal Government gave their successors, on coming into office, a surplus of several millions, raised from the Death Duties by the financial genius of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire, and that provided the very machinery necessary to bring about and realise a scheme of old - age pensions. But the last Government, of which this Government was the direct successor, used that 1557 not for the benefit of the poor, but to help their friends with agricultural and various other kinds of doles. In the future he hoped that some money like that obtained from the death duties—money which came from the accumulated wealth of the country—he certainly would not agree to the suggestion that the Corn Tax should be retained for this purpose—should be earmarked for initiating some scheme of old-age pensions. And if they began with £5,000,000 a year, which would be 2s 6d. a week for every man and woman over sixty-five years of age, it would be a first step towards what would in the end be one of the most beneficent pieces of legislation which any Government could pass.
The debate might have been useful in recalling to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite the promises made, not only by them, but also by his hon. friends, that the subject was one necessary to be dealt with by legislation. He believed that if a vote could be taken by ballot, irrespective of party politics, a majority of the House would vote for some immediate action being taken. The subject had become so popular, so engrained in the public mind, partly through the efforts of the Colonial Secretary, and partly through the work of the Member for North Islington which had been going on since 1871 with reference to the extension of the Poor Law in the direction of old age pensions, and especially by the writings of Mr. Charles Booth, that he believed if a vote were taken by ballot there would be an enormous majority in favour of immediate action being taken to satisfy the legitimate demands of the poor. He wanted some first step to be taken in the matter. The debate would be futile if they did not obtain some statement as to the intentions of the Government. If the right hon. Gentleman would tell the House that the Government intended to place this matter on their legislative programme for next session, and if he would accept the Second Reading of the Bill as an indication of the determination of the Government to bring this question into practical politics, by making it a Government measure next session, a great result would be obtained from the debate. But if the House was only to 1558 receive a benevolent expression of the right hon. Gentleman's goodwill, without any definite promise or pledge, then the afternoon would be wasted, as many afternoons had been wasted, in discussing this great and urgent question. He would press on the right hon. Gentleman the necessity of taking some definite line in regard to this question. He hoped the Bill would be given a Second Reading, and referred to a Select Committee in order that it might form the basis for legislation next session. He hoped, at all events, the right hon. Gentleman would express himself as determined, in his official capacity, to do what he could to persuade his colleagues to make the question a subject of Parliamentary action next year.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
said he was sorry he was not in the House at the commencement of the debate, but that was rendered impossible by his being detained by the duties of a Royal Commission. He was fortunate, however, in having arrived in time to hear the speech of the Colonial Secretary, with which he cordially agreed, and in which he gave a true, temperate, and accurate statement as to what had been the course of events in regard to this question in the past. He heard the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken with a great deal of surprise. The hon. Gentleman said that the present Bill afforded, at all events, an opportunity for an immediate declaration—if not for immediate action—on the part of the Government. He never had been able to follow the course of the hon. Gentleman with regard to the question of old-age pensions. This Bill was practically founded on t he Report of a Select Committee of which he himself had the privilege of being Chairman; and he had, as one of his associates on the Committee, the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said that was why he had such difficulty in following the hon. Gentleman's course, because, when he circulated the Report to his colleagues on the Committee, he received a most 1559 cordial and friendly letter from the hon. Gentleman in which he said—Your Report, in my opinion, is so admirable, and I approve of it so entirely, that I hope you will give me the amplest notice in order that I may be present at its discussion.In the course of the discussions on the Report, various alterations were made, all in favour of propositions which the hon. Gentleman supported; and, of course, he considered he had in the hon. Gentleman one of his warmest supporters. But to his intense surprise, when it came to the question, "that this be the Report of the Committee," the hon. Gentleman at the last moment wheeled round and voted against the Report upon which the Bill he now so cordially supported was based.
