§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ * MR. GOULDING (Wiltshire, Devizes)
said that in moving the Second Reading of the Aged Pensioners Bill in the unavoidable absence of his hon. friend the Member for Holborn, he might remind the House that a similar Bill had in 1902, and again in 1903, received a Second Reading without a division. Last year he and those who supported the measure were successful in getting it referred to a Select Committee. The Report of that Committee had been presented, and he had amended this Bill, as far as he had been able, on the lines of the Committee's recommendations. In other respects the Bill remained unaltered. A person who had maintained himself as a good citizen during what might be called the working years of his life, on reaching the age of sixty-five, if in need, as defined in the Bill, would be entitled to a pension, not merely as a charity, but as a right, of not less than 5s. or more than 7s. per week, subject to certain disqualifications as to receipt of Poor Law relief and imprisonment. The receipt of this pension would not be treated as a badge of failure or inferiority, and so would not disqualify the recipient from exercising the franchise and participating in the privileges of a free citizen. The qualifications for a 670 pension were good citizenship, as defined in the Bill. No special form of thrift was singled out for reward. A large proportion of the wage-earning community were totally unable to provide by financial contributions for old age. They found it as much as they could do to meet their daily wants, and to provide for sickness and burial expenses. The officials who were to administer the Act, were the Poor Law officials—a most deserving body of men—so that a new army of State employees would not be created, but the money granted for pensions for the aged poor would, in fact, be spent upon them. The Bill retained the clauses which made it necessary for a would-be pensioner to prove his title to a pension. As a man who sought a situation produced testimonials of good character so also in regard to pensions. As this was not a Bill for universal pensions, it would be absolutely necessary, if they were to distinguish between the deserving and the thriftless poor, that the applicant for a pension must be prepared to prove his right to it. It was said last session in the debate on the Bill that if a man was to prove his title that would necessitate inquisitorial proceedings into the past of the individual which would prove extremely hard on the applicant; but in those colonies and States where old-age pensions were in force they were given after public inquiry, and no complaints were heard as to any indignity or hardship. Ono of the chief witnesses before the Select Committee, the Agent-General for New Zealand, stated that no case had occurred in that colony in which any individual applicant had stated as a grievance that he had had to prove his title. Those seeking pensions were proud of their credentials, and in New Zealand and Victoria the inquiry was made in open Court, and in Denmark it was looked on as a friendly chat. As this was a Bill to distinguish between the deserving and the non-deserving poor, and not a Bill for universal pensions, it was absolutely necessary that some inquiry should be made into the past of the applicants.
Administration and control would be centred in the localities where the people were most likely to be acquainted with the applicants and able 671 to bring proper safeguards against imposition and fraud. It was pointed out before the Committee that as it was proposed that the Treasury should contribute one half of the cost they should be empowered to nominate one-half of the pensions committee, in the same way that Income-tax Commissioners were appointed at the present time, and gave their services for no remuneration. The alternative would be, as was done abroad, the appointment of a stipendary magistrate or special Commissioner; but the appointment of these ad hoc Commissioners would entail considerable expense and the consequent diverting of the money granted for pensions. The remainder of the pensions committee would be appointed by the Poor Law guardians of the district, who would be required to select two-thirds from their own body, and co-opt the other third from persons in the locality who were specially qualified, as members of friendly societies and thrift organisations, to discharge the duty. There was a recommendation in the Report of the Select Committee that in dealing with the question of old-age pensions, it was most desirable to go step by step. That Resolution was carried in the Committee by the casting vote of the Chairman. He maintained that the present proposals were a minimum. If they were to have a satisfactory old-age pension system as a matter of right, the applicant, when he had proved his case, should be able to claim his pension at once. If they were to allow applicants to qualify and then to limit the number of pensioners in a locality, it would bring in the hateful system of selection, and open the flood-gates of private influence and favouritism. The Bill was based on the broad and bold lines that, once a man or woman proved the necessary qualification, he or she was, ipso facto, entitled to a pension. Another recommendation of the Select Committee, that regarding aliens, he had adopted to the best of his ability. He had also put in a clause safeguarding rich children from divesting themselves of responsibility for their parents. Power was given in the Bill to recover from the children such sums as the pensions committee had expended in pensions on the parents.
672 He did not think it was necessary for him to argue here and now as to whether in principle a pension for deserving poor was desirable or not. He ventured to think that when this Parliament had, on two occasions, passed the Second Reading of an Old-Age Pensions Bill without a division, they had declared that such a measure was necessary. The members of the Government by accepting the Second Reading, bound themselves down to the principle of old-age pensions; and those who had followed recent by-elections must have noticed that every candidate had pledged themselves to support it. The principle had been accepted long ago, and they had now to find some means whereby the principle could be carried out in practice. No one would deny that our present Poor Law system provided for the destitute poor, and was not intended to help the deserving poor, but those who had exercised thrift should receive some recognition in old age to enable them to retain their position of independence and self respect. He was convinced that a small and certain endowment in old age would do much to keep alive hope, be a great inducement to thrift, and encourage the poor to put by when possible, while it would remove the terror that haunted the declining years of many of our industrial poor. It would also relieve the great friendly societies of the incubus which now hung over them, and caused them often, under the guise of sick pay, to give old-age pay to their members, as the friendly societies had not the heart to strike them off and drive their old members on to the Poor Law. He did not think the House was aware with what ease the State granted old-age pensions to its own officials. Every session there was a Bill to grant superannuation allowances and pensions to civil servants, police, municipal officers, soldiers, and sailors. In the year ending 31st March last, the amount spent on superannuation allowances to civil servants was £2,613,471, on naval pensions £1,970,000, and on military pensions £3,306,000. On these three services alone the expenditure last year was £7,889,000, so that the State had already implicated itself in the question of pensions to a very large amount.
