HC Deb 14 March 1906 vol 153 cc1330-64
MR. O'GRADY (Leeds, E.)

said the Motion which he had the honour to move this evening dealt with one of the very gravest aspects of the social problem. The House recently passed a Resolution assuring the people of a Bill to provide free food for starving children, and he now asked them to pass a Resolution to give similar assistance to the aged poor when past work. The House would no doubt concede that he and those who sat with him, who in many cases had gravitated from the workshop bench to this House, had some knowledge of this problem with which they had come into close contact throughout their lives. In the days of small employers of labour, when there was a direct contact of employer and labour in a manner that did not exist in the modern workshops, the conditions under which men worked were much easier, and the effective working life of a man or woman employed in a factory or workshop might be taken at thirty years. So that in those days, from twenty to fifty years of age a workman was fairly sure of steady and regular employment with less strenuous conditions than those which characterised employment to-day. But the conditions had changed. The whole tendency of capital was to syndicate and to become "trustified," the result being that the small employers were gradually being squeezed out, complex machinery was being introduced and the strenousness of factory life so accentuated for the workpeople as almost to reach breaking point. The average working life in a factory to-day from the expiry of apprenticeship was not more than twenty years, and if something was not done now to give a pension to those who were sixty-five and over, in ten years' time the Labour Members would have to plead in this House for an old age pension for persons of fifty years of age and upwards. He had said that in the factories and workshops men and women became too old at fifty, but many Members who were acquainted with railway companies and engineering works would bear him out when he said that within recent years railway companies and large engineering concerns were taking care that men over forty should not be employed. There were men in London to-day in the cabinet-making trade—men who had come under his own observation—who were among the best craftsmen of the City of London, and who had been warned when grey hairs appeared on their heads that unless they were inclined to accept employment at a less price than that paid to younger and more vigorous men they would not be required. It had been urged that a workman who had been in good work for thirty years ought to have been able to have made provision for his old age, but Mr. Rowntree, who had dealt with this question so far as York was concerned, had conclusively proved that it was utterly impossible for a workman to provide for the days when his time of active labour had passed. When they appealed on behalf of the aged poor the House would, he thought, agree that these people were poor from no fault of their own; that where a man had a wife and three children to keep what he earned not only did not allow a margin for any provision for his old age, but, in fact, was not sufficient to provide food up to the ordinary standard of workhouse living for his family. These people were the creatures of circumstances over which they had no control. It was generally agreed that many of the aged poor required help, and the only question appeared to be what that help ought to be. He and those who supported him thought it ought to come from the State; that the people of this country should rise to a sense of their responsibility in this matter, and enable aged persons to live through the decline of their lives under easy circumstances. The last census showed 2,118,216 people over the age of sixty-five. It was not suggested that all those were in poverty, but it was believed that half of them were in a position requiring the help of old age pensions. 400.000 persons over the age of sixty-five were in receipt of indoor and outdoor relief, and when the fact that there were considerably over 1,000,000 people over that age in want was taken into consideration one naturally desired to know by what means those who were not in receipt of relief were kept. The answer was not far to seek. The sons and daughters of the aged poor did all they could to keep their parents from that Bastile, known as the workhouse, and from the taint of poverty. In dealing with the question of pensions for the aged poor he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would, when estimating the cost, take into account what it cost to keep our aged poor now inside the workhouse. He submitted that it would be far better and more humane if that were given in the shape of pensions rather than in the shape of relief in the workhouse. He would say that the average cost of keeping our aged poor would be about 6s. 6d. per head. Well, they were moderate in their demands. They asked that a pension of 5s. a week should be given to the aged poor in order to keep them in their homes free from the taint of the workhouse. This question -of old age pensions was submitted to the Premier and the Chancellor of the Exchequer some time ago and he had been dissatisfied with the somewhat unsympathetic reply which that deputation received. The Labour Party were quite willing to admit that the right hon Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer might be embarrassed in finding money owing to the wasteful expenditure of the last ten years, but the Government were able to find money for extra battleships and for more troops, and he submitted that this question ought to come before those, and that money ought to be found for a scheme of old-age pensions. We were unquestionably the richest country in Europe to-day. We had a total income of £18,000,000,000. 5,000,000 out of the total 43,000,000 of population took more than half the total income of the country, and during the last few years the assessable incomes had increased from £600,000,000 to £800,000,000. Therefore, what we had to do to get the money for old-age pensions was to broaden the basis of taxation and to get at the un-earned increment which was entirely the result of communal effort, and the product of which should be used for social services such as the feeding of the underfed and starving children at that period of their lives when sustenance wus essential, and providing people with pensions when they were too old to work. We could easily do with a gunboat or two less and a battalion or two less, and by that means much money would be saved for old-age pensions. He desired to see this country always in the van of progress, and foremost in the desire to uplift humanity; but on the question of old-age pensions England was far behind her Colonies and every country in Europe, with the exception of Russia. New Zealand, in 1898, passed a law giving its aged poor, out of the consolidated fund, a sum of 6s. 11d., a week, or £18 a year; and, not satisfied with that, they subsequently amended the Act, and the aged poor now received a pension of 10s. a week. The Government of Australia also granted a pension of 10s., and the people were able to claim that 10s. a week as a right and not as charity if they had resided in the Commonwealth for twenty-five years. The Colonies and the countries of Europe were ahead of us in this matter of old-age pensions. They had become conscious of the fact that these old men and women were those who had helped to make the nation prosperous, when in their youth and vigour, and should therefore be sustained when their industrial usefulness had passed. He certainly thought the resources of the country ought to be taxed to provide pensions for the aged poor. He hoped in the course of the discussion which would take place upon this Motion the Government would do more than give expression to a mere pious opinion, and that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer would find some means whereby money might be had from the National Purse for this purpose. He moved.

MR. GROVE (Northamptonshire, S.)