SIR WALTER FOSTER
said he stated his ground for voting against the Report, viz., that it was incomplete inasmuch as it had not grappled at all with the financial question.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said he was about to mention that. The hon. Gentleman said he did not know what it was going to cost. But the hon. Gentleman knew now, as he had had the advantage of studying a most carefully elaborated Report on this question. When the Report of the Select Committee was concluded, it became his duty, in accordance with the promise he had given to the Committee, to institute an inquiry by a body of experts as to what the cost would be. Doubt had been thrown on the accuracy of the estimate which was arrived at. What he did was this. Under the guidance of one of the most experienced civil servants in the country, Sir Edward Hamilton, the experts he appointed took an informal census of sixty or seventy districts throughout the kingdom for the purpose of ascertaining how many people in those districts would come within the provisions of the Report, and be able to fulfil the conditions which would entitle them to old age pensions. On that they made their estimate, and their estimate to the whole kingdom; it came out in this way—it would cost £10,000,000 a year immediately, and £15,000,000 a year very soon afterwards. He was under the impression that the hon. 1560 Gentleman was afraid of the excessive cost, and that that was why he hesitated. to vote for the Report of the Committee; but now that he knew that in a few years a sum of £15,000,000 a year would have to be provided for this purpose, the hon. Gentleman saw in that an excellent reason for immediate action on the part of the Government. With great respect, he thought that was a very serious consideration indeed. What did it amount to? He did not say it was a reason for putting aside the question of old-age pensions, which he should be glad to see dealt with, if that were possible, on reasonable grounds. But what the House was asked to-day to do, was, in order to provide old age pensions for something like 600,000 persons out of a population of 40,000,000, to incur a debt to the extent of £15,000,000 a year. Regarded from that point of view, this was a Bill which no Parliament would be justified in dealing with except after the most deliberate and careful consideration, even if it were justified in dealing with it on those terms at all. When, therefore, the hon. Gentleman called on the Government for immediate action in connection with a question of such gravity and importance, it was one of the most unreasonable demands he had ever heard made by any hon. Member holding a responsible position in this House. If the matter could be dealt with on anything like reasonable grounds, he should be the last person to depart from any opinion he had expressed on the question; but he did not hesitate to say, speaking with a full sense of the responsibility which rested on him, that he would earnestly counsel not only the Government, but the House of Commons and Parliament, to be exceedingly careful before they adopted the proposition now before the House.
§ MR. BLACK (Banffshire)
said that the House had had that afternoon a momentous declaration of policy from the Colonial Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman said to the working men of this country "If you vote for me and return me to power again and support the scheme of Protection which I have framed, you shall have old-age pensions." They had heard that before. They heard 1561 it during the General Election of 1895, and again and again since. He would style it the "carrot" policy—dangling in front of the working man the carrot of an old-age pension. He hoped before the debate closed the House would have from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board a clear and decisive statement on this question. There were no "ifs" three years ago when this matter was dealt with by the Colonial Secretary. On April 24th, 1899, when this matter was discussed in this House, there was no word about the necessity of recasting our fiscal system. The Colonial Secretary then said—It was said again and again, and I am prepared to say it now, that we do hope and intend to deal with this matter before we leave office. That is perfectly true.And again—I express my confident hope that before the Government goes out of office we shall have done something which, at all events, will furnish a practical scheme.There was not a word then about recasting our fiscal system. On that occasion the First Lord of the Treasury said—If we are not able to find some method of either solving or making a practical step towards the solution of this problem, neither Committee nor Commission will protect us from the consequences of that public misfortune.He would like to know how far they might expect the usual consistency from right hon. Gentlemen opposite in dealing with this matter. The President of the Local Goverment Board said on another occasion, and he hoped he would not repeat the statement—We have done our best to find a solution of this question but we have failed. We cannot hold out the smallest hope to those responsible for this Bill that they can look to us for that financial assistance, without which this Bill cannot possibly be carried into effectHe would wish the right hon. Gentleman 1562 to reconcile that dictum with the anxiety which was expressed by his colleagues to give effect to a scheme of old-age pensions. Now it appeared the working classes would have to wait for old-age pensions until our fiscal system was recast; they would have to wait for Protection. If that were the position of the Governments it meant postponing the question until the Greek Kalends.
The Colonial Secretary recognised that the establishment of old-age pensions was not taxation but compulsory insurance; and that was what it was, and nothing else. Then why wait until our fiscal system was recast? With the present wealth of the country even the most extravagant scheme would be small as compared with the ordinary expense of the Poor Law fifty years ago. In 1854, after Protection had been abolished, and without any recasting of the fiscal system, the country paid £7,000,000 out of £400,000,000, or about 2 per cent. of its total income, for the Poor Law. The present income of the nation was about £1,500,000,000, and 2 per cent. on that would be £30,000,000, which greatly exceeded any estimate which had yet been put forward for old-age pensions, even after deducting the present Poor Law contribution amounting to about £12,000,000. Further, there had been a very remarkable advance in the taxable capacity of the country. That was shown by the readiness with which the taxation for the late war was paid all over the country. He would also call attention to the fact that old-age pensions would not be money spent out of the country. It would mean that the spending capacity of a large number of persons would be increased; that they would take home manufactures 1563 and agricultural produce; and in that way the country as a whole would benefit. There was a theory which explained volcanic action. It was that in the course of time moisture sunk down and settled in caves where, through heat, it was converted into steam. It required a vent, with the result that great masses of rock were blown into thin air. They found caves forming in the opposite side of the House. There was the Army Reform Cave, the Economy Cave, the Education Cave, and now the Government were threatened with an Old-age Pensions Cave. He ventured to predict that the tears of disappointed hope would sink into these caves, and be converted into steam by the heat of unfulfilled pledges; by-and-by there would be volcanic action, and the Government would be blown into thin air, a fate they would richly deserve.