673 He knew that on this question hon. Members were desirous that some solution could be found which would be economic, but these hon. Members when they pledged themselves to old-age pensions must have been convinced that these would cost money. He believed that the country could and should afford the necessary expense of old-age pensions. The taxable capacity of the country had increased three-fold during the last fifty years, while the amount spent on Poor Law had only increased 50 per cent., despite more humane and expensive administration of the Poor Law system. The question of cost was considered by Sir Edward Hamilton's Committee, but that Report did not give very much guidance as to the possible expense. That Committee had taken no account of the funds in the hands of the Charity Commissioners, amounting to no less than£1,000,000 a year, at present spent on old-age pensions; nor had they taken into consideration the pensions paid to the military and naval services, and by the friendly societies. Nor was any account taken of what a saving would be made if aged couples were to be able to live together. There were cases where they could get some guidance, if not absolute light, as to what the cost of an old-age pension system would be. There were three countries—Denmark, New Zealand, and Victoria—in which old-age pensions were in force and from which could be deduced an estimate as to the probable number of pensioners and the possible cost. In Denmark, in 1900, with a population of 2,600,000, there were, roughly speaking, 42,000 pensioners, and the cost was £285,000 a year. Applying the same principle, although the amount of the pensions in Denmark was considerably less than proposed in the Bill for England and Wales, but doubling the cost as the amount of the individual pension would be considerably greater, the expense would be £8,000,000, allowing for no saving on the existing cost of the Poor Law, as the new administration would deal with the aged deserving poor. In New Zealand a man whose income was below £52 a year was eligible for a pension. The number in receipt of old-age pensions was 1,200, or one in seventy of the population. In Victoria, where an old-age pension scheme was also 674 in operation, 16,000 were in receipt of pensions, or about one in seventy-five of the population. From these figures he calculated that in this country about 500,000 of people, excluding State pensioners—soldiers, sailors, and civil servants—and also municipal employees, would be in receipt of old-age pensions under the Bill; and that the cost at £14 per pensioner would amount to £7,000,000 for England, Ireland and Wales. In none of these calculations the consequent saving in the administration of the Poor Law was credited. Therefore the cost of the scheme to the State would be something like £4,000,000, or, bringing in Scotland, £4,500,000 sterling. He maintained that they had in Denmark, New Zealand, and Victoria, data which did not lead them to expect the appalling figures set forth by Sir Edward Hamilton, but much more reasonable figures.
Hon. Members who had interested themselves in the question of old-age pensions had done their best to keep it alive in this House; but their powers as private Members wore exhausted; and if anything were to be done it would have to be done by the responsible Government of the day. They had put aside Party politics altogether. On the back of the Bill were the names of Radicals, Nationalists, Liberal Unionists, and Conservatives. This great question could only be solved by both Parties determining to blot out Party politics, and let the State as a State, and the people as a nation, come forward and endeavour to grapple with it. The Government of the day was now responsible. Ministers might bless an old-age pension Bill; but if they believed in the question it was their duty to endeavour to solve it. Knowing as he did how keen an interest his right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board took in the question of Poor Law reform, and the extraordinary advance which had been made in the direction of reform during the period of office of his right hon. friend, he begged of him to bring in some measure to solve the problem of old-age pensions, and not let it be said by the people that the House of Commons did not represent the workers of the country, that it was out of touch with what really affected the wants of the 675 poorest section of the community, and that until there was a larger Labour representation in the House the question of old-age pensions would not be solved. He appealed to the Government to accept responsibility in the matter and to take it up.
§ * MR. JOHN HUTTON (Yorkshire, Richmond)
said he desired to second the Motion. He would appeal to the House whether the Poor Law at the present time was not ripe for amendment. It was notorious that the name of the workhouse to people in the country was one of fear and dread. He thought there was some reason for that. It was different in workhouses in the great towns, which were administered with very great care, and in which it was possible to make provision for classification which removed many of the grievances under which the aged poor suffered in the smaller workhouses. The President of the Local Government Board and his predecessor had done a very great deal with regard to the amelioration of the condition of the aged poor in the large workhouses; but it was impossible under existing circumstances to continue the same classification of the aged poor in the small workhouses in country districts. Many only contained thirty, forty, or fifty occupants, so that it was impossible to separate those who were deserving from the undeserving. In the small rural workhouses the state of things was sometimes so horrible that he did not wonder that the poor dreaded having to go to them in their old age. They dreaded country workhouses, especially in the North of England. In most of the country workhouses, imbeciles and persons of unsound mind, who were oftentimes extremely mischievous, were allowed to roam about the wards. He had known workhouses in which the imbeciles had been so troublesome that they had pulled the clothes off the old people's beds at night. They interfered with the other inmates, and also suffered themselves, because of the way they were treated. He had known cases of such bad characters in workhouses that he did not wonder that the respectable poor hesitated to enter them. He saw a woman in a workhouse who was more or less an im- 676 becile. She had a daughter in the same workhouse who was also an imbecile, and a grandchild. That woman went out year after year, and invariably returned for the purpose of using the workhouse as a lying-in hospital. Surely, to have to meet such a class of people was a horror to the respectable poor. He had known an old woman of ninety who was left in the workhouse infirmary without anyone to tend or take care of her. He had known another woman of such disgusting habits that she was unfitted for the company of the other inmates. He had known a workhouse in which two murderers associated with the other inmates. He had known a workhouse with a drunken master, who made the house a perfect Hades to the inmates. With such records as these, which were well known to the local poor, was it to be wondered that the poor dreaded the very thought of having to end their days within such buildings? There was also the question of discipline. Men and women who had been free to come and go all their lives did not care to submit to having to go to bed and get up at certain hours and to be summoned to their meals by the sound of a bell, after having been so long accustomed to the freedom of their own homes.