, in seconding the Amendment, said his hon. friend had chosen a most opportune moment for bringing forward this Motion. Hon. Members had just come back from close contact with their constituencies where many of them had been brought into touch with the poor, and had seen the state of poverty in which so many of the working classes had to spend their declining years. In addition to the time being in itself favourable for bringing forward a Motion of this character, the Labour Party recognised the fact that in an appeal to the Liberal Government while yet it was in the full strength and vigour of its youth lay their last chance of having an old-age pension scheme in scribed on the Statute-book. They had nothing to hope for from the Unionist Party. The front Opposition bench had but one occupant; on the benches behind were but seven Members, and that beggarly array truly represented the interest of the Unionist Party in this great problem of labour. The Prime Minister could not devote to better purpose the vast and mighty power which had been placed in his hands than in an attempt to find the means of helping the poor in their old age. The question was often asked—Where was the money to come from? His reply was that it could be got by means of a graduated income-tax. He was sure it was within the financial ability of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer to supplement Sir William Harcourt's death duties by bringing in what he would call "life duties," which would compel the possessors of over-gorged incomes to pay out of their superfluity for the support in old age of the men and women to whose labours in their prime they owed their wealth. It was said that such a scheme would destroy thrift. But was it not idle to talk of thrift in the case of a man with 12s. or 15s. a week and a family to support? It was said also that it would pauperise the people. A Cabinet Minister received a pension under certain circumstances. Was he considered to be pauperised? In like manner there could be no degradation in a working man receiving a pension at the end of his days of toil

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, in the opinion of this House, a measure is urgently needed in order that out of funds provided by taxation provision can be made for the payment of a pension to all the aged subjects of His Majesty in the United Kingdom."


Regarding this Motion as I do as an affirmation of a principle, and reserving as I must do on behalf of the Government the fullest liberty as to the time, mode, and extent of the application of that principle, I shall certainly offer no opposition to its acceptance by the House. This is one of the subjects, few and rare I am sorry to say, as to which I believe there is no difference of opinion in any quarter of the House. I subscribe entirely to what has been said by the hon. Gentleman who so ably moved the Resolution, and my hon. friend who has returned to this House and whom we welcome so heartily from this side, as to the gravity of the evils and dangers which this aspect of our social position brings into relief. To my mind, the two most tragic things in our modern social condition are the figures of the man who wants work and cannot find it and of the man who is past work and has to beg for his bread and his bed. So long as those figures remain in the foreground of our life here in Great Britain and Ireland they constitute a standing reproach to our civilisation and a perpetual problem for statesmen. I say, therefore, on the broad grounds of principle on which this Motion has been put forward, not only is there no reluctance on the part of the Government to accept it, but there is the strongest and keenest possible desire by every means we can find available and practicable to further the object that the hon. Gentleman has in view. But it is, of course, my duty, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, not to content myself with bare words of sympathy; still less, I venture to say, to be guilty of the worst form of political quackery, which is to make promises you do not see your way to perform. I must, therefore, point out to the House that our position in this respect is a very different one from what it was even ten years ago. I think it is something like ten years since old-age pensions took a prominent place in political programmes. Yes, Sir, and how do we stand to-day compared to the position in which the country was then? During those ten years our annual national expenditure has risen by £.40,000,000. Old taxes have been increased. The income-tax stands now at 1s. in the pound in a time of profound peace, the tea duty has been raised, and new taxes have been imposed, like the duty on sugar. And perhaps most serious of all, in the course of that time the aggregate capital liabilities of the State have risen from £652,000,000 to £796,000,000, an addition of nearly £150,000,000. It is no part of my purpose to-night, though it will be perhaps on a subsequent occasion, to discuss the causes and assign the responsibilities for this state of things. I simply point out that to the House as showing the enormously enhanced difficulties with which the statesman who approaches this problem with the most earnest desire to solve it is encumbered at every step he takes on the road. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution, and I think my hon. friend who seconded it, spoke rather lightly of the question of cost. But, after all, cost lies at the very root of the whole matter. Allusion has been made to the case of other countries. Our fellow-subjects in New Zealand have established a system of old-age pensions on, I think, a rather more liberal scale than is proposed here. I find they are spending every year in developing and carrying out that scheme £200,000. That is a very large sum for a community with a population which does not exceed somewhere between 800,000 and 900,000. Denmark, I think, has made, on the whole, the most successful, as it was the first, effort to deal with the problem, an effort which I hope, in some of its main aspects, we may be able to imitate and develop for ourselves. In Denmark, the cost of the system of old-age pensions as it at present exists, and has existed for something like ten years, is about £216,000 a year, spread over a population of 2,500,000—again a very heavy charge upon the community. Now, as both hon. Gentlemen have pointed out, this matter has been investigated and inquired into almost ad nauseam by Royal Commissions and Select Committees for something like fifteen years. We had the Aberdare Committee and the Rothschild Committee, and they were followed in 1899 by a Select Committee of this House, whose report was of the utmost value and deserves to be carefully studied, and who came to the conclusion that it would be practicable to create in this country a workable system of old-age pensions. They based their opinion on two important grounds—first of all upon the successful operation of the scheme which had been adopted in Denmark, and next upon the satisfactory results of the pension schemes established in this country by the Charity Commission. The conclusion of that Committee was that a man should be entitled as a right to claim an old-age pension subject to his satisfying a large number of conditions. He was to be a British subject, he was to be sixty-five years of age, he was to have a clean criminal record for a considerable period of time, and he was not to have received poor law relief except in special circumstances within the last ten years, he was to reside within the pension authority's district, he was not to have an income of more than 10s. a week, and he must give some kind of proof that to the best of his ability he had endeavoured to maintain himself. I am not saying that all those conditions must necessarily accompany any scheme of old-age pensions; but conditions of some kind, undoubtedly, there must be—conditions as to character, conditions as to residence, and I should certainly say myself conditions as to means. It was in consequence of the Report of that Committee, if the House will remember, that a Departmental Committee of experts was appointed, presided over by an eminent civil servant, Sir Edward Hamilton, to consider what the cost of carrying out this scheme would be. They found, taking the year 1901, that the population of the United Kingdom, over sixty-five years of age, might be estimated at a little over 2,000,000. If the whole of these 2,000,000 were to be entitled to receive a pension upon the scale suggested by the hon. Gentleman, 5s. a week—that is to say, £, 3 a year—the total cost would obviously be £26,000,000. But from these 2,000,000 people the Select Committee deducted no less than 1,350,000 as persons who would not come within the conditions which have been suggested, leaving 650,000 people who would legitimately become entitled to pensions charged upon the exchequer or the rates, as the case might be. Assuming that these people were to receive a pension varying somewhere between 7s. and 5s. 6d. a week, the estimated total annual cost would be £10,300,000. I think Sir Edward Hamilton has since stated that he believes that to be under estimated; it might approach something like £13,000,000, These are very serious figures. Whether we take £26,000,000, which is the outside estimate, whether we take £13,000,000, or whether we take £10,000,000, they are formidable, and, indeed, almost intractable sums. What I want the House seriously to consider is from what source and by what means are we going to provide funds for this purpose? I am not going into the question of the relative predominance of the various issues which were raised before the country at the recent general election. But I think my hon. friends behind me will agree that there is one point which we on this side of the House have come here to face. That is to do everything in our power to secure retrenchment, reduction of taxation, and economy in the public service. The Army and Navy presents fields of possible extravagance, and, certainly, not of possible, but of practicable reductions. There is no man in this House who entertains that sentiment more profoundly than I do myself; but let me point out that there are only two ways, two practicable ways, in which you can reduce expenditure upon the Army and Navy. What are they? In the case of the Army, by reducing the numbers of your permanent fighting force. There is no other way of doing it. And, in the case of the Navy, by contracting your shipbuilding programme. And, as my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for War pointed out the other night when he was introducing the Army Estimates, in the long run those are questions of policy. A Government which is pledged, as we are pledged—no men have given stronger assurances to the people than we have—to pursue, by every means in our power, a policy of pacific and conciliatory intercourse with the other nations of the world is a Government which is bound to take steps, speedy and substantial steps, in both the directions I have mentioned. [Cheers.] Yes, Sir, but when those cheers have subsided, let me point out to my hon. friends, to both sides of the House as many previous incumbents of my position have had to point out, that the worst offenders in this matter are not the heads of the spending departments. Who are they? The Members of the House of Commons. Just let me ask the House to remember how it has been engaged since it came here just a month ago. As soon as we had disposed of the Address, an hon. Gentleman, I think sitting there [indicating the benches occupied by the Labour Party] raised a demand for free postage for Members of Parliament, a return to the old system of franking which was abolished because of the abuses it had led to and also its enormous cost. The next day the House proceeded to pass, with unanimity, the Second Reading of a Bill to provide free meals for all the underfed children in our elementary schools. We followed that up, I think the next night or the next night but one, by recording, by an enormous majority, the necessity of throwing the burden of returning officers' expenses off the shoulders of Members of Parliament and candidates upon the public. And the House finished up the week by passing, with an enormous majority, a Motion declaring the urgent necessity of voting out of public funds a stipend of not less than £300 a year to each one of its own Members. A very good week's work for a Parliament elected to promote retrenchment and economy! I am not going to abuse this occasion by discussing the abstract merits of these various propositions. With many of them, though not with all, I am myself in most hearty sympathy. But I must point out to the House this practical conclusion, which I want them to draw, that social reform, as we see and realise more clearly every day and every week that we sit here, in the long run depends upon increased expenditure, and that, if we are to proceed in these matters at all, we must show some sense of proportion—a sense of proportion, I mean, as between the relative urgency and the relative importance of the different reforms upon which our hearts are set.