§ MR. MACONOCHIE (Aberdeenshire E.)
said that the subject of old-age pension was one in which he had been greatly interested for the last eighteen years. He had had a great deal to do with the working classes, and had come constantly in contact with them; and he knew the fear they had of the workhouse in their old age. Taking into consideration the conditions which prevailed in the industrial world at the present time, the strenuous work that had to be done to compete with other nations, the working classes grew older much more quickly than in the past. He believed it was absolutely necessary, following the legislation of the past ten years, that they should provide for the working classes in such a way as not to pauperise them, and make them feel in their old age, that they had been reduced to the position of paupers. As far as 1564 the present Bill was concerned, it might not be a perfect Bill; indeed no one would suggest that it was a perfect Bill, but it could be made a good Bill or at least a lever for legislation that would be of use to the working classes of the country. He was perfectly sure in his own mind, and every honest-minded man who considered the question would admit, that the poor people of the country were looking forward keenly and anxiously to some legislation that would help them in their old age. Every hon. Member who had spoken referred to the great advantage which benefit societies had been to the working classes, and with the assistance of those societies they might be able to do much good to the working classes without pauperising them. He trusted that the Government would understand from the speeches made by hon. Members on both sides that they really meant what they said, and that they meant to press this matter and take no refusal. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman, for the sake of all concerned, would not be content with blessing the Bill in the ordinary way; but would help forward a question which would have to be dealt with thoroughly and in a very short time.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
said he really would not have found it necessary to intervene were it not for the appeals which had been made to him, as his right hon. friend the Colonial Secretary had stated the case for the Government quite clearly and quite sufficiently. Hon. Gentlemen appealed to him to say what were the intentions of the Government; and also what were the views of the Government regarding the present Bill. He did not agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite that the time of the House had been wasted, even if this Bill was not placed 1565 on the Statute-book as a result of that afternoon's proceedings. On the contrary he thought the debate had been extremely valuable. He had taken part in more than one debate on this subject in past years, and he doubted whether there had ever been one more practical and useful than this. The hon. Member opposite joined with other hon. Members in demanding that the Government should not content themselves with giving a benevolent support to the Bill, but should see it carried into effect; but it was enough to make one pause when the hon. Gentleman himself proceeded in the course of his speech to pass a most trenchant criticism on the Bill. The measure was undoubtedly a great improvement on previous Bills; and he especially recognised the Amendment made by the provision which enabled two or more unions to unite for the purpose of an old-age pension scheme, a provision which certainly disposed of one most serious difficulty in connection with administration in a matter of this kind. But the hon. Gentleman opposite found much more serious fault with the Bill than was concerned with details. He said that he objected to this kind of old-age pension legislation altogether, and his view was that any system to be satisfactory must be automatic. He would call attention to the criticism in order to show how considerable and even acute were the differences of opinion on this matter. He was not going to discuss the details of the Bill; but he would ask the House to realise, in the light of the debate which had taken place, how great were the difficulties and complexities of this question.
His hon. friend who moved the Second Reading of the Bill in a really admirable speech, temperate and moder- 1566 ate, but to the point, referred to the question as one of great difficulty and great complexity. His hon. friend, who showed in his speech that he was a student of this question, as indeed he had been for many years, said that although he was prepared to take this Bill as a step, a very small step, forward,. it fell very far short in his opinion of what a proper old-age pension scheme ought to be. He did not blame hon. Gentlemen opposite. After all, party politics were party politics, and would so remain to the end of the chapter; and when one Party got a chance of having a slap at the other, they were bound to take advantage of it. He did not blame hon. Members opposite for their attacks upon himself or upon the Colonial Secretary, who was very well able to take care of himself. What he personally thought in 1894 he thought now; and he did not think hon. Members opposite had advanced their case by suggesting that the Government were wanting in good faith or honesty of intention if they failed to produce a scheme which they could commend to the country.