He hoped the House would understand he was not exaggerating the state of affairs. Several Committees had sat to consider the state of the Poor Law, and the Cottage Homes Hill Committee of 1899 reported in favour of the classification of inmates, the provision of suitable accommodation in separate buildings for the proper treatment of all pauper imbeciles and epileptics, and the provision of cottage homes. The Committee of last year also favoured an extension of the cottage home system. He cared not, however, how the amelioration of the condition of the poor was carried out, it remained true that they had a great grievance, and he joined in the earnest appeal to the President of the Local Government Board to take steps before the end of the present Parliament to bring in a measure to alleviate their condition. The Report of the Parliamentary Committee which sat in 1899 showed that the condition of most of the rural workhouses was a disgrace to the country. He had long felt that in this matter the 677 aged and deserving poor had a cruel grievance. It was often impossible for them to make any provision for their old age; and when they reached that age they were compelled to enter workhouses and associate with the failures of society. Surely it was the duty of the State to endeavour to alleviate the sad condition of the unfortunate poor in their old age. The case of men and women who endeavoured to provide for their aged parents until late in life should be appreciated by hon. Members, and such persons should not be consigned to the misery of the workhouse in their old age. This was not a party question. It was one which every hon. Member would, he was certain, support, and if his right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board wished to descend to posterity with a great name he could secure it by making proper and adequate provision for the aged deserving poor.
§ MR. BRIGG (Yorkshire, W. R, Keighley)
said that on the Opposition side of the House there existed a disposition equally strong in favour of those in distressed circumstances as that which had been displayed by Ministerialists. He doubted whether there was a single Member present who had not at some time framed a pension scheme, and those who had had generally come to the ground on the subject of the difficulty of finding the money. That was the difficulty. In Germany it was met by a system under which every man subscribed a small sum annually to an insurance fund, which was administered by the State. Regarding the responsibility of the boards of guardians for finding a share of the money, he was very much afraid, from what he knew of boards of guardians, that they would not find new money for that purpose, but would contrive that the money which would otherwise have been paid very likely to the same people would now be paid to the pensioners. Again, in any attempt to deal with the matter, the position which the friendly societies held in reference to the better class of working people must be taken into account. The clause empowering the guardians to strike out from the applicants' list the names of the improvident was a sweeping provision, which would relieve the guardians from any danger of abuse. He welcomed the Bill and hoped that the Government 678 would at some future time devise a scheme to encourage providence and provide for the poor in their old age.
§ MR. CRIPPS (Lancashire, Stretford)
said he agreed that the principle of this Bill had been accepted by the House on former occasions, but, after all, it had only been accepted in the same academic spirit that many other principles were on the occasion of similar discussions, on which occasions, although the principle was accepted, the House did not identify itself with the proposals of any particular scheme. He did not wish to go into what had been called the general question, because his opinions were identical with those expressed by the late Mr. Lecky, who, in the Minority Report of the Committee of 1899, of which both were members, set out the difficulties of an old-age pension scheme. The real question was, what was the attitude the Government were going to take? Did they intend to make a workable scheme out of the Bill, or was their attitude simply one of benevolent sympathy, which meant nothing at all in a scheme of this kind and was much to be deprecated? In discussing a question of this kind, they had to thrash out if they could what was best for all classes—the poorer classes if they pleased—and when a proposal was brought forward those who criticised it were not to be stigmatised as the opponents to the true reformers. He himself in Lancashire was asked this very question, and he refused to identify himself with any old-age pension scheme which had been brought forward. The hon. Member for Devizes went too far in assuming that this matter had been thrashed out in the electorate in a concrete form. The competitive form of old-age pensions, relying on an extension of the Poor Law system, bristled with difficulties. Whatever improvements might be necessary in the Poor Law, they must entirely differentiate that side of the problem. In old-age pensions there were two matters to be considered from different standpoints. If it was maintained that a pension was a thing to which a man was entitled by right, it ought to be given to him by mere machinery, and there ought not to be any inquisitorial examination as to whether he was entitled to the privilege 679 which Parliament had given him. He ventured to lay down two propositions. There must be no local authority equivalent to the Poor Law authority to consider the qualifications of the applicant. Conditions must be laid down by the State, and just as anyone entitled to a pension could get it by filling up a form before a magistrate or some other responsible person, without any inquisitorial examination, so must it be in the case of old-age pensions.