MR. DAVID MACIVER (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

Tax the foreigners, as other countries do.


We are to provide the money by returning to the impoverishing futilities of the days of protection, when, for every penny you get from the foreigner, you will be paying twopence or threepence more out of your own pocket! It is not by such a road as that that we shall attain these great social reforms. What I am pointing out to the House, what, I think, they will believe I am pointing out in no spirit of want of sympathy with the great objects we all have in view, is that what we have to do is, in the first place, to introduce some relative sense of proportion into the various demands we make; and, in the next place, we must be content, as I am sure we must in this matter of old-age pensions, having regard to the enormous scope of the problem, to proceed gradually, step by step. For my part I am not without hope—I believe that great reductions in public expenditure are possible. I have spoken of the Army and Navy. I do not see my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Education on this bench. Appearances are very delusive, but my right hon. friend is, from this point of view, very little better than a professional bandit. I do not want to starve education, but I entertain the heretical opinion that, without any diminution of efficiency, we might introduce considerable economies even into our system of education, though the House must recognise that that is one great and growing source of annually increasing expenditure. There is another direction, also—I am not going to boast or to make improvident predictions—in which I trust we may look for fresh means for dealing with these social problems. It is not by taxing the foreigner, not by increasing the cost of the prime necessaries of life, not by reducing wages and lowering the standard of comfort, which is the inevitable result of a return to protection; but by such a readjustment of the burdens and incidence of taxation as will make a rational fiscal system more productive than it is at present, and as will apportion the ever-increasing weight of administering the affairs of this country and provide for the social needs of its people with greater justice and equality than at present. Those are the directions in which the Government hope, not at once, but gradually, and, I hope, effectually, to make some progress towards the solution of this problem. We have got here in this new House of Commons, I am glad to recognise, driving power such as we have never had before, which ought to constitute an effective impulse. towards social reform; and I am sure the majority of the House, while unanimously accepting this Resolution, will not think that I am in any sense wanting in sympathy with its object or in an eager desire to bring it at the earliest moment into practical effect if I say that I feel also that patience, and prudence, and adjustment are necessary.