He had been charged with want of attention to this question since he had been at the Local Government Board, and it was said that the Colonial Secretary had turned his attention to other things, but he could assure the House that, both in the late Government and in the present, this question had been anxiously and carefully considered, and that he and his colleagues had been most desirous of arriving at a solution of the problem. One of the objects they were desirous of arriving at was a settlement of the question of old-age pensions. They had a Bill before them to-day as they had had 1567 last year. How far was that in advance of the measures of three or four years ago? They had arrived at a stage when they had a definite proposal before them. All those who had spoken on the measure had admitted and had realised that the real difficulty underlying this question was not the precise principle or the precise way in which it was to be arrived at, or the proper class of people who were to be made pensioners, but the underlying foundation without which no Bill of this kind could stand. Hon. Members on both sides of the House had said that the taxpayers would be wiling to find the money. More would be heard of that when they had the financial proposals of the Government under discussion, but he remembered only the other day, before the Budget of the Chancellor of Exchequer was brought in, that the demand was not that they should keep up taxation for this or that purpose, but that they should take taxation off. The Government had recently created, not a new rate, but they had so distributed the old rate as to practically create a new charge on the rate, and everybody knew how much that had been objected to by the ratepayers. Did anybody believe that a proposal to saddle the Exchequer with £3,000,000 or £4,000,000, and the rates with an equal amount, making a charge of 5d., 6d., or perhaps 1s. in the £, would at the present moment be acceptable to the country. He believed that until a scheme far more perfect and complete than this was brought forward any addition to the Imperial and local expenditure would be regarded with the greatest apprehension.
The hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs had told the House that it 1568 was a mistake on the part of those who believed in old-age pensions to suppose the expenditure would not grow. The Colonial Secretary had said it was conceivable that the estimate that had been got out by the expert of the Treasury was an exaggerated one. He did not believe that it was possible for anybody, with the figures at present available, to make any estimate which was really of a reliable character. And this criticism of his told both ways, because on the one hand, he believed with the hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs that the burden of old-age pensions, when the system was once started, would be more likely to increase than to decrease; and, on the other hand, it was conceivable that there would be a reduction, as the consequence of the transfer of people now borne on the rates as paupers to the ranks of old-age pensioners. There would, indeed, be a temptation to put on the list of pensioners some of those who would otherwise be provided for under the Poor Law, because the burden would then be divided between the Exchequer and the rates. But he did not wish to criticise details. He believed everybody desired to look at the subject from a broad and, if possible, comprehensive point of view, and that was the point of view from which he ventured to approach it. His hon. friend had said, with absolute truth, that the Government had no desire to shirk the responsibility which rested upon them to deal with so great a question as this; and he, as the Minister for the time being responsible for the Department connected with Poor Law administration, felt as strongly as anybody in that House could, how great was the demand made, not only upon their sympathy, but upon their Christianity, by the condition of many people in the 1569 country. He did not know any sadder sight than that presented in many of our country villages, where men and women who had laboured to the utmost of their capacity for perhaps forty or fifty years, and had been sober, thrifty, and industrious, found themselves compelled at last to take refuge in the Poor Law.
No one could appreciate more than he the importance of this question and the necessity for its satisfactory treatment, but having said that, it did not follow that he was to advise his colleagues in the Government to commit themselves and himself to a proposal which he could not regard as complete in itself, and which he firmly believed must lead to a much larger expenditure than even the estimates which they had heard to-day. His hon. friend had said "If you cannot give me what I ask for, give me something towards it—an instalment. Let us take a step forward." He might tell his hon. friend that by this Bill, for which he had secured a place to-day, they had taken a step forward. This debate constituted a step forward on this subject. The two sides of the House had come nearer together. They had approached the question with a desire to find a solution of it, and there had been a frank recognition of the practical difficulties attending it. The hon. Member for Carnarvon had said also that if they thought to make their scheme too big or did not impose conditions as to expenditure, they would frighten the ratepayers and the taxpayers, and make this question more impossible of solution than it was at the present time. This debate had not been a waste of time. It was a valuable contribution to the solution of a difficult question. When he was asked to give 1570 his sanction to the progress of the measure, then he said we must have a more precise knowledge of the way in which the money was to be spent. He hoped the Bill would be read a second time, because it affirmed a principle in which all believed, although there might be practical difficulties which made it impossible to see the complete solution of the problem in the immediate present.
§ MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)
said he did not see how, if the debate merely elicited further promises and expressions of sympathy, the question was brought any nearer to a solution. He reminded the House that he had been associated with the Poor Law from his childhood, had been an inmate of the workhouse, and had been elected six times to represent on local bodies the people who took charge of him as a boy. He assured them that the difficulties of administering an old-age pension scheme would be no greater than those of administering the present complicated Poor Law system. Those who now told them that it was impossible to find the money had also often admitted that when the nation made up its mind to anything it would find the money. If anyone had brought forward a proposal that there should be no retiring allowance for a member of the Government the Treasury Bench would have been full. It would then be said to deny an hon. Member, who had served his country to the best of his ability for years, a pension, in order to keep up his position, would be a scandal. Then what were they going to say about the men by the efforts of whom the country was in the prosperous condition in which it was. Much had been done to make the workhouse more comfortable for the veteran of industry, who had been foolish enough to get old but not artful enough to get rich. But was 1571 he always to be sent to these barracks? The hon. Member in charge of the Bill, and those who supported him, ought to insist upon the Government making some provision for those veterans who had done so much to uphold the commercial supremacy of the country.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Select Committee.