The Bill before the House was founded on another basis. This Bill was a kind of Poor Law measure competing with the existing Poor Law administration. There was to be the same system of local inquisitorial committees, who were to take into consideration not only administrative principles and tests, but whether the person who applied was on moral grounds entitled to a pension or not, and when its proposer said it was an advantage in this matter not to go step by step because of a fear that there would be selection, he had overlooked the fact that he had left the same bad principle in his Bill. He always had objected and always should object to a Bill of this kind being based on Poor Law principles, instead of on the true principles of pensions, if they were to have pensions at all. What did the proposer mean when he said that our soldiers and sailors and our civil servants had pensions to the extent of £8,000,000 a year? It must be remembered that those pensions were largely in the nature of deferred pay. They had already earned that money, but it was withheld and given in the form of a pension in order that the old servants of the State should not find their way into the workhouse. That was a fair thing. But because a pensioner was receiving something in the nature of deferred pay which was not sufficient to maintain him was he not entitled like anybody else to an old-age pension under this Bill. The difficulty arising from this Bill was the not keeping from it the inquisitorial Poor Law system and the not admitting, if it was admitted at all, that a pension was a question of right. When they came to the question of a man being entitled as a right to an old-age pension, then it would be necessary to lay down the principle under which he was so entitled.
680 As to the question of expense, if the principles advocated by some hon. Gentlemen were to prevail the charges on local rates would be twice as heavy as they were. The fatal blot on this scheme was the charging of these so-called pensions upon local funds. He absolutely protested against that. There was no claim for putting a charge of this kind on the ratepayers, and if the charge was to be undertaken at all that House must take the responsibility of putting it on the Imperial Exchequer and providing the necessary Imperial funds. He would like to know what the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be regarding the raising of the £8,000,000 which would be required. The reason why he said any Bill was unsound which proposed to charge the local rates was that as regards local taxation about two-thirds of the taxable property escaped taxation altogether. Whereas 1d. on the income-tax produced about £2,500,000, 1d.for local taxation produced rather less than £800,000. Assuming for the purposes of argument that for the social good of the poorer classes of this country it was decided that we ought to have an old-age pension scheme, where were the funds to come from? It was not a local matter it was an Imperial matter. To place the charge on the rates would involve an addition of 7d, in the £ in many of the poorest districts in the country. Why should the people who mainly employed working men, the rich employers of labour, escape their fair share of the heavy burden which old-age pensions involved? He did not believe that the President of the Local Government Board, whom this matter would largely concern, could justify any such proposal as throwing the cost of old-age pensions on the rates. The persons primarily responsible for old-age pensions were the employers, and the problem ought to be approached from that point of view, and the funds provided from the employers and employed in certain proportions, and the rest ought to come from the State. They must, however, wait till the matter was taken up by the Government, and no private Member ought to have the right to propose this form of taxation until the Government told them what the charge would be and on what back it was to be borne.
§ * MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
said he congratulated the hon. and learned Gentleman upon having made a real contribution to the debate. He had demonstrated in a most lucid manner how faulty a method it was to attempt to carry out on Poor Law lines an object which was not a Poor Law object. He himself had again and again expressed his warm sympathy with the hon. Member for Wiltshire and his friends in their desire to press forward their proposals for providing old-age pensions, but he had also, over and over again, in his own way, urged the same objections to those proposals which had been so forcibly urged by his hon. and learned friend. It was entirely impossible to apply effectively the tests in the Bill, and to work a really fair system of discrimination without a greatly increased cost, which would really be a waste of the money, which had better go directly to alleviating the condition of the aged poor. His hon. and learned friend had done right to appeal to the House not to treat this matter as mere palaver, but that they should face the realities of this problem and recognise that it could not be dealt with otherwise than by a responsible Government dealing boldly and unreservedly with the whole question in all its aspects. It was entirely a matter of cost, and they had to face a tremendous outlay in dealing with this question if it was to be dealt with on the broad and generous lines which alone would be practical. One objection he had to this Bill was that it dealt with such a limited number of the cases which needed relief, and which really commanded sympathy, and there was no escape from that without having to face an enormous expense. He gave every credit to those who had put or-ward these proposals. He himself had a still more ambitious proposal on the Table of the House at the present time, and he was relieved of his embarrassment by the knowledge that the proposal could not come before the House, because it seemed to him that the position in which they were placed in this matter was so absurdly academic as to almost border on unreality. Ho did not wish to raise controversial topics, nor to deal with the question from a Party point of view, but the present position was plain. 682 They had a Government which was not in a position to assist them; a Government which had even in this second year of peace largely increased the national expenditure, and instead of lightening their burdens had imposed new taxation, both direct and indirect, and could any hon. Member under those circumstances and in the face of our present expenditure and taxation seriously come before the House and hope to carry a scheme involving £4,500,000, £12,000,000. £20,000.000, or more likely, if a real scheme covering the whole ground were attempted, £26,000,000? It was hopeless to suppose this question could be approached satisfactorily until a Government was in power which was prepared to face the financial responsibility of this great social reform which was only to be defended by showing that it was vitally essential as a social reform for the benefit of the whole nation. At the present time it would be impossible to place any greater burden on the local rates. And, as for taxes, it was almost impossible to increase them in their present form. Any Government attempting to deal with this question seriously must be prepared to make sweeping reductions in our expenditure on the Army and Navy and be prepared to find new sources of taxation, such as the taxation of land values in towns, mining royalties, and to largely increase the death duties and the other taxes which fall on accumulated wealth. He did not know whether any supporters of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham were there and would suggest further indirect taxation, but to attempt to meet the expense of this great proposal from indirect taxation, however obtained, would be very cruel and entirely wrong to the working classes of this country.