I greatly regret the manner in which this subject was dealt with by the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire, who made a surprising attack on the Party in this House to which I belong. I think that was quite uncalled for, and it had no relevancy whatever to the subject we are discussing. It was also quite contrary to the well known history of the Party to which I belong. The Home Secretary spoke quite truly when he said that this question was not the particular possession of any Party in this House. It is a matter which is well known to the Members of the House, and it has frequently engaged the attention of all parties. There is probably no Member in the House who would not like to see the proposal realised. The hon. Member for South Northamptonshire was good enough to twit the Opposition for not being present in much larger numbers. I think after the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer he will see some reason to modify that censure. I think we might have foreseen what has actually taken place. The other night we heard how the late Sir William Harcourt, burning with anxiety to achieve a great reform said— I have neither the time nor the money. and how, two years later, with the same spirit animating him, he made the same reply. A few nights ago the Prime Minister, dealing with the same subject and animated by the same spirit, said he had neither the time nor the money to carry it out. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made substantially the same reply to-night in regard to the question now before the House. The hon. Member for South Northamptonshire appealed to the present Government with perfect confidence to realise an ideal, which he said hon. Gentlemen on this side neither desired nor were competent to realise. I do not know that his confidence was so thoroughly well placed as he supposed it was. This is a subject of far too much importance to be dealt with in the spirit of the speech of the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire. We all agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in feeling that the position of a man who has worked hard all his life and by no fault of his own finds himself in penury in his old age is one which deserves the utmost sympathy. A great many more people than most persons suspect are near to that dangerous and unhappy position. And this applies not only to those who receive a weekly wage, but to those who live on a monthly salary, and who as a class are reluctant to betray the poverty which oppresses them, and prefer by the habit of their life and on principle to suffer in silence. If we could remove that dread which hangs over the lives of so many of the population we should confer an enormous boon, not only on individuals, but on the nation at large. But what I want is a little more guidance from the Government as to the direction in which their thoughts are tending in this matter. I came here to-night to learn, and I have been rather fired by the unjust attack made by the hon. Member for South Northampton. I have been a student of this subject for a considerable length of time. I find that it is a subject which divides itself into two main branches of thought. It is quite clear that you cannot study what is going on in the new world or the old, or in the southern Pacific, without seeing that there are two distinct currents of thought animating the minds of men who are studying this matter. I say that the whole practical application of this doctrine in Europe has been on one line alone, and that is the line of co-operation between the person for whom the pension is intended and the State. I think I am right in saying that that is the almost universal rule. In Germany it is certainly the rule. Denmark there is a very large contribution on the part of the individual, for in that country a very large number of conditions have to be fulfilled by the recipient of a State pension. I think I am right in saying that the recipient must not have been convicted of an offence, and that he must have been in receipt of certain wages in order to be entitled to a particular pension. I am not now arguing for the one line or the other. What I wish to show is that there are two distinct currents of thought. One is that the pension should be given entirely independently of any contribution on the part of the individual; the other is that through some organised body, such as the friendly societies, there should be a contribution on the part of the individual. I want to know in which direction the ideas of the Chancellor of the Exchequer tend, because that will make an ernomous difference to the whole consideration of this problem. It will affect the money point of view, and it will affect what I may call the moral point of view. There are a great many people in this country who believe that, there is virtue in self-help. There are some who take the opposite view. I know that perfectly well, and so do hon. Members below the gangway.

MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)

Everyone of us believes in it. We are not going to be slandered in that way.


I think I may ask some indulgence in this matter. I have said what I believe to be the view of hon. Members below the gangway. They think that not only those who fail through no fault of their own, but that the just and the unjust, the successful and the unsuccessful, everyone, in fact, should receive a pension. I can see a moral ground for that contention. Those who hold that view say anything else involves differentiation which you have no right to make. They say that it is a duty which the State owes to every citizen alike. But there are others who do not take that view. I myself should like to see some contribution on the part of the individual towards this relief in old age. I should be glad if any member of the Government would tell us which is the view they take. I gather that at the present moment they take the view that I take. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that this relief must be conditioned by character, by residence, and by means. But a great extension may be given to all those limitations. Character may mean freedom from conviction for felony or it may mean the record of a life in which a man has shown a desire to occupy himself in profitable industry whenever the opportunity has been given. Residence may mean short or long residence, it may bring in those who are now coming into this country in great crowds from abroad, or include only those who have resided here for over twenty years. Means may mean a contribution by the individual to the cost of his pension.


I did not mean that.


I only said it was one interpretation of means. [An HON.MEMBER: What is Mr. Chamberlain's theory?] I do not think that that interruption is either a good or a wise one. This matter is one of very grave importance, and must be discussed before a settlement of it can be approached. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has read us a lecture, which I am sure we all deserve, with regard to the question of means in another sense. He has told us that this reform is to be postponed until we have all learned to be good boys and not to spend too much money. I do not recollect that ten years ago in the halcyon period of which he speaks there was any very strong action taken in that direction by the Party opposite. [An HON. MEMBER: What about Mr. Chamberlain?] I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham belonged to the Party opposite at that time, but he did a good deal towards forming public opinion on this matter. Where is the practical application of the principle to-night? [An HON. MEMBER: Ask that at the end of ten years.] That is not a very helpful answer to my question. When I refer to what my right hon. friend did to arouse public opinion on this question, I am told to wait ten years to see whether somebody else will be more successful than he was. In his lecture about ways and means the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not nearly exhausted the demands made upon our purse. I have been keeping a sort of diary from day to day of the form economies are taking, and up to the present I reckon they will mean an additional expenditure of about £10,000,000 a year. [Cries of "No."] I think they would. The right hon. Gentleman has omitted from his enumeration of expenses the week-end tickets for the Chinese.


