HC Deb 18 April 1907 vol 172 cc1190-1

There is another thing, nearer the other end of the journey of life, which makes an equally strong, though hitherto an unavailing, appeal both to the interest and to the conscience of society—I mean the figure of the man or woman who, perhaps, spent out with a life of ill-requited labour, find themselves confronted in old age, without fault or demerit of their own, with the prospect of physical want and the sacrifice of self-respect. Sir, I never gave, nor, so far as I know, did any of my colleagues on this Bench give, any pledge at the elections on the subject of what is called old-age pensions. We knew something of the magnitude of the problem, and we thought it wrong to raise expectations without the knowledge that they could be met. Nor do I now commit myself or any of my colleagues to any specific scheme, although both my right hon. friend the Prime Minister and myself have laid down certain conditions to which, in our judgment, any practical proposal must conform. Whatever is done in this matter, as I have said before in this House, must be done by steps and stages, and cannot be achieved at a single blow. But this I do say, and I wish to say it with all the emphasis of which I am capable, speaking for the whole of my colleagues who sit upon this Bench, that in the sphere of finance we regard this as the most serious and the most urgent of all the demands for social reform; and that it is our hope; —I will go further and say it is our intention, before the close of this Parliament—yes, before the close of the next session of this Parliament, if we are allowed to have our way—it is a large "if"—to lay firm the foundations of this reform.

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