§ SIR CARNE RASCH (Essex, Chelmsford)
protested, as an agricultural Member, against the scheme. It would be worse for the agricultural interest than even the Education Act, and that was saying a good deal. Agriculturists simply could not afford to have any extra taxation brought on agricultural land. He was afraid Members did not really understand the state of things in the Eastern counties brought 683 about by low prices, high taxes, and heavy rates. Largely owing to the incidence of rates, great tracts of land in Essex had gone out of cultivation, and the agricultural labour had gone out with it. They had, in fact to eke out their existence with rabbits. When wheat was selling for 60s. per quarter and rates were low farmers were encouraged to cultivate corn, but now it cost 40s. per. acre to grow wheat, and the crop only fetched 25s. or 26s. per quarter, so that the industry was no longer a paying one. One cause of that was the incidence of rates—a burden which would be enormously increased if this Bill wore passed. The landlords were doing as badly as any one else, for whereas a few years ago there were twenty men running after a Vacant farm, there were now twenty farms running after each tenant. The farmers might be divided into two categories—those who were ruined, and those who were going to be. Those whom it was proposed to benefit by this Bill were between the upper and the nether millstone. Lord Beaconsfield and Lord Salisbury—men supposed to possess a certain amount of intuition and common sense—declared when Sir Robert peel and Mr. Cobden took away the protection which agriculture had enjoyed some sixty years, that at the same time they ought to take off the land rates which the protective duties helped to pay. Now he noted that the people who were to become pensioners under the Bill were to retain their right to vote, but he failed to understand why a pensioner on the bounty of the country, doing nothing for the country, should be granted the right. Hon. Members were mistaken in thinking they were going to bring about a millennium in the agricultural districts by the Bills. He feared, indeed, that the position of the agricultural labourer in consequence of the heavier rates on the land would be a good deal worsened. They could not have an ideal agricultural existence in which every man walked about with a salary paid out of somebody else's pocket, and he therefore intended to vote against the Bill, because he did not want his agricultural friends or himself to be compelled to retire to the workhouse. He could only say in conclusion that since he had represented Essex Divisions in 684 that House he had come to the conclusion that they contained the very epitome and incarnation of agricultural distress.
§ MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)
rejoiced that the House was enabled to enjoy a little relaxation. He looked upon this debate as a mere Friday afternoon pastime. They were not seriously dealing with the question of old-age pensions. They were discussing the condition of administration before they had got the money. It was no use talking about cooking the hare before they had caught it. How rejoiced the public would be, and especially the working-class majority of it, when they read about the debate in the morning. It would be so filling to them. The question had been under consideration for 130 years, but they seemed as far off a settlement as ever. Sympathy was the cheapest commodity in the world now-a-days. Some of the speeches made that afternoon led him to think hon. Members making them were not up to date in regard to Poor Law administration. He could not believe all the stories which had been told about workhouse classification and the condition of certain workhouses.
§ MR. JOHN HUTTON
I can assure the hon. Member the condition of things described does exist in certain workhouses in the North of England.
§ MR. CROOKS
And I have visited something like 132. The hon. Member, continuing, said he had made it his business to go into the workhouses in any town he happened to be in and discover how the people were treated. Invariably any inquiry as to old-age pensions was met by the proposal to make the workhouses a little more comfortable. That was no solution of the difficulty. When he went into a workhouse he put certain questions to 685 the inmates. They were almost stero-typed in his mind and the usual course of the conversation was this—How are you treated here?"—"Very well indeedAre the master and matron kind?"—"Exceedingly kind.And the nurses?"—"Oh yes.Do you get a fair amount of liberty?" —"Yes.Is the food good?" —"Very good.And the bedding and clothes?"—"Yes, exceedingly good.And generally you have nothing to complain of?"—"No, no. Every body is exceedingly kind, from the master to the guardians, but it is not home.Could the House realise the meaning of these five words—"But it is not home." That was the end of an industrial, arduous life. Was the only remedy to make the workhouses more comfortable? Then there was the proposal to establish cottage homes, in which two old men, strangers to each other, were put in one room. Was that the ideal for which they lived and worked? He could take hon. Members to a union which had the reputation of being the Mecca of Poor Law administration. There they had provided cottage homes. In that workhouse the system of classification obtained. There were four different classes. Class A lived in cottage homes. Under the conditions, they must have lived in the district for twenty years, their poverty must have arisen from no fault of their own, and they must have no blemish upon their character. Could any Member of that House pass successfully an ordeal of that description? Who was to decide as to the blemish? It seamed to him that when a man or woman reached sixty-five years of age it ill became any one to talk about blemishes on their character. They had been foolish enough to get old, but not artful enough to get rich; but for Heaven's sake let them not talk about blemishes on their character. It was painful enough that they should be sixty-five years of age or more and in that posi- 686 tion. The old man without a blemish upon his character was not always a good-tempered man. Old age did not improve temper, but it was not their fault; they could not help it. Just fancy two old men living in one room by themselves. He had visited these homes and he would tell the House what his experience was in one particular case. He saw one man in the room, and this conversation occurred—You are very comfortable here?" —"Think so.Nice place this?" —"Middling.That other chap who lives here; is he a decent old fellow?" —"Ah! you have got to live with people before you know them.He then went into the garden and saw the other old man, who was doing a little bit of gardening. He said to him—You are living in Class A?" —"Yes, I'm Class A.That's seems to be a decent old chap with you?" —"Oh!Decent old man that." —"Glad you think soAnd then Class A went on with his hoeing. Could hon. Members imagine these two old men sitting down together. Say they were at tea this might occur—Hand over the milk, will you?" —"Want it all?What a delightful existence as a reward for patient plodding industry! What these old people who had made England supreme in the commercial world, wanted and deserved was not a room in a cottage home with a companion who might not be very good-tempered, but a place at the fireside of their own relatives. They were entitled to have their own fireside in company with their sons and daughters, who were not sufficiently well off to support them, but could give them what money could not buy—love and sympathy. They laughed at sentiment in that House, and they sometimes talked maudlin sentiment, but the comradeship of life made life worth living, and it was as important to these people as it was 687 to any hon. Member of that House. It had been suggested that the big employers should contribute to the old-age provision of their workpeople. What would the limited liability companies and the trusts say to that? It was an old saying that companies had neither bodies to be kicked nor souls to be damned. They did not care a straw what became of the men who worked for them. Besides, the need was greatest among men who never did more than casual labour. What employer was going to contribute to the old-age pensions of these men?