What do you mean by week-end tickets?


I am repeating the phrase used in another place for return tickets for the Chinese now in South Africa. There is also the Resolution respecting payments in Government establishments. [An HON. MEMBER: A very good thing.] I am not saying it is not a good thing, but it will add to the list of very costly items. I was doing my best to add to the long enumeration the right hon. Gentleman has already given. His enumeration was not complete. When he said that it was proposed to give free meals to underfed children he did injustice to the Bill which was brought before the House, because it was proposed to give meals to all children. [An HON. MEMBER: And to recover the cost from the parents.] I do not think the hon. Member seriously believes that can be done. We are all agreed as to the problem we are hoping to see solved. But how we are to solve it the right hon. Gentleman has not told us. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman knows. I do believe it is incum- bent on the Government to give us a lead on the matter. I hope the hon. Member below the gangway will help us through the initial stage of the matter, that he will help us to see what the Government think on this problem. If any member of the Government will tell us their view on this question I think we shall be glad to pursue our studies and to bring our contribution to the solution of the problem much more easily than we can otherwise do.

MR. GOOCH (Bath)

said he honestly thought that this was the most urgent and pressing of social reforms, and one that would terminate much undeserved misery and suffering Reference was made by the introducer of the Motion to the various steps along the somewhat tedious way which the old age movement had had to tread, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had shown what formidable obstacles there were to be encountered before anything could be done. He felt that considerable progress towards agreement had been made during these later dull years. The present Parliament had freed itself more than ever from the old cramping and paralysing prejudices against State action, and they were no more afraid of calling in the State to grapple with old age pensions than they were of calling in the State a year ago to deal with the unemployed. He did not support the policy that had been associated for many years with the name of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. He thought he was right in saying that there were only two European countries where a pension system was fully at work—Germany and Denmark. In Germany contributions were required for individuals from the age of seventeen years. Similar amounts were paid by the employers, and the State made an addition. He did not think that the German system was worth all the money spent upon it. The facts and opinions published by Mr. Charles Booth on this subject deserved attention. His own belief was that the example we ought to follow was to be found rather in Denmark than in Germany, and the working of the system in that small and prosperous country should be carefully studied by anyone who had the framing of a measure for pensions for this country. He agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that conditions must be introduced as a test of character. Mr. Charles Booth said that the applicant for a pension must have kept free of poor law relief, and from the police courts. In Denmark the fundamental conditions were that the State made the pension outright without any direct contribution from the individual. The recipient was required to show that he had not received poor law relief for ten years before the age of sixty, when he was entitled to make his claim; that he had never been in the police courts; that he proved to the satisfaction of the Pension Commissioners that his reduced financial condition was not due to his own fault—to drink, or to any vice or thrift-lessness on his part, and that his savings did not provide him with more than about £5 per year. There was more elasticity about this system than about the German or the New Zealand systems. When the age of sixty was reached questions were asked which no honest man could object to answer, and the claim for pension had to be backed up by two ratepayers. The applicant had to say if he had any friends or children with whom he could reside. It was astonishing how many people over sixty years of age there were who had no relatives to go to. A very interesting article by Miss Edith Sellers on old-age pensions appeared four years ago in the Nineteenth Century. That lady had gone through a London workhouse, containing 700 inmates, half of whom were invalids. An enormous number of those not invalids had nowhere to go and had no children. The number of people over sixty-five years of age to whom an outdoor pension would have been of any real assistance was extraordinary small. In Denmark the allowance was from 2s. 6d. to 6s. per week, if the pensioners could live with their friends or their children, but for those who had no friends or children with whom they could live homes were provided, the cost of which to the State was about 1s. per day per head, where they lived without restricted rules, not as paupers, but as retired civil servants so to speak. They enjoyed the Parliamentary franchise and were proud of their position, for it was a testimony to good character. He agreed with the right hon. Member for Croydon that the question of thrift was of the utmost importance. The Danish system was introduced in 1891. It had therefore been sixteen years in operation, and so far from the deposits in the savings banks going down, they had gone up considerably; That was a sufficient answer to the doubts which had been expressed that an old-age pension scheme would destroy thrift. If the pension was 10s. or 15s. a week, he admitted that it would destroy thrift, and he would oppose it; but if, as in Denmark, the pension in no case exceeded 6s. a week, he believed that it would be the greatest possible stimulus to thrift, for as it was not possible to live on that amount people would try and save enough to bring them in another half-a-crown a week or so. The only point of the Danish system which would not be applicable here was that part of the pensions was provided by the State and part by the Communes. The State part of the contribution, it was interesting to know, was derived from an extra tax on beer. It was the duty of those who were removed from all apprehension of old-age poverty to endeavour to secure a better state of things for those people who had spent most of their working life in a struggle for existence. The least that we could do for these old people was to see that their latter days were days of contentment and peace.

MR. SAMUEL ROBERTS (Sheffield, Eccleshall)

said that as a Royal Commission and two or three Committees had inquired into this subject the House need not hesitate to come to a decision upon it. The problem to be solved was to do something to alleviate the condition of the aged poor without destroying thrift, which they all knew was going on among the working classes. In 1900 the number of members of friendly societies in the United Kingdom was 11,000,000, in 1903 it had risen to 13,000,000, while the valuation of their capital funds had risen from £39,000,000 to £47,000,000. The number of depositors in the Post Office Savings Bank had doubled in fourteen years, and the amount of their deposits had increased from £67,000,000 to £148,000,000. A statement issued by the Local Government Board showed that there were 253,000 indoor poor in the country, and 547,000 outdoor poor, and one-third of these were sixty-five years of age and upwards. It was quite clear from the inquiries made by the late Mr. Ritchie, and the returns obtained by the hon. Member for Morpeth, that the poverty of those people over sixty-five years of age came almost entirely from their old age, because they could not work and earn wages sufficient to keep them. But another class should be provided for, viz., those who were doing the very best for themselves, and endeavouring to keep themselves and their families off the poor law. The report of the Chaplin Committee went fully into the matter of the conditions which should be imposed on old - age pensioners. He agreed that the applicant for a pension must have a good character, be able to show that for a certain number of years he had not received poor law relief, and that he had endeavoured to make some provision for himself The Chaplin Committee had formed an opinion that it was practical to establish a workable system of old-age pensions in the United Kingdom. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer had told the House, Mr. Chaplin's Committee estimated that if their scheme were adopted it would cost, in 1901, £10,000,000, and that by the year 1921 the number of pensioners would have so increased that the amount required would be £15,000,000. He maintained that under present conditions such a scheme was impracticable. He suggested that a beginning should be made by a small State contribution of, say, £2,000,000, supplemented by a similar contribution from the local authorities. At all events a beginning might be made by giving pensions to the most deserving. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham himself had said that we should only proceed step by step, and it was only in that way that we should arrive at satisfactory results. He was afraid that this debate must necessarily be of an acamedic character; but he hoped that when the report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law was issued, which he trusted would be before very long, some scheme would be forthcoming for making the lives of our aged poor more humane and more happy than they were at present.

MR. J. W. WILSON (Worcestershire, N.)

said he was glad of the privilege of saying a few words on this subject, and he would endeavour not to cover ground already touched upon by other speakers. From personal experience he thoroughly believed, not only in the form, but in the practicability of old-age pensions. He felt that if the problem had been tackled more largely by manufacturers and employers it would have been found that a pension scheme was not a very heavy matter when spread over a large number of years. If new industrial companies were to set aside 2 per cent. of the wages they paid their men they would have ample funds to make pensions to their old people. This was a matter which the State was bound to face, because the regulations which were passed by the House year by year made it more difficult for a man who had passed the prime of life to obtain a re-engagement. If the country did not take up this question the poor law guardians would have to do it, and establish a more extravagant form of relief than old-age pensions would be. Instead of shutting poor people up in large institutions it would be better for them and for the State if they were provided with an old-age pension in a state of independence. Fifty years ago there was more of the old feudal spirit than now, and employers would not let their old work people go to the poor house. Nowadays the case was different, with numerous liability companies, under paid managership. The manager was bound, in the interests of his shareholders, to engage only the best men, and therefore he could not act in that sympathetic, fatherly manner that used to subsist between employer and workman. Whether the problem was to be solved in one way or another, we ought to make a begining. If the finance would not stand old-age pensions at sixty, why should they not make the age sixty-five? But at any rate we ought to make a beginning by which we could gain experience and proceed further if the system was found to work. He appealed to the Government to make use of the information which had been acquired by committees in this country and in foreign countries and the Colonies. They heard a great deal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer tapping new sources of income. He wanted to see this system of old-age pensions hung upon a definite tax and a substantial start made.

MR. E. EDWARDS (Hanley)

said that in rising to make his first speech in this House he desired to associate himself with the Resolution moved by the hon. Member opposite, and to emphasise the remarks made by him, which he thought proved that even Labour Members were capable of putting a case before the House. The hon. Member started with a fact which was fairly well known, viz., that industries carried on to-day were not comparable with industries carried on thirty or forty years ago. In these days of trusts and companies the position of the worker in his old age was very different to what it was thirty or forty years ago. He wished to bring before the House the incidents of a trade with which he had been associated since he was nine years of age—the mining industry. He admitted that the right hon. Gentleman opposite gave to the workers of this country a great boon in the Workmen's Compensation Act, but he would suggest that it would have been a wise and statesmanlike measure if that Act had been preceded by an old age pension scheme. With all the advantages of the Workmen's Compensation Act, however, the worker had discovered that he had now much more difficulty in finding employment, not because he was physically unfit to work but because he had grown grey in the service of a particular combination. He should not like to say anything against the character of the great employers of labour or the great colliery owners of the country, for whom he had a high respect. But he recognised that in this highly competitive age limited companies were not so much in touch with the men and had not so much regard for them as the employers of fifty years ago. What happened was that rather than run the risk of having to pay compensation for injury, when a man was advanced in years they quietly gave him fourteen days notice and he was left to drift anywhere in the world. Friendly societies had been referred to, but as one who knew something of their working he wished to point out that the industrious workman who was a member of a trade union or a friendly society—and with all the faults of British workmen there were thousands who struggled to make provision for themselves—found when out of work at fifty, fifty-five or sixty years of age, that the society could not help him. The medical officer declined to grant a certificate for sickness, as the man was physically capable of work. It was not a question of wages, but a question of declining to take the responsibility under the Workmen's Compensation Act when a man was advanced in years, and he wished to emphasise that point as one of the strong reasons why the House should accept the Motion. He had found in many years of life in connection with local government that no one in the world had the least objection to an old age pension, and had no difficulty in getting it if he had a large sum of money behind him and was a highly paid official in the employ of a corporation or the State. The right of pension was never questioned except in the case of a poor man. He was pleased to think that there appeared to be no difference of opinion in the House, at least as to the principle, and he earnestly hoped the question would not be made a Party one. Surely all agreed that it was not creditable to a great civilised nation—a nation that all should be proud of—that so many old men, in the evening of their lives, were found without means of subsistence in a country so wealthy. He would urge on the Government that the question was one which should be taken up, even if some other matters before the country were postponed. It was a question which appealed to everyone on the highest grounds, and should be dealt with with all possible dispatch. As for the necessary funds, he only hoped the nation would be as ready to find them as it was to find the money needed for the war. Whatever was the predominant factor in the election which returned this man or that, there was certainly no question which excited so much interest and sympathy as this. He hoped they would have not only the assurance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but positive evidence that Ministers were ill earnest. Otherwise the Government, strong as it was, might find, at the end of five years, that the public was disappointed. This was one of the questions which the workmen representatives thought should be taken up, if not in this session at all events in the next, and he did not know of anything which would crown a Government with more glory whether Liberal or Unionist, than to have dealt successfully with this problem.