§ MR. CRIPPS
said large firms and large railway companies had admirable systems to provide for their men in their old age.
remarked that that did not cover the case of the casual labourer, the men who were engaged in Essex at certain seasons with such regularity that it was a commonplace to say of a man, "He is in and out regularly." The money for old age pensions had to be found by the Exchequer. He would not quarrel as to who was to take the pension, but let them make a beginning somewhere and some how. These veterans of labour had done as much to make the country s wealth as the soldiers and sailors had done to protect it; and to give them the hope of a pension would be to encourage and not to discourage thrift, because 5s. a week was in itself insufficient for decent comfort. But at present the man who tried to make provision for his old age was little better off than the man who did not try. People frequently dropped out of friendly societies because some change of fashion or improvement in machinery deprived them of their employment, and they could not keep up their contributions, and their experience discouraged 688 others from joining. But with a certainty of 5s. a week from the State, young men, and young women for that matter, would join friendly societies in larger numbers than ever before and endeavour to keep up their subscriptions. Some of the best men and women that ever lived were people who, through no fault of their own, had been compelled to go to the Poor Law for relief. He had a case of that in his mind. He remembered a very fine old woman applying for relief. She was asked, "What do you want?" And the answer was, "I want some relief?" Then the conversation continued—Where is your husband?" "At home.What age are you?" "Seventy-one.And your husband's age?" "Seventy-three.How have you been living during the last twelve months?" "We have had six months full pay from our friendly society and six months half pay, now it has ceased and we will get no more.Have you any friends or relatives?" "No, we have outlived all our friends and relations and are alone in the world.Is there no one who will pay your rent so as to enable us to give you outdoor relief?" "No, no one.Then the law says you must go into the workhouse, we cannot make any allowance in payment of rent.Let the House realise that. There they had a fine specimen of English woman-hood, answering all questions perfectly clearly and frankly, and appealing to the guardians, "Oh, do not send us into the workhouse. I am able to look after my husband. We have a little home. Surely some one will do something to help us keep it." But the law said "no." He thought the nation might incur a little expenditure in increasing the comfort of these old people and giving them what they had earned, comfort and a decent 689 subsistence in old age. But it was of small matter whether this Bill were read a second time or even a third time, because there was no money available for the scheme. Let them remember that by helping these veterans of labour they would be removing from the path of younger men with many responsibilities a source of competition, because in too many cases old men were employed solely because they were cheap.
§ SIR FORTESCUE FLANNERY (Yorkshire, Shipley)
thought it useful that Unionists should be reminded of their past history in connection with this question, and of their duty in view of the absolute pledges they had given in the matter. During the election of 1895 the late Lord Salisbury coined the phrase "social amelioration," and there was no item in that programme of social amelioration which played so conspicuous a part in securing the victory of the Unionist Party on that occassion as that of old-age pensions. What had happened since then? Select Committees had considered various aspects of the question, and reported in favour of the establishment of a system of pensions, but nothing had been done. Year after year Bills had been introduced by private Members, and these had had the effect, at any rate, of showing that if the matter had been forgotton by the Government it had not been forgotton by their followers. Whether the present Bill were accepted or not, the perseverance of its promoters must have the effect of advancing the progress of this great and necessary reform, which was simply a measure of common justice to the workers who had outlived their strength. The great defect of the Bill was that it brought the recipient of a pension into 690 more or less direct contact with the stigma of pauperism. The objection of the poor was not merely as regarded indoor relief as distinguished from outdoor relief; it was the sense of humiliation experienced by them at receiving anything from the hands of the Poor Law authorities. There were many other local authorities now established in the country to whom he believed the administration of a pension system might be entrusted, and by whom it could be carried out with success. In Denmark a system of pensions almost identical with that proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was in vogue. There were two classes of pensioners, viz., those persons who received their State pension from the local authority, and those who received outdoor relief, to which the badge of pauperism attached, under the ordinary Poor Law administration; and several years experience of that system had gone to show that the Poor Law expenditure had been substantially reduced by the separation of the respectable and deserving from the thriftless pauper class. He submitted that a similar result might be achieved in this country, and that the saving effected would go far towards recouping the pensions expenditure. In France and Belgium there were systems of old-age pensions confined to members of friendly societies, but there again the great point was that the badge of pauperism was avoided, and the recipients felt no more degradation than attached to the ordinary civil servant who drew his retiring allowance after years of service to the State. New Zealand, also, had a very complete system. Germany enjoyed a system under which the necessary funds were provided by contributions from the workers, the employers, 691 and the State; the money passed through the Post Office, and he believed the scheme worked satisfactorily. The first essential of any such plan was that it should distinguish between the old respectable worker and the tramp or casual who had never done an honest day's work in his life. He would have no hesitation whatever in supporting the present Bill, and he hoped it would receive the sympathetic encouragement of the Government. In taking this course he did not delude himself with the hope that the measure would pass this session, but he believed it to be necessary that these discussions should be continued until the enthusiasm of the people and Parliament was aroused and the pledges which had been given were carried into effect.