MR. PIKE PEASE (Darlington)

said that the hon. Member for Bath had referred to the question of old age pensions in other countries in Europe, and if he (Mr. Pease) might be allowed to say so, it seemed to him that the scheme in vogue in Belgium was the one which might most easily be adopted in this country. In our present state of civilisation it was almost impossible for us not to feel an enormous amount of pity for those who at the ago of sixty or sixty-five years found themselves, through no fault of their own, in a state of pauperism. It had been suggested by the Labour Party that a scheme of old age pensions might be introduced, whereby every man and woman over the age of sixty unable to support themselves would receive the sum of 10s. a week. He believed that the total number of such persons was approximately 3,000,000. If each of these received 10s. a week the total annual expenditure would amount to £78,000,000, or capitalised it would amount to a total sum of two or three thousand millions. The hon. Member for Woolwich thought that 5s. a week would be of very little use and that many people would not feel any richer if they were in receipt of such a sum. In the opinion of the hon. Member for Woolwich, however, many people would feel that they were little better off in the receipt of such a sum than they were under the present poor law system. It seemed to him that they could not arrange any system without exemptions of some kind. There were many people in this country to whom a pension of £26 a year would be useless; and, of course, they would have to take into account the question of State pensioners and as to whether they were eligible to receive old age pensions. It was a fact that about two-thirds of the men and women over sixty years of age were in want and were only kept to a great extent from starvation by the charity of relations. He thought it was extremely necessary that something should be done in the way of relieving this class of the community. Dealing with the subject in a broader sense, he believed that retrenchment might be secured if the Colonies were asked to pay a contribution towards national defence with special application to the Navy. Referring to the question of vagrancy, he certainly hoped the Government would deal with the matter in the near future. Every one knew that there was a large number of persons in this country who were existing at the present time entirely upon charity, and if the Government could deal with them upon the lines of the Report before the House to-day they would be doing something in the way of finding a solution of a most important problem.


Few debates have been more creditable to the head and the heart of the House than the debate of this evening. There is perhaps a reason for it. We are all getting older, and the necessity of an old age provision dawns upon most of us with greater force as the number of our years increase, while to those in want outside, the approach of old age is not only more serious but a dark tragedy. There is universal sympathy for the condition of the old Burns wrote— Then age and want—oh ill-matched pair. Nothing truer has been written or said of poverty in its old age. But the House has to devise some means by which old age shall suffer less want, and the evening of its days shall not be dependent either upon private charity or upon pauperising support out of rates and taxes. The Poor Law Commission sitting is considering this important question, and to some extent the fact that it is sitting impedes the immediate solution of the question by this or by any other Government within the next two or three years. I think that the Government has done wisely in accepting the Resolution, qualified with the provision that means shall he found to attain the end. But the theory of the need for some old age pension is universally endorsed by the House. I have been asked to give details of what the scheme will be like. It is impossible for me to do that, but in my judgment the best, the simplest, and the fairest scheme is the universal scheme put forward by Mr. Charles Booth-By that scheme everybody is to receive a pension irrespective of condition and means. Personally, I would not attach too much importance to character, because I have known many good fellows unable to pass a Sunday school examination, who, in many respects, are as deserving of an old age pension as men who have been regular in their attendance at Sunday school and at church. The best and fairest scheme is, therefore, the universal scheme, starting at 5s. a week at sixty years of age. But, although the fairest and the wisest scheme, it is the costliest. The cheaper, and perhaps more experimental, plan would be to accept the 5s. universal scheme, ruling out those who already receive Army, Navy, Civil Service, and municipal pensions. The total cost would be lightened by nearly £8,000,000 if all these were excluded. There are 170,000 persons who receive these £8,000,000 of public money in the way of pension or retired pay. It is true we should not save anything like all this money by this process, but it would considerably lighten the cost of a universal scheme. Beyond those there are the 30,000 friendly society pensioners, who equally could not be deprived of their pension. I only put forward these figures to show that for certain classes of men who contribute to the wealth of the State provision is made, and made in many cases for people whose services from the reproductive point of view are not so valuable as those of the miner, the engineer, and the carpenter. If this large sum could be used for pensions for retirements and superannuation, then in my judgment there is an equally strong claim, and with many sections of workmen a stronger claim, to sympathetic consideration than some of the sections who receive this large sum of £8,000,000, a considerable portion of which may for an experimental beginning be ruled out of the universal plan when they receive more than a certain amount per annum. I now come to the case of the poor law. There is a little misapprehension about the saving that might be effected in connection with the poor law. In England and Wales last year there were 800,000 men, women, and children dependent upon the poor rate for subsistence. They cost £14,000,000 per annum. Of these nearly 300,000 were sixty-five years and over, and to keep them in and out of the workhouse £6,000,000 is necessary out of the £14,000,000. It must not be assumed, however, that we could deduct from the cost of a universal scheme these £6,000,000 because there are thousands and scores of thousands of the 300,000 who would be infinitely worse off outside the workhouse with 5s. than they are in the workhouse frequently costing the community from 8s. a week in some workhouses, 10s. in aged poor relief homes, up to as much as 16s. or 17s. in the old age infirmary. We must not, therefore, count too much upon saving the larger proportion of the £6,000,000 I have referred to. What is more, I believe the tendency would be to give a smaller number of persons than those included in the universal scheme a larger amount than 5s. outside to look after themselves, and we would have to make the workhouses for the honest, industrious, decent poor more in the nature of almshouses, increasing the happiness and adding to the liberty of their inmates. I know a union in London which has taken the aged couples out of the ordinary workhouse, and put them into an aged couples' home, where they are infinitely better off than they would be living in one room in a poor street where they might be victimised by younger people. In eight cases out of ten where I have made inquiries I have found that the old people would be rather in this aged couples' home than outside with a combined pension of from 15s. to 20s. a week. They have said that to me individually. My view is that, pending the adoption of an old age pensions scheme, the workhouse has to be converted into an almshouse for the aged, giving greater freedom and greater liberty, to be further humanised and brightened, while the infirmaries should be converted into hospitals. Children ought to be kept out of workhouses altogether if possible, and pending an old age pension scheme we want a classification in the existing workhouses so that we can more or less differentiate those classes of people which are neither desirable nor attractive to decent old folk. We have to press on with this pending the adoption of some experimental scheme. We must not forget another fact. We must be careful that the adoption of an old age pension scheme, whether it be large or small, whether universal or limited, does not mask from our attention the fact that many trades and industries are prematurely ageing the men and forcing them into the workhouse or the hospital. To lengthen the health of working life is as desirable as providing for the pensionable period. Consequently with an old age pension we have to do our best to lengthen the life of men, by not allowing the child to force the mother into the workhouse or the mother and the child forcing the father out of the factory on to the streets, and forcing the burden, as we too frequently do, upon the child, the youth, the girl, and the mother, and working the man too hard between twenty and fifty years of age, and between fifty and sixty-five, when he dies, giving him casual work, or forcing him on to a pension scheme or into the workhouse. My view is that whatever is done should not be done according to any cast-iron formula. If we were Latin people we should adopt a universal 5s. a week pension scheme at once, but being Anglo-Saxon, and therefore not prisoners to phrases, the responsibility will be placed upon Ministers of making a commencement upon the scheme. I believe that as soon as the Poor Law Commission reports there will be, with the results of past inquiries, sufficient material with which to make a beginning. Whether we begin with a universal scheme or a modified one with income disqualifications, I do not think we need quarrel about, but the time has arrived for action, and, given the means and opportunity, it is the intention of the Government to do something on this subject. We have reason to be proud of the fact that between 12,000,000 and 13,000,000 of our population are members of 28,000 trade unions and friendly societies with benevolent aims and objects, but the fact is to some extent responsible for the non - introduction of a State or communal old age pension scheme. The excellent provision made by our people out of their means for sickness, accident, and old age has deferred consideration of the question. I believe that trade unionists now realise that, excellent though their objects are, this question falls outside their areas and their power, however good their inclination may be. But we must still keep the workmen in their unions for industrial purposes and in their friendly societies for sick and accident pay and encourage them to identify themselves with the co-operative movement. We have to see that the morale of the British workman is still maintained and his independence buttressed and strengthened. I believe it is possible to do all these things and yet have some form of old age pension scheme to which the man who is too poor to belong to a union has a right to look. At the same time I believe that the British people, with their practical temperament, will bring to bear upon any Government—this Government certainly—sufficient reasonable, disciplined, and well-organised pressure to compel or, better still, to persuade them, as soon as means and opportunities allow, to begin some form of old age pension. I hope we shall have no more inquiries or committees, and that it will not be necessary for either Chancellors of the Exchequer or Presidents of the Local Government Board to give any more pledges, but that they will take opportunity and occasion by the hand and bring a measure of relief to the aged poor who have asked for it for so long and who will not be happy until they have secured it.