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said he had never given any pledge whatever in favour of State pensions. However much he might approve of them in the abstract, when it came to dealing with them in a concrete form he believed they were very far distant; how far distant he was not prepared to say. Everybody was agreed as to the sentimental aspect of the question. There was no division of opinion as to the individual hardships which pressed upon the poor who were brought to poverty through no fault of their own, and from that point of view he agreed that the present debate would do good in showing that the House of Commons was alive to the sufferings endured by these unfortunate people. Workhouses might he made more cheerful and more comfortable, but nobody who had been brought into contact with the feeling of horror entertained by the poor to those institutions could believe that by such 692 means the workhouse would be popularised. What the old people wanted was simply to be left in the cottages in which they had lived all their lives. But when they passed from the sentimental to the practical aspect of the question, they were confronted with enormous difficulties. As a representative of a rural district, he was convinced that the necessary funds could not be raised by the imposition of any further burden on the local rates; while, as to making it an Imperial charge, that was so vast a question that he could not express any definite opinion upon it. He yielded to no man in his earnest desire to ameliorate the lot of those amongst whom he had passed the best part of his life, but he felt it to be impossible to support this Bill when he remembered that the funds would probably have to come out of the local rates.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. WALTER LONG,) Bristol, S.
said it was not necessary for him to state the views of the Government on this Bill, because it had been made perfectly clear that the majority of the hon. Members who had spoken had made up their minds that there was no prospect of this Bill receiving more than the sentimental, friendly, and useful consideration that it had met with during that debate. If the Bill were to rest upon its merits, judged by the speeches they had heard, it ought not to pass, because its main proposal of a provision for pensioners had been condemned by almost everybody who had spoken. There was no disagreement as to the principle of finding some system of pensions, but there was great practical difficulty in applying 693 the principle of old-age pensions throughout the country. If they made up their minds to adopt an old-age pension scheme however much hedged round with conditions of all kinds, they would be driven from one safeguard after another until they would be forced to adopt a general and unlimited system. If that were so, what was the good of talking of £10,000,000? It would not be a question of £10,000,000 if they had a general system of pensions. In order to carry out the proposal suggested by the hon. Member for Woolwich they must have either a system in which every one would contribute by his subscription to the pension which he would ultimately draw, or else a wholesale grant by the State of pensions to everybody, without any limitation or conditions. He could not conceive it possible that the House of Commons would sanction the second alternative, at all events for many Parliaments to come.
The debate had been rendered more than usually interesting by a speech from the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire. How far the hon. Member was entitled to speak with authority or to disclose the plans of right hon. Gentlemen opposite he did not know. It was a matter of common knowledge that early in the session hon. Gentlemen opposite had made up their minds that there was soon to be a change in the constitution of this House, and it was generally asserted that they had gone so far as to allocate to various Members the different offices in the Government. The hon. Member for East Northamptonshire had made an interesting contribution to the debate, and if his view was shared by his Party then a most difficult task was before the next Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer. Without limit or condition the hon. Member would have 694 £26,000,000 taken from Imperial taxation. Then the hon. Member proceeded to tell them how the money could be raised, and he hoped that notice would be taken of the manner in which he suggested these extra funds could be provided. The method he suggested was a wholesale diminution of expenditure both upon the Navy and the Army and a new system of taxation which would give all the benefits to one class and lay all the burdens on a particular kind of property. That was not a proposal to which the Party at present in power would be likely to lend its assistance.
The speeches of the hon. Member for Woolwich on social questions were specially useful, for he spoke with knowledge of the poor and of Poor Law administration and without exaggeration. The hon. Member for Woolwich made a touching appeal to them to do something for these poor men and women whom he was sure they were all anxious to assist, and for whom a good deal had already been done. He thought the hon. Member would admit that a great deal had been done to enable outdoor relief to be freely administered so long as it was surrounded by safeguards which would prevent its abuse, instead of its being a real relief of destitution. They must not forget that outdoor relief was once a curse to this country, for it not only raised the rates ruinously, but it also pauperised the working classes. That state of things led to a reform, and since that time the Poor Law had been administered with a much firmer hand, and for a time it was administered, perhaps, with undue severity. He was glad that they had now reached a different state of things. He knew that much had been done to enable outdoor relief to be given with 695 safeguards against abuse. Out of experience had grown reforms providing a more humane system of administration of relief without entrance into the workhouse. The terrible dread of the workhouse had no longer the reality which it had some years ago. In certain cases where poverty arose through no fault of their own, and where the poor had been industrious and well-conducted, the guardians could, and did, give outdoor relief, instead of offering them admission to the workhouse. He thought that was a great improvement.
Hon. Gentlemen who discussed this question were apt to talk as if by the creation of old-age pensions they would get rid of the poor and of the maintenance of the poor. The figures on this point were very interesting. The latest Returns showed that the total number of paupers, inclusive of vagrants and lunatics, on the 1st of September last year were 499,513, while the number of indoor paupers considered by the medical officers to be unable to take care of themselves was 58,000. But in addition to that 58,000 there was a very large proportion of those paupers over sixty who, although the medical officers were not prepared to certify them as unable to take care of themselves, would be hopelessly lost if the provision was to give them simply a few shillings per week without some other provision. By the creation of old-age pensions Poor Law maintenance would not be got rid of. A large proportion of the inmates of workhouses would be helpless unless some other provision were made for them. Cottage homes would meet the necessities of some; but there were difficulties and distinctions in the position of paupers in 696 towns and in rural districts; and whether the poor were to be treated by old-age pensions or by classification in the workhouse or outside no general rules could be laid down declaring this or that was not possible or capable of application. Discussions such as they had had would help the working out of the problem, and neither Party could claim a monopoly of interest in the subject. By all means let them do all they could to improve the conditions under which the poor lived, but, as practical men, they ought not to ignore the fact that, during the last fifty years a great deal had been done in this direction, enormous strides had been made, and constantly small changes of a practical character were being effected in the system of Poor Law relief which tended to the comfort of the poor without degrading or pauperising them in any way whatever. Any system of old-age pensions must be kept altogether distinct from Poor Law administration, the funds must be provided and administered under a totally different system, any attempt to provide them from the rates would be strenuously resisted. If the funds came out of Imperial taxation, localities could not distribute them, and there must be a system of distribution of a central character. The Government had not forgotten all that, had been said about old-age pensions though they had not taken action in the matter. If the Party opposite had forgotten the programmes they had not carried out, nine-tenths of their political faith would be gone. Because the Government had not been able to find from £10,000,000 to £25,000,000 for old-age pensions it should not be assumed they had forgotten all they had said on the subject or ceased to take interest in it. This was not a question 697 of providing machinery. It was a question of finding out of the taxation of the country the millions that must be found if a scheme of this kind was to be adopted. Until a Government was in a position to find the millions that were required it was idle to suppose that such a proposal could be carried into effect. The present Government was not in a position to do so; and though hon. Gentlemen opposite might declare themselves in favour of the scheme, he would be very much surprised if when they changed their seats they did not also change their views.
SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
said that although it was quite true that the whole of the Newcastle Programme had not been carried out the right hon. Gentleman should not forget that the Liberal Party had only been in office two and a half years out of the last fifteen years, while the Unionist Party had been in power the whole of the remaining period. Consequently, the comparison of the right hon. Gentleman was not a fair one. Although a scheme had been brought forward which contained the nucleus of a practical measure, no hope had been held out of any scheme of old-age pensions coming into force. This had, after all, been a barren and academical discussion, and the practical difficulty which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had put before the country was that there was no money to carry out such a scheme. It did seem to him that the right hon. Gentleman ought to have declared what was the policy of the Government with reference to this Bill, He presumed that hon. Members opposite were to be allowed to vote as they liked, and that it was not going to be made a Government question. He did not think such an attitude as that towards a 698 measure of this kind was very creditable to the right hon. Gentleman, who ought to have made up his mind, and should have given the House a definite statement in regard to the policy of the Government. This Bill was one which he did not altogether like, and no scheme would ever be acceptable to the poor which contained an element of the Poor Law administration in it. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman ought to have told the House what his attitude was. He did not regard the Bill as being by any means a perfect measure. He did not like the principle of discrimination and selection, in regard to those who were to receive pensions, by the Poor Law guardians. Old-age pensions in order to be popular must be administered by a department entirely different from that which administered the Poor Law, and he felt that on that point particularly they ought to have had a more distinct statement from the Government. A pensioners' scheme administered by a separate authority, with little to do besides see to the qualifications of the applicants, and which would pay its pensions through the Post Office, would take away from the Poor Law a large number of people who were now recipients of relief. Under such a scheme the Poor Law administration would be relieved of a burden which no system of classification would ever remove, and then the Poor Law administrators would be able to carry out those improvements to which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded. During the last few years a great deal had been done to make the administration of the Poor Law more humane and tender, and there must always be in the workhouses a large number of aged persons who could not live outside even with old-age 699 pensions. They were now pleading for veterans of industry who had earned by long years of toil the right to a decent and honourable maintenance, in their old age, entirely unstained by a trace of pauperism, and it was in regard to that class of people that he thought they ought to have a more distinct statement from the Government as to their intentions with reference to this Bill.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)
said he believed that universal pensions would be an impossibility, but he thought something might be done for that margin which overflowed the limit of Poor Law relief by preserving the aged poor from pauperism on the one hand and from semi-starvation on the other. If the Bill went to a Second Reading he should vote for it, because he believed that it was not impossible to make something of it, and because he thought it was not creditable to the House that the matter should be discussed year after year and nothing come of it.
§ * SIR M. HICKS BEACH (Bristol, W.)
was surprised at the speech of his right hon. friend who had just sat down. He evidently did not believe that this was a workable measure, yet he proposed to vote for the Second Reading on the ground of sentiment. Ho thought the House ought to be honest. Did any of them really believe that it was possible for an old-age pension scheme to become law? There was much which would dispose many of them to vote in favour of the principle of old-age pensions on the ground of sentiment; but the more the subject had been examined the more impossible, to his mind, it had become to carry out any scheme consistently with any possible charge that could be put either on the ratepayers or the tax- 700 payers. If that were so, he thought they owed it to the people of this country that they should have the courage of their convictions. If they believed the scheme was impossible they ought to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.