said he should like to claim the indulgence of the House as a new Member, for all through his election campaign he advocated old age pensions, and he accounted it a privilege to be allowed to speak on that subject to-night. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, if he understood him rightly, indicated that it would take two years before they could get an old age pension scheme. It was a world of pities that they must wait for two years while men and women were dying from starvation. He could not help feeling when both sides of the House were unanimous on this subject, as he believed they were, because charity and sympathy were not the monopolies of any one side, that something might be done without waiting for the long period that had been mentioned. He knew the subject was full of difficulties, but difficulties were made for statesmen to overcome. If it were impossible to find money to pay these old age pensions at the age of sixty-five, they might at least make a beginning at a greater age, say seventy-five, or even eighty-five or ninety. The sooner they could do something to mitigate the sufferings of our aged poor the better for the credit of this great country.

MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)

said he did not want the House to be under the impression that it was ever possible to make a workhouse a home. It never could be done and never would be done. There was not a board of guardians in the United Kingdom that had not done everything to make people happy and contented in the "house." After all, it was but a gilded cage. "Good nursing, good food, good treatment, and a holiday occasionally"—he always said to inmates, "Then you have nothing to complain of." "No, indeed," came the answer; "but it is not home." A little hack room under any circumstances would still be the castle of an Englishman.

MR. LUPTON (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)

said the President of the Local Government had delighted the House with his promises of the future, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had delighted them with his great sympathy, but it was surprising how poor they were and how the House could not do what their hearts dictated. The national income was 1,800 million sterling a year, and yet the country was so poor that we could not afford £18,000,000 to save the old people from misery. He thought a beginning might be made at once. The President of the Local Government Board might give instructions which would have that effect. A very slight increase in the amount of outdoor relief given would completely transform the life of the poor in many agricultural districts. In one union the allowance was 3s. 6d. a week and in another 5s.; 1s. 6d. extra made all the difference. They might incidentally remove the electoral disabilities from people receiving outdoor relief and so remove the stigma of pauperism. There might also be some improvements made at once in the conditions of the people in the workhouses. No doubt there would always have to be workhouses. Not every poor person wished to live at home, but there was no reason why the workhouse should not be improved, and a vast improvement could be made for an extra 2d. in the £. The same amount might be added to that which went to the poor outside the workhouse. In this way they would fulfil their promises to a certain extent, and it would make a great deal of difference in the life of these poor people.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, "That, in the opinion of this House, a measure is urgently needed in order that out of funds provided by taxation provision can be made for the payment of a pension to all the aged subjects of His Majesty in the United Kingdom."—(Mr. O'Grady.)